"I'm gonna throw up," I told my friend Laura. It was getting close to my time to run the 800-meter race, but I wondered if I'd even make it onto the track.
"You'll be fine!" she said, rolling her eyes in irritation. "Why do you still get so nervous? This is like your sixth track meet, isn't it? Just take a deep breath, and calm down."
"It's not that easy," I said, holding out my shaking hand so she could see how unsteady I felt. "My nerves are shot, my legs are all rubbery, and my heart's beating so fast, it feels like it's gonna explode."
"OK, I'm a little confused here," Laura said. "You've been a jittery mess before every meet. Why did you join the track team, anyway?"
I knew exactly why I'd joined. I was seeking acceptance and praise from my Dad. But it was hard to get his attention. I'd spent my entire childhood sitting in the shadow of my older brother, Dan, who was a jock, a brain, and Mr. Ultimate Cool Guy. He had it all.
I, on the other hand, wrestled with pudginess, pimples, and a horrible case of the "super shys." I mostly kept to myself all through middle school. Thankfully, by the time I started high school, I had slimmed down, discovered Noxema and become a little more outgoing. But none of that could help my sloppy running form and two left feet. I was not an athlete, but I desperately wanted to be one. I wanted to prove to my family—and to myself—that I was worth something.
Trying to get over my extreme nausea, I found a shady patch of ground and plopped down on the dead brown crispy grass. I leaned my cheek against the water cooler and closed my eyes. As I listened to the screams and whistles of exuberant track fans, my mind drifted back to a few years earlier. Mom and Dad had brought me to the track to watch Dan compete—and inevitably win. At every meet, he whizzed by, barely out of breath, effortlessly passing his competition. He made it look so easy.
Dan's victories always thrilled Dad, who had also been a high school track star. I personally never liked the concept of competition. In order to have a winner, there had to be a loser, and that didn't seem right to me. Nevertheless, in order to hopefully bring home a trophy for Dad, I was willing to face my fears and compete. Or so I thought.
"Are you gonna be able to run?" Laura asked, snapping me out of my trance.
"You still seem wobbly."
"I'm fine," I said, using the sleeve of my T-shirt to wipe sweat from my forehead.
"You don't look fine," Laura said.
A tear trickled down my cheek.
Laura bent down and put her hand on my shoulder. "What's wrong, Christy?"
"I just feel so alone," I admitted softly, my voice cracking.
"Why?" Laura asked. "I'm here. And your parents are up in the stands. …"
"No," I interrupted. "I don't mean like that. I mean I don't feel like I have a thing—nothing that I'm good at or can be proud of or whatever. I'd hoped high school would be different, but it's not. I'm still not talented or popular or anything. I'm just alone."
Laura gently squeezed my hand. "I promise you, Christy—you're not alone," she said. "Remember what we talked about in youth group a few weeks ago? God is with you always. When you're out there running," she said, motioning toward the track, "the Holy Spirit is running next to you, nudging you along and giving you support."