From the Ashes

I train all the time. Maybe not at the level of a pro athlete or an Olympian, but training and working out is part of my daily routine. Lately, this fall, my training has been wrecked by a great number of injuries. In mid September I got a really nasty cut on top of my shin playing Rec softball. Later in early October, I sprained by knee while swinging at a pitch in softball (seeing the pattern). Finally, 2 weeks ago, I had my most dangerous injury yet: I strained (pulled) my front quad while sprinting from first base to second.

Besides the fact that I will never play Rec softball again–the sacrifice doesn’t add up to the rewards–my fitness and training hasn’t been what is was in the late summer. In many ways, staying in shape and fit is an idol I constantly have to hand over to God in my life. At one point in my life I weighed around 270lbs and was very, very unhealthy. Not a good place to be. Since then, staying in shape has been an obsession. I know what it is like to feel unfit and out of shape, and I don’t experience that again.Therefore, my present state of injury pushes me near the edge of depression on a daily basis. I hate being broken. I hate it.

I know God is sovereign and His will reigns above all. My injuries, yes even them, fall under the will of God and I know that God is using them to build me stronger. However, it isn’t easy to be physically broken waiting to be healed. I know my idols and I know God hates them. Being in shape is not an idol, but being obsessed with worry of not being and afraid of failing before my obstacles is. To God be the glory, in victory and in defeat.

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Worship in the Pursuit of Greatness

I wasn’t always the most passionate and motivated of individuals. I don’t think I am that person now, but I believe I have changed much from the person I used to be. In middle school I was the straight-A student who had no friends but somehow managed to make it through the bullying, the harassment, and the sense of being lost in an American society I did not understand. In high school I was the academic nerd who should have played football and wrestled—except for the fact that my ultra-academic high school had none of these programs. My high school experience taught me that I was sheltered from much of the life American teenagers lived through. I am grateful, to some extent, for being sheltered from all the world had to offer me and tempt me with at sixteen, but also upset that I wasn’t allowed to make those choices on my own.

In college I realized that a lot of people out there just straight up suck. In college I realized that in this world you either work hard or you are just riding with the tide. I saw extreme laziness and extreme work ethic. I met people who broke their minds and bodies every day to be the very best and I also met people who were grateful to just be average—and then there were those who simply didn’t make it in college very long. In college I awakened to a different side of me, a side of me that I had been lost to since I was eleven years old—a side of me that I deeply missed.

My second semester at NC State I joined ROTC, and once again I kissed the face of aggressiveness, competition, danger, and excitement. I remembered the days when competition was an everyday, every week experience and I realized how much I missed it. I remembered the sense of meaning and significance that being pushed to your limits was. I remembered and tasted, once again, the bitter flavor of failure and defeat. Academics never challenged me. School has always been easy. But competition, competition will stab your heart and set it on fire.

I wasn’t the greatest cadet—you can ask anyone who knew me in ROTC and they can tell you that I was very much subpar. Even though I loved the taste of the pursuit of greatness, I had come into the race late and hadn’t developed the psychological side that my peers had mastered. To compete you can’t just go at it with your body—you have to embrace the fire and pain with your soul. The pursuit of greatness will devour you and spit you back out over and over again. Greatness is earned by the spilling of blood and the gnashing of teeth.

I walked away from ROTC a broken person. I am still broken and my wounds have just recently begun to heal. However, I have acquired that old flavor of pursuing greatness and I am not letting go of it anytime soon. One thing I have noticed between my relationships in ROTC-military and those outside of it is that it takes a different approach and level of leadership to motivate people to put their hearts into something. For some, the simple thrill and pursuit of greatness, often found in competition, is enough. They will get up, grab their weapon, and rush into the fire—even if it kills them. But for most, an extra level of sugar-coating is required. You have to sell it to them. You have to convince them. Sometimes they make you even beg. True passion and devotion are rare items in the world and I found out this truth through living and experience.

