June/July 2010

For as long as I can remember, I wanted to play soccer for Baylor University. We moved to Waco, Texas, when I was in sixth grade, but I had heard stories of the Green and Gold’s glory way before then.

The idea of going to a huge, Christ-focused university to play a deeply adored sport was my far-off, but ideal, little girl dream.

Season after season I watched the players I idolized compete on the field backed by the Brazos River. Though Baylor didn’t win many of their games during this time, my captivation never subsided. As I watched the Ryan Lees, the April Robertsons, the Dawn Greathouses and the Melissa Humkes compete, my hope for a similar role heightened with anticipation.


“I sank into ultimate humiliation on the field. In every practice, my body shut down despite appropriate sleep, diet, medicine and prayer.”

I often wondered if my idea would remain only a dream. I guess the closer you get to a goal, the more intangible it sometimes feels. As much as the Baylor games still fueled excitement, my young, high school mind began to measure up my own abilities with both hope and doubt that they’d someday qualify for a Baylor jersey.

Of course, my Heavenly Father had plans—plans to prosper me that He set out before time even began. Therefore, He appointed specific people to pave out my next steps.

My superwoman of a mom began to inquire about what I would need to do in order to play Division I college soccer. Thanks to her research and the valued perspectives of a family in our community, we realized the importance of playing for a good team. Of course Mom believed in her little girl’s God-given ability, but this competitive sport required more than that. Politics play a frustrating but crucial role in collegiate recruitment. However, in His timing, even this standard fell into place.

Acknowledging the potential life-altering adjustments and family sacrifices, my parents confidently decided to take me to Austin, Texas, to try out for a prestigious soccer club, which eventually selected me for the top team in my age group. Although beginning competitive-level soccer as a high school sophomore is traditionally too late, the Lord compiled a perfect combination of parents, coaches, teammates and tournaments that exposed my aptitude for Baylor Bear soccer.

My grandma always told me that the Lord opens doors that no man can open. And He truly did—door after door, detail after detail. After a few showcase tournaments my junior year, I corresponded with Baylor’s head coach, George Van Linder. That piece of life raced by, and, before I knew it, I was sitting in the Baylor women’s soccer offices, verbally committing to play for their team. Van Linder even promised me a partial scholarship, and, in February 2006, I sealed the deal.

Dream, Phase I: achieved.

“Easy Street” may too strongly describe these pre-college years, but as an immature teenager, I had yet to understand the blessing of my circumstances. Vain hope and desire crept into my conscience as the Baylor days moved closer, and I gladly waved the banner of my success around my peers. The new label provided identity—an identity I liked. Unfortunately, I couldn’t foresee the deep struggle and painful suffering that awaited my heart in the coming years—literally.

My toilsome college road began with a collarbone break the summer prior to my first season at Baylor. Six weeks of immobility stifled all hope of earning playing time or even traveling spots with  my team. Although the endless games on the bench and inability to succeed in fitness practices discouraged me, I somehow still pegged the blame on that June injury and numbed the rest of my feelings to tolerance.

By the Lord’s design, though, my focus started to shift during that first season. Although the desire for prideful accomplishment lingered, I began to look outwardly at my teammates and to truly love them. I believe Christ loved through me (beyond my capacity), and, as that love grew, I wanted them to know it. I wanted my teammates to know Him and the eternal inheritance He offered.

This increase in love, however, was countered by my diminishing status as a player. I often wondered how any teammate could respect me if I couldn’t even make the travel roster. And if God wanted me to love and lead this team, why did I sit at last rank? I even questioned if the Lord had really opened divine doors for me up to that point. My original dream looked nothing like this experience.

The pruning continued into the spring, and I sank into ultimate humiliation on the field. In every practice, my body shut down despite appropriate sleep, diet, medicine and prayer. My speed, stamina and strength all failed. My teammates openly dreaded the days when Coach put me on their scrimmage teams. I’d never felt more ashamed. I cried on a daily basis and constantly wrestled with the question of “why me?”

 

“He stripped me of pride, false identity and worldly glory so that my story could truly reveal His glory. In the end, it points to divine sovereignty, fatherly intimacy and rich goodness.”

Even in those painful aches, though, the quiet voice of my Savior continued to speak. He seemed to say, “I have plans to prosper you, Kaitlyn. I know the desires of your heart. Trust Me.”

