NO.

A hot tear rolled down my cheek as I worked to straighten my twisted frown and fake a shred of composure. I had told myself I wasn’t going to cry.

I saw a wince dance across Coach Miles’ face as his eyes began to redden, as well. I stared into the watering gaze of a man who saw glimpses of his own daughter in my eyes. A man who recognized there was going to be no easy way to deliver any verdict.

It had been 18 months since the day I felt a stirring in my heart to begin an uphill, unexpected journey.  I wanted my life to matter. Not just in the big-picture, but on a day-to-day basis. I was tired of living comfortably and making safe decisions. I wanted to risk it all. I wanted to have an impact. I wanted to live boldly. In asking God how He planned for me to do so, I received an unexpected answer.

Football.

There’s hardly a sports tv network, radio station, or social media site that hasn’t covered bits and pieces of my story since the day a few reporters caught me training with the football team at the indoor facility. We had worked so hard to keep my endeavor under wraps. For months and months I had trained–in conjunction with training and competing through my senior soccer season at LSU–with the permission and encouragement of the LSU Football coaches, the guidance of the players, and the care of the trainers. But 6 months into my preparation the cat was out of the bag, and the fire-storm commenced.

With the media attention came the interest. With the interest came the divided opinion. With the divided opinion came every sports-lover’s overwhelming and adamant input into my motives, my ability, my strengths, my weaknesses, my intentions, my faith, my past, my present, my future, and the fact that I had a sports bra strapped to my chest rather than a jock strap between my thighs. In conjunction with the LSU Athletic Administration crew, we worked to hyper-selectively pick through hundreds and hundreds of media requests to handle the necessary evil of addressing the endeavor publicly. We agreed on a handful of outlets and I gave a few interviews, then got back to work. From that point forward, media stations aired, re-aired and shared my story and the nation began to pick apart, evaluate, and dig deeper into all they were convinced they knew about “Mo Isom: the girl trying to play football at LSU”.  All the while, Mo Isom, the girl trying to play football at LSU, was simply doing just that. Warmly accepted and gradually respected by the 100+ young men who suit up on Saturday nights.  Practicing and perfecting a newly-learned kicking form. Studying the game and studying the quirks of the specialist position.  I think the hype of the college football culture in our country often blinds people to the reality that we are just a bunch of kids–navigating our way through college classes, fumbling through the highs and lows of relationships, and ultimately playing the sports we love for the schools we’re awfully proud to represent. I fit right in with my gridiron brothers–there was nothing unique or outrageous that divided us. We were all athletes working our hardest to push ourselves beyond the limit of “normal”. My pursuit of a football career was no different.

The AC hummed as Coach Miles slowly crafted his words. There was a mutual understanding that hung thick in the room. A mutual respect. He knew all I had been through–it was an unspoken reality that demanded respect, for the commitment alone. He knew of my personal journey–the suicide of my father, the horrific car accident–he knew of my recovery, of my unflinching commitment to live life unchained by my adversities. He knew all that I had voluntarily, physically endured for 18 months–the 3-a-days, the strict nutritional regimen, the weight-training program, the injuries, the rehabilitation, the countless hours on my own. He knew that I had navigated the obstacles of being a woman in a man’s environment–that there had never been issue, never been controversy, and that the team respected me and accepted me. He knew that I had handled the media carefully, that I had garnered support from thousands, as well as faced scrutiny and degradation by uninformed, yet overly-confident, outsiders. He knew all of those things. And I knew that he had a difficult decision to make. I knew he had given me a fair opportunity–an open door and open access to his facilities, his coaches, his equipment, and his program.  I knew he had faced scrutiny as well and, likely, a little distraction in the process. I knew that he had a unique situation on his hands and that he had never complained, asked me to leave, or discouraged my goal.  He had always encouraged me, always supported me, and always granted me the opportunity to give my dream my best shot.

He had also always been honest with me. That final day, sitting in his office, was no exception.  It was not easy news to hear, as I’m sure it was not easy news to deliver. After 18 months of effort, nobody wants to hear a “no”. But a “no” was the final verdict. And I had to hold my head high, though my brow quivered and my face grew hot and speckled.

As thoughts and emotions swirled through my mind, I worked to process all that I was feeling. Coach Miles continued to talk, and while I was trying desperately to listen and process his words, I found myself zoomed out of my circumstance and overwhelmed by the weight of  the “no.”

No. Though I could strike 53 yard field goals, there were other guys already on the roster who could do the same.

No. Though I was consistent, accurate, and conditioned, there was not room or need for another specialist that particular season.

No. Though I had worked for a year and a half, extended my college education into the Graduate program, and perfectly structured my course load moving forward, I would not be competing for another fall.

