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For the Right Reasons
America's Favorite Bachelor on Faith, Love, Marriage, and Why Nice Guys Finish First
By Sean Lowe, Nancy French
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2015 Sean Lowe
All rights reserved.
THE GUY WITH POTENTIAL
"What if we transferred you to Lamar?"
My spoon filled with Cinnamon Toast Crunch paused, halfway between my bowl and my mouth, and I looked at him. It was a Sunday morning, I was a junior in high school, and I was scarfing down a breakfast of champions. My mom and sister were getting ready for church.
I should've been surprised that my dad had suggested such a thing. He is so stable that we'd lived in the same house on Woodenrail Lane since I was two, we'd never changed phone numbers, and we'd sat in the same pew at the same church my entire life.
But there were two things my dad loved more than stability.
Me and football. Almost always in that order.
When I was seven years old, he signed me up in a community peewee league. I'll never forget walking onto the field that first day, knowing nothing about the game. My coach taught us how to throw the ball and how to run for a touchdown. It was basic stuff, but I thought it was fun to hang out with my friends, and I grew to love the sport. Some of my fondest memories happened while tossing the ball with a neighbor before my mom called me to dinner. On Friday nights when my sister was in high school, we'd go to the football games, and I'd stand behind the end zone imagining what it'd be like to play under those lights. I dreamed of being in the players' cleats and wondered if I'd be tough enough to withstand my own bumps and bruises.
As much as I enjoyed playing football, my dad loved me being on the team and was thrilled I had a knack for it.
* * *
By the time I got to Irving High School, a Class 5A school with two thousand students, I'd gotten pretty good. When I was in tenth grade, I was one of two sophomores to start on varsity. I loved being a Tiger, going to the pep rallies, and helping my team win games in front of a loud home crowd. When I was a junior, colleges began actively recruiting me. Then my coach moved me to defensive end, and it threw me off-kilter. Defensive ends are usually big, sometimes 275 or 280 pounds. I was only 180 pounds, and maintaining that weight was full-time work. I'd take two sandwiches to school every day, along with protein shakes. I ate constantly and drank weight-gain shakes every chance I could. My frame just couldn't maintain enough weight to make me a good defensive end.
After every game, I was frustrated. "If I want to get a scholarship to a good school," I told my dad, "I need to be a linebacker. It's what I know ... what I'm good at doing."
It was halfway through the year, and I'd been wearing Irving's black and gold for my entire high school career. I had a schedule, friends, and—honestly—a lot of fun at Irving High School. However, I couldn't shake the feeling that my new field position was going to limit my college choices.
That's why my dad brought up the far-fetched idea of transferring schools. Irving was the only home I'd ever known. More than just a Dallas suburb, we were a community in our own right, a community that loved football. In fact, our town hosted the Dallas Cowboys in our notable Texas Stadium with its iconic hole in the roof. Originally the roof was supposed to be retractable, but the engineers had misjudged how much weight it could bear. Instead, they left it open, which caused all kinds of problems—and jokes. People said the hole existed so God could watch his favorite team.
* * *
We lived about three miles away from that landmark, in a modest neighborhood. Mom never let me sit inside playing video games like some of my friends. "Go outside and play," she'd say. My friends and I played basketball, football, and anything else every day until dinner. My sister, Shay, had graduated from Irving High in 2000 and was living with us as she attended college. Dad operated his State Farm office on MacArthur Boulevard. And we attended Plymouth Park Baptist Church every time the doors were open.
I had a strong lineage of Christian believers. My grandfather, a pastor, had the entire New Testament memorized. He baptized me when I was eight years old.
"I take Jesus into my heart," I said before my grandfather plunged me into the cool water. Looking back, I'm not sure I really understood those words. I knew I shouldn't lie, cheat, or steal, but I'm not sure I was quite old enough to understand fully what it meant to be a Christian. It didn't hit me until a few years later, when I was at Latham Springs Camp and Retreat Center. We had scheduled events during the day—recreational time when we played softball and kickball, followed by group activities.
One night, the camp brought in a guest speaker who stood at the front of what was probably a pretty smelly group of kids. His message cut through the excitement of camp and washed all over me. It's hard to recall the details of that night, but I vividly remember I cried at the thought of Jesus and his sacrifice for me. The gospel wasn't about the fact that my parents were churchgoers or that I could—sometimes—make it through the day without lying or being mean to my sister. This is what sank in that day: I messed up all the time, but Jesus lived a perfect life. He loved me so much that he was willing to pay the penalty for the things I'd done wrong. He did that by dying on the cross. That meant I was forgiven. The cost had been paid. I was saved.
As he spoke, I felt forgiveness—and joy—wash over me. At the end of his talk, the guest speaker gave an invitation for us to come forward to commit our lives to God. As a sixth grader, I made my way out of my metal folding chair and went forward. Tears streamed down my face.
