Deshauna Barber, 2016 Miss USA, captain in the U.S. Army Reserve, entrepreneur and motivational speaker, delivered a speech at the commencement ceremony for Virginia State University. The video is recorded on The Daily Goalcast, and I highly recommend checking it out. I very recently stumbled upon it as I was thinking about writing this letter to you to sum up my “there and back again” to Texas. You paid attention to the nudge from the Holy Spirit that morning you called to tell me about your idea of writing letters to share what God does through my pursuit of professional soccer. At the time, I think you and I both had expectations or visions of what the letters would be, what they would do. In a short couple months, it will be a year from the morning of that phone call. Crazy to consider. Then, the road was leading back to Chicago, an unfamiliar familiar place. I may have called it home, but I very much viewed Fort Worth as more truly my home. Now, the road is again leading to Chicago but only briefly. This time leaving Texas, I can genuinely say I am going home, though, to only be sent out once more. Before going any further, I want to share part of what Deshauna says. Here it is…
“Giving up is something I did a lot of growing up, and I don’t think I challenged myself to stick anything through until I joined the track team in middle school. I remember having to ask my mom after tryouts and making it to the team for my very first pair of track shoes. Now at the time she walks into our house and she has a bag that has a nice Nike check sign on it, so I get excited, because I wasn’t getting new shoes very often. I go to take the shoe box out of the bag, and I noticed that it says a size 9 on it. Mind you in the seventh grade, I was a size 5. I open the box and slide my feet into the shoe, and I look at my mother and I said, ‘these shoes are too big.” She says, ‘I know I did that on purpose.’ I was like ‘why would you buy shoes that are too big on purpose, mom?’ And she says, ‘Because I know that you are going to grow into them.’ Coach has us line up on the starting line to run a lap around the track. As we go to take off, I immediately fall to the ground, twist my ankle because the shoes are entirely too big. See, I couldn’t run at the speed that I wanted to, because I didn’t fit the shoes I was wearing at the time.”
I have shared this with you before, but in the beginning, I, of course, played out how this pro pursuit was going to go. As I described in a separate letter, my eyes were on my feet. My vision was narrowed to seeing myself as a professional soccer player and how I perceived I could make that happen. You, however, gave me something else to think about as well, namely writing. It turned out that when I would write letters to you, my vision started expanding. I started seeing other things, noticing unexpected developments, unintended desires, unwanted growing pains. When the Israelites were in the wilderness on their way to the promised land, Moses kept track of their progress. Rick Warren speaks on this and suggests in the periods of waiting in our lives, we should do the same. Record how we are or are not living Christ-like, how God is transforming our hearts and how He is revealing Himself to us. This helps us tamper the madness waiting can foster, but more importantly, it reveals to us what the reality of the promised land actually is.
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
We, as the Israelites, perceive the promised land as a tangible and physical place we are getting to, a result, whether a professional contract or a promotion or a relationship or whatever we are pursuing. The truth is the promised land is at hand in the so-called waiting. It is both a physical reality and a spiritual reality. The promised land is metanoia, the changing of the inner man. In this tension of being and becoming, the person we are now confronts the person we were created to be, thus, confronting our Creator. This confrontation, indeed, is the treasure of the promised land.
In my letters to you, I think it is fair to say I ended up describing more of the events outside of soccer than inside. The blossoming of my relationship with my mom. The birth of my love for adoration. The increasing devotion to daily mass and the fullness of truth offered by the Catholic faith. The unfolding of my identity as a woman. The redeeming of my house and hometown, going from painful to beloved. The craving to know God through all His image-bearers, not solely those who look like me. The unveiling of the existence of the drastic difference between the world I grew up in and the world my black brother and sisters live in daily. The manifesting of a deep desire to be a wife and mother. The kindling of a passion to write. The dismantling of misplaced loves and the prying of pride. The satisfying taste of the one real Love and the reconciling of pieces of myself I once thought contradicting. At the end of it all, all that was left was me.
“Now, many of us have goals that we’re trying to achieve, but the person we are right now is not the person we need to be when we cross the finish line to our dreams. So must walk and pace ourselves on this journey to our goals because we haven’t grown enough in ourselves to fit the shoes that we need to achieve our aspirations. But let me tell you something, if I had won Miss USA my very first year, I would not have been Miss USA. I would not have been the version of myself that I needed to be to properly handle a national title. Many of us aren’t ready to walk the race. But understand that as we walk this race, we pace ourselves, and as we pace ourselves, we grow; as we grow, our foot gets bigger and as our foot gets bigger, our shoes begin to fill and as our shoes begin to fill, we can now run a little bit faster and as we pick up the pace, we get to the finish line at the exact time we are destined to cross it.”
The Lauren that came back to Texas in January 2020 was not the Lauren that left Texas in May 2019. I am more of myself now than I ever have been. I am filling the shoes of who God created me to be, slowly and steadily. As I aim to pace myself, I often wish to speed ahead or put the brakes on altogether. When this happens, I am reminded to fall back into step with the One next to me and within me who is truly doing the pacing. Instead of looking to the finish or looking to my feet, I look to Him. As I gaze into His eyes, I see me as I am. His dearly beloved, His jealously coveted child. It occurs to me this is all I desire. Lauren the soccer player, Lauren the writer, Lauren the coach, Lauren the friend, Lauren the sister, Lauren the wife, Lauren the mom, Lauren the whatever else, all fade away. All become bonuses, gracious and undeserving gifts.
As I leave Texas this time around, I leave not with eyes on my feet, but eyes on Him who grows my feet to fill the shoes He has given me. As I leave Texas this time around, I am going home to only be sent out once more. Here I am, Lord, send me. I have grown to fill the shoes to take me to play soccer in Denmark. I am able to run fast enough only because He has picked up the pace. It is and is not the finish line; it is and is not the promised land. All that truly matters is keeping pace with Him, continuing to fill the shoes. Metanoia. The rest is a sweet and gracious bonus.
Here is to the in-between, “there and back again.”
PS- “there and back again” is the subtitle to The Hobbit by the J.R.R. Tolkien, one of the greats