Guest Writers

Dear Younger Me - Blake Johnson

IMG_4172.JPG

Blake Johnson, a 2014 alum of Valor Christian, reached out to me last week with a "Dear Younger Me" letter. Blake has been an incredible blessing to the Valor and TCU communities, and has appeared in Bottom of the Ninth previously (make sure to read his Alumni Speech presented at the 2015 Valor Baseball banquet). Enjoy this letter as Blake tells himself, "The more things change, the more things stay the same."

Dear Younger Blake,

Life gets awesome. Let me start by saying that. You are probably thinking about girls, baseball, or what you're going to do with your life. None of that stuff is worth focusing on because I write this from Fort Worth, Texas, where you have an incredible girlfriend, attend an unbelievably rigorous (but intentionally fulfilling) university in TCU, and a steadfast group of fraternity brothers surrounding you. You're involved in different ways here than you ever thought you would be in high school. You've always wanted to play baseball. That's all you've ever really thought about and dreamed about. I'll break the news now: TCU doesn't necessarily need you on their staff (I say this in a joking way, but also not at all joking. Oh yeah, your sense of humor has changed a bit, by the way). You don't end up throwing a baseball 90+ mph and your slider has most certainly lost its bite.

Things have changed, but things have also stayed the same. Such is life.

Things have changed. You aren't pitching anymore. No more practice, no more tossing around the ball casually during BP with Hick, and no more saves against Skyline to get into the next round of the playoffs. You chose a different path to pursue in life. A path that, I would argue, has shaped and will shape you as a man. Valor Baseball was the beginning; it sculpted your work ethic, your respect, your integrity, and your love for your fellow man. You joined a fraternity. Yep. You heard me right. You've found a brotherhood that is in many ways similar to that of Valor Baseball, but also different in many ways from Valor Baseball. It takes the next step into fellowship and brotherhood, without the baseball. You have a rock-solid group of guys you trust to build you everyday. The guys rely on you and you rely on them. Too often, younger Blake, you lose focus on the brotherhood that is Valor Baseball. I urge you, don't take it for granted because brotherhood will be one of the major constants in your life. Love this aspect of your life intensely.

College is awesome, by the way. TCU will be the best decision you make thus far in your life. Don't hesitate to choose it. It will give you some lifelong friends you'll make over a couple cold ones and a beautiful girlfriend who loves the Lord. You really can't ask for much more than that. You'll grow a gnarly, Grizzly Adams-like beard and it'll be breathtaking, so don't rush it. You're probably 16 or 17 while you read this, so keep shaving your face because you definitely look ridiculous. You'll go to classes that you hate and classes that you love. You'll discover that Kinesiology is not your forte but Communication Studies is right up your alley. You've always been good at communicating with others, and that doesn't change. You'll smile, you'll laugh, and you'll cry at TCU. Without you even knowing it, the Lord planned it to be this way because these four years will absolutely leave a lasting imprint on you.

Things have stayed the same, too. You still love country music… like way more. You start listening to Keith Whitley, Willie, and a ton of Chris Ledoux. Listen to these men, they are wise. You still appreciate a good steak (this will never change). You are still a team guy. "Iron sharpens iron" means more and more to you each day as your fraternity brothers challenge you to be your best self. This kind of thing isn't common these days, so cherish it. You still second-guess yourself, but you're getting better about that. You struggle with what happened with your father every single day, but you are learning how to come to grips with it. There is still disappointment, pain, and anger. That hasn't changed. Hopefully further-into-the-future Blake has better news for us. Your favorite Bible verse is still James 1:4 and it says, "Let perseverance finish its work so that you be mature and complete, not lacking anything." I'm pretty sure further-future Blake will heed those words, so it should be good news.

You didn't ask for it, but I'm going to give it to you anyways. Here's my advice for you: love the little moments in life that make you happy. Have conversations with everyone because, deep down, I know you care about everyone you meet. That's unique to us. Enjoy life, don't always be a rule-follower (you become less of a rule-follower, by the way). Care about every single relationship you have. Friends, family, girlfriend, fraternity brothers… all of these are more important than your phone, your PlayStation, and your Netflix binges. Trust me, you'll make mistakes. Everyone does. I am who I am because of the mistakes you will inevitably make. Please continue to make those mistakes. Just like baseball is a game of failure, you learn a lot in life from messing up. Take adversity head-on and keep loving the Lord. He will guide your path, even if it isn't the one you thought you'd be on. Quit looking so far ahead of yourself and just love the moment you're in and let God take you where he wants you. Life is a lot easier that way.

Sincerely,
You

"Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path." - Psalm 119:105

"Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." - James 1:4

Dear Younger Me Series - "Redeemed by Grace" by Casey Claflin

Dear Younger Me Series
"Redeemed by Grace" by Casey Claflin

This week's "Dear Younger Me" letter is written by Casey Claflin. Casey is a Junior at Shawnee State University where he is finishing his degree in Business Administration. After his undergrad, Casey plans on going to seminary and become a Pastor and Apologist. Casey has been a follower of Christ for three years now, and only desires for others to come to know God personally. He is a very open young man and he will tell you it is only because of Jesus. From addictions to regrets, Casey has experienced many things in a life of only 22 years, but he will tell how great God is and why he believes God exists. Jesus saves. “As a result he does not live the rest of his life for evil desires, but rather for the will of God.” - 1st Peter 4:2

Dear Younger Casey,

What’s up bro? How’s it hanging? You might be wondering why I am writing this letter and, well, the reason is because throughout your 22 years of life you’re going to feel alone and unsatisfied, questioning the purpose of your existence. You’re going to experience death, emotional scars, emptiness, and loneliness all more than once. There will be moments that you will feel unloved and unwanted, moments when you wish you could feel wanted, and moments when life just doesn’t make sense. Don’t worry though, take heart because you’re not alone and you are loved more than you could ever imagine, even though you don’t deserve it one bit. Casey, all of the pain you’ve experienced and felt is going to be eliminated by the love everyone seeks. I’m writing this letter so that you will know that you are not alone, that you are loved, and that you are good enough.

Let’s start with your childhood. Growing up you have the typical childhood, parents, school, cousins, uncles, aunts, you get the gist. All of that is great, but you’re going to soon find out that the world is not puppies and rainbows. Some kids learn that at 12, some at 20, but you’re going to learn at the age of five. Over the next few years, you’re going to personally experience suicide, how destructive alcohol can be, and broken relationships. I’m going to tell ya now kid, rage is starting to bury itself within you. Depression will be no stranger to you and it will be by your side for several years to follow.

By age 12, from the outside, you look like a prototypical, growing adolescent, but there’s one problem - you’ve learned to shove all of your anger and rage deep inside of you. You have started seeking your identity, who you are and what you want to be about. Sports, baseball in particular, has been a great thing in your life, not because of the feeling of winning, but because you love the game. The ability to do something pushes you to be the best you can be. That is the determination your parents instilled in you. Music is also becoming a large part of your life. Started playing guitar to pick up the ladies, well Case, let me just say that life is not like an episode of Drake and Josh.

