Years ago, back on Oahu, I participated in an international swimming competition, the IGLA Games, which were held that year at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. My son and his husband, a competitive swimmer, signed me up and paid my registration fee to swim as a part of his team from Washington, DC. Before you get impressed, please note that this had nothing to do with my speed. And as a bonus, the team benefited from having a woman in my age group. I was, and still am, a slow swimmer. In some of the events, there were only three ladies including myself competing in the age group, and so no matter how poorly I did, I could still score points for the team coming in third. I actually came away with a couple of medals, and was part of a relay team that was listed in the top ten for the year.
It was amazing to have a whole team of younger swimmers cheering “Go Mom” for me, and for the three days of the competition, it felt terrific to be a part of a team. It was especially meaningful to me that many of my teammates were gay or lesbian, and they accepted and welcomed me, a straight minister in an age when many of them had been hurt by churches.
My final event was open water distance swim on the North Shore of Oahu. It was crazy to be a part of the group start, as one hundred competitors treaded water as we waited for the starter’s horn to go off. There was an explosion of splashing as the race began, and I found myself towards the end of the pack. Soon, I found myself at the back of the pack. There were race monitors on surf boards along the route, and I found comfort in their presence, and their guidance when I couldn’t see the buoys around which I needed to swim due to the waves.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, I was closing in on the last 100 yards to the finish line, a roped in chute I needed to run through after exiting the water. As I neared the shore, I could hear some of my teammates cheering “Go Mom,” one of the greatest sounds in the world. I ran (well, at that point it was more of a walk/crawl) towards the finish line, stumbled several times and finally crossed that line to clapping and cheers of those who had waited for me. I came in dead last, which beat coming in dead. In the midst of all my emotions, it crossed my mind that perhaps this is what it would be like to be welcomed into heaven.
In Hebrews 12, we hear these words of encouragement, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run (or swim) with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” My teammates reminded me of that great cloud of witnesses, cheering me on, no matter how slow I was, no matter that I stumbled up the beach, no matter that I came in last. All that mattered was finishing.
Right now, in this season, we need a team, a community of people, to encourage us, to cheer us on, to let us know that our participation helps the team, no matter our age or ability, and to welcome us home. And we need to be that for others as well.
Glad to be on the team with you ~ Anne