“My blessing is this. I know a God who gives hope to the hopeless. I know a God who loves the unlovable. I know a God who comforts the sorrowful. And I know a God who has planted this same power within me. Within all of us. And for this blessing, may our response always be, ‘Use me.’” -Scott Dannemiller
Tearing my ACL my senior year brought all kinds of new challenges and lessons for me. I often heard stories of other athletes getting so wrapped up into their sport that when they couldn’t play anymore, they felt lost and confused because so much of their identity revolved around their sport. When I heard these stories, I could understand to a point because volleyball is such a huge part of my life. But I also thought…nah, that wouldn’t happen to me. I held a sense of confidence that there was so much more to me than volleyball, which is true. Nevertheless, I think that in a way, the success of my junior year changed that.
On a personal level, my junior year of college was my best year of college up to that point in so many ways. I was on cloud nine. Our team set many records in 2013. Although we did not reach our ultimate goal of an Atlantic Sun Conference Championship, our RPI ranking was beginning to creep up into the top rankings, and our name was on the rise. The records were flying higher and higher every week with top national rankings in kills per set, as well as several players setting records both in the conference and the nation. Athletically, I was reaching a point of potential I never expected. I was named 2013 Atlantic Sun Player of the Year, All-American Honorable Mention, and was sent with one of my teammates and best friends, Lauren Ford, to Colorado Springs to try out for the USA National Women’s volleyball team. Not only were my athletic accolades on the rise, but so was my overall confidence. I was happy with myself. Success surrounded me. I was enjoying the game that I loved and playing it with my best friends every day. I had a 4.0 GPA and my teachers loved me. Not only that, I felt that my spiritual life was thriving, too. I began to surround myself with positive people and experienced the amazing love of God by serving on a mission trip to Honduras over spring break.
My time in Honduras was one that I will never forget. The group consisted of several Lipscomb students and was led by members of Hillsboro Church of Christ who are also a part of a college ministry group called “4:12.” It was through this trip that I realized the power of God’s love and its presence inside each person. Our mission group is partnered with a church in the city of Mateo, and works to build much needed houses for families in Honduras who have already given so much to the church. By serving the people there, I realized God’s ability to work through people, including myself. I fully believe that God worked through all of the people involved in that mission trip.
I learned that the blessings from God weren’t the physical houses that we built, but rather the love that we showed and experienced through our service. We became the hands and feet of Jesus, and we were the ones bringing God’s love and manifesting God’s blessings for others.
I believe that God was showing Himself to me in so many ways through that trip, specifically revealing to me the greater purpose that exists for all people: to love. I fully believe that God created me and everyone else on this earth to bless the suffering people around us and to show God’s love to all.
Spiritually, I was content during my junior year. What reason did I have not to be? God seemed to be doing amazing things in my life at that time. Along with this, I blossomed socially, becoming more comfortable in myself and finding it easier and easier to make new friends. People all over campus knew who I was. I was Jewell Dobson. I was on the volleyball team. I felt accomplished, comfortable, and loved.
The only thing missing at that point? Another conference tournament trophy, a few more banners, and another trip to the NCAA tournament.
With this new confidence, I went into my senior year with a sense of determination. This was the year. This was my final chance to leave Lipscomb Volleyball with one more conference championship. This sense of confidence and determination was evident not only in me, but the entire 2014 team as we took down the 22nd ranked Kansas University team in our first preseason tournament of the season. I distinctly remember my feelings of excitement and determination for the upcoming season rising even more as the team took a “winners’ selfie” on Jenny Phelan’s phone after the game.
This was going to be the year.
This phrase echoed in my head as I was playing the next weekend against Mizzou. I remember playing my heart out that game, and after we lost the first set, my competitiveness was at a high. Energy surged through my body the entire game. I was going after everything…
…including a ball that was a little too tight to the net.
I don’t even remember if I ended up getting that tight ball. The only thing I remember is coming down and feeling a sudden and distinct pop in my left knee and the most painful burning sensation I’ve ever felt. All I could do was fall, drag myself off of the court, and bang my fist onto the wooden floor in an attempt to release the intense burning pain I felt in my leg. After about thirty seconds, all pain was gone and all I could do was roll over and cry because I knew. Somehow I knew what just happened.