Constantly distracting yourself from what lies on your heart is one thing, but the problem is that it is not everlasting. Instead of looking for answers to your pain and rage inside, you just keep pressing it down. One day you just ride your bike to a nearby park and just yell at the top of your lungs to let something out. For the next six or seven years you are going to try and solve temporary pain with temporary solutions. None of it works. The pain and hurt you’ve experienced is not going to just leave you. By this time, you’ve convinced yourself you’re alone and that nobody wants anything to do with what you have bottled inside. In the next few years, your life and your heart are going to change and not for the better.

Your whole perspective is going to change when you dive into a bottomless pit of depravity known as pornography. Your loneliness, the desire to feel wanted, all of it is going to lead you onto a path of destruction searching for life in things that can only lead to death. You will be addicted to porn, lust, sexual impurity and immorality for nearly seven years. You will search for comfort and relationship in a world that can only destroy love and community. You’re going to see everybody in a new way. Women will be objects for your own evil desires. As I said, you’re chasing the wind, meaningless things, because you think it will bring satisfaction. It will only leave you broken.

High school, what a fun time! Time to put your name on the map. Goals of getting your name in CVCA’s baseball record book and playing college baseball, that’s been the plan for a long time. But high school isn’t going to be everything you thought it was. Lots of people feel that way, but you had big plans and you will feel as if you were lied to over and over again. Bad experiences in summer baseball are going to make you resent people, period. You feel burdened because you are the person constantly going to people, but no one wants to wants you. You’re going to become this quiet, introspective guy who stands off to the side and observes situations. You’ve never liked being like anyone else, you have always wanted to be your own person. You just wanted to be pursued. Case, you were being pursued the entire time.

The best thing that is going to come out of high school is the people you’ll meet and the friends you’ll make. Through baseball, bowling, wrestling, and the greatest lunch table to walk the halls of CVCA, you’re going to meet some really awesome people. Though they won’t know it, they really helped you deal with your problems. These friends are mentors, coaches, future best men, best friends, and I hope friends till the day we die. But you’re still afraid of what they might think, if they knew the real you.

We went to a Christian school all our lives. Going to Chapel Hill and CVCA meant that we sat in thousands of chapels and lessons of biblical stories. As a kid, we thought, “okay, cool, whatever,” but as you get older you’re going to say, “I don’t want to be a part of this bull.” You’re going to hate Christians because of what Christians have done to you and what you have seen Christians do to others. You’re going to be an agnostic all through high school because you believe that these Christians are fakes, even though you are just like them. You want nothing to do with God and doubt his existence because you don’t want anything to do with him. You put on your Christian mask and talk the talk so one calls you a sinner….

By your freshmen of college you have finally obtained everything you ever wanted. Beautiful girlfriend, Division 1 baseball player, and killing it in school. But guess what? It still doesn’t satisfy you! The porn, the sex, the baseball, the “this and that” all still leaves you feeling empty, unloved and unsatisfied because you were never chasing after love or satisfaction, only sin and death. The brokenness you will feel is because of your sin, but you don’t know what sin is or what it has done. This continues until one night in February 2014, the night that God calls you from your life in sin to a life of righteousness in Christ. That marvelous night, the guy who has felt alone, unloved and unsatisfied will experience the love of God and Savior who loves him so much that He was willing to give everything so that he could be your everything, Case. That God walked across a universe and manifested himself in the flesh and hang on a tree so that through the sacrifice of his blood you could be declared righteous and justified before the him. It’s the greatest night of your life because it is the night that you were given everything you could ever want and more and that is knowing Jesus Christ as your Savior and being born again into a new creation in Christ. Jesus saves.

A life that was marked with lies, deceit, rage, wickedness, and death was redeemed by the Grace of God through his Son, Jesus Christ. Years of battling depression, suicide, bitterness was now done away with by the power of the cross. It’s been three years or so since that day, and now I write this letter to you and anyone who may read it. My only prayer is three parts: that anyone who reads this letter will know that they are not alone. Alone in their struggles, in their pain or sorrow, in whatever. You are not alone. To anyone feeling unloved, to know that they are loved by the creator of the universe and all he desires is our hearts turned in faith to him so that we can live in harmony and worship with him. Lastly, that if they do not know Jesus that they come and surrender their life to him because that is the only place life is found. You can live your entire life trying to solve temporary pain and fill your heart with things of this world but they will never give you life. Only something that is eternal can satisfy you and the only eternal one is Christ. 

Love,
Casey

P.S. I want to thank my mother and father for their love and support over my 22 years of life. Solus Gloria Deo: 1st Peter 4:2

Bottom of the Ninth #202 - April 7, 2017

Dear Younger Me Series - "Life is Not in Your Control" by Sean Rooney

Dear Younger Me Series
"Life is Not in Your Control" by Sean Rooney

This week's "Dear Younger Me" letter is written by Sean Rooney, a freshman infielder at Point Loma Nazarene University and an alum of Valor Christian High School. A theme of Sean's life has been a consistent a purposeful pursuit of our Lord, Jesus Christ. When some kids were grinding all summer on the baseball field, Sean would take a break to serve on international mission trips. He has overcome numerous trials and difficulties as he outlines in his letter. Sean will be playing for the Rochester Ridgemen this summer in the New York Collegiate Baseball League and will continue to impact teammates for Christ wherever he goes.

Dear Younger Sean,

You are a broken mess! Honestly you are a broken mess but that is absolutely ok. I wish I knew that it was ok to not always be all put together and perfect when I was your age. Rarely, do things work out the way that you thought they would and your biggest battle will be yourself, but it doesn’t have to always be that way. Things will go much better for you if you fully surrender your life to God.

High school is an absolute whirlwind, it will go by faster than you can imagine. I know I know you’ve heard that before but trust me it will go by in the blink of an eye. You will make friends and lose some along the way. You will struggle with who you truly are and where you fit in. Baseball will be your best friend somedays, and your worst enemy other days.

Making varsity has always been your dream, but what you don’t expect are the struggles that come along with that. When you make varsity as a freshman your life will be very different, people will look at you differently and you will struggle with yourself more than ever before. Like I said earlier your biggest battles will not be with anyone but yourself and I wish I knew that earlier in life. You will go through some slumps and often struggle but beating yourself up and telling yourself you suck will not help get you out of them. You will make errors and strike out, don’t worry about it. You won’t even start every game, that is something you have trust coach in and support your brothers no matter what. Just take each moment in stride and do your best to show off your skills every chance you get. It took me all the way through senior year to figure that out. I could barely hit and as a result Coach Wahl had to make a decision to play one of your best friends instead. Trust me that battle is not with anyone else but yourself. The reason I didn’t hit was not for lack of talent or effort but for the fact that I started to fight myself and doubt my abilities. You will be harder on yourself than anyone else will ever be on you, it’s time to start loving yourself more.

