5K Grace

This is a story about grace. Unexpected grace that somebody unexpected bestowed upon my unsuspecting children.

Late last night, I was beyond tired. My bed was beckoning me loudly. But a conflict was unfolding before my very own bloodshot eyes, and I was going to have to deal with it.

Our 11-year-old daughter was earnestly petitioning us for permission to run in the PTO 5K in the morning. We were reluctant to cave in. She had a softball game to play in the afternoon. Run a 5K and then play? No, we don't think so, honey. And we know best. You can run in the Kid Run. It's only a mile, but that one would be better for you.

"PLEASE mom and dad, PLEEEEEEASE!!!! I can do it! Really, I can!" Then the tears started up. They really got rolling.

Her dad and I were giving each other the "let's-be-firm" look behind her back. A united parental front.

The child was passionately desiring to run, and run big, and she had her reasons why - reasons I won't share here. We listened. We understood. The united parental front is usually pretty effective, but last night, it crumbled. It caved. It totally crashed to the ground with a resounding thud.

I crawled into bed analyzing everything about our parenting. Ok, so we said no...and then there was drama - and we caved? Did we really just cave? We're not supposed to cave! But there were things going on in her that needed to be respected and heard.  Sometimes - yes, sometimes - caving is justified. Extenuating circumstances, you see.

So early this morning, set free with the welcome news of the cancellation of her softball game, she and her 8-year-old brother showed up at the race, raring to go like Kentucky Derby horses snorting and stomping in their pens. Because if she was going to do it, he sure enough was going to do it too. We warned them to pace themselves, not to expend all their energy at once, but they blasted out of the gate like rockets.

They're going to burn out, I thought. And burn out quickly.

So we waited at the finish line, eyes peering down the hill, watching for the first runners who would round the bend and begin the long climb to victory.

"Look, here they come!" someone said. Little figures chugging forth in fluorescent green shirts. They were so far away, we couldn't make out who they were.

Then..."Is that her?" my husband asked the air.

"Is that him?" I asked a second later, dumbfounded.

No way, I thought. How could they possibly be in the lead? And then I saw. There was a man steadily jogging closely behind them. He was a real runner, you could tell. One who could very easily blow past both of them and claim the trophy. I'm sure many competitive runners would have done just that. He was someone experienced, someone who deserved it, someone who no doubt had run in these things before - probably lots of them.

But my daughter crossed the finish line first, and my son followed her, and that kind, gracious runnerman finished in third place. He helped us the whole way, they gushed to us later. He told us how to let the momentum carry us when we go down hills! He told us how to breathe and how to use our arms!

It reminded me of Lightning McQueen, the Cars hero who helped someone else finish the race first because he saw a bigger picture - and because he looked beyond himself.

That guy gave my children a memory that they'll carry for their whole lives, one that could very well inspire them to run further, run harder, and run faster into their futures. And after I finished posting the proud, obligatory pictures of "my first and second place winners," I saw this...

Thank you so much, Mr. Runnerman, for your Lightning McQueen spirit - and for extending that grace to my kids. They won't ever forget it, and neither will I.

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The Lovers, the Dreamers, and Me

The sweltering Alabama August was weighing heavily on my heavily pregnant body in 2006. The swirling thoughts and emotions common to every expectant mother about to pop were part of my daily existence. How? How was I going to do this? How much longer? I had done it before, but that didn't seem to matter right then. The fact was that I was going to have to do it again.

Hard to think about anything else.

I waddled on.

One Sunday evening, my almost 3-year-old daughter and I got out of the car in the church parking lot there in Opelika. She hopped out, I rolled out. We could smell the dampness on the pavement from the clearing rain. She grabbed my hand and we began to walk together. There, up in the sky before us, was a rainbow stretching down behind the steeple. She looked up and said to me, "God knew we needed a rainbow."

Oh yes! How He knew. The promise, the sign. The sign to all the world. And a sign to my own heart. I kept it and never forgot it.

The very next day, our first son was born.

Almost nine years later, my family and I stood in another wet-smelling parking lot, this time in Oxford, Alabama, this time with another little son in tow. We were celebrating my husband's birthday at a restaurant there, and we had walked out at sunset time, happy and full of steak and potatoes, with the clappy, embarrassing birthday song of the servers still ringing in our heads.

We gasped. A bright, enormous rainbow - stretching end to end all the way across the sky, right there over Target and TJ Maxx - said hello to us. With a double band of color at one end as a bonus. You had to gasp at its glory. People around us pointing up, strangers smiling at each other, everyone pointing camera phones upward (because that's just what you do now), everyone reveling together in those sunset-soaked moments of God's sky painting.

"Glory to God," I said quietly.

A woman standing nearby must have heard. "Amen," she said. "Thank you, Jesus." I turned to my right. She had beautiful black skin and was dressed in white.

"It's a sign," she said. "It's a sign we need to come together."

I looked right in this stranger's eyes. "Amen," I said, still quietly, holding her gaze. I knew exactly what she meant, and she saw my understanding and agreement. This is Alabama. These are trying days that our nation is experiencing. There's history, there's baggage - but look - there's a rainbow up there. There's the Lord. He did that for us. He's the Way.

Kermit sang it in The Rainbow Connection, "All of us under its spell...we know that it's probably magic." It really was the rainbow connection. How else could two strangers stand together in a parking lot, share very brief words, and just get it?

"Someday we'll find it, the rainbow connection, the lovers, the dreamers, and me..."

Rainbows only last for a little bit before they fade away like an ember. You have this bittersweet feeling that you wish it would just stay there plastered up in the sky forever, making TJ Maxx look infinitely more awesome, but you know it's going to be gone in minutes. A bubble that floats away and pops. Melting Alabama snow. A butterfly you can't catch.

God designed rainbows to be that way. I'm sure he has his own reasons for making them last moments rather than hours or days. Look up - this is special. Look up - this is important. Look up - pay attention. Pay attention right now, or you will miss it. Look up - this is my promise.

And he says it with loudly brilliant, silent, temporary color. A declaration that doesn't even have to say a word.

That's the rainbow connection.

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