In the story The Alchemist, the main character, Santiago, falls in love with a woman, Fatima, he meets on the pursuit of his treasure. She lives at the oasis in the desert, and the caravan he is traveling with stops there before continuing on to the Egyptian pyramids. The caravan ends up staying there longer than they expected because of a war going on in the region. One day at the oasis, Santiago sees Fatima and loves her at first sight. She has the same reaction. Seeing Fatima changes his desire to continue pursuing his treasure, and he determines she is his real treasure. However, the Alchemist (another character the boy meets at the oasis) encourages Santiago to continue his pursuit and even will accompany him. He is resistant at first, knowing the danger of crossing the desert to get to the pyramids and not wanting to risk losing Fatima. The Alchemist insists Fatima will understand and will actually want Santiago to finish seeking his treasure as well. He doesn’t concede readily, but ultimately Santiago agrees to continue on to the Egyptian pyramids.
The night before he and the Alchemist leave, Santiago finds Fatima and tells her that he loves her and that he is leaving to find his treasure in the Egyptian pyramids. He assures her that he will return for her. Fatima expresses she loves him too and will wait for him. She is used to seeing men leave to cross the desert but not always returning, leaving their wives and families with questions and sorrow. Though she fears this, being a woman of the desert, she understands his desire to continue the pursuit of his treasure; like the Alchemist said, she wants him to find it, knowing she cannot satisfy this desire. As Santiago is leaving, Fatima begins to cry. Slightly taken off guard by this, Santiago asks if she is indeed crying.
Fatima says, “I am a woman of the desert, but above all, I am a woman.”
For as long as I can remember, I have been a competitor, through and through. My brother, Adam, is about three years older than me, but when we were younger, I insisted I could keep up with him and his friends at any sport they were playing. I was so adamant about this, I’m sure he let me play just so I would stop pestering him about it. My first soccer team was a boy’s team. One of my best friend’s dad coached the team, and I think he would back me up in saying her and I were better than most, if not all, of the boys. Safe to say I prided myself in competing and not just winning but being better than everyone else. This was not confined to the realm of sports either. My desire to be better transferred to every part of my life. It was obsessive and pervasive, ravished relationships with friends and family because there was always a silent competition going on in something, whether they knew it or not. I am sorry to admit this characterized my faith life as well. How many days out of the week could I be in the Word and how many more would this be than others. How many times could I meet up with people a week and have more “authentic” relationships with than my roommate. Totally savage.
Before last fall, the competitor identity had a lock on every other part of me. I went from tom boy as a child to fierce athlete as a young adult, who happened to be a female. The walls in my room at home were painted green and blue. I vividly remember the day in middle school at cross-country practice when the boys starting beating me. I was livid. Didn’t accept that they could possibly be better based solely on being males. I looked down on “girly” girls and the drama of relationships with boys. I couldn’t understand how boys were so important to them. In all transparency, there was a time I entertained the possibility of being homosexual because I wasn’t overly attracted to guys. It was confusing, and I hid it. Being a Catholic Christian, I knew the church classified same sex attraction as sinful, and I believed then, as I do now, that God created male and female very purposefully, so I didn’t feel comfortable talking about my confusion or what was real. I couldn’t risk damaging my image of the “good girl” I had been working so hard to build up and protect. This occupied all of my time and anything outside of soccer and school that attempted to divide my interests was shut down.
As my time in college was coming to a close, more and more thoughts about dating and marriage began to creep in. We did a relationship series every spring at TCU Fellowship of Christian Athletes and, every spring, I was single. I definitely considered myself an expert on dating and romantic relationships, despite only dating one boy in high school. Were there times I would see couples and want what they had? Absolutely. Especially after my dad died my sophomore year, the prospect of having a man to hold me close and keep me safe was overwhelming sometimes. Despite the slight tugs in this direction, femininity and womanhood remained on the back burner. Soccer and school were still the key players in my life, though I had grown and learned a ton about not putting identity and worth in sport or anything else outside of who God says I am, His beloved. I had built amazing, genuine relationships with people who I went below the surface with, yet still had not quite tapped into Lauren, the woman.
Realizing this could not be done on my own, I began to pray specifically that if marriage was something God had for me, He would start some major softening of my heart in this area. Late to the game of course, as nudges had already started, just unknown to me. I stayed consistent in this prayer, and the changes began to unfold; this time very apparent to me. I had foolishly thought that growing in womanhood and femininity meant decreasing athlete status. This was part of the whole resistance to embracing being a woman because I considered it a trade-off. And I cherished my athlete status above just about everything else. The scales came off, and I realized confidence in my femininity complimented my swagger as an athlete. They fed off of each other. The examples were all around me of not only professionals but also teammates and other female athletes who were very die hard competitors and very much women as well. I just didn’t see how it could be that way for me. I wasn’t sure I would ever be the female athlete who would put make-up on before games or get my nails done frequently- nothing wrong with this at all, just didn’t think it was me- but this doesn’t mean I couldn’t embrace femininity in any aspect.
Slowly and surely, I have been embracing being a woman and an athlete. It has been a joy to freely express femininity and competitiveness. There is a whole deeper level of vulnerability and transparency that the Lord has showed me, and though the pride exposed has been ugly, I am grateful for the growth. A very real reflection of this growth has been the project of painting my room. I think it was when I was home this past Easter that I decided the green and blue had to go. My fascination and appreciation of sunsets had also been on the rise at this time, as my apartment in Fort Worth was right across from a trail where I would often walk and watch the sunset. It was decided, then, my room would be painted a sunset color. Through much trial and error, and paint samples, the color I had been looking for was found. A Summer Night. A soft combination of pink and gray, the complementary identities of woman and athlete.
Thus, I am a woman of sport, but above all, I am a woman.