Sunday, February 1, 2015

Walking by Faith, Not by Sight

Chaos.  Mayhem.  Turmoil.  Adrenaline.  If my life does not involve such things I become slightly uncomfortable.  These last few months, though, have been continually unpredictable and much more than I could handle.  Somehow, in the midst of the adversity, I found the most calming peace this World has to offer.  As my basketball college career ended at Ole Miss (Hotty Toddy!!) I began chasing the dream of being a professional basketball player.  The summer began to fade and I was still without a job, or even a hint of a job offer.  All kinds of emotions were running through me, none of which were positive.  My agent kept telling me there was nothing, everyone I know kept asking me the same questions, and most of all my dad would never leave it alone.  All this began to wear on me, and for the first time in my life I actually felt some stress.  It was quite surreal to see all my past problems really prove how destructive they were.  What happened next was one of the most awe inspiring feelings to overcome me.  I wound up on my knees praying to God, there was nowhere else to go.  For people who do not know, I was born into a very, very, VERY conservative, southern baptist family.  Being raised in the church, I have always known the difference between right and wrong, what to do, and what not to do.  I began to live a life that was not pleasing to God, or to many authority figures, and it all came back to burn me.  Each time in life I set myself back, all by my own doing, I would pray on it, then promise God I would never do it again.  I would get back up, on top,  then I would fade away from the Word EVERYTIME. The difference this time was the realness of the situation and the absolute desperateness of my words.  I decided basketball may not be the answer, and I claimed to God that I wanted to live my life for Him, no matter what basketball had to do with it.  I needed to make a change for the better and that was the only way I knew how.  It was astonishing to see how the life, all of a sudden, began to piece together.  I finally was able to start living without real worry, for I knew everything was out of my hands.  

ITALY (August - October)

It was a Sunday afternoon, a couple of my boys and I were at the lake, when my agent called and told me I was leaving for Italy in the morning.  I never understood the "be ready to leave at any moment" phrase until right then.  Promptly, I go home, tell my parents, and leave the next morning.  I had a 3 week tryout scheduled with a team, Forli, in the 2nd division Gold.  I was there for weeks and everything seemed to be going smoothly until it was decided that I go to another team.  At first I was upset about this, but God was definitely looking out!!  Forli, now, is not playing as the team has folded because of money issues and players were not paid.  That being said, I would have LOVED to whoop some of my former teammates (Murphy Holloway, Mike Singletary, Alan Voskuil).  From Forli, I went a few hours north to Tortona, where I would join another fellow teammate, Jaye Crockett, and old rival, Jonathan Tavernari.  Tortona is in the 2nd division Silver.  I played there for only a week and the manager decided he did not want to take the risk of signing me.  Yes, hearing that hurt, but there was no time to be down because it was on to my third team, Varese, who is in Serie A (top division) in Italy.  Varese was nice and all, but they had no visa to even sign me.  I was just playing while Andy Rautins was hurt, which was still great to get some exposure.

As all this was going on, I began to open up my Bible.  I decided I would read the New Testament start to end, not in a rush, as I wanted to really learn what Jesus was teaching.  During my time in Italy, I was reading the gospels about where Jesus walked, what he taught, and the miracles he performed.  This was really helping me with switching teams and still being uncertain if I was going to get signed.  I did not make 1 euro/dollar the entire time I was in Italy ... so much for being a "pro".   After the friendly season was over, it was time for the real season to begin, and I could no longer play for Varese.  I am sitting in my hotel room at the Milan Airport waiting for the next morning to fly home (which would have been in time for Ole Miss-Alabama football game) reading my bible and praying, when OUT OF NOWHERE, I get a call from my agent telling me that I am flying to Doha, Qatar.  UMMM WHAT!?!?  All I knew about Qatar was it was the host country for the World Cup in 8 years and it was in the Middle East.

