It is funny how we tend to hyper-focus on the finish lines of life.
Every met goal is perceived as an ending, when in reality each ending is merely a check-point on the marathon we call life.
This is especially true when we are running a particularly hard leg of the race, like the one we have been running these last few months.
The road leading up to adoption day was full of potholes, pitfalls and roadblocks…far more than we shared with anyone who was cheering us on from the sidelines. It was a wearisome run and by the last mile we were crawling toward the finish line.
You see, in my hopelessly naïve head I thought we just had to make it to adoption day. (You’d think we’d know better!) Knowing most of the struggles with my three youngest were rooted in fears and anxiety about the adoption failing before it was finalized, I (coming from an untraumatized mindset) thought that the finalization of the adoption would bring feelings of security and felt safety. Exhausted and digging deep for that final push of energy needed to make it to (and through) adoption day, I thought that once we made it to Tuesday I could rest my weary self and enjoy the reward of a race well run.
What I discovered, however, was that as we finalized the adoption, and we prepared to break through the finish line ribbon to the cheers of celebration, the finish line wasn’t where I expected it to be. And I could have cried. Much like a runner who had paced themselves so as to ration out their energy down to the last mile, only to discover they had miscalculated and the finish line was actually five miles further down the road, we arrived home on Tuesday night to find that someone had up and moved the finish line ribbon and we had to keep running.
And we were all tapped dry.
There was nothing left in Toby and I.
I was weary to the point of tears when everything and everyone combusted in an explosion of hard emotions.
It was at that moment that I realized that despite the raw sores on my feet, the lack of tread left on my shoes, and the bone-deep weariness that consumed me, my race was not done. In fact, despite thinking I had reached the finish line, I had actually just begun the real race.
It is those moments in life that test our mettle.
Are we going to quit or will we choose to tap deep and keep running?
The days following our adoption hearing brought emotional “fall-out” as everyone dealt with the crash that follows highly emotional experiences. Tears came more quickly, anger was harder to manage, anxiety left family members doing whatever it took to survive the week, while others who couldn’t manage the heightened anxiety simply ran away.
They ran to prevent others from running first.
They packed their bags and walked out the door before they could be hurt by the actions of others…after all, that is what happened in the past.
I thought adoption day would bring feelings of security, but for a child whose joy following his first adoption was stolen from him shortly thereafter by the destructive nature of cancer, nothing in this world feels safe or secure.
And if the threat of losing what you want most weighs heavy enough on your soul, you run. And that is what Braden did, and Tyler did, and Ozzie did…multiple times that week.
So, I did the only thing I could do…I followed.
It took nine miles and 2 1/2 hours of walking before he believed I wasn’t going to leave him or give up on him.
I followed to show that we NEVER give up on family,
And to show them that if they chose to run, I would follow them…Always.
Much of my week was spent following runaways in my car as I drove at a snail’s pace behind them, with my hazard lights blinking to warn other drivers of their presence.
I followed for hours and hours and hours…
Testifying to them through my actions that we will never give up on them.
And by following them, I proved my love through my unwillingness to let them flee when family love gets uncomfortable or scary,
Because it will.
Being part of a family is the most blessed gift Heavenly Father has given us on earth, but that doesn’t mean it is always easy, or fun, or comfortable.
Being part of a family means that you choose to keep showing up, keep supporting, keep communicating, keep loving, and keep running the hard race…even when ever fiber of your being wants to quit.
Love is a choice. If it were a feeling it would be as intangible as a giggle or as untouchable as a rainbow, but true love…love built through dirty hands and broken nails and sheer grit…
Well, that is the type of love you can trust.
That is the type of love you build a life on.
That is the type of love our Father in Heaven shows us.
Life is not a sprint, and adoption is REALLY not a sprint. It is a long race, made up of lots of short stretches. Some are scenic, some are hard, and some will do everything short of breaking you,
But the choice to keep running is one we will all have to make time and time again in our lives.
When I find myself getting weary or wanting to quit, or discouraged by the finish line that never seems to manifest over the next horizon, I think of this story and draw strength from its message:
“During the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, John Stephen Akhwari placed last in the marathon, yet major sports magazines named him as one of two “top international Olympians” that year. While losing the race, Mr. Akhwari won the admiration of untold thousands because he embodied the spirit of a true Olympian as he finished despite setbacks.
Track and field athletes that year faced a common challenge when they arrived in Mexico City: its altitude. At 7,350 feet, it was the highest elevation at which any Summer Olympics had been held. From Mbulu, Tanzania, where the altitude is -3.85 feet, Mr. Akhwari suffered leg cramps early in the race. Yet he continued to run.
He collided with another runner and fell, dislocating and badly cutting a knee and injuring a shoulder. He got up and he continued to run.
By sunset, most of his 56 fellow competitors had finished the race. Wounded and in pain, he continued to run. Most spectators had left the arena where the marathon’s finish line was located.
Those who remained noticed lights flashing on a vehicle escorting a lone runner and cheered as the Tanzanian hobbled along the track in his own victory lap to cross the finish line more than an hour after the winner.
It’s doubted that anyone present realized they were witnessing a great moment in the history of the Olympics. Many journalists and people posting on various media have told the story of Mr. Akhwari’s personal victory. In a New York Times article upon the death of Bud Greenspan in 2010 is this account:
“Mr. Greenspan, an eight-time Emmy Award winner, often distilled his view of the Olympics into an incident from the 1968 Summer Games in Mexico City. He was shooting the marathon, which was won by an Ethiopian, Mamo Wolde.
“But what mesmerized him was John Stephen Akhwari of Tanzania. … When Mr. Greenspan asked him why he continued to the end, Mr. Akhwari was incredulous at such a question. ‘My country did not send me 5,000 miles to start the race,’ Mr. Greenspan often recalled him saying. ‘My country sent me 5,000 miles to finish the race’”
Robert D. Hales spoke of John Akhwari’s determination to finish his race: “He knew who he was—an athlete representing the country of Tanzania. He knew his purpose—to finish the race. He knew that he had to endure to the finish, so that he could honorably return home to Tanzania. Our mission in life is much the same. We were not sent by Father in Heaven just to be born. We were sent to endure and return to Him with honor.
I will choose to continue running the race God has put before me. Not because it is easy, and certainly not because it is always fun,
But because I was not sent here to start the race. My Father sent me here to finish the race.
I will run and run and run this race for love…
Love of my child, love for my family, and because of the infinite love shown to me by my Father in Heaven, who has promised that while this journey may not be easy, it is eternally worth ever step.
PS- This week’s stretch of road has proven to be smoother.
God is good…Always good!