Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Academics of Life

Just one short week after arriving in Tijuana, Mexico, I found myself standing in front of a group of talented young athletes wondering what exactly it was I had gotten myself into.  How is it, that less than two years ago I, myself, was a guest on such a trip, sitting in the exact same conference room, waiting to hear about the home building experience to come, and now I find myself standing at the front as the leading representative of the organization for the weekend?

This group of athletes, with the average age of about 16 years old, came from the well known IMG Academy in Florida, which is dedicated to developing some of the most talented high school prospects many countries have to offer.  If ever there was a target group of athletes for Hope Sports, this was it.  To bring in athletes who already know the ins and outs of the professional life, and enlighten them to a healthier approach to demands of the lifestyle is one thing, but to be able to sit with kids on the cusp of greatness, still striving for their dreams, is a completely different opportunity  all together.  In the first case, we are fighting and uphill battle, challenging a well-established history of a results-based identity.  In the second case, we have the chance to offer our message of a purpose-driven identity that these young athletes can carry with them as they climb the ladder of success.  It is an opportunity to equip them early with the tools necessary to handle well the pressures of professional sports.

Ready to head out on the first day of building.

As I stood in front of the group, recounting my story of struggling mentally with the demands of professional cycling, I challenged every athlete to approach the weekend with open hearts and minds and to pay attention to the message we were trying to relay. Their response blew me away.

On a personal note, I admit that I am incredibly task motivated, and on occasion I can lose sight of the purpose behind the task.  Unfortunately, building a house offers me many such opportunities.  So many small tasks add up to one whole house, and sometimes I get lost in the process.

 Fortunately, my eyes were open just enough to see that the athletes were embracing every aspect of the experience, and perhaps most importantly, they were bonding with the wonderful family we were building with.  As the walls went up, paint rolled on, and shingles were fit in their places on the roof, relationships were being built as well.  The five children of the family gained brothers and sisters from around the world. The result was a house filled with memories before it was even finished-- an unforgettable experience for athletes and family alike.

What finally snapped me out of my task-driven stupor, was the moment the family finally entered their home for the first time.  As the door closed behind them, they began to cry in a way that can only be described as wailing.  In an instant I became painfully aware of the fact that lives had been changing all around me, and I was too busy building a house to notice.

During the dedication, tears flowed freely from all. 

Who says friendships have to take years to form?

As I listened to the reflective thoughts of the athletes at the end of the weekend, I inwardly beamed with pride at their maturity.  Thinking back to my exhortation at the start of the weekend, I could only think "they totally got it."  I could see that each student had their eyes openened to their ability to serve others, allowing them to find a little more of their identity away from their win/loss record.

For me, the weekend was God-sent affirmation. This move to Mexico may have looked like confidently stepping out in faith, but it more honestly felt like reluctantly following in obedience. What began as wondering what I had gotten myself into turned into a much -needed reminder and confirmation of the purpose I have felt on my own heart.  To be able to interact with so many talented individuals is truly exciting, but to be able to be part of their life changing experience and the memories they will carry forward is a blessing from God. I believe I'm where I should be, and can't wait to continue passing along the message of hope.