NEW BIRTH: From hockey to hope, home & heaven

WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP)--As the 2003-04 National Hockey League season opened in early October, I sat down in front of my television with keen interest.

I love the sport. I never played it, but whenever I tried, I always came away impressed with how great these athletes are. There is no better sport to watch in person, nor are there better athletes to interview.

The start of the season also brought back vivid memories of my nearly two years as the director of public and media relations for the NHL's Carolina Hurricanes. The team was never more successful as it made the playoffs both seasons, including winning the Eastern Conference championship and playing for the Stanley Cup in the spring of 2002.

I was on top of the world. I was the man the international media had to deal with in order to speak with anyone on the team. I felt invincible and allowed the attention to get to my head.

But as I sat watching this year's NHL openers, I also remembered the tough times. I remember the struggles I had with my wife, Andrea, the woman who is the rock in my life. I pushed her aside so I could move ahead in my career.

So what if her mother died a couple days after I moved from Connecticut to North Carolina to take the hockey job (and her father followed a couple of months later); I had to travel to Boston for a game against the Bruins. She had to deal with having two children at home, one with Down syndrome, as well as travel to upstate New York and deal with her invalid father and her parents' "estate" (a falling down old Victorian home).

We didn't spend Christmas together. She was in New York with my son while I flew up to Connecticut to spend a couple of days with my daughter. She spent New Year's Eve in a hospital with my son who was in a "croup" tent as he struggled to breathe. At the same time, Andrea had to hospitalize her father as the first step in the devastating decision that he had to be in a nursing home. I, meanwhile, was in a new arena surrounded by revelers after a Hurricanes' victory.

She had to move the family south by herself a couple of months later. I said hi and then went off to work.

During the Stanley Cup run, I didn't have a day off from Feb. 1 to July 1, 2002. Andrea dealt with getting a new home together while I was basking in the false glory that only professional sports could give one who was not right with the Lord.

I never heard of, nor read, the Book of Ephesians, which shows clearly how a godly husband should act. Maybe I would've acted differently if I had previously read Ephesians 5:25-27, which states, "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing and water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless."

God sent me enough messages to have me change my ways, but I lied to Him. Almost 10 years ago, I told Him I'd go to church if He made sure my daughter, who was born two months premature, survived the difficult first two weeks.

Today, Alexandra is a beautiful girl who accepted Christ as her Lord and Savior last Mother's Day. However, I didn't keep my "promise" until years later.

My mother, grandmother and uncle all died within a year of each other and I asked, "Why?" I blamed God.

I look back now and ask myself, "Why didn't I turn to God then for salvation?"

But, I learned it's never too late.

I've been a Christian for a little more than a year now. I left the Hurricanes a year ago and eventually found myself at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. God took my hand and led me to a place where he wanted me and my family to be.

I'm still a work in progress and I'm learning every day. Without accepting Christ, I never would've found Wake Cross Roads Baptist Church.

Without Christ, I never would've attended a marriage conference this fall with Dr. Danny Akin, soon to be president of Southeastern Seminary, who reminded me that my priorities should be Jesus, Andrea, my children, my church and my job -- in that order! A year ago, I had those out of whack, that's for sure.

Without Christ, I never would've met Dr. and Mrs. Paige Patterson, who have had a profound effect not only on me but my family. When it comes to loving your family in a Christlike manner, not only do the Pattersons talk the talk but they walk the walk and allowed me to follow.

No question, I miss being around the National Hockey League. It's quite a rush.

But I'm getting a bigger rush being a Christian. I'm loving life with the Lord and have never been happier in all my life.


Jerry Higgins is the director of public relations for Southeastern Seminary.

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