I received a message on Instagram the other morning that made my day. It was a response from a picture I posted of a volleyball with my favorite Bible verse on it, from Joshua 1:9: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid, do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

It wasn’t even my ball, to be honest. It was Nicolette Martin’s, who – of her many talents – is a gifted artist and scrawled the verse on her ball. Somehow it ended up in my bag.

The user on Instagram responded to the picture, saying “dude, thank you for being so open about your faith. I really appreciate seeing reminders from you and Troy Field about Jesus as I scroll.”

It made my day because it is much easier to ridicule and laugh at those who are open about their faith than it is to laud them. It is much easier to question a belief in an omnipresence in the universe who created all things, who watches over all things, who architects, designs, authors, engineers, observes everything that happens on this Earth and otherwise.

Which is why athletes who are so open about their belief in God – Tim Tebow, Steph Curry, Josh Hamilton, Jimmer Fredette, April Ross, Philip Rivers, to name a few – are some of the most criticized. Tebow in particular.

The social media hounds are happy to pounce when Tebow kneels, or Curry points to the sky when hitting a three. It’s easy to poke fun at Fredette for embarking on a Mormon mission, or Hamilton for being as open about his faith as he is about his drug and alcohol problems, which he has wrestled with for years, publicly, humiliatingly.

The chorus of responses is loud, staggeringly angry, even, when athletes point to God as the first they thank after a win or momentous achievement.

Do they really think God wanted them to win?

Does Tebow really think God helped him throw that touchdown?

Is Curry under the impression that God places another parabolic three into the basket?

Does Ross really believe that God led her to another ace?

The short answer is no.

God, in my mind, does not root for the Broncos over the Steelers, no different than he does Golden State over Cleveland or Ross over Agatha and Duda.

When athletes thank God after a win, or a performance, or anything, for that matter, in my experience, it has little to do with the moment itself, but a massive, unquantifiable collection of them, the connection of a million dots that you could never have thought in a million years would have connected, but they do, because…how?


I suppose before I begin writing about the faith of many, I should start with my own. I grew up in a Christian household that was faithful but not overtly so. We went to church sometimes. We did not go to church a lot of times. As my brothers and I – I have two, Tyler and Cody – grew older, our sports routinely got in the way. We’d sub out church for baseball, or basketball, or soccer, or golf, or football.

As kids, we’d be gleeful when this happened. It meant that we didn’t have to wake up early to drive 45 minutes away on winding backroads to our Presbyterian church, which we found boring and dull and quite a waste of time. We’d rather be playing sports, thanks.

By the time we were in high school, we were Christmas and Easter churchgoers. Now, I don’t really think God takes attendance when it comes to church. I’m a firm believer that what you do outside of church is what matters, and for the most part, we did ok. We mumbled our prayers before dinner, and we were decent enough kids with unbelievable parents. We got into a little trouble. We didn’t get into a lot of trouble.

When it came to church and faith, we – and by “we,” I mean my brothers and I – ran through the motions. I wore a cross necklace because it seemed the right thing to do. I was confirmed, though only out of obligation. I’d often show up to class in a dirty baseball uniform and cleats, find a dimly lit corner, and happily fall asleep. On the occasion that we did go to church, I’d doodle, pass notes to my brothers, snicker at the lady who wore too much perfume and sung too loud.

It just seemed like a difficult thing to wrap my mind around, this faith. The microscopic portion of my brain that is grounded in logic couldn’t get over it.

Was it really possible that a God could exist? That Jesus was able to perform all these miracles that the Bible claimed? Could he make the blind see? Heal a leper? Turn water into wine (coulda used that guy at a few fraternity parties…)?

I think it’s natural to question faith. Actually, I think it’s a measure of sanity that you do.

And I had questions. Hundreds of questions. Thousands of them. And, like many, I was too stubborn and too lazy to seek the answers.

Until those answers began coming to me.

There is no profound moment when my questioning of God became a firm belief in him, or her, or whatever you want to call The Big Man Upstairs. No big awakening. No Boondock Saints type scene where I wake in the middle of the night with water dripping on my forehead with my life mission spoken to me.

It is a rather boring reflection, the ability to look 27 years back and see all of these dots, these seemingly mundane life moments, all connecting to where I am now. These dots really shouldn’t make any sense, except…God? That you?

I’ve been living in California almost three years now. One of the most common terms people use to describe my life is “blessed.”

I can’t disagree.

But the fact that I’m here, writing about beach volleyball while playing it professionally, podcasting with one of the best players in the world, has so little to do with me. I never wanted any of that.

It just sort of came, unwittingly, mysteriously.

