The end is not the end
Every year, I read all the posts on facebook from the seniors about all of their sports being over and how “I’ll never forget these memories” and “I can’t believe it’s over” and “I wouldn’t trade it for anything” and I always kind of thought they were sappy and cliche, but of course, here I am. Facebook won’t fit enough characters, so I am writing a blog entry. ‘Really, Kristina?…yes, really.’
…Here we go.
I’ve been playing organized soccer since I was 5 years old and throughout the process, I have developed as a person and my life has been forever changed. I’ve had the opportunity to be a part of something bigger than myself–to work for something greater than fulfilling my own personal needs and desires. I’ve been a part of the larger “soccer community,” played with girls who have become my family– and whose families have also become my family; I’ve had the opportunity to worship God through investing my heart, body, mind, emotions, passion into the gifts that He has blessed me with so I can fulfill the purpose He created me for. I’ve had an activity where my family can spend quality time together and a place where I have received their love, support, and encouragement. I have learned valuable life lessons about perseverance (shout out to Maggie Goeller), hard work, cooperation, setting and achieving goals, pushing through adversity, selflessness, time management, teamwork, purpose, and how to make the most of any situation. This was more than just a game–it was an activity that I could share with the people around me that has shaped me into the person I am today.
This season was one I will never forget. Coming in, the soccer part was going very well, however I ended the season statistically doing the worse I have ever done in my soccer career– even worse than the high school season where I played defense for half of the season! In the 19 games I played in this season, I only ended up scoring in 2 of them, which as a forward is a pretty disappointing statistic. Somehow, I’ve managed to make the ONU Women’s Soccer All-time leader board in Goals, Assists, Points, and Games Played– but based on my stats the past 2 years, you would have never guessed it. Needless to say, things have changed dramatically since my freshman year at Ohio Northern.
Freshman year, I felt like I had something to prove…this year, I felt like I had something to give/leave behind. I never wanted this season to be about me, I wanted it to be about us as a team. I realized that “wanting to leave a legacy” was a prideful desire. In the grand scheme of things, I realized that no one was going to care whether I scored 20 goals or whether I was All-whatever. Once this freshman class graduates, chances are this program is never going to remember my name anyway. This year was about leaving something behind that was greater than myself, so I made it a priority to turn to someone/something that was greater than myself.
I had always struggled spiritually during soccer season because I always ended up investing my energy into soccer, rather than investing in God, but this year I was determined to incorporate the two. I made it a priority to seek wisdom about how to handle certain situations, to get to know Him more through playing, to pray over my team, and to let Him shape me and help me grow. My focus was on the bigger picture of life, not just the soccer season, and that made all the difference in how I feel about the year right now.
It was tough at times. There were a lot of times during the season where I was so content saying “God, thank you for this amazing opportunity, let me use this as a way to worship you!” and then there were times where I would pray for Him to teach me something and to help me know Him more and grow closer to Him…more often than not, those were the disappointing losses, or the games where I had a million opportunities to contribute and score, but had nothing to show for it. Those were the games I got angry with God and I fought with God…but I realized that even when I was fighting with God, at least I was communicating with Him–He can handle my emotions, even when I can’t.
In the end, I’m thankful that I didn’t have as personally successful of a year soccer wise (in comparison to my previous years at least). I’ve always had an issue with people only seeing me as an athlete because it made me feel like people only saw me for my abilities rather than my character. Those games where I felt disappointed ended up being opportunities for me to find the positives out of the situation and encourage and lift up my teammates. The times where I was so focused on myself were the time that I felt most dissatisfied. There were also games where I kind of just gave up control and said, “if it’s not happening for me today, then it just must not be God’s will for my me right now,” because there was literally no other reason why results weren’t coming. In those instances, I realized “Today, I’m not serving by being a ‘good soccer player’. How can I serve instead?” This year wasn’t about what I could get from my last year being on the team, it was about what I could give. I felt very vulnerable a lot of the times, but I gave my heart to this team. Half of them, I’ve only known for a few months, but I loved every single person. I can’t say the same about my previous years, but the feeling I get from caring about my teammates has been greater than the feeling I’ve gotten after scoring any goal of my career. That feeling of success is temporary, but love lasts forever.
The last game we played was the OAC conference semi-final game. We were playing Capital at home, it was raining, it was physical, and it was a fight until the finish. About 2 minutes left, we were still down 1-0. I took a moment to take it all in, realizing that this could possibly be the last real game I ever play on this field. I looked at all of my teammates–fighting, not giving up, passionately putting everything they could into this game. I saw the soccer boys behind the opponents goal and listened to them cheer for us and mock their goalie and their coach (which was actually pretty entertaining). I saw the football team lined up along the entire sideline, cheering for us in unison anytime anyone from our team would touch the ball. I heard our friends and families cheering in the stands behind me. I felt the rain. I breathed in the cool air. I did my best to use all of my senses to truly experience that moment. With 30 seconds left, I said one last prayer to God…”If this is your will for my life, then let me find peace.”
When the final whistle blew, the other team probably was running around and screaming and super excited about beating us, but I honestly didn’t hear any of it or see any of it. I was immediately surrounded by my teammates receiving hugs and words of encouragement and support. I started crying, but it wasn’t tears of sadness and loss like I was anticipating, it was tears of joy that in the end of all of this, I was surrounded with so much love. The people I had the opportunity to be with this year were truly a gift from God and those were the people that gave me the peace that I had prayed for 30 seconds earlier.
A few people have asked me how I am doing with all of this. For the past month, I had kind of been mourning the anticipated ending of my career, so when the time actually came, I thought I would be a mess. Will I miss it?–of course. There isn’t a doubt in my mind. Do I wish I would have done it differently?–throughout the process, there were times where I had thoughts about “what if I went to a bigger school and didn’t play soccer” or “what if I went to _____ instead of ONU” and I had always toyed with those thoughts, but now that it’s said and done, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I don’t think I could have gained more from anywhere else than what I gained from being a part of ONU women’s soccer. Am I ok?– yes, I’m better than ok. I have so much to look forward to in this life and I also have amazing memories to hold onto. I have another family. I had the opportunity to give so much of myself to this program and to just love the people around me. I grew as a person in ways I could have never anticipated, but the lessons I have learned will carry on of the rest of my life, and I owe it all to this amazing opportunity God has dropped into my life.
The end is not the end. I will never forget what this sport and what this program and what this team has given me. What I have gained will stay with me forever. I will always be a Polar Bear, whether I’ve got my cleats, kinderguards (shout out to Katie Robinson), and ONU jersey on, or if I’m simply there in spirit while I’m at work caring for patients while the game is going on. I’ve had the opportunity to be a part of something greater than myself, and I am so thankful for it!
Kristina: an Ohio Northern University Women’s Soccer player–always.