With the newspaper article that came out on Monday, and with our One-Year Anniversary Dinner and 5k coming up next weekend, many people have recently asked me, “How did you get started with Ainsley’s Angels?”
I know this may seem strange to many, but there’s perhaps nothing I like more than waking up at 4:30 am to lace up my running shoes and run 5 or 10 miles.
I love the way running makes me feel. I love the endorphins that it gives me. I love the way it keeps me relatively thin. I love the way running allows me to enjoy nature. I love the way it gives me opportunities to see some glorious sunrises. I love the way running gives me opportunities to make new friends. I love sense of accomplishment completing a race gives me.
Do you notice a common theme here?
“Me, me, me.” “I, I, I.”
I must confess. I run for many selfish reasons.
Running for all of these physical benefits might be what Jesus called: “working for bread that perishes.” This bread might help me endure temporarily, but not eternally.
However, thanks to a wonderful organization called “Ainsley’s Angels,” three years ago, I was given the opportunity to taste a slice of bread from another loaf. Another runner, and a member of our church, Bethann Wilkie, was contacted by Ainsley’s Angels inquiring if she knew anyone who was differently-abled who might enjoy riding in a race. She called me and asked me if I thought Bobby, a member of our church with Cerebral Palsy, might be interested.
I will never forget my response: “Bobby? He’s 48 years old! Why in the world would he want us to push him in stroller! Naw, I don’t think he would be interested.”
She said, “Would you at least go over to his house, show him some pictures and videos, and ask him.”
I said, “I will, but I cannot imagine him being interested.”
I went over to his house, showed him some pictures and a video. This was late November of 2015. I told him there was a race coming up on December 6 that we could be in.
Then Bobby, who has never taken one step in his life, looked at me with this indescribable expression of excitement and said, “Jarrett Banks (Bobby always calls me by my first and last name), Jarrett Banks, you mean to tell me that I can be in a race!?!”
Shocked by his response, I remember grinning from ear to ear, shaking my head saying: “Yes, you can!
“Okay!” he shouted, “I never thought I could be in a race!”
After talking it over with his parents, I told Bobby that we would get a chair and take him on a training run before we register him for a race that was coming up in about three weeks. Ainsley’s Angels delivered Bobby’s chair at church the following Sunday. It was a cold and rainy day, so we ended up pushing him up and down a hallway in the education building though. Bobby loved it. After checking the weather forecast, Bethann and I we made an appointment to meet Bobby in his home the following Thursday at 3pm to take a 3-mile test ride.
Bethann met me at the church, and we ran with the chair to Bobby’s house which was just a few blocks away. We rolled right up into the carport and found him sitting on the floor inside the door.
He hollered out, “Mama, Jarrett Banks and Bethann are here!”
His mother came to the door and said, “It is about time you got here!”
I said, “We’re not late, are we?”
She said, “No, but he has been sitting here on the floor waiting for an hour! You would think it is Christmas morning! This is all he has talked about!”
We loaded Bobby in the chair and started out. I don’t even think we got a block down the road when Bobby spoke up, “Jarrett Banks, my neighbor who lives right here doesn’t know about this. We need to tell her.”
I said, “Okay, when we get back from our run, we’ll tell her.”
He said, “Jarrett Banks, I think we need to tell her right now!”
For you see, whenever one is included, whenever one is accepted, whenever one is empowered, whenever one is loved, they cannot wait to tell someone about it!
So we pulled up on the sidewalk that led to her front porch and rang the door bell. As soon as she came to the door, Bobby started telling her all about it: “Hey, you will not believe this, but I am going to be in a race! This is my preacher Jarrett Banks and Bethann. I never thought I could be in a race before, but now I am!”
She graciously responded, “That is amazing Bobby! I am so happy for you!”
“Maybe you can come and watch me in the race!” Bobby said.
“Jarrett Banks, when is the race?”
Thrilled that I Bobby was so excited I smiled and said, “It is December 6.”
She smiled and said, “Well, I will have to see if I can be there!”
Bobby said, “Okay!”
I said, “Bobby, we have to go if we want to finish this run before it gets dark!”
He said, “Okay!” So off we went.
I think we made it two more blocks, when he said, “Jarrett Banks. My neighbor who lives right here does not know about this either.”
