Under the Oak Tree

My shoes were soaked from walking in the dewey grass all morning. There was a lady standing across the course from me in a pink shirt. She had a ponytail with bangs that resembled the ones I had in first grade. She was at least 75 yards away from the finish-line-crowd, planted in the shade under a huge oak tree. 

With her obvious gift of encouragement, I watched her pour inspiration into each kiddo that ran by (they were junior high boys) as if she was everyone’s favorite aunt. “You’re almost there. Keep going. Don’t give up! You’re doing great! You can do it!” All the while, waving her pointer finger around and around in a circle for added visual “you can do it!”

I’ve noticed a few things in the past couple months of coaching cross country. 1) Cross country kids as a whole are really well behaved. 2) The bus rides are peaceful. They sleep, I listen to worship music and try not to look at the mirrors too much as doing so makes me a tad nauseous. 3) These are students who willingly choose to wake up at 5:15 a.m. on a Saturday to put themselves through a painful race. 4) Typically their parents are there, maybe some really close friends, or other relatives, but cross country meets don’t draw a massive crowd (not complaining – it’s just the way it is). 5) There is  lots of encouragement and little criticism. In many sports, there’s harsh words at the coaches, at players (who are children), at refs, at the other team, at the other team’s fans. At cross country meets, I’ve noticed there is language that builds these kids up. Language that motivates them. 

Running can be a lonely activity especially in small towns that don’t have “running clubs.” Training before most are awake. Training when there is little noise other than the cicadas and crickets. Training when it’s really hot or really cold and most are in their air conditioned or heated houses!

Sometimes runs are easy-peasy-pitter-patters (apparently pitter-patter, despite it being woven into my vernacular at a young age, is not an official running term). Sometimes there are death hills. Sometimes the runs make you want to say really bad words. Sometimes they are so hard they make you want to lay on the ground. Some are downhill, uphill, flat, fast, slow, easy, hard, extremely hard. Some days you feel great, some days you feel crappy, some days you sleep past your alarm, some days you set the alarm for PM not AM. Some days it’s perfect weather. Some days it’s stupid-hot, stupid-cold or Oklahoma-style-windy. And despite it all we run. 

I don’t know if you’re a runner, but if you need to experience a glimpse of this, go out and run hard and see how far you make it. Running hard hurts, that’s why I leave the running hard part up to the young guns! 

If you enjoy people-watching, you should go watch a race (ahem…next week in Hennessey is a great choice). Cross country meet, track meet, marathon, anything in which people are simply running. The amount of encouragement is incredible. 

The hundreds of kids at these meets are all so vastly different. In the last minute or so of a runner’s race, you see so many emotions and expressions. Some run with confidence. Some full blown crying (but in like 4th place out of 150 runners – it hurts to run hard). Many giving every last ounce of effort they have. Some pushing as hard as they can, but then immediately slowing down if someone passes them. Some deciding they’ve had enough, question why they signed up for this painful sport, and walk it in. 

Kids cross the finish line in first and last and everywhere in between. I’ve seen kids cross the line and fall over. Cross the line and puke. Cross the line and lay down. Cross the line and keep going. Cross the line with a smirk. Cross the line with tears. 

At the end of the race though, most have given what they could for as long as they could. 

‘Tis life, right? Sometimes things are going smoothly. Everything is trucking right along nice and neat. Sometimes you feel crummy. Sometimes things are not so glorious. Sometimes when you think things can’t get worse, you encounter pepper spray, slip on a piece of ice directly in front of 25 other human beings, or whack your face on a wall to put the cherry on top of your delightful worm cake day. 

We have those days when we are giving everything we have, running this race of life with confidence. We have those days when all we can do is finish ugly, but finish ugly we shall. We have those moments when we may feel like giving up or throwing in the towel and question if we will be able to finish the race set before us. Question if it’s worth it. Question if we have what it takes. 

Maybe you’re on year eight or ten or twelve (or month one or anywhere in between) of changing diapers. Going on years of not sleeping through the night. Years of sharing your bed with a small human that somehow takes up seven-eighths of the bed and stubbornly fights you for the spot next to your husband. Maybe you’re continually trying to teach your kiddos how to be respectful and kind to others and nothing seems to be taking root. Maybe there are days when being asked for a cup of milk is no big deal; and then there are days when getting your child a cup of milk seems like the equivalent of picking up one of the concrete barriers that are currently lining the majority of I-40 from Weatherford to Shawnee.

Maybe you know Jesus and you are seeking Him and loving people and making Him known. Maybe love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control are highly evident in your life. Or maybe they’re not and you feel like a big old heap of compost. Maybe you’re ravished with depression or anxiety and feel like no matter what you do, it lingers. 

Sometimes we are running strong. Sometimes we are barely making it. Sometimes we want to give up. Sometimes we are just ready to be finished with the race. Regardless, Jesus is still Jesus and I’m glad I can rest in that. When you feel isolated and worn out, remember those who are running this race with you. Those who have run before you. Those who are cheering you on like the pink-shirted, ponytail lady under the oak tree. 

Eyes up and keep moving forward!

Bye friends. 🙂

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:1-2

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