The last time I watched basketball was around 2011 and I only watched the finals because the guy I was dating then was a huge fan. So when news of Kobe Bryant’s passing started streaming through the airwaves, the deep emotion and pain that kicked me in the gut was unforeseen. I hold no opinion about his career nor did I ever follow his plays, but the loss of his life deeply resonated with me.
I was on my way to work this morning when the tears threatened to spill and I had to grapple with what I was feeling. What right did I have to grieve someone I did not know, someone whose life I didn’t even follow?
But I let the tears come.
I mourn the death of an icon and his daughter, who was a sweet age of thirteen. I cry with the Altobelli children, whose parents and sister were with Kobe at the time of the crash. I grieve the loss of them and those unnamed, along with their families and communities who must be reeling with so, so much more pain.
I type out a message to a friend,
“I wasn’t even a basketball fan but I’m devastated over Kobe’s loss. It hurts to read the tributes and my heart breaks for his family and the families of the others who died with him…
That is a large part of a reason why I chose to stay kasi. You never know what’s going to happen so for as much as I can, I want to be there for the people I love.”
Maybe it hurts because it hits a little too close to home.
At the start of this year, I was given the opportunity to join a churchplanting team to South America. It was a pioneering work – the first of our movement in that region of the world. My boss, my dad, and all my leaders were encouraging me to go — I wanted to go. We would be gone for at least a year, but what was that in the face of what looked like the opportunity of a lifetime? Isn’t this what I have always wanted?
The answer should have been easy, but my heart was restless. I asked for some time to think about it and was given two weeks to finalize my decision. For two weeks, I wrestled it out with the Lord. Leaving meant moving toward the adventure I have dreamed of since I was in third grade; staying meant allowing myself the time to finally build roots – something I never knew I wanted until last year. I wanted both, but it had to be one over the other.
There was something to win and something to lose either way.
People kept telling me that I would never have this door open on me again. I’m still single, unattached, and available to do the Lord’s work there. This would be the best time to leave and join such life-changing adventures.
Trust me, I know. I’ve been wanting to do something like this since I was seven. This has been my dream for all of my conscious life.
But more than anything else, there was one factor that held the most weight for me: my sisters. The youngest, in particular, who just moved in with me last August at the prime age of sixteen. We’ve been apart for half of her current life — I left the province when she was just eight and this is our first time since to really live together again.
To leave less than a year since she moved here… Would that have been enough time to build a deeper relationship with her; to make up for all the time I missed?
I could go to the nations, connect with so many students, and help change their lives – while passing my sister along to someone else. I could be the pseudo-big sister for many other girls while failing to be there for my actual, biological sister.
It makes no sense when it’s typed out like that, but for a moment, it was something I actually considered. I thought that if I went to the nations to help other people, the Lord would send someone else to help her – failing to consider the fact that I was already in the best position to do so.
Was I so fixated on grabbing hold of my dreams as soon as I can that I would willingly drop who has been entrusted to me now? Have I gotten so caught up in the where that I’ve viewed the who as secondary?
To be completely honest with you, I would have said yes to the mission trip in a heartbeat if it was offered to me early last year. At that point in my life, I still always had one foot out the door. But then Gia and Kervin passed away and that shifted my entire perspective on life. I started wishing I spent more time with them and that I was more deliberate to act on plans that have fallen through. It’s just that I thought there would be so much more time, until there wasn’t.
I used to tell the Lord that I would be willing to drop people if they got in the way of His purposes for my life, and that’s just the way it has always been for me. My entire being has been so set on the Great Commission and going that I failed to recognize that part of His purposes for me are the people who surround me and, well, staying.
I can’t ignore the other open door that the Lord has set before me: the opportunity to be here for my sister during formative years of her life, in a way only I can. If I’m so willing to throw my entire life into the nations, then I should just as willingly throw my entire life into this; her, them. And doing so will not be a lesser call.
Wesley’s Commentary on Psalm 90:12 puts it this way:
“Teach us – To consider the shortness of life, and the certainty and speediness of death. That – That we may heartily devote ourselves to true wisdom.”
What have I found to be true wisdom in this case? It is this: to look beyond vocational open doors and see relational open doors; to care less about how grand my impact will be on the world and more about how deep my investment is in the people He has given to me.
That’s what Ruth of the Bible did. She just chose to love Naomi, her widowed mother-in-law. She did this seemingly small thing with great, great faithfulness. And it was because of this, because she chose to stay with Naomi, that she is now remembered in history as King David’s great grandmother – one of the few women mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus.
She didn’t know it then, but she was making an impact on the many generations that were to come – simply because she chose to love that one person.
Kobe Bryan’ts last social media post was to commend and cheer on LeBron James, who had just passed him as the third highest scorer in NBA history. He reminded James to keep charting the path for the next generation.
He said in one of his last interviews that he didn’t attend more Lakers games after he retired because he just wanted to spend more time with his family. A quick scroll through his social media accounts would show you just how much of his life he poured into coaching kids and taking care of his tribe.
In fact, the tragic accident that took his life happened as he was on his way to coach his daughter’s like-little-league basketball game – The Mamba Cup, they called it, which was a tournament featuring teams made up of fourth-to-eighth graders. He probably had opportunities to coach with the big wigs but he instead chose to coach his thirteen-year-old girl’s non-professional basketball team.
And when people told him he would have needed a son to carry on his legacy, he stood by his daughter: she can do it very much by herself, thank you very much.
He believed in the next generation. Everything he did, seemingly big or small, he did with great love and passion. He leaves the legacy of a man who knew what it meant to throw his entire life into whatever he has been called to do for that certain season.
And you know what? Young Gianna, who attended as many NBA games as possible and trained as hard as she can, probably knew what that meant too.
She took after her father, after all.
Someday, when our time comes, I hope others can say the same for us.