So, up on the side walk we went. I rang the door bell. She came onto the porch. Then Bobby started, “You will not believe this, but my preacher and I are going to be in a race!”
“That is wonderful Bobby! I love your new chair.”
“You need to come and watch us in this race? And so on and so on.
It was then I said, “Bobby, we really need to finish this training run before the sun goes down and it starts getting cold. Let’s wait until later to tell others about it.”
Bobby said, “Okay!”
For about two miles, Bobby laughed at every bump we went over. He waved at every passing car. And he pointed out all of the places the sidewalks needed ramps in the curbs at the end of a block. Every time we passed someone’s house he knew, he would tell me that we were going to have to come back and tell them, “’cause they don’t know about this.” I think he told us umpteen times “Jarrett Banks, Bethann run faster.”
After about two miles, Bobby got quiet. For about a quarter of a mile he didn’t make a sound. Bethann and I were quiet too. Running a little faster pace, we were just trying to breathe!
Then Bobby broke the silence, “Jarrett Banks, I know you are going to be mad at me.”
I said, “Bobby, I will never be mad at you.”
“Okay!” Then he said. “My Nanny does not know about this. We need to show her.”
Assuming he was talking about one of his caregivers, I asked, “Well, where does your Nanny live?”
He said, “Okay! I will show you!” We went about a block when he said, “Turn right here.” A few moments later he said, “Turn right here.” We did. Then he said, “Turn left.”
We pulled right up into a cemetery. We didn’t go very far, when he said, “Jarrett Banks, stop right here.” Bobby then pointed to the headstone of his grandmother who passed away in 1989.
As soon as we pulled up to the headstone, Bobby said, “Nanny, you will not believe this! But I am going to be in a race! Nanny, I never thought I could be in a race before! But this is my preacher, Jarrett Banks, and this is my friend Bethann, and they got me this chair, and Jarrett Banks, when is that race?”
Overwhelmed with emotion, I could barely speak, “It’s December 6th.”
It was then he said: “Nanny, please tell God to tell the Angels watch over me and my preacher Jarrett Banks and Bethann in this race and keep us safe, and take care of my dog that died.”
And I believe that was the moment I tasted it: holy manna, true bread from heaven that endures for eternal life.
And once you have tasted this bread, once you have allowed this Holy manna to feed your soul and fill your heart, there is just no going back to any ordinary bread that perishes.
This was the day Bethann and I both became Ainsley’s Angels. For how could we ever lace up our shoes and run for any selfish gain again? Bethann currently serves as the Ambassador for Ainsley’s Angels in Greenville, North Carolina.
And the good news is that you don’t have to run and push a full grown man in a stroller to receive this bread from heaven.
This bread is offered each time we love our neighbors as we love ourselves, every time we meet someone’s need, every time we forgive someone who has wronged us, every time offer grace, extend mercy and show kindness.
We can taste this bread when we feed the hungry.
We consume this bread when we give drink to the thirsty.
It fills us when we welcome the stranger. It feeds us when we defend the rights of the oppressed.
It satisfies us when we accept and empower the differently-abled.
It nourishes us when we love others the way Jesus loves us, selflessly, sacrificially, graciously.
And once you have tasted this bread from heaven, there is no going back. Our tastes change, our thirst is transformed, and we experience a different type of hunger all together. Our temporal hungers fade away.
Money and possessions no longer matter. Spiritual wholeness becomes more important to us than physical healing. The needs of others become more important than our own needs.
The way we measure success also changes, even in the church. The number of people that are serving the community every day becomes more important than the number of people attending the service on Sunday morning. The number of people who are out in the community doing what Jesus taught becomes more important that the number of people who are sitting in Sunday School studying his teachings. Following Jesus becomes more important than worshiping Jesus.
And we become convinced that this bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world, to a world that doesn’t even know that this bread exists. The world hungers, yet knows not what it hungers for.
And we are given this holy sense of urgency.
As Bobby would say, “They don’t know about this! And we need to tell them, and we need to tell them now.”
We need to tell them that Jesus is the bread of life. We need to show them that the way of Jesus is the way to life, abundant and eternal, and whoever comes to Jesus, will never be hungry, and whoever believes in Jesus will never be thirsty. Amen