I have been a Catholic my whole life, but I don’t think I understood what it meant to be a Christian until the summer after my sophomore year of college.
Growing up, I went to Sunday school, was confirmed, and was part of a family that was very involved in our church. We went to church every Sunday, given I wasn’t playing softball that weekend. Yet, whether I was sitting in the pews on Sunday or not, I never felt like I had a close relationship with God. I wasn’t living my life to honor Him.
By the time I got to college, I had drifted further from my faith and even further from a Christian lifestyle. I responded to my newfound freedom by putting the Lord on a back burner. Before college, I had never been to a party, was determined not to drink until I was 21 and planned to wait until marriage. But, my relationship with Christ was not the reason I wanted those things for myself. I had always been a disciplined person and it really came down to the fact that I was a rule follower and was afraid to get in trouble. I let myself get sucked into a lifestyle of partying.
I changed a lot throughout my freshman year at North Dakota State University, and in some ways, it was great. I grew up and learned how to be more independent. But, the more I let sin creep into my life, the more I had a false sense of happiness.
I thought that I was happy because I was having fun and making friends, but I was slowly losing my identity. I broke promises I had made with myself, and through sin, I became a person I didn’t recognize, nor like. I created a void in my life, which eventually spread to softball field.
I had a disappointing sophomore season, not because I wasn’t talented enough, but because my mind wasn’t in the right place. I was selfish and unsatisfied in every aspect of my life, and it lead me to a place where I was genuinely unhappy.
Our season ended in May, and although I had heard about the Ultimate Training Camp all year at Fellowship of Christian Athletes, I had no plans to attend. In my mind, there was a chance the softball season could have extended and overlapped with the camp. As other baseball and softball players can attest to, we play one of, if not the most, superstitious games out there. I didn’t want to sign up because I was scared I would jinx our team.
So, I declined the offer. I broke my nose during the season and was at home recovering from a nose surgery, while at the same time, planning for the next one. But, by the grace of God, I found myself at the camp anyway. At the last minute, another NDSU athlete backed out, leaving me a fully funded spot. Something kept telling me that this was my chance, and I couldn’t say no.
At the time, I didn’t know the Holy Spirit, but looking back, I have no doubt it was the little voice inside my head. So, I showed up not knowing what to expect, and whether I planned to let Him or not, Jesus took the wheel. Although I could spend hours recounting all the special experiences I had at camp, I will try to summarize it with the one memory that meant the most to me.
During the camp’s first few hours, I watched as my fellow campers broke down physically, emotionally and spiritually. I, however, remained unbroken. I considered myself mentally tough and had yet to meet a workout hard enough to break me. Though my body began to tire during the workout, my mind did not. I kept pushing myself, trusting that my body would not fail me.
It was nearing the end of the first night when it came time for the basketball portion of the workout. I was not gifted when it came to basketball, so I decided to spend most of my time on the sidelines. I wanted our team to win and this was the best way I knew how to contribute. However, sitting out meant that instead of playing basketball, the interns would put me through endless rounds of sprints, planks, wall sits and other cruel punishments. I felt strongly that I could handle the extra workouts.
About an hour into the workout, my body failed me. Both of my quads cramped up and I was physically unable to stand. An intern ordered me to get up and finish a set of sprints, but despite my best efforts, I could not do it. Every time I attempted to stand my legs collapsed beneath me. I cried out in pain, but no tears left me. I was determined not to break. What happened next amazed me.
Without hesitation, being asked or expecting thanks, and without regard to my pride or worth, my teammate, Tre Dempsey, got up and ran my sprints for me. Struggling himself, he was screaming out in pain. He finished both of our sprints going full speed, while I was still struggling just to get to my feet. That was my breaking point.
It was through that trial that I felt God’s humbling power and Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice in a way I could never have imagined. I wept. I was so moved by the agony Tre endured for me that I was overcome by the Holy Spirit.
Although it was a powerful experience, it was all but insignificant in comparison to the sacrifice Jesus Christ bore for me on the cross. Since that moment, I have not been the same. For the first time in my life, I surrendered to God.
To anyone who doesn’t know Him, His wonder would seem magical. When I first accepted Christ, that’s the word I kept wanting to use to describe God and the Holy Spirit: magical. But it’s not magic, it’s real, it’s alive in the world and it’s alive in me.
I realized that after feeling His love there is no halfway, or mostly committing to Him. Glorifying Him with anything less than all my life is wrong. I now feel peace in places I used to feel pain. I see His beauty and power all around me in ways I never appreciated before. And, I feel His presence in my soul. I can’t help but to feel the need to radiate His love and spread His word.
God’s plan is unbelievably wonderful. I can’t express my thanks to the people who brought me to FCA and UTC. God used those people and experiences to touch my heart and I can never express enough gratitude for that.
I now truly believe that everything that has happened to me during my lifetime has been set into motion so that I would come to know Him. Through all my sins, and despite all the times I turned away, He was waiting for me with arms wide open. While I was blind and undeserving, He continued to shower me in blessings and stand by my side in the hopes that I would someday accept Him and my Lord and Savior.
I have committed my life to glorifying God. I have made promises to Him that mean much more than any promise I have ever made to myself. Our God is a forgiving God and I pray that if you hear anything from my testimony, you hear that it is never too late to start over. Our God is merciful and His love can make you new again. Sin cannot hold you back when you give Him your heart and repent.
I plan on spending the rest of my softball career using the talents and opportunities he gave me to the best of my abilities, and to be a light for Him in my sport. I have been blessed beyond measure and the best way I know how to say thank you, is to play for an audience of one.
This new life of mine came with a price. I lost some friends along the way and gave up a way of life that I had grown accustomed to, but those sacrifices have only brought me closer to Jesus Christ, who paid the ultimate price. In fact, it’s hard for me to even call them “sacrifices” because letting go of them has made my life fuller. I had no idea what I was missing out on. I really was blind and His grace wiped the mud from my eyes. I know in my heart, I am truly saved.
Julia Luciano is a NCAA Division I softball player at North Dakota State University in Fargo, North Dakota.