Tracy Hanson

From my Head to my Heart

Crowds roar with approval, friends think I'm the star athlete, teachers sing praises about my grades – these are the things I sought growing up. Why? My significance was found in my athletic performance and in the classroom. If I did well, I felt great about myself. If I failed, I felt awful. I put all my efforts into working hard on the basketball court, the golf course, and in class, thinking that I would be loved if I performed well.

Growing up in rural north Idaho, I had a good family life and was provided for abundantly. I was taught high morals and values and never found myself in trouble with drugs or alcohol. Church, however, was not a priority in my family. We were the classic holiday churchgoers. My only motivation to stay on track and work hard was my drive to excel as an athlete. As a result, I experienced success athletically and academically.

After graduating from high school, I earned a golf scholarship to San Jose State University. I was excited, but scared. This move would take me more than 1000 miles away from home to the "big" city. On the long drive to San Jose, there was a lot of time to think. I remembered reading a book once that talked about having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I was nervous about starting this next phase of my life so I thought I should give it a try. As I drove down the freeway, I began to pray. I asked Jesus to come into my life and told Him that I was far from perfect and needed His forgiveness. Nothing exceptional happened. I turned my attention back to the radio hoping the rest of the drive would soon be over. Upon arrival at San Jose State, I quickly settled into school. However, my motivation to read the bible was short lived and I didn't make an effort to learn more about what it meant to know Jesus personally. Without any support network or understanding of my own, I jumped right back into "performing" on the golf course and in the classroom in order to find my worth and significance.

For the first seven years of my Christian life I knew God "intellectually." I saw Him as being "out there" not as being a part of my every day life. I went through the motions of going to church and attending a bible study. I would say I was a Christian, but never would I share my faith with anyone. I did have moments of growth when I felt like I was getting to know God and His love. Yet, time after time, I would quickly turn my back on Him and go in my own direction. Fortunately God never turned His back on me. In Joshua 1:5b (NAS) God says, "…I will not fail you or forsake you." I have experienced the reality of this promise over and over.

I continued to ride the coattail of success in college. My life was good. I won many golf tournaments, graduated with honors, and was viewed as a model "student-athlete." Shortly after graduating I turned professional and started my pursuit to play on the Ladies Professional Golf Tour.

My faith had never really been tested at this point. Somehow I always managed to figure things out on my own and kept moving along. My first challenge came after college when I had back surgery. My dream of playing professional golf was in jeopardy. I prayed that God would take control and if He wanted me to compete, He would make it happen. I did recover from the surgery and I earned my way onto the LPGA tour. But, I took the credit for it - I didn't give it to God.

Over the past few years, my faith has been changing and growing. My "head" knowledge of God has been seeping down into my heart and I have begun to truly know His love.

What sparked this change? In May of 1997, I had been engaged for 9 months. But the relationship was taking a turn for the worse. Tension and stress increased. Deep down in my gut, I knew God didn't want this relationship to move forward. But, I didn't know how to let it go. My life was in shambles. My performance on the tour declined, my back troubles increased, and I was in constant turmoil. I found nowhere else to go except on my knees. God was the only one I could turn to. As my heart ached and my pride shattered, I finally gave Him control of the relationship and He guided me to break the engagement.

It was in this moment of obedience to God that the walls around my heart began to disintegrate. I was beginning to feel His arms wrap around me, loving me for who I was, not for what I did. I became a sponge. I was thirsty for God to teach me and wanted to know Him more intimately. He surrounded me with committed Christian friends, and I chose to spend my time reading Christian books, listening to Christian music, and studying His word. For three months I was a flourishing flower, deepening my roots in God.

Unexpectedly, a line drive from left field came directly at my family in the fall of 1997. My mom suffered a stroke and was diagnosed with melanoma cancer. We were dumbfounded. How could this be, we asked? Immediately, my family pulled together. Mom went through two brain surgeries, a period of healing, radiation and chemotherapy all during the next nine months. Now as I look back, I can see what God had been doing the previous three months. He was strengthening and preparing me for this difficult time. It not only helped me handle this trail, but it enabled me to share His love with my family. Some days submerging myself in God's word was the only light at the end of the tunnel. My heart was ripped wide open. I knew the only way to survive the pain and hurt was to allow God to comfort me and fill me with His peace. Once again, God took me to my knees. Through it all, I had to trust that God was in control and that He was working His plan according to His will for all of us. Instead of walking away from God like I did in college, I ran toward Him.

Mom died in May of 1998. I have continually experienced God's grace during the grieving process and have learned it's okay to cry and feel hurt. Everyday I ask Him for strength and courage to go on. God continues to use these two experiences to teach me how to reach out to other people and share that His love is enough. I have realized my significance and worth are not based on how well I perform on the golf course or in other areas of my life. My value comes from who I am in Jesus Christ. He loves me so much that He died on the cross so I could experience His presence now and ultimately live with Him forever.

I consider it an amazing privilege to play professional golf as a career. God has given me a great family and many treasured friends. But in everything I do, I give Him the glory. Ironic as it may sound, I am thankful for the pain and suffering I have lived through. Without it I would not be experiencing God's love in my heart and in my life.

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