Meandering - John Wooden

We love because he first loved us.’” 1 John 4:19

It’s Valentine’s weekend, and it’s also the weekend that Toronto is hosting the NBA All-Star game and festivities. No doubt there will be lots of love and admiration for the celebrities of the basketball world. This combination reminded me of one of the most iconic basketball coaches, and one of the lesser known, but no less great, love stories.

Even if you are not a sports fans, there is a good chance you have heard of the name, John Wooden. His name is among the top-tier of all-time, famous coaches. He was a head coach at UCLA. Over a twelve year period he won ten NCAA national championships, including an unmatched seven in a row. Yet, his fame is as much, if not more, for the way he lived and treated others, than his athletic achievements. He was a faithful follower of Jesus, and known for such wise quips as, “Talent is God given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful.” “Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out.” “Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.”

What, perhaps, is less known about John Wooden is the great love story between he and his wife, Nellie. John died in 2010, just four months shy of his 100th birthday. He and his beloved, Nellie, were married for 53 years. She was his one and only first date, first kiss, and first and forever love. She passed away in 1985. Over the next 25 years he translated his pangs of heartache over missing her into love letters. He had written her over 300 love letters, about one per month. As T.J. Simers wrote, “Basketball, coaching and teaching were important to John Wooden, who stayed sharp and lively until the end, but nothing meant more to him than Nellie.”

Their story is not everyone’s story, of course. I know, however, that they would want to give glory to, and point us all to, God, who is love (1 John 4:8). Coach Wooden said, “Success is never final, failure is never fatal. It's courage that counts.” Perhaps John and Nellie’s story of genuine love and affection feels like an impossible dream for you in your hope for marriage, your present marriage, in your family relationships, or friendships. Ask yourself, with God’s help, what must I courageously change or pursue now so that I can also experience, and leave a legacy of, true love?

Thanks for meandering along with me,
Pastor Daniel