Where I am in life now is absolutely not where I thought, I would be when I was your age. Never in a million years did I imagine myself going to a university where I could literally walk to the beach in my free time, let alone get the opportunity to play baseball there. God has a way of working everything out for His glory. Many times, however that plan is completely opposite of what you thought it would be, but in the end, it always seems to work out for the better. The recruiting process starts early for you and you’ll get interest from some big-time schools, but then a small division 2 school will contact you. Before you know it, you will fall in love with the school and choose the love of the game over the stressful pressure of division 1. Like I said earlier things rarely work out the way you will plan them so stop thinking you have everything figured out and live each moment as an opportunity to grow and learn.

I hope you are seeing a theme in this letter. This life is not in your control, it is way better and easier to surrender it to God. Many times, you will struggle with this through your high school days. That is just part of being a stubborn perfectionist teenage male, but I’ll tell you I wish in times where I struggled the most I should’ve surrendered instead of kept on fighting. You are not weak by surrendering but actually you are filled with a strength this world cannot give you. God has a plan for you and you just have to listen and follow what He wants for your life. Going back to my senior season, I was playing off and on, but still not consistently producing the way I was capable of. Right before playoffs started, I got down on my knees and decided to fully surrender everything to God and held nothing back. It was not an easy conversation at all but trust me it was absolutely worth it. Baseball became fun again and I started to play more for the fun and love of the game, all along giving God the glory. Well, I ended up hitting a double in the bottom of the 7th of the regional finals, then one of my brothers Erik Ohman comes up and scores me to tie the game. We went to State! From there I will leave for you to find out when you get there but enjoy the ride! It will go by faster than you can imagine and give God the glory in everything. Don’t forget to surrender.

Love,
Sean

Bottom of the Ninth #200 - March 24, 2017

Dear Younger Me Series - "Incredible Game, Terrible God" by Colin McCusker

Dear Younger Me Series
"Incredible Game, Terrible God" by Colin McCusker

This week's "Dear Younger Me" letter is written by Colin McCusker, a Social Studies teacher and baseball coach at Legend High School. A Colorado baseball native, Colin played college ball at Saddleback College and the University of California-Davis. His heart for the Lord and for this next generation of baseball players is evident in his letter and in his involvement with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes at Legend. His message will resonate with players, coaches, and parents alike. Colin and his wife, Cecilia, live in Colorado.

Dear Younger Colin,

Sorry to break the news, but your pursuit of perfection in all areas of life still hasn’t been achieved.  Slow down, take a deep breath, live one day at a time, and understand that there is more to you than your successes on the baseball field.  It’s easier said than done, but the Lord is trying to teach you to embrace your weaknesses as a man and to find your strength in Him.  This is going to be a daily challenge for you throughout High School, as every part of your surrounding world is telling you otherwise: you need to look perfect, act perfect, be perfect, and play perfect.  I know you think that your popularity, talent, self-confidence, and future are all dictated by your success on the field, but God will slowly begin to open your eyes to understand that this couldn’t be further from the truth.

You’re going to go through High School feeling under-appreciated as a player, often being told by college coaches that you need to get bigger and stronger.  Don’t take it personally (the strength and velocity comes later) and play to your strengths as a student of the game and being able to hit spots with confidence as a “crafty lefty”.  You’ll get some league and state recognition your senior year and get invited to play for an outstanding Summer team, but you’ll feel overlooked by the big schools that you feel deserving of.  You’ll choose to go the junior college route and head west to Saddleback College in Orange County, CA.  You’ll quickly go from feeling established and recognized in Colorado to feeling like a small fish in a big pond.  Asked to redshirt, you’ll question your passion for the game and if this is really what you want to do.  Be sure to thank your parents and family for the constant ear and reminder to keep your eyes on the Lord and to trust his plan.  This is where that strength and velocity finally starts to set in (along with 25 lbs.)…thanks to a little thing called puberty.  You’ll have a great Redshirt Freshmen season, keeping a combined 0.00 ERA through both the Spring and Summer seasons that continues into an excellent Sophomore year.  You’ll finally start to feel recognized as a player receiving letters from scouts and from big schools.  It won’t register until later that all these worldly goals and successes were never used to glorify Christ in the way that they should have.  You’ll put a cross, a bible verse (Philippians 4:13), and a fish under the bill of your hat, but the reasoning becomes a blurred image of purpose.  Your scholarship to UC Davis will feel like an awesome opportunity to play at the D-1 level and receive a great education, but will come with more challenges than you could have ever expected.  Through all these challenges (Grandpa passing away, torn labrum in the shoulder, dog dying, etc.), God will continually encourage you to turn to him and stop relying on your own strength.  So bud, as you go through all these highs and lows of life over the next few years, here are a few areas that you will struggle the most and God will help you work through it:

1. You’re not in control.  This will be a continuous fight for you, but your plans do not equal God’s plans…I promise.  God has such an awesome plan for your life beyond anything that you have dreamt up to this point.  You’ll have questions, injuries, and self-doubt, but these challenges will only help in strengthening your faith and trust in what the Lord has in store for you.  Currently, your life is the bee’s knees:  you are in an amazing marriage to a beautiful, Christ-loving woman, you have an amazing job as a teacher and coach, where God has placed you to be a light in a dark place.  “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.  In all your ways, acknowledge Him and He shall direct your path.” Proverbs 3:5

2. Own your faith.  It won’t be until college that you start to realize that your relationship with Christ is not in your last name.  You’ve been able to fake your way through childhood by playing the game of being in church every week, knowing all the right answers, and avoiding trouble, and being a “Pastor’s Kid”, but God knows where your heart truly lies.  It’s not until a teammate says “McCusker, I didn’t know you were a Christian?” halfway through the season that it dawns on you that you haven’t used your talents and platform to share the greatest gift on Earth with guys that you see every day.  Don’t just be willing to share the Gospel, but be proud and transparent.  “So, because you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” Revelation 3:16

3. Find strength in your weakness.  The only way to overcome your weakness is to rely on God’s strength.  To do that, you have to stop focusing on your weaknesses:  Am I good enough?  Do people like me?  Why are my buddies getting more offers?  What’s next?  You cannot look at everything you are not in baseball and life.  You must look at everything God is and will be.  Focus on His strength and all He is willing to do for you in your journey through baseball and life.  “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”  2 Corinthians 12:9

Relax, trust God, love those around you, and enjoy the ride.  A wise man named Gary McCusker once said, “Baseball is an incredible game, but a terrible God...remember that.”

Here’s looking at you, kid.

Colin

Bottom of the Ninth #199 - March 17, 2017

Dear Younger Me Series - "Stand Firm in the Faith" by Evan Troka

Dear Younger Me Series
"Stand Firm in the Faith" by Evan Troka

This week's "Dear Younger Me" letter is written by Valor Christian and University of Oklahoma alum Evan Troka. Evan's story will resonate with anyone making a transition - from high school to college, from college to the professional world, from one job to another. His message of "standing firm in the faith" will serve as encouragement for anyone in that place in between. Evan and his wife, Jordan, live in Houston, Texas.

“Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.” – 1 Corinthians 16:13

Dear Younger Evan,

Take a deep breath.  It’s going to be hard for you to believe all that I am about to tell you.  I look back now and can’t believe all that has happened over the past 6 years. Sit back and soak this up and believe me when I tell you that everything that happens will truly transform you and these experiences will teach you to always “stand firm in the faith.”

You’re going to graduate and from Valor in May of 2011 and feel the weight on the world fall on your shoulders.  Everything you knew and everything you felt comfortable with is about to change.  You are about to pack up and move 700 miles to Norman, Oklahoma and begin your college experience.  You won’t know what to expect and I’ll be honest - you’ll be scared sometimes.  You’ll come from a place where you felt like you knew everyone to a place where you will feel like a deer in the headlights.  You will only have your girlfriend, who will later become your fiancé, and eventually your wife (more on that later…).  Your freshman roommate will become one of your best friends and after a few months you will finally begin to feel like you have found your place at Oklahoma.

In the spring of 2012, you’ll do something that you never expected.  You’ll start working as equipment manager for the Sooner football team.  Let me tell you, what a ride.  You’ll make some great friends and have some great memories, but most importantly you will learn a lot about yourself.  The experience will truly teach you about what you stand for and what you believe.  You see, not everyone believes what you believe.  And while I know you know that, it is going to become very clear over the course of 4 years in a college town.  You’ll struggle to find your place but you’ll feel a sense of peace when your lifelong best friend transfers to OU for the next 3 years.  Your undergraduate experience will be filled with some of the best memories of your life.  Through it all never forget that it is not always going to be easy and that’s okay.  Trust in the Lord and He will guide your way – stand firm in the faith.

In January 2015, as you prepare for your last semester as an undergrad, feelings of fear will surface again.  You’ll feel like you are not ready for what is to come next.  Pray about it.  Let the Lord guide you to where He wants you to go.  I know that it can be tough to relinquish that control but God is good.  He will move you and guide you in a way that helps you become all that you are meant to be.  I wish I could tell you that it would easy, but it won’t.  All I can tell you is that you’ll find out who you really are.  You’ll decide to go to graduate school at OU and continue to work in the athletic department.  You’ll begin to see the dark side of college sports and again you’ll feel conflicted and confused.  You’ve wanted to work in college athletics for so long but now your future begins to feel foggy.  You’ll spend the next year and half wrestling with the idea of what to do next.  All I can say is trust God; trust him each and every day.

You will marry the love of your life in August 2016 but the first 4 months of marriage will be difficult on both of you.  You see, Jordan is in PA school in Houston.  You’ll navigate the situation as best you can and continue to seek the Lord’s guidance along the way.  You’ll continue to wrestle with your career.  You will spend many days and nights trying to figure out the next step.  You’ll apply to jobs all over the country and won’t hear anything positive back from any of them.  It’s going to break you.  You are going to feel so discouraged and so let down.  You’ll begin to question your past decisions and begin to feel yourself slipping away from your foundation.  I urge you – stand firm in the faith.

His plan will not be made clear initially, but in due time you will begin to understand.  You’ll hear the Lord call you to move to Houston, Texas to be with your wife and you will feel yourself hesitant to go.  You’ll become so caught up in finding a job and beginning a career that you will be blinded to the needs of your new family.  You’ll tell yourself that this is not what I want, but you’ll hear God tell you that this is where you are supposed to be.  You’ll feel the same way you felt when you moved out to begin your life at OU.  Learn from the experience and trust that the Lord will continue to move in your life.  Listen, trust in the Lord.

Listen, this is where things get tough.  This is where you’ll find yourself at your lowest.  You’ll feel yourself lacking confidence, ambition, and motivation.  You’ll begin to question why God led you down this road.  You’ll struggle to find out where your career is supposed to start.  Don’t let yourself compare your path to the paths of those around you – your path is your path.   I know that is scary but never lose hope.  Never lose your faith.  A couple months after moving to Houston, things will begin to fall into place, I can’t tell you all the details right now but trust me when I say that it will all be worth it.  During this time, you will feel so anxious, crying out for answers.  I get it, it is hard but the Lord will use this time to teach patience, and in the end it will all be worth it.  Believe me.

There is so much more I wish I could tell you but somethings are better left unsaid.  You’ll look back and never believe how much you’ve grown up.  You’ll have 5 of the best friends anyone could ask for.  I know that I don’t need to tell you but you’ll have the most amazing wife in the world.  Don’t let a day go by without letting her know how much you love her.  She will do more for you than you will ever realize.  Mom and Dad are going to move to Fort Collins, who can blame them, you can’t beat the view.  Oh, and you’ll never believe this but you watched OU basketball play in the Final Four.  I’ll let you find out what happens…

Take care and tell the family hello,
Evan

P.S.  Don’t watch Super Bowl XLVIII, wait for Super Bowl 50.

Bottom of the Ninth #198 - March 10, 2017

Dear Younger Me Series - "Step Out of the Boat" by Mike Schonebaum

This week's "Dear Younger Me" letter is written by Mike Schonebaum. Mike is a supporter of Complete Game Ministries and loves looking through the lens of ministry done through the platform of sports. Mike's story is one that will grab anyone who has experienced difficulty or doubt in their walk with Christ. In the end, his encouragement to "step out of the boat" will ring true to all of the baseball community. Mike's son, Calvin, is a junior at Valor Christian High School this spring.

Dear Younger Mike,

You will have a blessed childhood growing up in Lakewood, Colorado. You will take guitar lessons, learn how to swim and create many childhood memories. You will play football, basketball and baseball beginning at eight years old. You will meet your best friend Byron on these sports teams because you end up playing on all three teams together from eight years old until you are fourteen. You will then move apart as you go to different schools.

You will continue to play football and basketball in Junior high school, which at this time went to the 9th grade, but an experience with a coach will cause you to stop playing when you go to high school. You will try out for baseball but get cut and decide not to go out again. Looking back you will regret this decision but it leads to other blessings.

Your mom will take you to Sunday school and church when you are growing up, starting your faith walk. Although you won’t invite Jesus into your heart until Byron invites you to an event at his Christian high school. You will walk away thinking that is strange but you also feel something has taken place.

During high school, with sports out of the picture, you start working at Casa Bonita and will work the three years through high school. You will learn a lot about responsibility, gain some leadership skills, and you will meet some life-long friends. You will be asked many times if you are a diver but you will have to say no. Although, you do jump in the pool late one night with a group of co-workers after you have completed a late night clean-up. (But don’t tell anyone, you don’t want to get fired.)