Doha (October-January)

One quality about me, I thrive in situations most people simply cannot handle.  I have been moving around all my life, the longest I was in ever in one place was kindergarten-6th grade.  Other than that, always on the move, basically living out of a dang backpack!!  So here I am dragging my happy ass around Italy about to go to the Middle Eastern country of Qatar, which is really only the city of Doha.  Obviously I had my initial red flags.  I did some research and found out how strict this country is, that it's under Sharia Law.  Well, OK, that's interesting, but I was 100% going to sign a contract here for 8 months that would far exceed any money I would have received as a rookie in Europe.  At this point, I began to learn about world economies.  Qatar is the richest country in the world (trust me, the locals make it well known haha).  The Middle East is definitely booming, while you can say the complete opposite about the majority of European countries.

The team that signed me is Al-Rayyan aka The Los Angeles Lakers of the Qatar basketball league (also a site for the World Cup).  The King of Qatar lives in the area of Rayyan.  I came in later than the other two "imports".  The two imports are Harding Nana and Dominic James.  Dominic has a wife, Angela, and they had a beautiful daughter, Jincy Rose, born in Doha soon after I arrived!!  These people have become incredibly close to me.  God had a plan.  It was absolutely amazing to see where he put me, with the people he put me with.  Dominic and Angela have one of the most incredible stories (I will post a link to their blog it is amazing) and are as firm believers in Jesus, the Son, as I have ever come across.  Nana is also a believer and it would amaze you how God consumed the majority of our conversations.  On the way to practices, we were reminded daily just how good we had it.  In Qatar there is a growing problem with slaves and labour laws almost cost them the World Cup!!  Every night we would drive past buses filled with these "workers" and they looked as miserable as anyone could ever look.  Everyday workers die, whether it is from the over work or suicide.  Talk about putting things in perspective!!  I had prayed that if God had me playing basketball, it would be in a place where I would not have to worry about outside influences, where I could be stable, and study his Word.  He answered, and answered in a big time way!! Nana just turned 34 and was raised in Cameroon before his mother moved him to the states to go to school in DC.  He wound up going to Delaware and has been playing overseas basketball for years.  Dominic played college ball at Marquette and Angela played at Kentucky (shoutout to the BBN).  Nana 100% has been more than a big brother to me as I get my feet wet.  He has been all around the world, playing in many different countries, and comes from a family that literally had nothing.  Now he has almost completed building a villa for his family back in Cameroon!!  Dominic and Angela, obviously, are the parental influences, with Jincy being the one to tell us when we are wrong.  Believe it or not, Jincy forced Dominic to put a cup in the car so Nana and I would have to pay a fee every time we cussed!!!   Sometimes practice would get a little heated and I would have to sacrifice my dinner money... haha.  For real though, to say I learned a lot from them would be an extreme understatement.

O ya, so I came here to play basketball right?!  Well in Doha, things are different.  We can only practice one time a day, or at night I should say, because the local players have jobs during the day.  It is funny because these guys make a lot more money with their jobs and basically play basketball for leisure.  Anyway, we go to Morocco for our first games in the Arab Club Championships.  This tournament is what is going to help me in the near future.  It consisted of teams from North Africa and the Middle East.  We wound up winning the tournament and I led the way in scoring, bringing home the MVP trophy.  I did not realize playing so well in that tournament would open a gateway of opportunities later as it seemed my performance was forgotten.

During my time in Doha, as I was getting further into the New Testament and closer with my family here, I was opening myself up more and owning my actions I had done previously in life.  I was reading all the Apostle Paul wrote, followed his journeys, and it was incredibly eye opening for me.  What blew my mind was how clearly I could see things I never thought to be true.  To this day, I will never live a moment of regret, but to think how blind I was to my own thoughts left me aghast.  The amazing thing about God is he forgives.  I could see that back in my lowest times, every time I had to ask for help, I would ask.  The problem was asking for my own selfish gain, NEVER ACTUALLY SERIOUS.  Even when I would mess up, I would do what I had to do to regain the trust and freedom of my authority figures, but every time I said, "I'm sorry,"  it was never truly meaningful.  I had always intended for those statements and prayers to be meaningful, but after being here and reflecting, I could see they never actually were.  This broke, then humbled, me.

