Hello, beloved of God! 

Have y’all heard the buzz about the Women’s World Cup? I admit that I am not a sporty person. I like walking and yoga, so if you ever see me running, you probably ought to run, too. I’m not really a sports-watching person either. James played years of rec. league baseball and Ethans has had many seasons of rec. league soccer and of course I attended their games, but watching anyone play sports mostly makes me anxious. I don’t want anyone to get hurt or feel shame about their performance (but they do). I don’t want anyone to be mean to the players (but they are, at all levels). And I can’t figure out why we use the verb “play” when sports are taken so seriously. 

But I am curious about soccer (aka football to the rest of the world), women’s sports, and global competition. Most of what I have learned about soccer I learned alongside Ted Lasso. And I grew up in our culture that had to be forced to offer and fund women’s sports thought actions like Title IX, which was passed in 1972. While there were some breakthrough stars, many folks still believe that no one wants to pay for or watch women’s sports. 

I recently learned that while men’s soccer has been included in every summer Olympic games since 1900, women’s soccer was not added until the 1996 Games held in Atlanta. Our women brought home gold that year. Similarly, the World Cup began in 1930, but did not offer a chance for women to compete until 1991. Like the Olympics, the World Cup competitions are held every four years, the women’s events occurring one year after the men’s. 

This week, I got to hear Abby Wambach share some stories about her time on the U.S. National Women’s soccer team. For those of you who are unfamiliar with her resume, she is a six-time winner of the U.S. Soccer Athlete of the Year award and, although she is retired, she still holds the title of the highest all-time goal scorer for our national team and is second in international goals for both female and male soccer players with 184 goals. In 2012, Abby was awarded the 2012 FIFA World Player of the Year. 

In 2015, her fourth time to play in the Women’s World Cup, the coaches asked her to be a bench player, not a starter. She said, “I knew this was the right move, but I was hoping that nobody was seeing what I was feeling. I was hoping that nobody knew that I was slowing down.” 

She continued, “I realized when they informed me that I was going to be a bench player, I had a choice. I could be a good teammate or a bad teammate…As a veteran player, I knew that I had a lot of respect of the players who’d be on the field. And I knew that if I actually believed in them and I was positive and affirming of what they were doing, that they would play better. And it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. It is not easy sitting on the bench and truly believing, and truly cheering on the players when you want to be on the field. You want to be out there making a difference and scoring the goals. And I think that when I look back now, the 

thing that I’m most fascinated by is that everything that I had yet to learn about leadership was in fact sitting right there on that bench next to me. As we grow in our jobs, in our lives, with our children and our families, our roles change.” 

“I had to actually live and breathe all the things that I was saying throughout my whole career. Everybody matters and we need all energy pointing in the right direction.” 

Beloved, life is a team sport. It’s tempting to think it’s all about me and my personal relationship with God, but God made us for relationships – plural. Yes, with God, but also with each other. And life is better when we’re embracing where we are in this season, believing in and cheering on our teammates, and ready for the moment we come off the bench to make a difference. 

We all matter. I am grateful to be your teammate as we put all of our energy toward serving God right here, right now, in whatever ways we can. 

I’m praying for you. I hope you are praying for me. See you Sunday – we’ll continue our VBS for all of us as we hear about David taking on Goliath! 

grace & peace, 

Pastor Jessica. 

PS – if you want to listen to Abby tell her stories, it’s available at We Can Do Hard Things: The World Cup With Abby or wherever you get your podcasts.