Friday, March 18, 2016

Life Beyond the Ball

                Travel back in time with me for just a bit if you will please. Think back to when you were just a little kid. The little kid that was bursting with excitement for one of your many childhood passions. Keep that kid in mind and follow her/him along the journey that has made you you. Who were you then? Who are you now?
                For me, I think back to the little blonde headed girl with the bowl cut hair and a strange affinity for grey t-shirts. I remember the little girl that loved riding on the tractor with her daddy and shooting basketball in the driveway.
                Basketball. If I had to sum up the activities of my childhood in one word, I think that would do it. That’s not to say that I didn’t play other sports, compete on academic teams, or simply just love being a kid; I just loved the game and played as much as I could.
                The five year old me that started out playing rec league at the civic center didn’t know how far that passion would one day take her. Now that I’m older, and maybe just a little wiser, I look back and see quite the journey.
                After beginning playing AAU with the Surry Storm with my favorite coach ever, Alan, and favorite point guard ever, Jordan, at the ripe age of eight, there was no turning back. I was sold out, and I LOVED the game.
                Sure, I was tall, but y’all, I wasn’t very coordinated. It took a lot of great coaching and tons of encouragement from my family to develop me into a preteen ready to start tackling the college recruiting circuit.
                As my game started to develop, I began to really believe that I could play in college. No longer were the games I played in the driveway for the Lady Vols against imaginary defenders (the best you can do when you live in the country) just a dream, they could be reality. Keri Fulp, a little kid from a town without a zip-code, could go on to play college basketball.
                Well, Mom, Dad, and Karli made the treks up and down the East Coast every summer. Kayla and the rest of the fam sent their love and encouragement all along the way. They all put something into the journey; for that, I’m truly grateful.
                Before you knew it, I was getting to represent my high school on the court (Go Cards!), and I had my first scholarship offer from App State my sophomore year of high school. I even had the opportunity to try out for the US National U16 Team in Colorado Springs. Even though I didn’t make that team, I then got to travel to Russia for two weeks as a part of a USA Basketball exchange team. The letters kept pouring in, the family and I kept going on visits to different schools, life was so so good. Basketball was taking me places.
                Fast forward a bit and it’s fall of my Senior year. After a very long recruiting process, I’ve decided to play at Wake Forest University. I was getting the chance to not only play in the ACC but to also play for my hometown school.
                So, who was I then?
                This question is a tough one for me to ponder now. I’d like to sit here and say that I played the game and worked hard in school for an Audience of One, my Father in Heaven, but I’m afraid that I didn’t really understand this concept of AO1 at the time. I loved Jesus, and I wanted to follow Him, but when I competed on the court or in school, I was always in pursuit of the next award. My room was covered in plaques, trophies, medals, and ribbons. I’m not saying that awards and accolades are a bad thing. They aren’t a bad thing until you start to worship them, when you live your life for them.
                Looking back on it, that was me. I lived for the awards, for my picture in the paper, for the praises from people in the community. I said I lived for Jesus, and I did, but I also lived for earthly awards, and simply put, you can’t serve both God and accolades. That was me then.
                So, who am I now?
                My short three years at Wake have been the most formative years of my life by far. I came in not knowing what to expect exactly but hoping to make an impact in the classroom and on the court. I was going to be a hometown star, do well in school, and move on to engineering grad school. More and more goals.
                I had no idea how crazy my college career would be. If I had to sum up my experience in collegiate basketball, I would say injury-filled. It started with a broken wedding band finger and quickly escalated to having my front teeth knocked out. Throw in the usual knee pain I’d dealt with through high school and that was enough.
                Scratch that, there was more. Concussions first entered the picture during a practice before we played Clemson freshman year. That one wasn’t so bad, and I figured I would be good. Fast forward to sophomore year and kick start preseason with a subluxation in my left shoulder. After finally getting some range of motion back, I got hit in the head again. Concussion number two in under a year. Red flag.
