[RIM]

5.29.2020

Dear friends,

I have very much enjoyed being intentional about lingering with the Lord since my last message to you. His Word truly brings life to my soul, a mirror to my heart and clarity to my thoughts. I am continually amazed in the ways He manifests Himself and how truly we ought to live our lives through His Word and His Word through our lives. Speaking of which, I want to let you all in on something pretty amazing that has transpired the past few months and continues to unfold.

If you have followed my letters, you’ll know my pursuit of professional soccer has shattered my expectations in abundantly wonderful ways. Just this past February I attended a tryout for the Houston Dash. I very narrowly missed the cut for the preseason squad but had nearly complete peace about my performance and enjoyed every moment of the tryout. I met some amazing people and felt wholly and completely myself while competing fiercely and unapologetically. I prayed my game would be a song, and I believe it was. After learning I was not invited to preseason, I felt right in laying soccer down. I wanted to play my best soccer, and I believe I did at the tryout. I was grateful for the opportunity the Lord had given me and all He had provided through soccer. I was good with moving on to pursuing coaching or ministry or possibly a theology degree. Three days after the tryout, an opportunity to play for a professional club in Denmark landed in my lap, quite literally. I won’t go into the network and connections it came through, but it was absolutely unexpected, to say the least. Honestly, my initial reaction was frustration.

Really God? I had just wrapped my arms around being done playing and now this? In all aspects, it looked like a perfect setup. The club was well-supported, and everything would be taken care of. The season ended right before one of my very closest friend’s wedding I was a bridesmaid for. This was one of my conditions I decided on. I wouldn’t miss the two weddings I was a part of in June and July. This opportunity fit my conditions to a tee. It was too good to be true. Something out of seemingly little to nothing. True to my personality, I was rather skeptical and doubtful. I had been envisioning playing abroad for almost a year, and it had yet to happen. Now, at the [rim] of letting soccer go, here it was. Even still, I doubted its goodness and denied its reality. I was waiting for the pinch to wake up. This was the first round of skepticism and denial. Nevertheless, I continued to prepare and ready myself for the beginning of the season at the end of March.

We all know Covid stalled things quite drastically. So too the season and departure to Denmark. There was still hope the games could be played. The Danish league continued to push the start back just like the rest of the sport’s world. Later and later the season was getting and greater and greater the doubt played in my mind of the goodness of this opportunity. The games would almost certainly be played in June and July at this point. This conflicted with my original conditions. I told myself I wouldn’t be missing my closest of friends’ weddings for soccer. I had put soccer first my whole life, and if I had learned anything during my pursuit of pro soccer, it was the righting of misplaced loves in my life. This made me angry. Didn’t the Lord know my conditions? Didn’t this opportunity perfectly fit within them before Covid threw its curve ball? Why God? Why even put it on the table when You knew this would happen?

Day after day, I concocted scenarios of how I could still manage both. I was transparent with the coach of the team, asking whether it would be okay if I had to leave and come back. I was still trying to fit the changed circumstances within my original conditions. But the reality was the facts had changed. And I couldn’t change them back.

I fussed with frustration, and my heart was clouded with confusion. I couldn’t see how this could turn out besides saying no to the potential season in Denmark. I wanted to attend my friends’ weddings; it was not a pressure of obligation. The Sacrament of Marriage is beautiful to behold. They are both incredibly loving and laid-back individuals who would tell me to go play if I wanted to. I just felt wronged with being handed the weight of this decision. Which commitment was I to honor? The opportunity to play in Denmark would still be a good gift regardless if I turned it down. It was no coincidence how it came to be.

Still, I began to come to terms with not going to play. It was not as much as a prying as a detaching. How easily loves become misplaced. By mid-May, I was getting excited again about pursuing other things. Hatching plans for a long road trip from one wedding to the next. Researching theology programs. Not more than a few days after the explorations of all the potential possibilities to embark into, the coach from the Denmark team messages us. The season will be played but cut from ten games to five games. It is starting in the beginning of June, and the borders of Denmark are not fully open. The situation looks bleak for us Americans to get there in time. The team has no choice but to look into signing domestic players. Though a major bummer, I felt relief because it seemed the decision was made for me. I wouldn’t have to turn it down.

