Can you imagine being Perry Ellis? I can.
If you have no idea who Perry Ellis is, he’s all of us, because he is living a beautiful, messy story. He’s a Kansas kid who was so talented in basketball his high school team had to rent the larger, college court when he played. Okay, so maybe he is not exactly like me. No one rented larger auditoriums to hear me debate in high school.
In a sport that is known for showmanship and volume and tattoos, Perry has a receding hairline, is mild mannered, and I think might call me Ma’am if we met. (When what I’d want him to say is, “Yeah, we can be friends and it wouldn’t be weird AT ALL middle aged woman.”)
Perry is a senior at the University of Kansas. Last year he decided not to go pro and spend one more year at Kansas. He is the heart of the team, scoring in double digits with a calming, leading presence on the court.
I admit to tearing up on senior day as I saw him (on TV) walk to center court with his mom and dad.
Saturday night the Jayhawks played Villanova for a spot in the final four. Perry had a terrible first half. Terrible. He did not score one point. We have all been there. A terrible day at work or with your kids or in your marriage. When no matter what you do, you cannot for the life of you, get a shot to fall.
And then mercifully half time came.
What would his coach say?
This is where we are all Perry Ellis.
What do you long to hear from your Coach mid-game, when the outcome of a situation isn’t a given?
Coach Self said to Perry Ellis, “You will always be loved at Kansas. You have the chance to do something special tonight, but you will always be loved.”
If the “something special” had happened and the Jayhawks won, what a Cinderella story, right?! But sometimes the pumpkin stays a pumpkin and it did for Perry. He scored a few points in the second half, but nothing impressive and the Jayhawks lost.
You will always be loved. The heartbeat of the coach’s message wasn’t about performance, it was about love and presence.
Is the pain of the loss still raw? Of course. Perry may be mild-mannered, but he’s not dead. I still feel the loss and I was miles away!
Love does not negate pain.
But pain rooted in love can lead to life.
Pain rooted in performance can lead to death.
I hate that we lost. But when the announcer shared what Coach Self said, I knew I needed to pay attention.
You will always be loved at Kansas.
It is true, Perry Ellis, you will always be loved at Kansas. As one small Kansas voice, I add: I love you. I love how you went counter-cultural and stayed in school. I love how calm you are. I love how generous you are with your teammates. I love how you’ll get that twinkle of a smile when a play is a work of art. I love how you know you are part of something bigger than yourself. I love that you are honorable and shared that honor with the team. I love that you will always be a Hawk.
God—the one who see who you really can be and wants to coach you towards that person step by step—starts his coaching with the same heartbeat. You will always be loved in the Kingdom.
It is true, Player in this Game of Life, you will always be loved in the Kingdom. It is the middle of the game and maybe you are down. It does not matter to your value to the team. You will always be loved in the Kingdom.
Amen and Amen.