No. Though the nation was on edge waiting to hear the result–though I wanted to prove all those who believed in me right, and disprove all those who had doubted and degraded me–the story was at its end.

No.  Though I believed that God had specifically called me to pursue this goal–the final verdict was NO.

No.

In the weeks that followed, I found myself confused, agitated, anxious, and depressed. All I had invested in for a year and a half was stripped away. All I had been driven by and motivated towards was an illusion. Not only was I not on the team, I was no longer a student-athlete. My eligibility was done. My college career was over. I questioned what more I could have done, I replayed every step and every kick from my tryout. All that I had planned for in the year to come was lost. I questioned Coach Miles, I questioned the motives of the decision, I questioned whether I had ever really had a chance at all. I questioned the system. I had seen how things truly worked from the inside, and I questioned the process. I grieved over the loss of my dream. I grieved over my failure.  I grieved over the “no”.

Time and time again I was drawn back to the same exasperated and frustrated question. “God, I believed that You specifically called me to this chapter of life. Was I mistaken all along? Was I just waisting my time? Am I the fool? Were those who doubted me right? If You called me to take on this challenge, and You saw how diligently and passionately I worked towards it in Your name–always giving You the glory–wasn’t it in Your will for me to ultimately make the team?”

And for the second time in a month, I was hit with the most rattling, course-altering answer…”NO.”

The resounding “no” that was now echoing in my heart gradually pushed out the doubt, anger, and resentment that had been brooding.  This “no” was humbling, precise, and revelatory.  It drew me to a realization of reality that I suppose I was intended to learn, all along. “No” is not a word of dismissal, it is a word of direction.

I was called to listen to God’s leading, take on the challenge He presented me, and passionately pursue the goal He set, in Christ’s name.  I was never assured of the result. Would I have been as willing to take on as crazy, vulnerable, and challenging a feat had I known there was a closed door at the end of it all? No. Yet God had reason for every step of my journey. Was it up to me to worry about whether those who had doubted me were arrogantly walking around with the false presumption that they had been right all along and knew all the details of the situation? No. Their hearts and their humility were in God’s hands. Was I a fool for having tried and having believed in myself? No. I was strengthened, nourished, and matured through the process. Was I a failure for having received a “no”? No. The success was not in the outcome, but in the steps of faith it took to complete the journey.

It is time for us to begin listening to God’s call in our lives and responding. His direction is going to look different in every single one of our journeys. We often have this narrow-minded and presumptuous misunderstanding that God can’t use us on a day-to-day basis unless He is using us in an extreme way. But God yearns to use us daily–in every form, fashion, and function.  Do not box God into the ways you think He can and can’t use you.  He works across a spectrum, so far beyond our understanding, to align each of our steps with perfect purpose.  His call in your life is going to be something tailored to exactly who you are–through your strengths, your talents, and your design. Allow Him to stir your heart and guide your steps.

It is not up to you to fully grasp the outcome before you ever commit to the challenge. It is not up to you to worry or stress about the elements of the process you cannot control. It is simply up to you to move forward and to trust in God’s provision and direction–knowing along the way you are bound to hit big and small “NO’s.” But that “No” is not a word of dismissal, it is a word of direction.

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Let It Fly

A wonderful feature piece written by Grantland.com and ESPN.com writer, Jordan Conn.

In other words, my story through the lens of another…

LET IT FLY

Fearless Failure

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but a spirit of power, love, and self-discipline.” –2 Timothy 1:7

What is your biggest fear?

Think about it…what scares you?

Are you scared of snakes? Spiders? Heights? Are you scared you won’t be able to provide for your family? Job instability? Financial insecurity? Are you scared of the bullies that degrade you? The men that hurt you? The tears you may cry? Are you scared of injury…what about death?

Fear is defined as an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat. Everyone is fearful of something. No matter if you are a 300 lb. lineman, a 3rd grade ballerina, a 57-year-old business man–or anyone in between–we all face fear. When I sit back and think about the things that have scared me over the years, I can’t help but notice a pattern. Whether directly or indirectly, all of my personal fears are linked to one topic: failure.I think the majority of our fears are rooted in the same thing–the fear of failure.  The fear that we will let down the people around us, the fear that the people around us will let us down, the fear that we will let down ourselves.  So many things are so very scary…

When I was very young, I was haunted by the fear that I would be kidnapped and hurt. Granted, I grew up in the early 90’s, an era when child abductions hit the media like a firestorm. To make matters worse, my parents went to church with John and Patsy Ramsey, the parents of JonBenet Ramsey. For those of you who don’t know, the JonBenet Ramsey murder was one of the most publicized unsolved murders of our time. JonBenet was 6 years old. I was 7 years old. When a 7 year-old hears things on the news and sees her parents so emotionally invested in the tragedy, it is hard to wrap your head around the complexity of the situation. So, my mind only went one place–I am next. The “bad guys” are coming for me. Almost nightly I would have nightmares that I would be taken and that nobody would help me or find me—that my parents would fail at protecting me.