I live my life with my heart in my hands. My heart and soul don’t exist inside me rotting away in passivity. No. I carry my heart in my left hand, my soul in my right one, and my spirit is a fire that burns; it consumes all and refueling it isn’t cheap. People, who consider themselves rational and logical, may look at me and see someone extremely emotional and passionate—maybe too passionate for their taste. They may see over commitment and blind loyalty. Maybe they are somewhat right. But that isn’t what lives inside me.

“From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.”

                If God is the greatest and He wants and deserves our all, how could I not pursue greatness? How could I settle for average? How could I be satisfied with the standard? At no point does this mean that we can’t fail. We were wired to fail and at the point of failure we run back into His arms to be refilled and built back up stronger than before. God rushes forward like a roaring lion slaying His enemies—we stand by His side as His instruments of war and peace. In my passion and devotion for life, even in the most random and insignificant of circumstances, I pursue greatness because that is my form of worship.

Yes, I will admit that sometimes I sin in this process. At times, the pursuit of greatness is corrupted and broken men fall alongside the road. Like I stated above, passionate, devoted living in the pursuit of greatness doesn’t mean that we aren’t allowed and expected to fail. Failure is part of the pursuit. After all, how can we acknowledge where we need to grow stronger and build up from our weaknesses if we never fail? How can the warrior perfect his armor is he hasn’t been struck where it is lacking protection?

This approach to living is very counter-cultural. Even though the Western and American experience is very “experience-driven” and “emotion-driven,” many of these experiences and emotions are not built into the path of greatness. Therefore, any lessons learned are washed away by the tide of time. This is because most are satisfied with being average. We are a society filled with average workers, average children, average parents, average husbands, average wives, average employers, average leaders, average followers, average lovers, average fighters, and average Christians. When was the last time you woke up and told yourself, “I am going to be great today. I am going to pursue being great because the one and only God is my foundation.” Have you ever set your mind to the rhythm of those lyrics? Probably not, but it’s okay because most haven’t because you are just average.

Passion in every moment; devotion in every experience; loyalty in the sight of defeat; love in the moments of greatest wrath; resolution in the sight of failure. Greatness isn’t given for it is earned through the breaking of bones and the spilling of blood. The pursuit of greatness isn’t a life of pride but a life knowing that no one is going to give you anything for free, not even God, because God will take your talents away if you do nothing with them. Remember, the servant that settled for average and safety had his talents taken away—are you going to be that servant? The pursuit of greatness is worship if done for the Most High. A life in pursuit of ultimate devotion and passion centered in the heart of the ultimate One who lives in perfect passion, ultimate devotion, and greatest glory is a life of worship.

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Another Upsetting Thursday Night in the ACC

 

            The season began with bright Saturday night lights for the Atlantic Coast Conference as a mighty and proud Clemson team lifted its orange colors over conquered Georgia from the SEC. For two weeks the ACC shone as many experts and analysts declared the ACC ranking third behind the SEC and the Big Ten, finally surpassing the Big XII in the talent and skill of their teams. And, even though last night was a sorry night for the ACC, there is still much of the season left to redeem this last performance.

            Georgia Tech was a favorite going into last night’s game after a resounding comeback victory over North Carolina on Saturday. The Yellow Jackets had a home game in Atlanta against a Virginia Tech team that had been on the brink of being upset by Marshall. But the ACC being the ACC, the Yellow Jackets got tossed around for most of the game. To be fully honest, much like the San Francisco-St. Louis NFL game playing at the same time, the ACC matchup got unbelievably boring after the first half. The Hokies settled into a defense-only strategy and the Jackets were simply unable to establish a running game and didn’t have much beyond a mediocre air game—Vad Lee (for GT) completed 7 out of 24 passes (29%).

