John Cook, who I had the honor to play for at Nebraska, will admit that if there is one thing that every freshman says when asked what their collegiate goals are, it is that they want to be a four-time All-American. I was no different. That was #1 on my list. To be honest, I couldn’t even tell you what #2 was. I was so fixated on being an All-American that that was the only thing that really mattered in my mind. If there is anything I could tell freshman now, it is that we are all already All-Americans. Your goals and dreams have been met. It doesn't matter your position, your grade classification, whether you were a redshirt or not, if you step foot on the court every game or never take off your warm-up jacket. We are all already All-Americans on the greatest team we could be on – Jesus’ team. Here is my story:
Where It All Began
I grew up in Papillion, Nebraska, a town of about 20,000 on the outskirts of Omaha. Growing up, we went to church at 8:00 a.m. every single Sunday (until club volleyball tournaments began to mix around our weekend schedules), Vacation Bible School for a week every summer, Midweek classes where we would go to learn and memorize verses or faith-based works such as the Apostle’s and Nicene Creed, the Lord’s Prayer and just about our Lutheran faith. We knew the reasons behind the morals we grew up believing had a biblical basis, they weren’t just an opinion. It was just engrained in our minds what was considered right from wrong in a Biblical viewpoint as opposed to Earthly viewpoints. Like many kids, I didn’t necessarily enjoy the idea of waking up at 7:00 a.m. on a Sunday, to get dressed up all fancy and sit in a church pew for an hour. Mind you, having to sit still and listen for the majority of that hour. If church began at noon, maybe I would have had a different opinion, but I didn’t have that luxury. It was 8:00 a.m. No arguments.
I began playing volleyball when I was in elementary school. My mom initially didn’t let us go out for our local recreation team because she didn't want to just watch the ball drop every time it went over the net – if it went over at all. (Good call, mom). We eventually got “old enough” (the next summer) to be able to go out for volleyball. Fast forward a few years and my twin sister, Amber, and I began to take volleyball more seriously. Serious to the point where we would travel out of town at least once a month. We’d drive eight hours to Denver or Chicago, six hours to Minneapolis, fly to Houston or Miami. Wherever the tournaments took us, that is where we would go. Thousands of miles - whether on the road or in the air - later, my sister and I committed to play volleyball at Nebraska the summer before our freshmen year of high school. Our college destination was set even before we had a single rep in a high school practice.
If you have never been to the great state of Nebraska (it’s not called The Good Life for nothing), you are missing out on one of the most devoted communities of fans when it comes to their hometown team, the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Even better, if you are a volleyball player, you want to go play at Nebraska. That is every little girl’s dream. My sister and I were no different – except maybe the year or so that I wanted to go to Stanford, but that’s a different story. I grew up idolizing Jordan Larson and that is who I wanted to emulate. In January of 2013, my sister and I ventured 40 minutes (depending upon who was driving) down I-80 from Papillion to Lincoln and begun our college careers a semester early.
First Days As A Husker
College started off with me walking into the wrong classroom of Andrews Hall and sitting next to students who just gave me ‘the stare’. I knew one of my teammates and I were supposed to be in the same class and she was nowhere to be found, so I do the ‘fake phone call’ and called her and said “I’ll be right there!” and left the classroom. Not to worry though, I made it to my correct class on time but beat red from the embarrassment I just created for myself. After that day, college classes were smooth sailing. Never stepped foot into the wrong classroom again.
Practices weren’t much different than my classroom experience. Coach Cook always calls the beginning of practices “kindergarten” for the freshman and the transfers. We all had the excitement of something new, but it was like teaching a kid the alphabet and numbers. Everything was brand new. The drills. The length of practice (I used to think two hours was long!). The amount of communication needed every single rep. New teammates. New coaches. Everything was exciting, but at the end of the day, it was a whirlwind. Just thinking about waking up and doing it all over again not only tomorrow, but for four more years was nerve-racking and an adjustment, but just like one of Coach Cook’s coined phrases: “the great ones adjust!”.
