I stand on the sidelines at a community race. Runners cross the finish line with enthusiasm and relief. I snap a few photos and catch the sheer determination written all over their bodies to finish strong.
The first runner, a young man under 20, crosses the line in under 17 minutes. His parents quietly cheer him across the finish line. By the look on their faces, I see they are proud of their son and a little astonished. I'd like to know how he ran 5 kilometres that quickly. I ask his parents and they admit they did not even know their son was quite that good.
After the first runners in have caught their breath, I hear other spectators point out runners who are struggling. They are still in the race, but they really have to work at finishing. Their determination is in every step forward, but they need encouragement from their family and friends to get to the end of this race.
I am a bystander at this race. I'm here to cheer when my friends finish first in their categories and I stand and clap for the ones who fight their way to the finish.
There are times in life when I finish strong and there are times in life when I limp to cross the line.
Times when I need to be encouraged and times when I need to be the encourager.
Times when I am ill prepared for parts of the race in life and others have come along beside me and times when I can say to someone else, 'Come on, you are doing a great job!"
It is a bright balmy day in June and we are limping across the finish line. My children are finishing up math lessons and polishing piano pieces and tightening up technique for the exam just days away. We are coming to the end of our geography and history books for this year.
But, I've texted and sputtered to friends, my sisters, and mostly to my husband, "I really can't do this anymore. I can't be mom and teacher anymore."
I am exhausted, I'm worn out. I'm tired of directing my kids to their math manipulatives and piano practices and language lessons. There are lists left undone and laundry mounting. Suppers are simple and bread is store-bought and the gardens only have garlic growing in them this year.
A friend reminds me that for the last several years in May and June I have had big yellow school bus envy. I've read online about all the moms that are dragging at the end of the school year.
As a home school mom, to admit that I am tired seems to equate failure. I must claim the worst homeschool mom ever.
I've had my kids around me 24/7 all year and coming to the end of the school year doesn't really change a whole lot. Except, I won't lay in bed at night worrying about all the spelling and grammar that still needs to be taught, how I am probably failing my kids, and who am I to think that I could do this in the first place. Those kinds of thoughts always increase as I lay my head down for the night. So I preach to myself--do not be anxious about anything--before I can find sleep.
I can be defeated or I can finish strong.
Sometimes looking back to where we've come from can help. My kids have learned lessons, and worked on character, and shown compassion. We've read many books together. We've discovered fascinating things about God and His world. We have learned that God answers prayer and when we are weak, He is strong. We've memorized scripture, and filled pages in journals. They've spent hours playing inside and out, hiked, biked, swam, sang and slept out under the stars on the trampoline. We have strengthened friendships, served, slowed down, and lived a full life this past year.
Of course, I still focus on what still needs to be done, and the handwriting that is still too sloppy, and the scales that are not even, and the math facts that need constant review, but aren't being reviewed regularly enough, and the words that are spelled phonetically--not according to the English dictionary, and the grammatical errors in speech as well as in print. I can easily trip myself up while I am comparing with others and with feelings of inadequacy.
But, this is the thing, we need to look ahead to finish strong. I didn't see any runners looking behind them as they ran to the finish line. Some sprinted in with the extra they had held back, some gave out a cheer for themselves, some smiled, some panted the wee little bit that they had left, but they kept breathing.
I'm struggling to move forward. I want to keep saying, "I can't do this", just like I did when I got to 10 cm and had pushed for over and hour and a half, without an epidural and the doctor told me to keep pushing. I really didn't think I could do it anymore, but somehow I did!
It's our eighth year homeschooling and every year we get winded and we wonder how on earth we are going to get to the end, but when we do we know we will take a breather and jump back on the track refreshed.
When you use life to learn lessons and not the classroom you know that you are never done. Learning doesn't end in June and start back up in September. We are life-long learners and some years the race will feel more intense, the hills may be steeper, but we always must look toward the finish line.
We learn that we don't quit, even when we are tired and want to throw in the towel.
And I've been learning this because I did not have to do it alone.
We all get to take turns being the encourager and being encouraged.
Run along side someone else and cheer them on.