            Don’t get me wrong—it is good to see once-great programs like Virginia Tech redeem rough performances against supposedly weaker programs like Marshall. There was a time—only a few years ago—when Virginia Tech was a top contended in the ACC, often ranked in the AP top 25. However, one perceived problem with the ACC is that anyone can beat anyone and upsets are expected to happen on a weekly basis. Maybe this isn’t problem. Maybe it is a sign of a well-balanced conference. However, in a world where undefeated teams get ranked higher and upsets don’t do much good for your program, the ACC is bound to be plague by them.

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Winning the “State” Championship

            We all went to high school in the U.S. Well, maybe that’s much of a generalization. If you are reading this, chances are that you went to high school in the U.S. and that you understand the idea and concepts of a “state” championship, whether that is in the form of football, basketball, baseball, cheerleading, chess team, quiz bowl, etc. Hopefully, you get the idea. If you are reading this post, chances are that you are familiar with college football and the idea of rivalries, which similar to their high school counterparts, tend to have matchups every season where the alumni and fan-bases go at each other prior and after the game or match take place.

            One current topic of sports conversation that we have in North Carolina is whether continuing to host these rivalries between colleges and universities in our state are worth the price they take in other areas, primarily the concept of strength of schedule. Is continuing a rivalry with a perceived inferior program worth the loss of schedule strength that you would have gotten matching up against another school or program? For some die-hard fans of “in-state” and local rivalries this may seem like a no-brainer: save the rivalry! But even though the local fans may love the in-state rivalry, is the perception and opinion of athletic directors and coaches the same? Maybe not.

            It’s Thursday, September 26th, and the East Carolina University Pirates will be making their way to Kenan Memorial Stadium this weekend, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, to play the North Carolina Tar Heels in an in-state matchup that is considered part of the fantasized “State Championship” here. There is no such thing as the State Championship, but a school can lay claim to it when they defeat all the other major FBS programs in the state.

The last time this happened was in the 2008 season when the North Carolina State Wolfpack defeated Wake Forest, Duke, North Carolina, and East Carolina all in one season—the Wolfpack will get another chance at it this 2013 season.

But the reality is that it isn’t a real title and the only people who will care at the end of it all are the fans and alumni of the school who may win them all. Nevertheless, the fans care about these in-state games; it doesn’t matter how pathetic the other in-state program may be—the fans care and they will pay money to go watch any in-state matchup you put on the schedule. There is pride at stake. There is history at stake. There is a year’s worth of bragging right at stake. Why wouldn’t you schedule these matchups?

One problem that develops, from the angle of coaches and athletics directors, is when these in-state rivalries create matchups between perceived superior programs in the area (ex. UNC, NC State) and perceived inferior programs in the area (ex. East Carolina, Duke). This is a problem for the higher-ups because if you are AD at UNC or NC State and your school plays an inferior in-state rival and you win, you get no real ranking benefit from this matchup—just bragging right. At the same time, if you have these matchups, and your school loses (for some crazy, mystical reason) then you look terrible against a team who is perceived inferior to yours nationwide. Strength of schedule is also damaged because as a head coach of ADs you could have schedule a much stronger opponent within or outside your conference—but no, you had to schedule the in-state rivalry, so you didn’t schedule Notre Dame, South Carolina, or Georgia.

            There is definitely a lot that goes into decided whether in-state rivalries, especially those OUTSIDE your conference (ex. ECU, Appalachian State) are worth holding onto. There is the history and legacy that as university leadership and staff you want to preserve, but there is also the logistical and pragmatic side of the college football system in which there is also much to lose.

            If someone asked me, I would say, “To heck with the system. Schedule all the in-state rivalries we can put up in the schedule.” My opinion is that if one day the NCAA or the regionally-dominant conferences fall apart, and all we have left are the local state rivalries, we are going to wish we had kept the history and legacy alive. Who cares if they are historically or currently inferior teams? Few games bring out as much passion out of the fans and out of the players as these in-state matchups that, if you win them all, can lead to claiming the so-called State Championship. 

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