Apparently God had some unfinished business with regard to me and the sport of soccer. While I've always loved soccer, the sport has not missed me since my departure in high school. My position back then was right wing and my job was to score goals. I was no good at it. In my varsity career on a high scoring team, I banked a grand total of 2 goals. And one of those was out of sympathy when the coach let me take a penalty kick. Entering high school I thought I was made of pretty strong stuff on the field, but was quickly humbled.
Looking back I have mixed feelings about my disappointing career. It was on the soccer field (or, bench actually) I first realized that I could fall way behind my peers, no matter how hard I tried. It was through soccer I realized life was not going to unfold the way I had planned.
Fast forward a quarter of a century and you will find me coaching soccer to 11 year old boys and 9 year old girls. The YMCA is always begging for volunteers who know the difference between a forward and a fullback, and since I do know at least that much about soccer I offer what I can. As a result of my kids coming of age to play, my love for the world's sport has been renewed. So I spend a few afternoons a week teaching drills and secretly longing to be out on the field playing with them during the games. When I'm on the field with the kids I feel like the soccer player I always wanted to be. (because I can dominate any 9-year old girl with a bow in her hair and matching socks).
The man beside me in the picture above is Scott, whose daughter is on my team. I am grooming her to play my old position of right wing. Scott approached me last season with an offer to play soccer with people taller than 4'. I was reluctant. I mean, why mess up a good thing here? By coaching grade schoolers I was maintaining a very safe distance from the actual sweat and heartache of this beautiful sport. I was good at what I was doing. Why spoil that. Right? But almost weekly Scott would kindly extend another invitation, to which I would always find an excuse to decline. But inside... I wanted to play soccer. Eventually I caved.
Today was my third game. I'm now 24 years older, 2/3 as fast and 10 times as likely to need an emergency room. My recovery time is almost exactly six days, which is just enough time to be prepared for the next game. I paid the money, got the jersey and joined the team today. The excitement I felt as I put on the jersey and became part of a soccer team again was something unequalled since my discovery of girls back in 6th grade.
As I was warming up today I whispered "thank you" to God for bringing me back in to the game. I recognize unmistakably that He has been pursuing this small piece of my heart with the intent to father it and heal it in some places it got "stuck" and "jaded". Truth be told, when I left the soccer field after my senior year, I was convinced that ditching sports entirely was a way to escape any more embarrassment. "I suck!" was a familiar refrain sung loudly down in the deepest places of my heart. But here I was today, with cleats, a jersey, and a number on my back, eager to play soccer again. I think more than anything I am thankful that I am being pursued by a loving Father...who knows me well enough to get me into coaching at the YMCA years ago, so I could meet a second grade girl named Isabella, so I could meet her dad, who He would use to invite me to play my childhood sport again with people over 4' tall.
After I thanked God for being an amazing Father to me, I told him that if He could give me a goal today He would be the absolute best.
He gave me 2.
Thank you for going after my heart in the most beautiful and unexpected ways. As a child I learned you wrong. You are not distant, busy or impersonal. You are as close as a grass stain, immensely playful and deeply personal. If I never score a goal again, I know that you have orchestrated this day to tell me that you see me. And that you know me. And that you are pursuing me.
I love you too, Papa.