Stepping onto the field

            People often ask me if I am or was ever a soccer player. To which I always respond, “no absolutely not.” It’s not that I don’t enjoy the game, in fact I very much enjoy running around and kicking the ball, which, if you saw me play that is exactly what I do. I am not what I consider to be "a player." However, truth be told, I was, at one time, a soccer player. My resume may not be too impressive, and certainly my years as a player were short, but I was in fact a student of the game. When I was in 3rd grade, my mother signed me up to play on the community recreational team.  I guess she figured I would be thrilled to play on a real soccer team since every day after school I would grab a soccer ball and start kicking it against the side of the house. Or perhaps, and more likely, she figured that if I was a part of a team she would cease to hear the rhythm of the soccer ball repeatedly hit her house at 3:30 every day. In either case, she signed me up to play. The thing about it was, I didn’t really want to be a part of a team for the simple, and at the time assumed logical, reason that other people whom I did not know were frightening, even IF they were other just 8 year old girls. But against my will I was joined with this team. So every practice I would tearfully and very timidly hold my mothers hand and walk across a large field to where the other girls were playing. It took me a while to warm up, but after a few practices I felt pretty proud of myself that I was able to let go of the safe hand of my mother and join the other girls.  That is until coach announced….GAME DAY. I thought we were doing pretty good with just the 12 of us. No one mentioned another team, and referees, and crowds of people watching. I was not ready. And sure enough the first game day came and went and I never left my mother’s side. I never entered the field or as it is known in the soccer world “the pitch.” I was in the clear…until the next Saturday, the next game. Once again I clung to my mother’s hand, I hung on for dear life as the coach approached us. He gently but firmly explained that I was needed to play. We did not have enough players to compete if I did not play. Where were those other lucky girls??? And then my mother did something I could not believe, She let go of my hand and she left me with the coach. She abandoned me! Coach got down on one knee so I could see his very large, scary face and said, “you don’t have to move, you just have to get on the field,” and that was the end of the discussion. He stood up, took me by the hand and directed me to the exact spot in which I was instructed to stand. And that was my debut as a full-fledged soccer player. I wish I could tell you exactly what I did after that but to be honest I don’t remember any more of that game. I do know, that I continued with the same team for three more years and absolutely loved being on the soccer field and competing. I just needed a gentle hand and small nudge.
            The other day I was talking with a pastor that we work with here in Chiang Mai. We were talking and watching Billy as he coached the team. The pastor was sharing about the boys, that most of them were in grade 12 and would be thinking about their future soon. She said that her and her husband have been talking with the boys, trying to encourage them to pursue some goals that in their minds, might be a little out of reach. For example, in the U.S., it is assumed that most students will attend university after high school. However, here in Thailand, for many students, university is a dream that few have the means to pursue. The pastor is encouraging the boys to think about a future that many of their peers have already let go of. So we talked about this for a while and then the conversation switched to Billy. We talked about his vision for the ministry, his goals for the team, and his coaching style. In the conversation she said this, “the other day during the game I watched the way Billy coached and I was impressed.” Allow me to interject here and quickly point out that this pastor knows nothing about the game of soccer so consequently I was very eager to hear what she was so impressed about. She went on to explain, “every time he would take a player from the bench and send him onto the field, he would walk over to the boy, take his hand, and lead him to the field. He wasn’t like the other coach who would just yell and point. He is gentle with the guys and I really like that.” Now I know you must be thinking that I am paraphrasing so as to impress or make the story sound better, but those were her exact words.

As a player, whether you are 8 years old or 18 years old or 28 years old, sometimes it is not always easy to enter the playing field. Sometimes it’s downright terrifying. But when there is someone to take you by the hand and lead you to where you need to be, confidence is added to fear, and often just enough to encourage you to take that first step onto the field and into the action. We often don't have much time with our players before they are gone, onto other things or into something else. Most of those boys at practice the other night have a tough road ahead with some challenging decisions before them. And we are just a small moment in their timeline. However, it is a moment entrusted to us by God. So in the best way we know how, with the gentle hand of a simple soccer coach, we hope and pray that we can lead them into the strong hands of a loving Father who will continue to guide them onto bigger fields, into greater action unto a glorious hope for the future. Or at least we can help them take the first step.

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