I walk into my house and it’s cold — silence, colder than shouting. I go into the kitchen and see my mom working on her computer. “Hey mom.” A quick glance up, a sharp “Hi,” then silence. At least she’s home, I think. The next day, it wasn’t silence. It was critique. It was a label. It was a jab that added another layer to the growing glacier over my heart. Where did my mom go? The one who was loving and caring, who comforted me, who treasured time with me.
Instead of feeling the hurt, I just played. When my mom was hard and cold, when my dad was working all the time, when my parents’ marriage was crumbling, playing soccer was my escape. I’d bike to the closest field and juggle, kick and sprint. I would do anything to put my mind on what I could understand, what I was good at, a language I loved. Soccer became my refuge from a house that contained a broken marriage and hard hearts. At the same time, being a good soccer player became my identity, the thing that told me I had value when I felt unloved and forgotten.
But by mid-high school I felt burnt out. Because I was seeking my value in soccer, I beat myself up over any little mistake. The same place I ran to in order to escape feelings of hurt left me feeling even more insecure and insignificant. Playing soccer became completely about filling my own needs and satisfying my pride, but it always fell short and ended up tearing me down. At the same time, my relationship with my parents and their relationship with each other only got worse. The combination left me feeling bitter and alone.
Thankfully, God graciously stretched out his arms and embraced my brokenness. God convicted me and my siblings to pray for my parents’ struggling marriage and my mom’s hardened heart every day. God continually called me back to him and gave me faith to trust that he could break through my reality and bring restoration and healing to my family. As I prayed, God taught me grace and began to replace bitterness towards my mom with forgiveness. As he enabled me to forgive, my world started changing. I learned to extend grace and forgive my mom, and God showed me that he, too, extended unfathomable grace to me that defined me as worthy and loved and significant to him. A daughter loved by the King became my new, God-given identity and God became my constant refuge amidst a battling family.
However, I still struggled with integrating my identity into a God-honoring mindset with soccer. I had more confidence when I was playing, but soccer was still a place where I practiced selfishness; and it was lifeless.
Going into freshman year of college, I wasn’t sure if I even wanted to play. At the same time, it was hard to let go of something I was good at and something I used to love so deeply. During this time, my parents’ marriage was transforming, along with my own relationships with both of them. I was overwhelmed by God’s grace in my family, yet felt depleted of God’s presence in soccer. By the end of freshman season, I wanted to quit. I didn’t care if I was doing well on the outside. It was not enough, and I was mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted.
However, throughout freshman year, God broke down my remaining misconceptions of who he is and of how he views me. Through continued redemption of my family and an ever-deepening understanding of his grace, God turned my idea of soccer on its head and taught me to acknowledge him in it. The culmination of this occurred last summer during a sports ministry program called Chicago Eagles. Over this time, God emptied me of pride and fixed my eyes on him, his glory and his purposes. It was spent by running soccer camps and sharing the gospel and awesome power of my Savior Jesus with younger kids and opponents, alike. I was constantly on my knees praying for Jesus to help me keep moving, to speak through me, to give me self-control, to help me love my teammates, to manifest his power and to show his love in me in ways beyond my capabilities. By the end of the summer, I was prostrate before the King, humbled and awe-filled because of who he is, who he calls me and the gift of playing soccer he gave me. Dependent on Jesus and solidified in my identity as a daughter of the King, I was so excited to come back to school for a sophomore season of soccer focused on glorifying him rather than myself.
Sophomore soccer season had many ups and downs and a lot of learning, but was steadied by a constant line of redemption. Each time I took the field with my team, I was overwhelmed by the grace God has given me to let me play a game I love. I played without thinking, without worrying, and God continued to use soccer to refresh me and teach me to glorify him and to love my teammates and opponents well. There was still temptation to focus on myself and sometimes I messed up, but God showed me that his grace marks every aspect of my life. He showed me that his redemption breaks through every part of my story, that he is able to resurrect my family, my identity and my sport in a way that has multiplying effects for his kingdom and his glory. Now I get to continue asking God to open up my eyes, that I may see how he is working and the dead things he desires to bring to life.