Sacia Hanson was raised in Boulder, Colorado, and attended an elite boarding school in Faribault, Minnesota. She did not grow up in a Christian home. In fact, most of her time was split between her mom and her dad who got divorced when she was two. For so many reasons, it doesn’t make sense that she ended up at Grace College in Winona Lake, Indiana. But Hanson looks back on her last four years and knows without a doubt that this is where she was meant to be.
The grace of Jesus met Hanson’s deep need in high school, but she’s learned that being transformed by grace is not a one-time thing. It’s a day by day, hour by hour, and minute by minute journey.
Hanson never knew what it was to have both parents under the same roof. For the first seven years of her life, she was an only child, spending one week at her mom’s house and then the next at her dad’s. In second grade, her dad got remarried and gave Hanson the gift of three younger sisters (now ages 13, 12, and 10). But even so, Hanson looks back on her upbringing and confesses, “I really thought that the world revolved around me at the time.”
While she never went to church, she did attend YoungLife — a parachurch ministry that reaches youth for Christ in a safe and fun environment. That winter, Hanson went to YoungLife’s camp where the gospel was presented to her, and she accepted Christ to be the Lord and Savior of her life that night.
“That’s when God stole my heart,” says Hanson. “But following that weekend, I began wrestling with God in some hard, but beautiful ways.”
“High school was hard,” Hanson admits. The year after she accepted Christ, her parents were going through a hard time. On top of that, Hanson was dealing with the normal pressures of high school, trying to fit in at school and striving to please her parents. “I started asking the Lord, ‘Please, get me out of here,’” she recalls.
By the end of her sophomore year, God answered that prayer. Hanson was recruited to play soccer for Shattuck-St. Mary’s School, an Episcopal boarding school in Faribault, Minnesota, known for its litany of alumni that go on to excel in Div. I and even professional athletics. It was truly the chance of a lifetime for Hanson.
While the school was a huge blessing, it was not an environment where Hanson could truly grow in her newfound faith. Sure, there were weekly chapel services where Scripture was read, but Hanson looks back on that experience and recognizes that her time there did not facilitate spiritual formation. In hindsight, Hanson recognizes it fostered some other things: things like pride and self-righteousness.
“It was a blessing to escape some of the things going on with my parents. But it also posed all sorts of new challenges,” Hanson confesses.
Love God. Be a baller.
In the midst of those challenges, Hanson was contacted by the Grace College Head Women’s Soccer Coach, Michael Voss. He recruited both Hanson and her teammate, Anna Kuhl. (She ended up coming to Grace the year after Hanson.)
When Voss shared the program slogan with Hanson — “Love God. Be a baller” — she was sold.
While many of Hanson’s teammates at Shattuck rolled their eyes at the idea of playing for a small Christian school, Grace was exactly what Hanson was looking for. “When Voss was recruiting me, I never thought twice about Grace. It was so clear that Grace was where I needed to be.”
Upon her arrival for her freshmen preseason, Hanson found that Voss’ pitch was not a bluff. “When you walk into the Grace Women’s Soccer Program, all of the girls love the Lord. It’s so much fun to walk into a program where your teammates are for each other and for the program,” she says.
But this approach was new to Hanson. As a first-year starter, she had a hard time keeping her pride in check. “When I came in as a freshman from this prestigious boarding school, I was like, ‘I’ve got this in the bag.’ I was starting games and playing well, but I had this pride that was overflowing. It was filthy,” says Hanson.
At the start of her sophomore season, Hanson’s captain pulled her aside and lovingly pointed Hanson to her pride and encouraged her to grow spiritually.
“It’s beautiful to have that leadership,” Hanson says. “I remember praying after that and asking the Lord to help me grow.”
And He was faithful to answer that prayer. Hanson went through spiritual growing pains that year, but anyone who knows Hanson now knows that Christ really did change and transform her heart. She went on to become a captain and led Grace to five national tournaments across her four-year career.
All of her growth at Grace culminated when she received the NCCAA’s most prestigious award, “Game Plan 4 Life” (GP4L), given to an outstanding NCCAA Div. I player who demonstrates excellence in Christian testimony, athletic ability, leadership, and academic standing. After winning among all of the women’s soccer applicants, she was named the top female winner among all 24 of the NCCAA sports.
Hanson’s growth was certainly felt on the team. But that transformation — that stripping of pride — has brought new life and purpose in other areas as well.
Teacher in Training
Ever since she can remember, Hanson has wanted to be a teacher. So getting a bachelor of education degree was an easy choice. While in boarding school, she would babysit for her “house parents,” Mr. and Mrs. Boone, who had a little boy with Aspergers. Through that experience, she developed a heart for children with special needs.
“I remember the first time pulling up to Grace and getting so excited to see Jefferson Elementary School right off campus,” she said.
Little did she know, she would go on to student teach there her senior semester. Little did she know, over her time in the Grace College School of Education, she would form a vast network of educators in the community.
“Our education program rocks,” said Hanson. “They get you into the classroom right away. And I’m still in touch with the teachers I had my very first practicum during my freshman year.”
Hanson has been profoundly impacted by the teachers she’s had the chance to observe and learn from. But likewise, Hanson has had an impact on them.
Rachel Jensen, one of Hanson’s supervising special education teachers at Jefferson and also a Grace alumna, said, “Her joy for students is unmatched. My students felt loved by Sacia and her impact in my classroom is still prevalent today.”
Hanson hopes to find a teaching job back in her hometown of Boulder, Colorado, after college. And one day, she would love to translate the skills she’s gained in education to work at YoungLife, the ministry that introduced her to Jesus.
Writing a New Legacy
Perhaps one of the most significant things that happened while Hanson was at Grace was meeting environmental science major, Joey Smith of Martinsburg, Pennsylvania.
Smith patiently pursued Hanson the past several years at Grace, and on July 5, 2021, Hanson will become a Smith!
The couple is currently in premarital counseling with Charlie and Rachel Miller (Hanson’s admissions counselor at Grace!) where they are learning a ton about what it looks like to have a God-honoring marriage. “It’s been so fun to grow together,” said Hanson.
She looks back on her own home life and recognizes that her marriage to Smith is yet another sign of Christ’s grace in her life. “I look forward to writing a new legacy with Joey,” she says.
Following their ceremony in Lyons, Colorado, the couple will reside in Boulder, Colorado. They don’t have jobs yet, but they know that God has called them to move to Colorado, and they are encouraging each other to enjoy the mystery of it all.
Hanson reflects on every aspect of her story. She looks at her freshman self and where she stands today and says, “So much glory to God! Glory to God for the Women’s Soccer program, for our mission, and for the Grace College environment!”
This is what it means to be transformed by Grace. — from grace.edu