Encouragement is key
History-making Team USA soccer player Lauren Holiday reflects on her impressive career
Two-time Olympic gold medalist Lauren Holiday is the first player in U.S. soccer history to win both the Female Athlete of the Year and Young Female AOTY awards in a career.
She shared in Team USA's victory at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the 2012 London Olympics before capping off her career in triumph at the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup.
The team's 2015 victory was sweetened when Lauren and her teammates became the first women's sports team to be honored with a ticker tape parade in New York City, where each player received a key to the city from Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Despite being at the peak of her career, the 28-year-old was happy to announce her retirement from the national team.
"It's a huge commitment (to play with the national team)," Lauren told TeamUSA.org. "It's an incredible privilege, but it's a ton of work.
"We're (with the national team) 260 days a year, then on top of that our club. It's a tremendous sacrifice. Family in general, my marriage; I'd love to see my husband more. I miss so many important things. At this point, I'm ready to enjoy those things with my family."
Three years ago Lauren married fellow UCLA graduate and professional basketball player Jrue Holiday, who is a point guard for the New Orleans Pelicans, but the couple's hectic schedules have taken their toll and it's time for change.
Harrison, New Jersey, June 5, 2011: After scoring a lone goal, Lauren (L) of the USA gets a hug from Abby Wambach (R) during the USA-Mexico friendly. USA won 1-0. (Photo Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images)
Looking back on her soccer success, it is incredible to think that at as a three-year-old she survived open-heart surgery to close a hole in her heart.
“My role was more to encourage everybody else. It was fun to build up teammates”As part of the recovery process doctors encouraged Lauren to do lots of physical activity, which was made easy as she followed her older brother Aaron around "like a little duckling".
"Any sport he played, I played; so when Aaron played soccer, so did I. For some reason, soccer stuck for me," Lauren told FCA Magazine in 2015.
As she watched the USA's Women's National Team incredible 1999 World Cup victory, she recalls; "That's when I realized how badly I wanted to play for my country."
She grasped the opportunity to graduate high school early to train with America's best young players for the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup.
The team's coach, former pro midfielder Tim Schulz, was to have a significant impact on her life.
"I remember being so enraptured by how Tim lived his life," she said.
Having been to church as a kid, she explains, "I knew the Bible... but I could see so clearly that Tim was passionate about soccer and God.
"I remember praying one night, 'God, I want what he has!' He was so passionate about his faith, and I wanted that too."
That was when Lauren understood that God needed to come first in her life before soccer and that to be a genuine Christian she had to surrender her life completely to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior of her life.
She did not feel particularly directed to UCLA, but there she found other Christian believers on the team were a great source of accountability for her.
"Even with a busy schedule, I was able to stay in the Word (Bible), go to church and spend time talking with other believers, which all helped me keep my focus on God," she explains.
With her heart focused on God, in 2007 Lauren had her first international game, earning her first starts with the US national team against Germany and Mexico.
A leg injury to forward Abby Wambach brought Lauren into the 2008 Olympic team, for which she set up a dramatic overtime goal in a 1-0 gold-medal victory over Brazil.
Old Trafford, Manchester, England, August 6, 2012: US forward Lauren Holiday (C) runs during the London 2012 Olympic women’s football semi final match between the US and Canada. (Photo Paul Ellis/AFP/GettyImages)
Realizing she only had a few minutes of playing-time, Lauren recalls, "I knew my role was more to encourage everybody else. It was fun to build up teammates ... encouraging others has been a great way to share my love for Christ. I have found that building others up brings me great joy and allows me to see God at work."
Lauren shares one of her favorite verses that inspired this outlook: "Therefore encourage one another and build each other up as you are already doing" (see 1 Thessalonians 5:11).
The first thing you'll see on entering the Holiday's home is a large sign of Romans 12:9-13, which says: "Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord's people who are in need. Practice hospitality."
"I know I wasn't given these talents to be mediocre," Lauren adds.
"Every time I set foot on the field, I know that, through my effort and play, I'm glorifying (God). He gave me the world's stage to share His gospel, and that is what I hope I do."
Although retirement means Lauren will not feature in the coming 2016 Olympic games to defend the USA's title, Lauren says she is confident of her decision.
"(God) knew the desires in my heart, so I'm blessed to go out on top," Lauren told TeamUSA.org.
"I've fulfilled everything."?