Seeing God in the Valley
My latest trip to Rio Grande Valley was another example of seeing the way that God works. My flight down to McAllen, Texas had a long layover in Houston. I reached out to former player, Jared Watts with whom I have a strong relationship and who shared his testimony with Soccer Chaplains United. Watts, traded earlier this season from the Colorado Rapids to the Houston Dynamo and myself hoped to maybe get an hour at a coffee shop during one of the layovers. what we both received was more than we both could have hoped for.
An hour before leaving Denver, I texted Jared,
Hey bro, just a reminder I’ve got a 3 hour layover today. No worries though.
He texted back immediately,
I’m going down…to play 45 in the game tomorrow since I just got back from injury so I’ll see you there!!
I’m flying out at noon
Landing in Houston just before 11 am, I took a chance and walked over to the flight that was scheduled to depart for McAllen around 12 noon and of course ran into Jared. It was a sweet, albeit short, reunion. We hadn’t seen each other for a couple months. The transition to a new club in the midst of the season was, well, a transition. Transitions in football are never easy — on the athletes, on the family, or on the friends.
As a chaplain, I’ve had to say many goodbyes throughout the years. It doesn’t get any easier as time passes. In fact, it is more difficult today because I realize that it will be more rare to ever encounter or share what you once did with a person once they leave — whether an athlete, coach, or staff member.
We caught up and made some tentative plans — dinner after an evening training session. The Rio Grande Valley Toros FC team practicing often in the evenings to escape the heat of the day, I had the opportunity to go watch training and see the RGV facility, one of the best in the United Soccer League (USL).
At training that evening, I had a chance to greet former Rapids player Rafael Amaya who has been an assistant coach with Rio Grande Valley for a number of years and has been working with an exciting school program. Amaya, has spent many years coaching in Colorado and has coached several of the young players now with the Rapids. “Rafa” and I caught up and he invited me to see the school that he works with and the young people whose lives he and the school are impacting. Rafa’s heart for young people stems from his faith in God and his desire to see them become more than just soccer players.
Now the purpose of the trip was really to spend time with Isidro Piña, the new chaplain for the RGV Toros. And we were able to share dinner with Jared that first evening. It was an opportunity for Isidro to hear from Jared on the differences between Major League Soccer (MLS) and USL. Jared also shared how a chaplain relationship had helped him over the years as well as offering some player perspective on different ways that a chaplain might serve.
The evening of the game, I was able to offer a short-pregame prayer for the Toros and then Isidro and I took in the match. The game ended in a 1-1 draw — disappointing for the coaching staff and players who have been trying to finish out a game and get a victory. Sometimes as chaplains, we have to remain settled in the midst of the turmoil that teams and coaches go through. We know that results are important for jobs and contracts. We pray for God’s provision and protection over those that take on the game, but we leave the outcomes up to God’s purposes.
Jared was able to play 45 minutes. His presence on the team representing another challenge sometimes at the second division level — his playing 45 minutes meant that one of the rostered players would miss out on a start, playing time, and other ramifications. Jared, different from other players that I have worked with before, though, is aware and sensitive to how it feels when someone form the outside comes in and takes your spot and he worked to be a good teammate and a positive presence in spite of it all.
I asked Jared about his transition and he shared this with me*:
My transition to Houston wasn’t easy. I was away from my wife for 6 weeks and injured my hamstring 10 days after being traded. I was faced with being in a new city, with a new team, and an injury I had to overcome. My first game with a new team had a familiar setting. [With you] leading the pre-game prayer in the locker room that I was accustomed to…the past 4 and a half years in Colorado, God allowed me to feel at peace taking the field for the first time. God knew we would have this time together before going back to Houston. It reaffirmed our good bye is only a see you later.
The game and time in the valley afforded me the opportunity to see and share with Isidro, but it also allowed me to experience God at work — in the relationships and people that I have known for years. I had hoped for an hour with Jared during a layover, but God gave several hours over dinner (and a coffee the next day). God let me spend a few hours with a former player and coach in Rafael Amaya. And God let me see and spend time with our new chaplain.
I am constantly reminded, especially on trips like this one, that we may make many plans, but it is God who guides the steps. Sometimes we are called to simply just obey the leading of the Lord and we will encounter God and see Him on the mountains and in the valleys.