Chasing Grace

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My sophomore year of high school I made the decision to join the track team.  My depression was starting to consume me and some of my teachers had started expressing concern over how withdrawn I seemed.  I’ll never forget the day one of my teachers asked me to stay for a few minutes after class.  “I’m worried about you.  Is everything okay at home?” she asked.  “Somethings’s going on with you like you’re always sad.”

I knew I had to do something and fast.  I needed to find a way to cope and I didn’t need my mom’s colleagues speculating/gossiping about what about they thought might have been going on.  So, I prayed for a sign.  A few days later when I heard that my cousin was the new girls’ track team coach, I knew this was it.  And much like Sanya Richards-Ross talks about in her new book, Chasing Grace: What The Quarter Mile Has Taught Me About God And Life, it was on the track that I rediscovered God’s grace and learned how to take charge of my life.

The track has always been my safe haven.  My sanctuary, my place of peace.  I’ve always said I didn’t choose the quarter mile, but it chose me.

Going into reading Chasing Grace, I was anxious to see how much Sanya and I would have in common from our track days.  For starters, like Sanya, the track became my safe haven and place where I could find peace.  Also, like Sanya, I ran the 400 meters race.  When I was running, my mind could shut out all the troubles and noise of the outside world.  Those 400 meters gave me just enough time to escape reality and reel my sanity back in.

So one of the stipulations for me being able to run track was that my father would have to be the one to pick up from practices and travel with me to out of town meets.  My mom had her hands full working two jobs, taking care of my younger siblings, and taking classes.  Because my father had been going in and out our lives at this point, I wasn’t sure if he would agree or could commit to doing these things.  Thankfully, he did.

This is why reading about Sanya’s relationship with her father and how he was always in the stands to cheer her on and record her races were some of my favorite parts of Chasing Grace.   It reminded me how grateful I was that my father was my biggest cheerleader from the stands when I ran track.  I’ll never know how my father managed to make it to every practice and track meet, but I’d like to think that just like Newton Richards, my father pushed and supported me because he didn’t have his parents to push and support him when he wanted to play football. Regardless of his why, I am forever thankful that he stepped up to the plate.

The vision board is something that allowed me to narrow my focus.  It also challenged me to get clear on what I wanted.  What I like best about the process, if done the right way, is that it forces you to dig deep within yourself.

Vision boards are another thing that I discovered Sanya and I had in common.  If you’ve been reading YUMMommy for a while, then you already know that every year my family and I make vision boards.  Our purpose is to create a visual representation of our goals and dreams that we want to achieve for that year.  By looking at our vision boards daily, it helps us to stay locked and focused on said goals and dreams.  It was pretty cool finding out she uses vision boards the same way.

Aside from discovering all of the similarities between Sanya and me, what I really appreciated the most about Chasing Grace was her vulnerability.  Her book is broken up into four sections – Push, Pace, Position, and Poise aka the 4 phases of racing.  In Chapter 9, she opens up about what really happened at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and why she didn’t win the gold medal in the 400m individual race.

I made a decision that broke me, and one from which I would not immediately heal.

I can remember watching the Olympics with my family and waiting to see if Sanya was going to set another world record.  She was (still is) the Flo Jo of my generation.  The camera panned around the racers as they introduced them and I can remember that when the camera landed on Sanya, her face looked haunted.  The announcer even noticed and suggested that it might be nerves.  It wasn’t until I read Chapter 9 of her book, that I really found out what that haunted look was all about.

I’m not going to spoil it.  You’ll have to read the book to find out what happened.  What I will say is that it broke my heart reading her experience.  I cried a bit reading her story in that chapter.  For me track was a sport that saved me during a dark time and I never ran track with the dreams of becoming an Olympic athlete.

I was broken.  Instead of reaching for this finish line, I kept looking back at the line I just crossed.  Prayers that typically broke through lacked any personal conviction.  I had really screwed up this time, and I knew it.  How could I ask God for this blessing when I had just done the one thing I never thought I’d do?

So, I’ll never be able to relate to the pressure the Sanya felt that caused her to make the choice that she did.  Reading about what she sacrificed to be able to compete in the 2008 Olympics really opened my eyes even more to just how much female athletes also sacrifice.  It also showed how brave Sanya is to reveal and talk about something so personal and that had such a life-changing impact on her and her family. I could feel the pain of her words as they leaped off the pages as she talks about what she considered her fall from God’s grace.

He alone was carrying me out of my darkest time.  Gentle tears fell down my cheeks as love rushed in.  I felt forgiven before I even asked for it. . . . His love is always because of His favor and grace.  I did not earn God’s love;  He gives it freely.  And that meant I didn’t have to ask Him to give it back.

Thankfully, though she talks about how she found her way back and how she realized that God’s grace had never left her.  Another thing that I loved that she touched on was the important role that therapy played in helping her get back into a healthy mental space as well.  While strides have been made, much of the Black community still struggles when it comes to mental health and with being able to seek help through therapy.

After I lost in Beijing, Coach Hart urged me to start working with a sports psychologist.  He had no idea the source of my true mental turmoil, but it was one of the best decisions of my career and my life.

For some of us, there’s still that belief that “Black people don’t therapy.”  We just take it all to God in prayer on Sunday morning during the preacher’s altar call.  And don’t get me wrong, we should definitely do that.  However, we should also take a step back and realize that often times that answer to our prayer is therapy but because we don’t want to be seen as “crazy,” we’re often deaf and blind to what God has put right in front of us.

Fear holds us back from embracing every season of our lives, which are richly rewarded when we pursue those exchanges with God as our running companion.  We must be present and have the courage to step out in faith when we know it’s time to move on and accept the plans that our Father has laid out for us.

While there were a lot of things in Sanya’s book that spoke to me, it’s this quote that spoke to me the loudest.  Like many people, Sanya included, I struggle with overcoming the fear that comes with trying something new, especially if it requires a huge leap of faith.  For a while now, I’ve been struggling with moving on to the next stage of the plan that God has for my life.  I think this was His way of sending me a sign that it’s time to take control of my fear and move forward like Sanya did when she knew that she’d reached the end of the road in her running career in 2016.

Again, I admired her openness about how she felt when realized that her body had given all that it had to give in terms of her continuing to race on a professional level.  I know how I’d feel if I had to give up writing.  I’d be crushed beyond measure.  However, I love how she reminded me that we have to prepare ourselves to change positions as we continue through life.

While God gave us all talents, He never promised us that those talents wouldn’t evolve over time or that we wouldn’t have to transition to a different aspect/position of those talents.

Overall, Chasing Grace was an amazing book.  It’s definitely earned a place in my Top 10 for books I’ve enjoyed reading this year.  If you’ve ever struggled with feeling like you’ve fallen out of God’s grace, fear, and just trying to figure out how your talents line up with our faith, then this is the book for you.

I highly recommend that you pick up a copy.  Also, you can enter this giveaway to one of 15 winners to win a copy of Chasing Grace.  This giveaway ends June 30, 2018.

What’s the last book you’ve read that you really connected with?
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