My parents did their best to raise me as a Catholic Christian. They Baptized me when I was an infant, took me to Mass regularly, and even sent me to Catholic grade/high school. In grade school, we went to Mass every day at 8:15am and it lasted 1 agonizing hour. During this time, my perspective about religion/faith was- that Mass took up a lot of my time, was very boring, rarely gave me good takeaways and left me thinking “no way I can live such a holy/righteous life”- so why even try? There was no separation between my faith, my relationship with the Lord and my religion- these terms were all interchangeable and could be answered with one response- “I am Catholic”.
Throughout my middle school years, I found myself trying to abide by the golden rule, curb my fierce competitive edge (which occasionally got me into trouble) and live-in accordance to my parents’ rule (which reigned like an iron fist). At this time, it appeared all that I wanted in life- friends, girls, attention, success, etc., could be gained if the people around me approved. By pairing these motivations with, arguably, an unhealthy competitive drive and a dulled faith life, my values began to take shape. By most worldly standards, I was on the right path- top of my class, a success in athletics, popular amongst my peers, observant and goal oriented. However, the thing about worldly motivations that no one likes to talk about is, they don’t sustain a joyful and purposeful life…
Naturally, at the start of High School my values continued to develop. Now, my motivations were a blend between pleasure and goal achievement. I no longer feared my parents, in fact, my actions often were to spite them and prove them wrong. I began to questioned anything and everything, including my faith. I learned to rely on myself, manipulate and lie to get what I wanted and reject anything that stood between me and my pleasures (which quickly grew into a spread of weed, other drugs, cigarettes, alcohol, pornography and sex). Honestly, I thought I was pretty hot shit. I eventually used my wits to produces a list of reasons to question the beliefs of the Christian faith. Too bad I didn’t have the courage then to pursue the answers…. Upon my graduation, this journey into the dark depths of this pleasure pit was only 3 years old, however, even then I could feel an inaudible tug telling me “not that way.”
Along came the college experience which the world tells us is the best 4 years of your life! You better believe I wasn’t going to let my parents, superiors or any religion stand in my way of full-bore hedonism. Around my college graduation, I began to notice these worldly motivations trapped me in a cycle: motivate, achieve, lose interest and crash. It became apparent there were things about success the world refused to talk about- while the exterior of those succeeding maybe in tip top shape, the interior is lost, confused and slowly crumbling. The first 2 years after college was much of the same. In fact, those were some of my darkest days. That spiritual tug was more present than ever before, I had even logically concluded I need to make a change because – THIS WAS NOT SUSTAINABLE – however, I couldn’t do it. It had become apparent that I was enslaved to my pleasure and the prestige of worldly achievement.
The Lord works in mysterious ways. Growing up I wanted to work in the NFL and when the time came for me to interview with the local St. Louis Rams, the team decided to go in another direction. Obviously, I was not in a place to deal with professional failure well. My core was rotting under the rule of drugs and worldly prestige. The thing is, this was my plan for my life, not the Lords. Lucky for me, my plan failed at an early age and the Lord put me in an environment of his design. One that I had hardly any interest in, and literally no experience in. However, it was swarming with his presence. Like I said, “mysterious ways.”
My job with the Gateway PGA was nothing short of a Godsend. It wasn’t my first choice for post college employment, but maybe there is a lesson to be learned there? Maybe our wants don’t lead to true joy in life? Maybe there is another way, a better way. The leadership at the GPGA was second to none- the type of people who work so hard that they make the people around them want to match their commitment. Our Executive Director, a Christian, was running the governing body of the greater STL golf industry, was involved in the community and had 4 kids all under the age of 10… according to the world, this guy should have been so stressed and run down that his life resembled a living nightmare. But nothing could have been further from the truth. This guy had a glow about him, and it was something everyone noticed.
One year during a year-end performance meeting I finally gathered up the courage to ask him, “what is it about you that makes you so happy, successful, driven, wise, personable, etc.?” His response was short, direct and crystal clear. He said, “I have a relationship with Jesus Christ.” I could hardly believe it, in fact, there was a part of me that did not want to believe it. However, the other part knew it was true. Nevertheless, I proceeded to debate him, hoping desperately that I could get him to admit the real (i.e. worldly) reason. He would not budge. His foundation was stable, his core was pure, he was sharing the gospel truth. At this time, something within me switched. Before I wouldn’t give religion, faith, God or Jesus a second thought. I now felt an openness that was not there before- a hunger of sorts. I started analyzing the people in my life and noticed the happiest people were Christians. I started to believe there maybe something to this having a relationship with Jesus. I was hungry for the truth and began looking for answers.
