Playing lacrosse at Navy, however, became an obsession that both consumed me and sapped my joy of playing it as I slid into it becoming my identity. Comparing myself to others, I saw myself either as the scorned hero who could save the game if only given the chance or dejectedly as the team charity case.
Only when I chose to draw closer to God and willingly surrendered the idol of my definition of success did my joy in playing lacrosse return. Through prayer and Bible study, I remembered who I was and where I came from: a sinner saved by grace, the Holy Spirit dwelling within me, with a heavenly Father who loves me and has a plan for my life. Relationships with other Christian athletes (including my brothers, who were Division I lacrosse players, and my varsity athlete roommates) inspired me as a Christian athlete and helped me focus on my true identity. God led me to view lacrosse—and life—from a more God-centered perspective.
Now I’m tempted to define myself and my worth through my success as a husband or as a Marine Corps officer. During the grind of Naval flight training in Pensacola and studying hard for each day’s flight, I fought worry and doubt, and once again began placing my identity in success or failure rather than in Christ.
Remembering my lessons from lacrosse, I was quicker to reorient my identity and to seek community, this time in Officers’ Christian Fellowship. Col Chet Arnold, a retired Marine jet pilot, continually reminded us of our identity in Christ and how personal and professional excellence is built on that foundation. Prayer re-centered me in Christ. My inflight prayers after a bad landing or maneuver in the aircraft mirrored those after a bad shot or dropped pass in lacrosse.
When I chose to lay aside my worries, I regained my joy in flying, just as I had regained my joy in lacrosse.
I’m still learning the deep truths of James 1:2-4, “Consider it pure joy… when you face trials of many kinds, because you know the testing of your faith produces perseverance… that you may be mature and complete.” My dream of becoming a Marine aviator came to an abrupt end when I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. I had been in a car accident a few months earlier and was given a precautionary CT scan on which a radiologist saw possible signs of MS.
Though the doctors thought it unlikely at my age and condition, they did an MRI to be safe. The day after my first flight in helicopter advanced training, a neurologist diagnosed me with MS from that MRI and told me my Marine Corps flying career was over. He explained that MS could cause episodes of numbness in the extremities and temporary or permanent blindness—all with no warning—which is unacceptable for a military aviator.
My wife and I were surprisingly at peace when the neurologist delivered the diagnosis. We realized that the car accident and CT scan had allowed this important early diagnosis and treatment, which, fortunately, decreases the likelihood of episodes and lowers the impact if they do occur.
However, my peace began to chip away and a sense of injustice emerged as I attended a close friend’s winging ceremony. Disappointment and jealousy surfaced as the guest speaker commended the wingers’ great accomplishments, and I was once again on the sideline.