On Tuesday morning of this week, at 12:18 am, Mary Shertenlieb finished the Boston Marathon over thirteen hours after she began. Mary had been diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia five years before and had endured intense treatment suffering two relapses. Around mile fifteen of the marathon, health concerns required that she return home with her husband. There, she recouped, took a shower and returned to the marathon to finish miles later. At the finish line on Boston’s Boylston Street stood fans cheering for this, the final runner of the marathon, who had shown them how to run and how to finish. It was not the way she imagined the marathon to go, or even the day she expected to finish, but she did run and she did finish.
A Marathon for the Kids
As I dropped Andrea off at school on Monday, it was weird. She was back after two weeks away due to the teacher walk out. She was ready to be back with, and for, her kids but with a new disillusioned attitude and no remaining hints of political naivety.
It was easy for Andrea, and her professional peers, to feel like the previous weeks had been a complete waste. Ten days gathering in the sun, standing in the Capitol and sitting in legislators’ offices often being treated disrespectfully and unimportant. They stood on the Capitol grounds as our governor seemed to find every reason to be elsewhere and the Secretary of Education managed to belittle and diminish the entire effort from the isolation of her D.C. office.
It had also been a hopeful ten days, teachers bonding, receiving unforgettable support from parents and our communities, even witnessing an amazing outpouring of encouragement from outside of the state.
Then it seemed to be over; over with basically no progress to be seen.
The teachers had received a pay raise prior to the walkout but felt they could not settle on a note, even though warranted, of self interest. They stayed out of the classrooms because they knew that their students deserved better. They deserved to have enough educated and certified teachers – not classes of thirty-four kids packed in an inadequately sized room; they deserved a space where there were enough chairs and desks and to not have to sit in folding chairs borrowed from a local church; they deserved up-to-date textbooks and basic supplies not purchased from their teacher’s limited personal income. They deserved so much more.
Decades ago, Oklahoma decided that public education was not important. Evangelicals talked about God being ‘taken out of the schools’ while, at the same time, the very hard working and caring teachers hid in the pews praying, and hurting, for their students. Politicians realized that reducing taxes was a reelection coup and that the ‘unGodly’ schools were an easy target of budgetary reduction. ProLife became the holy label while the birthed children, along with their education, healthcare, mental health, shelter and food, carelessly became the casualty.
The truth was, and is, that God remained in the schools because the most vulnerable of those created in his image had been abandoned. Abandoned by those tasked with being a light to the world.
On Monday, as their one success, their raises, was being targeted, the teachers returned to the classrooms anyway. They returned to prepare their students for required exams and to the very real future that is tough, if not impossible, without adequate knowledge. A truth that even Christ himself addressed. The teachers returned thinking that they had failed those very students.
They had not failed.
Author Anne Lamott writes that Change is not a sprint but a marathon. Our teachers began a marathon. They, battered and abused, passed the baton on to others so that they could get back to their beloved kids.
On the Sunday in the middle of the walkout I shared with my congregation that I had truly experienced the presence of the Holy Spirit while on the capitol grounds the previous week. Even though we doubtfully feel it, it is still there and all over the state. The Spirit is in classrooms, it is in the homes, it will be with the voters prompting them in the upcoming elections. The Spirit will be everywhere that children are clamoring to climb up on the lap of Jesus. Everywhere that Jesus is saying, “let the little children come unto me!”
The Spirit will continue to be in our state. In our churches, in our homes, and in our classrooms. Anywhere we are willing to accept, listen and follow, the Spirit will be there.
It’s not over, it is a marathon. We still have a ways to go.
My Marathon Experience
Almost twenty years ago I dropped my oldest child off at Monroe Elementary for a typical day of first grade. I did not know that day would set me off on a marathon. As he shut the door of the van, I could not help but notice, as my tiny first grader ran in, there were may unrecognized adults exiting the doors of the school. He had to squeeze through them to get to the building and to his classroom.
