In the sport of tennis, “love” means zero. Each game begins with the phrase “love all” to indicate that both players have zero points. Over the years and through my experience, the term “love all” has truly come to embody the sport of tennis in my life. At a very early age, my dad put a tennis racquet in my hand at our local YMCA tennis courts. From my first swing, I fell in love. Though very shy and reserved off the court, on the tennis court I came alive; I was aggressive and fiercely competitive. Often I would be far behind my competitor, but I would slowly inch my way back into the match until I had eventually claimed the match. My parents coined me the “comeback kid”. Tennis gave me a playground, a classroom, a platform to be unafraid, to show tenacity, to fight, to stand my ground and to love.
When I was 12, one of the local tennis pros gave me my first job. Twice a week, I helped her teach tennis classes to other kids. Most of them were older and bigger than me, but I’d proudly demonstrate a stroke or step in and correct their grip. I loved being able to use my tennis skills to help others. I loved being able to relate to other kids through a sport I cherished. Every summer for 16 years, I returned to the courts to teach at a summer camp. This was often my favorite time of the year, from teaching new techniques to water balloon relays to competitive games with the other counselors, nothing could better sum up those summer days than love. I loved the students, the games, the counselors, I loved being able to work with my dad and my little sister. I loved being hot and sweaty and exhausted and running inside for a popsicle treat with smiling, happy campers. I loved being a teenager but running a camp with 100s of kids, a staff of fellow teenagers, and being solely in charge and responsible. I loved pouring myself tirelessly into improving my camp and the experience for the kids.
I didn’t realize it when I was younger, but later I began to feel that tennis was my calling, and I was gifted in teaching tennis for a reason. I’d find that reason 8,000 miles away on a dirt court in Nairobi, Kenya. The first time I went to Kenya, I didn’t know what to expect. I wasn’t even exactly sure why I was going. But I heard The Lord calling me, and I knew I couldn’t ignore His call. That was a life-changing experience. I saw kids playing tennis with wooden paddles but smiling from ear to ear. I saw kids with tennis shoes with gaping holes but sprinting across the court. I saw kids with worn clothes but laughing nonstop. I fell in love with those kids, with that place, with a sport that gave me so much giving them so much more. I returned to Kenya again this past fall, and upon arriving I knew I was home.
Tennis has been my outlet, my haven, my constant for much of my life. Whenever I felt down, my dad would take me on the tennis court and before the match was over I’d forget my troubles and be smiling. Tennis has been a way for me to love others. From my many teammates to my students to the girls in Kenya, I have had the opportunity to meet so many people through this sport. While “love” may mean zero in tennis, it has been so full for me. And now I have the chance to pay it forward. As I make preparations for my move to Kenya, my heart leaps with joy when I think of how God has orchestrated this. From the cracked courts at the YMCA to the makeshift courts in a slum in Kenya, The Lord’s hand has been guiding me along. It’s sometimes incomprehensible that He would choose to use me to spread His gospel through tennis. I might not understand it, but I fully accept it.
Each game in tennis begins with “love all”, and that’s exactly what I plan on doing: loving all through a sport that has loved me, blessed me, taught me, employed me, shaped me and given me purpose.