In 1993 the best college basketball player in the country was Indiana University’s Calbert Cheaney, and I was a HUGE fan. Little did I know that God would use Calbert to give me a glimpse of glory at an impressionable age.
I was fifteen years old and in love with the game of basketball. My sister Julie was a senior at Indiana, where Calbert was breaking all the school and Big 10 scoring records. Since they were classmates, I assumed that she would introduce me to him the next time our family drove up to see her. Since I knew everyone in my class, I figured Julie knew everyone in hers. Makes sense, right? At least it made sense to me. I didn’t quite understand that Julie’s class had over 7,000 students. My class had less than a hundred.
One Friday in April my parents and I made the 4-hour drive to Bloomington, Indiana, to see Julie. Ok, my parents were driving up to see Julie. I was driving up to meet Calbert. As soon as we got there, I gave Julie a hug and said, “When are we going to meet him? We have to do it either tonight or tomorrow because we are leaving early Sunday to get back to St. Louis.” Julie just shrugged her shoulders and rolled her eyes, “It’s good to see you too, Zach.”
Now you have to understand that my belief that I would meet Calbert Cheaney was not entirely unjustified. Julie had met him two weeks prior at a sorority function. She had called me immediately to tell me what a great guy he was. I listened excitedly and made what seemed to me to be a logical conclusion — Julie and Calbert were now best friends and he was dying to meet me.
However, on Friday night, I did not meet Calbert.
Saturday morning came — no Calbert.
Saturday lunch — nope.
Saturday afternoon — no, again.
By this point I was getting worried. I had asked Julie over 20 times when and how we were going to meet him. Finally, Julie handed me the Indiana University school directory and said, “Look him up and give him a call.”
Really? I wondered if Julie was testing me. We had a joke in our family that I couldn’t call the pizza guy without getting anxious. But, I was determined. I still remember dialing six digits and hanging up multiple times. Finally I dialed that seventh digit.
“Hello is Calbert there?”
“No, he’s not. Who is this?”
“Zach…uhh…when will he be back?”
“He’s at a tournament in Evansville. Do you want to leave a message?”
“Um…(I actually thought about it)…no thanks.”
I hung up deflated. It finally hit me that I wasn’t going to meet Calbert Cheaney. We ate dinner as a family that night and I was melancholy the whole time despite my sister’s encouragement that my ability to order take-out would never be a problem again.
My parents and I got back to our hotel room and packed up. We were leaving early the next morning. I laid in bed and said my prayers. Saying prayers was not just a routine for me. I was taught at a young age that the God who created the universe was good and that He loves me. For me, prayer was an opportunity to share my heart with the One who knows me best. So, I asked God to make it possible to meet Calbert Cheaney. I remember feeling a little embarrassed by the request. I knew there were greater problems in the world than me not meeting Calbert Cheaney, but I couldn’t help it. That was my heart. Afterwards, I fell asleep.
At 6am the next morning, I heard my dad say, “Zach, wake up. Wake up, Zach. Zach……Calbert’s here.”
Standing at the end of my bed in our hotel room was 6’7″ Calbert Cheaney. I shot out of bed, introduced myself, got an autograph, and took a picture with him while still in my boxer shorts. It was surreal. It all happened so fast.
It turns out that Calbert had gotten back from Evansville. His parents were visiting and staying in the same hotel. My dad ran into him in the elevator, recognized him, and asked if he would be willing to come wake me up and say hello. Calbert graciously agreed. Unbelievable. Truly unbelievable.
Coincidence? Maybe. But maybe not. Maybe God wanted to remind me that He loves me. Maybe I needed this as I was entering my high school years. Maybe He wanted me to catch a glimpse of His goodness. Maybe He wanted me to pray big prayers.
Sometimes when I tell that story, people respond with the old adage “faith like a child.” I agree. I did learn faith as a child, but I learned doubt as an adult. Many of my prayers, big and small, have gone unanswered. Seasons of brokenness and affliction have been endured. Difficult circumstances and unanswered prayers can shake your faith. Or, at least, at times they have shaken mine.
But, then, I remember that my faith rests in the gospel, in the truth that God loves us. This truth is substantiated by an event we can point to in human history–the death and resurrection of Jesus. Even in the midst of unanswered prayers or difficult circumstances, we can point to the cross and declare with a childlike faith, “The God who created the universe loves me.”
I’m still going to pray big, childlike prayers like the one I prayed about Calbert. The Kingdom Scene dream is that kids all over the world would pray big prayers. Whether they are answered or not, our faith will rest in knowing that God loves us. We can look to the cross as the ultimate evidence. Everything else just serves as reminders, glimpses of God’s goodness.
Calbert woke me up to this.