“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. (1 Corinthians 9:24).
I didn’t mean to find them.
They were hidden there amidst the accolades of my former season: diplomas, caps and gowns, tassels and cords, a Master’s Thesis, my first diary, my first attempts at creative writing neatly organized in a bright yellow folder. A banker’s box worth of yesterdays was crammed at the back of my attic and the purposeful intention behind my husband’s search a few nights ago.
I was looking for a high school photograph of myself. What I found, instead, was a treasure trove of memories. All of them precious. All except one.
I don’t know why I saved it. Of all the many gracious and tender mementos that I had packed away for future viewing, I’m at a loss as to why I kept this one.
A battered blue pocket folder filled with eleven papers that I had written for my Advanced Composition Class during my freshman year at college. All typed on onion skin paper. All amply marked with “red,” and all of them, every last one of them, crowned with the academic genius of a “C.”
Average papers, friends. The problem? I wasn’t an average student. “C’s” were not my portion. At least not in the academic realm. Life, perhaps a different matter, but when it came to grades, I made the grade. Needless to say, when I pulled out that memory, my heart skipped a beat as I recalled the disappointment that I had felt when receiving those grades over twenty years ago. And while my husband and senior son provided their good humored ribbing alongside their accompanying shock, I quietly nursed some old wounds that reared their ugly in vivid detail.
It’s been happening to me a lot lately … this retrieval of old and sometimes painful memories. I’m not sure as to the exact reason why, but I think that it has something to do with an upcoming talk that I will be presenting about becoming “a living stone from brokenness”—my life of almost forty-three years presented in a forty-five minute nutshell. And friends, that’s a whole lot of broken crammed into a very small window of opportunity.
I have my outline and pages of corresponding back-up material ready to go. There is even a scripturally based “formula” prepared for taking my listeners, even as I have taken myself, from a state of brokenness toward a state of repair. But for all of the words that I have planned in advance, for all of the preparations that I have put into this one event, none have touched me so deeply as the ones that have presented themselves to me in vivid and living color over the past few weeks.
Real people. Real situations. Real memories. Real brokenness.
And here’s what I think, especially as it pertains to those of us who are endeavoring to humbly walk our accompanying talk.
Whatever God is “working on” in us, whatever he is refining and tweaking in us toward his good purposes and our perfected end, this is the very thing that he allows to confront us in raw and unedited ways. At unsuspecting times and, yet, in perfectly determined measure.
I’ve come to expect God’s unexpected; thus, when it arrives, I have a choice to make. I can bury it, or I can run with it to see where Father God will lead. And since burying usually leaves me as I am, I am prone to choosing the latter because I’ve finally come to the conclusion that running with God is his intended adventure for this heart of mine.
Accordingly, I ran with my battered blue folder all the way to my computer on a prompt from my son.
“Let’s Google this guy and see if we can find him, mom.”
Within seconds, I had access to this professor who was responsible for the blight on my academic record and for my former status as “average.” On a whim, I emailed him, reminding him of my presence in his classroom and about the amount of red ink that he so willingly expended on my behalf. Our families were acquainted with one another. Growing up in a small town and attending the corresponding college dictates a familiarity between the “locals” that is rarely gleaned in a larger arena.
Consequently, I was fairly confident that he would make the connection. He did, and the next morning a beautiful and humble response was waiting for me in my “inbox.” He acknowledged his “fussiness” over his grading in the past and went on to thank me for introducing him to the second half of my life. He’s added “peace for the journey” to his favorites list and also shared with me about some of the personal pain that he is currently experiencing in his own life.
In return, I thanked him for his gracious reply and for the privilege of praying on behalf of his family. I did pray, and I will continue to do so. Why?
Because God intends for me to run with him wherever the wind blows. And just this week, it blew me backward and then forward again to land me in a better place of understanding—a holier place of perception that breathes with the living pulse of an eternal Father who promises to work all of my “things” … all of your things … toward his good and perfect end.
And that end, dear ones, is anything but average. It rates much higher than a “C”, and for the record, it carries the red marks of a Savior’s love who isn’t content to leave us as we are, but who bled all over the pages of our manuscripts so that we could carry him as the most treasured memory of our always.
Unexpected moments—the real and raw and perfectly timed occasions of doing life with Jesus. I’m ready to run. I hope that your heart cries out for the same. Thus I pray…
Keep us to our run, Father, and to our willingness to embrace your wind beneath our feet as it blows. Let not the brokenness from our yesterdays prevent us from our healing in our today. Instead, use them as your building blocks for our tomorrows—for the seasons that are waiting to breathe in fullness because we’ve entrusted our past into your faithful and tender care. Take it all, Lord, and use it for your glory—my history and my now. Humbly I offer them both for your gracious and completed end. Amen.
Copyright © February 2009 – Elaine Olsen
PS: Just in case you’re wondering, Mr. Professor’s red ink was warranted. After reading some of those papers…
Have mercy! Shalom.