Be the Ball

TennisballBack in the day, way back in the day, when I was in high school and college, I was a really good tennis player. I should have been, after all the hours and hours and hours I spent practicing.

There was a tall white stucco wall at the end of the driveway that sat beside the house where I grew up in Tennessee. Though my dad wasn’t happy with me when I took a permanent marker and drew a “net line” across the wall, I saw that wall as my own personal training ground on which to pursue my dream of becoming a professional tennis player. And each time I would miss a shot, I would chide myself and chant, “Be the ball … be the ball … be the ball.” I knew that if I wanted to win when it counted, when I was playing in a match, I had to first learn to be the ball as I practiced.

It’s been more years than I’d like to admit since I’ve played tennis … the last time I walked onto a court was with my daughter when she was in high school, and she completely trounced me as I tried to coax my middle-aged, out-of-practice body to cooperate with my former champion tennis player mind. I realized something that afternoon as my daughter moved effortlessly across the court returning the few shots I managed to get across the net; I realized I wasn’t being the ball anymore … I realized I hadn’t been the ball for a very, very long time.

But I also knew down deep inside that I could still be the ball if I started playing tennis again on a regular basis. I knew I still had the knowledge, the expertise, the will and the ability to be the ball, albeit in a different venue than the level at which I competed when I was in college.

I knew that I could still be the ball,
but I also knew that the playing field had changed.

For the last 10 years, I’ve been the keynote speaker for various Christian women’s events across the country, logging thousands of miles and meeting thousands of women during that time. It wasn’t long after I became a Christian in 1997 that a women’s ministry leader from a church in the city where I lived contacted me and asked me to speak for a luncheon at the college that was connected to the church she attended. I nervously agreed, and the rest, as the saying goes, is history. I began receiving calls and emails asking me to speak for other events, and I became a member of several speakers’ bureaus. My speaking ministry grew significantly, and I began to believe that perhaps speaking was to become my full-time profession.

But then, I posted an entry to my blog on January 1, an entry that had within it the three small words that have forever changed my life … “I am gay.”

Within a few days after publishing the post, many of the events at which I was scheduled to speak called or emailed to cancel my participation. Many of the calls and messages were kind, almost apologetic, as they explained that they simply “couldn’t allow an openly gay person to speak at their event.” Others were insensitive and cruel in their judgment and condemnation of my “chosen” sexuality. Within a short time, all but two of the groups had cancelled, and within the few weeks that followed, those events were cancelled as well.

For all the repercussions that have followed my confession about being gay, accepting that my speaking days were over was one of the hardest and most painful for me to endure. I was forced not only to admit that I could no longer be the ball when it came to my speaking ministry, I was forced to admit that the ball wasn’t even in my court anymore.

But then, a minister in the city where I lived contacted me about sharing the “Ears Wide Open?”  video I had created as a public service announcement for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in conjunction with his upcoming sermon.

I attended the church that morning, and following the service, someone approached me about speaking at a conference in June. Over the last few weeks, I’ve received several speaking requests from open and affirming congregations across the country and LGBT student groups at universities.

The people in my life who have stayed … the ones who have remained supportive and encouraging and loving … have been unwavering in their belief that God’s plan for my life is far bigger than I ever knew. Maybe, just maybe, they are correct.  Perhaps all the previous speaking events were simply practice for the championship match, the match He intended for me to play from the moment He knit me together in my mother’s womb.

Life changes, our bodies change, circumstances change, but the ultimate divine plan for us never does.  The game isn’t over.

Perhaps He’s calling me to be the ball once again … to understand that though the playing field has changed, He still wants us in the game after all.

You know, now that I think about it, the ball really never was in my court … it’s always been in His.



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Johnson-Terrie2TERRIE JOHNSON is Senior Editor for a nationally recognized advertising agency in Kansas City, and author of Lord, Help! Here Comes Mom! and God Even Loves Wiener Dogs.  

She is an awarded public speaker, writer of the daily blog, The Tree House, mother to three adult children, and grandmother to the most beautiful, intelligent little girl ever!