I tore my ACL.
I sobbed. I had no idea or concern for what was going on around me. All I could think was, this was it. This was the year. I was going to do it. We were going to do it. We were going to win it all. And now it’s over.
Not only that, at the time, I thought that this meant I’d never play competitive volleyball again. I was blind-sighted. I had this perfect idea in my head of how great my senior year was going to be, and in the blink of an eye, it all seemed as if it were taken away. Gone.
With these thoughts came more emotion, more sobbing, and more shaking. I simply could not believe what was happening. The next thing I remember in the midst of all of my emotions was our trainer, Kelsey Ferguson, running over to check me out, and my coach, Brandon Rosenthal, running over to me and grabbing my hand. Still shaking with emotion, my immediate reaction was to squeeze his hand as tight as I could.
But as he looked me in the eyes and told me that everything was going to be alright and that we would get through this together, I immediately felt a sense of calm come over me. I felt supported, loved, and not alone, and because of this, I was suddenly at peace.
I released my tight grip from his hand, took a deep breath, and walked off the court with two of my biggest supporters helping me. I wiped my tears, and cheered on my team the rest of the way, while my assistant coach, Billy Ebel kept me smiling on the bench.
The 2014 team was one of the best teams I’ve been a part of throughout my time at Lipscomb. We made huge steps for Lipscomb Volleyball that year. Despite our loss in the 2014 conference championship, we received our first ever at-large bid into the NCAA tournament. I’ll never forget explosive cheers that came from Brandon’s living room the night our name popped up on the screen as part of the NCAA selection show.
I ended up making that senior year a red-shirt year so that I could have another chance at a second senior year in 2015. Those two years are filled with countless stories. Unlike my junior year, there were times during those two years when it was extremely difficult to see God and be content in Him.
Although I thought I never would, I did experience times where I struggled with my identity. It was difficult to go from such a year of success to a year where nothing seemed to come easy. I didn’t always feel like the cheerful and accomplished volleyball player Jewell that everyone once knew and loved. At times, my confidence dropped, and I was not completely comfortable in myself.
It may sound dramatic, but many competitive athletes who love their sport will tell you that their sport really does make up a huge part of who they are. So when I temporarily lost my ability to play, it truly felt as if I lost a piece of myself.
I could go on and on about how hard it was sometimes. I could narrate the many struggles of rehab, or the moments I thought I would never play volleyball like I used to, or the days I found it so difficult to stay positive. I could also retell some of the awesome victories we had in 2015, like our win against Utah, or the amazing trips we took all over the country. And I could definitely tell the story of finally winning the conference tournament, getting the trophies, and hanging the banners during my second-chance senior year.
But I think that there is something much bigger at work in this story.
Just like those houses in Honduras, it wasn’t the victories or trophies or banners that were the blessings of those years. The blessings came from the people around me.
While the painful memories will hopefully fade with time, it was the moments like the one I experienced with my coach on Mizzou’s court—the moments where I felt the love of God that was so vividly revealed to me the year before—that will always stay with me and that I will always long to share.
The difference was that during my senior year, I was on the receiving end. Instead of being the hands and feet of Jesus for others, so many other people had stepped into my time of struggle to be the hands, support, and love of God when I needed it.
It was through countless words of encouragement that I read in a bag of full of letters from various members of the Lipscomb community. It was through my parents’ arms as they hugged me while I cried days before my surgery. It was through my sister making me laugh on the day of my surgery. It was through the never-wavering belief that my coaches always, always, always had in me. It was through the healing hands of a very special athletic trainer who would wake up before the sun with me, just to work with my packed student teaching schedule. It was through friends that let me vent, or cry, or simply talk with them late at night in their car. It was through my amazing teammates and best friends who I can never speak enough of—the ones who always have my back, who are always in my corner, and who always make any and every hard day worth it because I would never want to win or lose next to anyone else.
It was through all of these people that I was blessed by God and was given hope for something so much bigger than myself. It is these blessings for which I am always grateful. And it is God’s love, constantly shown through others, that always reminds me of the one part of my identity that, no matter what, I can never lose:
His ability to use me.
Written By Jewell Dobson, Lipscomb Volleyball