When I was in high school I used to mock the cross country team.
Not to their faces and usually not even out loud, but in my head, I would always laugh when I saw those skinny weirdos jog by.
With their itty bitty shorts and their itty bitty thighs, cross country runners were pretty easy targets. Plus, all the quirky kids who sucked at “real” sports were usually on the cross country team. It was fairly easy to feel superior to these “joggers” because though I was admittedly quite weird myself, at least I played an actual sport.
I come from a long line of basketball players, (you know, “real” athletes who play a real sport with a ball) and many people who know me in real life know me as a basketball player or as a basketball coach. This is why it was surprising to many, including myself, that after “retiring” from coaching basketball last year, I became an assistant for Valley’s cross country team.
Oh how the tables have turned.
And those skinny weirdos I used to laugh at in high school? Yeah, they’re the same type of kids who run cross country today. Still skinny. Still weird. And oh how I love them.
They. Are. Awesome.
all attempts at coolness are pretty much out the window.
When I hung up my coaching hat in order to go to seminary at night, I thought I was done coaching for at least a few years. I never would have guessed that I would be coaching the distance runners for track and the cross country team. Really. NEVER did that cross my mind. You guys, I was always a “real” athlete, remember? I never ran competitively and didn’t even view this as a real sport.
But God knew all along how coaching cross country would bring me crazy amounts of laughter and joy. He knew that running with the team after school every day would be a remarkable gift to me- a gift I had no idea was on its way.
Yes, our team is as big as the football team (in numbers not in girth). And yes, we do make up 12 % of the entire school. Truth be told, half of these kids don’t even like running. Some even hate it. I know- I was surprised too.
But this team is like a family. A 78-person family of weirdos where everyone is accepted in all their weirdness. It is truly wonderful. Plus, if I had known about all the post-meet snacks, I would have considered joining in high school too.
Last year I had no idea the blessing that was in store for me this season. No idea how much fun I would have with these kids and no idea that I would make 3 new friends on the coaching staff. I was so bummed when several of my good friends left Valley last year, and though they can’t be replaced, Christina became the running partner and dear friend I never saw coming:
The crazy part is I never even knew Christina before we started coaching together but her office is literally connected to my classroom. I have a hidden door in the back that I tell kids leads to Narnia, but it actually leads to Christina. For five years I had no idea that my future friend was sitting behind those doors- literally five feet away from me.
One of the things I love about God is that He’s always doing things like that- always blessing us in unexpected ways with gifts that are five feet away from us though we never realize it. I love how God is so full of surprises. My pastor recently said, “Always be prepared to be surprised by our wild, untamed God.” I love that. I love that God has endless curve balls up His sleeve and boatloads of blessings waiting to be revealed.
In my case it was a team of skinny weirdos and a new friend from Narnia.
However, I’ve been continually reminded this week that these curveballs are not always so wonderful.
Being a God of surprises sometimes means He is waiting to shower us with crazy amounts of unexpected joy. But it also means that sometimes He allows for tragedy to strike, bringing crazy amounts of unexpected sorrow.
I think of the multitudes in the Philippines who are dealing with surprise loss and grief today.
I think of one of my best friends who is now recovering from a rare infection in her spine that sent her rushing to the hospital. That kind of surprise is terrifying and sent us rushing to the throne room, BEGGING God to heal her. He did. But He doesn’t always.
I think of how yesterday my sister and her husband Dan attended the unexpected funeral of Dan’s good friend’s wife. Darcie battled breast cancer and won and then quickly spiraled and suddenly died last week, leaving behind a shocked husband, community and 2 year old daughter. While Darcie is in the actual throne room with God, those she loved are left behind to deal with sudden and catastrophic waves of grief.
So when I say “God is a God of surprises,” this has a double meaning. Sometimes He surprises us with joy, but other times He surprises us with grief.
My pastor also recently talked about how God is reliable but not predictable. We can never guess what lies around the bend, blessing or tragedy. But we can know WHO lies around the bend. And we can trust that while He may allow for unthinkable grief, He won’t leave us alone in our grief and will supply us with unimaginable strength. We need not fear the unknown, the bends in the road and the surprise curveballs, because we trust in a good God who will walk with us through whatever surprise comes our way.
Plus, as a God of surprises and a God who knows the unknown, we can trust that He always has more up His sleeve. Though today He may allow for surprise grief, we can know that soon He will send showers of surprise joy.
I never knew Jason and Darcie and I don’t know anyone suffering in the Philippines today. I don’t know what it feels like to lose the person closest to you or lose everything you own. But I know what it feels like to be surprised by our wild, unpredictable God. And I am confident that though there is intense grief today, God will one day surprise Jason and the Filipino people again- this time with waves of unimaginable joy.
When I began writing this post, I thought it would be a light-hearted laugh about cross country and the pleasant ways God surprises us with joy. I didn’t plan on writing about sorrow and grief. But somewhere along the way, this post took a turn as I realized not everyone will be feeling surprised by joy today. In fact, it may be quite the opposite.
And I’m not so naive as to think that I will always be in a joyful season, free from sorrow. So I think it’s important to remember to soak up the joy we’re feeling today- to revel and rejoice in it. And if in a season of sorrow tonight, cling to His promise that His joy, His often surprising and overwhelming joy, will come in the morning.