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.