Ashley Lahey entered the final semester of her senior season as the top-ranked women’s tennis player in the nation (not to mention one of the top students at Pepperdine), but more importantly to me, she ranks among the best human beings.
Ashley (reluctantly) came to the church where I preached in Malibu with her boyfriend and my good buddy, Treet, but I had no idea at the time that she was in a season of struggle. She broke down in tears at a tennis match the first time we had a brief conversation, which led to a longer sit-down where I got a glimpse of what was really in her heart. From that time on I simply had the great privilege of watching her immense intellect and strong will in action—just like on the tennis court—as she journeyed to faith. After my last sermon there, Ashley asked if I would baptize her, and I had that opportunity on my very last day living in Malibu. What a tremendous gift.
I am writing about Ashley because last week was a rough one in my world. I lost an old friend and traveled to honor his life, and on the way unexpected chaos broke out among the work I had left behind. It was a hard week. And then Friday night, sitting at home and processing all that had happened, Ashley sent a video of her sharing her faith story that day at Celebration Chapel at Pepperdine where she graciously gave me a prominent place in the story. What a sweet gift on any day, but especially for me on that day.
In the unpredictable messiness of life, the unexpected gifts are extra special.
“I do not at all understand the mystery of grace – only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.” – Anne Lamott
Pepperdine hosted the 2018 NCAA Men’s Basketball West Regional Final matchup between Florida State and Michigan on Saturday at the STAPLES Center, and I was most grateful to be in attendance to watch Michigan secure a berth in the Final Four. The fans in maize and blue dominated the arena but not the game and yet the Wolverines held off the scrappy Seminoles down the stretch for the victory and a trip to San Antonio this weekend.
This was not my first NCAA tournament experience, but it had been fifteen years since I sat with my daughter, Erica, in the rafters of the Louisiana Superdome to watch a teenager named Carmelo Anthony lead Syracuse to a thrilling victory over the Kansas Jayhawks in the last game Roy Williams coached for Kansas. This experience was quite different.
Fifteen years ago I won the right to purchase overpriced tickets in a lottery. On Saturday my ticket was the gift of a gracious friend.
Fifteen years ago I needed binoculars just to look down and see the Jumbotron. On Saturday I had to crane my neck and look up to see the big screen from my amazing seat.
Fifteen years ago I prepared for a nosebleed by stuffing napkins in my pocket. On Saturday I prepared for the game by stuffing my face with pizza.
Fifteen years ago I waited for the captain to turn off the seatbelt sign before safely moving about the stadium. On Saturday I leisurely wandered around Pepperdine’s suite prior to the game and sat among friends from upper administration.
Heck, this time my friend, Rmani, sang the national anthem! It was a great night from start to finish.
Truth be told, I still feel that my place and my people both hang out in the rafters, but I confess that it felt awfully nice to sit in prime stadium real estate. Once I got past the feeling that a security guard was going to kick me out that is, I had a really good time.
Grace is pretty cool on the receiving end once you give yourself permission to accept it. It might be what a few young men feel like this weekend when they look up and discover that they are in the Final Four.
“Do things right.” – Marv Dunphy (as reported by former player and assistant coach, J.D. Schleppenbach)
I have a strong aversion to being a groupie that is fueled by an unhealthy personal pride that at least keeps me from forcing myself on impressive people who surely don’t need another person attempting to feel important by association. Now don’t get me wrong: I would love to be close to certain famous people. I’m just too proud to act on it.
So living in Malibu is obviously weird for me.
Pepperdine is interesting in its own right. Sometimes Pepperdine intersects with the world famous through its connections and/or location, but in some instances Pepperdine has its own preeminent personalities. Like Marv Dunphy.
Marv Dunphy is a living legend and is to volleyball what John Wooden was to basketball. He coached his alma mater, Pepperdine, to four NCAA national championships in his storied career before retiring in 2017 but has also served his country by coaching the United States in seven Olympic Games and was the head coach of the gold medal team in 1988.
There are more accolades and statistics for sure, but it didn’t take me long living around here to learn that Coach Dunphy is a Pepperdine legend for more than numbers and championships. I listened to countless stories from friends ranging from former athletes and friends to the faculty member primarily responsible for Marv’s career at Pepperdine about his character, humility, personal integrity, leadership, and the way that he demanded that his student athletes be good human beings above all.
I have had the pleasure of shaking Coach Dunphy’s hand a time or two through mutual friends but have never had an actual conversation with the man. At first that was due to my weird anti-groupie approach to life but is now due to a deep respect for him as a human being. He surely doesn’t need to talk to me, and I no longer feel the need to extract words of wisdom from him. He has already taught me enough lessons about life just from the legendary stories and from watching him work to keep me busy implementing what it means to do things right.
But last Saturday evening was “Marv Dunphy Night” at Firestone Fieldhouse, and you know that I was there. I attended a pre-game reception in his honor because I wanted to be close enough just to watch him in action.
Hmm, I guess that makes me a groupie after all.