Challenged to persevere, I dug deep for another season, desperately clinging to biblical promises. Promises to be the “head” and not the “tail” of my team. Promises to receive all God had for me after waiting patiently. Promises to come through the fire as gold.

Although my circumstances and physical capacity changed very little in the second season, my attitude changed a lot. The Lord drew me closer to Him, and He enabled me to walk in new hope. My time on the bench weighed heavily, but I awaited breakthrough.

In September 2007, my parents took me to see a cardiologist in one last effort to discover the unsolved mystery of my body’s dysfunction. The results from my preliminary tests shocked us all. The doctor diagnosed me with dilated cardiomyopathy, and, after he explained the weakness in my heart muscle and the low ejection fraction, he strongly advised me to stop playing soccer. He said the physical demands would push my weak heart beyond safety.

The news set my head spinning and my heart questioning. I was full of fear. But instead of making a rash decision, my parents and I prayerfully agreed to shelve the diagnosis until we had at least one more medical opinion. I’d still dress out for that Friday night’s game.

That night, I witnessed the peak of my collegiate career when my coach put me in the game with 30 minutes left in the first half. Until that night, I’d never played with more than five minutes on the clock! Praising the Lord with every ounce of my soul, I poured my heart out on the field. But with 10 minutes left, an opposing player and I collided. I knew immediately when the ACL in my right knee ripped. My entire body collapsed in physical pain, and my spirit sank even deeper.

 

 
Me adjusting to crutches after surgery.
“Why, God?”

“My thoughts are not your thoughts; neither are your ways my ways.”

As it turned out, God was, as always, faithful. The knee injury actually spared me from having to make any soccer-ending decisions. I didn’t have to worry about pushing my body dangerously far, and I was able to spend the next five months running tests on my heart and ruling out the differing diagnoses.

In the meantime, Baylor hired a new soccer coach, Marci Jobson, who was fresh off the professional playing field. After evaluating my status, she offered me a bigger-picture perspective and a great deal of optimism. She promised that my time with Baylor soccer wasn’t over.

That promise didn’t look so promising in February 2008, though. The original cardio diagnosis was confirmed, and I was forced to sign official papers to “medical” off the team.

I grieved. But even in the midst of my sorrow, I was encouraged by Coach Jobson’s faithfulness to her word. She provided me with official titles for unofficial tasks and delegated various responsibilities to me during the season. She also encouraged me to step up and lead my teammates spiritually. In my low confidence, I was reluctant to accept the role, but the Lord reminded me that He’d given me a spirit of power (2 Timothy 1:7), and He led me into boldness.

Over the course of my last two soccer seasons at Baylor, the Lord gave me everything He had promised. My relationships with teammates deepened. Even though I couldn’t step on the field, I was still able to travel and eat with the team on weekends. I was also given the opportunity to challenge them spiritually through Scripture and prayer. The NCAA honored my scholarship, and, even today, teammates consider me one of them. And I still got the honor of wearing a college jersey.

Door after door. Detail after detail.

Had I not torn my ACL, my very life would have been jeopardized. Had my parents and family not prayed without ceasing, despair would have swallowed me. Had Coach Jobson not stepped into the picture, I’d have lost all relationships with my teammates. Had I not suffered loss, I would not understand my Redeemer the way I do now.

All through college, the Lord repeatedly implored me to carry on. I discerned His voice saying, “Kaitlyn, this is the way—My way. Walk in it.” He stripped me of pride, false identity and worldly glory so that my story could truly reveal His glory. In the end, it points to divine sovereignty, fatherly intimacy and rich goodness.

Though I may never again fit the world’s definition of an athlete, I will finish the race—the Kingdom race. Only now, I run with more of Him and less of me. Christ’s surpassing greatness in my jar of clay. Physical weakness of which I now gladly boast for the sake of His glory.

About the Author:

Baylor University senior Kaitlyn Amos, pictured left (second from right) with her family, played soccer for the Bears from 2006 to 2008. This December, she will graduate with a degree in speech communication after studying abroad in Florence, Italy. Beyond that, she has a few plans, but claims they are all “subject to change” depending on where the Lord leads her.
 
--For more stories about faith and sport, visit www.sharingthevictory.com, the official magazine of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. To subscribe to STV, click here.

Photos courtesy of Kaitlyn Amos and Baylor Media Relations