In the TV show Friday Night Lights, the head coach inspires his players with the phrase: clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose. This expression reminds the football team to open their minds and hearts to new possibilities. In a spiritual lens, this phrase reminds me to see how God is working in my life and to have an open heart to hear God’s voice. By opening myself to new opportunities and being attentive to God’s surprises, I cannot lose. Still, I’ve often been afraid of losing what God gave me. It’s normal to have the fear of losing the good we already have. We all ask ourselves the question: how do I know if what I’m giving up is worth it?
After my freshman year of high school, a childhood friend who was the starting JV quarterback encouraged me to try out for the football team because of my good work ethic, adaptability, and raw athletic talent. I worried that I was not going to fit in since I had never played before, but I joined the team and quickly grew to love the game. For the next three years, I played with enthusiasm as a quick guard and nose guard on both offense and defense. Through hours of practice, I built my technique on how to block and tackle. My quickness and tenacity helped me become a key player on defense. It was so gratifying to hear my friends and coaches cheering from the sidelines. As much as I loved the cheers, I especially valued the deep friendship and the connection of everyone working together as a team. I loved football so much that I decided to shape my college plans around being a football coach. I had clear eyes and a full heart about continuing to play football in college. I was certain that God was telling me to be a football coach.
God surprised me in April of my senior year when I sang the lead in our high school musical, South Pacific. I loved the excitement of being on stage. When I performed, I felt an electrifying energy with the audience when they cheered. This experience was similar to the joys of hearing cheers from the football stadium. Countless people sought me out and told me that I had an amazing gift. My singing made them feel better. A charismatic conductor encouraged me to use my gifts and try being a music major. Based on my success with the show, I decided to pursue a vocal audition at Youngstown State. My heart burst with excitement at the possibility of following this new path in life. Singing for others filled my heart with a greater joy than I had experienced playing football. I slowly began to see that I was much more talented at singing than I was playing football. I was excited, energized, and hopeful about giving this new dream a chance. I felt sad about giving up my dream to play football at the college level, but I felt God telling me to give it a try. So, I abandoned my dream and never thought that I would be involved with football again. Once again but in a different way, I had clear eyes and a full heart about chasing this new dream of music as a performer and teacher at the college level.
For many years, I had a career as a musician, teacher, and performer. I loved collaborating and working on pieces with the students by teaching them technique and inspiring them to be the best versions of themselves through the music we learned. I enjoyed seeing students grow and become better singers. Rehearsing music gave me so much joy and peace because the music helped people come together to build something greater than themselves. At this time in my life, my eyes were clear and my heart was full because I knew God was telling me to be a choral conductor.
As much as I loved being a choral conductor, I felt something was missing in my life. For a long time after college, I felt God calling me to be a priest, but I was too scared to abandon my job. I thought about being a priest most days, and this idea kept coming back to me in my daily life. I would ask myself “what oh God do you want me to do with my life. I am a good teacher, but do you want something more from me?” I could not see where God was leading me so I reached out to a Jesuit vocation director. He invited me to attend an event where I met a Jesuit priest who was also a choral conductor. He told me that I could have both dreams as a Jesuit. After returning from Chicago, excited by my encounters with the Jesuits, I decided to quit my job and join. For the first time in my life, my eyes were clearer and fuller than ever before by following this new dream.
As part of my formation, I was sent to teach theology, help in the music program, and work in campus ministry at St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland. I finally had the opportunity to do both things that I love to do: the dream of being a Jesuit and assisting with music. At the same time, I also felt a deep connection with sports at our school, and I thought about where I could be most helpful. To my surprise this old dream of helping with a football program came back to life in my heart. My second year of teaching I asked if I could assist as chaplain of the football team. I had such an amazing experience being with all of the players and coaches. When I learned that I was going to be there for a third and final year, I asked the athletic director if I could be one of the freshman coaches. The head freshman coach said yes and I was a coach for the first time, a dream that was twenty years in the making. After our first practice, I found myself excited staying up all night looking up videos about kicking and long-snapping techniques. It thrills me when our players make a good tackle and bring in an awesome catch. I experienced a deep sense of connectedness by being with the team, a feeling that was similar to all the games that I played in my youth.
God has called me to things that I didn’t think that I could do. No matter what job I have, I look forward to seeing how God can continuously surprise me in the future. God keeps bringing out new gifts and talents in my life that I could not see before. I have come to know that God really makes our dreams come true in ways that we can not imagine. I am excited to see where this journey takes our team this year, and I know that God will help us on and off the field be the people we were born to be. Our vocation as Christians is to open our eyes and trust that he will give us what we need. By keeping an open heart and clear eyes to new opportunities, we can’t lose.
Photo by Timothy Eberly on Unsplash.