My freshman year of college I showed up to Michigan State looking to have a good time, play softball and get good grades. That is what my life had been about in the years leading up to college. However, that year, one of my teammates was a Christian who became heavily involved in Athletes in Action. She started bringing me along to the weekly meetings and constantly told me about Jesus. Honestly, I was not very accepting of it. At the time, I thought I was in the clear with God because my family would sometimes attend church, go to Christmas Eve and Easter services. I was completely wrong.
As my freshman year went on, I began feeling more and more empty. I couldn’t understand why I kept feeling this way. I had made many new friends, had an amazing family support system, my grades were pretty good and I was getting better with each softball game we played. Yet, my emptiness lead me to parties, where I went to try and meet new friends or seek attention from guys. Looking back, it was a very dark and desperate time for me.
At the end of freshman year, I went home and continued working on my softball skills because I assumed my performance on the field was the sole reason for my emptiness. Well, I came back ready for sophomore year, confident that I was going to have a great year because I knew the ropes. Except, little did I know, it was going to be the worst year I experienced.
I went through the fall performing decently on the field, but my grades started to slip. I continued going to parties and searching to fill the void. That year, during Thanksgiving break, I decided to go for a pre-Thanksgiving dinner jog. I got halfway through my run and I could no longer walk on my foot. So, when I got back to school I had X-rays done, only to find out I had broken my foot.
I spent the next two-and-a-half months in a boot, and didn’t get it off until the day we left for our first weekend series. Throughout the rest of that season, I never caught back up to where I needed to be. To that point in my playing career, I had never experienced a season where I could not break a slump, nor had I experienced a season with so much failure and lack of guidance.
That season made me realize my self worth based completely on how well I could pitch a softball. Likewise, my self-confidence was based on what my stats reflected. So naturally, I wanted to quit. The sport had broke my heart and I was ready to walk away.
That’s when my teammate mentioned going to Ultimate Training Camp. I laughed it off. I remember thinking there is absolutely no way I would ever, in a million years, do something like that. I tried to ignore talking about it, thinking, or maybe just hoping, that she would forget about it. But, she never forgot. She continued asking and talking about it. Eventually, I gave in and decided, at this point, why not try something different? What was there to lose? My biggest love, softball, wasn’t exactly working out.
I signed up, bought a plane ticket and was ready to give it a try. After signing up, I tried multiple times to come up with reasons I wouldn’t be able to make it. I couldn’t. During the summer of 2015, I went to Ultimate Training Camp in Colorado. And my life was never the same.
It was the first time in my life that I had ever felt God’s strength and love consume me. And, it was the most full I had ever felt. That was the exact moment I knew I could put all of my hope and faith in Jesus Christ. In that moment, the cross came alive for me. It was the first time I was fully satisfied, not searching for something I could never seem to find. All the dark times of hurt and pain that I had experienced in college started to make sense. It led me to the happiest place I could be as a follower of Jesus.
My decision to follow Jesus was also the turning point in my softball career. The summer after I accepted Jesus into my heart, the game of softball became fun again. It was fun competing. And, the results were tremendously better. I realized that when you take the focus off of yourself and put it on the cross, everything in life gets better: sports, friendships and the way you can love people.
Since then, I have found my identity and self-worth in God’s love for me. I no longer rely on false idols to make me feel full or proud. I am comfortable talking to others about my faith and what God has done in my life. I no longer try to hide what had put me in my darkest places because everyone has a past, and my experience relates to so many. Now, I am a proud Christian.
As I graduate in a few days, I have been blessed with clarity from the Lord. I can look at these past four years and know in the deepest part of my heart this was the journey I was created to take. Because this journey is what lead me to being saved.
Bridgette Rainey played NCAA Division I Softball for the Michigan State Spartans from 2015-2018. She was a left-handed pitcher.