NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Sometimes we don’t know where we are going. And sometimes when we get there we don’t know what we are there for.
As the spiritual formation director for female athletes at Lipscomb University Shannon O’Brien is prepared to go in whatever direction the Lord leads her. She doesn’t know what is ahead on the trail, but last fall she had no idea she would even be taking this journey.
Shannon is the wife of Lady Bisons soccer coach Kevin O’Brien. Shannon, who played soccer at the University of Arizona, works with the goalkeepers as a volunteer coach. She is also an intern under Brent High, Associated AD for Spiritual Formation, serving as the director of spiritual formation for women’s athletics.
“Brent and I had kind of talked about it, but it never really took shape,” Shannon said. “I went to a Fellowship of Christian athletes meeting one night and realized it was a good fit. I could not have articulated that this is what I wanted to do, but I have definitely felt more fulfilled the last nine months in what I believe God’s calling is in my life than anything I have ever done.”
“It is mentoring students. It is working with them and their faith. It is being an ear to encourage them to make wise decisions or to just listen. I try to support them in whatever they are going through and being prayerful for them.”
Following the road
Shannon and Lipscomb assistant coaches Kelsey Fenix and Chris Klotz worked for several years in North Carolina with the Charlotte Eagles of the United Soccer League. Klotz played for the Eagles and Fenix played for the Charlotte Lady Eagles. Shannon also played for six years for the Lady Eagles, serving as team captain for three.
“I have been a part of women’s ministry for 12 years,” Shannon said. “With the Charlotte Eagles I ran a lot of team devos and taught classes.
“You play, but it is completely a sports discipleship program. They have a curriculum that you go through. The first year you are being taught. In the second year they see where you are in your faith maturity. If you are still there after three years the hope is you will be the one discipling and teaching.”
Shannon also led team devotionals and team prayers at Arizona. She was a part of Athletes in Action where she learned how to put her faith to use on the playing field. But as her playing career ended in Charlotte she wondered what would be her next step.
“Through the years of playing and coaching I just started praying,” Shannon said. “I know I am a wife. I know I am a mom. Lord, I know you have given me these talents, but that season of playing has come to a close.”
Where do I go from here?
She asked the Lord to provide her with a clearer picture of what he wanted her to do.
“The Lord started to reveal girls asking me to mentor them,” Shannon said. “I still didn’t understand what that meant, but I said O.K.
“I know my spiritual gifts are exhortation, faith, evangelism and teaching. All four of those are being utilized in my role. I do believe everyone has a purpose. Being a wife is a calling. Being a mother is a calling. But I definitely believe my talents, and the story God is writing in my life, is to be utilized and poured out to encourage others.”
About three years ago Shannon went through what she describes as “a really tough season” in her personal life with a family history that had come to the surface.
“God was breaking me and allowing me to be at this vulnerable place and seeking him 100 percent,” Shannon said. “It wasn’t that I hadn’t been, but I had kind of grown complacent in seeking him.
“I was part of Bible studies. I was a part of church. I was active. It wasn’t like I wasn’t in Christ, but I had allowed myself to become lazy in my one-on-one time with Him.”
Mentoring is the next step
After her difficulties she told the Lord she wanted to make the most of her days and asked for direction.
“The Lord revealed mentoring and he revealed it would be women’s ministry,” Shannon said. “I didn’t know what that would look like at that point.
“We didn’t know anything about Lipscomb then. But when Kevin was offered the opportunity here about six months after that revelation happened I heard about the spiritual formation part of athletics here. It was almost like the identity had unfolded before my eyes. There was a need for spiritual formation for the women athletes.”
Shannon is available to work with any of the female athletes at Lipscomb. She has a strong relationship with the soccer team because of her coaching experience. She has also formed a bond with the Lady Bisons volleyball team after serving as one of their advisors on a mission trip to Brazil in May.
She is available, along with counselor Kaci Allen, to work with the female athletes no matter what sport they play.
“I am mentoring certain girls who ask for it,” Shannon said. “There are times when I feel the Lord puts a name on my heart. I go to them and ask them what they are going through and how I can help them.
“I feel clearly that I need to give them the word of God, not from a classroom scenario but more from an application scenario. I share my personal struggles, doubts and questions that I have had about my faith and how God’s faithfulness has been revealed to me. I want to allow the foundation of God’s truth and words to be what I am standing on and proclaiming.”
Shannon and Kevin have two children, Keely and Keegan. Shannon thinks that the fact that she is a former athlete who is both a wife and a mother sets an example for the female athletes as they consider the direction of their lives after their sports careers end.
“A lot of us come from broken families and hurt families,” Shannon said. “Seeing a Christian woman who is a wife and mother and further along in her Christian life, who was also an athlete, helps them discern that I get what I they are wrestling with.”
Klotz and Fenix work with the girls’ soccer team from a spiritual standpoint as well.
“Kelsey has a heart for the team,” Shannon said. “I have a heart for the team as well. But Kelsey is right there. She is traveling with the team and I don’t travel.
“I love soccer, but I have it on my heart to be available to any female athlete that needs to talk. Klotzy and Kelsey have soccer pretty well covered. Other coaches are amazing too, but sometime having someone to talk to that is removed from the coaching arena helps.”
Shannon is considering returning to school at Lipscomb to work on a master’s degree in spiritual formation. Again, she is praying for the Lord to guide her decision.
“Ultimately, I want the girls that are graduating to have a deeper trust in their Savior and in themselves and a greater abiding trust to allow the Spirit to lead them.
“How we get there is going to be through the blessings of the Lord. I am hungry for knowledge. I am hungry to grow and to be equipped to serve.”