Through my young schooling, I was fearful of getting bad grades.  I wanted to be the best that I could possibly be, and I wanted to make my parents as proud as possible.  I have always been a perfectionist, and I have always been competitive.  I was reared under a sister who was brilliant–literally, a borderline genius. (This is a girl who was kicked out of her second grade class for arguing with her teacher that negative numbers did, in fact, mathematically exist and that the teacher was incorrect in teaching the other students that 5 could not be subtracted from 3. Seriously? I was the kid that was kicked out of my second grade class for sniffing glue, getting dizzy, falling backwards out of my chair and hitting my head on the whiteboard. Haha. This is also the girl who would play “the classroom game”  with me when we were little and try desperately to teach me about exponents and exponential factors…I was 6. She couldn’t understand why all I wanted to do was dance to Spice Girls when there were derivatives to learn!) To say the least, we were very different, but growing amidst her brains and my competitive spirit, it fostered a desire in me to be better, to be smarter, to be the best. And, later in life, any time I failed and didn’t do as well as I know I could have on a school assignment—I failed myself. And, in my eyes, I failed my parents.

Fast-forward through a decade or so of fears and failures. To list all the times I’ve failed would take another decade, so I will simplify by saying that I’m a failure. Aren’t we all? And while my fears and failures molded and shaped me, the worst was yet to come. For the sake of saving time and space, I will not rewrite my testimony (you can read back in the “My Story” portion for details) but I will share with you my most epic fails.

In high school, I feared non-conformity. I feared a lack of control, and I feared judgement. I feared food. I fell into an eating disorder that crippled me, consumed me, defined me. In highschool, I failed myself.

In college, my father failed me. My hero, my best friend, my everything. He feared…he failed…and he fled. On January 3rd, he put a gun to his heart and pulled the trigger. In college, my father failed me.

That year, I feared the pain I felt. I tried everything I could to fill it. I drank, I partied, I lost myself. I feared the darkness and I feared the weakness. I failed to hold my own head high. That year, I failed my innocence.

Later on, I feared for my own life. I failed at driving. I wrapped my Jeep around a tree and feared I would never be saved. I choked on blood and hung broken and battered. On that drive, I failed myself.

Between those points and since that time, I’ve failed and failed and failed.

How do you recover from a life defined in failure? How do you emerge from a life constrained by fear?

We will FAIL constantly. Others will constantly fail us. We will fail others, and we will fail ourselves.  The people around us will fail, circumstances will fail, expectations will fail. You will fail at reaching goals, your friend will fail at supporting you when you need it most. Marriages will fail. Job opportunities will fall through and fail. The stock market will fail, the government will fail. Your boyfriend/girlfriend will fail to provide you with the love you need. You will fail at filling your emptiness with drugs and sex. You will fail tests, fail deadlines, fail budgets. We will slip, and we will fail.

BUT GOD NEVER FAILS.

In the days of my youth, God comforted my worries.  He worked through my parents and protected my heart. God Never Failed.

He calmed my worries over grades and school. He blessed me with the desire to persist and to learn. God Never Failed.

As I battled with bulimia, He clung tight to my body. He protected my health, and nourished my soul. God Never Failed.

As I stared at my daddy’s lifeless body, He wept alongside me and lifted me up. God Never Failed.

As I battled depression in a drunken stupor,  I gave pieces of myself away to boys. But God fought for my purity like a relentless warrior, and though I was battered and broken, He held my virginity with poise. God Never Failed.

As I hung upside down and choked on my blood, He appeared to my heart and found His way in. God Never Failed.

I tell you all this to inspire your hearts! Life is hard. So hard. And we’re really bad at it. We are fallible humans and we mess up constantly. We fail and we fear. We fear and we fail. But as it says in John 16:33, “I have told you these things, so that you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Jesus Christ DID IT! He came and He lived so perfectly. He never failed. And He never will fail. He died for you. He died so that you can ALWAYS be given new life! So that you can ALWAYS start fresh, clean the slate, and turn a new page.  As he hung on the cross, your fears and your failures were nailed to the cross alongside Him! When we accept Jesus Christ into our hearts, we accept a spirit of POWER and LOVE and SELF-DISCIPLINE! We welcome a spirit of forgiveness and grace and second chances!

