Wow. What a year 2019 has been, and it’s not even over yet. With two months left in the year, I can’t help but anxiously wait to see what the Lord has in store for the remainder of it. Yet, with all that 2019 has brought me to and through, my heart still gravitates to a moment of deep loss in my life.
It’s no secret to anyone, if you know the sports world, and soccer specifically, that two years ago I made a decision that many supported while others neither supported nor understood. No matter how many times I have tried to explain my decision, both to the public and to some of my closest family and friends, I still feel misunderstood. Misrepresented. And frankly, alone.
In June of 2017, I was selected to represent the USA in Sweden in two international friendly games. News had come out about some new jerseys that the team would be wearing for those games, and after days of prayer and seeking the Lord, and as graciously as I knew how, I had conversations with the coach and media manager that I wouldn’t be able to wear the jersey. Due to my inability to wear the uniform, I was left off the team, and my name has now received, not to my delight, national attention as a result.
Not many can relate to the public scrutiny that comes with making a very public decision. Even when you know it’s from the Lord, even when you know in the deepest part of your soul it was what the Lord was leading you to do, even when the stakes are high and the inevitable outcome is entirely opposite of what you thought the opportunity would bring, it is hard.
I have wrestled with my decision every day. Every game day when I am booed on the field. Every interview that inevitably asks me if I still have hope that the national team will come calling again. Every time a friend or teammate or loved one wonders out loud, “Couldn’t you have just worn the jersey and got on with it?”
Yet, it is in these moments that I am constantly led back to a place of surrendering my hopes and dreams to the Lord, knowing that He is fully in control.
Decisions asked of us as we walk our days out on earth will not always be easy to make. On one occasion, Jesus tells a crowd of people in the book of Luke:
“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23).
When we are asked to take up our cross for Jesus, we must understand three things.
One, taking up your cross is not a walk in the park. Crosses used in the days of Jesus weighed 300 pounds. The crossbeam, that was usually carried by the convicted prisoner, weighed around 100 pounds. Picking up your cross means carrying the weight of the scrutiny, mockery, slander, and hardship that comes with following someone that many don’t believe was more than a mere prophet or teacher.
Second, the act of taking up your cross was meant to be a public spectacle. It was meant to make the condemned feel as alone and vulnerable and shameful as possible. Jesus was completely innocent, but was made to feel as if He had done everything wrong. The scriptures tell us that He endured a cross He did not deserve.
“When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23).
As many believers today around the world, and even in our own backyards, live out their faith with boldness and courage, they are made to feel guilty and shameful. And not in a secret way. Not behind closed doors. But for the world to see. For the world to rush to judgment and slander and even abuse because of their sold out desire to follow after Christ. All the while, many of them will never retaliate. Never make threats in return. But they will simply entrust their souls to the One who holds them.
Third, and most importantly, taking up your cross is a beautiful act of surrender that results in the never ending reward of spending eternity with Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. We know the end of the story. Jesus was crucified, yet He rose again in three days. He conquered sin and death. He conquered pain. He conquered suffering and hardship. It is because of this that we can take joy in knowing that while we climb our hills of pain and suffering, with our crosses heavily pressing down on our backs, Jesus is at the end waiting for us. To welcome us into His outstretched arms and proclaim,
“Well done, my good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21).
Many weeks ago I made a post on my social media that stated, “I can honestly say this has been the year I have truly seen the faithfulness of God in my life.” And I mean that. I have had many trials take place this year, and yet at every turn, the Lord proved faithful, even when He didn’t have to.
At the beginning of the year, I thought I was going to miss the start of the season. I was riddled with injuries throughout the offseason and truly felt this was going to be another year of missed training and games. However, the season came rolling around and by the end of the year, I didn’t miss a single minute. That is by God’s grace alone.
Last year I met a man, who is now my fiancé (holla!), but at the time, I wasn’t so sure of our relationship. I was filled with fear and doubt about stepping into something new with him after my last relationship of six years ended in pain and sorrow. Yet, by the Lord’s grace, my fiancé, Matthew, never gave up on me. He showed me a kind of love that only comes from a man who walks with His Creator every day and knows the love of His Father above. And even when I tried to run away and called off the engagement, he never left. He never gave up. And by the grace of God, I’m getting married to the most gentle, kind and loving man on February 1st. PRAISE GOD YA’LL! Haha
Halfway through the season, Satan tried to use my past to haunt me, again, as I was called out on social media for things I had never said. For words that were never uttered from my mouth. For feelings that I have never had about the national team. I was shook. I felt isolated. Vulnerable. Alone. Yet I knew the Lord was going to use it for His glory. I had so many people reach out to me, encouraging me to lean in to God. To trust in His goodness and sovereignty. To whole heartedly believe that I am not and never will be alone. The days, however long they may have felt, came and went and my team, the team that everyone thought couldn’t be unified because of me, went on to win the regular season and the tournament championship for the league. I truly believe the Lord allowed victory to take place in my life. To demonstrate His goodness in a way that many, from the outside looking in, couldn’t believe was possible.
I say all this to say there were moments in the course of this year, and even in past years, that “carrying my cross” felt impossible. And, it was—until I allowed Jesus to carry it for me.
That’s what He wants to do for each of His daughters. I pray that as you sit here reading this, whether you’re in a coffee shop in L.A or in your sweat pants lounging on the couch that you learn to take hold of this truth: Even though we are called to pick up our cross, we don’t have to be the ones to carry it. We are simply asked to realize the weightiness of what we are called to when we choose to follow Christ. And when we do, He offers us His yoke,
“For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:30).
May you always know that no matter the weight of your cross, or the size of your mountain, the God of the Universe is reaching out His hand to you. He’s asking you to cast your cross onto Him and simply walk with Him to the top. For at the top rests eternity and, my dear, eternity is the farthest thing from pain.
Jaelene Hinkle is a born and raised Colorado native, but currently residing in North Carolina. Apart from her career in soccer, she loves hanging with her fiancé Matthew (who she can’t wait to call her husband), friends and her dog Tucker. She’s also a massive food and coffee junkie! Her family is everything, and Jesus is her world.
Follow Jaelene on Instagram @jaelenehinkle