My Journey To Christ
I joined FCA for the first time in junior high. For those of you who aren’t familiar with FCA, it stands for Fellowship of Christian Athletes. I don’t remember much about what we did in those meetings other than it was early in the morning and that we got donuts after we played a group game. Thinking back about it, maybe the free donuts were a way to lure kids in, but if it was the only exposure they had to Jesus the whole week, then I believe those chocolate covered donuts served their purpose! Continuing on in high school, FCA was one of the only groups I became a part of. This was mainly because of my busy sports schedule of playing club volleyball year round as well as participating in volleyball, basketball, and (after freshman year), track for my high school. The time demand for it was doable and the meeting place was just in the neighborhood next to mine. If I look back on it, I don’t know if I joined for the true reason why I should have – to become friends with and hang out with brothers and sisters in Christ. I think, back in those days, I did it for the social aspect and the stove-top popcorn, not to learn more about how to incorporate my faith into my sport and social life. It took me years to really understand what this looked like and that it didn’t require an adjustment to my entire daily routine to include my faith into sports. In fact, it made sports easier and more enjoyable.
Come the end of my sophomore year to the beginning of my junior year, I was craving change. I wished to spice things up a little bit. I wanted something different. My routines just became mundane and it made me despise parts of a sport I once so deeply loved.
At this same time in my college career, I also became more interested in my faith. The faith that I have always had. The same one that gave me free donuts and stove-top popcorn. Only this time, I really wanted to invest my time in it. I had heard so many testimonies in my life about how God really changed people’s lives for the better and that Jesus brought them the only true joy and peace that they know. The church I attended while in college, ChristPlace, had something called Summer Splash every year where the service was mainly baptisms. My sister and I loved that and the stories made us cry frequently because you could just feel how Jesus really changed these people’s lives and how you don’t have to change who you are to follow Christ. He loves you right where you are. He loves you despite your sins. No matter your past, Jesus wants you right now. We heard it all the time, but just hearing those words actually come to fruition in people’s day to day lives really got to us, especially me.
God’s timing is perfect and my quest to dive deeper into my faith couldn't have come at a better time. The time where the sport I grew up loving turned into something that was fun, but it didn’t bring joy. A sport where you essentially forgive all the time, but I didn’t do it with grace. Once I learned that Jesus is the only person who really brings you true joy and peace, that’s when I began to love volleyball again. Ephesians 1:4 says “even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and blameless before him.” After being so concentrated on stats and being an All-American, I realized that we all are on the greatest team of all time. Even better, we are all All-Americans on the greatest team in the world. Jesus’ team. We are blameless before him. There is nothing that I can do on the court that is going to make Him mad at me or turn away from me. He will always be there. We are fearfully and wonderfully made and when I combined my passion for volleyball and really believed that I am blameless and that Jesus’ will bring me the joy, not the stats or the accolades, I began to look at volleyball the way I did when I first fell in love with it in the 5th grade.
Fast-forward a couple years to today. My faith is stronger than it has ever been before. While in California during summer stints with team USA the past two summers, I met a woman by the name of Christa Dietzen, who fears God and goes out and spreads the Word to anybody she may come in contact with. The pure joy she exudes just by being in her presence only proves how much Jesus is doing in and through her every day of her life. Having gone through similar experiences than many of the team USA players, she is someone who always points us back in the right direction whenever we veer off the path and really start to question God. I recently completed my second season playing professionally overseas, this time in Japan. Again, another example of God’s timing being perfect. In Japan, you don’t see many Christians. In fact, the only two people I saw that even outwardly expressed their faith were two Mormons, one from Utah and one from Arizona. This forced me to continue the journey on my own, in a way that I never had before since it really was just me and God. I didn’t understand the language and I was 15 hours ahead of my family and friends. Having someone like Christa in my life was truly one of the best things to happen while in Japan. A group of us USA girls would have bi-weekly Skype calls to talk about a book we read called Love Does by Bob Goff. While doing this, we were able to see how we can view God in the day-to-day aspects of our life, on the court or off. Jesus truly does transform lives, as long as you are willing to let Him.
My Word Of Advice
If there is one thing I can encourage everyone with, it is this: if there is a hole or a void somewhere in your life, look to Jesus. He truly is the only who can fill that void. Not a friend or a boyfriend or a coach. They will fail you. Jesus never will. He will never judge you. He will never turn his back on you. For anyone, especially Christians, find someone like Christa in your life to help veer you back on the right path when you go astray. Having friends who encourage you, love you, and ultimately challenge you in your faith are one of the greatest ways to grow your faith and to see Jesus at work. Finally, for everyone – Christian or not – just know that all of your desires to be an All-American have been fulfilled, without stepping foot on the court. There is no need to perform perfect or be a star every day. Jesus loves you and you are blameless in His eyes. As expressed by the JJ Weeks band: “Every blessing great and small. Every breath, every step we walk is a gift we don't deserve from a love we cannot earn.” Jesus has given you the gift of athleticism, the least we can do is play for Him.