I began reading The Case for Christ, a book my grandmother gave me, sometime in the summer of 2018. I was taking it slow as the interviews throughout concerned some high-level thinking/concepts. From the 1st chapter, I knew this was just the book for me. It was about an atheist, his doubts and his pursuit of the truth. Needless to say, I could relate. I began to notice my mind drifting off throughout my days towards the topics discussed in the book. There were even a few times where I tried praying, often times before a stressful day/situation. One in particular sticks out. Just before I left for an interview for a swim coaching job I really wanted, I got down on my knees next to my bed – something I had not done in I don’t know how long… if ever! And rather than rattling through a memorized Catholic prayer such as the Our Father or Hail Mary, I began to honestly and intimately share with my Lord, my Creator, my Savior! Dressed in my finest suit, on my knees with eyes closed, I told God, “I really want this job… I am ready for this job… (I could feel emotions turning and tears welling up at this point)… but if this is not the job you have planned for me, than show me something better!” At that time, with my eyes still closed, I could feel and in some strange way, see a wave of emotion come crashing down on me. My mind was racing faster than I could keep up and I felt as if a huge weight had been lifted. At the time I had no idea what I was experiencing, I just sat there enjoying it. Looking back, that was the first time in my adult life where I actively asked God to intervene in my life. I was submitting to his greater authority and plan for my life. While the interview went well, I did not get the job. But don’t feel too bad, God had a bigger and better plan in store for me.
As I started to invest more in my relationship with the Lord through prayer and time in the Word, he began, as he does with us all, re-wiring me from the inside out. I felt my values begin to shift. God began asking me to adjust my path. Some of these adjustments were slight, while others major. Using the disappointment from my past as fuel, and wanting to avoid that sense of feeling trapped, I began the process of making these adjustments. The first of which was the weed. Now if you recall from earlier, I have consistently felt a tug throughout my addiction telling me “not that way.” The issue was, “If not this way, then which way?” As we all know, God is the GREAT WAY MAKER and sure enough, he made a way! But let it be known, the path had its share of bumps in the road.
My shift away from the vices started with the tug but eventually grew into something else. Being a coach, I knew what I was doing behind closed doors was extremely hypocritical! I had started to change this part of my life so that I was no longer smoking on a daily basis – just whenever friends or family were around and it seemed social awkward not to. But with each of these instances, the shame/guilt became heavier and heavier. I hated what I had become – married to this addiction, and unable to consistently say “no”. I knew this was holding me back from my potential and that God would never show me the next step in my journey until I cleared this hurdle. The Lord began to show me what this addiction really was, the work of the devil. I began to look at this wrestling match like a competition. Did I really want to continue letting the devil win? With my Lord and Savior in my corner, I began to fight back and was able to say no to all situations regardless of circumstance. This was the start of me turning from my sins, dying to myself and picking up my cross. Looking back at it now, fighting back the addiction was easier than I imagined. Likely, due to my relationship with Jesus! Lucky for me, he continues his work in me, re-wiring me day-by-day for his purpose.
Anyways, fast forward a few months, and turns out God’s “something better” included a relationship with my college crush (& future wife), a job opportunity to serve as the Assistant Swim Coach at my alma-mater Saint Louis University and freedom from an addiction that had haunted me for a decade!
I know some Christians have an incredible story about a specific moment when they accepted Christ as their Creator, Lord and Savior – that they recognized the sacrifice he made in their place – and that he defeated death by rising from the dead on the third day – all so that we may experience eternity with him. I am not one of those Christians. However, I do look forward to meeting my Creator so that I can ask him, “when did you save me?” Was it that faithful day next to my bed before my interview, maybe it was during the prayer I had after I read the final chapter in the Case for Christ or possible it was when I had my believer’s Baptism? Regardless, I am humbled, I am thankful and I am ready to serve!
1 Corinthians 9:25-27 says: All athletes are disciplined in their training, they do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing. I discipline my body like an athlete training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others, I myself might be disqualified.
I have heard people talk about a life verse, and while I have not yet read the whole Bible, this one does hit different. And not just because I am coaching athletes. Before I accepted Christ, I lived a disciplined life but I did it for a worldly prize and the end result/award/recognition was never as satisfying as advertised. I concluded, something had to be missing. Having a relationship and walking with Jesus Christ was that one missing thing. Now, I am careful to not only “talk the talk,” but also “walk the walk” in my pursuit for THE eternal prize. I humbly and fearfully accept the call of the Great Commission detailed in Matthew 28:18-20 to, “Go and make disciples of all nations!” And to do so by drawing as close as I can to my Lord and his saving Word, for if I don’t I fear I may mislead others in their search for truth…