We serve a God of second chances…we serve a God of LIFE! Alone, we are nothing. We are failures and we are bound by fear. But in CHRIST, we are infinitely strong! We are indestructible! We are SAVED!

What is there to fear?!

At the end of my days, I don’t want people to say that I lived a fearful, timid life. I want them to say that my spirit was POWERFUL in Christ, that I LOVED like Christ, and that I was SELF-DISCIPLINED through Christ.

How will you be remembered…?

“His Mosaic”

I fancy myself a mosaic,

a mosaic constructed by God.

Intricately made, passionately displayed,

beautifully humble, yet odd.

 

For I once was I clean sheet of glass,

free from blemish or flaw.

I was polished and buffed, fragile but tough,

pure and simple, yet raw.

 

What you must understand, is a clean pane of glass

reflects light with splendor and awe.

But it lacks dimension, lacks retention

and only shines on an area, small.

 

But God took notice of my flawless pane

and saw potential for greatness and use.

He knew it would sting, He knew I would scream,

but He knew I could withstand abuse.

 

So He sat down, alone, on His sturdy workbench

and slid my heart into a darkened sack.

Though it hurt Him to do, He knew what was True,

so He swung a hammer and felt me crack.

 

The first blow of the hammer, I lost control

and was broken by an evil disease.

It consumed my thoughts, consumed my body,

but His hand still held me with ease.

 

The next blow of the hammer, my father was gone

and the pain split through to my core.

My breaks turned to shatters, my heart was left tattered,

but He knew I could withstand more.

 

The final swing of the hammer and everything stopped,

I stared death in its formidable eyes.

My body was broken, the pain left a token,

but my spirit was ever alive.

 

The King then sat back, with the sack in His hand,

filled with my broken self.

He then gently restored me, gently He poured me

onto a magnificent, heavenly shelf.

 

With much care and patience, God pulled on His gloves

and began to sift through my remains.

He took His sweet time with a vision, divine,

and pulled pieces of virtue and pain.

 

One-by-one He gently placed the fractures He pulled

into an empty and pure frame.

While I struggled and grew, a battle ensued,

and He humbly took all the blame.

 

But He never stopped working, rebuilding my heart,

He toiled throughout many years.

He so often showed grace, loved me through my disgrace,

and in time, He banished my fears.

 

An artist of power and an artist of Truth,

He carefully re-sculpted my heart.

With much concentration and much designation,

the beauty shone through from the start.

 

When His work was complete, He welcomed me back

and led my soul to His humble workbench.

With the pride of a Father in love with His daughter,

He held tight to my hands as they clenched.

 

He pulled back the canvas that shielded His art

and revealed to me His masterpiece.

I was blinded by beauty, in awe of it truly,

and humbly, I fell to His feet.

 

You see His light that shined, through my restructured heart,

shone with glory and refracted abound.

It danced to the ceiling, sparkled with feeling,

and touched all that rested around.

 

Before my adversity, before all the trials,

I was a pane of unweathered glass.

His light could shine through me, but though there was beauty,

it had no opportunity to refract.

 

In breaking me down and building me up,

He had very clever intent.

For now when His light shone with delight,

it was scattered, refracted, and bent.

 

It could reach every corner and touch every heart

that came within its new bounds.

I could now shine His light, with power and might,

to all who yearned to be found.

 

I was humbled in thought that He cared for my heart

with such personal, attentive grace.

It was then that I learned, it was simply my turn,

and that others filled infinite space.

 

You see He works on us all, every single heart,

for we are all His children anew.

He loves us so deeply, and spends time with us neatly,

rebuilding even YOU.

 

I fancy our hearts as mosaics,

mosaics constructed by God.

Intricately made, passionately displayed

Beautifully humble, yet odd.

My Story (part 6)

“But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who builds his house on sand…” Matthew 7: 26

There is much to be said about a humble, country boy that builds himself into a man of earthly prestige and success.  My mom once told me that sometimes, someone who comes from such humble beginnings carries their pride in their back pocket, along with their crisp $100 dollar bills. And while there is much to be respected and admired in men that have the strength to build their own empires, the foundations of their intentions must be pure. Never forgetting who they serve and what is required of them.  Much like the parable of the two builders in the Bible, it is necessary that we build our lives on the rock foundation, rather than the sand (but that is a whole other topic for another blog post for another day).

My dad was a very proud man…but pride is sometimes poisonous.  I don’t think that my father had the capacity to handle the fact that he had damaged the one thing he cherished above all else, his family. I don’t think he could face me and my sister with the truth, nor do I think he could face his own mother or his wife.  He was a scared boy trapped in the body of a powerful man…but looks can often be deceiving.

