I can still picture myself as a ten year old, holding my pen like a treasure, lips pursed and brow furrowed as I gathered my thoughts to write a letter to my favorite college basketball player, Dan O’Leary.
It is the first time I remember wanting my words to matter.
My dad handed me the phone a week later and I stood there listening in disbelief as Dan O’Leary invited me to shoot baskets with him one day after school.
That very day something true grew in my heart, an understanding that if you never ask, you never know.
You never know what might happen if you never ask the question, or send the letter, or offer the thank you.
Earlier this month, this thirty-seven year story came around full circle and I want to share it with you here.
Last year, I wrote about Dan O’Leary on my blog. You can read about it here. After I posted the story, a friend walked into my office and kindly said, “You should send that story to him. I bet he would love it.”
I smiled and said thank you, but explained that I had no idea where to even send it.
She smiled back and said something about the power of Google and how she had found his daughter online and that I should contact her.
I wondered aloud if that would be a little creepy and my friend shrugged and said, “What do you have to lose?”
With a little more anxiety than I had when I was ten, I sent a message to Dan O’Leary’s daughter, Meghan, and offered my story to her, hoping she would share it with her dad. Praying I wouldn’t sound like a complete stalker, I hit “send” and went on my merry way. I laughed at myself and guessed that I most likely wouldn’t hear back from her.
Until I heard back from her.
She graciously shared the blog with her dad and I exchanged a few fun emails with him. I stayed in touch with Meghan and eventually wrote a blog about her as well. You can read it here.
If you don’t have time to read that, just let me say that Meghan is an exceptional athlete and is currently training for the 2016 Olympics in rowing.
This past spring, I opened an email from Meghan inviting my family and me to come to Princeton this summer to meet her and her rowing partner, Ellen Tomek, and experience what a morning of training looks like on the boat.
It wasn’t surprising that Meghan would be as kind as her dad, but it all felt a little surreal. I laughed thinking about how God knew all of this would happen, even as I labored over that letter thirty seven years ago. I loved thinking Steve and the girls would now be more connected to one of my favorite childhood memories.
We loaded up the car and made the drive to Princeton for the 7am workout. I grabbed McKenzie’s hand and nervously walked towards the boathouse. Meghan popped out of the training room and I quickly skipped the formal introductions and just gave her a hug – so grateful to have this chance to meet her. It was a perfect morning to be on the water and we all made our way towards the boat.
I wish I could tell you every sweet detail of the day, but I have even more important things to share with you. Here are a few photographs instead: (scroll down to read the rest of the story!)
It was a magical morning, one that is difficult for me to describe. It felt comfortable, covered with joy and ease and beauty. If I were to draw a picture of God’s grace and peace, it might look like that morning. At one point on the boat, I found myself getting teary as I considered this gift God was giving me. We don’t always get to see the bigger picture in life, but for a brief moment on that Saturday morning, I saw a glimpse of something bigger and it all felt holy.
Meghan and Ellen won the 2015 National Selection Regatta and recently took second at the World Cup II in Varese, Italy in the Women’s Double, “arguably the most competitive event internationally.” In spite of their incredible performance, the women’s double “is not fully supported by USRowing. In 2013, the women’s double was cut from funding and in result, from the Princeton Training Center.” In Meghan and Ellen’s words, they “decided to stick together and show that [they] could put the United States at the top of the field. [They’ve] gone against the grain, taking on the high stakes challenge of formidable competitors and minimal funding and have proven that it can be done. But [they] need your continued support!”
I don’t know if I have ever seen two athletes work as hard as Meghan and Ellen. They are phenomenal, elite competitors and it felt like art to watch them in their sport. The even bigger impact for me though is that in spite of their achievements, they still made time for my family. Meghan took each one of my girls out on the boat and showed them a little bit about rowing. They shared a meal with us and took time out of their busy training schedule to get to know us a little bit. Because my memory with her dad mattered to me, it mattered to Meghan too. It didn’t have to.
My daughters are bombarded by all kinds of messages on television and social media. It is easy to lose perspective when you see glamour and riches and careless living being glorified by the media. I long for them to see beauty and integrity and strength modeled in a way that our world often neglects. I also long for them to know that dreams matter and that pursuing their dreams takes passion, commitment, and hard work. Meghan and Ellen modeled all of that for my girls on our Saturday visit. But more than that, they showed my daughters that even in the midst of such noble pursuits, kindness still matters. We can have it all, but if we forget connection and community and love, we have missed the bigger picture.
Would you consider joining me in supporting Meghan and Ellen and their dream to make it to the 2016 Olympics in Rio? You can learn more about their journey here: https://www.rallyme.com/rallies/1955/w2x
Take time to watch the video too. It is worth the watch.
I am learning more and more about the bigness of God. How he knows the details. He knows the story. He knows the needs. He knows how to bless people in different ways through the same story. I so want to pay attention to our story telling God.