After graduation you decide to go to Colorado State in Fort Collins where you will meet back up with your best friend Byron. You join a fraternity together. You will be the elected to the executive board as Secretary for a semester and the following semester you will be elected President. The leadership training and experiences will be life changing - pay attention!

You will also get back to playing sports and have your “glory days” moment when you as QB and Byron as RB play on one of the fraternity flag football teams. You will be on the misfit team, the team with players who haven’t played any form of organized football. You and Byron will teach and lead the ‘misfit’ fraternity flag football team to the Fraternity Championship, even beating your own fraternities ‘stud’ team during the fraternity tournament. Your flag football team will eventually lose to the red-shirt football players by a score of 18-12 in the semi-finals of the college wide flag football intramural tournament. Your team will finish in 3rd place overall. Not bad for a bunch of misfits.

All this time at college you will feel God calling but you keep pushing him away.

After college you will work for a CPA firm and an oil and gas company. While at the oil and gas company God begins to pull harder to get you out of the boat and come back to Him.

A co-worker, whom you barely know, will leave the company you work for and move to another oil and gas company in the same building a few floors below. She will come up to visit her friends on a daily basis and will start to tell you about a girl that works in her office that you need meet. This becomes a daily occurrence… “Mike you need to meet this girl.”   “Thanks Karen," I simply state.

She becomes like the persistent widow in Luke 18. To end the pestering you will tell Karen, “have her call me”… thinking she will never call. Not very nice, however, blind dates have proven to be tragic.

The next day you answer your phone at work. It is Karen. She says someone is there to talk to you. She hands the phone to a girl, you and her have no idea what is going on. Karen has tricked both of you to be on the phone together. Stepping out of the boat, you ask her to lunch. Fortunately, she steps out too, and agrees to meet. This is the start of something special…

While dating she will bring you back to the church and your faith will be revived. After two years you step out (took you long enough), and during the romantic holiday of Thanksgiving, you ask Stephanie to marry you. She says yes!

Your wedding plans are progressing well. Everything is coming together but you will start feeling sharp pains in your joints. After a series of doctor visits to multiple orthopedic surgeons and surgery on your right ankle you will learn you have Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA).  Your wedding is in two months!

At this time, the prognosis for RA is not a good.  Current medications help to delay the effects but in the future there is a high probability you will be in a wheelchair later in life. You will offer to postpone/cancel the wedding to Stephanie but in conversations and prayer you both decide to step out and get married as planned. After all, your wedding vows are “for better or for worse”.

You will not be able to walk up and down the stairs normally, you will not be able to open a jar of pickles and you won’t be able to do many outdoor activities.  However, the RA medicine will eventually work. After a year on the medication the RA is technically in “remission” and the joints are in good shape. Now the plan is to try and keep the disease in “remission”.

The RA will stay in “remission” and you will become active in the church. You and Stephanie will be asked to step out and be high school youth counselors and, later on, to co-lead a weekend marriage retreat with one of the pastors. You will step out further and try out for the live band playing guitar for the new Saturday night worship service. This eventually leads to being asked to further step out to sing and become a worship leader. You will be amazed how God will help guide you when you are leading worship, giving you His words, guidance, and peace.

You will talk and pray about having children with Stephanie. But to have children you will need to stop taking the medicine for a minimum of 3 months before you can try and then stay off the medicine for as long as it takes. You will pray a lot and feel pulled to step out.

After stopping the medication for six months you will be once again sitting in the doctor’s office. The RA is back, your joints are swelling and you are in severe pain. The doctor explains that you will need to go back on the medications and, even with taking the medications again, there is a decent chance the disease will not go back in “remission”. You ask if you can wait one more week. The doctor says waiting one week will be ok, but only one week. You will wait the week. Five weeks later Stephanie will tell you she is pregnant!

You will want to know if you are having a boy or girl, but decide to leave that to God and pray for a healthy baby. During the pregnancy you will be asked if Stephanie will keep working when the baby is born. You will feel God telling you to come and step out and have Stephanie resign from work and stay at home, but your current salary does not cover the monthly bills - you need both salaries. After many conversations and prayers you decide to step out. Three months after Calvin is born and the maternity leave is ending Stephanie turns in her resignation.  Two months later you will be laid off.

You had begun looking for other possibilities with the hope of getting a salary increase but now it has become even more urgent. You will be worried and wonder if you have made the right choice. Four weeks later you will receive a job offer with a salary that replaces both incomes. Six months later you will be caught in another company reorganization and laid off again, only to receive another job with a higher salary three months later. Stepping out and trusting God, although scary, has proven to be the right choice.

I do want to tell you, although you will always be on medicine for RA, the RA does stay in “remission” and you will enjoy all the activities of being a healthy husband and father – lots of family hiking trips, playing sports with Calvin, and enjoying fun-filled family vacations.

I could tell you about many other moments when God has said to come and step out and you will. And I can tell you of times when you won’t. All I can say is, “have faith and step out, it will be scary, but stepping out is where life is”…

Love,
Mike

Matthew 14:25-31: Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear. But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” “Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

John 10:10: “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

Bottom of the Ninth #197 - March 3, 2017

Dear Younger Me Series - "Difficulty Will Be Worth It" by Matt Diekemper

This week's "Dear Younger Me" letter is written by Drury University senior Matt Diekemper. Matt is a pitcher for the Panthers and is owning a budding faith in Jesus Christ. As you'll read in this letter, Matt is open about his life, his shortcomings, and shows the power of God and the effects of the Gospel. He shares his weaknesses in a way that shows it's really about the strength of God. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12:9, "'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me."

Dear younger Matt,

I am writing this letter to tell you to that everything that will happen to you will all make sense later on. A lot of things will happen to you and you will endure a great deal without understanding why, but you will soon enough. I am also writing this to give you warnings about the difficulties that you will face because things get difficult for you and the difficult times will last for a while.  Just hold on though because all of the difficulties will be worth it eventually.

I know what you are currently thinking. Second grade is a lot of fun and you are loving the attention from baseball and basketball. You have a great family that loves you and will do anything for you. You are thinking that everything is perfect and nothing can or will go wrong. You are about to have your world absolutely rocked. You know that your cousin, Hannah, was born with holes in her heart and that she has gone through many surgeries to try and repair her heart. All of the surgeries will fail and you will only have the privilege to spend one year with Hannah here on earth. You will remember the next few days for the rest of your life. The pain that you witnessed personally and from your family members will stay with you for a long time. Hannah’s death with impact you more than you could ever understand as a young child and even to this day as I write this letter to you. There is going to be a lot of heartache, tears, and anger in your life as you mourn and suffer the loss of Hannah.

After Hannah’s death, you are going to dive into sports and place your identity in the amount of success that you have in them. This will work for you for a couple years and it is going to be where you get your childhood dreams. Your success on the court and field make you want to become a professional basketball player. You will spend countless hours in the basement playing video games and acting out your future high school, college, and professional games against your biggest rivals. Oh how I wish you had spent those hours actually practicing and playing those scenarios instead of just acting them out but that’s another story and those days are going to make you into the man that is writing you today.

