Like so many of us, I have struggled with who I am, how I am defined. Throughout my life, I would give myself to certain interests and seek to be defined by them; whether it be dinosaurs, football, music, girls or even drugs. I would devote myself to be filled with every tidbit of info I could find about these interests and would find gratification in the search. But I have also felt a common thread through each of these things, I would lose.
Football has been the clearest example of this losing for me. My high school team lost 29 straight games during my career and went on to lose 20 consecutive more after I left. To be the captain of that team and to love something as much as I loved football, that hurt. I can’t even give words to how it felt to lose so much or how demoralizing it is to think we never had a chance. And to add to this, the team that I gave my attention to, the South Carolina Gamecocks, were perennial underachievers. The first time they ever won a post season game came 100 years into their experiment with football back 1995.
The gamecocks flirted with success here and there but only to find our hands empty. After a while, you just expect to lose. I have realized that the one word that best sums up my self-opinion is ‘loser.’ Football seems small compared to the failed relationships, the drug abuse, practically flunking out of college, and severe depression that became my story.
God has this thing for giving new names. The great persecutor of the early church, Saul, rode the meager christians out of town and into death, but God defeated him and gave him a new purpose and a new name: Paul. He would go on to write 2/3’s of the New Testament and was almost single-handily responsible for bringing the faith to all of Europe. And yet he never forgot his first name: ‘chief of sinners.’ And because he never forgot, the power of his new name was unsearchably immense.
God is giving me a new name too. Once a loser I now find myself living under the moniker of ‘victorious.’ Its a hard pill to swallow. Even though I sobered up, made it through college with honors, and have the greatest relationship of my life with my wife, I still am scared that I will lose it all, that I will lose even my new name.
And it was in the midst of this fear and uncertainty that I watched the Gamecocks win a second consecutive baseball national championship this past year. And not just win it, but do it in style. Pulling off near-miraculous plays when all seemed lost, breaking the all-time record for consecutive tournament wins, doing it against near-insurmountable odds like your best player playing with a broken wrist. And best of all, I kept expecting them to lose and I was so wrong.
This team comes from a place that knows nothing of winning. The school’s athletics seemed so doomed to lose that the local papers refer to the ‘chicken curse’ as stifling all the opportunities for victory. But this group of self-proclaim nobodies won in a way never seen before. And while most simply enjoyed the spectacle, I was floored with the sprig of hope these gamecocks were bringing me.
I am not destined to lose.
Life has thrown me some wicked curve balls, I’ve had my share of brokenness but my expectations are changing with my name. I am beginning to believe that I might just win. And that, my friend, is the greatest hope I can imagine.
Michael is the pastor of the Church at Argenta in North Little Rock, AR. He is still a hopeless gamecock fan and hopes their baseball team can pull of the even more improbable three-peat as season started this week. He blogs semi-regularly at A Sprig of Hope.