Saturday, August 31, 2013

the bigger win

friday night's game began with a yellow card.

a yellow card violation over a player's tape color. it seemed ridiculous. it seemed a terrible way to start a soccer game. and, it seemed to be that kind of evening. within 15 minutes of the first whistle, 3 goals were scored against our team.

it wasn't looking like a promising night for the southwest christian stars. and i suppose by the final whistle's blow, most people in attendance would tell you that it wasn't. after eighty minutes of play, the final score was 6 to 0.

it was a david and goliath match up. small southwest christian high school was competing against, chaska, the area's big public high school. clearly, however, our boys had forgotten their slingshots back at home.

the stars never scored a goal.

the loss was definitive.

photo credits: abby dumoulin
fans and parents were wrangling in their families and packing up their belongings ready to put this frustrating athletic competition behind them, when out on the field the two teams came together. it was a muddled circle of maroon and white. wiped out boys. varsity athletes. sweat covered teens, tired and eager to head home.

from up in the bleachers i watched as the circle of players and coaches dropped to their knees. the group grew quiet and heads bowed low. our varsity coach, travis, began to pray. from my place in the stands, there was no way i could hear what he was saying.

but i didn't need to.

clearly, the two teams were praying together.

"for where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” ~ matthew 18:20

take a close look at the picture.

lean in with them for a minute...

do you see the couple of boys in white (chaska players, left side) who don't have their heads bowed? it's terrible iphone picture, but can't you almost see their confusion? can't you see them looking around the circle wondering what was going on? now, maybe i'm reading a little into it ... BUT, i can't help but think that this moment could be a first for a few of them. maybe. perhaps. possibly. i realize that lots of christian kids attend public schools, but so do kids who very likely have never been part of a prayer circle on an athletic field or anywhere for that matter.

can't you also see the boys from opposing teams with their arms slung around each other's shoulders? there are no blog words necessary for that glimpse -- color of uniform, color of skin, color of heart ... none of it matters when prayer happens.

at 6 to 0, the loss might have looked definitive, but leaving the stadium friday night with this final image in my mind, i couldn't help but think of victory. the scoreboard becomes powerless when people pray together. there are no losers.

victory is high and lifted up when knees and heads bow low.

because Jesus is lifted up ... and in Him there is always victory.

earlier in the week, the same thing had taken place at the soccer team's first game. i was hustling indoors to watch emily's volleyball match, so i didn't see it, but through a shared email from the opposing team's coach, i heard about it. apparently travis also asked that team to pray with our players.

the next day the coach sent this email:

Hello coach Armstrong, my name is Eric. My team (Rockford) and I played against your team last night. Let me start off with congratulating you and your players on the win last night, you guys beat us in every aspect, yet it was one of the most fun games this season. You are doing something amazing with those guys and I know you will go far. Now the main reason I'm contacting you is because I want to thank you so much for inviting us to pray with all of you. For me, a strong Christian, that brought so much joy to me. Especially seeing how moved my team was after that. God is doing and will continue to do great things through you and your team, who are not just a bunch of soccer players, but truly the Lord's army. Lastly, just thank you for implementing the bigger picture beyond just another soccer game. God bless all of you individually, and as a team for the rest the season. Thanks coach Armstrong. 

i know the stars record for the week technically reads 1 and 1, but i have to tell you, even with that loss on friday night, it was a week of sure victory. these are big moments in the lives of high schoolers. they are even big moments in the lives of the parents of high schoolers.

perhaps i find this especially powerful because i was a varsity coach at a public high school. i can't even imagine the trouble i would have landed myself in had i asked another team to pray after a volleyball match. i was already constantly being "talked to" about how often i referenced my faith as an english teacher. my principal and vice-principal weren't quite sure what to do with a teacher who didn't hide her beliefs  very well. i have to wonder if these two public high school coaches will receive any flack for allowing their players to pray.

i know the power of praying with teens -- everyone wins. the southwest christian team wins ... the public school team wins ... the coaches win ... the parents watching from the bleachers win.

prayer impacts. prayer is powerful. prayer changes people.

prayer doesn't change the scoreboard, but prayer changes the bigger score.

later friday night, i was sitting out on the porch with emily while she told me about the school retreat the southwest christian kids had just come back from. she was especially enthused about the main speaker and his message. with great energy and charisma, this youth pastor challenged students to "be bold for Christ." he challenged them to not make excuses, but to "read, pray and obey." emily, like our soccer players, was completely wiped out friday night. she could barely keep her eyes open and i had to laugh as even her words slurred together. but she wanted to tell me all about it before we went to bed. she said, "mom, this was such a powerful retreat for the kids at southwest ... God was really moving... everyone broke into small groups to pray together and talk about how to hold each other accountable in our faith and in sharing our faith."

emily believes the retreat's message will change her christian school. we discussed a little bit about how if you can't be bold for Christ in the context of your christian school, how are you going to be bold outside of it?

like on the soccer field.

the boys from our soccer team were also all on that retreat thursday and friday. in fact, they had gotten back, just a couple of hours before their game. i know these boys were exhausted. i'm sure the retreat-sleep-deprivation didn't help their performance on the field friday, but i do know, regardless, many of these kids came back fired up and ready to be bold.

and how awesome to have a coach who is willing to boldly lead his team not just in an athletic competition, but in a life competition ... in an eternal life competition.

think of the impact not only on the kids who have never before prayed. but think of the impact even on the kids who pray all the time, but maybe don't know exactly how to live out their faith or how to be bold. think about what their coach showed them this week. it's huge.

and it is moments like these which do leave strong impressions and influence futures. it is moments like these that we hear about 10 or 20 years later when some guy gets up in church and says something like, "my faith journey began when this coach from another team randomly asked my team to pray ..."

friday night the scoreboard might have read 6 to 0 ... but this mom of a soccer player, is putting it down as a "W" in her book.
 "with all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints,and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, TO MAKE KNOWN WITH BOLDNESS the mystery of the gospel, for which i am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I MAY SPEAK BOLDLY, as i ought to speak." 
                                                                                         ~ ephesians 6:18-20 


Simply LKJ said...

Such a moving post. I remember when we (Norcross) played GAC Katie's senior year and one of our players got injured (bad shoulder injury-and our setter)...Katie took over, but not before all prayed and then prayed again after the match. It meant the world to all of our girls. I still can picture it in my mind...the two colors of jerseys becoming one with Christ. Amazing!

DiJo said...

I love to hear about how God is using Southwest to make an impact on and off the field/court!!!! What an awesome game to witness!!!! So thankful that Tyler has Travis as his coach!!! He IS making a difference... And, I have no doubt this story will be shared again and again... Thank you for doing just that!!!

Hugs from chilly Deerwood!

Aus said...

Brilliant image - Brilliant Message - it's proof that while God is "missing" from a lot of our world that there are a few adults and now some kids - who are "getting it"! There was a day when this would have been common in public and private schools - even our government respected the power of Prayer and the power of God over our public lives...and I think things might have been better then.

And maybe - just maybe - in little microcosms throughout our world - this will start to return!

hugs - and great joy - not to mention a lot of respect for the coaches and the teens - even the couple who don't seem to understand it chose to Respect it! ;)

aus and co.