Serena let her emotions get the best of her. In the US Open Women’s Final, Serena was offended and insulted and slighted; she was harmed and therefore she hurt and was unhappy and upset all at the same time. Ever been there? I’m there now. But thank God there’s a way out of the darkness of defeat.
The remedy for pain is praise. The remedy for hurt is to sing hallelujah. The remedy for sorrow is to shout for joy. Only God can give beauty for ashes, and the oil of joy for morning and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.
I’m proud of how Serena stood up for herself. She was affronted, but she stood her ground and did not back down. Even though it cost her the match and millions of dollars, in the end she won the admiration and adoration of loyal fans the word over. She was wronged, and, in an effort to clear her name, she took a loss, and a worthy opponent got the win.
In other words, Serena won on the inside. Outside she was heated and it caused her to be hampered. She was upset, but that’s ok.
In some sports, there is an ongoing, if not raging debate about who is the G.O.A.T., a.k.a., the greatest of all time. But not in women’s tennis. In women’s tennis there isn’t even the slightest hint of discussion about the best to play the game, ever.
In Basketball, the debate rages on between LeBron and Michael. And for football quarterbacks, it’s Brady vs. Montana, with honorable mentions to Bradshaw, Marino and Favre, Steve Young and John Elway and Peyton Manning, and of course, Roger Staubach.
Hockey is easy: Gretzy the Great will forever hold that title. Baseball is a little harder to pin down, but certainly it’s got to be the Babe or some other Yankee. In other sports, such as women’s gymnastics, Nadia Comaneci’s name comes immediately to mind as she is certainly is at the top of the list. In men’s swimming, Michael Phelps has dominated of late.
Since it’s the season for Wimbledon, we focus on tennis. In men’s tennis, Federer just lost in the quarterfinals for the first time ever (that was a fluke, right?), but he’s still got to be at the top of the list along with Nadal and Sampras and my man Bjorn Borg and Ivan Lendl and McEnroe and Andre Agassi and even Jimmy Connors.
But when it comes to women’s tennis, there is absolutely no debate. None. We all loved watching Chrissy Everett, and respected Martina Navratilova, and Monica Seles and Steffi Graff. But when it comes to tennis, there is only one queen. Serena. Not even her sister Venus gets an honorable mention. Serena reigns supreme.
Serena is one win away from wining her eighth major championship, at Wimbledon alone. Here’s how ESPN put it:
“Even after more than a year away from the tour, even after a health scare while having a baby a little more than 10 months ago, Williams is still capable of dominance.
A relatively routine 6-2, 6-4 semifinal victory over 13th-seeded Julia Goerges of Germany on Thursday put Williams into her 10th final at the All England Club and moved her closer to a 24th Grand Slam title, which would equal Margaret Court’s record.
‘It’s crazy. I don’t even know how to feel, you know, because literally, I didn’t expect to do this well in my fourth tournament back,’ Williams said. ‘I just feel like when I don’t have anything to lose, I just can play so free, and that’s kind of what I’m doing.’
That was the play-by-play. Now here’s the commentary: the great ones in every sport inspire us to do our best, to be at our best, and to stay at our best. Because we love to watch the best, and only the best. We like excellence in everything, especially sports. And that’s what sports do for us. Great players give us excellence, and the best ones do that (mostly) all of the time.
Spiritually, God requires excellence as well. Since we can’t be at our best all of the time on our own, He now asks — not demands, but asks — that allow Him to help us be at our best, live at our best, and stay at our best, all of the time. Naturally, that’s what Serena is doing on the court. Naturally and spiritually, that’s God wants to help us do every day in every way.
Once again, we have yet another “David” pulling off an upset win when no one, and I mean NO ONE, gave her a chance. The “her” is Sloane Stephens.
Who is Sloane Stephens? Who knew or even wildly guessed she would win the US Open? And who saw this one coming? We’ll field the answers to Questions 2 and 3 first: nobody and not anybody. Now for Question No. 1: Sloane, a 24 year old who has been playing professional tennis since she was 16, came from nowhere and ended up somewhere very special. The winners circle at the US Open is a pretty special place to be, especially when you didn’t expect to end up there. Good for her. For more on Stephens, check out her web sitehttp://sloanestephens.com/about/ which is pretty nice.
Sloane Stephens, who was unseeded and ranked 83rd, defeated Venus Williams in the semi-finals of the US Open, and in 2013. At the tender age of 15, she defeated Serena in the Australian Open! Sheeesh! I love it.
