As you started to see Allyson stand out athletically, how did you encourage her to use her talents while keeping her grounded?
Marlean: That was the easy part because she was convinced early on that this talent was given to her by the Lord. She knew that, and it was something that we communicated to her, but it was something that she easily understood and embraced. I think if you can know for sure that you had nothing to do with it, it’s a lot easier to be humble about it because you know that it was a gift given to you by the Lord. That was something that she really believed with all her heart and still does.
How do you feel when she doesn’t succeed?
Marlean: When she is disappointed, it feels horrible for me. I don’t get disappointed over the same things she does -- like the silver medal did not disappoint me. I was doing leaps in the stands. So when I saw how crushed she was, I had to try to step back and process why. I understand that you want the gold as an 18-year-old in Athens, but it seems like it would be so thrilling to get the silver. I mean, I would have been excited with the bronze. But because she was so disappointed, then it kind of shifted, and I had to gear up. Instead of just saying, “Get over it, what’s wrong with you? A silver medal is wonderful! That means you’re number two in the world!” Instead of having that kind of attitude, I had to quickly ask the Lord to help me to know how to really minister to her and help her to put it into perspective. I knew I was right, that she should at least feel like He’s brought her to that point, but I had to share her pain and her hurt. When she’s disappointed and feels defeated, even though that would’ve been a victory for me personally, I have to look at it through her eyes.
Paul: Obviously, I sympathize with her, but I’m hoping that in the process, the Lord is teaching her that life doesn’t always go our way. Right now, I’m preparing a message on James 4:13-17, and James talks about the person who makes plans for the future and leaves God out. What he’s saying in the passage is how it’s important that you include God in your plans, and it doesn’t mean that your plans work out the way you want them to. But it’s a recognition that what ultimately comes out of that is God’s will for your life. To me, we can take comfort in that, and I take comfort in Allyson kind of learning that lesson.
How do you validate her desire to get better, but also remind her of her worth apart from her performance?
I think the biggest thing that I tried to help her see is that you have to be satisfied in God’s will if you’ve done your very best, whether that means a victory or whether that looks like a loss.
That’s harder when you’re talking to a competitor who only sees gold, and everything else is failure. When you can love her through it … I try to just gently cry with her, genuinely, because it hurt me as much as it hurt her. That was what [I did] the last couple of most painful moments for her -- when she collapsed on the track that time. I think those kinds of things were teachable moments. I just remember having her put her head on my chest and consoling her through it, but then helping her to realize how gracious God had been, that He allowed her to complete her goals at the Olympics and this was the next year. But it’s trying to put God’s perspective in her eyes.
Do you remember conversations where you discussed with your children that their worth, and your love for them, isn’t conditional?
Marlean: Absolutely, yes. I think it comes out because you train so intensely for these kinds of things and even high school athletics, that you can kind of feel crushed and lose sight of what is most important. I think it’s easy to lose sight of it. There are so many examples that I would, through the years, bring up to the kids of either professional athletes or movie stars or people who really had all of their confidence and all of their worth wrapped up in that outside thing that wasn’t Christ, and how devastated they were when they got too old and weren’t pretty enough to be the actress, or they weren’t athletic enough, or whatever it was. When all of your hope is in the wrong thing, then it’s going to be a mess in the end. That’s what we would try to do with them, and still do with them and with ourselves. Even people in corporate America have their confidences in the wrong thing. There will be one day when you’re not running, there will be one day when you’re not the executive. Then you’re definitely going to be up the creek.
How do you think her upbringing equipped her to strive for excellence, while staying humble?
Paul: When things work out in the way that she’s honoring the Lord, I don’t have any kind of magical formula and say, “Well, I did this, I did that.” I just think that God’s grace has been evident in her life, and she’s learned some things. I don’t always know how she’s learned it, I know that she’s been in the right circumstances or situations where she could learn. Going to a Christian school, she learned some things there. Growing up in the local church and having a relationship with the Lord -- I think the Lord has used that to help her be the person He wants her to be. Yet at the same time, she still has room for growth, tremendous growth in areas of her life.
I think the overarching principle is that we tried to bring her up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and the Lord was gracious to use that and other things in her life to bring her to the point where she’s at now.
How did you help both kids navigate the tension between the performance mindset of sports and resting in their identities in Christ?
Marlean: That’s a tough one, because as an athlete, especially with her mentality, I think the way you end up as a gold medalist is with that fierce mentality where it’s all or none. If you have my kind of attitude — “Well, it’s okay. I’m so excited with silver!” — you probably will never get gold. It’s kind of a fine line that you have to have. I’ve seen her confidently say that in a loss, that I’ve done everything possible for this to come together and it didn’t. So clearly, there’s something in this that I need to learn.
First of all, you’re not always going to be the best. There are some people who are going to be better that day for whatever reason.
Through those years, it was tough, but I think the way that we did it was that first question, “Was it your best? Did you do everything you could?” That’s one way of helping her get the perspective. And then, just the sovereignty of God and His will and knowing that that has to come into play as well. But He has called her to do her best. And then the Scriptures that you try to instill in them surface [also].
How did it feel to “let her go” when she moved out on her own?
Paul: I guess with me, it was not as traumatic as it was with my wife. The bond, I think, is there, but the fact that even though she lived in a different location, she was living with her brother and we regularly saw each other as a family. So if not during the week, particularly on Sunday, we were all still going to the same church. I don’t think it was as difficult. My life is busy; I wasn’t sitting around just idly wondering what is she doing, what is Wes doing? I just had a lot of things on my plate, so that probably helped to take my mind off of what was going on in her life, knowing that her life was busy also.
When do you let her make her own mistakes? When do you step in as a parent?
Marlean: I feel like when I’m invited to give information, unless it’s something that I just see is drastic that I’ve got to butt in, I try to wait until I have an invitation for the counsel. I still try to be on the alert for those teachable moments, even though she’s grown. But I also respect the fact that I need to be invited into the other things. I don’t just call her up and say, this is what you need to do about this or that. I try to wait until there’s a moment that seems right; or if she asks me directly, which she will do from time to time.
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