What Caroline Is Teaching Me About Hope

I have known Caroline since she was in kindergarten. We joke that she is my fourth daughter, and I am grateful for the long friendship she has shared with Emily. They share more memories of sleepovers, birthday parties, school performances, carpooling, and sports teams than I can count.

Caroline’s 17 years have included a great love of basketball and soccer.  So many times I would drive to her house and find her in her neighborhood court, shooting baskets, juggling the soccer ball or repeating some drill over and over. No adults stood over her demanding that she practice. She loved these sports and showed great discipline and determination to improve.

In soccer, Caroline developed great skills as a goalie. She moved from rec leagues to travel teams to the school’s varsity team. I find the position of goalie to be both terrifying and humbling. A goalie can save 35 amazing shots, but still lose 1-2. My tendency would be to blame myself and focus on that one goal that lost the game. Caroline, however, dealt with the discouragement and kept working to improve for the next game.

When she first made the varsity basketball team, she didn’t see a lot of playing time. Her parents sat through many game watching Caroline on the bench. We all cheered wildly the day she stepped onto the court to play for 30 seconds. At the end of the game, I never saw anything but a smile on her face. She understood her role on the team, respected her coach and the other players, and worked her butt off in practice.

It is gift to see someone find something they love doing.

But that isn’t why I want to tell you about Caroline.

One risk of participating in sports is the possibility of injury.

I remember the first concussion Caroline received while playing goalie. She dove to save a ball and somehow the opponent’s knee connected with Caroline’s head. We all stood in silence as we watched the coach and trainer assist Caroline off the field and learned later that night that she did indeed have a concussion. She took time to heal but eagerly returned to the field as soon as she could.

For some reason, Caroline then became a concussion magnet. During one routine pick in a basketball, she was shoved to the floor and hit her head. The doctor finally said, “Caroline, I’m sorry, but you can’t play sports anymore.”

How do you tell a 17 year old that she can’t play sports her senior year? And not just senior year, but ever.

How does a 17 year old handle such disappointment?

What do you if you dreamed of playing college sports and now that dream has died?

How do any of us handle the death of any dream?

At the beginning of this school year, Caroline walked into my office in her athletic clothes. I looked her way and asked, “You getting ready to work out?”

She said, “No. Soccer practice starts today.”

I made a face and said, “I didn’t think you could play soccer anymore?”

She smiled, “Well, I can’t, but I am still going to practice with the team. The doctor said I can still exercise and do some of the drills, but I can’t play in any games.”

I thought Caroline might attend a few practices a week or go when she felt like it, but Caroline hasn’t missed a practice or game. She attends all of the team dinners and cheers for her team on the sidelines. She takes time to warm up the goalie and offers advice to the players when she can. It doesn’t mean there aren’t days when she gets discouraged, but she has accepted that her role on the soccer team has changed. She shared with me that this injury has helped her “become more of a team player by being forced to play other roles instead of just focusing on myself.”

I am 29 years older than Caroline, and I am not sure I have handled the end of some of my dreams with such maturity. I tend to let my discouragement hold more power over my life and have been challenged and encouraged to watch as Caroline chose something better.

In Romans 8:28 it says, “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” So often I like to think of this verse the way I want it to be, that God will fix everything according to my definition and expectations. Caroline reminds me that sometimes our dreams take a different turn, but we can trust God to use our pain for His glory and our good. Maybe more people will learn about hope because Caroline lost a dream but chose to stay on the team.