My dad had panicked. He had run. He had picked up in the middle of the day and made his way back towards his humble roots. Back towards his childhood home in Alabama.  He took every precaution to assure his success. He had come home to get his guns in the middle of the day, left the note and the message when nobody was around to stop him. He had turned off his phone and severed any chance of contact. Then he had driven. Driven away from his problems, driven away from his responsibilities.

I would like to think that something snapped in my dad’s mind. I would like to think that his actions were rash and that his decisions were spontaneous.  But the fact of the matter is that my dad spent a great deal of time thinking that day.  From the time he left his office at lunch to the time his suicide letter was received in the early morning hours, he had spent hours drowned in thought. Hours harboring an inner-war in his spirit. Hours hosting a battle of good and evil in his soul.  I won’t write much more about what I don’t know. It hurts too badly to allow my imagination to wander.  But I do know one thing–my dad was a beautiful man. A man paralyzed by fear and caught in the snares of Satan’s stronghold. A man that loved others far more than he was ever capable of loving himself. And that is what breaks my heart the most…

The police were only finally able to track him down because one call had been made from his cell phone in that time. One single call. A call to 911. You see, he had distanced himself. Far enough from his family, but close enough to his home. He had checked into a hotel room, neatly hung up his clothes, written on a small slip of paper what he wished to be done with his body, and called 911. (I can only assume he did this so that a maid would not walk in on the scene and be scarred by a pain she had no need to feel). My daddy then sat down on the hotel bed, put a gun to his chest, and gave up.

It was January 3, 2009 that my daddy put a gun to heart and pulled the trigger.

It was January 3, 2009 that I took back control.

It was January 3, 2009 that I began to run as far from Christ as I possibly could…

My Story (part 5)

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me. Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” Psalms 23:4

It is hard to understand how someone could sum up their life on three-quarters of a page of paper.  But my daddy’s suicide letter did just that. It was vague, empty, shallow.  As my mom sped through town, stopping at every location she could imagine that my dad may be, my sister made desperate phone calls to the police, my dad’s friends, and co-workers.  With life moving 500 miles per hour around me, I found myself frozen in the back seat. The world surrounding me took on an essence of molasses, slowly flowing by in a foggy, glazed state. I couldn’t peel my eyes from the letter in my hands.

He first wrote an apology.  He explained, in complete brevity, that he could not overcome his own personal demons.  He referred to himself as a lone soul and he offered his guidance for how we could move forward without him. Then, he wrote a small paragraph to my mom, followed by a brief paragraph about my sister. And lastly, a short series of sentences about me. His words were generic. His words were gross–stripped of any sincerity or passion. As if he were a shell, void of emotion, when he composed the piece. As if he had already accepted his fate.

When I snapped back into reality, we were pulling up to his office building and all I could see were police lights and uniformed officials. Upon my mom’s instruction, we sprung from the car and ran straight into his office, hysterically searching for any shred of evidence that might provide a clue as to his whereabouts–frantically trying to find my daddy before my daddy gave up.  We were in a race against time, and the seconds seemed to be ticking by faster with each passing moment.  The police filled his office building, fielding calls and tracing clues. There was so much noise–so much commotion. Phones ringing, people yelling, doors slamming. There was so much desperation.

I will never forget the moment when everything stopped.  My mom, my sister and I were all behind my dad’s desk, shuffling through his files. Suddenly the air hung thick with silence.  The three of us looked up at the same time and saw three officers step into the doorway.  The looks on their faces were indescribable. My mom stumbled back and demanded they walk away, demanded they get back to work and keep searching. Demanded that they find her husband. But the officers stood stationary.

“Ma’am, we have found your husband…”

A flicker! A relief, oh what a sweet relief! A moment of utter joy, a moment of—

“Ma’am, we have found your husband’s remains.”

It was then that my world froze.  No child should ever have to endure the sound of their mother’s heart breaking.  No child should ever have to watch their sister shatter and fall broken to the ground.  The sound that I found resonating from the deepest depths of my being was not a cry or a scream.  It was a sound of utter anguish. It poured from me with such ferocity, I could feel the heat rise from my soul.  I felt a numbness overwhelm my body and expand in the crevices of my being. In that instant, our perfect family was shattered. Our perfect lives were destroyed. Normal was an illusion.

It was January 3, 2009 that my daddy put a gun to his heart and pulled the trigger.