The nine game first half of the schedule began and we were off to a hot start.  We finished 7-2 in the first round, which seems like a good record, but evidently it was not good at all.  The team decided to release Nana, which was crushing to us.  We brought in Patrick Ewing Jr, but it would not be the same because he came with his wife, who is also expecting soon (Patrick Ewing III aka Tre).  Patrick is a great guy, and a even better player!!  Nana, though, had become my best friend and now he was going to leave me, or at least I thought.  We had the month of January off from games, so it was just practice, practice, practice.

One day I get a call from my coach saying they needed to talk to me.  I literally had just finished the book of Job in the Old Testament.  They come to pick me up before practice, drove me around the block, to tell me I was not wanted back on the team for the second round.  Reasons being they wanted an older, more experienced, defensive player who knew how to win championships.  I literally laughed.  It was as if they completely forgot the role I played on the same team who won a championship a couple months earlier!!  As I got back to my apartment, I sat down and reviewed the situation, baffled at how this happened.  The irony of this was, about a week before, I had a conversation with Dominic about Job (this is what inspired me to read the book).  I told him I had experienced hardships, most of them I caused on my own, and wondered if there was a difference between a self inflicted test from God or one that God actually creates.  Well, I sure got my answer quick when reading Job, and shortly after, with the decision made from my club here.

It was a dang good thing I had read that book and had the power of the Word dwelling in me because my thoughts did not need to be turned into actions.  Now, just as fate would have it, Nana and I were sitting in "Kaining Pinoy" (which is the Filipino restaurant we literally ate 90% of the nights we were here haha) both waiting to get our release money and find out what's next.  Nana is going back to play for the Cameroon national team as I would review a couple offers I had from surrounding countries.

Now, believers know that God works in mysterious ways, but I am here to tell you that living out these highly mysterious ways can sometimes be a little frightening.  When I was in Italy, I was reading about Jesus and his miracles, but there were social activities and all day work with basketball that kept me from really getting into the Word deeply.  In Doha, social activity is very limited and this helped me to read the preachings of Paul, along with some stories in the Old Testament.  I began to really feel the Word living in me when all of a sudden I get the call I had been cut.  I vowed to stay strong and be thankful because I earned more money here than I imagined I would, ESPECIALLY from how things were looking only six months prior.  I began to read Psalms as they brought me relaxing comfort proclaiming the greatness of God.  I came across a verse that many people know,  Pslam 23:4 "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me, your rod and your staff, they comfort me."  Once again, God spoke through the Bible and is about to show an example of what that means.

I wrote this blog to say that I have accepted an offer to go play in Iraq.  Talk about living on the edge!!  My bookmark in my Bible, right now, is on Psalm 27, so I just read the previous verse.  I tossed around the difference of claiming to trust God to be able to go anywhere, or being just plain stupid.  In my own questioning, I realized I can trust God in anything that comes my way.  NEWS FLASH:  IT WILL NOT ALWAYS BE WHAT WE WANT!  After reading many stories in the Bible, the hardships these biblical figures went through can be comparable to what anybody may be going through in the present day.  I find this fabulously shocking.  I had no intention of writing a blog until it just popped into my head and into my heart.  I see how Dominic and Angela are able to touch many lives with their blogging so I figured I would show this progression of events that keep getting a little more unpredictable and somewhat dangerous (seeming) as I further my relationship with The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit.  I did not realize how far along my walk I was until I began to map out my travels.  Walking by faith, not by sight, has made all circumstances worry free!!  This is so comforting, because I am getting some initially unwanted travel plans, but I will accept the challenges and move ahead!

