The Front Row


She'd had enough that day, I guess. Enough of my sloppy punches, lazy kicks and lack of proper pivoting. And she decided to take matters into her own hands. She turned, strode from her position in the front of the class to my position in the back and said,

You’re just going through the motions.

Simple. Blunt. But she also flashed me a smile.  With an authoritative bounce of her red ponytail she added,

And you’re not really getting anything out of it.”

She was tall and lean and a permanent resident of The Front Row.

I’d watched The Front Row for a while, watched them from my place in the back row. I’d slink into class, tuck myself into the back corner of the room where I would think back-row-people thoughts. Self-conscious thoughts about whether or not my muffin top was a smidge bigger this week than last…wondering whether I really should have bought the next-size-larger workout pants… worrying that my panty line was showing…and ALWAYS puzzling over how the frickityfrick to throw a left hook…

In between all those thoughts, I watched The Front Row. They were…amazing. While they punched and kicked, they also laughed, sang, danced…and on occasion, they chased each other down on the shuffling moves. They seemed so happy and so joyful.

After The Red Pony Tail made her pronouncement that morning, she linked her arm in mine, escorted me to the front row and pointed to a place by her side (where I, terrified, assumed I was now to stand).

In the weeks to come, her voice became the voice in my ear demanding, “Pi-vot!” or “Arms UP!”  When I struggled with combinations, she’d recite them to me over the sound of the music, “Jab-Cross-Jab and Step and Kick.” She made me look at myself in the mirror, and she showed me where my left hook should end. She forced me to do my first-ever “boy pushup.”  (“Just try one,” she coached.  I did three.  I had no idea.  I had assumed I was a girl pushup kinda gal.)  And when I worked hard, she never failed to call out, “Good Job, Kelly!”

I got stronger, and I improved my form (albeit slowly) week by week. But even more important:  I had a blast.  Turns out The Red Pony Tail was right. Absolutely right.  I had been going through the motions.  And I didn’t even know it.

I learned other things about The Red Pony Tail and The Front Row. As I relaxed into their kindness, I noticed that it wasn’t just me they helped. They helped others too.  I’d see them moving through class before the music started…checking in with young mothers clutching round black pagers that would vibrate and flash red if their little ones in the child care room needed them...listening carefully, then giving words of support to those facing cancer, divorce or other life difficulties. Encouraging the dieters. Laughing with the lovers-of-food.

During class, The Front Row periodically high-fived those behind them, and at the very end of class, the whole row turned around, waved their arms and called out to every class member to join them, to come stand with them in the front row and throw punches together until the very end...

Every. One.

Sometimes, my friends, you find the Kingdom of God living and moving and having its being in unexpected places. Sometimes you find it in the group fitness classroom of your local YMCA.

Within and Among.


Are you just going through the motions these days? Let me share what The Red Pony Tail and The Front Row taught me:

Pivot. Get your arms up. Set your heel before you kick. Try one and do three.

Laugh, Dance, Sing and REACH OUT to the others around you. Help them in any way you can. Invite them in.



You’re gonna get stronger. You’re gonna have a blast. And you’re gonna find the Kingdom of God.


Then Jesus asked, "What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to?" (And He laughed when Kelly Frances shouted, "BODYCOMBAT CLASS.")