Last weekend, I watched my son and his teammates compete in a very large cross country event with some strong competition. I watched them start with so much power and tenacity, well aware of the race ahead of them. Then I stood at the finish line and watched as they ran the last stretch, focused only on the end ahead of them. I cheered their names but, if they heard me, they never acknowledged it. After several miles of accessing every energy store, their determination to finish the race was the only thing left. Watching many of them collapse onto the ground, completely exhausted, I remembered this post. I initially wrote it 5 years ago, as I watched my son start the adventure of running. He is now a high school junior, having grown and improved in so many ways.
I also spent the past couple days remembering my daughter. October 10th marked 6 years since her death. Six years feels like yesterday - and also like forever. I found myself listening to a song called, Well Done. It resonated with me so much I decided to include it at the bottom.
Middle school cross country (XC) season just finished. In my experience, cross country has a unique camaradarie that develops among the runners and spectators from various schools as they come together to cheer and encourage one another. Ben, our sixth grader, decided to run XC this fall, and I have traveled to several meets with him, watching him work so hard to improve little by little.
But as I stand at that finish line each week, watching all those kids run the last few strides of their race, I cry. Every time. I stand there amidst cheering family and friends, trying to eek out a simple, "Run hard!" while my eyes just weep. I was a little taken back by it at first. I didn't expect to cry when I was supposed to be cheering. I didn't know where the tears were coming from initially, but I have accepted that tears can come out of nowhere sometimes because life is just different now.
The first time I cried at the finish line, I thought it was because I was remembering Katie running cross country. While that was a likely component, after several weeks of these tears, I asked myself, "What is driving this emotion?" A little introspection led me to, what I believe is, the motivation behind the tears.
These are middle school and high school kids running two and three mile courses. Long enough to require endurance, yet short enough to require a significant effort. And it's a race. But, of course, not everyone crosses the finish line first, so it's mostly a race against themselves. Or maybe the person closest to them. I watch as these kids run the last 500 yards and give everything they have left in their energy stores. Their legs move faster and stronger. Their arms pump higher. Their faces reflect the effort they are giving. Looks of determination, stress, pain... and tears... as they use every bit of reserve. More than one will vomit as they cross the finish line. And this isn't just the front runners. I see runners in the middle and back of the finishers do the same thing. They run hard. They want to do their best. Be their best. Give everything. It reminded me of something that God impressed on me several years ago. This idea that I want to run into Heaven completely spent and exhausted, having given everything I could give to God's purpose for me in this life. I want to live in such a way that I slide into Heaven, panting and puking and pumping the air all at the same time, and say, "Wow! What a ride!" And Jesus says, "I'm so glad you are here!! You ran so hard!! Now come and rest." I believe Katie lived like that. I'm not saying she was perfect, but I do think she lived full of life and full of God. She smiled, served, laughed, worked, learned, and enjoyed. She loved the race of this life. But her race finished uphill and the last 500 yards were grueling. Yet, somehow, when she got to the final stretch, she kept running hard. She never looked back. She never refused to finish. It was then that her courage rose up. I know. I watched her race. I cheered her across the finish line. I held her hand. I handed her off to Jesus. I want to live like that, too. Sure, there are some days when I don't even want to get out of bed. Somedays I could peace out for a looooong time. But, ultimately, I want to run. Hard... and fast... and strong... and with purpose. And when I get to the last 500 yards, oh God, may I run with more grit and determination than I ever thought I had in me. I want to collapse in a heap at the feet of Jesus, completely exhausted, and say, "That was so worth it." So the tears fall. They fall for Katie. For Keagan. For Luke. For Josie. For Gabriel. For the kids who run so hard, who give everything, somehow seeing Jesus through the sweat and pain of their race. I want to live like that. And, by the grace of God, I want to die like that, too.
I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award me on that day. 2 Timothy 4:7-8
The master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! ... Come and share your master’s happiness!’ Matthew 25:21
Check out this song by The Afters