It's always fun to look back on the good stuff right? Beautiful moments that seem to go so quickly. Glimpses of pure joy that keep you striving for the next.
Well what about the messy stuff?
You know...the days where time can't go fast enough, when you get encapsulated in this funk that you can't seem to climb out of, a cloud of frustration you can't shake. The days that turn into weeks and then months of feeling the same way.
What about those moments?
Those are the moments no one likes to talk about.
They're unpleasant, dreadful, and often embarrassing. Now take that and put it on a public platform. ESPN, often, actually.
When speaking about my college career most would agree that it was a success, and in my eyes it absolutely was. You've probably heard a lot of numbers , accolades, big moments I got to be apart of, and history that was made. Those are all incredible things and accomplishments. However, what doesn't always get talked about is the rough stuff. The times where it wasn't always so glamorous.
And yes, that happens and it happens to everyone.
Now, to get the whole picture of the story I'm about to tell, lets rewind.
Spring, 2015: Women's College World Series- Oklahoma City, OK.
What I consider one of the top memories of my life, EVER.
The place you want to finish your season. The place you work for all off-season. Every sprint/shuttle/rep dedicated to get you closer. The place that you talk about every single practice. Every little girls dream. And boy did it live up to the expectation!
Especially when this little girl (me) found out I fulfilled a lifetime dream of mine by being named an All-American at LSU. I'll never forget the moment I told my family the news and how proud they were- their expressions of pure joy for me. I was playing some of the best softball I ever had. Mix that with the best grades I've ever made and the budding of a beautiful relationship with the man I plan on spending the rest of my life with,
talk about on top of the world. Right? Absolutely.
This, my friends, is what you call a mountain. And I was living on cloud 9.
What a lot of people don't know about that time was that I had a stress fracture in my foot. One morning I woke up in Oklahoma, got out of bed, and boom- pain.
It didn't matter though, because I was playing at the pinnacle of college softball and nothing was going to stop me from taking the field and competing.
For the first time in my career, I was hurt. The only way to heal this kind of injury was rest. Which meant no working out, no training, and (of course) no softball. I have to admit, off hand I was thankful for the new-found and forced rest. I even said prayers thanking God for allowing me to rejuvenate and heal after a long season.
But what started as a few weeks in a boot during the summer turned into months. What was supposed to be a summer turned into the fall. And what finished as an All-American season started back up as someone who had to sit back and watch her teammates work and start off a shiny new season without her. That hurt.
I'll never forget the guilt of watching my teammates run our conditioning test without me.
6 am. Indoor facility. Sun isn't even up yet.
You almost forget about the lack of air flow in the building from how loud the lights buzzed or maybe it was the anxiety you felt when the strength coach counted you down to the line for next set of shuttles you were about to run. "In 5..."
It's the very first thing we do when we get back on campus. By far it's the hardest, gut-checking thing I had to do during my career. But it's also the place where a new band of girls, hand chosen to do something great together, gathers and competes for the very first time. The same girls you are about to spend every single day with for the next 10 months. Its beautiful and exciting when you take a step back and look it. But it's something I never thought I'd long for.
The prayers of thanksgiving for rest rapidly turned into prayers of confusion, frustration, and impatience. I didn't understand why I wasn't healing. As an athlete, your body is your vessel to your craft. When it's not working correctly or is injured, it's like your world (that you work so hard to perfect) is rattled. Shaken.
Nothing prepares you mentally for an injury.
I felt guilty that I wasn't healthy. I felt incapable of doing things I had always done. I felt judged that I wasn't trying hard enough. I tip-toed around practice trying not to re-injure myself. I second-guessed the effort I wanted to give that was embedded in me.
I wasn't playing...I was thinking. And softball became more than just a game.
Now you can just about imagine the habits I formed at this time. The physical ones weren't the problem, that's an easy fix...it was the mental.
My packed up frustration didn't mix well with the struggles that come with being surrounded by 25+ of the same people everyday (and of course everyone bringing in their own baggage). Just like in any family, you love the people around you to the core, and at the end of the day you have their back no matter what- but that doesn't mean its always easy.
