Post-Standard, The (Syracuse, NY)
March 3, 2007
Column: WHAT I BELIEVE
GOD'S THE HEAD COACH
BASKETBALL LED HER TO HUSBAND
HUSBAND LED HER TO JESUS
Author: Ilze Luneau Contributing writer
I have played basketball or played with basketballs since I can remember. I still remember my first practice, being 8 years old in a gym, just so excited to run around and play.
Then came the tedious basketball drills, my teammates and me dribbling two and three basketballs and performing during professional men's basketball games.
Practicing and playing basketball was what I lived for. My team became closer to me than my own family. Basketball taught me to work hard, be a team player, listen to the coach, never give up, learn to get hurt and not cry, balance my time between school, long practices and missed classes because of travel.
It also taught me to set goals and get better every day. Basketball taught me more lessons than anything else in my life and would lead me to learn the most important lesson of all.
I was not the fastest player, the best shooter or the best defender, but I had determination. I did whatever it took to win. I worked hard, and I just absolutely loved playing basketball.
I played basketball all the way through high school, and became European Cadet Champion at age 16, playing for a Soviet Union team.
Then the Soviet Union broke apart, and my native country, Latvia, became once again an independent country in 1991. All of a sudden, the whole world was an open place to go. A friend from my basketball team got an offer to come play basketball in United States.
However, she did not want to leave her family, so she passed the invitation to me. I thought it was a great idea. I loved to travel, and the United States looked like a wonderland in the movies I had seen. I sent coach a tape of me dribbling three basketballs and got a scholarship to come to the College of Saint Rose in Albany.
I left home at age 18 and arrived in the United States. I did not speak any English and went right to college. Basketball had taught me not to give up, so I did not, though I wanted to go home so bad.
I studied hard, tried to fit in a strange culture and learned to adapt. Basketball was the only thing that I knew how to do well in this new life.
I loved playing more than ever. Everything else just fell into place. I had a great college experience, and I met the love of my life, my future husband, Matt. Matt had been around basketball all his life as well, so we were a great fit. He came up with an idea to perform basketball entertainment and motivational shows with basketball tricks for basketball camps and schools, and I joined in.
We started performing together. Then basketball led me to the most important lesson of my life.
A couple years into our marriage, Matt started to read the Bible every day. I did not understand it at first. I thought it was a waste of time with two toddlers running around. I thought it was good enough just to be a "good" person and not think too much about "religious" things.
However, I did enjoy listening to Matt tell me Bible verses. They seemed to really "make sense" - be the truth.
Eventually, curiosity took over, and I started reading the Bible. A new life opened up to me once again. I started to see that I was only a "good" person in my own eyes, that I had lived my life in ignorance and rebellion against God.
I had lied. I had cheated. I had stolen. I had committed the biggest sin of all - worshipping worldly things instead of worshipping God.
I also learned about God's amazing love and forgiveness in Jesus Christ. God sent His only Son to die on the cross and pay the penalty for my sins, so I can have a relationship with Him and an everlasting life in Heaven. I accepted His invitation and gave my life to Jesus Christ.
I simply asked God to forgive me for not believing in Him, for not following His guidance and asked Him to be my Savior and Lord, my coach and friend from now on.
It was the beginning of the most awesome time of my life, and it is getting better every day. God's Spirit lives in me. I talk to God. He guides me every step of the way. He calms all my worries. He makes me into a better person every day, and I have peace about my future knowing it is in hands of ever-loving and all-knowing God.
The minute I asked God to be a part of my life, He asked me to serve him. I gladly accepted. He showed me that all the basketball skills and experience He has given me is for one purpose only: to bring glory to Him.
He guided me to start using my basketball dribbling, juggling and spinning skills to get audience attention and give them the Good New of Jesus Christ, to encourage kids and adults to draw close to God.
Using analogies from the game of basketball, I encourage kids and adults to start the life God intends them to live by putting Jesus Christ in the center of their life, putting both feet inside God's basketball court, trusting God to coach them through the game of life and letting Him be the referee, the rule maker and enforcer.
Most importantly, I encourage kids and adults to remember to play the game of life to win God's approval and shoot for His righteousness. God has given me the desire of my heart, to stay involved with basketball.
However, I do not worship basketball anymore. I worship the Living God, and my basketball skills are just a way that God uses to draw people to Him.
I still make mistakes, but God is faithful to forgive me. I know God has a great plan for my life. All I have to do is look at what he has already done, giving me one blessing after another.
I also know He will do the same for you. He wants to bless every person on the planet Earth. All you have to do is ask Him. "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you." James 4:8.
Read the Bible. It is the living word of God; it reveals God's nature and His plan and purpose for our lives. Basketball has been a part of me all my life. But God is the one who gave me my life, and life is so much more than basketball.
Chrissie Cowan/Contributing photographer
ILZE LUNEAU, a basketball performer and motivational speaker,
practices the ball juggling and spinning routine at Syracuse University's Manley
Copyright, 2007, The Herald Company
Record Number: 0703030158