Peace and Hope
Romans 5: 1-5…”Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”
This scripture leads me to my near 19 year old niece. This weekend, in a moment of wonderful personal triumph, she stood upon a platform as a diver for the University of Houston, and received silver and bronze medals that helped lead her team to their first conference championship in school history. The program began in 1975. She’s been at that school for just a little over a month. My niece, a fiercely private person, wrote on her one social media account that is was “the happiest day of my life.” A happy ending. I’m so proud of her. Because I know the road that led to that podium.
This isn’t an unauthorized biography, so I’ll skip all the details that many of us share of hardship in childhood. The bottom-line is she’s suffered like all the rest of us, but she’s also had a large, dedicated and loving support group surrounding her since birth. As part of that, she’s been introduced to Christ and long ago accepted his invitation. She’s a practicing and devout Catholic, in a family full of Protestants, but it makes no never mind to me. I know her heart, and it belongs to Christ. When that’s the case…we are going to suffer. The question is…will we find it within ourselves to persevere? If you trace the timeline, her athletic woes began to surface about the same time her faith began to flourish. In other words, God began testing her.
My niece was a high level gymnastics state champion of North Carolina at one point. Talent is not lacking in that one. On top of that, she excels at the highest levels academically. She plays to win. Everything. Then came the injuries. Cracked this. Broken that. It all led to a doctor one gloomy day telling her she couldn’t compete in gymnastics anymore. Too dangerous for her injuries. Devastation number 1. Her entire existence was built around the gym. But she plodded forward nonetheless. Her grades not falling. Her determination unaltered. Her faith unquestioned. Then diving was suggested to her. The talents required for competitive diving are the same needed in gymnastics. You just add some water into the equation. Off she went.
She got really good really fast. The scouts started coming around as she progressed in high school. Then devastation number 2. Her mom was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer in the lymph nodes. My niece and her mom are two peas in one pod. She adores her mother. It did not look good at all. Surgery. Chemo. Hair loss. The cancer drill. Still, she kept plodding forward. Nothing slipped, even as the heart broke and the fear struck. I’m happy to say, her mom is in full recovery and doing well for now. It was a scary time that far too many women go through. Many don’t make it.
Senior year. Time to decide on a university. Her grades allowed her much flexibility. Her talent many offers. She’s a valuable asset to any program. She chose James Madison because of the coach. They had a bond from the beginning. All was set. Then James Madison fired the coach. My niece was thrown into turmoil of how to proceed. Eventually, she backed out because she wasn’t getting the program she signed up to join. Recruiting season was over. High School Graduation came, and I watched her receive her diploma, and unlike almost all great students, she had no set plan in place for where she would go in the fall. Then Auburn invited her down. They had no scholarship they could give, but she could be a walk-on to the team. She loved the school, loved the campus, and all of us (the loving support group) were real excited. You could hear us chanting, “SEC! SEC! SEC!” Then…Devastation number 3. She failed her physical exam given by the conference. They are more stringent with walk-on athletes than scholarship athletes, and her past injuries spooked them. Auburn? Kaput.
Still she persevered. Character must have been building like gangbusters if Paul’s outline is correct. Off she goes to the local community college to start her education. She just didn’t stay home for the semester and weigh her options. She kept on with it. I’m sure it’s the Spirit-driven hope she’s been given that did that. Finally, recruiting season opens back up, and the University of Houston came a-knockin’. I now know why they came knocking. They were a piece away from winning their first championship. My niece? The piece.
She started classes in January after winter break, and a little over a month later, she’ll be forever enshrined at that school with her teammates as the first champions ever in the sport. In her always humble words…”So thankful I got to spend the best day of my life with this amazing team. WE ARE CONFERENCE CHAMPS! #gocoogs” Happy Ending.
Until the next test. Which is coming. For all of us. The real happy ending will be forthcoming when it’s time. For those that understand that? All this earthly stuff is just another day to get better in His glory. Amen.
I love you, my sweet niece. Keep on truckin’ 🙂