Sunday, July 17, 2011

On Coming in Last


Well, this past weekend while I was in Arkansas I also participated in my very first Sprint Triathlon in Bentonville, AR with my best friend Ashley and her sister Adrianne. This is actually quite a funny story,
considering I was never really planning on doing this thing in the first place.

Back in May, I knew I would be coming down to AR for my roommate’s wedding. I really wanted Ashley to come down with me, so her sister (who lives in AR) and I convinced her to train for a triathlon that same weekend, so that she would make the five hour trek down there with me! I agreed to train with her simply because I wanted to get in shape and it would be great accountability. We did great for the firt few weeks of sticking to our training schedule.

After about three weeks though, our busy summer schedules began to take over, bringing the training plan to a standstill. Unfortunately, we had already signed our lives away to this triathlon, so there was no turning back now! Over the weeks leading up to the tri, we went biking a few more times and ran a couple short jogs. I avoided the pool as if it were the bubonic plague. I just hate swimming…not to mention there’s no point in even trying to keep up with Ashley who is only part human—and part mermaid.

 Anyhow, we laughed our way down to Arkansas last weekend, as we came to the realization that we were actually swimming, biking and running our way through this thing. As we registered for the event, got our hot pink swim caps, last minute goggles (since we left ours at home!) and wiped down the spider-web infested helmets it began to hit me…what are we thinking?!? I begged my roommate to push me down a flight of stairs as we were moving up some furniture the night before…she graciously ignored my desperate pleas, much to my despise.

If only I felt this tough inside!!!

Five o’ clock in the morning came way too fast…there is something completely inappropriate about waking up before the sun! We got a little lost on the way, but finally navigated through miles of sharp turns and mountainous hills as we pulled into the park where it was all going down. I couldn’t help but laugh as I realized my hot pink work out shorts, tank top, and (boy) mountain bike stood out like a sore thumb amidst a sea of wetsuits, biking shorts, and weightless road bikes…a little nervous laugh to fight the fear festering inside of me.

As the whistle blew and the first heat dove into that debris-infested lake water, I was ready to run…to run far, far away from the fear that arose just thinking about swimming towards that first buoy. Talk about impending doom. As I watched Ash and Age dive on in and start kicking, I realized my big moment had come—off we go! I’d say about thirty seconds in, a sense of helpless panic overtook my mind as my body came to a standstill. What do I do? Turn around…flap my arms around til they pull me up onto the boat and get me outa here? Or keep on going…one stroke at a time? I had never swam in a lake before—in fact I found myself face to face with one of my greatest fears. Eyes set on that first buoy, I kicked and paddled aimlessly through that muggy lake water, keeping my eyes set on the prize—and avoiding whatever may linger beneath me. It must have been quite the sight to see. Everyone gliding seamlessly through the water, this synchronized beat and order in place—and then there was me…flapping my way through the lake…splashing and kicking anyone who dared to come too close. Oops. Finally, I hit the shore and waded my way back onto dry ground, completely out of breath but praising God there were still others coming in behind me! Victory.

Met Ash and Age (the little mermaids!) up by the bikes as I pulled on some pants, dusted off my grassy feet and tied up my shoes. We jumped onto our bikes and jetted off down the road. I had the rest of this thing in the bag…who couldn’t bike 15 miles of rolling hills? Finally, something I could do in my sleep!
Turns out, “rolling hills” in Arkansas lingo really means mountains…yes those sharp turning, mountainous hills we had driven on the way down...I guess someone must have mis-marked the biking path, because there was no way any human body was created to ride this path without an engine and some gas. Up and down, up and down. Not too far into it, we realized the police man on his motorcycle was keeping pace with us…of course, that’s the guy that always brings up the back of the line. We were in last place. How was that possible?? Frustrated and desperately longing for any sense of control over the situation, I set my eyes on Adriane’s tire in front of me and rode. After long walks up two hills, flying down others, almost falling into a ditch, running from a massive tarantula, and making small talk with the cop as he rode next to us the entire 15 mile trek through the mountains, I saw the light—we had finally made it back to the starting line.

Jumping off of our bikes, our jello legs and numb butts kicked into running mode—for a minute or two anyways. Three miles sounded like no big deal—I mean, we did run a half marathon last year. Turns out, a steady walk interrupted by unpredictable bursts of jogging got us through those three miles. There came a point where I no longer cared that we were last—I just wanted to finish. Ashley and I talked and joked our way through those seemingly endless minutes, encouraging one another as our broken bodies quickly ran outa fuel. Oh yeah, and my feet went numb after a mile or so…a minor issue I am trying to get taken care of! I just laugh thinking about what we must have looked like by this point—what were we thinking??

Though our state of sanity may be questionable, we did finish our very first sprint triathlon last weekend. Running through that finish line together was a moment I will never forget—we had fought the good fight, finished the race, and somehow kept the faith—despite coming in last. Reflecting on lessons learned from my first (and LAST!) triathlon, I realized that it doesn’t feel good to come in last—but it would have felt euphoric to come in first. For me, the euphoria began to settle in later that evening as I recalled the words of Jesus in the parable of the workers in the vineyard. Just like he rewarded all of the workers with the same pay, regardless of how long they had been working, He was looking down on us that morning as we crossed that finish line clapping and shouting cries of praise as we persevered through that race—He was so proud! I have no doubt that His praise for Ashley and I coming in last was equal to, if not exceeding, the way the crowds clapped and cheered for the very first person crossing that finish line—oh how He loves us—even when we come in last!!

Now I realize it’s okay to be proud that we finished the race—LAST!! You know, the Word does say that those who are first will be last, and those who are last will be first—pretty euphoric finish if you ask me! By the grace of a loving but just God, when it comes to the race that really matters, we will come in first!!

The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard
 1 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. 2 He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.
   3 “About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. 4 He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ 5 So they went.
   “He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. 6 About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’
   7 “‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.
   “He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’
   8 “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’
   9 “The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’
   13 “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’
   16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

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