I tried track and field out during my senior year of public high school.
The season conflicted with that of softball, which was the sport that had years since stolen my heart. My ball coach was agreeable, however, to letting me run on the track team as long as I didn't miss any of her practices or games.
And so I got to participate in exactly one track practice before my first meet.
I had an early event and so I warmed up that morning like the seasoned runners were doing, and then I walked to the starting line when we were called. I got my feet settled in the blocks and waited for the gun to sound. I was blissfully unaware of how much practice it takes to come out of those blocks with speed and efficiency. I was also unaware of how much time one second really is.
It goes without saying, I didn't get a good start which threw me off mentally and then I also didn't have a good finish. I didn't come in last but I didn't place in the top three. I was frustrated.
My second event went only slightly better. My inexperience coming off the blocks with the gun was killing me. And then my third, and final, event was called. The first two were sprints; this one was longer.
It took me about 10 seconds into the race to realize I wasn't a distance runner. I definitely preferred the sprint where I could see the finish line just ahead. I started strong but faded too soon.
Endurance has always been my weak point.
Getting started and then shifting into that mental space where you keep doing a hard thing is just, well, hard. It takes practice, discipline, stamina, and endurance. I believe that's why Paul compares the Christian experience with that of a runner in pursuit of a prize.
I've gotten a late start in so much of life. Things I thought I understood but later realized I hadn't. Times I believed one thing only to realize the reality of the situation was quite the opposite of the way I'd thought. More than once I've been sprinting my marathon only to lose my footing after having the wind knocked out of me.
It's hard to run when you feel like you can't breathe. But dropping out of the race can't be an option. Learning to endure is the only path to the finish.
There are times when the reality of what God has put before us here hits me in the face. There's no going back, no running away, no second thoughts, no nagging doubts. Entertaining any of those puts me out of sync with God and it's in those times that I find myself the most winded. Slow and steady, one foot in front of the other. I'm nearly 4 years into life in Thailand and it's possible I'm finally getting my legs under me.
Slow off the blocks, to be sure, but I'm realizing that delay has served its purpose.
We were video chatting with family the other day and they told us something so beautiful that I haven't been able to stop thinking about it. They've studied Hebrews for years now and they were explaining how there are certain components in Hebrew grammar that indicate a pause. And those pauses, when appreciated, can give new life to words we've heard so often we simply pass them over.
That alone made me realize how much I hate the pauses in life. I want to sprint. I want to come out of the blocks and cross the finish in as little time as possible. Pauses, delays, problems, struggles ... they make the whole thing feel way too much like a marathon.
But endurance is learned in the process.
In the same vein, they shared that the "wilderness" experiences are often the ones that feel like we've crawled to a lonely, broken, hurting, confused stop when really it's where God is doing the most incredible work. We simply need to endure and we'll eventually see the light through those trees.
The other day a small framed girl, with eyes larger than life, got upset about something. There wasn't anything unusual about that, really. She's been with us for 9 months and much of it has been a screaming fest. Previously unaccustomed to not having her way, it's taken what seems like forever to see our way to a breakthrough with her.
On this afternoon, I saw her eyes narrow and darken and I knew what was coming. Within seconds she dropped to her knees and started to cry. Soon she was in a heap on the floor sobbing with everything in her.
How dare I deny her every whim?
I, as per usual, wanted to sprint to the finish of the conflict. Thirty-three children later and one thing is certain ... this isn't my first rodeo and sometimes I allow that to callous me more than it should. I wanted to tell her how it was and how it would be. I wanted her to stop with the drama.
But something inside me told me not to rush past the pause. She was in a wilderness and needed to know I was walking beside her. So I lowered myself to the floor and laid beside her where I could look right into her eyes.
At first she tried ignoring the unexpected turn of events. I said nothing and just maintained gentle eye contact. Not more than a moment or two passed before she abruptly went silent. She's only three but she knew she was in the wrong and she didn't need words to convince her of it. Her huge eyes fixed on mine as she lay there and then she said, in almost a whisper, "I no cwy moi." (I no cry more)
It was over.
She didn't get what she had thought she wanted but she did get what she actually wants ... a lesson in endurance.
Her wilderness is one of confusion and change and adjustment. It's new foods and new people and new rules. It's a strange language and family who aren't putty in her hand when she bats her beautiful eyes. Her wilderness is real and it's scary and I've watched her walk through it day by difficult day.
But I've also seen the light begin to stream through the densest parts of that forest of fear and doubt. I've seen her melt into loving arms and settle into this new life that offers her safety and stability. I've watched her learn to love and I've delighted in hearing her tiny voice talked about the things God has made.
She, too, was slow off the blocks and she's struggled with the pace. But she's learned she's not running alone and that has made ALL the difference.
She is just like me.