For 13 years of my life, soccer was my thing.
I loved muddy knees, grass stains on my shorts and I LOVED scoring goals.
Now that I clean up muddy knees and grassy shorts all day, I have relegated myself to the sidelines, lately watching a lot of high school and college soccer games that all take me back.
My love for soccer started when I was in 4th grade - back when only boys played during recess.
I found it extremely satisfying to slide down that Schirle Elementary hill to "save" a goal, and while my mom shook her head at my new jeans caked in playground mud, it was always worth it because I had found something I was good at.
I'm not sure how my fairy-like Mormon friend, Shayla, got roped into this madness but I remember we were the only two girls crazy enough to leave the gossip circles of the parallel bars and take on the boys.
When I started playing organized soccer in 6th grade, I learned about
I hated that place.
I played soccer so that I could spend my hot summer days beating a defender to the ball and making keepers drop their chins to their chests. I did not play so I could sit and watch others do so.
My freshman year of high school, I was flying high.
I was proud to make the JV team at Sprague High School, and happy to be the leading scorer by the end of the season. I was a cocky little 100-pound forward with no problems defending my faith to Shayla on the bus, but when it came to representing Christ on the field - not so much.
If we lost, it was always someone else's fault.
Refs always got a lesson in how to do their job.
And I hated being benched.
Sophomore year, I was banking on varsity.
I made JV again.
Needless to say, I had something to prove.
God had something to prove too, but I just wasn't listening...yet.
The first game of the season, we were playing Redmond High School and I hyper-extended my right knee.
There are no trainers at high school JV women's soccer games, so I spent the rest of the night hopping around on one foot, even going through the line at Taco Bell.
After an Xray, my family doctor told me I had bruised my meniscus and it would heal on its own in 2 weeks.
So, for 2 weeks, I sat on the dreaded bench.
I was so excited when I was cleared to play, and couldn't wait to get out there and save my team from the brink of mediocrity. My attitude = my team is nothing without me.
Unfortunately, my knee was not cooperating. I would be backing up for a throw-in and it would just collapse me to the ground in tears of frustration. I'd wait a few more weeks, then try again. My whole skill set was built around my quickness, but any kind of cut floored me. I scored 1 goal that year.
As the season drew to a close, I had only proved I wasn't about to make varsity next year, and I was no savior to any team. I went to a different doctor, who ordered an MRI, which showed I had actually torn my ACL back in September.
Two months of crutches.
Once, I was late to catch my bus after school, and was crutching like a madwoman through the linoleum Sprague High School hallway. About 200 feet down the hall, I could see the buses slowly pulling away as I desperately click-clacked away. Then, as I hit the main thoroughfare, the muddy footprints from December rain got the better of my rubber-soled crutches and I crashed into a crumpled pile of embarrassment.
God taught me a lot that year.
Junior year, I was on JV again, but with a renewed attitude.
It was the best year.
Seniors can't play on JV, so the coach finally put me on varsity for my last year of high school. I mostly considered myself lucky to be on the team as the consummate ball girl. I played a little, but not enough to even show up on any college scout radars.
I got lucky to play for a city club team coached by the Corban College women's soccer coach. He gave me my big break, inviting me to basically come and ride the bench at Corban. I never hesitated.
A series of unfortunate events (teammate injuries) led to a heightened role on the Corban team my sophomore year, and by the end of that season, I was once again flying high as one of the leading scorers on the team. My ego wasn't far behind.
I think that if Cayden decides to play soccer, I will make her learn defense first. It seems that goal-scoring is the root of all ego in my side of her gene pool.
During spring practice of my sophomore year of college, I tore my other ACL.
I missed my entire junior season as a result.
Senior year, I was back with, once again, something to prove.
The only thing I proved was my own immaturity.
My final collegiate game we were in the playoffs, after two overtimes, in penalty kicks. Best out of 5 shots wins. We missed our first two PKs. The other team made their first two. I had the third shot.
I ended my college career dropping to my knees in defeat as Eastern Oregon University mobbed their keeper for blocking my shot.
My biggest regret is that in that moment I had a choice, and I chose to be wildly selfish.
Our bench was full of my wide-eyed teammates who cringed as I took a full swing to kick a water bottle across the practice field and storm away.
I wasn't planning on shaking anyone's hand that day.
Soccer is a game full of second chances and I violently blew my chance to be an example of Christ in the face of adversity.
A competitive spirit is crucial to athletic success.
If you don't care about winning, you won't win...period.
But sometimes, even when you care so much that it hurts, you still don't win.
When the other team's "Two, four, six, eight....who do we appreciate..." is deafening and that selfish voice inside of me starts the blame game and self-loathing, THAT'S when I had the choice.
I have the choice to be bigger than my pride.
I have the choice to not sin in my anger.
I have the choice to be set apart.
Between chasing Cayden up and down the stairs at soccer games and making sure she doesn't eat the sunflower seeds left over from last Friday night's game, I get small glimpses into that old life I used to live on the soccer field.
The shirt-over-the face frustration.
The bad calls.
The lack of ability to rise above it all.
Even now, I have to remind myself to never forget that this game is a gift.
God gave me the talent, and I slogged his name through the mud en route to fashioning my athletic legacy.
If you are still reading this novel, I would encourage you to not make the same mistake.
Be that kid who jogs the whole way to the end line to thank the fans, even after ANOTHER loss.
Be that kid who claps encouragement from the bench instead of brooding for being taken out.
Be that kid who helps up the person they just fouled.
Don't be the kid that was me.