When this basketball season started, she was completely unknown by the coaches. I knew she was a good player. But they didn't. For several weeks I watched her sit on the bench, observing her teammates in the games, just waiting. She wasn't upset that she wasn't getting put in. She was patient. She went to practices, gave her best on the court, shot baskets at home to refine her talent, and waited. She watched other players receive recognition for their skill and effort and performance. She knew she had it in her to shine as they did, if only given the chance. But she didn't become discouraged when the opportunity did not arise, and she didn't resent the girls who were given a place in the starting line-up.
Then one day, they saw it. Someone suddenly noticed her speed, agility, and healthy aggression. In just a matter of days she went from sitting on the bench in a clean uniform watching the clock run out, to becoming a starter and spending entire games on the court.
They began putting her in the game for the main purpose of stopping the ball. Because although she is small, she is quick, and tough, and can steal a basketball before her opponent even realizes she's there.
And though she still isn't the player who makes the most points or receives the most attention, she is the only one who can fill that particular role with such consistency and effectiveness.
She went from unassuming, unnoticed, and sidelined…to recognized, respected, and chosen.
Julia was a dark horse.
I was reading from 2 Samuel this morning, about David and his exploits in battle. He was revered as a mighty warrior, an honored king, and a man after God's heart. The guy screwed up a whole lot. But at his core, he was a man of strength, courage, and nobility. He was an elite among men. Among his warriors, there were also some elites. The most superior elect were "The Three", whose skillfulness in the fray were renowned and esteemed above all others.
Then there was Abishai.
Abishai was likely a well-known warrior in his own hometown, and he was even a part of a select 30 who were recognized among David's men. However, he never earned a place in The Three.
But Abi was eventually recognized and trusted with a very important role. He became deeply valued for his resilience, performance, and talent. So he was given a position for which he was the only qualified candidate.
Though not included among The Three, Abishai rose to be the chief of this trio of "MVPs".
His commitment to his craft of battle and his bravery led him to step out of the shadow of these revered warriors, to emerge as their leader.
Abishai was a dark horse.
So as you watch others around you rise to positions to which you aspire, or you see God using someone in a way that you think you could be used even more effectively, remember that you don't have to be revered and elite to be relevant and essential.
And consider the possibility that God is biding His time with your talents. Shaping you. Refining you. Changing you.
So that when He chooses to open the gate and set you loose to run with all the talent and training He has given you in the shadows, you burst forth into the light with the energy and passion to rise to the occasion, fill your unique role, and finish the race strong.
Maybe, just maybe, YOU are a dark horse.