At the end of 6th grade, I had a big goal. I wanted to make the cheerleader squad in middle school.
Tryouts were in September. So, I spent the summer getting ready. I had to be able to do something nobody else could do. I had to be able to do something no one would expect me to pull off.
I had to be able to do the splits.
My dad's cousin Shirley told me how to train myself to do the splits. She had been a cheerleader throughout high school, and she could do the splits better than anyone I knew. She showed me the stretches and encouraged me to work my body daily. "Your muscles will cooperate with you, but you have to train them. You have to make them learn something new."
I practiced. Stretched. Attempted. Practiced and stretched and attempted the splits over and over.
At first, I had a good twelve inches between the floor and my body. Then ten. Five. Two. Just two.
By the end of the summer, I could do the splits. There was no space between me and the floor. None.
To top it off, I could do a cartwheel (which I had learned a few years earlier), and I could go right into the splits from there. It was stunning. Nobody else in our rural Iowan middle school could do what I could do.
I kept the secret. In September, we gathered outside for practices. We memorized the tryout cheers. We learned the jumps.
And then, without saying a word, I flung my body sideways into a perfect cartwheel and let my right leg stretch out before me, landing in the most graceful splits you have ever seen.
The girls were impressed. "How did you learn to do that?" They asked.
"I practiced. A lot."
I did not make the cheerleading squad. I simply didn't have the confidence and powerhouse voice to make the team. But I could do the splits.
I had learned something pretty amazing. From that point on, I could do a spontaneous cartwheel and splits whenever the spirit moved me. In the backyard. In the gymnasium. On the wrestling mats. Yes, even in Mom's living room when she was out of the house.
Right now, I'm working on another set of muscles. A spiritual set of muscles. It's Lent, and by the time these weeks of Lent are over, I hope to have conquered this goal of mine.
I'm not hoping to impress anyone. There isn't a squad I hope to be on (unless you're counting the Saints in heaven - that is my ultimate goal).
But I know one thing. It's all worth it. When others least expect me to do my spiritual cartwheel & splits, I hope to pull it off. When nobody is looking, I will spontaneously throw myself into this new skill.
Holiness is practiced. Sanctification is perfected.
There is as much deliberateness required in our becoming holy as there is in learning how to land on the ground with one's feet pointing both north-and-south simultaneously.
Practice, practice, practice.