Gordon begins each new academic year with a matriculation chapel and hears from last spring’s distinguished professor. In her talk, “The Best Shape of Your Life,” Valerie Gin, professor /chair of recreation & leisure studies and 2013 Distinguished Senior Faculty,  challenged students to consider how trust and regiments could translate into their best efforts for the new year. Her speech is reprinted below.

“The Best Shape of Your Life”

By Valerie Gin

When I told my Mom I was asked to speak at Matriculation Chapel, she wondered why I was asked.  When I told her it was because I received the faculty award, without hesitating she told me to, “GIVE IT BACK!”  My mom was horrified and worried that I had to speak in front of so many and now I think I should have listened to her. Well, at least I didn’t have to worry about what I was going to wear.

I am here today because I am blessed by faculty and staff colleagues who support, encourage and pray for me; wonderful students and the Lord’s generosity, grace and goodness. I am grateful for the opportunity to teach at Gordon College. I thank you all.

Wouldn’t it be great to start off this year in the best shape of your life and better yet, maintain it?  Perhaps some of you are there, others not quite. Whether you are there or not, Proverbs 3 provides wonderful guidance in how to prolong life, bring peace and prosperity, win favor and a good name in the sight of God and others, be on a straight path and bring health and nourishment to our bones.  Sounds like great shape to me!

How do we get and stay in shape?  Well, you are already off to a good start because you are at a state of the art boot camp/training facility with the best trainers available. The drill sergeants—I mean professors and staff—will provide a regimen so that you won’t easily forget what you have been taught. It’s our job to ensure that you write on the tablet of your hearts and not just your iPads.

We are professors because we profess what we believe.  Our profession of God’s teaching, commands, love and faithfulness are embedded in who we are and what we teach.  The Gordon basic workout/core classes are designed to develop and strengthen your CORE.  This tremendous workout, premeditated by the faculty, ensures that your mental, spiritual, emotional, social and physical muscles are developed in symmetry. Have you ever seen people who only work out their upper body and then have skinny chicken legs? Back problems are at an epidemic because we have stronger quads and weak hamstrings and abs.  But if you work on the CORE regimen and do your daily reps, you will be well balanced and in great shape.

I have had personal trainers before they were in vogue.  I’d like to share part of my training history with you to encourage you in your training.My earliest recollections of my parents are my dad dressed in his suit, sitting in his bedroom reading his Bible before heading to work, and my mom sitting at the kitchen table with her Bible doing her quiet time before starting her day. My personal trainers modeled for me what it meant to not forget God’s teaching.  I couldn’t wait until I learned to read and could do my own morning devotions.

Fast forward: I was in middle school running out of the house to catch the bus when my dad stopped me before I hit the door.  “Val, are you ready to start your day?”  “Yes, Dad, I have to go. I’m going to miss the bus.”  “Did you brush your teeth?”  “Of course. I want to have friends!”  “Did you have your quiet time?”  “No, dad I didn’t have time.”  “Well, maybe you should get in the habit of doing your quiet time before you brush your teeth so you can keep first things first.”

To this day I have my quiet time before I brush my teeth as a vital part of my daily regimen. Proverbs 3:1-2 says, “My child, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart, for they will prolong your life many years and bring you peace and prosperity.”

During my first year college orientation, I took a walk by myself to admire the stars and pray. I remember the prayer I prayed: “God mold me and make me into the person you want me to become.”  My senior year of college I was asked to share in Chapel and I reflected on the prayer that I prayed freshman year. I realized that during my college years, God had faithfully answered my prayer, but not in the ways I had expected or planned.  I’m now borrowing the analogy I used in my talk that day.

I was an athlete, I wanted to get all A’s, I was majoring in pre-med (doesn’t everybody?).  I did not like wearing dresses, speaking in front of people, putting myself in uncomfortable positions. There were many things Val would do and things I would not do.  These dos and don’ts formed my identity.  My self-centered identity.

It’s like a silly putty shell. It outlined who I was.  Things are safe, cozy and secure in the shell. But the shell is also limiting, and more importantly, does not allow God to mold and make me into to the person He wanted me to become.

During my four years of college God started to crack me up (like the shell) so He could form and shape me beyond the puny limits I set for myself.  I found myself in classes with professors who made indelible impressions in my mind and heart. There were times when I felt I was dangling and out of control when I was struggling in a class. Other times where I was twisted in pain in relationships over mistakes I had made or when my athletic career came to an abrupt end my junior year when I came down on an opponent’s foot, severing major ligaments in my ankle.

Yet, I often felt God’s caressing tender touch through faithful loving friends or challenging chapel talks forming me more and more in His image as He smoothed out the rough edges. Other times I felt like I was bouncing off the walls full of energy but still not sure of who, what and where I was supposed to go as I changed my major yet again. Many times I felt stretched beyond my limits but the whole time I was—and still am—in the grip of a loving, faithful God who shapes and molds me into the person He wants me to become.

Do you want to be in the best shape of your life?  Allow God to lovingly crack you of your limited shell-centeredness and allow Him to get hold of the good stuff, a pliable, moldable heart. Trust him with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. Crack out of your shells and in all your ways submit to His loving, caressing touch and He will make your path straight.

Honor Him in your training regimen. There will be exercises/courses that you like and some that you don’t but don’t limit yourself to your likes and dislikes…it’s hard to grow that way.  Allow Him to stretch you by trying things you wouldn’t normally try and don’t give up.  Trust Him. Keep your personally daily reps as a priority. Surround yourself with dedicated workout partners who desire God to shape them.

I am often asked to share my best sport moment. I’ve been blessed with many as a coach and as a player. But one of my best happened when I was 12 years old, pitching in the finals of an important softball tournament.  I had pitched in the semi-final game and was playing left field in the championship game. We were up by one run in the last inning and my friend who was pitching walked three batters in a row.  I was called in from the outfield to pitch.

I lived for this moment. In fact I had imagined similar scenarios a zillion times when I pitched in my basement at the strike zone that was marked with black electrician’s tape against the wall.

I can still see the catcher giving me her signal. I aimed and threw a fastball I can still hear the sound of the ball hitting the . . . bat and watching the ball in slow motion, pass to my left and sail over the fence.  Home run. A grand slam.  I was the MVP—for the other team.

I wanted to melt into the pitcher’s mound and disappear forever. But as I turned, I saw my dad running down the stands trying to get my attention. When I looked at him I saw him gesture with his hand on his heart as he continued to run to me and give me the best hug ever.  It was the worst moment of my life up to that point and yet one of my best moments. I realized that my dad’s love was not based on my performance, that I was his . . . no matter what.

God used that moment to tangibly teach me about His-never-let-go-love for all His children.  He used the worst of times to shape me to be more like Him.  Doing one’s best doesn’t always equate to being the best—and that’s okay.  Our lives are His to do what He deems best.  So trust Him.  May He mold us and make us into the people He wants us to become.  Welcome Him to get you into the best shape of your life this year for His glory and work your tail off.  Amen.