Post image for Ensley Gammel, University of Florida, Softball

Ensley Gammel, University of Florida, Softball

by carmine on July 8, 2013




 

 

My Testimony

It was the end of my sophomore year of college at the University of Florida when I finally hit rock bottom. I was no longer pitching, tired of the lifestyle I was living, and tired of aspiring control over my life, which continuously resulted in failure. The wild and crazy previous years of my life had not been what I wanted, or something that I would continue to want. I felt like I had been stripped of everything and left with nothing. 

In that moment of brokenness and despair, there was one thought that came to my mind. It was like a still small voice that began to whisper to me, “Ensley, you have me.”  To understand why God would say something like that to me; and more importantly to understand how I could hear God say something like that, you have to know my background. 

Background

I was born and raised in Bakersfield, California, and from the beginning of my life I was constantly surrounded in a Christian environment. I really liked church and even at that young age I sensed that God was stirring in me. At the age of 5 I responded to the tugging in my heart and after one of those Sunday services I genuinely asked Jesus into my heart. Four years later, without pressure from my parents or the church, I took the step of publicly declaring my faith in Jesus through Baptism on December 25, 2000. I was 9 years old. 

However, one short year later my life began to drastically changed and it was not for the better. I began playing sports when I was about 6 years old. By the time I was 10 I was playing three different sports. Then in the 7th grade my parents made me pick only one sport to play and obviously I picked the one I was best at, softball. Sports were a connection point for my dad and me. I was a standout; I was having fun and playing because I liked to play. But then my dad realized the quality of softball in my town was not going to get me to an elite level. This realization sent me into the world of competitive travel softball. The required commitment was significant for both my family and me. Each weekend I traveled two hours one way, and then two hours back for practice and games. Soon our summers were consumed with it. It all started out so innocently but things were accelerating beyond what I enjoyed. My dad became the stereotypical softball father, pushing me to become the player he so badly wanted me to be. The goal was clear – increase my performance to a level that would get me noticed for a college scholarship. 

In pursuit of this goal there was no time to go to church and as a young girl, still a baby in my faith, it was a direction that would have lasting consequences. The resulting tensions that became more frequent led to an increase in the number of arguments between my dad and me. With each argument, the intensity of our emotions increased every time we disagreed. The years of this unhealthy life continued on through high school for me. Soon my relationship with my dad exploded into fights that were physical and very unhealthy.

The pain and the pressure were more than I could bear and since God had been long replaced in our home with the love of softball, I tried to find escape in parties with alcohol, experimenting with drugs and comfort in boys. This destructive cycle of seeking relief from the abuse at home continued until my senior year of high school and it followed me to college. You could say that the hard work in softball paid off because I received a scholarship to the University of Florida and it was perfect for me. In my mind I was running as far away from things associated with home life as I could. I was thrilled with the possibility of being away and being in control of my own life.

However, my newfound freedom soon led to more destructive choices. Although I had moved away, I couldn’t move away from the pain. With each decision I made, I was hoping to inflict some pain in the heart of my dad, even as I hoped for relief from the pain in my own heart. Where was God in all of this for me? I was rejecting God in hopes of rejecting my dad. Little did I know that the more control I attempted to have over my life, the less I actually had.

The Turning Point

During my sophomore year of college, in the midst of the partying and pain I was invited to an athlete only Bible study. I don’t really know what prompted me to go but I know that I had a ton of respect for my teammate Michelle. She also claimed to be a Christian but her life looked very different from what I had seen growing up. Michelle was a not only a great player but she was a great teammate. When she invited me to attend bible study I figured I had nothing to lose by choosing to go. That night I was on edge. It had been so long since I had been in a spiritual environment but through the night I enjoyed it more and more. I liked meeting other athletes and I was intrigued by the possibility of friendships outside of my team. Then there was the message. That night something inside me really responded to hearing the Bible connected to the one thing that was most important to my life – my sport. From then on I decided I would attend every Monday.

