This week I watched a blind girl run a race.
I had stopped by my friend Megan’s house, which turned into long chats over cucumber watermelon juice and making paper princesses with her princesses. That turned into a dinner invitation and that turned into joining their family for their weekly evening at the middle school track – a summer tradition in their town where kids of all ages can run. Seeing the stubby lugs of toddlers take off on a 100-meter dash is quite possibly the cutest thing I’ve ever seen. (Until the day comes that I watch a litter of bulldog-corgi puppies being pulled in a red wagon by my own squishy son or daughter.)
Anyway, the evening was warm and breezy and the families were friendly. I had a brand new baby wrapped against my heart in five yards of strechy knit and after a few dozen bounces, he feel asleep on my chest. Megan and her husband cheered on their daughters as if it was the 2020 Tokyo Olympics… even when their three year old lost her shorts and flashed the whole crowd her little purple undies. Their five year old ran and ran and ran and ran. She even ran across the field to the starting line. And then she ran some more. Her mom and dad both affirmed “She’s just so happy when she runs.” And I saw that happiness beaming in her determined little brow, which furrowed even more when she heard us yelling her name as she came around the corner – her little arms would pump her to top speed and her curls would fly.
The kids were of all ages and skill levels, but they mostly moved in a pack and the cheers were raucous!
After a particular pack of ten year olds ran by, the cheering reached a peak and then died down.
Except for the holler directly next to me.
“GO RUNNERS!!!! YEA!!!! GOOOO!!!”
It’s then that I noticed that indeed the pack was far in the distance, but approaching us was a young girl taking awkward stumbly fast crooked steps. Her legs didn’t glide and she would soon be lapped by the others, but OH the SMILE ON HER FACE! She was part of the action! She could feel the breeze on her face! Her mom held the crook of one arm, and held her crutches in the other as this young girl, this beautiful young blind girl, ran the race.
I had to turn my face because there was a wallop of a lump in my throat and tears building behind my sunglasses.
I was crying because the joy on her face was wider and brighter than any other child on the track. I was crying because of the way her mama loved her. I was crying because my beautiful friend Megan taught me a life-lesson in under twenty seconds.
That young girl had no idea how much distance stood between her and her peers. Frankly, she might not have known there was any. She might have genuinely believed that her feet were moving at the same speed as any other! And you know why? Because Megan cheered JUST AS LOUDLY for her as she did for the other kids. Megan noticed that parents eyes had been averted to keep up with their child and were missing the chance to keep the cheers coming for this runner, so she hollered and drummed up the attention of others who could join her in loudly encouraging this girl who would never win a trophy in track & field.
Ribbons and trophies didn’t seem to be on her mind. She felt the wind on her face and heard her name being chanted, she felt the asphalt under her sneakers and was encouraged by a loud cheerleader – the same as the others felt and heard. She wasn’t any different. She was a kid. A kid who ran.
It was later that evening when I chewed on why that meant so much to me that I realized – comparison has been stealing my joy big time.
It’s stealing my rest, my energy, my delight, my confidence…
I see what other people have – jobs with health insurance and a 401k, bridal showers where they’re given gifts because a man fell in love with them and gave them a diamond ring, a home in the fancy part of town by the age of thirty, a bikini bod they flash all over the ‘gram, a handful of sweet squishy kids… and it makes my entire body ache. It’s not that I wish they didn’t have those things! No way! It’s that I feel so very lonely, embarrassed, left out, insecure, sad, and angry. Not angry with them but angry with the God who likes them better than me.
I’ll be 34 in a few months and never in my worst nightmares as a teenager was this what life would look like. I thought getting married at 23 was too old. Someone referred to me as ‘middle aged’ a few weeks ago and it punched me in the chest. But here’s the thing – if I didn’t have other people’s business cards and wedding invitations and housewarmings and babies to compare myself too – would I know that I was lagging behind?
What if I just pursued life to the full? Let those that love me help hold the crook of arm if I needed them to? And what if the Lord and the hollering cheers of my beloveds were in my ears at the same volume as anyone else’s?
What would running the race of this life be like if I didn’t know (or give too much weight or brain power to) how others are doing it faster or ‘better’?
Would the finish line be just as sweet if I ran with joy, blissfully unaware that I was last?
And for the men and women in my life who feel ‘less than’ how can I cheer for and champion them in these seasons of feeling left behind? What crutches of theirs can I carry so they can run unencumbered even if their steps are sideways and stumbly?
Because in those moments, ISN’T THE LOVE PART BIGGER THAN THE GETTING THE 1st PRIZE PART?
All of this running and racing imagery reminded me of the classic film “Chariots of Fire.” It tells a true story set in 1924. Eric Liddell is a Christian who feels divine inspiration at it’s fullest when he runs. Though not everyone, including his own sister, understands the passion that pushes him, he explains in the now famous movie quote: “I believe that God made me for a purpose. But He also made me fast, and when I run, I feel His pleasure.”
And you can see it on his face! He’s not running to impress or to prove, he’s running because it’s worshipful and he feels God’s very pleasure.
THAT’S what I want!
So, what parts of my DNA and dreams give me unadulterated joy? What activities or actions paint a Cheshire grin on my face as I feel His pleasure?
Entering into deep hard prayer with / over / under the wings of beloveds.
Worshipping at the top of my lungs with my fingers stretched out towards heaven.
Pulsing music through my very blood and bones as I lay under the stars, stare at the water or bike around the beauty of His creation.
Opening my spirit to let whatever words He has to say pour out on my laptop keyboard.
Planning every single teensy detail of a celebration that will lavish love on someone.
Making a meal to show hearts and tummies that they’re cared for.
Snipping stems and tucking blooms into colorful bouquets.
Finding the perfect gift to give, that will represent a ‘being known’ that blesses.
Swaying in the dark of a concert venue while a powerful voice and powerful lyrics wash a fresh creativity and hope over my whole body.
Taking someone’s shaking hand in my hand or their weary head on my shoulder, the very felt connection of community.
Riding horses. Storytelling. Making the room laugh. Dancing. Photographing. Styling so someone who couldn’t see their beauty before sees it now.
These are the many ways that I don’t feel ‘less than’ because I’m not even thinking about what or who is less or more.
May we live with the intent to feel His pleasure and honor His name, may we hear the cheers of our community and let a smile spread from ear to ear. May we all turn a blind eye to the competition and yet stay eyes-wide-open to how we can champion one another in this race of life.
“I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.”
II Timothy 4:7