“Track Suit,” New Era, Dec. 2002, 29
Elder Paul Christianson came from snowy Chicago to our home in Slidell, Louisiana. He grinned a lot as he taught my husband gospel discussions, but one day he revealed that he missed his mom. She’d been dead for two years, he said. He’d gone on a mission because of her.
Paul’s dad had died when he and his little sister were young. His mom went to work at a small factory across town, working the evening shift. Despite her meager salary, she managed to set aside a few dollars every week for Paul’s mission.
Paul said he didn’t worry much about being poor. Sure, he and his sister wore hand-me-downs, and they didn’t often have the money to go to movies, but his mom always made sure they had enough to eat. “The Lord will provide,” she always said, and Paul believed her.
Everything was fine until seventh grade, when Paul decided to try out for the track team. At the meeting, the coach announced that everyone had to wear a track suit to the tryouts, which would be held in two weeks. No suit, no tryout. Paul’s heart sank. He didn’t have a track suit, and he knew his mom didn’t have the money to buy one. Hesitantly, he asked her if they could borrow from his mission fund.
She smiled and shook her head. “Son, we’ve put that money away for a special purpose. If we remember the Lord first, He’ll take care of everything we really need.” Paul wondered if the Lord took care of track suits.
Since she was so insistent that he exercise faith, he ran track in a pair of cutoff jeans every day after school. He worried about what he’d wear when the big day arrived.
His mom worried, too. She mentioned the problem to her supervisor at work, who managed to scrounge up some fabric from home. Every night as Paul’s mom rode the bus across the long miles to their apartment, she hand-sewed a track suit to surprise her son.
The tryouts approached, and Paul ran and ran. His mom sewed and sewed. On the night before the tryouts she sat in the bus, putting the last few stitches into the track suit. It began to snow, and the bus grew cold. The tired woman fell asleep with the track suit cradled in her lap.
She woke up when the bus pulled into the terminal. It was one o’clock in the morning. The bus driver hadn’t noticed her in the back of the bus. He said he was sorry she’d missed her stop because no more buses would run that night. She got off and began to walk home through the snow.
She walked all night, and finally arrived at the apartment at 7:00 A.M. Her children were getting ready for school. With a weary smile, she drew Paul into her arms and kissed him.
“Tryouts are today, aren’t they, son?” she asked.
He nodded and looked at his feet. “I decided not to try out,” he said.
“Not try out? After all the running you’ve done?”
He told us he didn’t have the heart to remind her that he couldn’t try out without a track suit. She’d feel bad that she hadn’t been able to afford one. Maybe she’d feel bad that the Lord hadn’t provided, after all.
“Shut your eyes and hold out your hands,” she said.
His heart leaped in sudden hope. Had she been able to get him a suit after all? Holding his breath, he squeezed his eyes shut and held out his hands. He felt her place something soft and flimsy in them. He opened his eyes.
There in his hands was a polyester track suit. A bright-orange polyester track suit. The orangest, brightest, most electrifying track suit he’d ever seen in his life. The school colors were red and silver. No way would anyone believe this suit was red.
He gulped. His mom looked at him out of shining, worried eyes. “Do you like it, son?” she whispered.
“I … like it more than anything,” he said, and then he hugged her tight. He kissed her cold cheek and then went to try on his orange track suit.
Paul told us everyone laughed at him when he walked onto the track that afternoon. He almost fled back to the locker room, but then he remembered his mother’s small, cold hands and the anxious look in her eyes. He pictured her walking across town through the snow, clutching the suit she’d made on the bus.
His cheeks bright red, he put his head down, toed the chalk line, and when the starting pistol cracked he ran like the wind. He didn’t pay attention to the other runners—all he could think of was getting off that track as fast as he could.
Someone in the crowd yelled, “It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a jet-powered jack-o-lantern!” Everyone laughed again. Paul said he felt as if he’d been shot.
He leaned into the final turn, knees pumping, elbows like pistons. He heard someone coming up behind him. In a final burst of speed he lunged over the finish line and kept running straight to the locker room.
Later he learned that he’d set the fastest time in the 440 in school history. He’d not only made the track team; he would soon become one of its star runners. The coach provided him a red and silver track suit emblazoned with the school name. He wore it with pride for three years.
But folded into the bottom of the battered old suitcase he carried on his mission was a bright orange track suit. Every time he touched it, he felt his mom’s small, cold hands again and knew she’d given him a gift much greater than a track suit. She’d given him the gift of faith in the Lord’s ability to provide what he really needed. She’d given him the faith to eventually serve a mission.
And maybe, just maybe, she’d given him a little extra speed.