His delicately built world had crumbled around him in a matter of days.  The secret my mom had stumbled upon was a lie woven through fourteen years of life’s tapestry.  It was all so avoidable.  There was no infidelity, no impurity–but there was deceit. My dad allowed his personal issues he protected so privately to snowball. By avoiding handling the “tough stuff” of life in a day-to-day manner, and instead allowing it to accumulate through time, my dad lost his way. Too proud to reach out for support, too ashamed to reveal his weaknesses, too much of a “man”, by society’s standards, to simply ask for help.   He was overwhelmed, overstimulated, and found himself in a hole insurmountable in depth…

My Story (part 4)

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit…” Psalms 34:18

I returned home from work that evening around 6 o’clock and made my way inside, strolling past the vacant space my dad’s truck was usually parked. I remember finding it odd that he wasn’t home yet (considering the fact that, a family man through-and-through, he was never home later than 5:30), but I brushed off the concern and made my way up the porch steps.  When I walked inside, there was an energy and tension in the house that is still difficult to describe.  The air seemed tight and still.  Wrapped up in my own thoughts and fantasies, I proceeded along my way.

Over the next few hours, my sister made her way in and out of my room.  She seemed disheveled and concerned, asking me over and over where dad was and if I had spoken to him.  I laughed off her worry and assured her he was fine, but her angst seemed to build as the minutes ticked by.  I tried calling him a number of times, but after 30 minutes of his phone going straight to voicemail, my anxiety began to rise as well. Just as I was going to make my way downstairs to talk to my mom, her very voice echoed up the steps. A voice shaken with fear, a voice that demanded attention, a voice unfamiliar.  She called us into the formal living room and we came down to find her feverishly pacing–each hastening step mirroring the hastening pace of my heart beat.

My mother’s face was as ghostly as an empty canvas.  Her cheeks were ruddy and hot, and her demeanor was so forcefully calmed that she took on the mannerisms of a marionette. I could see that she wanted to erupt, to cry out in fear, to panic and distress.  But being the woman of God and the woman of faith that she was, she remained as poised and steadfast as a she could, undoubtedly held together by Christ’s mercy alone. She proceeded to tell us of the events that had transpired in the days since New Years. She had unknowingly uncovered a secret–a lie. A lie so delicate, so intricate, so dangerous, that it had the power to destroy.  A lie so meticulously constructed through the corruption of Satan, himself, that it had overwhelmed my dad.

With no time to explain, she told us that she had been trying to call my dad all day. She took us back to her room and showed us a simple, handwritten note he had left by the phone. A note that simply read “I do love you.” and had his name signed beneath it. Mind racing, heart pounding, I found my body tensing and my nerves coiling tight. I couldn’t put the pieces together…I couldn’t wrap my head around the situation. There was so little detail, so little explanation. What was going on? Where was my dad? How were we going to get in touch with him? When was he coming home?…but there was no time to process these questions or find answers.

It was then that I noticed a blinking light on the voicemail machine by the phone and asked my mom who had called. Apprehensive and scared, she told my sister and me that she had found this voice message along with the note. She pressed the button and I immediately heard my daddy’s voice resonate through their room.  It was then that the reality and severity of the situation hit me like a ton of bricks–the instant I heard his voice.  You see, I knew it was my father speaking on the answering machine, but it was not my daddy’s voice.  It was hollow, broken, and empty.  It was a voice so desperate, so shattered, that it sounded like a stranger.  He sounded as though it was drawing every ounce of his energy and pride to muster a noise, draining his heart with each word.

He apologized on the message.  Said that he needed to drive around and clear his head.  Said that he needed to be alone for a while to figure things out. Said that he loved us and would always love us. Said that he would be home soon….Liar. His tone gave him away as soon as he said ‘home’.  I knew he was lying. I knew he was scared. I knew that we had to find him.

That was when true fear set in.  What was going on? What was this big secret? Where was my dad and how were we going to find him? What was the next clue? My mom, sister, and I sat up for hours trying to put the puzzle pieces together. Giving accounts of our day and the last time we had seen him or talked to him, calling friends and family, anyone who may know where he was, anyone who may be able to contact him.  With each lost lead, I could feel the stinging bite of Satan’s laughter. I could feel a hot tingle slide down my spine as we tried, in desperation, to put the pieces together. I could feel Satan feeding off of our fear.

When exhaustion set in, my sister and I laid down in my mom’s bed. I squeezed my daddy’s pillow tight and sucked in his aroma as deep as my lungs could muster. While my mom sat up in the kitchen making countless calls and desperately seeking help, my sister and I cried ourselves to sleep. Holding each other tight, we offered empty assurances to ease one another’s angst. Hoping that everything would just disappear. That my dad would come driving up and that all would be back to normal. Hoping that some resolve could come soon.

That was the first night that I couldn’t pray. I was too confused, too bewildered, too blindsided. I couldn’t muster the strength to reach out to a God that seemed nowhere near. And that hot tingle that had coiled around my spine only grew in intensity.

