“Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.” – Psalms 51:12
This past Friday night I sat in the passenger seat of our car on the way to Virginia Beach. My wife was driving, and the radio was tuned to SiriusXM. Knowing her, it was likely either classic rock or the Coffee House that was playing. As a basketball junkie, however, I was following the NCAA March Madness tournament on my phone. As the road through southeast Virginia carried us towards the ocean, I could see that something special was brewing a few states northwest, in Columbus, Ohio. Cinderella (in this case 16-seeded Fairleigh Dickinson University) was hanging around the dance long after she was supposed to have left. I am sure I am like many people at this time of year, I root for underdogs. No offense to the powerhouse number-one seeds (in this case the Purdue Boilermakers), but March Madness is much more fun when the little guy is able to have his day in the sun.
And so it was that this underdog went on to make history, becoming the second ever number 16 to beat a number 1. We watched the last few minutes of the game together on my phone and reveled in the chance to watch something monumental play out. But my wife and I also realized something else very quickly. It was in Virginia Beach in 2018, five years and one day previously, that we witnessed this history-making occurrence for the very first time, when the University of Virginia lost to UMBC in the first ever victory of a #16 over a #1, certainly the greatest upset in Tournament history.
Unknown to us at the time, but crystal clear as we look back, it was also the start of one of the most incredible works of human-authored salvation in sports.
In an article in Sports Illustrated in 2019, Tony Bennett, the coach of that UVA team that lost to UMBC, talked about trying to figure out how he would address his team at the beginning of practice the following season. He needed something that would encourage them and lift them up. They had a pivotal season ahead of them, one that would surely not lack for questions about the previous year’s failure. He needed something that would help them to move forward.
The article goes on to talk about Bennett’s wife and a TED talk by Donald Davis that she shared with him in his moment of searching. He showed his players that talk and used it to encourage them to tell the story of their crushing defeat so that they could, in Davis’s words, “climb out from under that rock and eventually…sit up on top of it.”
And so it was, 38 games and 388 days later, that Virginia cut down the nets as the 2019 National Champion.
Nelson Mandela once said, “don’t judge me by how many times I’ve fallen down, but how many times I’ve fallen down and gotten back up.” But let’s face it, getting back up isn’t that easy, and the energy to do it needs to come from somewhere. And once you are back on your feet, you still need to embrace a purpose to keep moving forward.
We all get knocked down. I’ve been laid off, suffered panic attacks, been treated for OCD, depression, and anxiety, lost loves, and maybe even realized that I’m not at 47 what my seven-year-old, or even 27-year-old, self thought I would be. And if you are reading this the likelihood is that you’ve gotten knocked down a few times, and gotten back up again, and God-willing you are filled with a purpose towards something fulfilling and wonderful. But if not, take heart.
In the passage above, David is calling on God to give him the energy to fill him back up with life in order to keep moving towards his purpose: going out and converting new people to follow him.
Inspiration can come from so many different places. A text from your spouse, a youTube video, a retired football player on Twitter who loves God and is willing to put it out there. But in the end, it is we who tell the stories of our lives. How will you write yours?