I started to feel resentment at times towards people surrounding me and gave negative situations around me more life than they deserved. I was upset about my injury, confused why I wasn't healing, aggravated with those around me, and frustrated with the game. I knew every time I started to feel this way I had the choice to choose joy despite the circumstance because thats what I knew to be right and true, and some days I did. In no way am I saying every single day was bad- because it wasn't, but it was like a constant weight was bearing me down- one I wanted nothing to do with.
But it was a cross... One that I was meant to carry.
Now you see, when you're in a pit of negativity- the devil's got you. Every. little. thing. that goes wrong only raises your levels of frustration higher and higher. Once he's got you believing lies, it can be difficult to get out of. And temptation can be a messy thing.
But thats the thing about the devil, he doesn't have his own clay. He himself was created by God, and by choice- turned away. He can only skew what is already there. Often times, where our greatest virtue and gift lie is where he tries to live. So surely, when you are being attacked, you are on the verge of something great.
I knew that, I believed that. I had faith. In my heart I kept searching and praying for answers. I knew the negativity surrounding me wasn't me. I knew God wasn't going to allow me to suffer in vain.
Spring, 2016. Junior Season.
During the season, I wasn't the only one feeling this way. A lot of things weren't going right and the team wasn't clicking at first. Internally, a lot of battles were being fought at every level. Those closest to me felt their limits of frustration being pushed frequently, but it always seemed like one of us had something that would lift another up in a timely manner.
I wasn't doing the things or getting the results I was used to. I repeatedly failed at softball for the first time in my life. Little by little the desire to go out there and compete everyday chipped away. Passive is the word I use to describe it. If you know me, you know nothing about me is passive. I care deeply, about every little thing.
I'm very passionate. But some how I took for granted what it meant to go out there and represent LSU everyday. My mind even wondered to if playing softball was what I should be doing with my life or not. I always felt the desire to lead others in a positive way, I thought that this might have been my wake-up call that sports wasn't it.
If you watched me play at times that year, I'd like to apologize. I wasn't always living up to who I am. I wasn't being the example for young players I should've been. I wasn't representing LSU the way it deserves. Not because of my results, but the obvious frustration which led to them. I battled with that every single day.
Have you ever been frustrated by your frustration? Talk about a vicious cycle. One that I knew was made up in my own mind which made it all the worse.
(thats all frustration and fear are, MADE UP.)
It isn't something I'm proud of, but something that was necessary.
Something I just didn't understand. I thought I was doing God's will by taking my talents and being great at something like before. Showing Him off at a high-level. Using my platform for good.
Why would He hold me back?
He wasn't. He was refining me.
I was blessed, to say the least, to have the caliber of people around me as I did.
We were all frustrated, angry at times, battling different battles, trying to piece together why we all felt the way we did. What we were really good at was finding ways of encouraging one another. Reaching out with understanding because we were in it together.
What a lot of people forget is the beauty in suffering. It takes you out of your routine. Makes you uncomfortable. It tests you in many, many ways. It forces you to make a decision on how you will live your life. Whether to be defined by the circumstance or to chose otherwise. No one is exempt from suffering. The difference is that some people suffer, while God calls us to suffer well.
What I had, was a band of Godly women and support from friends and family that was unmatched. They reminded me constantly of my true value. My worth. The things God blessed me with that were intangible and of infinite worth. The things that had nothing to do with a batting average or accolades or softball at all.
Suffering breaks you down, but the gift in it is the ability to be rebuilt. Stronger.
More valuable. And a lot wiser.
Spring, 2016. Mid-season or so.
A few speed bumps prompted for our coaches to do an activity with the team that I will never forget. We all sat down, were handed a sharpie, and were instructed to take off our cleats. The staff had prepared a word or description of what each individual needed to do or be in order for us to accomplish our goals that year. Coach went down the line and explained each one of our roles and how that was important to the team. Once we received our word, we were to write it on top of our right cleat.
