the treacherous trek and what lies beyond

some of the most beautifully breathtaking moments in this life
can only be found after a long hike, tiring and full of
rough climbs and treks through treacherous territory
and many times of questioning one’s own sanity

so pack well, invite someone along
who feeds your soul and fills the world
and your path with light
because not going, not seeking–
that’s never an option
for those who truly want to live

your story isn’t over
rest if you must
but then keep going
up the path
and one day the view will make it all worth it

“Ermita de la Virgen de la Peña, LIC Sierras de Santo Domingo y Caballera, Aniés, Huesca, España, 2015-01-06, DD 08-09 PAN” by Diego Delso. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

“Sunset view of the Ermita de la Virgen de la Peña (Hermitage of the Virgin of the Rock), province of Huesca, Spain. The village of Aniés is seen on the left. The oldest parts of the sanctuary date to Roman times, while much was built in the 13th Century. The hermitage is only accessible on foot, via a steep path in the forest and through caves in the mountain.”–The fact that this is known because folks had to make that long and treacherous trek is a beautiful thing to me.  That they wanted to gives me hope.

Catching A Second Wind

The summer of 1968 when my Mama and Daddy were preparing for my arrival and their new roles as parents, a man from Tanzania, John Stephen Akhwari, represented his country in the summer Olympics marathon taking place in Mexico City.  He had never practiced at such altitudes, and during the race, he cramped.  Just before the halfway point, when the runners were moving around each other, he was hit.  John Stephen fell, injuring his knee and dislocating the joint.  He also hurt his shoulder when he hit the pavement.  Out of 75 runners who began the race, 57 finished. When the crowd had dwindled and the sun had set, a television crew was sent out when they heard that one more racer was about to finish.  John Stephen Akhwari was number 57, finishing an hour after the gold medalist.

I had never heard this story before yesterday.  The pastor at Trinity United Methodist Church, my Mama’s church, shared the story during the All Saint’s Day service.  The story in itself is inspirational.  That this runner could finish in all of that pain–the drive, the intensity, pushing through the pain.  Yeah.  That’s something I could sit and meditate on for a while.  Without even hearing the rest of the story.

Oh, but the rest of the story!

The video played on the screens at the front of the church where the words to the hymns had just been shown.  When John Stephen stepped into the stadium and the cheers of the sparse crowd went up, I had goose bumps.  His pace seemed to pick up as he got closer to the finish line, and the crowd cheered him on.  I can only imagine the pain he was in or the thoughts he was having.  What was driving him?

After his inspirational finish, an interviewer asked him why he kept running, and he replied:

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Wow.  To finish the race.  Just starting it is not enough.  Follow through.  Push past the pain, past the changes that make it hard to breathe, work through the exhaustion.  Because we aren’t here just to start, we are here to live until the finish.  Don’t give up.  No matter how hard I, or we, want to.

I can see my Mama nodding now.

For almost fifteen months after Daddy died, when I struggled with anger and depression and anxiety, Mama was breathing.  She was pressing on through the pain and exhaustion.  And the whole time she was running her own race, she was cheering the rest of us on.  Encouraging me, all of us, to let go of the hurt and bitterness and live.  And Love.

Which she did.

After the video screen went dark, John Stephen’s words seem to echo through the sanctuary.  It was then that Pastor Lyons spoke to the heart of the story.  Not only did John Stephen push through all that would try to hold him back, he knew that he wasn’t in it just for himself.  He knew why he was running and whom he was running for.  He knew it wasn’t just about him.

So did my Mama.  Sometimes I forget that, but she never did.

She ran her race. She might have been slowed down by what was on the path, but she never stopped and she never gave up.  And when the time came, borrowing from an image that Mama’s dear friend and Associate Pastor Hugh shared yesterday, she ran on ahead, finished the race, and headed on up to The House.  Yes.  That made me smile.

I’ve seen my Mama run a few times in my life.  When my sister ran because she didn’t want her allergy shots.  When I ran from her when I knew I was in trouble.  (I paid for that one–you can’t outrun trouble. Unh-uh.)  And when that snake jumped out of the tree right at her.