So I've known God pretty much all my life. Even when some of my friends veered off course during high school, I still believed. It's interesting that Dad posed the question about switching high schools on a Sunday morning.
Sometimes you forget God is always there, nudging you in certain directions and planning good things for your future.
* * *
If I did transfer to Lamar, it would be a big change for my whole family. Lamar had a thousand more students than Irving. We'd have to move into a different school district, which would affect my dad's commute to work and my sister's drive to college. But mostly it would affect my mother. An interior designer, my mom had made our house into her little kingdom, and she made sure it was as beautiful and comfortable as possible. Did it make sense to uproot my family because of high school football? I looked at my dad standing in the door, and he seemed serious.
"Really?" I asked.
"Sure," I said before stuffing the cereal into my mouth and taking a gulp of orange juice.
And that was that. Looking back, I'm not sure why I didn't question this decision more. People sometimes pray more for parking spaces than I prayed about leaving my school a year and a half before graduation.
My parents put the house on the market. I was excited about the future and eager to get established in Lamar's football program. Of course, that didn't stop me from being a little choked up as I stuffed my clothes into a cardboard box and took down my Michael Jordan poster and my mini hoop. We found a new place to live within the school district—a temporary townhouse about fifteen minutes away from Lamar. Mom, I now realize, must've hated trading our home for a townhouse, but she never let on that she had been inconvenienced.
* * *
I remember walking through the front doors on my first day that spring semester and wondering, How will I ever feel comfortable here? People teemed through the hallways wearing the navy and gold of their Viking mascot, chatting at their lockers, and laughing in the halls. I ducked my head, studied the printout of my new schedule, struggled to find my classes, and couldn't figure out the lock on my locker. But even worse was the looming noon hour.
Lunch is the worst part of high school. I had to make some immediate decisions: Who am I going to sit with? Where should I sit? I had to think fast on the walk from class to the cafeteria, and even faster once I walked through the double doors and checked out the scene. I needed to have a plan or else I'd end up sitting in the wrong spot and be forever isolated, drinking milk out of a carton by myself all year. Since I'd missed an entire semester, students had already settled in to their groups. Would there be a place for me?
Then I realized something awesome. Lamar students could leave campus for lunch.
"Hey, Mimi," I said into my cell phone on the way to class. Mimi and Papa, my dad's parents, live near the school. "Want some company for lunch today?"
She was thrilled that I stopped by, and I—avoiding the lunchroom as much as possible—went there every single day. Eventually, I made friends at school, and Mimi welcomed them all with a smile and big plates of fried chicken and fried okra. She also made sure they never saw the bottom of their glasses of sweet tea. Those were the perfect meals, because I was trying to get bigger. On days Mimi didn't cook, Papa bought me two foot-long steak subs from Subway and asked me to step on his scale to see how much weight I'd gained. Everyone loved Mimi and Papa, and they loved my group of friends.
* * *
One of the advantages of spending more time with my grandparents was that I got to be around a marriage that has lasted more than sixty years. Papa, a World War II veteran, married Mimi when she was only nineteen years old and he was twenty-one. Now Mimi has white hair, and Papa has lost most of his. However, it's wonderful to see them interact after all these years of matrimony.
"Papa," I once asked him, "do you believe Mimi is your soul mate?"
He looked at me a little funny. To him, the phrase soul mate was hippie language. "Well, I'll tell you this. I think men have the ability to be good husbands or not. I don't think there's this one magical person out there for you. Proverbs 18:22 tells us, 'The man who finds a wife finds a treasure, and he receives favor from the LORD.' Note that the Word doesn't say, 'the man who finds that certain someone.' It's less specific than that. You find a wife, you get favor from God. It's not all that complicated."
"Well, you found Mimi."
"There were other women before Mimi."
At this, I almost laughed. My grandparents had been together so long, it was hard for me to imagine Papa existing before Mimi.
"And I think I could've made it work with one of them too," Papa said. "So, no. I don't believe in that soul-mate stuff."
I wasn't sure about the idea of love anyway. In high school, I had lots of friends, went on plenty of dates, and was the type of guy girls' parents loved. Of course, my dating in high school consisted of walking together between classes and driving girls to the movies in my first truck, a '97 Ford F-150. Though I was just getting familiar with the idea of girls and dating, I knew I had excellent role models in my own family for lifelong love.
* * *
I fit right in with the new Viking team at Lamar. My coach, Eddy Peach, had been the football coach since the school opened, and so had his offensive coordinator, Coach Jones, and defensive coordinator, Coach Ward. They were the coaching team during the 1970s, when my dad was a player. Lamar had a legendary football program and a playoff streak that had lasted fourteen consecutive years. (Oddly enough, the year I played we missed the playoffs.) The coaches were godly men and were quite a contrast to the screaming, yelling, and cussing coaches I'd left. As the first Texas coach to win three hundred games at the Class 5A level, Coach Peach knew the game. He put me as the school's starting linebacker, where I thrived for the rest of my high school career.