You know how I said placing your identity in sports would only work for a couple of years? Yeah, well that time has come and past and you are about to enter high school. Your success on the basketball court is going to only get worse. You will never start a high school basketball or baseball game, not even senior night, but I’ll talk about that in a little bit. You will play football as a freshman and be good enough to start on the freshman team and even change your dream to play college football for a few months. Don’t worry; it’s just a phase. You will go from wanting to quit baseball to focus on football to end up quitting football all together before your freshman year ends. I wish you wouldn’t have to have that conversation with mom and dad about quitting football. They are going to be shocked and a little mad at first. They will get over it though. As you move through high school, you will get caught up in your baseball ability and dream of playing in college. You will also get caught up over a girl in high school that you want so badly to date. It doesn’t ever happen and you will waste a lot of your time and thoughts over it. While you go through all of this, you are going to live a secret life that you hide from others pretty well. This secret life will be a late at night addiction to pornography. If there is one thing that I wish that you would never do, it is this. Porn is going to consume you. It will be all that you think about. You will desire the attention and affection from a girl so badly because all you want to do is have sex with her. You think that this will make you cool and one of the guys. You think that is what will make you the guy that everyone wants to be around if this happens. You could not be more wrong.

Remember how I said you won’t ever start a high school basketball or baseball game? That is because you will tear the labrum in your right shoulder diving for a loose ball in a basketball game. It will require surgery and you will miss the rest of your high school athletic career. You get an honorary start on senior day during baseball and get to stand on the field for one pitch. You will cry and try to hide it because you are a tough guy but you really aren’t so stop acting like it. Let those tears flow because it won’t be the last time you will cry. You think your dream of being a college baseball player is over, but I have some good news. I know what you are thinking reading this, finally this guy is giving me some good news!

After your rehab, you will email school about walking onto the baseball team. You will try out at Drury University and become a Panther. You think that this is your big break and that you will be the big man on campus as a freshman. Well you are the big man on campus but just not in the way you think you will be. You will soon realize that there is a big gap in talent between you and the other guys on the team and you will be the big man on campus because you also realize that you are out of shape and need to make a change with your body. You feel the need to try and fit in with your new teammates, and you think that you have to do it off the field at parties since your talent on the field won’t impress them. You will begin to party way too much. There will be nights that you do not remember because you drank too much. That porn addiction in high school will follow you to college and it gets worse. You now use parties as a way to feed that addiction by picking up girls and sleeping with them.  It will take you two years to get your body in shape to be able to play this game at a competitive level in college. There is good and bad to this taking place. It is good because you drop a bunch of weight and are ready to play, but it is bad because it will take a blown out UCL in your right elbow for it to happen. This will crush you but you will make it through and this is when your life will begin to change.

You come back for your junior year and you are in shape and healthy. You think this will be the year that you see your hard work pay off with on the field results. You will only pitch two innings as a junior but your life is changed in a way you would never imagine. You will meet a new teammate, Devan, and Cru staff member, Brandon. These two guys will begin to work wonders in your life. You will go to Denver for Cru’s Denver Christmas Conference with Devan, Jess, and Kylie. At this conference, you will realize that you are missing and longing for a relationship with Jesus Christ, the Lord and Savior of the world. You have been searching for this relationship since Hannah’s death. Hannah’s death will leave emptiness inside you that only Jesus can fill. The next fourteen months will be a crazy ride. You will see a change in your heart that continues to grow in Jesus. You will see yourself battle the addiction to porn and no longer lust after women all of the time. I wish I could tell you that it was all completely gone. You are still battling with it now, but Jesus is working in your heart and with His help, you will be able to overcome the lust that has controlled you since you were eleven years old. I also wish that I could tell you that this Christian walk is easy but it is not. You will cry to God, yell at God, and ask God why you are still struggling with these things of the old you. You will see changes but be frustrated by them not happening fast enough. Take a deep breath and trust in God because He knows what He is doing with your life. You will also see your dream of being a professional athlete change to be a high school teacher and coach to then become an intern and future staff member for Athletes in Action and spend your life in athletic ministry. I wish I could tell you what will happen to you after graduating college and what your life will look like and if the desire to have a wife and family happens but I can’t. What I do know is that as long as you wake up every morning trying to do everything you can to glorify God and trust that He is in control of your life that you will be okay.

Keep your head up and know that everything that you went through has made you into the man that is sitting here today writing this letter to you. Also know that I would not change any of the things you will go through because you are exactly where you need to be in your life and walk with Christ.

Love,
Matt

Bottom of the Ninth #196 - February 24, 2017

Dear Younger Me Series - "Take It In" by Kyle Robbins

This week's "Dear Younger Me" letter is written by Arizona Christian junior Kyle Robbins. Kyle plays both catcher and third base for the Firestorm. He is majoring in Communications, with desires to pursue a career in broadcast journalism or law enforcement. As you'll see in his letter, Kyle has been blessed with incredible parents and amazing teammates throughout his life. His message is an important one and rooted in Matthew 6:34 - do not worry about tomorrow for tomorrow has enough trouble of its own.

Dear Younger Kyle,

Take it in. Take it all in. It all flies by so unbelievably fast. Don't worry about your surroundings so much, but instead embrace them.

Having the opportunity to go to Valor Christian High School was one of the greatest blessings you will have in your young life. It prepares you very well for college and life. With that being said, take your classes seriously in your first years there. Be attentive and don't slack off. It will be a factor in your college choice. Fortunately, you got lucky with your ACT score, and, while you don't go to an Ivy League college, things worked out. Even with this being the case, create good habits.

You are very proud of your roots and how you've handled some of life’s most testing moments. Going through sicknesses in your family, most specifically Mom, is something that shapes you as a man. The characteristics you have built through trials thus far in your life makes you a better man.

Physically, the one thing you will regret is not falling in love with working out and eating right until your freshman summer of college. If you had hit the weight room hard and had eaten right in high school, you would be so much more comfortable in your own skin and a better athlete on the field. Sometimes I wonder where we would be now if we did, but at the same time, we ended up right where we needed to be. The friendships and relationships you build are unbelievable. God has a plan and we did a good job in trusting in it. 

As far as college baseball goes, it is one of the coolest things you'll ever do. The level of play is so much better than high school. The coolest part of it all is you'll get to be in the same conference with a teammate of yours in high school. Getting to play against Daniel Butler just adds that much more energy to the rivalry of our schools. He is a true talent. Also, you will go to school, share a room, and play one more of year of baseball with Nick Merten. You drive each other crazy but you get to be really close with each other. The friendship you build will last a lifetime. As I write you, it is our junior year and Marco Castilla somehow found his way into our program as well. Talk about a close friend you never thought you’d have. It is so cool getting to see him everyday and it is even cooler to see the relationship that we have formed. He is a huge asset to our team and will hopefully help us make a run at the conference. We will also have the honor to play Matt Fontneau in his last college baseball season. It is cool to see that you will stay in touch with guys on the very first brotherhood you experienced at Valor. Things like this remind you that baseball is just a game. It is fun. You develop relationships and learn about adversity and how to overcome it.