Thank you all who read this!!   I will continue to write updates every so often.  I have kept my Facebook family pretty up to date, but I know there are many more people who would like to read this, and twitter doesn't give enough space!  A few final things I would like to say:

First, I am not claiming to be some brand new, sinless saint.  Sometimes I feel people use an "I'm better than you" type of tone when trying to inform, or talk about their new way of life, and I do not want that to be the case in any way.  I also try to stay away from the word "you" because I know that can come off as preachy and a possible turn off to an interested person.  I would never force God's Word or the Bible on anyone.  One, I do not know or understand the Word to that degree yet, and two, I do not think forcing anything on anyone is very productive.  I DO KNOW what has worked and is working for me, maybe it could help somebody else.  Dominic has inspired me so much because if I asked a question about really anything, he would be able to answer with a story in the bible, along with one from his own life.  That is where I hope my walk will take me soon so I can have these answers ready for any curious mind.  I still have many flaws and impulsive habits that will take time to fix (Jincy's college fund is off to a GREAT start)!!  Nobody is perfect, and I sure as heck have a long way to go.   I just felt now was a great time to share what God is doing for me, in hopes, I can save somebody from taking the same path I took or bring someone out of Satans wrath with inspiration.  People close to me know that helping people is something I really have a passion for, but my selfish ambitions have caused me to do otherwise.

Second, Doha is an AMAZING PLACE!!  I 100% recommend world travelers to stop by for a brief time!  It is such a futuristic city.  EVERYONE speaks English, and EVERY food place delivers.  These include:  Dairy Queen, Dominos, Pizza Hut, Chilis, Applebees, Burger Kind, McDonalds, Johnny Rockets, Subway, TCBY, Popeyes, KFC.

Third, Doha really showed me that perceptions I read about of Muslims and the Middle East do not apply here.  I never once felt in any kind of danger, and I was excited to learn about their culture!!  I could easily see myself living here, as many do, from all over the World.  The perception I see a lot back home is that Muslims and Christians conflict with each other.  Never once did I find this to be a problem or conflict in the time I was here.  I was even able to compare and contrast with people about how our religions work and why the heck people get so worked up over it.  Yes, I realize somebody close makes it easier to start the conversation, but if you start with one person, maybe they tell another, and it spreads like a wildfire!!  Maybe we can decrease this hatred that is ruining our World.  Now, Iraq may be a different animal haha, but I had judgments about Doha that were 100% completely false, so I will hold back my judgment until I see for myself!!  One thing I hope people (Christian, Muslim, Hindu, black, white, brown, who cares) would work on is JUDGMENT.  Judgment is a world wide epidemic (probably will never be cured) but it sure would help things.  The Bible says never judge anyone for anything, remember only God can judge.  Yes, even the ones who own slaves, we should not judge, rather pray and be thankful for what we have!!  I am able to see the "for granted life" that many people live and it saddens me because I finally am able to see I was living that way for years!!  I pray I will never take anything for granted - as I have before.
Fourth, Doha is going to be an INCREDIBLE host for the World Cup!!  I definitely plan on coming, unless its during basketball season.

Link to Dominic and Angela Blog:

Last - I hope you enjoy some pics below,

                                                    Pic from Training Camp with Forli
                                              Nana, Dominic holding Jincy, Angela, and me
                                                                    Doha from a boats eye view
                                                                  Closer of Downtown

                                                       Jincy and her uncles
                                            Angela, Jincy, Dominic after 3 on 3 tournament
                                          Our team after winning the Arab Championship!!
                                                            O you know, hardware
                                                          Convention Center in Doha
                                                          YES, THATS A SHEEP!!!
                       This is how you eat it, hands and knees (I'm in blue, my dad is to my right)
                                       Dominic and I praying after we win the championship
                                                        Some Moroccan apartments
                         The king bought this bear for MILLIONS!! and put it in the airport haha
                                           My teammate Asi - he is a police officer!!!
Playing with Varese, got in a fight lol

                                      View from outside our hotel at training camp with Forli

                                              Introducing the team/fancy dinner (Varese)
Us doing crazy selfies for some reason (Varese)