I am More than the number on the jersey

Growing up I spent time in the Coolman Gymnasium during the weekends. I sat beside my dad or sometimes my grandpa, and watched the high school girls and boys’ basketball teams play in my hometown, Wabash, Indiana. I dreamed about one day being the basketball player on the court with the well-known name and the number that little kids would write on a plain white t-shirt with black Sharpie to show their support.

I have played basketball since Kindergarten. It is a game I developed a passion for playing early on. I started with the YMCA basketball league and went from a local AAU team to the middle school team and up through a successful high school program. My basketball career ended in February of 2014 after losing the regional championship I had the opportunity to play for four years in a row. 

My high school basketball career is one that posed the biggest challenge, and one where I was stretched to fulfill God’s calling. Starting off at the bottom of the totem pole freshman year, I did what I could to fit in.  My Sophomore year went fast, and was an average year. My junior year is an area of my life I continue to be thankful for today.

The summer pre-season of my junior year was challenging, as it consisted of summer games, morning weightlifting and workouts, and after that, shooting workouts. My basketball team and I attended a D-ONE basketball camp, a camp designed for teams to improve their performance. I felt discouraged throughout the summer as I was not in shape, my shot was off, I was not bonding well with my teammates, and I did not know where my place was on the team. Overall the summer basketball season was good, but I was not. However, I let those thoughts go and started to focus on the upcoming school year. 

During the fall, as the season approached, similar thoughts started coming back: I was not cut out for basketball, I did not add value to my team, I did not fit in with the team, and I did not have a purpose of playing. These thoughts eventually brought me to one conclusion...I should quit. 

One day after school, I went to my coach’s office with my practice jerseys in hand. My heart was beating fast, I could feel the sweat start to form in my hand, and I knew I had to hold back tears. I explained to my coach I was quitting basketball, for the exact reasons mentioned above. The look on my coach’s face was the same that was on mine. It asked one question...why? After a few spoken words from my coach, I handed him my practice jerseys, walked out of his office, and started to cry as I walked to my car.  My heart was broken, I felt defeated, and I knew I had just made the biggest mistake of my life.

I let a big part of my life go. I allowed that uncertain voice inside my head tell me I was not meant to play basketball. I was officially at the lowest point of my life, and I still consider this the most confusing part. The question was, “What do I do next?”

After praying, talking with family, friends, and my sisters in Christ, I went back on a Friday morning and asked my coach for my spot back on the team. On the counter in his office were not only his items, but also my practice jerseys. It was then I realized I had given up on myself, but my coach had not given up on me. He still had hope I would come back...hope I did not have. This made me realize how God makes us go through the ups and downs in life, and sometimes has us learn things the hard way. All I had to do was “trust Him, and not lean on my own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5). I surrendered doing things my own way, and started doing them according to God’s timing and plan. God gave me the hope I needed to continue with basketball. 

I wanted little kids to wear my number on a plain white t-shirt they drew on with a Sharpie. I wanted to be on newspaper headlines, to be the talk amongst the fans, and be the one everyone remembered years later. I allowed these few things to be the reason I played through my high school career. I allowed these few things to stand between God and me. During that time, I felt God tug at my heart. He took the hardness of my heart and showed me I am not playing a sport I love just to fulfill personal expectations; rather, he showed me I am playing for Him. I had forgotten that God created me to be more than just a number on the back of my jersey. When I gave up defining myself through my expectations, I found God had a bigger purpose.

He called me to be a leader, to shine for Him despite the outcome of the game, to play for Him and not for myself, to encourage my teammates, and to be the young woman of God He called me to be. Giving up these expectations allowed me to achieve not only an end of the season Mental Attitude Award, but also a deeper meaning behind the reason I played sports. When you let go of representing a number on the jersey, you find the deeper meaning of shining for God through the sport you love.

Today, I appreciate that #35 jersey, as it is one I wore while letting go of those irrelevant expectations and started playing for Him. Once I let the baggage go, I had discovered the work I do in life will not go without being seen or rewarded. God would reward me, and He would provide the strength and courage I needed.

“But as for you, be strong and do not give up, for your work will be rewarded.”
2 Chronicles 15:7





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