My charity disaster & silver linings

by Crystal Kupper,
Crystal’s Cliffnotes
Salem Writer

One year ago today, you probably don’t recall exactly what you were doing. I do.

I was getting ready to learn, stretch and grow in spectacular fashion. I just didn’t know it at the time.

Waking up in the 3:30 darkness, I paused for just a minute. The day I had been planning for — race day! — was finally here.

The dream had started out small, but like anything in my fertile imagination, had grown. I would take my two passions of running and social justice and combine them, putting on a 5k/10k charity race to raise money for Compassion International’s Child Survival Program.

I spent 18 months planning Run for Compassion Salem — more than twice as much time as I had spent planning my own wedding. I put hundreds and hundreds (perhaps even thousands) of hours into the website, finding sponsors, marketing, signing up runners/walkers, procuring prizes, etc. And things just clicked along. God removed one obstacle after another.

I just knew in my gut that the race was a God-thing. And I knew that June 16, 2012 would be my greatest triumph to date.

And in many ways, it was. We had aimed and hoped for maybe 150 runners, and if we were really lucky, 200.

We had more than 300.

I thought if everything went well, the race could raise $3,000 for impoverished mothers and babies all over the world.

We raised more than $6,000 — enough to keep a CSP center running for several months.

From those numbers, the race was a stunning success, especially when you consider that it was founded and ran by a rookie race director who really was just a stay-at-home mom with no idea what she was doing.

And yet, from the moment people started showing up, things went wrong.

An unapproved race had taken place the day before, with gigantic, elaborate chalk drawings pointing racers in all the wrong directions. In the early-morning darkness, I grabbed the wrong can of spray paint — non-washable — and accidentally graffitied the whole park to try and frantically cover the wrong markings up.

Parking was limited. Registration was crowded. About 20 people got lost on the course. The dog park people yelled at our volunteers. Nick backed up a borrowed truck into a stranger’s car — after he had blown out the windshield of a borrowed golf cart. And once the post-race survey comments rolled in, it looked even worse. There literally was not a single aspect of the race that at least one person didn’t complain about.

I locked myself in my room and sobbed for 2 days straight, emerging only the next morning to go to church, where I barely held it together long enough to pretend I was okay for all my friends. Once we got home, it was back to my papa san and salty tears and calling my best friend Rochelle so I could hiccup out more regrets. (Sorry about that, Celia. I really appreciate you taking over the house while I hid from the world!).


All I could think was FAILURE. I had planned, planned and planned some more, but obviously it wasn’t enough.

For months, I couldn’t even drive by Minto-Brown Park (the location of the race) without my heart rate flying high. I never brought up the race in conversation and quickly changed the subject if anyone else did. I was so deeply ashamed of the job I had done that I tried to erase it from everyone’s memory…especially mine. The worst part was the nagging thought that perhaps the runners would never donate or be involved with Compassion in the future because of me and my failures. It was almost more than I could bear.

What if I had gotten to the park at 3 a.m. instead of 4? I could have had more time to erase the other 10k’s markings, and maybe no one would have gotten lost. What if I had recruited more volunteers to direct people? What if I had gotten the right can of spray paint? (Thank you, Nickolas, for working for hours to scrub all those markings off by hand when I was too emotionally wrecked to do it myself). What if, what if, what if?

More than anything, I was confused. God, from the get-go, you’ve had your hand in this race, I prayed. You moved mountains for me. So what happened? Why did everything go wrong? Are you mad at me? Was this just to knock me down a peg or two? I just couldn’t understand why so many things went wrong if it was in Jesus’ plan all along for me to create and direct this race.

Months went by. My anxiety and embarrassment eased some. Yet I never stopped rolling those thoughts around in my heart.

And with the passage of one full year, here is what I have learned:

God uses both our strengths — and weaknesses — to glorify Him. In many ways, my personality perfectly lent itself to being a race director. However, it also lent itself to other things, as well: overconfidence, impatience, lack of context, etc. No matter. The Lord, with his infinite planning skills, can utilize both to accomplish his purposes.

My standing with God is not based on my performance. My love language is acts of service, so this is a toughie for me. In my humanness, I felt like God was disappointed in what I did or didn’t do on June 16 and therefore loved me less. If you would have asked me beforehand, I would have given the proper Sunday School answer of “Of course God loves you no matter what!” But even I didn’t know that I didn’t truly believe that, and it took the race to bring that faulty belief into the light.

The ones who truly care are the ones who get out and do something about it. While sobbing through the phone to Rochelle, she gently pointed out that my biggest critics weren’t the ones dealing with the race’s 10,000 details. They were the ones who merely had to pay the $20 and show up on race day. “When people have the choice to get up off the couch and change the world,” she said, “they don’t always take it. You did. What’s easier: organizing an event for several hundred people or typing in a complaint afterward?” She made her point.

Failure isn’t always failure. Sometimes, it’s a launching point. Since the race, I have made a very concerted effort to use my words in a more constructive manner. I’m quicker to praise (I hope) and slower to criticize, especially when it’s someone trying to change the world for the better.

I can look back at 6-16-12 without flinching now. It wasn’t a perfect day. It was awful, and exhilarating, and revealing, and terrifying. Kind of like life.

I know what God was doing now: taking a dream in my heart and using it to raise money to make a tangible difference across the world, yes.

But also teaching me that in this life, you get lost on the course sometimes. You get overwhelmed by the twists of the race route and don’t always make the right turn. You deal with some jeers from spectators, and even more from the inside. You trip and fall on the trail.

But you keep running, and keep praising the one who gave you breath to do it.

Which means, I guess, that it wasn’t such a failure after all.

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