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If you missed my previous post, catch it HERE before you read this one!

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It was her last event and by far her biggest challenge.  How ironic that with all of the hurdles during this gymnastics season, it was about to come down to a vault.  She would need to run, block, and land well…symbolically overcoming a mountain of struggles through a difficult year.

And then she ran.  The same run that floods my eyes with tears.  A run that constantly reminds me of God’s promises.

She flew over that horse with determination and power.  And I erupted in cheers…not because I know if she did well (because I can’t tell a good vault from a poor one), but I cheered because she is fearless.  Brave.  A conqueror.  A fighter.  Everything I hope for her to be.

The wait for her score feels like an eternity, but I decide in that moment to watch her face instead of the scoreboard.  At this point, the score is only a number, but her face, that face…

This year had started off so well.  She had won the State Championship as a Level 3 and was ready to take on the world.  But the next ten months would prove to be a journey with life changing lessons marking it’s path.  She had joined a special group with a strategy change of focusing on strength instead of Level 4 routines.  It seemed like a good call at the time, but we began to see that her personality type was not the right fit for her new circumstance.  While some girls were thriving, we watched as day after day of strength training pushed and shaped her into uncomfortable molds for who she was created to be.  She deeply missed the performance training and missed the repetition of her normal systems. She never gave up, but her verbage began to change drastically…”I can do this” became “This isn’t something I’m good at”.  Her confidence began to falter.

Haven’t we all been there?  So sure we are a round peg in a square hole, but change is often scarier than just showing up day after day.  Maybe it will get better?  Maybe I just need to make it work?  What would life be like without these friends?  Without this familiar ground?  What is on the other side of the familiar?

As she wrestled with whether to change course or keep trying, she took another blow with an injury at her first meet in January.  Both of her wrists were damaged, which equated to extreme pain.  For the next eight weeks she agonizingly limped through competitions, all the while sliding even further backward in strength training.  Her scores often reflected her struggle and finally the day came when she looked at me and said, “I don’t think I’m on the right team.”

It was in that moment of desperation that the balance changed.  The fear of what was on the horizon became less than the fear of continuing on with the current course.

So, with tears in our eyes and trepidation in our hearts, Kennedy jumped in with another team in our gym and began the journey to salvage the end of the season.

Being placed in a team that was seemly crafted to her personality, she began to fight again.  I watched her determined spirit arise from discouragement and with it came confidence.  By the time Sectionals hit she had enough skills under her belt to feel better about her two nemesis’: bars and vault.  Her scores were still low for her, but her presence had changed.  She made it to State and used every moment of the next two weeks to sharpen and learn.

At State, I chuckled to myself to see that we were starting on bars.  Of course.  When I told Kennedy that, she quoted a video she had watched, “I may have lost some battles, but I will not lose the war.”  No, no you won’t, sweet girl.

The best bar score she had managed to pull out was at Sectionals with an 8.6.  When the score popped up at a 9.125, I fell off the bleachers.

She wasn’t going down easy.

Beam and floor were next and she got two more good scores.  Vault would be her big finale and with a personal best during the year of an 8.45, I knew it was still a long shot to end with four strong events.

And now there I was.  A long year behind us, looking at her face, not caring one bit what the scoreboard said.  She stood there in her little pink leotard…fearless.  Brave.  A conqueror.  A fighter.  Everything I hope for her to be.

And then came the smile.  Wide and contagious. I turned my head. 9.175.10985248_10204949515110853_8638013123941017344_n

Tears caught up in my throat and my hands cupped my face.  She did it.  She ended well.  Full of determination, confidence, and security in her strengths.

I cried that day because the war was never gymnastics…the war was fear and insecurity.  Fear of embracing the best path for herself.  Fear of disappointing other people.  Fear of failure.

And as always, our children teach us the most profound lessons: It is true that our confidence can be lost in the midst of life, but it can also be found.

Kennedy walked away that day with a 6th place medal, a 36.7 All Around score, but most importantly, she walked away saying, “I wish we had gym on Monday.  I am ready to learn something new!”

Rest, sweet girl.  God has new journeys for you just around the corner.

Today would you take a moment and vow to change what is shrinking you?  Rise up!  Dust off the “old you” and be everything God created you to be.  Recapture your spirit, your determination, your passion!  Shrug off your circumstance, your hindrances and the “what ifs”.  You’ve got this!  You’ve really, really got this.

kennedy bw

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!

Overcoming Your Fear

stacynewell —  January 27, 2014 — Leave a comment

Sunday was my youngest daughter’s very first gymnastics meet, and if you read my previous blog post, you know that there was a lot at stake that had very little to do with gymnastics.  It was my child’s day to face her fear.

Overcoming fear looks much more gritty than the movies make it out to be.  In fact, it happens to be a lot like childbirth…ugly and beautiful all at the same time.

If this was a movie, Kennedy would have bounded out of bed, took the bull by the horns and charged out on that gym floor to handspring herself to a gold medal.  However, facing fear isn’t that easy and it certainly isn’t that pretty.  It wasn’t pretty in our house Sunday morning.

The raw reality of this story is that when I told Kennedy it was time to put on her leotard, she began crying and screaming.  The kind of cry that is irrational and inconsolable.  It was real, wrenching, and painful to watch.  She was simply terrified of failing at her handspring and didn’t want to even attempt anything.  Tears rolled out of her eyes as she trembled from the top of her head to the bottom of her feet.

As a mother, I was sad, angry, frustrated, and confused all at the same time.  Was I really going to have to FORCE her to face this?  But I already knew the answer…yes.  As parents, our job is to be the strong one when our child is weak.  Our job is to KNOW when our child is capable, but incapacitated by fear.  Our job is to know when to push and when to stand off.  It is a cruel calling on so many levels, but also is a profound lesson all in itself.  If you feel like God is “pushing” you face difficult things, it’s because He probably is.  This was one of those times when I was called to push as well.

After a treacherous few minutes of getting Kennedy in the car, the ride to the gym was silent other than the hum of the radio.  The song played, “I know who goes before me, I know Who stands behind.  The God of angel armies, He’s always by my side…”  I watched in the rearview mirror as Kennedy mouthed the words to the music.  I breathed a sigh of relief that she has the foundation of Christ in her life.  He can lead her where I cannot.  My own personal helplessness subsided a bit.

Thankfully by the time we arrived, she had gathered herself and put a smile on her face when she saw her gym friends.  That was the end of ugly part.  The beautiful part is that Kennedy ended up having an amazing morning on a gymnastics level and a personal level.  Without the option to quit, she did what she knew to do.  In the end, she medaled in all four events and nailed the handspring she so dreaded.  She took 3rd in her age group for the All Around score, and out of the nearly 60 competitors, she landed with the 8th highest score.  For her first meet, she knocked it out of the park.

But you all know that her medals are but dust compared to the step she took within her own confidence.  What mattered to me most was that she showed up to her life.  She didn’t stay on the couch wrapped in a blanket.  In spite of all of the ugliness of fear tumbling out in a haphazard and uncontrollable way, she persevered and made it happen.

For all of you who went on this journey with us, my hope is that you face your fear as well…even if that means you go in kicking and screaming.  Sometimes I wonder if greatness never happens because we are most afraid of the process.  So cry if you have to, scream if you must, but when that is all over, my hope for you is that you will do what you have to do to fulfill your dreams.

And to my Kennedy…I’m so proud of you, Baby.  You have always been one of my greatest teachers and my greatest treasures.  I love you!

 

Here’s a link to her floor video if you’d like to see the moment: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wk3SrGYqZXU&feature=youtu.be