Don't try and press, enjoy the game and let it come to you. You play better relaxed with a mindset that if you fail, the world does not end. Baseball helps shape your life in this aspect as well. The people you meet will help you connect with future jobs or even a chance to further a career in the game, player or not. Enjoy it.

You are a great kid. Don't let anyone change you. Stay the same kid your close friends and family know and love. I am so happy that you stayed true to yourself. I know a lot of people that went down the wrong path. Stay level-minded, appreciate where you are, and know that the future is bright. Always remember where you came from and take it in along the way.

Love ya man!
Kyle

Bottom of the Ninth #195 - February 17, 2017

Dear Younger Me Series: "God Has a Plan..." By Tom Walters

IMG_4357.jpg

This week's "Dear Younger Me" letter comes from a beloved member of the Colorado baseball community, Tom Walters. Tom is the initiator of this Bottom of the Ninth devotional series and his passion for telling Christ's story through the game of baseball is contagious. Tom has been friends to coaches at Valor Christian, the Colorado Rockies scout team, Diamond Club, and many others in the state. Tom even threw his hat in the ring as the mental game coach for the Eagles over the past three season. His story is as rich as God's grace is to every one of us. Sit back and enjoy Tom's letter to himself in this week's edition of "Dear Younger Me." Dear Younger Tom,

You're going to have to trust me on this, I have some mileage that you don't yet have! There will be many of life's lessons that you will fight. You will be given opportunity after opportunity to learn that he has a plan, he loves you, he forgives you and he wants to have a relationship with you. Relax, enjoy the ride, this is your life unfolded.

From your elementary school years, you'll learn to read and write but more importantly you'll start to learn to love. Moving half a dozen times before you are nine will seem like life's not fair. You'll find that making friends only to move and need to make new friends is a challenge but it will give you great practice. Someday, some of your best friends will joke and call you the Mayor because strangers are just friends you haven't yet met. You see, this is part of God's plan.

Moving to Great Falls, Montana will be a really good thing. You will go to Saints Peter and Paul from the 4th through the 8th grades and you will make friends you will have for a lifetime. Father Dave Bielafeld will convince you that God's not a vending machine for you to put your token prayers into so He will dispense a new horse or a big house and the easy life. Father Dave will give a sermon about how people can be like a winter glove, tough on the outside and warm and soft like rabbit's fur on the inside. He will challenge you to show more of the warm, soft inside of your heart. This is a lesson that God meets you where you are and He loves you. For the first time you will identify deeply that God is love and that He loves you and wants a relationship with you.

You'll learn that life's not fair and that you don't get a Mulligan to go back and be nice. You will bully Kyle Mahon. You'll push and shove and punch him in the hallways at school. You'll call him May Hog. Kyle will get leukemia and die at the ripe old age of eleven before you ever get a chance to say you're sorry. You will never forget how you feel when Kyle's brother Bill asks you to carry his casket at his funeral. The feeling of being a two-faced hypocrite will drive you to tell every kid you know about Kyle Mahon and the love he taught you despite your never having been nice to him one day in his life. God's got a plan for you, He used these lessons to teach you about love and forgiveness. He loves you and He forgives you.

Sports will be important to you from a young age, a place to compete and a place to grow, to challenge yourself, to grow athletically and to grow in life. Dad won't make it to a game to see you play. Dad's absence will be all too familiar over the years, but the familiarity will never make it stop hurting. He won't make a football game, he won't make a wrestling meet, he won't see you ski. He won't make parent-teacher conferences. While it doesn't seem like it and he doesn't know how to show it, your dad loves you. God's got a plan, He is using these lessons to teach you about love and forgiveness.

Saints Peter and Paul was a small parochial school and moving to East Junior High School you'll feel like you're a guppy thrown from your familiar fishbowl into an ocean filled with sharks. You'll be ok. You will make new friends at EJHS that you will have from the 9th grade to the grave. Mrs. Mather will foster your interest in science. Heidi Heim will be your first crush. You'll be exposed to booze. The scare with your eye will be just that, only a scare. It's all going to be ok, God's got this, He has a plan and He is planting seeds, teaching you to trust Him. The lessons from elementary school are repetitive, God's got a plan, he loves you, he forgives you and he wants to have a relationship with you.

You'll go off to Great Falls High School. Dad will try to talk you out of playing high school football saying that you're too small. You will play against his wish. He won't make it to a game. Dad's absence will hurt even more when you realize that your football coach is one of his drinking buddies. He'd go see Coach Reid at the bar but he won't come watch you play and that hurts. In your effort to be one of the guys and to fit in, making the basketball team was a big deal, it will be a boost to your confidence. Dad will make it to a game, but he won't stay because you're on the bench. He won't come to another one. Neither of you will discuss that event.

You'll have a couple of big surgeries that are benchmarks in your high school years, one because it saved your life, the other for the killer scar! You will face tragedy close to you when your friend Tom gets in a car wreck at prom. He and three of your buddies will go drive Tom's brother's Camaro after they'd been drinking. That accident will kill three of your football teammates. Tom will live the rest of his life with his choice to drink and drive. The wreck will sober you…for awhile. That same year, another classmate will have a wreck drinking and drag racing that will leave another teammate paralyzed. That wreck will sober you…for awhile. The lessons from high school are not new, God's got a plan, he loves you, he forgives you and he wants to have a relationship with you.

You will struggle as a freshman at Montana State University. You won't ski fast enough to travel, you won't study enough to make A's or or even B's in a few classes, and you will search in a bottle for answers. You won't find them there. This will be a dark, self-reliant God forsaken time. You'll tell people that you haven't forgotten God but that religion is an institution and you have no intention of being institutionalized. You will feel like you're on your own to find answers about who you are. When you don't find answers, you will search harder by drinking harder.

Dad will go through alcohol treatment after your first year of college. Wow is that a big deal! Dad will tell you that he loves you. He will tell you that he's sorry for the way he's treated you and for the first time, it seems real and you want to believe him. God must have a plan!

One day you will walk into the bathroom at home where there is a prayer on a card on the mirror that has been there for years, but this time you read it. Slowly. It’s Footprints in the Sand, which ends with,

“Why, when I needed you most, have you not been there for me?" The Lord replied, "The times when you have seen Only one set of footprints in the sand, is when I carried you."

After reading it you will sob! While this is a heart-felt message, you will need a several more lessons in the shortcomings of self-reliance before you see that you really don't have to do this, heck, you can't do this alone!

