I try to go for a run on my birthday. No headphones. No music. Just a run to think and reflect. I was getting ready to do that this afternoon, but the idea of doing four to five miles in my neighborhood did not appeal to me. A few weeks back, I listened to a podcast interview with a guy who ran a mile for every year on his birthday. Attempting to run 33 miles would easily be the stupidest thing I have done in a long time and there is no shortage of stupid things that I have done.
Then it hit me. I could drive to the high school where my wife teaches and run a lap on the track for each year. That was still more miles than I had run In a good month and a half, but it was doable.
Fairly quickly, I realized this run was going to strenuously test my birthday "no headphones" rule. When I ran track in high school, I ran the 800 meters. That is two laps around the track. The longest race at the high school level is 3200 meters. That is eight laps and that kind of repetition seemed mind-numbingly boring to me. And I was going to run thirty-three laps by myself with nothing to distract myself but my thoughts?
Each time I crossed the finish line, I had to say the number lap out loud so that I wouldn't lose track. Or gain track depending on my mathematical error. Around lap five, I thought back to my fifth birthday which is the first one that I could really member. Then I fell into a rhythm. At the line, I would call out my lap. And then I would think about that year in my life. I would remember events that defined me, people who were important to me.
Up I went through elementary school and middle school. I remembered seeing Twister for my 13th birthday. I remembered Seesalt themes and songs that were important to me during these years. I got to high school and remembered discipleship groups, insecurity, and running on a track like this one for the first time. I got to college. I remembered meeting and falling in love with EA. I remembered the friends and professors and experiences there that shaped me. I remembered getting married and moving to Atlanta. I remembered coming back to South Carolina. I remembered losing the child the first time EA was pregnant. I remembered Jim and Liam. I remembered going back to school and the difficult decision of leaving a job I knew for something still unknown.
And at the beginning of each lap, I said a quick prayer. The seventh lap, when these prayers started, I said: "Thank you, God, for my seventh year and 1990." And there were some years where that prayer was easy. Others? Not so much. Thirty-two? "God, this has been a difficult and trying year. Maybe one of the hardest I've had. Even still, thank you for my thirty-second year and 2015."
I think the last several years have taught me about those two little words. It can be ridiculously easy to dwell on what is going wrong. That's a path that naturally leads to cynicism and bitterness. And I have felt those two creatures in my bones. I don't like that. I have tried my hardest to keep hope about me. But a naive hope won't cut it. Pretending that everything is okay does just as much if not more damage than that ingrained bitterness. That's why "even still" is important. It looks at the crap, but also realizes that I still have an unbelievable amount for which to be grateful.
Life can be difficult. It can be a struggle to put one foot in front of the other for the present lap. There will be times when I am frustrated. When I have had it up to hear with telling kids at school and my own children to please do what I ask them for once. When things don't go according to plan or I am freaked out because I don't know the plan. When I am tired. When I wonder if God is listening. When I wonder if I should just move my whole family to the Midwest and take up farming. Or become a married Protestant monk. When I read the news and want to beat my head on the table until it makes a dent. When I question whether I have anything to offer. When all the poop is hitting all the fans.
Even still, I have been incredibly blessed. I come from a loving family and I'm still close to my parents, my siblings, and their families. I have been given an awesome family of my own with an unbelievably amazing wife and two curious boys. I have friends to whom I can turn when things are difficult or I want to talk about whatever nerdy thing is on my mind. I have gotten to see incredible things. I have hiked the Grand Canyon, waded in the Pacific, climbed temples at Chichen Itza, danced a holy conga in Cuba, and run through the streets of Venice. There is a roof over my head, food on our table, books on our shelves.
And I have gotten to experience some incredible things in the 33 years that I have been here so far. Things I remembered during those 33 laps today. Things to which I can hold when believing in God is difficult. Things that give me hope and allow me to pray "even still...". That was the start of my oxygen-deprived prayer after I finished the 33rd lap. I prayed that I would make the most of the time that I have been given. I asked that God would forgive me of all the times that I have messed up and would help me to hunger after following Jesus. I thanked God for EA, Jim, Liam, and the rest of my family. I expressed gratitude that I get to have another year and that I would love God and those around me in that time. And I prayed that I would hold on to hope.