After much deliberation Grant chose high jump, softball throw, and the 200 meter dash. The 200 meter dash concerned me because Grant runs like I do. We are not sprinters. Our chances of winning races grows exponentially the longer the distance. I suggested to Grant that maybe he should switch to the 400 or the 800 instead, but he was adamant about giving the 200 meter distance a shot.
The day of the meet arrived and we both headed to the track. I was assigned to help run the boy's high jump and was surprised at how popular it was. There must have been at least fifty boys who competed and it took a long time to trim the field down to the top ten finishers.
Each boy got three attempts to clear the bar. My heart broke for the kids whose talents clearly were not in track and field. Nervous and apprehensive, they lumbered toward the bar knowing they had no chance of getting over it. The fact that they had to make three attempts in front of their peers before finishing the event made it especially painful to watch. Thankfully the boys who were waiting in line saved me from being reduced to a crying fool. They began offering up unsolicited encouragement to the kids who were struggling. They clapped, encouraged, and cheered for each of the non-athletes, even as they faltered. It was really touching.
Grant originally told me that he was "pretty good" at high jump, but the morning of the meet he was second-guessing himself. He cleared three feet four inches on his first attempt. Then three feet six inches. Each time we raised the bar higher, he (we) got more and more nervous. The field of athletes whittled away to a small handful of boys and Grant was still in the mix. I caught myself holding my breath every time he jumped.
In the end he surprised himself - clearing 3 feet 10 inches - and tying for third place with nine other boys (two of them his best friends). It was really exciting to watch him receive his third place ribbon in front of hundreds of his peers. I hooped and hollered, took pictures and embarrassed him by shouting, "That's my boy!"
|receiving their third place ribbons and chasing each other off the field|
Ironically, the most intimate moment of the day wasn't through the sweetness of victory, but through the agony of defeat. The announcer called for all the 200 meter dash participants to meet on the field. Grant headed to the starting area and I headed down to the grass by the finish line. Things didn't look promising when Grant got put in an eight-man heat with the two fastest 5th graders. The best he could hope for was a third place finish and that was before the race even started! It's a tough spot to be put in, especially for a kid who is used to being good at most things without having to put forth much effort.
The gun went off and the boys started running. The two lead runners immediately separated from the pack, leaving the other six to duke it out for the remaining spots. As they rounded the corner to come into the home stretch, Grant was in dead last. I fought back tears as the gap got wider and wider. I didn't want Grant to be embarrassed or humiliated. I wondered if he'd just give up. It's so hard to see your child struggling, especially on a public stage.
But my boy didn't give up. I couldn't have been prouder as Grant approached the finish line. His feet were flying. His arms were pumping. Grit and sheer determination marked his face. His eyes were focused as his body strained toward the finish line. It was evident he was leaving it all on the track in spite of being in last place.
I cheered and clapped and hollered, "That's my boy!" as he ran past. Other parents were cheering too. Somehow he passed two kids just before the finish and ended up with a sixth place ribbon. I found him after the race and we hugged and both pretended we weren't fighting off tears. I told him how proud I was that he gave his best effort, in spite of being in last place.
I learn a lot from my eleven-year-old son. When success come quickly and with very little effort it's easy to feel invincible. But what do we do when we're 100 meters into the 200 meter dash and we're in dead last? The finish is still a long way off and people are watching to see what we'll do. What then?
I read Philippians yesterday. Paul, the author, is serving time in a Roman jail not knowing if he'll be released or issued a death sentence. In spite of his dire circumstances, he chooses to purposefully press on. He says in chapter 3, "But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus."
I read that verse and instantly saw my son in his orange shorts and royal blue shirt, straining with everything he had for the finish line. The next time life throws me a curve ball and I'm at the back of the pack, I hope I'll do what Grant and Paul did. I pray I'll forget what is behind and instead press on toward what lies ahead.
When we cross life's ultimate finish line won't it be incredible to feel our Savior's hug? And hear Him say, "Well done. I'm so proud of you!"