No more than a few hours into our shallow rest, my sister and I were awoken by a scream. I could hear my mom’s feet sprinting up the basement steps and a sheet of paper crackling in her hand. “Get in the car! Now! Get in the car!” I threw on my shoes and a jacket and fearfully ran to the hallway. My mom, grabbing boxes of papers, contact information, her purse and her shoes, pushed a crumpled sheet of paper into my hands and screamed for me to get in the car.

Ironing out the creases in the paper, I looked down and realized the sheet I was holding was a suicide letter she had found from my daddy…

My Story (part 3)

“Because of my chains…[I] have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.” Philippians 1:14

Looking back on the winter break of 2009, my memories form a collage of  imagery. A collage of simple moments that have been frozen in form. Some of beauty, some of the deepest anguish.  But all of purpose.  Those individuals that are familiar with the details of this portion of my story are only those closest to myself and my family–those whose lives were shattered along with ours, those who have continued to pick up the pieces these last few years.   However, 1 Peter 3:15 instructs, “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord.  Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have…”   Therefore, I am fearless in sharing this darkest moment, for I recognize the greater purpose that it serves.

Returning to Georgia, I was still riding high from the successes of the season.  I was happy to be surrounded by the nostalgia of home and, in my blissful ignorance, unaware of any changes or tensions that existed outside of my own sense of norm.  I remember my dad calling me into his room a few days after I had returned. As I crawled up into his bed, I noticed a hint of fatigue in his eyes. A dimming of the twinkle that was so familiar.  Nevertheless, that sparkle was quickly renewed in his excitement to show me the reason for which he had called me in, so I thought nothing of my initial observation.  On his bedside table stereo, he played the radio broadcast that was recorded during my 90-yard goal and beamed with joy. For what must have been 10 straight minutes, we laughed together, replayed the sound clip, and bounced on his bed–seemingly drunken with pride and excitement. I will never forget the joy of that moment…nor will I forget the single tear I saw him wipe from his cheek when he thought I wasn’t looking.

In the days that followed, life was every bit as normal as it had been in my youth.  Our family exchanged stories, visited friends, shared laughs.  Christmas was just like every other Isom Christmas–emotional, chaotic, dizzying. But comfortable.  Throughout that time, my dad began opening up to me about deep, personal things that we had never discussed before. Thoughts of his childhood, details of his relationships. Looking back, my daddy was different. He made himself so vulnerable, yet so inaccessible at the same time. He seemed weakened, humbled by a greater force. Tired.  But I attributed this new-found vulnerability to circumstance. We had missed each other, we were both growing older, we were both growing closer.  I cherished these moments…

New Years came and went in a matter of four, riveting quarters.  My family shared fantastic memories at the Peach Bowl where LSU (my team) pommelled Georgia Tech (my sister’s team) in the Georgia Dome.  With unbelievable seats and friends in town to entertain, I was oblivious to the drastic shift in emotions that took place that day.  I recognized that my mom seemed out of character–discontent, terrified, resentful. However, the energy of the evening prevented me from asking questions. I dismissed the situation and figured it was none of my business. My rational convinced me that God would care for our family.  Whatever the problem was, God would sort it out. I was faithful to Him, so He would in turn be faithful to us. That’s how it worked, right?

January 2 was the day that everything came to a crashing halt.  I remember, so vividly, standing at work that morning when my cell phone rang. My dad and I talked on the phone an average of 15 times a day, so when I looked at the caller ID and saw his name, I couldn’t help but smile. He knew I was at work, he knew I couldn’t talk. But best friends have no problem breaking the rules, and we were most certainly the best of friends.  Our conversation was every bit as normal as usual.  He asked me how my day was going, what I was up to at work, when I would be home. We made small talk for about 10 minutes until a wave of customers came in and I finally convinced him that I had to go.

The next thing that happened is so burnt into my memory, that the scars spell out the etchings of his words. Per usual before hanging up the phone, I casually said “Love ya!” and lowered the phone from my ear. But this time I heard his voice call out on the other end of the line.  I quickly lifted the receiver back to my ear and heard, what seemed like, the voice of a different man. In a tone so eerily calm, so genuine, so saddened, my daddy said, “I love you so much, Morlan.” I stood for a moment, curious and unsettled, then replied in as stoic and truthful a tone as he, “I love you too, Dad. More than anything.” Click.

Little did I know, that was the last time I would ever speak to my father…

My Story (part 2)

“…For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more…” Luke 12:48

With the control placed back in God’s hands, I entered college a semester early and began to adjust to a very new life.  Eager to explore all that my new home had to offer, I was consumed by the excitement and intensity of change.  I stumbled, as many young freshmen do, in finding my identity and learning the ins and outs of my new routine, but I eventually found my footing and focused on my passion–soccer.

