Counting Sand and Stars

I read this recently. I cannot remember where.

"If you can't measure it, you're asking the wrong questions."

That struck a cord with me for so many reasons.

I am a do-er. (I love to mark off my to-do list.)
I like to measure things. (How are we doing?)
I care deeply about the soulful life. (How do we measure that?)

For a while now, I've been asking myself what about the immeasurables? How can we measure immeasurables?

You may be thinking, 'Stop measuring, counting, and keeping track. Just be.' And you'd be right. At first thought.

But what if you're trying to follow a Savior that walked in two worlds, one seen and one hard to see? What if one of those worlds is almost invisible, upside down and in danger of being crushed out of you? And what if that upside down world is really right side up and the floor beams of the other world?

What then?

Well then, I'd like to measure the immeasurables. I'd like to count the things that defy counting.

What about a moment of contentment, a river, a mountain range or a sunset, an argument, the sand at the seashore or the stars in the sky? These are things we can see, but can hardly be quantified.

Now I am thinking of invisible things, things that grow imperceptibly over time in all kinds of weather like wood rings of the soul. I'm looking for heartwood.

What about things like love, resilience, grace, patience, forgiveness, healing, holiness, humility, worth and peace?

I asked myself about those things when I was a stay-at-home mama to the Whippersnappers - the time when Cheerios and Legos littered the floor, dinner wasn't ready because breakfast was in the way, and I could not answer the simple question of what I did all day.

The truth is I was looking at the proof dressed in tulle, capes or both at once while flashing FBI badges made from calculator cases. The Whippersnappers went out dressed in all sorts of get-ups. I was looking at four little hearts smiling up at me.

I didn't have a salary or a title as my measurement, so I was measuring my success by those little hearts.

Don't get me wrong, not all measuring is bad. Some suggest our health, next steps for progress or even competency for survival. (I'm thinking swim lessons here.)

In fact, we measure all kinds of things in our children and for good reason,

  • Height and weight
  • Milestones in development
  • School readiness
  • Grade level
  • Attendance
  • Citizenship
  • Height in ticks on the wall

But what if their grades were poor or they didn't play in the big game or they weren't invited to the birthday party? What if they weren't smiling up at me, weren't happy? What if they (or I) was struggling? What then?

Being the do-er that I am, meant I was always fighting that do-er mentality. Inside, I was the worst one trying to measure myself by my accomplishments. I hate to admit it, but sometimes even by my children.

Are they behaving? Then Mike and I did a good job. Are they misbehaving? Then we must be doing a sloppy job.

After all, if I poured my whole heart into them, weren't they somehow my accomplishment or defeat?


I want to backspace that whole line of thought. It sounds like I wanted to put them on my resume. For heaven's sake, I was probably the one quoted above.

See why it struck a cord with me? Too close to home.

In middle school, one of my boys got low Citizenship marks - marks meant to measure character in things like timeliness and turning in homework. It's true he fell short in those measurements (and I felt measured), yet the day came when he alone stood up to the classroom bully for a friend. With one swift confrontation, he put an end to it and never spoke of it. (I heard about it from another mama.)

That's what I call Citizenship in real life whatever the marks.

My own methods of measuring success began to change.

Then along came a few small things in my life, raising a beautiful child on the autism spectrum, nonprofit work with a heart for sexually exploited children and double heart-bypass surgery for Mike.

These were each challenges to the way I thought things worked and my tendencies to measure life with things I can see.

There were years in between those things, but they each took me to the question I am asking myself again and again and again.

How do you measure immeasurable things?

What's a do-er to do when it's time to be?

How do you measure true life-giving success when false measurements are loudest?

Then I came across this on my Instagram feed from Ally Fallon,

New ways to measure success. I don't know her, but boy I wish I did.

Number 10, "Am I working to forgive myself and others?". How in the world can we measure forgiveness? Seventy times seven. It's beyond counting.

That's what I call counting the stars.

My youngest daughter, Ryan, ran track in high school and now runs for her university. She is both a tender soul and a fierce competitor, a whole-hearted girl.

Make no mistake. She is tough, but she runs her best when her whole being is engaged. Not just the part you can measure by times, lanes and handoffs.

Mike and I have always shown up to watch the Whippersnappers in their sports. We love to watch Ryan run, but I'm not sure we always knew the conversations to have around her races. We knew she wanted to win. We wanted her to win. So you look at times, right?

It has taken us a while to learn what to say at race time. "God made you strong and fast. Run like the wind and feel His pleasure."

Or after a meet. "How's it going?" "How are your teammates?" "You looked strong. How are you doing?" (The whole you.)

Thankfully, Ryan has the wisest of mentors, my friend Carolyn, who encourages her to have non-performance goals with as much importance (or more) as her running goals.

Having another way to measure success came in handy when after qualifying for nationals and making the trip cross-country, she got the stomach flu and could not recover in time to compete.

On the track, anyway.

What about handling disappointment with grace and strength? Grit counts for something in sports and life, as does adversity. That might be counting the sandy bits.

What about holding out hope for qualifying next year? Resilience and tenacity count.

I think she came home counting the sand and the stars.

And Ryan has a coach that gets the idea that competitive and soulful live together in a whole-hearted athlete. He overheard a runner when asked about his race, respond with, "Not so great. Tomorrow, I will redeem myself."

Coach's response? He looked him straight in the eye and said,

"You are already redeemed. Just run."

Words of life for us all.

Inspired by Ally, here is my new list of ways to measure success,

  • Was I generous today?
  • Did I pay attention?
  • Did I believe the best of myself and others?
  • Did I pray?
  • Did I speak life?
  • Am I listening well?
  • Am I encouraging community?
  • Did I water myself and others?
  • Did I speak in my own voice?
  • Did I get wet?

That last one is from Daring Greatly by Brene Brown. She reframes her daughter's view of her next swim meet with these questions.

"But what if your goal for that race isn't to win or even to get out of the water at the same time as the other girls? What if your goal is to show up and get wet?"

You see, I do not mean sitting on the sidelines and never entering the race. Getting wet means getting in the pool. Entering the race may mean showing up to practice every day. Or it may mean getting into the starting blocks or crossing the starting line when the gun goes off. Or all of the above.

That all depends on the race you're in.

Among the things I love about Track and Field as a sport is there are alternate ways to measure success built right in. There is first to the finish line of course, but there are also Personal Best records (your best time against yourself) and team points (you may not win your event, but you can still score points for the team).

And my personal favorite, the crowds cheer for the last one over the finish line, especially when the race has long been over. The last runner may have fallen, they may have an injury or may be in over their head, but they are not giving up. Theses runner may have run the tougher race.

Let's just say it out loud, "We all want to finish well". I've come to see that may not mean winning in the traditional sense of first to cross the finish line. But I have needed help to see and count the other ways.

No matter what happens in the race, I am continuing to change my measurements to include the immeasurables. I am counting the uncountable.

I am counting the sand and the stars.