Trying to Play Soccer, And Other Dangerous Endeavors

Christmas Banquet 2012, where I make an appearance as The Paradoxical Introvert MC. What great challenge and delight!

I’m completely soaked by the time I get to the soccer field, near the end of my 5k afternoon run.

It’s been raining for ages, you see. Four or five days. And it’s that cold, wet rain that would be snow if it had any decency, but it doesn’t, so it just keeps raining and raining. By Tuesday afternoon, I’ve been putting off running for too long, the guilty conscience of atrophied Seattle stoicism whispering that I need to get over myself, and go outside anyway. So I have, sloshing down muddy trails strewn with rusty leaves, wading through curtains of drizzle and getting thoroughly cold.

It’s nearly dark, a rainy twilight, when I pass the soccer field, but I can still pick out the familiar forms and faces of a dozen students who’ve come out to play in the mud. I wave at them, pulling my earphones out to say hello.

“Hey, Ms. D!” they call. “Come play with us!”

I start to explain that I don’t really play soccer, that I have to be somewhere, that I… and run out of excuses. I’m already outside, on this wet day, and they’re not taking my refusal seriously.

“Come on!” call the wet soccer players. “Just a few minutes.”

I shrug and splash onto the soggy pitch. I truly am terrible, up against these international kids who can literally dribble circles around my while asking what tonight’s homework was. I manage to pass the ball to someone on my team, and it’s a huge victory. And then a kid in my seventh period makes a shot from midfield, and I feel less smug.

Playing soccer–really any kind of organized sport–reminds me of all the times lately that I’ve found myself in unfamiliar circumstances, playing roles that are entirely new. Teacher and roommate are well-worn glove comfortable. Department Chair, missionary and girlfriend still have exotic luster and leap-of-faith challenges. Expatriate sister, friend and daughter? I’ll keep learning forever.

An introvert by nature, I’d never imagined that I would spend as much time on a stage as I have in the past few years, from staff devotions to chapel speaking, music festival judging and event MCing. I’ve spent more time baking than I could ever have imagined, but those hours in dorm kitchens have been some of the sweetest times of community, talking about life and literature with these students I love. Sometimes, when I’m tired, I imagine reminding God that “I just came to teach!” But God has offered more, so much more, than I could have expected from this time.

One of the greatest fears I have for the young people I teach is their hesitance to try new things, the fear of failure that seems to paralyze them, preventing them from doing anything out of their version of ordinary. I understand it, of course, only too well. In the end I’m confident taking risks–stretching and growing in places where I’m not sure I’ll succeed–because I’m confident in the loving God who brought me here in the first place, and won’t abandon me, no matter what challenges meet me.

In our rainy soccer match, I realize that I’m only willing to play with these students because I know them, love them, and am sure that their acceptance doesn’t depend on how well I play soccer. I’m convicted as I try to play (and score embarrassingly on my own team), that I need to be one who builds this environment of safety for my students, a loving space for them to stretch and experiment. And I’m thankful, again, that to find that home in Christ, following His lead to places I could never have imagined.

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