"To be the biggest LSU fan and to remind everyone what it means to represent LSU"
Thats what I got and I was proud of that. An easier way of writing that to me was our motto at LSU, "Love Purple, Live Gold." Right cleat, done.
Now for the left cleat, we came up with our word. Something we felt we needed to do or embody to help the team and ourselves be successful for the rest of the year.
This one took a little time for me to digest.
At the top of my list and what I chose to write was, "competitor." I needed to be a competitor. I knew that in order for me to perform at my best, I had to reignite that fire in myself. I had to give the game my heart and soul back.
But it still felt incomplete. I turned to prayer and asked God to reveal to me what HE needed me to be. And what I got by His grace, was the word grace. To not only compete, but to compete with grace. To be a Graced Competitor. To compete with grace meant that I was fully relying on God, and no longer relying on self.
Now what I haven't mentioned yet was that after I was recognized as an All-American and had such a successful Sophomore year, I was of course ecstatic, but what I didn't want and tried to cover myself in prayer from, was thinking too much of myself. I knew that wasn't me, but I also knew this was new territory and that was the last thing I wanted. So what I took to prayer was the Litany of Humility. (click to read)
It asks over and over for the grace to overcome feelings and desires that we so often as humans seek. I said it every single day, and meant every word. I had it taped to my bathroom mirror and read it as I got myself ready for the day. It seemed picture perfect right? I would pray this prayer and magically it would develop in me.
Anyone who's ever prayed intentionally for a particular virtue is probably smiling right now because you know where this is about to go... What I forgot in the midst of my struggle was that God answers prayers like that often with situations which enable you to form or exercise the virtue. I'm not meaning to scare or intimidate anyone out of praying for virtue, because thats what we should do. But if you're praying for patience, don't be surprised when all of a sudden situations that require it begin to pop into your life- it's exactly what you're praying for!
It took a humbling of myself to realize my true calling within sport. It took striping away my health, my success, my comfort- all the things I leaned on which I knew to not be my identity, but held so closely to it.
As an collegiate athlete, its hard. You work so hard to perfect every thing you do. You balance school, homework, tests, study hall, practice, training, games, travel, eating correctly, and if you get some time- sleep. You enter into a routine of your day with the expectation that at the end of it you will be bigger, better, stronger. It's easy to base our worth on our performance. Its something we are all guilty of. And whether we want it or not, people look up to us. We are leaders. With TV and media so rampant, every minute thing in our lives is exposed, for better or worse. Its easy to place a false self at the forefront of who we are.
Deep down inside I knew who's hands my identity fell to. But just like any other athlete, entertainer, professional, artist, musician, anyone who's ever been gifted at something- I placed the tangible so closely to the intangible. So close that I intermixed the two. I didn't know what it was like to live without those things. And it wasn't something I realized till it was no longer present. God had to show me that even though I wasn't experiencing the success I had in the past, I was still His. I was just as important, just as valuable. I still was on a mission.
A mission He had to shape and refine me for if I was going to live it fully.
And that mission, was to be a Graced Competitor.
I was able to heal physically, emotionally, and spiritually. It took practice of slowing things down, remembering who I was, and why I loved the game. I was able to find myself again and be that unrelenting player who never gave up.
I'm not going to get into the stats of it all, but when you look back on my story and then see the great ending to my collegiate career and the success that followed, I hope you see I was never walking alone. In fact I hope the root of what you got out of it wasn't me at all. I was walking what felt like a tight rope that so many are familiar with. What I always had at my side, though, was Gods grace. I knew in my heart something was in the works, I knew He was showing me something, I didn't always want to see it or had clear eyes to but I trusted. It's hard to see God's plan for us sometimes, especially in the storms of life. What I can guarantee though, is what God promises us. What He shows time and time again...
that He is working all things for our good.
If you are an athlete, coach, parent, anyone who has followed me throughout my career, or even if you don't know my name- you now see an important part of my story, which is just as valuable as any title, accolade, or stat you could pin to me. To the little girl dreaming of being the next big softball star and wondering if you have what it takes- you absolutely do, just not alone. Always, always remember the rock which will steady you in the good and hard times. Neither would be as valuable without the other.