That first spring was a time of adjustment and discipline.  Isaiah 40:29 says that “He gives power to the weak. He increases the strength of he who has no might.” And that was most certainly what our King did.  He invigorated my spirit and inspired my heart. By giving Him control, I was able to not only grow in my faith, but physically as well, in a healthy manner.  I worked, relentlessly, taking no shortcuts in my development and, come fall, I was entirely prepared to step onto the field and help lead my team to greatness.

There were many astounding events that defined my first fall season as a Tiger–many overwhelming blessings God placed in my lap almost as to say, “Here. I am rewarding you for pursuing My truth. In turn, remember where to give the glory.” Little did I know, he was building me a very large platform from which to proclaim His name.  A platform that was almost overwhelming.  You see, in my second true game as a collegiate goalkeeper, I lined up to take a routine free-kick right outside of my box, and ending up scoring a goal! A 90 yard goal that took one bounce over the other goalkeepers head and made its way into the back of the net! (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L3E-dgyo_jw) A feat never achieved before. A feat I most certainly could not have accomplished with my own power and strength.  A feat that most clearly was designed by our King.  Next thing I knew, the goal was splashed across the television, magazines, and the internet.  Appearing as a #3 play on SportsCenter Top10 plays (an extreme rarity for women’s college soccer), strewn across the pages of Sports Illustrated, and linked onto YouTube, Break.com and countless other sites,  the energy of that play took on a life of its own. LSU Soccer was put on the map in a matter of moments, and the recognition and attention seemed to come to our team effortlessly.  However, the thing I was most proud of was something that nobody else saw that day….

I remembered, as I lined up to take that kick, looking up into the stands and seeing my daddy sitting right beneath the press box.  Now before I tell you of my most vivid memory from that evening, there are some things you should understand about my father. There are few other men as proud of their families as my daddy was of his.  Few other men that have sacrificed more to see their children succeed, and few others that have supported their children’s endeavors more passionately. My dad was my biggest fan, my cheerleader, my coach, my jury, my confidant, my disciplinarian, and everything in between.  He was a stoic man, a thoughtful man. A child at heart and an observer. A comedian with the most magnificent smile, but a private man often drowned in his inner-dialogue and thoughts. Though our relationship had experienced its share of strains and tensions (primarily due to the fact that were both as stubborn as a couple of mules), he loved passionately. And no matter where I traveled to play, my daddy was always in the stands.

But to digress, I saw my daddy beneath the press box as I lined up to take that kick. After watching the ball bounce into the net, the crowd erupted. The team came sprinting towards me, the fans shook the stadium with cheers and applause, and the announcer’s voice boomed over the loud-speaker.  However, in the midst of that explosion, I could only hear one voice in the stands.  A voice yelling with the echoes of a pride that is born so deep within our hearts, it cannot be imitated–only felt.  A pride and excitement so organic, so true, that you feel it’s vibrations in the fibers of your being.  My dad was yelling so loudly, I thought he was going to explode.  Looking up, I saw a smile strung wider than any I have ever seen before (I swear his teeth were touching his ears).  I saw a joy beaming so fantastically from him, he took on a glow. And as the game continued and the play progressed, that man was still screaming. Still cheering so loudly, I doubt the men in the press box could even hear themselves think.  Ten minutes later…still cheering. Oozing with a passion that seemed to be waiting to overflow.  A passion that a man, so disciplined in his demeanor, could not control.  A passion, I would later learn, I was fortunate to witness. For that is the moment of which I was most proud.

Throughout the rest of that season, my daddy was always there.  A relationship blossomed between he and I that was so beautiful and pure, I am humbled to have been a part of it.  The season was record-breaking–quite literally.  In my pursuit of the King, I broke every record ever set by a goalkeeper at LSU and began to contend for conference prestige.  I helped lead my team to new heights and was able to experience, firsthand, the power that athletics play in so many people’s lives.  There is no doubt in my mind that God constructed my platform for a much bigger purpose than I could even understand at that time.  A purpose I am fulfilling now, 3 years later.  There is no doubt in my mind that God fostered the improvement in my and my father’s relationship when he did for a very specific reason, as well.

At the end of my fall semester, I was on top of the world. Named All-American, Louisiana Freshman of the Year, Freshman All-SEC…I was invincible.  In a passionate pursuit of Christ, I felt I had the world figured out.

That was until I returned to Georgia for Christmas break and, on January 2, 2009, my daddy didn’t come home…