When Last Place Happens

September 20, 2018

Grace is on the Cross Country team for her school. 

They had their first race. 

175 girls ran in the race.

Grace placed 175th.

Braelynn, my firstborn, ran the race as well. She was somewhere in the top half of finishers. Where Braelynn is strong and tenacious, Grace is imaginative and artistic.

When Grace laughs, it sounds like cotton candy bouncing on a trampoline…
And then I giggle too because some people can do that to you.

But there was no cotton candy, or trampoline-bouncing giggles at the finish of this race.

Organizers tore down ropes, parents dispersed, and Grace made her way to Josh across the field.

As she walked across the field, I thought about the end of the race. Grace was substantially behind everyone. Onlookers were leaning in to see who remained. Grace emerged, moving slow.

Braelynn and two other teammates ran out to Grace. They went with her, cheering her on in the final stretch of the race. 

I thought the whole thing was great. My day was made. My one daughter did a hard thing and finished. My other daughter helped her. I also remembered to bring pretzels and water bottles for my other children thereby fending off hunger complaints and general dissatisfaction from my offspring.

In my book, it all was a success.

Except, my sweet Grace was heading across the field with a look on her face that let me know, she was about to let loose the floodgates of sorrow and middle school mortification.

I rushed right up to her as she met Josh and I celebrated how proud I was that she finished, that she did a hard thing, that she was brave to even go out for the team and then I may have reminded her about that quote from Teddy Roosevelt about how the courageous people are those who step into the arena…etcetera, etcetera, et-out-of-touch-with-her-needs-cetera.

At which point I realized my gushing at all her “mind-blowing accomplishments” were only making her more humiliated. 

And then I had a flashback to my childhood. 

My mom used to do this thing. Whenever we’d go to the beach and the bathroom would be too far away, she’d put up a beach towel and use her body to cover me. Then she’d say, “I’ll protect you so no one can see, you get dressed real quick, this will be like your own little changing room.” Real quick, because I couldn’t wait to get in the water, I’d change into my bathing suit behind the protection of my mom and a big beach towel.

I looked at Grace. I don’t know how, but Josh and I seemed to think the same thing. He brought his right side close to my left side and in the middle of this field with sprinkles of rain falling, Josh still wearing his blue sling, our other kids dancing around playing with a hollow bag of pretzel dust oblivious to the tumultuous tears about to ensue, in this space,
we made a little corner for Grace.

She cried hard into Josh’s side and my tummy. The hard cry that catches in your throat and stings your eyes. I spread myself out to try to protect her, the way my mom used to.

In that moment, I learned a valuable lesson as a human being.

There is a “time to weep and a time to laugh” because “everything is beautiful in its own time.” (Ecclesiastes 3:4 and 11)

Just because James 1:2 says, to consider it pure joy, when we face trials of many kinds, doesn’t mean that the ugly thing that happened has to be a joy bomb of delight and cherry blossoms of swirling glee itself. Trials are trials.

It’s the fact that the trial PRODUCED something in us. The joy is knowing that the trial cultivated something deeper inside of us. And that is good. It’s more of a bigger-picture joy. 

Grace didn’t want me to celebrate 175th place.
She wanted me to give her a “time to weep.”

Later in life, many years later, she’ll remember that it was a good thing she finished. Because it was good.

I told her that people learn more from last place than first place. And maybe one does.

But she’ll remember not what I said, but that I finally stopped saying things and let her have her own time to weep.

Turns out last place is beautiful.

Not because 175th place is all that fun, but because it just so happens that I needed to learn that happiness isn’t the go-to emotion for every happening in my child’s life.

Everything is beautiful in it’s time. 

Beach towels that protect vulnerability,
Sisters that run you to the finish,
Cotton-candy-bouncing-on-trampoline-giggles,
And the cries of a girl who came in last place.

There is a time for everything.

Turns out, last place can be beautiful.

Turns out, you don’t have to sacrifice present-moment tears for bigger-picture joy. 

They can work together, like two daughters finishing a race– one helping the other.

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