How many races have you run in your life? Which one are you running right now? Some races require physical prowess, others more mental, emotional, or even spiritual endurance, as a test of the will. Races, by their very nature normally have only one winner, one person who takes the prize. But what about all of the rest of the runners? Don’t their contributions matter?

During the Olympic season, America watched as many races unfolded. It wasn’t just the event itself that was of interest, but the background stories of people who had trained their whole life for that moment, stories of suffering and grief, stories of overcoming all odds to arrive at that time in history. Yet, even though their stories drew us in, not every event ended with the least likely becoming the hero, the winner. But, is it time to redefine our definition of the hero, the winner?

I was raised in a family that didn’t always have the privilege of having running water and indoor plumbing, but it wasn’t because our parents didn’t care, just the economic climate of the time. My father served this country during World War II and the Korean War, and then retired from the military in 1963. He had always wanted to a be a farmer, like his dad, so he returned to the family homestead to fulfill that dream. But the house was built during the Depression Era, so electricity and a water well on the enclosed back porch were all the amenities it offered. (Just like it wasn’t unusual for rural Texans during the Fifties and early Sixties to not have electricity, it also wasn’t uncommon for those in the backwoods of Arkansas to not have indoor plumbing at that time.)

But did those amenities really matter? As one of seven children growing up in such conditions, we still knew we were loved. We grew our own vegetables, raised chickens and hogs, and always had plenty to eat. Our parents read to us, interacted with us, and gave us real-life experiences of working together as a team. One brother, Douglas, made a career of serving in the Navy on nuclear submarines, protecting America like our father had before him. The rest of us at home cheered him on as we read his newsy letters about his adventures, not knowing he was only sharing what was unclassified, and he was in grave danger. Our parents not only gave us an incredible work ethic but, instilled in us the desire to learn. Every time a Reader’s Digest® arrived, we would have a family competition using the section called “Word Power.”

Reader's Digest

We also read books about the Seven Wonders of the World, were introduced to the classics through Reader’s Digest Condensed Books and began listening to a variety of music. Eventually, all seven of us would complete college degrees: Associate’s, two Bachelor’s, three Master’s, and one PhD. While two sisters taught in the public schools, our eldest brother, David, served in higher education as a Professor, Dean, Provost, and eventually, President of a college. All from a family that upon first glance would have appeared to have been handicapped for the race that was laid before us because we sometimes lacked modern conveniences!

So, if life is a race, would the one who arrived at the top of his profession have been the only winner? No, as amazing as our brother David was, some of his strength of character came when, as a teenager over the summer of 1962, he assumed the responsibility for our family while our father worked and/or visited our mother in a hospital in another state. Managing five younger siblings (including a one-year old) and bringing in a crop at the same time, built leadership skills that David would utilize the rest of his life. In fact, because of his upbringing and investment into others all his life, he might very well have become the only college president who regularly ate lunch in the cafeteria just to interact with his students. Life is definitely a race, but as a team sport, we draw strength from one another to finish strong.

Our sons began serving others at a young age when a family in our church had roof damage from a storm and they went to help. Within a few years, both sons would be helping their grandfather with a food bank, taking the church bus across town and filling it up with the leftovers from bakeries and grocery stores. Next, they volunteered to gather furniture, electronics, and household goods for our annual garage sale to fund summer mission trips, and transitioned into learning audio-visual systems, running cables, and microphones for the sound systems for our church services. Eventually, they both worked for the local city cable company, video taping the high school football games. It was definitely a team effort and God raised up many mentors for them along the way!

Also, when they were young, I hung a poster on their wall from the classic allegory, Pilgrim’s Progress. In that story, Christian, the main character discovered that each person got to choose either the broad path or the narrow path for their life, but their choices would lead to either temporary gain and momentarily pleasures or wise decisions that would stand the test of time. We encouraged them to choose wisely.

The Broad Way and The Narrow Way

This March was both the culmination of decades of service and preparation, and the beginning of a new season for our son, Craig Carter. Craig has faithfully followed God’s call on his life (as you might have read in some of my other articles), installing audio/visual/lighting systems in hundreds of churches across America as both his business and ministry. Then he started a food bank/resource center 16 months ago, which is now serving 4,000 people per month. As a hands-on businessman wherever he serves, he uncovered so many unmet needs within this community that he began to investigate the issues across the state. When he found that it wasn’t uncommon for rural areas, especially, to be underfunded for their schools and community resources, he began to pray about how to effectively address these bigger issues. As a result, he ran for Texas Senate in the March Primary this year. While his 13,000+ votes weren’t enough to win the race, he raised awareness at multiple levels in all of these areas. So regardless of the outcome, he became a hero to the underserved and won the hearts of many seeking justice.

We also learned that sometimes politicians simply don’t play fair. Sometimes they even lie about what district they truly reside in and use a rental property just to get into a race. So, if they win the election, did they truly win? Not really! Just like in the board game, The Game of Life, there are consequences to every decision, so one action will eventually lead to another. So, as in the old adage by Grantland Rice in 1941, we saw that truly “it isn’t whether you win or lose, but how you play the game!”

The Game of Life

Recently, a movie premiered describing those two paths from a hard place. The main character, Bart, was abused his entire life by the very one on the earth who should have been protecting him. As children often do, Bart internalized the actions and blamed himself, thinking he just wasn’t good enough. But Bart found a source of refuge within his life by escaping into music. Finally, when Bart had taken as much as he could stand, he fled from the situation, but couldn’t shake the rejection that was breeding unforgiveness in his heart. Ultimately, Bart, like all of us, had to face the two roads from Pilgrim’s Progress: Would he go the way of the world or choose the higher road, the path that leads to forgiveness? I would encourage you to watch I Can Only Imagine to find out.

I Can Only Imagine Movie Poster

So, whose responsibility is it to speak up for the people in this world that are being abused? Whose is it to reach out and feed the hungry? You might think it is the civic or state leaders to do this job, but what if they have become greedy like Mr. Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life and forgotten they were elected to serve the people?

It's a Wonderful Life Movie Poster

In this storyline, the people ultimately learn that the only way to stand against a greedy giant is for each person to do the right thing, choose the narrow path, and work together, coming to the aid of those in need. With that attitude, the townspeople all become the heroes of their own story and the finish line is filled with multiple winners. So, how is your race going? Whose team are you on? If you also are in the midst of this same calling, desiring to make the world a better place to live one deed at a time, please join me on LinkedIn, and we can all finish strong together: #finishingstrong.


Featured image by MrUllmi on Flickr


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