I soon saw the “Vote Here” signs which brought clarity. Our school was a polling station and that these unknown adults were wandering throughout the school after having voted. While I loved the idea of my kids witnessing democracy in action, I also knew that we live in a world which is not always so idealistic and sometimes very bad persons take advantage of very positive idealistic situations.
This unexpected morning experience set me on personal marathon that would take twenty years. I spoke to the principal about this influx of unknown adults venturing throughout the building, she sent me to the School Administration who sent me to the County Election Board. The Election Board sent me on a mission to find a better place for the voting. I ended up at a Mormon Church who agreed to host the voting. I victoriously returned to the Election Board who informed me that this would be an unacceptable location since the election workers could not drink coffee or smoke at the church building. Not yet willing to give up I went to the election workers who unanimously agreed to abstain from any forbidden vices for voting days. A return visit to the Election Board led to the revelation that my solution was an unacceptable and would not be implemented. My final journey was to my mailbox where I found a letter from the Election Board telling me to leave them alone.
I had failed. I quit the marathon. Kind of….
As a result of my efforts, the principal asked me to begin a program for dads at our school called WatchDogs. It was the first WatchDog program in the city and the state. An amazing group of dads in our school took a day off of work each month to patrol the halls and help where needed. Dads that had never regularly been in the school before were now integral parts of the day to day operations. Their children were proud to have them there and the dads were engaging with their own children in a manner they had never done before. Dads provided security, but more importantly became acquainted with the peers of their children, the teachers and staff of the school, and found that they could be a part of this all important essential element of their community. The program is now all over our city and state.
Sometimes our marathon take us to places, and makes things happen, that were never in our planned running route.
I also continued my call for more school security and a plethora of areas of concerns. One of these areas was to campaign to have the school playground off limits during school hours. It alarmed me to watch as complete strangers were permitted to walk across the campus, through the middle of children, during recess. I was told that the school was not allowed to restrict such access to members of the community.
A couple of months ago, twenty years after I began my marathon, I received a new voter ID card, it was for a new location. Our public schools have reconfigured all buildings for increased security and voting does not fit into the increased security plan.
On an evening walk, I then cut through the playground of Monroe Elementary. There I saw a sign that restricted access to the playground during school hours. I took a picture, stood and stared, and realized that I had crossed a finish line.
As I thought about all it took to get that sign I began to think of all the others who were part of my marathon, a list that included my own mother. I attended this same elementary school and would walk to school each day. One year, homeowners of a house on a busy street which was part of my walk, planted new grass and restricted pedestrians from walking on their lawn. This meant children like me, on our way to school, would be walking on the heavily traveled street. My mom, possibly the original safety marathon runner, went and had a very frustrating talk with the homeowners. They refused to budge on their restrictions and she refused to quit the marathon. She called the city and did anything else that might lead to an acceptable solution. Facing defeat at every turn, she revisited the owners of the house several times, who eventually worked with my mom to come up with a safe solution. She raised her arms in victory and ran under the finish banner and then passed the baton on to someone else which eventually came to me.
A Call to the Marathon
Teachers, your time has not been wasted. You have run the toughest part of the marathon. Raise your arms out to pass on the baton. Pass it to the parents who are now at the capitol, to the voters who will soon cast their ballots for change, to all the other Oklahomans who care about the children, and to those who echo the words of Christ as he said, “Let them come to me!”
It is not about quitting but rather about enlarging the marathon, including others to run with the baton.
To the rest of us, look for the marathon that God has waiting for you. I can’t say what your marathon will be but I can say that it will be about God’s created and His creation. It will be about those created in His image which widens the possibilities to everyone everywhere. It will be about being a demonstration of the actions and life of Christ much more than the words of a preacher. It will be about love.
Our marathon is what John talks about as Walking in the Light and then later in I John refers to it as Abiding. The Apostle Paul call it a race. It is about life, led to reveal God’s love and to live smack dab in the middle of the life Christ has called us to.
It’s a life long marathon.