Thursday, November 23, 2017

What the Olympics Mean to Me

By Melinda Melton Reeves, Team Samaritan’s Purse coordinator

Growing up, sports were always part of our routine. Not personally, mind you, but they were constantly on the television in the background. I was pretty comfortable on the sidelines.

I believe the saying is, I “had the heart, but not the feet.” I played a bit of softball, tennis, and league bowling, and also learned—through TV—a good deal about football, baseball, and college basketball. As I’ve grown older, I realize how necessary it is socially to be able to converse about the dynamics of the sports world.

I got off the sidelines and began running in the fall of 2009, although it definitely wasn’t something I planned.

My husband and I took a vacation with my parents in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Having spent a few years of our lives there, we wanted to go back and see all the places we remembered, restaurants we frequented. We fished a little, and reminisced a lot.

On Sunday, October 18, we were checking out of the condo when my father bent his head and spoke his last words: “Help me.” I had rehearsed what to do if he ever had a heart attack. But in those long seconds that followed, my entire body grew numb. Every bone, limb, and muscle felt like lead. I couldn’t move. Time seemed to slow down … and I was overcome by a strangely nostalgic feeling.

During the hardest moment of my life, I could sense angels all around me. I was assured that “It is He that goes before you. He will be with you, He will not leave you nor forsake you; do not fear nor be dismayed” (Deuteronomy 31:8). Overwhelming peace rushed over me.

For days and weeks afterward, through sun, wind, rain, and snow, I spent the majority of my time outside at the neighborhood Greenway trail. On my work breaks, during lunch, after work. What began as walking turned into running. Then running and crying. There were times when I couldn’t distinguish between snowflakes and tears on my cheeks.

Running became my way to deal with the grief. It didn’t become my passion, it was an avenue of release; a necessity, like oxygen. It became my drug. I needed it for my mental state, and I had to do it every day. During this time of catharsis, I was often reassured by a verse I learned as a young child, “What time I am afraid, I will trust in Thee” (Psalm 56:3).

Being a part of Team Samaritan’s Purse (a program where people fund-raise through athletic events), I’ve had the privilege of watching our supporters raise money and awareness for clean water projects and other programs in various parts of the world.

At our first Team SP signature event in Atlanta, Georgia, I watched hundreds of runners, walkers, families, couples, and individuals cross the finish line. The expressions on their faces told their stories. I saw people of all ages, races, and sizes; couples holding hands, grown men crying, groups of ladies shouting, expectant mothers, handicapped individuals, runners collapsing from exhaustion.

No matter how they finished, they all smiled. I knew everyone completed that race for a reason, whether for themselves or someone else.

At our pre-race banquet, one of the participants challenged us. “Sign up for something you don’t think you can do—that’s when God’s gonna work.” I thought to myself, “I can do that. If all these people can do this, so can I.”

I began training in October 2010, preparing for my first half-marathon the following March. I asked Amanda Hamilton, a co-worker and a very dear friend, to join me—and to my surprise she agreed! I now had an accountability partner, the will and determination, and a reason: we would be raising money and awareness for Samaritan’s Purse clean water projects in Uganda.

The Lord gave me running to help me endure the hardest chapter of my life, while at the same time, allowing me to complete my greatest feat. My thoughts turned from helping myself escape utter despair, darkness, and depression, to focusing on raising money and awareness for others to acquire the most vital necessity of life: water, and ultimately the Water of all life, Jesus Christ.

I put this quote on my fundraising page: “I am learning firsthand that ‘there is a season, and a time for every matter under Heaven, a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance’ (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4). Are there people out there, like me, who wonder if there is a ‘time to run’”?

Race day finally arrived. The first few miles were OK. Then I started feeling my ankles complain at mile six. At mile 10, my legs joined in. After that point, it was all mental fatigue. I kept thinking about Philippians 4:13, the verse we quoted to each other so often during training. “I can do ALL things …” If Amanda hadn’t been there during mile 12, I would definitely have stopped. I remember actually yelling “NO!” when I wanted to stop and walk. The images in my head of Ugandan children having to walk hours upon hours just to get water helped me push one leg in front of the other.

The scenery was beautiful; I felt my father and heard his words with every step. I could feel the prayers of my family and friends and those that contributed to my efforts. My goal was to raise $1,310 and with the Lord’s help, I was able to raise $1,350—another feat! Amanda and I set a goal to complete our race in 2:15 and we finished in 2:16.

Today the torch lighting in London marks the beginning of the Olympic Games. Of course, I’ll be watching.

I will be rooting for the “home team,” but I can’t help wonder if any of the 600 U.S. athletes are competing for something greater than themselves. An inconceivable amount of hard work, determination, sacrifice, and torture to their bodies yields the ultimate goal for an athlete: an Olympic gold medal, something that most of us will never achieve.

But why do they do it? Vanity? Passion? Bucket list? Personal achievement?

In doing some research, I found something that made me smile. Track and field star Lolo Jones, a medal contender in the 100m hurdles, made this comment: “I never prayed to win a gold medal at the Olympics and never will. The Lord is my Shepherd and I shall not want. May His will be done.” She has the same prayer she did in the last Olympics: “To be an inspiration, and honor God.”

I don’t know Lolo Jones, but I get excited when others realize there is more to life than what each of us sees during the course of a day. God gives each of us gifts. It’s what we do with those gifts that truly matters and reflects our love for Him. Even running.

How will you spend these next two weeks during the Olympics? Will you be an avid spectator or get irritated that your regularly scheduled television programs are delayed? Or, does it make you want to get off the couch and start that vigorous training program? If you decide to train, and complete something you never thought possible, what will drive you?

Maybe you can consider joining Team SP. Next March we will be returning to Atlanta for the fourth year, running the Publix Georgia Marathon and Half Marathon to raise money and awareness for clean water projects in Niger.

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God”” (Mark 10:27, NIV).