I had this brilliant idea to sign up me and my five-year-old son to run an obstacle race challenge challenge together. He has a new enthusiasm for the American Ninja Warrior television show. So I thought this would be a fun way to fuel that fire, get us active and make a sweet memory together. Let’s call it a mother son bonding experience. As the race got closer, I started having more doubts. Maybe this wasn’t such a great idea. My son had cried walking the two blocks home from school because it was too strenuous just a couple weeks ago. There were tears of exhaustion on a casual, fun family bike ride one recent evening. This is the same kid that after going hiking, ingeniously came up with his plan of “drive thru hiking” as an alternative so he wouldn’t have to walk any further. Needless to say, he doesn’t have the reputation of being my most resilient child. I wasn’t sure how this was going to go.
The day of the race came, and he was never more excited! He was ecstatic and told everyone at church that morning that he was running a real obstacle race! Doubts swirled around in my head, but I didn’t falter and let them show. I gave him the very enthusiastic mom thumbs up and high fives needed. I tried to mentally prepare myself not to be that annoying mother that shames her child but uses words of encouragement and praise. Although I knew with my competitive nature that might be a challenge. As we stood on the starting line covered in bubbles and foam (because every good race should start that way), my son grabbed my hand and told me not to let it go. I could feel his anxious excitement. We counted down and the siren went off and off we went. We ran through the fire hoses and around the fields to the first wall climbing obstacle. We got through it together, although my son did get mad at me for “helping others win” when I gave a hand to some young girls beside us. That competitive nature must be genetic or something. It wasn’t but just a few minutes later when the exhaustion settled in. My precious five-year-old was tired and not sure if he could finish. We had 10 more obstacles to go. He so badly wanted to win the race, I could see it, but boy was he tired already. Being one of the youngest competitors, nearly all the other runners had passed us up and were out of sight. I looked at him and said, “Do you want to win?” A resounding yes was his reply! “This is how we do it”, I said. “We win if we don’t give up!” We win if we cross that finish line.” We win if you just keep going”. This little motivational speech was all he needed to hear to endure the heat and long distances for his short little legs. We carried heavy weights, belly crawled under wire, crossed muddy creeks, ran through tires, and climbed up and down large walls. Although we didn’t finish first, we “slip and slided” through that finish line second to last with big smiles on our faces and a great pride in our hearts. I saw my son beaming with pride as they draped his medal across his chest. All those challenges laced with sweat and exhaustion had been worth it now. He looked up at me with bright eyes and a wide smile “We won mom! We didn’t give up!”.
For the past seven years, the month of September always hits me hard. September 8 is the anniversary of a brutal attack that I survived. Each year around Labor Day, my body starts to feel the tension and anxiety. I find it harder to get out of bed and do normal every day things such as prepare breakfast or take a shower. It usually takes me a few days to realize this is PTSD at its finest. My counselors have told me multiple times that the body remembers trauma even if we are not consciously remembering it ourselves. Even though this phenomenon takes over my body every September I am always surprised by it. I want to be okay. I want to be past all of it and be able to move forward. Maybe this year will be different I think, and when it’s not, depression slithers in and I am caught as the unsuspecting victim once again. Seven years of fighting through all these emotions. This month I have tried to write to commemorate the anniversary, but a blank screen glared back at me for weeks. I wanted to be able to write a post about the gratitude I feel, I could not get my fingers to type anything without feeling like a complete phony. My desire is always to do my best in being authentic. I aim to be raw and genuine not withholding the hard stuff, but I always desire to land my writing in a place of hope. As I sat down to write over the last few weeks, hope escaped me. I was nowhere near that landing zone. I was landing in despair, defeat, and discouragement. How can I encourage others when I’m not even finding it for myself?