Once again, sports stands at the front of the classroom, with chalk in hand at the blackboard drawing X’s and O’s, teaching us once again that an unknown can come from the unknown and become so well known that we can’t ignore how hard work and faith can combine and collaborate in a comeback conquest for the ages. But none of this looked possible earlier this summer.
Stephens, who had been sidelined for 11 months after a foot injury and underwent surgery in January, made her comeback at Wimbledon and entered this summer’s US Open Series ranked 957th. Talk about sitting in the back of the bus! But she’s been on a tear in the North American events, reaching the semifinals in Toronto and Cincinnati.
“I had surgery January 23,” Stephens said. “If someone told me then that I’d win the US Open, I would say ‘It’s impossible – it’s absolutely impossible.’ My journey to get here, coming back, just being able to keep it all together and have such a great team behind me — this journey’s been incredible. And I honestly wouldn’t change it for the world.
When you’re hot you’re hot. And Serena Williams is hot and she’s at it again. She’s playing at a high level and showing the rest of the tennis world how it’s done. And in so doing, she is showing us how life can be lived when we focus and dial in and double down on destiny.
Serena is marching and moving and making her way toward destiny and history. Serena sees the light at the end of the tunnel, which is a calendar year Grand Slam – winning the Australian, French, and US Tennis Opens in a calendar year, with Wimbledon mixed in between.
Serena is in the moment. And knowing and seizing and grasping and grabbing the moment is something that few athletes can do. And yet Serena is right there. And that’s a testimony and a testament for us all. Serena is on a mission, and we are going along for the ride. Serena is sassy and sizzling and yes, sensational. And we are enjoying every point and every serve and every return and every forehand and every backhand and every ace of this race to extend her dynasty and to further establish her legacy.
For those of that can’t play a lick of tennis, we can listen and learn and study and survey and assess and appraise the great ones, and take from them the nuggets and tidbits and morsels and fragments that fall from their tables and feast on them ourselves.
And more than that, we can learn the lessons and take the treats and pocket the pleasures that a sports great like Serena is serving up and apply them to our everyday lives.
Sydney Leroux is a member of the US Women’s National Soccer Team. She’s a star athlete, she’s a standout competitor, and she has a compelling story. She’s a Phenom and she’s also a fox.
Sydney is a soccer forward who is aggressive, physical, unafraid, and hungry. She always wanted to play with the best, so much so that it became a consuming ambition. It was sometimes the only thing that she knew about herself. The public — and marketers — have embraced her as she appears to embrace herself: heavily tatted, bold, fun-loving, beautiful and free.
Since we’re on the eve of the 2015 Women’s World Cup, ESPN is doing their part to pump the event. A documentary about Sydney recently aired on ESPN’s Sports Center and as I watched in wonder I was captivated. “Syd the Kid” has a hard luck, rags-to-riches, rise to soccer fame kind of story that pulls you in and also freaks you out. And it doesn’t hurt that she’s not hard on the eyes either. Sydney’s story is told in full elsewhere, but for now I’ll share this:
Sydney was born in Canada but she has an American father. She is bi-racial, a mix produced by her mother, Sandi, a former softball player on the Canadian national team, and her father, Ray Chadwick, a baseball player who’d briefly pitched in the big leagues, yet left her and then disappeared. Her father (and mother) gave her fast-twitch muscles, the dimples that punctuate her smile, creamy, pale-brown skin, and, from her father, American citizenship.
In order to fulfill her dream of playing for the US National Soccer Team, Sydney would have to move to the US as a young, 14 year-old teenager. The first attempt to live in the US ended dismally. The second time she tried living in the US she went to Scottsdale, Arizona, where Les Armstrong, a well-respected coach, and his club team, Sereno Soccer Club, were waiting. She got on a plane, flew away, and left her single mother behind.
Leroux hated it. She hated school, the “whiteness” of Scottsdale, and the feeling of being alone. “I didn’t like who I was,” she told reporters. “I didn’t like my hair. I didn’t like the color of my skin. I didn’t like that I was different.” She moved from host family to host family, house to house. She packed her bags more than once. “I don’t know if anyone could understand what it was like to be 14, 15 and have no one,” she says. “I wanted to quit, I wanted to give up so many times. I just wanted to come home.”
Sydney made the 2012 US Olympic team, was the youngest member of that team and yet she scored a goal in the Olympic quarterfinals against New Zealand. Her fresh, favorable face appeared in newspapers around the world, the picture of joy. She became the team’s symbol of freedom and individuality. And she won a gold medal. Not too shabby.
