I guess most graduating seniors these days like to use the top of their graduation cap as a form of expression. If this had been an “in” thing to do back in the 80’s, I’m sure my cap would have looked like a Skoal can or Van Halen album cover.
Our daughter Maddie graduates next week. When I came across her cap last night, I held back tears. “She knew who she was and whose she was”.
On our way to Maddie’s regional track meet today, her little brother Kal asked in that irritating little brother way, “why do we even have to go to Maddie’s track meet?” Before I could reply in “dad tone” with a lecture, her sophomore brother answered beautifully from the front seat, “because it could be Maddie’s last track meet, and we love her, and we’re gonna support her”. This was a day that was going call for support.
I’ve watched in silence many times as our kids have had disappointing finishes in sporting events. It’s a struggle to hold your tongue when poor results line up perfectly with the amount of and the consistency of training that went into preparation for contests. But that wasn’t going to be the case today. Maddie had finished 2nd in region and 13th in state as a junior in the 800m run. Excitement and confidence fueled her motivation for her senior season. She had trained consistently in the offseason and supplemented her team training during the season with extra work with a trainer. Maddie was ready for this day.
On an unseasonably cold May day, Maddie lined up to start her 800m run with high hopes. She had turned in a season-best time the week before that was 6 seconds better than her previous best. There was an outside chance of being a regional champ and a good chance of advancing to the state track meet, simply by matching her time from a week ago.
With her sister, two brothers, two grandmothers, and her mother & I nervously watching, she got off to a good start. But as she got into the first straight stretch, disaster struck. Her feet became tangled with another runner’s. Maddie stayed on her feet. The other runner went down. But Maddie absorbed hard contact from the falling runner and spent 20 feet trying her best to stay on her feet. There was no recovering. The race was basically over for her. Maddie finished 6th, almost 18 seconds off her time from her last meet.
I stood in silence, overwhelmed with parental emotions. For all the times I’d thought and said, “I love to watch you play”, I knew I’d watched her play for the last time. A sobering thought. And the injustice. For all her training and effort, her own efforts did not determine her place of finish on this day.
Little brother Kal stewed with anger. In his eyes, Maddie got tripped. She got cheated. It wasn’t fair. She deserved another chance. He was distraught over the unfairness of it all.
I thought of all the complaints he has lodged against me. “Dad you always tell me that, I get tired of hearing it”……….Life’s not fair. You’ll live. Get up, you’ll be alright. But he doesn’t understand it yet.
I looked out past the finish line. Maddie does understand it. I saw her hugging the girl she got tangled up with. Two upset young ladies consoling each other for disappointing finishes. Life isn’t fair. Bad things happen. It doesn’t do any good to place blame or become angry. What matters is how you respond to disappointment. You can’t win every game or every race, but only you can decide when you’re defeated.
When her mother and I met up with her as she left the track, I couldn’t find any words. She was visibly upset. A perfectly formed shoe mark across her knee pretty much summed up her final 800m race. I just hugged her in silence, knowing that if I tried to speak, my own tears would come.
And as I held our daughter, I knew……she was disappointed but not distraught. Sad but not angry. Hurting but not defeated. She knows who she is. She knows who she belongs to. She is a child of the King.
Someone asked her mother and me recently what we had done as parents of our daughters. I didn’t have an answer. I do now. It’s not what we have done as parents, but it is what they have come to understand.
Their identity is in Christ.
Bad things will happen. Life’s not fair. Physical and emotional pain will come. But they will not be defeated. They will always get back up.
They’ll be alright.
As we parted ways to go in separate directions after the meet, I hugged her one more time. This time I found my words. “I’m proud of who you are”.