My Pet Rat Died, and Other Reasons I Cannot Do PE Today


Of all the days I spent in Elementary PE, I actually only remember two. The first began with an attempt to impress the most athletic kid in the class (who was also my not-so-secret crush) by rescuing him from jail in a dodgeball game. It ended with me tripping over my own shoelace and breaking my arm. Needless to say, he was not impressed and I suddenly became the one who was crushed. Humiliating at the time, the event has become one of my most often told stories.

The other memory, though probably exagerated by adolescent, is a little harder to laugh at this side of puberty. Over twenty years ago, the PE teacher marched my class out to a barkmulch track to run four laps as part of physical fitness testing. That one mile was the longest thirty, yes thirty, minutes of my life. At the end of class the teacher, whose athleticism obvioulsy overpowered her sympathy, posted the run times for everyone to see. My name was not only at the bottom of the list, but my time also far surpassed that of anyone else in the class. The humiliation was unbearable, the teasing more than expected, and I spent most of the day sobbing.

So call it selective memory, but I apparently was naive in thinking that teaching PE would be easy. Afterall, “everyone loves PE.” In fact, not everyone loves PE. A truth emphasized by the sudden need to go the restroom for at least twenty minutes or a sudden case of asthma that has not been diagnosed and never comes with an inhaler. Of course nothing says “I hate PE” like a note from home.

These notes come in all shapes and sizes: post-it notes, shopping list papers, the back of something that was probably once important. Some are written and signed by parents, some written by kids and signed by parents, some written by kids and signed by “parents.” The excuses also come in all shapes and sizes. Most are typical: a sprained ankle, a fever last week, a slight pain in the left knee, a sniffle, it’s too hot outside, they just got new shoes, their big toe is bruised, and so on. This week, however, I think I got the best excuse ever.

A super cute, slightly awkward young man walks up to me. First he sniffled, then tears. “My Pet rat died,” he blubbered, “and I’m just too sad for football.” I was tempted to laugh, but more compelled to embrace him and tell him how sorry i was. And then I had no choice but to utter the words many kids hate to hear. “I’m so sorry, but without a note from your parents I can’t excuse you from PE today.”

Amidst all the semi-bogus notes, are the completely valid ones. The validity is not revealed so much in the note itself, but in the kid to whom it belongs. These are the kids who when told they will have to sit on the side, shove their hands in their pockets and hang their heads. These kids shuffle and shake on the sidelines, cheering and moaning. These kids inch closer to the action and it is obvious that they want nothing more than to get back in the game.

We serve a God who signs our notes. He has good plans for us and asks us to be obedient, which we are . . . most of the time. But we have our days where we stumble and fall, twist our ankle, stub our toe. We mess up sometimes, and we don’t do the things he set before us. It’s those days He signs our notes, excuses us from our obligation.

I wonder though, if I take advantage of that sometimes. If I use it as an opportunity to just not do the things that are hard for me, the things that are boring, the things that I simply don’t feel like doing that day. I wont always be perfect in obedience, but i surely can be the kid on the sideline anxious to be put back in the game.

God signs our notes with grace upon grace. Not so that we can get out of the hard things, but so that we can get back in the game. I ran twenty miles today. It wasn’t easy, but I did it. What if that one mile in third grade had been my last. How much would I have missed out on? God not only wants to give me Grace, he also wants me to experience it.

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