                I need to pause for a moment on this injury train and talk about some surgery that was being done. My heart was going through surgery, not literally of course, but God was doing surgery on my heart. Thanks to some awesome teammates, Susie and Millesa, I joined Athletes in Action and immediately began experiencing true Jesus-loving community my freshman year. In the midst of this, I was helping launch Westside Christian Church with Matry and Exie. These people poured into me in such a huge way, and God began to really pull on me to feel His presence in my life.
                Following freshman year, I ventured out to AIA’s Ultimate Training Camp where I realized basketball was an idol in my life, and began to surrender my everything to my Audience of One. Follow that up with a month spent teaching in Vietnam, and I was a changed woman. I was sold out for Jesus and pumped about the heart change.
                I like to think about this as a submerged me. I began to see what it meant to truly live out my identity in Christ. See, submerged once referred to dipping a cloth in dye. When it comes out of the dye, it has a new identity. This is my identity in Christ.
                So, the me that lived for AO1 was the one with all of the injuries, and I thank God for that. I didn’t know in December of 2014 that I would never step foot on the court again after playing the game for 14 years, after all the time my family had invested in it. I didn’t realize at the time how much it would hurt to lose the game. I didn’t realize at the time how hard it would be to sit back and watch my teammates play. I didn’t know that it would sometimes be hard to celebrate in team victory because my own loss hurt so much. I didn’t know, but I did know God had a plan.
                All that became true after attempting to train through the spring of 2015 to come back for my junior year. Things did not go well. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that the headaches didn’t get much better after reaching a point over Christmas break when I wasn’t even allowed to drive. Headaches began to have me leaving class early, seeing spots, and simply feeling dejected. I clung to Christ through it all, and thanks to the amazing people He placed around me, I became a better person.
                So, the decision was made in April and the papers signed in May to medically disqualify me from ever participating in collegiate athletics again. It hurt. It hurt worse than I thought it would, but God gave me the strength to trust in Him and His plan.
                Sometimes I feel silly for getting as upset as I do about basketball, because I know people that have experienced real pain. Mine is nothing compared to theirs, right? Wrong. You see, we each have our own story. We each have a story being woven into this huge tapestry of life. Our triumphs and pains our unique to each of us, and the feelings we feel are real. This is true because ultimately we all have the same Author writing our stories. He’s using the good and the bad in each of our lives to weave the most beautiful story imaginable.
                This season, what should be my junior year, but is actually my last year since I’m academically a senior, has been a tough one for me. I was given the title of student assistant. It sounds nice, but it’s not the same as putting on the uniform with Wake Forest and 22 on it. Feeling disconnected, sad, and even mad has been a part of the journey. I never knew I would miss playing the game so much I would find it hard to celebrate after we beat Duke for the first time in forever. It hurt, and it still hurts.
                I’m not sure that I’ll ever lose the pain of losing the game, but I am confident that I have life beyond the ball. You see, I know who I am now. I am a child of the One True King. I live my life for God in every circumstance. I no longer find my worth in a sport and awards; my worth comes from my Risen Savior.
                Even in the midst of the pain this past year, I have experienced God and His grace in a huge way. The relationships I’ve developed, the opportunities I’ve had with AIA, and the quality time I’ve had with the Father, all remind me who the Author of my story is.
                The Author of my story never lets His pen slip; He has no turnovers on the stat sheet; He doesn’t drop the ball. He knows my story. He writes every twist and turn leading to a most beautiful conclusion that then gives way to a brand new and eternal beginning.
                My treasure isn’t in jars of clay. My treasure is in Heaven with my Father. So, even if I sometimes choke back tears, I have joy. My joy comes from the Father, because I am His.
                Who are you? Our Father wants to know you personally. He wants a love relationship with you. Will you surrender your life to Him? Will you lay all your burdens at the cross? He’ll take it all, and He’ll submerge you in your new identity.

                Friends, we are His.

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