By Elizabeth Tomlin
Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Have you ever found a four-leaf clover? I developed a knack for finding four-leaf clovers through years of practice. You see, I am the world’s worst soccer player. Truly. When I was a child, my parents put me on a co-ed soccer team. I ran around the field with the team, but I was (and remain) terrified of the ball. In one of my first soccer games, I squared off with a boy making a corner kick and ended up catching the soccer ball with my face – more specifically my nose – which bled all over the place and terrified third-grade me!
After that, I would not chase after the ball. My coach decided to have me play left fullback. If you are a third-grader and scared of the ball, left fullback is the perfect position because it is pretty boring. You can turn cartwheels, pick dandelions, and search for four leaf clovers until your coach makes you sit the bench because you won’t actually play soccer.
For some reason, despite having zero talent, I kept playing soccer season after season. My Dad played soccer in college, and I idolized him. That influenced my decision to keep trying. My best friends all excelled at soccer, and I wanted to hang out with them. That, too, was motivation to keep trying.
When I was in eighth grade, I was still playing soccer and trying to make it as a Mia Hamm with the athletic aptitude of a sloth bear. One day, I had a defining moment in my soccer career. A boy came running down the field with the ball. I was still playing left fullback, and I got courageous. I lunged for the ball! I made contact! “Hooray,” I thought. Then I watched in horror as the ball bounced off my right foot and squarely into my team’s goal. Oh the shame! I could hear my teammates groan and the other team cheer. I tried not to cry.
That day, my coach pulled me off the field, and I retired from my youth soccer career with a record of negative one goals. I made a brief comeback in high school when I tried out for the girls’ soccer team because all my friends were on the team. After a week of try-outs, I was the only person cut. For real. I was so untalented that the coach didn’t even keep me on the team out of sympathy!
However, in season after season of turning cartwheels and pacing around as a fullback, I honed my talent for finding four-leaf clovers. I can spot them anywhere and love looking for their symmetry amid a sea of sameness. Even as an adult, I habitually search for four-leaf clovers as I walk. I press them in books. I give them to my family and friends. They just seem to smile up at me from the ground.
I don’t regret spending so many hours playing soccer. In fact, I made great memories on soccer teams, met good friends, and stayed fit. I wish though, that I had learned the following bit of wisdom from St. Thérèse of Lisieux a bit earlier in my life. Thérèse wrote:
It pleases [God] to create great Saints, who may be compared with the lily or the rose; but He has also created little ones, who must be content to be daisies or violets, nestling at His feet to delight His eyes when He should choose to look at them. The happier they are to be as He wills, the more perfect they are.
My “Irish luck,” by which I mean God’s blessing, is not to be a grand soccer prodigy. I continue to admire people with soccer talent. They are athletic, aggressive, and brave – certainly brave enough to catch a ball with their foreheads. They are driven and practice hard. These are all gifts to appreciate.
On the soccer field, I spent a lot of time pretending to be something other than what God created me to be. I am neither athletic nor aggressive. I’m only marginally brave. But God did create me to be a person who notices small details – like four-leaf clovers – with clarity, and who sees beauty in nature. He created me to have bursts of courage, and to be sufficiently resilient to try, and try again. These, too, are gifts to appreciate.
If I could teach my younger self a lesson, it would be that I am lucky to be exactly who God created me to be – and so are you! What gifts has God given you? What gifts do you appreciate in others?
About the author:
Elizabeth Tomlin, contributing writer to WINE, mother of three, and army wife, is General Counsel for the Archdiocese for the Military Services. She is a founding member of the Military Council of Catholic Women Worldwide Inc., the women’s ministry of the military Archdiocese. Elizabeth speaks broadly on Catholic topics, blogs at joyfulmomentum.org, and has a forthcoming book with the same title.