We all have a genesis story. Mine launches in fifth grade, a basketball championship game. I hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to send it into overtime. That Monday, as we did every Monday in our writing class, we took the first 15 minutes to write about the weekend. Being the narcissistic little child I was, I wrote about my glorious 3-pointer, how grand and magnificent and extraordinary it was.

I loved it. For the first time, I had thoroughly enjoyed a school assignment, writing about sports.

I went on to major in journalism at the University of Maryland, and that eventually led me to writing for a newspaper in Florida, which led me to beach volleyball, which led me to combining the two.

About a year and a half into my stay in Florida, my best friend, Jason Wheatley, moved to Brea, California. His now-wife, Jenny, was the president of a company and could use someone to help their high school students with writing.

Did I want it?

I looked at my passions – writing and beach volleyball – and looked at the best location to pursue the two: Southern California.

Imagine that.

I could bore you with the details in between those stories, which are rife with strange coincidences, rejections that turned me to a path I never thought possible, dots that I could have never been able to connect or even imagine on my own. But I’m not going to bore you with those.

Instead I will say this: The main reason I remained in Southern California is because of a church, Mariner’s, in Huntington Beach, pastored by my now-good friend, Graeme Cowgill. In my first six months here, I couldn’t stand California. I wanted to move, began looking for jobs outside of state – New Orleans, the Carolinas, mostly – until I listened to one of Graeme’s sermons, until I saw and felt the community it was building.

I felt a twinge of intrigue I hadn’t ever felt.

For the first time in years, I wanted to explore faith. I wanted to see if this Jesus guy was the real deal.

Mariner’s led me to many of my best friends out here, and those friends are in turn the reason I have fallen in love with this place. But more than that: It opened my eyes.

It allowed me to see the connection between these previously indecipherable dots throughout my life, these moments that once seemed so small that, when looking back upon them, were hinge points in my story. It taught me to seek the purpose in everything that happens, for when you begin to truly believe the many words in the Bible, you begin to see life through a different lens, a purposeful lens, one where everything has a meaning, so long as you take the time to look.

If you’re not of the faith, that’s fine. I get it. I’m not here to proselytize, merely to explain. The popular book, The Alchemist, has a similar, oft-quoted passage: “And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

The more I looked, the more I noticed the conspiring of this enigmatic universe. It’s not to say that everything that happens in this world, or to me, is good, but good can come from everything that happens.

When Tri Bourne was afflicted with an autoimmune disease that has sat him out the last two years, I’m sure he didn’t imagine he’d launch a podcast. But he did. And when we were kicking around ideas to give back to the beach community, a way to help, we were stuck because of a lack of funding and resources. I went to church later that week, and the next day I had an email from a sponsor, asking if we needed any projects that needed funding.

Turns out…we had this idea…and it could use some funding…and thus the SANDCAST wildcard was born, and we’ve been able to help more than a dozen beach volleyball players pursue their dreams because of it.

That began with a disease.

Coincidence? A God thing? Curse? Blessing?

You be the judge. I have my thoughts. You have yours.

What I’m saying is this: When athletes, and anyone, really, thank God for something, they’re not thanking God for only that moment, or that three, or that touchdown, but for the thousands, millions of moments that led them, inexplicably, to that exact point in time.

In a single point to the sky, Steph Curry isn’t saying thanks for a single 3-pointer, he’s saying thank you for my dad, who taught me to play basketball; and for the people who told me I was too small, for providing me the drive to prove them wrong; and for the food and water that gave me fuel; and for the family that supported me; and for the hoop in my backyard where I could practice; and for Davidson for giving me the green light; and for Golden State for taking a shot on me; and for the two years of losing before I finally began winning; and for the platform I now have to point to that sky.

In a single point, Steph Curry is thanking God for thousands of moments, same as Tebow does when he kneels.

It’s a funny thing, too: Athletes of faith will thank God for losses too, for losses provide lessons, and without those lessons, they could never be great, and if they could never be great, they could never have the platform to kneel and point to the sky and put Bible verses on the eye black under their helmets.

Tebow, of course, as he does, explains this better than I can or ever will.

“At the end of the day,” he said at a press conference in February, “I know that’s not why I’m here … it’s not my biggest purpose, it’s not my biggest calling. It’s not how I want to be known in my life.

“I want my life to be so much more than that. I want to be someone that was known for bringing faith, hope and love to those needing a brighter day in their darkest hour of need.

“And that is something that is a life calling for me so it’s so much bigger than sports.”

And sports are so much bigger than a single moment, a single win or a single loss.

There is, simply, something bigger out there.