But when I think of the image of her running on up ahead on the road, free of everything that had once slowed her down, finishing the race–well, that makes this girl want to stand up and clap sure enough.  And give a good and loud hoot and holler.  Good job, Mama.  Way.  To.  Go.

And now I need to work on getting myself back in the race.  To remember why and for whom I am continuing on this path.  Mama hasn’t been the only one talking to me lately and cheering me on.  The poet Mary Oliver has as well.  No wonder, as she has been compared to Emily Dickinson, my favorite poet.

Just the other day I came across this and I was reminded of it tonight:

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Well, yes ma’am I was.  But I’ll stop it.  Right now.  I’m working on getting that second wind and I’m starting to remember who was beside me as I started this race.  They might have run on up ahead to The House, but they wouldn’t be happy if I stopped now just because I can’t see them on the path anymore.  No ma’am, I’m going to get my act together and get back in there…..I will, I promise.  Just let me catch my breath, and I’ll be on my way.

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Much of the information about John Stepehn Akhwari was found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Stephen_Akhwari.

See his inspirational finish here:

Staring Disappointment in the Face

The past few weeks our Princess has been working toward a goal.  A goal she set for herself.  She wanted to make the swim team.  She’s worked hard and practiced, but I just didn’t know if it would be enough this time around.  She can try again throughout the year or wait until next summer and really go for it again.  I called myself preparing her for all outcomes, but especially the one where she didn’t quite reach her goal.

Our Princess in the water, giving it her all

Our Princess in the water, giving it her all

It was Thursday morning when she realized it wasn’t going to happen.  It took her a moment.  As I was gathering the littles and their things and getting ready to leave, she sat down.

“Mama, wait.”

I asked her why, saying that the class was over.

She looked around and asked, “Aren’t they going to give out the papers this time?” The paper.  The one that said you’d finished the lessons and if a particular box was checked you were eligible to try out for the team.

“No baby, not this time.”

She looked around again, and realization dawned on her face.  I pulled her close to me and walked quickly to our vehicle, not wanting the sobs to start out in the open.

See, just a week or so before she’d been in that position.  Only it was because they had moved her up to the top group in the classes.  She had a breakdown over her PROMOTION.  She loved her instructor and change does not come easy for that one.  Wonder where she got that from.  Ahem.  Moving along…..

The day of her promotion she started crying as soon as she came to me.  I thought she might have been corrected about something, as she’s really a sensitive child and that would have torn her up.  But no, she was devastated over changing teachers–she really, really loved Ms. G.

We worked through that one, and she did quite well.  So last Thursday as we buckled up and pulled forward to leave, I kept glancing back in the rearview mirror, waiting for the sobs that were sure to come over the heartbreak of not making it.

Only they didn’t.

When I came to the stop sign a couple of minutes later, I looked back again.  She was staring stoically out her window.  She didn’t want to talk about it, I had asked.  So she sat.  No tears, just sadness exuding from every pore.  Disappointment.  My heart broke.

It was one of those life transition moments.

Because in that moment I knew she knew.  That life wasn’t always going to turn out like she’d hoped.  In all honesty I guess she already knew that as she’s lost two of the people she loved most in the world over the past twenty months.  She cried her eyes out over both of them.  This was different.  Not a tear was shed.  To watch my baby be sad, and to see her hold it in, and not be able to do anything to fix it.

Yeah, that.  I don’t really know what to do with that.

I mean, adversity, I get it.  When one of my children complains about life not being fair, I’m the one who says (trying not to roll my eyes), “Fair is where we look at RV’s, see the cows and horses and pigs, and ride the Agri-Lift; life is most definitely NOT fair.”  It’s good that they not get a trophy for every little thing, or a reward for every time they help someone, or recognized every time they make a wise choice.  But that day I stared disappointment in her face, and I knew something had broken in her.  And that broke me.

Oh, she will try again.  For her sensitive spirit and sunshiny soul, she is also very strong-willed at times.  So I know that one day, if she continues to want it, she will make the team.  Because she will have worked hard and earned it.  And one day this will be but a blip in her memory.  But for me, it will always be the day that, as my sweet friend put it, “sunshine was sad.”  And that’s just hard.