But after watching the documentary and being mesmerized by her mass and magnetism, I found out that she posed for ESPN The Magazine’s “The Body Issue” in 2013. Was I disappointed? Or surprised? Probably both. She is such a pure heart who has such a powerful testimony, my sheltered, shielded and in some respects shaded view of sports was nearly shattered. I see the world of sports from a God perspective, not a “bod” perspective. It’s about God and sports, right?
So we all know that “sex sells.” Fine. Or not. But soccer? Female athletes have long since posed for photo shoots because they are attractive. NASCAR race car driver Danica Patrick and Tennis star Serena Williams and countless other ladies have gone bare and borne it all to promote themselves and their sport. Because they have a wide, pretty smile and long, wavy hair and a cute, curvy physique does it qualify then for the final round of approval of men and women? Apparently so.
So is there anything WRONG with being sexy and sporty? For many yes. But for many others, I guess not.
Even the causal sports fan will notice an unexpected upset, a colossal comeback and a terrific turnaround. Venus Williams, Serena Williams and Roger Federer ALL lost in early round matches at the 2014 French Open.
Each favorite was fried and toasted by the competition, all hungrier and thirstier than their heavily favored but not lightly taken opponents. The younger set that beat Federer and the Williams’ sisters simply wanted it more.
Even the causal sports fan knows that if you don’t play hard and don’t play smart you could be a vanquished victim and a careless casuality. I don’t even watch tennis until Wimbledon and the US Open, but this news struck me as astonishing but yet not astounding.
Spiritually speaking, when we take our opponents for granted and don’t bring our “A” game, were bound to be upended in an upset. So take it from me, never let your guard down, never play like you’re entitled to win, and never take a game for granted.
And so sports fans, let’s learn the lessons of this year’s French Open. Let’s not be sordid statistics or various victims; let’s not be fractured fatalities or random road kill; let’s not become also rans or afterthoughts. We are not to be toasted by the enemy or fried by our adversary.
We were born to win. We were born to dominate. We were born to overcome and succumb, we were born to advance and not retreat, we were born to rise and not fall.
So let’s practice righteousness, let’s execute judgment, let’s live out our faith and live in harmony with God and thus we will always triumph in Christ Jesus.
God worked. He worked for six days, creating the heavens and the earth, the birds of the air, the fish of the sea and the beasts of the field. God worked diligently and deliberately. God worked efficiently and effectively and he expects us to do the same. God worked and I believe God worked hard and He worked smart. If He could, God would have come early and stayed late. God would have worked overtime if He had to, to get the job, or “get ‘er” done. Yes God finished the work he had been doing and rested on the seventh day, but for six days, He worked.
Adam worked. God made man to work. “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it” (Genesis 2:15). Adam worked hard and he worked smart. He was responsible for all of the animals and the tilling of the ground. Adam had and developed a work ethic.
Work ethic is a value based on hard work and diligence. It is also a belief in the moral benefit of work and its ability to enhance character. A work ethic includes being reliable, having initiative, and pursuing goals and new skills. Players and workers exhibiting a good work ethic in theory should be selected for better positions, more responsibility and ultimately promotion.
Rahab worked. She had faith, but was also justified by her works. “Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?” (James 2:25). James goes on to say that “Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone” (v. 17). Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.”
The Williams sisters have a solid work ethic. A solid work ethic has led Serena Williams to win an astonishing seventeen-time Grand Slam titles. The older Venus is a seven-time Grand Slam title winner.
The Williams sisters have worked for the honors they have achieved. Both sisters have had the honor of being ranked by the Women’s Tennis Association at the World No. 1 position. In 2002, after the French Open, Venus Williams and Serena Williams were ranked No. 1 and No. 2 respectively. During the 2010 French Open, they became the co-world no.1 players in women’s doubles, in addition to holding the top two positions in singles tennis as well.
Because God worked, and Adam worked, and Rahab and all of the other mighty men and women of faith worked, we are to work as well. “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also” (James 2:26). And here is the kicker: “But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? (v. 20).
So work hard and work smart. Pray. Fast. Fast and pray. Study the Word of God. Work at it. Be diligent and deliberate, not haphazard and higgledy-piggledy; be efficient and effective, not jumbled and mumbled. Your spiritual hard work will pay off. And you will be able to “rest” from your labor, AFTER you work. When we die to our selfish and sinful ways, our “death” will result in new life. Dying in the Lord is both natural and spiritual. Resting is both natural and spiritual as well.
“Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors; and their works do follow them’ (Revelation 14:13).