As I have struggled and inched my way through September I may not have landed in a river of hope and joy, but I have learned a few things while sitting and listening for God’s voice to break through. A few weeks ago, I sat on a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan in the early morning hours. The lake seemed to go on without end and was majestic in nature. My eyes were taking in a glorious view, but all I could feel was my heavy heart beating in my chest and sadness overwhelming my soul around it. As I sat above the beauty of creation and the tears flowed freely, I asked God when this pain was going to stop. I begged for the healing to come once and for all. I beseeched him for purpose in all this pain. Truth be told, I often don’t see an end to the suffering. I know that Jesus brings hope and joy. I sing about that all the time. I can cite a plethora of verses telling me that Jesus is better. However all that was just knowledge in my head and was not seeping into my heart like it often does at other times of the year. You might be in the same boat as me. You may have heard someone tell you “this too shall pass” , but often as a fellow writer KJ Ramsey says sometimes it feels more like “this too shall last.” We are not guaranteed that our pain will end here on earth. In fact, we are guaranteed that trials will continue to come our way until our dying day. As believers, we may be able to find the joy and hope that is in Jesus on most days, but what about those days, weeks or months where his love isn’t always penetrating our hearts and filling us up. What about when those hard things seem just too hard and impossible to overcome? What do we do then? Friends, I will tell you the same thing I told my son a couple weeks ago, we persevere!
My son learned an important life lesson during that obstacle race. He learned that when things are hard, the key to success is perseverance. I have already used this on him multiple times this week when he tells me something is too hard for him. I remind him the difficulties of the race, but that he crossed that finish line. He seems to understand perseverance a bit more because he has experienced the benefits of it. Truth be told, this is a lesson I am constantly learning and struggle with daily. Perseverance is defined as “the steady persistence in a course of action, or a purpose, especially in spite of difficulties, obstacles, or discouragement”. Perseverance takes effort, sweat and tears. It is not passive. You cannot sit by while the challenges of life come at you and overcome them. Perseverance is active and intentional. It’s a decision to stay in the race and fight through the adversity that stands in front of you. When those walls look too high to climb, it’s setting our eyes in the knowledge that there is a finish line ahead and prize that is worthy to be attained. Then we get through each obstacle as it comes. We cannot worry about what is up ahead and around the corner. We focus on what is in front of us now that God is giving us the grace to do overcome today. And when that exhaustion comes at us full force and we are ready to take a seat or throw in the towel, we remember that unlike a physical race we are not operating out of our own strength. We remember that our ability to spiritually overcome does not come from within us, but from Christ himself. I do not need to pull myself up from my bootstraps and bolster my own faith to get to the finish line. In fact, that would cause me to fall on my face in failure all the more. Hebrews 12:1-2 encourages us in this- “Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and the perfecter of our faith” (CSB). It is Jesus who is our source of energy and strength in this spiritual race we are running. As my son was competing in his obstacles, I didn’t run ahead or lag behind, I stayed by his side with a helping hand and an encouraging word. How much more so is our heavenly Father doing this for us? Even when it’s too dark to see through the fog and it doesn’t seem like his presence is a reality, He promises that he never leaves us. He is there with a strong helping hand reaching out for us. We just need to reah back and take it.
We must call to mind the truth that behind every trial, we have a God who is working it for our good and his glory. He is for us, not against us. Romans 5: 3-5 goes as far to say this “We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, who has been given us”. (NIV). Even in those darker days, I cling to this verse and trust the process that God has laid out for me. My feelings want to say that this suffering is meaningless and the pain is pointless. My feelings want to believe that God isn’t listening to me or redeeming my story. However, I know that my feelings lie. I have decidedly chosen to believe in my heart the truths of God’s word. I believe that he is using every single tear drop and redeeming every part of the pain for a greater purpose. Nothing is in vain. I know that if I persevere long enough that the hope eventually comes back. It always does. I trust in Romans 5, that in my perseverance I can know that God is growing my character. And as my character is growing, hope begins to blossom in my heart once again. And as hope begins to blossom, I am now able to fully recognize that it was worth it all because God’s amazing love is overflowing from the depths of my heart. What a beautiful outcome and reward we have for us if we just hold on and endure.
I can understand perseverance a bit more because, like my son, I have experienced the benefits of it. Each October comes like a breath of fresh air. I may call it new month mercies (totally made that up, but I’ll go with it). Because I live in a broken world and I am a human being, I will repeat this cycle over again and again in my lifetime. One day my faith will become my sight and I won’t have to persevere anymore. Until that day, I keep on fighting through and grasping on to hope. I want to encourage you today if you are in a dark season that feels never-ending, don’t give up. Keep going. Trust the process that your perseverance is building character, and that character brings about hope, and this hope does not disappoint! Our heavenly father is telling us “Persevere, keep going! You win if you don’t give up! You win because I have already won the race for you!”