My youngest daughter Kennedy was a difficult baby and toddler. She didn’t sleep through the night until she was almost two, she was picky about every food choice, and we would later find out she was very anemic, which caused lots of lethargy and mood swings. Her uncontrollable tantrums were frequent and I often threw my hands up in exasperation as to how to break the cycle of being held hostage by her erratic behavior. She clung to me with a fear of abandonment that was difficult to navigate. Her preschool teacher even warned me that she was too shy and uncommunicative to begin kindergarten as she would struggle socially if we put her in school.
Mark and I spent lots of time in prayer believing that God would have to intervene in little Kennedy’s life.
Maybe that’s why I remember the warm summer day when she was just two years old. Kennedy was running across the yard with her baby-fat-filled legs and I felt God whisper to my heart, “She’s going to be a gymnast.” OK. I didn’t know anything about gymnastics, but it impacted me so clearly that I would often repeat those words when I saw her run….”She runs like a gymnast.”
What was very far from my reality that day was that God wasn’t just telling me about a talent; He was telling me that He had a way to turn all of her weaknesses into strengths and that He had a plan to mold and shape her. He was telling me that He had it all under control.
I would spend the next three years asking Kennedy if she’d like to try gymnastics, but her social issues made the conversation too tense to pursue, so we waited. At five years old she finally decided to try a tumbling class. From my perspective I watched something unlock in her little heart on those mats. Very quickly we went from a class to pre-team and then had the opportunity to try out for team. A gymnastics team is an unbelievable financial and time commitment. Once again we prayed to God for wisdom…”We are pastors, Lord. The two things that in short supply are money and time. If you want us to do this, You will have to provide.” His answer was the same, “She’s going to be a gymnast.”
So, we prepared to jump into a team situation with a large financial commitment and 12 hours a week of practice. Our deal with Kennedy was that she was not allowed to quit for one year if she was going to start. “It’s all or nothing, Baby.” Shockingly, she decided to do it.
I’d love to tell you that her apprehension stopped there, but it didn’t. We would spend the first four months of practice literally pulling her body out of the car with tears running down her face and dropping her on the gym mat. Our hearts grieved and we spent HOURS debating our decision. Were we hurting our child by pushing her too hard? Every time the answer was the same…”She’s going to be a gymnast.” We mustered enough determination to finish out the year.
And then one day it all changed. I watched as God used gymnastics to validate her perfectionistic traits. Her focus was precise and unwaverable in hour after hour of practice. She began to find comfort in who she was and how she could relate to those around her. Suddenly she began to dance as she waited in line for her turn. She laughed with her friends and hugged her coaches with abandon. She was changing before our eyes. Even school became easy and confidence preceded her in almost every situation.
Last weekend was a strange full-circle moment for me as we headed to the State Competition. I watched her rise to the occasion, nail out an unbelievable score (37.975) and win First. Not only did she take gold in her age division, but Kennedy ranked 4th in the state for Level 3 out of all age groups. On top of that her team won the Team Competition and her All-Star team won for our section.
But all of that was shadowed by the fact that she was there at all. The little girl that jumped up on the winner’s podium on Saturday was unrecognizable from the girl I knew a year ago.
Saturday reminded me that God is growing and shaping our lives with a plan and a purpose. He has put things inside of us that will propel us to where we need to be. And the key to unlock all of this is simply perseverance. We’ve all just got to stay the course…when it’s easy, when it’s hard, and even when we are in the winner’s circle. We need to trust in God to finish what He has started.
I don’t know where gymnastics will take Kennedy from here. Honestly, there is no pressure for it to be the answer forever, but what I do know is that God used it as a catalyst for Kennedy to get to the next season of her life. I am forever grateful for the journey that the last seven years has taken us on and I have a lot of hope for the next seven…Go Kennedy! Go Jesus!