“Love all”

IMG_0234In 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.

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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.

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One Journey- -Two Years

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God is eternal. He has no time, no beginning, and no ending. He has lived all of our yesterdays and all of our tomorrows. His story is better than the finest book crafted by the finest author. This is what happens when God is the author— all of His glory and redemptive power on full display. How can I know that God has lived all of my days? Well because what was two years in my life, was just a blink in Eternity.

I don’t even know where to begin. I guess it started two years ago when I heard God calling me to Kenya. I answered his call. I didn’t share the gospel. I didn’t talk about God. I formed relationships.

It was then that I met Elizabeth and her brother Charles. After some warming up, they welcomed me in their home in the Kibera slums. Though just a few cardboard boxes stitched together, it was their home and they were proud of every inch of it. My first Sunday back, I saw Elizabeth again, the tall, lanky, shy teenage girl. She briefly smiled and waved and continued to go on her way. Her brother, on the other hand, being polar opposites, greeted me excitedly when he saw me, recalling our last meeting together. Charles proudly shared that he and his sister now lived at Sadili, and his mom had a job working at the pool. It was as if two years had not passed between our last meeting.

I wanted badly for the same with Elizabeth, but I knew I couldn’t rush it. I knew she’d have to open to me again, to trust me again, to believe in me again. Well after a few brief interactions, the spark was ignited. She opened up like a gift on Christmas morning. Then, just like that, I was standing after dinner talking about the gospel to a group of about 8 girls and 2 boys. Enamored, they clung to my every word, asking questions, and then it was Elizabeth, shy Elizabeth that said “tomorrow, we will meet again.” Yes, tomorrow we can meet again, I thought, it’s just too few tomorrows. But God has no limits.

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Married to Jesus

Sitting at dinner with the girls, we jokingly said who was dating whom, and which girl had a crush on which guy. They kind of talk that makes girls giggle and blush. Then, one of them asked me about my boyfriend. And I said that I didn’t have one. Elizabeth’s brother, Charles, who had migrated over to the table at this point, asked pretty seriously, “well why not?” After thinking for a minute, I knew I had two options: I could continue the lighthearted joking conversation or I could speak the truth and share the good news of Jesus Christ. I chose the latter.

“Well, God hasn’t chosen anyone for me yet, so I’m married to Jesus until he gives me a husband,” I began, “And he’s the best husband because he’s good and kind.”  Elizabeth beamed, “I like that…I like that a lot”

At this point, I noticed that I had garnered quite the gathering, and I was standing up. This outside eating area, built on a garbage site, with all reused and recycled material had become my pulpit and these kids my congregation. They asked me about dating, and church, and relationships. Two Muslims girls sat listening electrified. At one point I was interrupted, and they all said what were you saying about Jesus. When they departed, a few of the kids asked if we could talk more tomorrow. And I smiled and said yes.
Then, I recalled all the people who questioned me about this trip. “What are you going to do?” “So is this a mission trip?” You’re going to teach tennis where?” Why are you going all the way to Africa?”
My response now. Tennis is the means. God is the end. My life is a mission trip.