By the time I graduated, I was ranked fifty-second among inside linebackers across the entire nation by Rivals.com, was a member of the Dallas Morning News All-Area Team, was listed in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's top seventy-five prospects, and was Lamar's most valuable defensive player. In my senior year, I had ninety-six tackles and four sacks. As a "three-star athlete," several colleges were interested in me, but I narrowed it down to Oklahoma State, University of Arkansas, and Kansas State. In the spring of 2002, I accepted a scholarship to Kansas State.
My family's decision to transfer me to Lamar was a big risk. I'm glad my parents had the guts to do it. In fact, it was a moment that shaped the person I was to become. Before then, risk taking was not a common Lowe activity—still isn't, to be honest.
But something changed in me while I was eating Cinnamon Toast Crunch that Sunday. My dad, by asking a simple question, taught me an important lesson. He'd already instilled in me the virtue of being even-tempered and steady. But that morning, he showed me what it looks like to put aside fear, to risk comfort, and to dive in headfirst to a new adventure.
It was a lesson I'd use later in life: sometimes the right path might seem like a really crazy move.
And in the fall, I had another move to make.
* * *
"How many towels does a guy need?" I asked my mom, pointing to a stack Dad was loading into the back of our car.
"You can't blame me for wanting you to be clean, can you?" Mom asked.
"No, but we might need a third car just to bring all this stuff," I said, looking at the bags and boxes we had to load. "Or an extra dorm room."
"Okay, I think I've got just enough space for the mini fridge here," Dad said, making room in the Tahoe before slamming down the hatch. Mom had apparently been preparing for this moment all summer—physically, if not emotionally.
"Do I really need these?" I asked, holding up a pair of flip-flops.
"You never know how filthy the shower might be," she said.
"Maybe I should explain to Sean what this is." Shay held up a bottle of laundry detergent.
"How would you know?" I asked.
The worried expression on my mom's face indicated that she doubted I could handle the pressures and demands of college, but I knew I was ready.
"I guess that's it," Dad said as he stuffed the last bag into the vehicle and wiped his hands on his pants.
I took one last look at our home—the place where I shot many basketball hoops and tossed many footballs with friends—grabbed my keys, and jumped into the driver's seat toward a new life. Mom and Shay rode together in the car behind Dad and me. For the next eight hours, we drove—through the city of Dallas, the lowlands of Oklahoma, and the Flint Hills of Kansas. You know that song "Home on the Range"? Whoever wrote it was probably imagining buffalo roaming in an area like the gently rolling acres of Kansas tallgrass prairie.
As the miles passed, I wondered what it would be like to be a part of the Kansas State team. In my experience, football teams had been, in a way, like a family. At least that's what I'd felt at Irving High and then Lamar. Would a Big 12 college program have the same kind of vibe? Would I be able to hang with the other guys? I'd been recruited as a strongside linebacker. K-State's previous three were drafted into the NFL. Would I be next?
Dad and I talked about football much of the way, and I assumed Mom and Shay were talking about my sister's recent heartbreak. She had broken up with a guy she had dated for years, but she seemed to be in good spirits that day. I was proud of her. She took at least eighteen credit hours each semester, sold insurance while working another job, and studied all the time. Ever since she and her long-term boyfriend split up, Shay had been more serious than usual. I hoped things would look up for her soon, but our family wasn't the type that sat around and talked about the details of our romantic lives.
"Sean," Dad said as we neared the school. His voice cracked just a tad. "When you're in college, things will be different." Dad might've been driving me to college, but he wasn't finished being my dad. "Remember ... you're going to be in the world, but you don't have to be of the world."
I looked through my windshield at Manhattan—a small city tucked away in the northeastern part of Kansas, known as the Little Apple.
* * *
Just a couple of months earlier, I'd gone to the bigger version of Manhattan—the one in New York—where my team was doing preseason training and conditioning. Immediately, I noticed my new teammates were huge, a reality check for someone who'd always been the big man on campus. There's a major difference between an eighteen-year-old kid just arriving from high school and a twenty-two-year-old man who has been in the university weight program for a few years.
K-State's training program was more intense than anything I'd ever seen. In New York, the summer workouts were led by the strength and conditioning team, and we'd run 7-on-7 in the evenings. It gave me a chance to learn the fundamentals of their defense and get to know the team. The upperclassmen had known one another for a long time and had a casual comfort with each other. They loved to make sure the freshmen always knew our place as the new guys: sit down and shut up! But one guy—Andrew, who was the captain of the team and probably six foot five—was kind to us when we showed up to train for our abbreviated two-week period. He was a senior, an All-American defensive end, and he treated even the lowly freshmen with respect.
Excerpted from For the Right Reasons by Sean Lowe, Nancy French. Copyright © 2015 Sean Lowe. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
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