The very next day, the head coach calls. They have found a loophole for us to get there. What? Come again? Super exciting, don’t get me wrong, but the decision is back in my hands. Not what I wanted. However, I couldn’t help getting the sense of something familiar. This was rather similar to what had happened at the end of February. Something out of seemingly nothing. I recognized, again, this was no coincidence. I had been here before. This gift was still good, and my decision had to honor that call. I would go and play because I only knew of One who could create something from nothing. And He delights when we say yes to His calls. I knew my friends getting married believed the same.

After sending the coach what he needed to book the flights, I didn’t hear anything for a couple days. Doubt pestered my thoughts again. Too good to be true. Too incredible. Loophole must have been a fake. Must not be truly good after all. Though not as menacing as the first time around, these thoughts continued to voice themselves in my mind. A second round of skepticism and denial. At the [rim] again, I get a text.

“Can you fly out Thursday or Friday?”

Hmm what’s today? Tuesday…

Friday please! Tickets sent. All good to go. It is really happening this time. I give the heads up to my close circle of people, say the bittersweet goodbye-for-nows and am ready.

Friday comes. The nerves are settling in a bit. Thankfully, I am flying with a teammate, Maddy, who I played with on the Red Stars. We are on the same flight, so mom and I grab her on the way to the airport. Passport check. Boarding pass check. Club papers check. Last, but not least, facial masks, check.

It is our turn to check our bags, so I hand the desk assistant my passport and boarding pass. She asks if I have a work visa or proof of residency. Immediately, the alarms start going off. Before responding, I am combing through all the emails in my mind from the coach. Did I miss one? Look over some important instructions?

I don’t. But we do have our invitation letters from the club team we are going to play with and the contract.

She takes them and says she will make a few calls to see whether this will work.

Upon returning from the back room, her partially covered face reveals, it’s a no go.

Stunned for just a moment, my first thought was, seriously God? I didn’t know what to say. Maddy and I called the coach and asked him what we should do. After much back and forth about what we needed to get on the plane, 5:20pm departure time came and went. Our coach put an immense effort to try and understand what we needed. It all seemed a bit unclear to me. At the end, the hiccup appeared to be our connection in the Netherlands. But the plane had departed, and we were not on it. If we got what we needed, the next flight would be Tuesday. We would miss a couple days of training but still make it for the first game on the weekend. All was not lost, yet it felt like it. Knew it was too good to be true. Third and final denial.

In my lingering. I had just finished the Gospel of John and started the book of Acts. Most of y’all probably know Peter was one of Jesus’s main guys. He was one of the disciples and one of those closest to Jesus. At the time of His crucifixion, Peter told Jesus he wouldn’t let it happen. He wouldn’t let Jesus die. He would go to die with Him. Jesus tells Peter he will deny Him three times. After the guard comes to take Jesus away, Peter is following at a distance and after being questioned by some Jewish people whether he was one of the followers of Jesus, Peter, indeed, denies Him three times. The rooster crows, and Peter remembers. He weeps.

After Jesus is crucified and rises from the dead, He manifests Himself to the disciples at the tomb and in the upper room in Jerusalem. The third time He manifests Himself is on the beach, while Peter and a few others are fishing. They have caught nothing. He tells them to lower their net on the right side of the boat. The Gospel says they catch one hundred and fifty-three fish. John, turning to Peter, says, “it is the Lord.”

John has seen this before. Something out of little to seemingly nothing. He was there when Jesus turned a few loaves into enough food to feed four thousand and five thousand people out of compassion for them. At that time, he didn’t really understand, though. Didn’t fully understand who Jesus was. Now John recognizes. He has been here before.

“Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

After John tells Peter it is the Lord, Peter jumps out of the boat and swims to shore. Jesus has a fire kindled to cook the fish for breakfast. While breaking bread together, Jesus asks Peter three times whether Peter loves Him. By the third time, Peter is grieved. This hurts. Jesus is restoring Peter’s wounds of denial. By love. Each time Jesus asks, and Peter responds, Jesus then says, respectively…

Tend My lambs.

Shepherd My sheep.

Tend My sheep.

Jesus offers Peter no condemnation. Only love. Gently and tenderly healing Peter. He prepares Peter for his coming ministry to tend to His church with the aid of the Holy Spirit. And this brings us to the book of Acts.

“Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

The days leading up to the descending of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples, Jesus tells them to stay in Jerusalem, “to wait for what the Father has promised.”

The disciples ask Jesus whether this is now the time He will restore the kingdom of Israel, as part of their understanding of the Christ. He tells them these things are not for them to know. Rather they ought to wait for the power of the Holy Spirt and then to go and be His witnesses, “even to the remotest parts of the earth.”

In following the opportunity to play soccer in Denmark, I have often felt like a fool. Shouldn’t I be doing something a bit more productive with my life? Shouldn’t I be making some real money? Dating? Not living at home? What happened to all the glory professional soccer promised? I wonder if Peter also felt like a fool when the soldiers took Jesus away, and Jesus let them. Wasn’t this the Messiah? The Christ who was supposed to come as the King of Israel and restore the kingdom? Elevating it above all other nations? How could Peter reconcile this understanding with who He truly knew Jesus to be, the Son of God? The Man he had seen heal the sick, give sight to the blind, raise people from the dead, and feed thousands from a few loaves of bread. This Man was now being beaten and humiliated. What happened to all Peter’s visions of being in the close circle of the King when the kingdom of Israel is back in all of its glory? This is my speculation of what Peter may have been thinking as he was following Jesus. I surely would have been. Even with all Jesus had taught the disciples, they were mere men arguing who was the greatest among them.

How can I reconcile the goodness and apparent deflations of the opportunity to play in Denmark? Though I recognize the conditions in which it came about and continue to remain are truly miraculous and incredible, what about the poor and humiliating moments? What about the unclear and seemingly hopeless outcomes? How many times will I have to tell people I am still planning on going just don’t know when. How many times will a new hope be kindled only to be postponed. I feel like a fake. Like I am making it up. It might as well all be a fiction I made up in my head. I wonder if Peter had any of these thoughts.

I can’t say whether these doubts fostered Peter’s denials, but they fostered mine. I didn’t trust God was the Good Giver. I didn’t have confidence is His promises or trust His goodness and love. I couldn’t reconcile the Good Giver with my imaginations of what goodness is. Imagining goodness could be on my terms rather than the One who determined it. I imagined I could follow Him on my terms. Going with Him just up until the humiliation and death. Just as Peter did.

But Jesus did not condemn Peter. And He knows Peter loves Him. Oh, how this relationship of love brings me to my knees. The Lord wants us in our denials. He comes to us in our denials. Wrestles us in our denials. I always thought questioning meant a lack of belief. I have learned a lack of questioning means little belief and is quite dangerous. It often leads to tepidness, and tepidness is good for nothing but to be spit out.

I perceive there is no good reason for Jesus to restore me in my denials of His goodness and Who He is. It happens it is all the reason. He gives me all the reason to trust in His love and consider Him worthy of following. To trust in who He is. Lord and Christ. Tuesday, the next flight to Denmark, is but three days away. Threefold love for threefold denials. I can wait, then, for what the Father has promised. For this coming Sunday is Pentecost Sunday, and with the power of the Holy Spirit, I can hope to be sent to witness to the goodness and love I know is worth following, “even to the remotest parts of the earth.” To tend to His sheep.

Love,

Lauren

PS- [RIM] stands for Relationship, Intimacy, Mission. The mission extends from knowing one’s identity secured in the intimacy of a loving relationship with the Lord and Creator, Who in my relationship to Him, reveals who I am. As I see how He sees me, I cannot help but desire to please Him above all and listen for His voice. My mission becomes quite clear and manifests itself through my passions and abilities He has molded me with.

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