Ups and Downs in Sports and Life

The fall is my favorite time of year, and has been for as long as I can remember. I love the coziness and anticipation of the holidays.  I love pumpkin everything, wearing sweaters (now that it has finally cooled down in San Diego!) and settling in to a school routine.  Dennis and I have always loved football season, but now we have another sport to look forward to: soccer!  Mateo has played for four years now and I absolutely adore watching him play! 

He has a gracefulness and intensity on the soccer field.  As his mom, I get very emotionally involved in his games.  I cheer, scream, laugh, and sometimes even cry.  It’s the full spectrum of emotions!

A few weeks ago, his game was particularly enthralling.  First, he had an accidental hand ball in the goalie box which resulted in the other team scoring on a penalty kick early on.  I watched him respond with little emotion to this setback.  Then, later in the game, he scored two goals!  The second of which was on a corner kick he took and I miraculously caught on video!  I’m usually enjoying the game too much to take photos or videos, but I’d heard the coach tell Teo he was about to get a rest, so I figured I’d record for the last minute he was on the field. 

On the car ride home we viewed the video clip to relive the moment again.  This time, I noticed that, although it was a strong kick, the goal could largely be attributed to the goalie mishandling the ball. I felt badly for the little goalie and it reminded me of Teo’s hand ball at the beginning of the game.  Adversity in sports is constant.

With these ideas fresh in mind, I ran on the treadmill that afternoon and watched a college football game.  One highlight was a long pass downfield where the wide receiver made an exceptional play!  As he celebrated his catch, the defensive back was sprawled on the field, totally defeated.  It hit me, many moments in sports represent both an achievement and a failure. In some ways, you cannot have a high without a corresponding low.  Think about it: a pitcher striking out a batter represents his success, while the batter has failed.  Whereas, a home run represents the batter’s success and the pitcher’s failure. 

From the outside looking in, it seems clear that the victorious player is the “winner” and the defeated player is the “loser” in these moments.  However, this one moment in time could actually represent an inverse reaction. What if the wide receiver who made the amazing catch decides this play proves what a wonderful player he is and therefore he stops working so hard at practice?  What if the defensive back uses this moment of defeat to motivate himself to practice harder and grow as a player? 

Growth happens throughout our lives in so many ways.  Each moment and experience has the potential to further our growth and development.  This reminds me of the famous quote by Nelson Mandela. He said, “I never lose. I either win or learn.”  Isn’t it true?  Most of the learning and growth we experience in life comes from hardships, failures, or setbacks.  When things aren’t working well is when we have to dig down deep and evaluate our behavior and actions to see where we can improve. 

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my role in my children’s moments of failure and hardship.  It’s important that they build resiliency and the ability to learn from their mistakes and try again.  When I jump in to soften a failure or manage their feelings, I’m actually robbing them of the fuel to learn and grow.  Those moments of adversity are important teachers. Actually, Teo demonstrated this growth mindset during that soccer game. When I asked him, “How’d you feel after the penalty kick?” he replied, “Oh, it was okay. I just figured, we’ll have to go score some goals.”

My Awakening

Weak and Begging

Some weeks creep up on you with their intensity of activities or emotions.  Others, you can see coming from miles away.  I’ve known for several weeks that the past few days were going to be challenging.

On Tuesday my team and I dealt with a huge work deadline that required a 16 hour workday and a lot of stress as we made the filing cutoff with seconds to spare.  Yesterday, I said goodbye to a dear friend (and beloved running partner!) on our last run before she moved across the country.  Another challenging work situation ended my day before I gratefully collapsed at home.  Then today, I had dental fillings between my teeth. After recently having a very painful experience at the dentist, I really wanted to cancel but opted to follow through.  

Throughout this time and leading up to it, I kept praying that God would help me stay present and feel my feelings without letting them overwhelm me.  I prayed that my tiredness wouldn’t cause disproportionate emotional reactions as I managed my work responsibilities.  On the other hand, I didn’t want to repress my feelings by controlling my thoughts, so I could properly take in my time running with Leslie.  I’m so grateful that I was able to remain present, feel the full spectrum of emotions, and accomplish the tasks set before me.  These past few days taught me several things:

I can do hard things.  I can let myself feel the discomfort of doing hard things, without needing to struggle with my feelings.  Anticipating hard things with prayer and surrender is much more helpful than denying or ignoring my feelings. By being fully present, I wasn’t anticipating the next moment or situation, therefore draining my energy to handle the current moment. 

When my thoughts wandered into unhelpful territory, like focusing on all the things other people did that caused extra work for my team on the deadline, I gently defused the judgments.  However, I also prayed for help seeing reality and where I should advocate for better processes and outcomes.  Pulling apart helpful analysis from unhelpful blaming is a skill I’m trying to cultivate.

Life is full of gray.  I’ve tended to see situations, people, events as either good or bad, but in truth everything and everyone (except Jesus!) is a blend of the two.  Allowing myself to hold the tension between positive and negative or right and wrong allows for a more true and authentic experience.  Getting through a rough deadline is stressful, but also an opportunity for our team to bond and develop deep trust with one another.  Saying goodbye to a friend is sad, but I’m excited for her next adventure and get to cherish the sweetness of a reunion in the future. 

Reflecting on these days reminds me of Paul’s description of praying for God to remove the thorn in his flesh:

Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2Corinthians 12: 8-11.

On Sunday at the communion rail, one of our elders spoke the words, “Kelsey, the blood of Christ” with a loving tenderness that brought tears to my eyes.  Our Pastor had just preached about how we’re all beggars coming before God seeking grace and forgiveness.  I felt my weakness acutely.  I felt my neediness for God’s grace and comfort.  To others, it may look like I came through these challenging few days with self-assurance. But I know that God provided all the strength when I was weak and begging.