I remember seeing the woman round the corner slowly and painfully and thinking to myself–thank God that isn’t me. I had cups of water and Gatorade in each hand, lending them to runners as they shifted by in a slow stream.
But this woman didn’t gracefully accept my offering and filter on like the rest of the runners in the race. She tore a cup from my hands and gulped the water down desperately, splashing it down her face in the process.
“This is never going to end.” She panted. “I’ve only ever run four miles straight.”
In a half-marathon, that was pretty bad news. She eventually moved on, calling over her shoulder how desperate she was for the finish line.
I was in high school, just a volunteer for the race, but even then I laughed to myself at these strange people running on paths and enduring the torture of thirteen long and arduous miles. If anyone had told me that four or five short years later I would be doing the same thing, trudging along and convinced of my imminent death sprawled along the side of the road, I would have called you crazy.
When you first start a race, though, you don’t have an exact handle on what the miles will hold. You start off so excited, ready to test out your light blue and pink running shoes, ready to glide through each checkpoint with ease. But it’s usually more challenging than you anticipated.
On my first half, by the time the race photographer was shooting photos around mile 10, I was plodding lopsided behind other smiling racers, my face twisted in exhaustion and attempted concentration. In other words, I looked as ridiculous as the woman I met all those years ago.
Somewhere between the excitement of starting something and the last few twists and turns, anyone who has lived life understands that we long for the finish line. We are so tired, so bored, and crossing the threshold somehow means that we made it, the difficulty is over, and we have completed our goal.
But after reaching a conclusion of any objective you have reached, you start to ask questions. How was each mile, each chapter, each hard-earned minute? Did it end up like you expected and finish like you wanted it to? Are you…satisfied?
A year is kind-of like a race. The gun goes off on new years and we all take off, so many big goals and expectations for how things will go. The previous years have been our training and we pray we are prepared for what the road will bring.
And today we find ourselves at the finish line of the marathon that was 2015. Twelve months have gone by, and let’s be honest—this past year has been a hard one. It’s felt like one of those runs you head out on, only to get a wicked stomach ache ten minutes in or roll your ankle trying to climb the biggest hill.
A few days ago, in between large bites of Christmas breakfast, I asked my dad what the biggest lesson of 2015 was for him.
“You know,” he said. “A lot of things. But the biggest? Mostly just that life is about the journey, not the destination.”
My initial response was the sappy face value of a comment like that. You have heard it a thousand times, gracing the bumper of someone’s car or on a wristband or under a senior picture in a yearbook. Wohoo, we get it…there’s significance in the journey.
But what is so weird to me is not only that my fifty-year-old father is just now grasping this, but also that for how much we say it, we don’t really seem to get it.
I am the chief of perpetrators in more ways than one. Half of the time, I live my life for the finish lines. I just want it to be over, I just want to get there. I forget that with each step, each mile, each chapter, I am learning valuable lessons and growing as a person.
The other half of the time, I get so caught up in watching where my feet land or the worries and clutter of the day that I miss the beauty of the scenery around me.
In other words? So many times I miss it. So caught up in packing things into my schedule, in making the most of a year, in getting ready for the end of college and the start of the rest of my life, I miss the profound small moments and realizing how much even one year has shaped me.
No, things have not happened like we thought they would. Maybe the year for you has been easier and better than you anticipated and you are stoked to keep that streak going this new year. But more than likely, you are staggering across the line begging for some reprieve, desperate to see 2016 actually go right for once.
These past twelve miles were supposed to produce a pay raise, better grades, a toned abdomen, a lasting relationship, a new car, recognition, or happiness. They promised so much and instead we as a people and a world were sucked dry with war, famine, divorce, loss, heartache, violence, and fiasco.
It’s hard to imagine soaking in the journey when the journey has been so hard. No, what we really want is to just forget the details and be thankful we are anywhere at all.
Because of that, this New Years Day may be a little lackluster. Instead of excitement, there may be fear.
Just like this past 365 days, the next pose the possibility of just as much trouble, just as much busy-ness, just as much struggle. But there is something else we should understand—there also will be just as much progress. Do you realize that? So much has happened this year if you stop for a moment to think about it.
Truth be told, this year has just as much promise as last year did, because we have time. That time gives us hope.
And hope, though so much has seemed dark or disastrous, does not let us down or disappear. In the Bible, it literally says that hope does not put us to shame or disappoint us. And how do we know that? Because God is the source of hope and God dearly loves us. Dearly loves you. Dearly loves me.
On my birthday this year, while unwrapping a few gifts from my family, I pulled out a card from my grandmother. On the front flap were the usual well-wishes and a little cartoon car with a string of balloons floating behind it as it sped down a highway. Underneath, it read, “Wherever this year takes you…”
Inside in bright lettering, the sentence finished with, “Enjoy the ride!”
On the eve of another year, another journey, another race, that is what I want for you.
Even if this year brings you to hard inclines and failure, I want you to climb and try again and enjoy the building of your dreams.
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Even if this year brings losses and aches and pains, I want you to create new friendships and plans and enjoy the people around you.
Even if this year brings you on a direction you never expected in the first place, I want you to run as passionately as when the gun sounded and enjoy the fantastic twists and turns.
And even if this year proves to have its fair share of ups and downs, I want you to stop and enjoy where you are, taking in the hope in the time that you have.