I’m not really sure what drove my decision to return but looking back I guess it was for my own self-assurance, providing some kind of check in the good ole “spiritual box” for me. As the spring semester began in 2011, I was still trying to manage my pain; even hoping bible studies would somehow help. But it was then I came to the end of myself. Following a bible study I found that I couldn’t leave the room. I just sat there completely broken. I was convicted, sad, upset, angry, confused, and felt completely worthless. I stayed after that night and talked to one of the AIA staff members expressing all these emotions and the reasons why I felt so empty. It felt good just to get some of those things off my chest and there was a level of relief. The staff member then asked me for permission to meet with her director later that week to follow up more. I was eager to accept the invitation. 

We met for lunch at Jimmy John’s and I was asked about my background, upbringing, and how I got to Florida. We talked a lot about my past and it felt good to open up to someone, even if it was to two people I didn’t know.  Then I was asked a question that would once again change the direction of my life forever. They simply asked, “If you died tonight, on a scale of 0-100%, how sure are you that you would go to heaven.” The question was incredibly troubling to me. I knew I was not 100% sure I would go to heaven. I had made so many terrible choices. How could I get into heaven with all that baggage? What about my salvation at 5? My Baptism at 9? I was so confused and concerned so I answered by saying I was about 50% sure.

Not the correct answer. The staff members asked me for permission to walk me through a booklet that they said might help bring greater clarity for me to sorting out where I stood with God. As they walked me through each point in that booklet I hung onto every word. They talked about God’s desire for me to have a “personal relationship” with Him. I had never heard anything like that before. As they concluded they said the only way to experience that relationship is to completely surrender control of my life to Jesus. 

In that moment it was clear to me why God had been saying, “Ensley, you have me.” For so long I had been running away from the only One who could heal the hurt and the pain in my heart. I knew exactly then what I wanted and needed to do. I wanted to give control of my life back to the one who created me. I wanted to experience His love and forgiveness again. So I did, sitting there at Jimmy Johns, realizing that no matter how bad I failed Jesus, I could still experience this undeserved gift that I had been given at the age of 5. I then turned that 50% into 100% assurance. It was by the grace of God that my relationship with Jesus Christ could be restored and I could turn to the God who loves me more than any other human is ever capable of loving.

I began to meet weekly with a staff member to go over material that would help me move forward in my relationship with Jesus. From that day on through follow-ups with other believers, Bible study, and spending time alone with Jesus, that I began to truly understand what it meant to live out a “personal relationship” with the one who “saved” me. I became aware that regardless of my awful rebellious past Jesus still loves me. I began to comprehend and understand that my flesh, motives, desires, self-worth, and view on life, could all be changed through Him and Him alone, not by any of my works or my control.

The Difference Jesus has made in my Life

            Since restoring my relationship with Jesus, my life has changed dramatically. My relationship with Christ did not just grow over night but over time. Through consistency of spending time with him, studying the Bible, prayer, and discipleship, our relationship continues to grow daily. My main motive for playing softball used to be for the glorification of my own name but the last two years of my career it was changed to be able to glorify the name of Jesus with the talents that He had blessed me with. Every day He is working to continue sanctifying my heart. Just like any other human relationship, my relationship with Christ has had many ups and downs. The pain in my heart related to the unhealthy family dynamics I grew up in is still a work in progress. I wish I could tell you everything is neat and clean and tied up with a pretty little bow, but it’s not! With the joys of immediate answered prayers has also come the testing of patience with prayers still yet to be answered. God has given me a reason to live and has helped me realize that by putting Him first and making Him my one true love, I can never be broken, nor am I in control of my own life. Jesus’ love is also the source of healing, restoration, and cleansing that I once never thought possible. 

As I look back and consider all I have experienced, it amazes me to see how Jesus never left me nor turned away from me. Reflecting on my journey it is pretty clear to me that He brought me to Florida from California to remove me from the things hindering me from my relationship with Him. He used my teammate and AIA staff member to open my heart to the work He has wanted to do in me, to bring me close again in the relationship that began so many years ago.

Since I have graduated college and have been called into full time ministry, I am constantly reminded of His unconditional love, while continuing to hear Him say, “Ensley, you have me.” And He has you too. 

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