As a homeschooler, I was allowed to join the track and field day at the nearby school every year. The day was filled with obstacle courses, relays, running races, and a celebratory box of 2 in 1 flavoured Nerds to consume on the bus ride home.
I loved every part of that day except for that one little event called the ‘old high jump.’
If you’ve seen me in person, my secret’s out. I’m not a tall adult, which also means I was not a tall child – so the idea of successfully hurling myself over a metal bar to land on a mattress? Let’s say there were never any ribbons awarded besides imaginary participation ones…
Last week our online school had an in-person track and field meet, and all four of my boys signed up with a heap of their cousins. As it turned out, there was no high jump event for them, although I can only imagine they would have loved it. It would have been redemption for me because at least I grew four children who love hurling themselves upon mattresses, bar, or no bar.
As the day wore on, they slowly became decorated with different coloured ribbons and a few green participant ones that they agreed we could turn into bookmarks. My competitive son announced, “I don’t care about those ones, Mom.”
By midday, the group consensus was in. Unanimously, they didn’t like the discus event. Still, the long jump was acceptable – except for the inevitable ‘sand in the shoes’ bit. The shot put and ball throw were fine, although they threw without the spinning and grunting part, which in my opinion, really makes the event come alive…
But they all agreed that the running races were their favourite. As a spectator, they were my favourite too. Especially the part where my nephew lost his shoe mid-race but kept running with a slightly unbalanced ‘sock shoe’ sequence against the pavement until he crossed the finish line.
Finally, we reached the longest race held for the little brothers at the end of the day.
He didn’t have to run in it, but his competitive nature signed him up and carried his little sneakers to the starting line.
The first lap went great, but he had to start walking halfway through the second.
Big brothers reran the entire race inside the track while cheering on the little brothers. I’ve never been prouder.
But when his run turned into a troubled walk, I ran alongside him too.
“Are you ok? You’re so close!”
Grief spread across his face as he burst into tears, and his run turned into a laboured walk.
“I can’t do it; it’s too hard!” he mournfully announced.
“But you ARE doing it! Just keep walking until you can run again. I know this part is hard, but do you see the line up there? It’s coming! You’re so close!”
He so badly wanted to quit, but something in him also needed him to finish.
That middle stretch was so hard for him. It probably felt like it would never end, but as soon as the finish line was in view and I started running beside him, his courage returned. And at the end of it all, he was so pleased that he had finished the race.
That same night, that little boy’s Great Grandpa also finished his race.
After years of faithfully serving God on this earth, loving his family well, travelling the world telling people about Jesus, and just weeks after celebrating his 98th birthday, his Great Grandpa went to heaven to be with Jesus.
It’s easy to get stuck in a lap of this race we’re running and forget that a finish line is coming for us all.
I often tell my boys AND myself that our life on this earth is only level one; there is so much more to come! Great Grandpa simply got there first, but we all suspect he loves that he did.
And, if we’re still here, we’re still running. We haven’t finished our own races yet. There’s still more track to cover, more jobs from God for us to do, and more people to run alongside and encourage as they run their races. This made me wonder, in my daily life, who am I running alongside as they run? Who else can I run beside, and who else can I encourage?
Like my son, I’d imagine there were times when Great Grandpa also grew weary on the track. I’d also guess that his earthly race of faith required perseverance, endurance, and a commitment to follow God’s will for his life. But what a life well lived and what a race well run. I’m so grateful for the legacy he left for my boys to follow.
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
– 2 Timothy 4:7
That should be spray painted on the earth at every track and field meet.
The next day everyone was pretty tired and definitely sunburnt. Our Scottish/German heritage doesn’t always embrace the effects of the sun… Little tired bodies lounged around our living room as I read to them from a book about heaven and some verses in Revelation. We had some good conversation about it all.
Whenever the topic of death and heaven surfaces, someone always says, “I feel like I want to get there now… It sounds pretty good, you know.”
I always reply, “Agreed, but just don’t forget, if you’re still here, you’ve still got a job to do.”
And then, with the saddest face, my youngest said as he jumped into my lap, “I want to die at the same time as you – I don’t want to have to miss you!”
He’s onto something, isn’t he? The grief of being left behind on the earth can be suffocating. But the promise of what’s to come? The assurance of the hope of what’s ahead? That’s good at counteracting some of the grief. And the gift of what’s coming one day soon will be better than any ribbon they could pin to their chest. And maybe, when we all get there, we’ll get to do some casual running races with their Great Grandpa too.
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