You will spend the next few years in school performing marginally and drinking at a semi-professional level. The day you will meet Kary you'll ask her on a date and after six months of badgering her, she'll agree to go out with you. You will misrepresent who you are. You'll go to coffee on your first date and tell her that you're sober. Dad's sobriety will help ruin your drinking career, the truth about your drinking will become undeniable, though you will try and try to hide it and swear that this time will be different or that you can handle it. Kary is sober and in time, eventually, you will be able to thank her for helping bring sobriety to you. Kary will give you a reason for sobriety, you will finally love someone enough not to let them go in favor of your drinking. You will finally have enough pain to do something about it. God is behind it all, this is His plan even if you don't or won't yet give Him credit.

In sobriety everything will begin to change and you will be reminded that God is not a vending machine. You will continue to peel the layers of self-reliance (fear) to realize that God really does have this! Cerebrally you will know that with Him all things are possible but some of your old ways will die hard.

You will graduate from Montana State University with a degree in Biology and realize that Pre-Med was a way to win dad's approval and to feed your ego, not something that you really wanted, it certainly hadn't been something you wanted enough to put the bottle down or buckle down and study. You will meet your mentor in veterinary medicine in a ski shop. You'd discounted veterinary medicine because the vet at home as a boy was one of your dad's derelict drinking buddies. Your newfound mentor has his skis in his office, he's smart and athletic and he challenges and encourages you. God is showing you your calling. Doors open to coach skiing and that position takes care of tuition so that you to put some good grades on the end of your transcript to make a competitive application to veterinary school. You earn a chemistry degree in the process and the lessons from college are starting to sound familiar, God's got a plan, he loves you, he forgives you and he wants to have a relationship with you.

You will get to go to veterinary school in Colorado and will head to Fort Collins without Kary. Veterinary school will challenge you academically, it will challenge your faith. You will realize that leaving Kary behind is a big mistake and in her absence, you will realize what she means to you and before Christmas you will fly to Montana to ask her to marry you. You are married that summer and within 3-4 weeks into being married, Kary will tell you that she has always wanted to go to veterinary school! You've known her for 3-4 years and never before have you heard even a peep about vet school except to encourage you! She has a degree in graphic design for Pete's sake! You will encourage Kary to follow her dream to become a veterinarian and she is steadfast, amazing in her dedication to become a veterinarian.

You will struggle as a newlywed. Veterinary school will challenge your marriage. School will have your full attention and you give it first billing. Letting down at school has consequences. Kary will understand. You won't see it in the midst of it, but you are paving the way for marital problems and maintaining your self-reliant relationship with God will bite you. Kary makes A's in all of her prerequisites for vet school, cranks out a high score on her admissions test and is admitted to vet school and will begin the year after you graduate. Attending veterinary school back to back and stringing that stress together for eight years between a husband and wife isn't anything you'll wish upon an enemy, particularly if God and a sound reliance on Him is not at the foundation of your marriage. The Lessons from veterinary school are familiar by now, God's got a plan, he loves you, he forgives you and he wants to have a relationship with you.

You will struggle a long time to understand what happens when people and relationships are taken for granted. The next years will see Kary in veterinary school in Fort Collins and you will further feed your ego. You will have your own practice within six months of graduating from vet school 90 minutes separated from Kary in Parker, CO. This is a great recipe for professional success and a marital mess.

Our son, Levi, will be born midway through Kary's senior year of veterinary school. Talk about God's love! Kids are His greatest gift this side of salvation! Talk about lessons in perspective! Talk about loving someone! Your dad will seemingly learn a ton the day that your son is born and will become instantly wise. He will have perspective. Kary will graduate on schedule through dogged determination. Life becomes fast paced, practice is booming, Kary is at home with Levi. You will grow further apart.

Divorce can be likened to a boot to the belly, that's if it goes well. I'll tell you it's more like being gut shot and it's not if you get peritonitis but when and how septic? This is what happens when you are self reliant, self absorbed, and you spit on God's plan.

Divorce sucks. Time with Levi is divided and logistics make love difficult when the best way to show love is time. Skiing is the biggest connection you have with Levi. He is a very successful young ski racer. He is always in the top ten at races in Colorado and usually on the podium, he even has a couple of top 10 results nationally. A few years go by and Levi will come to you and tell you that he thinks ski racing has been more about pleasing you as a dad and less of a love for him. He wants to hang up his racing skis so he can pursue his love of baseball. It comes as a punch in the gut. You look back at trying to please your dad. You will look at Levi's ski racing success but in time it all sinks in and you will be able to get behind Levi and encourage him as a baseball player.

He has a great season traveling with Coach Robert. Coach Robert steps away the following year and coaching is left to one very well intentioned dad and one of Satan's helpers. Nine guys make up the entire team, the Iron Nine as they come to be known. That season was a train wreck! That awful experience will motivate you to advocate for Levi in baseball. You will make it your mission to see that baseball is played the right way, that kids come first, that life's lessons are taught and that values are in the forefront of the game. You will hunt for coaches by watching hundreds of youth baseball games. You will interview coaches from Broomfield to Colorado Springs and everywhere in between. God will put Coach Bonn in our lives. Levi is challenged athletically, physically and spiritually and he grows exponentially in response.

Levi will lobby you and Kary to attend an open house at Valor Christian High School. You will go and you'll be absolutely blown away by the presentation. You and Kary will put Levi first in your lives and come together to send him to Valor. It will be the best investment you've made to date. You have told Levi for years that you are proud of him on his worst day. He will take full advantage of the opportunities that Valor makes available to him and there will be lessons in success and failure and there are countless opportunities to be proud of him and his achievements. Baseball will be a roller coaster for Levi as an underclassman and it will culminate in a state championship as a senior, the pinnacle of high school baseball. Levi has has made friendships in the Valor Baseball Brotherhood that will last a lifetime. Levi's lessons from baseball and from high school are very familiar, God's got a plan, he loves you, he forgives you and he wants to have a relationship with you.

Out of hard work, dedication to academics, athletic growth, great coaching and only through God's hand, Levi will be recruited to play baseball at The United States Military Academy, West Point. He will accept his appointment on your birthday, a birthday you'll never forget. Army baseball will go through some changes and the coaches who recruited Levi will be let go and replaced by coaches who don't know him. He will get through BEAST, West Point's version of boot camp and will be so thankful for baseball as a respite from the academics and the military training and the grind of The Academy. You will receive a phone call from Levi that feels like a boot to the belly. He got cut from the baseball team and is wondering if he really ought to tough out the hell that is life at West Point without baseball. You will tell Levi that the decision is his but if he is asking your opinion, heck yes it's worth saying at West Point without baseball. A day or two later Levi will call you to tell you that he has spoken to the captain of the ski team at West Point, he's going to stay at West Point, ski race again, and become the best officer he can become and serve his country. You well with pride and credit God for Levi's maturity.

This is life, the opportunity to learn life's lessons are everywhere, God has a plan for you, He loves you, He forgives you and your relationship with Him is awesome!

Love, Tom

IMG_4357
IMG_4357