Twelve years ago, I was a freshman at the University of Houston. In true college student fashion, I never passed up anything that was free. On one particular Saturday, the free item in question was a UH football student ticket, and with it in hand, I put on my red UH shirt and trooped across the street with a big group of students headed for Robertson Stadium. The crowds were bigger that day than normal, and we quickly learned why when we heard that Carl Lewis was attending the game.
For those who don’t know, Carl Lewis was a student at UH back in the seventies and eighties. This was, of course, not his major claim to fame. He was/is famous for the Olympic medals he won in track and field events over two decades of competition all over the world.
On this particular Saturday, he wasn’t just there to watch the game. To celebrate his retirement from competitive sports, he was going to run around the track one last time during halftime. A victory lap, if you will, run on the same track where he trained before going to his very first Olympic games. A proud moment for the university, most definitely. And a neat moment for him, I’m sure.
To tell you the truth, I didn’t know much about Carl Lewis. But, squished alongside all of those other students in our free ticket seats, I gathered that he was really important, based solely on the fact that everyone jumped to their feet when he came out onto the track. I remember standing on tip-toe to watch him take off after the shot was fired, seeing him break into what was (for him) just a comfortable jog and not his full-out sprinting speed. He ran the track once, waving to cheering fans and apparently enjoying his victory lap very much.
And I was amazed. Amazed that this man’s leisurely jog was still at least a hundred times faster than my fastest sprint.
I’ve been thinking lately about this great race we run as believers in Christ. As a young Christian in my early years of college, I prepared my heart for a life that I believed would be a series of neverending sprints, serving Him and honoring Him through vocational ministry and personal evangelism. I believed it would always be like that — one big movement of God after another, always seeing something happen, always feeling like I was running the race along with the best of them.
And for a while, it was. College was everything I hoped it would be. There was no limit to the opportunities that campus life offered for sharing, growing, and running the race of glorifying Christ. Then, there was Namibia, where I ran the race and watched God do incredible things in the hearts of the young people I knew and loved. And then, seminary, where every moment felt like I was being equipped for the marathon of ministry as I continued running. Surely, I thought, life will always be like this — seeing God move, watching Christ receive glory, and knowing that I was running the race alongside all other believers.
Today, though, I kind of feel like I felt as I stood on tip-toe in Robertson Stadium, watching Carl Lewis running. I wake up every morning to take care of a family. I spend my entire day entertaining toddlers. I go to bed every night not sure if anything of eternal significance has been accomplished or won as I’m running the race in this season of my life. I get emails from friends in ministry, from friends on the mission field, and from friends who are just living evangelistic lives out in the real world. I rejoice to hear what God is doing through their faithfulness, and I marvel at the huge opportunities He’s given to them…
… but it gets me to thinking. I’m still running the race. But wow, it sure feels like everyone is running faster than me! I’m that geeky college freshman in the stands who couldn’t run a mile, and everyone else is Carl Lewis. I’m the SAHM who spends her days cleaning mac-n-cheese off the walls while my husband spends every day teaching Scripture to people. I have conversations about why we don’t eat what we pick out of our noses (eww, I know!) while my missionary friends have conversations about eternity. I spend all of my energy chasing children while other believers spend their energy reaching out to the lost.
And while I wonder what it would be like to be ministering in a way and a place where I could see results, I’m encouraged to remember that this season in ToddlerTown is STILL a part of the race that I’m running. (And I know that it may very well end up being the most important part of the race. And that my children ARE my mission field.) There are days like today when the race feels like a mere jog, when Ana hits Emma and has no remorse for it. And there are days where the race feels like a sprint, when Ana does something kind because “it makes Jesus happy when I nice.” Sure, everyone else has long since passed me at the speed I’m going, but I have to remember that at the end of it all, it’s not what you’ve been given to do that counts… but how faithful you’ve been in the responsibilities that God has given you. (And, if we’re being entirely correct in our theology, what I do matters not a bit in comparison to what Christ has done for me. And that — His sacrifice and glory alone — is all that will stand on that last day.)
Praise God for the “Carl Lewis” seasons of life. And praise Him for the “barely getting past the starting line” seasons of life. Here’s to the race. Keep your running shoes on, Mommy!