Joining the Journey

Last week, Kara’s mama posted a beautiful video on Facebook. It was taken at Field Day for a mid-America elementary school, a mother filming her son racing. The little boy, Matt, has cerebral palsy, and because this race is long, he is told that he didn’t have to participate, but he is determined. The race begins, children sprinting from the starting line. There are so many kids, I’m not sure where I am supposed to look or where Matt is. Finally, the pack pulls forward, and I see Matt at the very end, his body doing its best to run as fast as it can. Matt continues along the grassy track, his mind triumphing over his tiring legs, fighting for each step. It’s beautiful but hard to watch, my mama’s heart so proud of this little stranger, so proud of how well his own mother has done to raise this young man of determination and character.

Matt starts to slow down, and I worry that he will trip or worse, fall down. I worry that he will be hurt or that the kids will laugh at him. And then something so ordinary it’s extraordinary happens—the gym teacher jogs over to Matt, encouraging him with words but also jogging alongside him. He doesn’t pat Matt on the back and then stop to cheer him on; he remains by Matt’s side, affirming him and assuring him with every step. I relax—I know that if Matt does fall, there is this kind man who will be there to help him up.

And then something truly extraordinary happens—Matt’s classmates start noticing these two guys racing along, and very quickly, the children join them. By the time Matt reaches the finish line, his entire class is running by his side, cheering him on with the confidence that comes with loving someone so deeply you are convinced they can hang the moon.

Then I hear Matt’s voice explaining that the race was hard but his friends’ encouragement helped him finish. I was struck by the wisdom of this 11-year-old boy: he understands that even with all this encouragement, the race was still hard. He still was in pain, he still had to choose to put one foot in front of the other. He still had to fight to finish. And yet, he couldn’t have finished so strongly without his friends.

I called my 4-year-old son, Von, to watch the video with me so we could talk about what it looks like to walk with someone who is suffering. It seemed the perfect analogy for a little brain. We talked about how truly doing life with someone means joining their story. It doesn’t simply mean cheering from the sidelines or trying to fix them, but jumping in with them, encouraging them and ready to catch them if they fall. It means caring well. We talked about what it means to be a good friend—you don’t minimize struggles or blow them off, you don’t wait for your friend to come through hard times before you join them in their journey again; you walk next to them, understanding that they are hurting, and you communicate that they are not alone.

Kara and Von had a very sweet, special relationship. They first met when he was weeks old, and she pursued his heart always. In return, he was madly in love with Kara. She was his favorite person in the whole world. And as she declined, he didn’t hesitate to meet her where she was. I remember Thanksgiving when Von was only about 20 months old: we were at the Tippetts’ [full] house, and at some point, we realized that Kara and Von were missing. They were found curled up in Kara’s bed, looking at books together. Von didn’t ask her to play the rowdy games he loved; he seemed to understand that she needed quiet time, and he always met her with gentleness and tenderness.

I learned so much from my baby in those 3 short years. I saw how he sensed what she needed and approached her with open arms. As cancer took her hair and changed her appearance, Von never said a word. As Kara dealt with other people’s awkward responses to her baldness, Von didn’t seem to notice. Kara was Kara, and that was all that mattered. And Kara graciously and generously allowed Von in—she invited him to walk her journey with him in ways only a small child could.

Watching this video of Matt running his race, I’m forced to think, If I were there, what would my response be? Would I simply cheer from the sidelines? Would I join this sweet boy in his race? Maybe I would even look away, his pain too much for me to bear. Furthermore, how do I join others in their lives on a daily basis? Do I shirk when I hear someone needs help? Do I move toward someone when they are struggling?

I think of God as our refuge. He doesn’t turn his back on us in disgust or indifference, only wanting relationship when we’ve figured our lives out or when we’ve stopped being needy; instead, he pursues us, asks us to seek shelter in him, wraps his arms around us, and holds us close. Even in our darkest lion’s den, God’s arms are around us—he promises never to leave or forsake us, even in our ugliest, scariest, most painful moments. How do I extend that love to others? How can I be a shelter to someone else who is hurting? What would it look like to join others in their race? I don’t want to be a bystander in this journey of friendship; I want to limp along with the hurting, cry with the broken, and cheer on the discouraged.

Who is someone who has joined your race with you? What did it mean to you that they were willing to engage your struggles in order to love you well? How have you provided that refuge to others? How does God love for you equip you to love others well?