God has been so gracious to me.
He has provided me with more than I could ever imagine. He gave me two amazing, hardworking, and loving parents that would go to the end of the world for me. He gave me an amazing home surrounded by family and friends that love and support me. He gave me a boyfriend who stands by my side through the good and the bad, and loves me despite my flaws. He also gave me this amazing group of friends who have taught me so many lessons and stood up for me when I couldn’t do it for myself. In addition to these many gifts, God has also given me the ability to train and compete in the game of softball. While this may seem insignificant to many, my life would be drastically different without this amazing sport.
My interest in softball practically started at birth. Both of my parents played in church and community leagues, so we spent countless nights hanging out at the ball field. I remember distinctly watching my Daddy’s slow pitch team practice, and I always hated that he would never let me play the infield when the “big boys” were hitting. I would tell Daddy that I wasn’t scared and that I could handle whatever they hit me. Even at a young age, I just wanted to be part of the game. Not much has changed since then. I still love the game, and I’m still quite headstrong when it comes to playing the various aspects of the game. At least that’s what people always seem to tell me.
My dream has always been to play college softball, and, well, here I am. I made it! Unfortunately, it wasn’t without some bumps along the way. No, I’m not talking about all the cuts, broken fingers, bruises, strikeouts, errors, losses or the bad hot dogs we were forced to eat after Dixie youth games when I was little. During my sophomore year of high school I had my first knee surgery. But, no worries, it didn’t stop me. I was out for spring practices and early scrimmages for my junior season, but I clawed my way back through tons of physical therapy, extra practices, and many tears. Just two weeks before the season opener in my freshman year at college, I suffered a torn quad that resulted in my other knee dislocating. After 8 weeks on crutches to allow the quad to heal, I underwent my second knee surgery. The recovery period for the second surgery was almost exactly one year and, again, involved an enormous amount of therapy, hard work, and plain old grit.
Although I was still recovering during my sophomore year in college, I was released to play. I actually even earned a pretty steady starting position at shortstop. You see, softball is a sport that I love. It challenges me every day and has helped me learn how to deal with failure through sheer determination. Sometimes I get so angry with the many setbacks I have encountered on my athletic journey that it brings me to tears, but softball has also brought me so much happiness through the years that the pain and the injuries are worth it. Softball is about much more than just hitting and fielding balls to beat the opposing team. For me, softball is all about relationships. It is about being so comfortable playing beside your teammate that you can anticipate each other’s reactions and movements without visual or verbal communication. You can literally feel the energy beside you, and you know that you can totally depend on that person. As I have endured multiple issues and injuries, I have learned that this trust and faith in my teammates extends beyond the boundary lines of the softball field and into my everyday life. For that, I am grateful!
The best thing about my college experience is not the games I’ve played, but the people that I’ve met along the way.
I am now a junior, and I am completely healed from my previous surgeries. I have my first true starting position, and I actually have found a new level of confidence in myself that I really did not know existed. And the season began with the usual bang for me! The first week of season play, I was hit in the face with a softball. Let me say, getting hit in the nose with a softball is pretty bad. When I was 16, I was actually hit by a car while riding my four-wheeler. (Ironically I was leaving the softball field when this happened.) I can honestly say the pain of being hit by the car and thrown into a ditch was not as traumatic as being hit in the face with a softball! Although I was not a pretty sight, I was then forced to wear a facemask and didn’t miss a game. The very next week, I strained my hamstring. Many people don’t know how painful it is to have a strained muscle, but, to clarify, it’s like a never-ending cramp going through the back of your leg continuously. Since I had already missed the majority of my college career and had just earned a true starting position, I tried my best to play through it. Eventually, however, I had to be pulled and limited to one game a day. While I believe this was a very generous solution offered by my athletic trainer, it still put me in the dugout watching my teammates again.
As we neared the end of the first month of the season, my nose and my hamstring were feeling much better. My nose wasn’t so sensitive, so I was able to take off the mask. My hamstring was still a little sore, but much more bearable. I felt like I was finally clear to have a good weekend and a good season. Wrong… A new “curve ball” was quickly thrown my way! During warm-ups, a ball took a strange bounce and jumped up to hit me under my chin. The jolt of the impact caused my bottom teeth to slam into my top teeth, leaving me with two significantly chipped front teeth. I was literally holding my teeth in my hands. I have been hit by a car, had two major knee surgeries, several broken bones and tons of bumps and bruises, but I don’t think any of them compare to the thoughts running through my mind as I stood there with parts of my teeth in my hands. While the pain was certainly there, it was enormously overpowered by the anger that I felt. I wasn’t at all prepared for the image I saw in the mirror when I reached the locker room, but it quickly greeted me, causing that anger to magnify even more. Now, insert my amazing teammates who traveled to that locker room with me. They were beyond amazing. They let me scream, they let me cry, and they let me say horrible things. More importantly, they remained positive and reassured me when I could not find the strength to reassure myself. They kept saying all these ridiculous things like, “Jill, you are still the prettiest girl on the team!” Even though that was completely not true and they were totally lying, I somehow found the ability to smile and calm down. With my teeth now in my trainer’s hand, I returned to the field where I played the entire game, making several putouts and no errors. I could not have done that without the help of my teammates. After that game, I spent three hours in a dental chair having my front teeth rebuilt by an awesome dentist and assistant who chose to give up their Saturday night to help me.
I am just one small person in a big world. The Lord has put me where I am for a good reason, and, although I don’t know what that reason is, I am still fighting to figure it out. The night I held my teeth in my hand, I definitely questioned God about his motives. Every time I have taken a step forward in this athletic journey, I seem to get knocked back down. I want to scream and yell, but what’s the point? The more I look at my life, the more I realize how blessed I am. There are people around the world suffering from cancer. There are children battling diseases that they shouldn’t have to battle. While I was able to achieve one of my dreams, there are people who can’t even dream the dreams I’ve dreamed. I am not Big South Player of the Year, and I have not won a State Championship ring. I have won something far more valuable…friendship and God’s grace. I have been gifted with God’s love, and I have accepted his plan for me. I don’t exactly know what he has in store for me or what lessons I am to be gaining through my athletic experiences, but I know that I will never fall down far enough that I can’t drag myself back up with a little help from my teammates and trust in God.
God wrote a book about me, and he already knows what happens on each page. I am unstoppable because my God sent His son to die for me so that I can have a life with Him in Heaven. I may not be where I want to be in my college softball career, but today I’m saying it’s okay. I am exactly where God wants me to be. Ecclesiastes 9:10 says, “Whatever your hands find to do, do it with all your might.” That is what I am going to do. I will practice and learn from every mistake I make, and I will work as hard as my body will let me. But, today the pressure is gone. The sadness is gone. I have nothing to be sad about in this world. We should all be happy because there are worse things in the world than a low GPA, a failed test or even broken and imperfect dream. You can come back from all of those things, and other people in the world fighting other battles cannot say the same, although we are all gifted with eternal salvation from our Father. Our God is so merciful, and He will take care of us.