I didn’t know if he would ever shoot again.
Eight months ago, my 13 year old son spoke at his coach’s funeral. As I listened to my brave boy read the goodbye letter he had written to his mentor, friend, hero, I sobbed.
It was beautiful. It was hard.
Heavy days turned to empty weeks and I wondered if my son would ever shoot his bow again.
Archery has been more than a hobby or sport in our house. It’s been the tool God has used to grow my unconfident little boy into a courageous young man the past five years. The discipline, focus, and hard work shaped my son into a fighter. He had a great example.
But it’s a mental sport as much as it is physical and every arrow became associated with grief and loss. It was painful to even watch him look at his unused bow the weeks and months following his coach’s death.
I remember the day he carried his equipment outside to shoot in the backyard. I found him crying. And when I saw the target and his coach’s name scrawled on the side of it, a gift from his beloved mentor, I cried, too.
The gaping hole his coach’s absence left in his training and his life shaped my son in a new way. He was little lost. His slow journey back came to an abrupt halt with a shoulder injury. After sitting out for months, enduring physical therapy, relearning with lighter archery equipment, it was a lot like starting over.
It was exactly like starting over.
I didn’t know if he would ever shoot again.
And that’s okay. If that’s what he wanted- to stop because he was ready to stop. But when we stop what we’ve started because life gets hard or doesn’t go the way we planned, we live with regret. And often, we miss out on the greatest victory.
We whispered the words to our son, over him, like a constant prayer to God, Never ever give up.
Not on yourself. Not on each other. Not on your dreams. Not on your future. Not on who we are called to be or what we are called to do.
Because I knew this was about a lot more than a bow and quiver full of arrows. This was about digging in and fighting hard when life goes wrong. It was about persevering. It was about being strong when we are weak. It was about leaning on God to get us through another day.
This was about becoming a fighter.
With a healed shoulder, he started shooting again. Slowly. Tenderly. And when he asked his dad to sign him up for the State Tournament a month ago, I held my breath.
And he did it.
He shot arrow after arrow at the Texas tournament … and he did terrible.
The scorecard was his lowest yet and he wasn’t quite sure what to do with the failure.
But I knew the truth: the minute he picked up his bow, he laid down all the grief, sorrow and fear attached to it, he won. It didn’t take numbers on a ledger to prove it. And what looked similar to failure was actually victory.
He came home determined. He switched out the lighter limbs for the heavy ones and day after day, shot arrow after arrow. He missed the mark, he pounded his fist, he began to fight.
And I was a happy mess watching it. Not because he was going to win, but because I knew what he couldn’t quite see yet, he already had.
Last weekend, we traveled to A&M University and he shot Nationals. Halfway through the tournament, while he was shooting, a song came on –the same one played at his coach’s funeral– and we all had a “Steve moment.” It was a gift. One that said, never ever give up.
At one point, his head hung and he fought discouragement. I patted him on the shoulder and reminded him to compare himself to who he was this year and not last. “You just don’t understand what it feels like to lose so much and start over, Mom.” I was tempted to say Yes, I do. But instead I hugged him close and whispered, “You’re right. I don’t. But I want to.”
Because when I feel discouraged at the hard road ahead and I want to quit and walk away from my yes, that’s exactly what I want to hear.
Although he was disappointed with his results, he hasn’t stopped talking, dreaming or shooting since. He’s back. But more than reuniting with a sport that brings him deep joy, he discovered his own resilience.
I don’t know how long he will shoot or what he will accomplish. This isn’t really about achievement or winning. It’s about not quitting. It’s about allowing weakness and pain to make us stronger and recognizing the purpose in our pain and loss.
It’s the one lesson I want my kids to learn. Because I don’t know what life will bring them and I want them to taste tenacity now. I want them to fight and dig in their heels and develop grit.
Hard days will come. Maybe they are here for you now. There have been many times in the past year when I have wanted to give up. Honestly, there have been more days I’ve wanted to quit than I’ve wanted to continue. It would have been easier to walk away from it than walk through it. It was have been easier to give up on it than give it to God. But I won’t give up. Ever.
But we can’t quit our commitments, our jobs, our marriages, our children when things get tough. Because they will get tough.
When we endure through our pain and press on in our weakness, when we fight instead of quit, when we run our race, when we refuse to give up, we are fighting.
We are choosing to never ever give up.