Chris Coghlan of the Chicago Cubs. Photo by John
Chris Coghlan’s life was an ugly mess.
It hadn’t started that way. Chris was born in 1985, in Rockville, Maryland, to loving parents Tim and Heather Coghlan. His dad was a police officer. His mother was a teacher. They were both hard workers. Chris had good relationship with his brother, Kevin, and his sisters Katie and Kelly. When Chris was 9, he moved with his family to Florida. They were a regular, blue collar family, who loved each other and enjoyed life.
On June 5th, 2001, that all changed. One evening, Chris was out, having just finished exams, and came home to find a large group of family and friends gathered in his home. One look at his mother’s face, and he knew right away that something was wrong – that something had happened to his father. He soon heard the tragic news that his father had been killed in a car accident.
From that moment, his life because an ugly mess. His once happy home was now filled with tears and sadness. He didn’t want to be there, so he found a place of refuge; the baseball field. He recalls in an interview with I AM SECOND, that he would hide out there for hours, just “hitting, and fielding, and hitting, and hitting, and hitting.” But that couldn’t fill the void in his heart. When he turned 16, he started drinking. He started feeling entitled and acting selfishly – like the world owed him something. He began making bad decisions. He recalls; “My dad had always taught me what was right and wrong, but I felt like this excuse that everybody felt sorry for me; that I could do whatever I wanted because I had the best excuse. My world sucked at that time, so I just kept playing baseball and I kept doing the same thing.”
On the inside, Coghlan was an ugly mess. But on the baseball field, everything looked beautiful. Coghlan was a star on the field and he was rewarded for it. In 2003, he was drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 18th round of the draft. He opted not to sign, and instead to accept a scholarship to the University of Mississippi. He put together a pristine baseball resume; SEC All Freshman team in 2004. SEC All-Conference second team in 2005. NCAA 3rd team All-American in 2006. Then, in 2006, Coghlan was drafted again – this time in the 1st Round by the Florida Marlins. His dream had come true, and he thought he had everything he wanted. His success continued, earning him his first invitation to Major League camp for Spring Training in 2008. Everything seemed beautiful.
One night, Coghlan was out late drinking. He says that – even though he was a professional baseball player with a bright future in front of him, he was so insecure that he had to get drunk just to approach a girl. He was terrified of being rejected. He came to camp the next day hung over, reeking of booze, and feeling awful. Unable to concentrate, he was goofing around, and tried to throw a curve ball – a pitch he doesn’t know how to throw. The ball sailed out of his hand, flew 90 feet or so away, and hit All-Star Second Baseman Dan Uggla in the cup. He got yelled out. He suddenly couldn’t field. He couldn’t hit. The next day, he got sent down to the minors. The one word he used to describe himself was this; “empty.”
Chris Coghlan’s life was an ugly mess. But God was about to do something beautiful.
Coghlan was walking through the clubhouse one day during minor league camp when he saw teammate Daron Roberts doing something unexpected. He was carrying a Bible. “I asked him, I said, ‘what are you reading,’ but I knew he was reading a Bible – I just wanted to see if he was realling going to tell me “yes, I’m reading a Bible.’ He said, ‘are you a man of faith?’ And I said, I’m not. I believe that there’s a God, but by no means and I living for Him.”
Later that day, Coghlan was out on one of the back fields. He had chosen not to wear his cleats. His coach called him out on it, but Coghlan wasn’t about to go run all the way across the fields to get his cleats. But then, Daron Roberts did something else unexpected. He ran all the way back to the clubhouse, got Coghlan’s cleats, and ran them all the way back to him. Coghlan was baffled. Why would someone he didn’t even know do something like that? He knew Roberts was different. He just didn’t know why.
Robert’s act of kindness led to a brief conversation about family. That conversaton led to an invitation to dinner on St. Patrick’s Day. That St. Patrick’s Day dinner led to a cup of coffee at Starbucks. That cup of coffee led to a two hour conversation about the Word of God.
Many Bible Verses were read at that Starbucks. One of them was Ephesians 2:8. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this not from yourselves, it is a gift of God, not by works so no one can boast.’ Coghlan explained in an interview with Bruce Darnall; “That was a huge turning point for me. Everywhere in this world the message is you have to earn your way to ‘wherever.’ So it seemed just too easy for this great gift of heaven that God promises, but I wanted it.”
That conversation changed Coghlan’s life. As Coghlan explained in his I AM SECOND interview; “I realized at that time that I wanted God. I wanted Jesus. I wanted Him in my life. I was tired of chasing the wind. I was tired of chasing these temporary satisfactions that I was having and realizing that every night I really had an empty feeling. I had an empty feeling inside and I was trying to fill this void with these earthly things – with baseball… And I wanted God and I wanted Jesus…”
Chris Coghlan was a changed man! On May 8, 2009, he made his major league debut. By the end of the season, he was named the National League Rookie of the Year!
Chris Coghlan’s life had once been an ugly mess. Now? In a way, it still is. Coghlan explained to Blessed 2 Play; “I still have sin. I still have things that I desire for my flesh… It’s not a testament of what I’ve done…” He added in an interview with Tom Rust at Face to Face; “To God, it’s not about performing. And that’s what I love about God. I just thank Him that He loves all of us so much that He doesn’t love us based on our performance. Whether I get 3 hits or whether I do something wrong or sin, or whatever it is, It’s not a performance based love. And unfortunately, as humans, we love on performance, and that is what is so great about God’s grace and love is that He doesn’t work on that same frequency.
Coghlan came to learn that God loves us, not because of how beautifully we may live, but in spite of our sin. He explained to Bruce Darnell; “There is a price to be paid for our sin, and Jesus Christ paid the price on the Cross. It is a free gift of salvation… You can do nothing to pretty yourself. God loves you right where you are. Let God do the work in your heart… The Lord has just done mighty things in my life by chiseling away at my heart, revealing sin to me. I just prayed for new convictions. It has been a tough journey, but I feel that is the Christian life. I am grateful that I am one of His!”
As sinners, each of us is an ugly mess who can do nothing to pretty ourselves. But, by His death on the cross for us, Jesus has washed away all of our filthy, dirty, ugly sin, and has made us beautiful in God’s sight! No matter how ugly and worthless you may feel on the inside, that’s how you look to God! God’s children are described in the Bible this way in 1 Peter 2:4; rejected by men, but in the sight of God, chosen and precious.