Each breath feels like I’m sucking fire into my lungs. My heart seems about to burst from my chest. Every nerve in my body screams with pain. I know those around me are struggling as painfully as I am, but that doesn’t make my struggle any easier. What made me think I was cut out to be a long distance runner?
Where’s my Dad? He encouraged me to sign up for the team, to follow in the footsteps of my oldest brother, the team captain. Dad’s been involved in my training every step of the way—diet, rest, strengthening. He even brought me here today. And now, in the race of my life, when I need him the most, I can't see him anywhere.
This seems as if it will never end. My oldest brother has run this race before, and he gave me a map of the course. I’ve done my best to commit it to memory, but now, it’s so hard to recall. It feels like my entire world consists of pain—labored breathing, pounding heart, bleeding feet, throbbing joints, and utter, utter fatigue—as I face another uphill stretch, another valley, another bend in the path where I can’t see what’s ahead.
I’ve watched my brothers and sisters run this course. Dad was there for every one of their races, moving from point to point, cheering them on, shouting encouragement, calling their name with pride. But here I am on the course alone.
I round a curve and there, in the distance I can see the finish line. If I can just hang on, I can finish the course. Sobbing with exhaustion, I push myself toward the mark that designates victory. Using my last reserve of strength, I stumble toward the gate.
There’s my Dad! He’s standing at the finish line, calling my name, smiling, and waving me in. And there, at the end of the race, are my brothers and sisters, shouting, cheering, jumping up and down.
I stagger across the finish line and fall into my Dad’s arms. He wipes away my tears, and my brother, the team captain, gives me a drink of water.
Their welcome refreshes me, and as the pain fades, my thoughts clear and my memory springs to life. One after another, images flash through my mind—my Dad! I can see now; he was there with me, moving across my course, every step of the way—every curve, every rocky stretch, every uphill struggle.
The victory party is in full swing, and as the celebration swirls around me, I hear the sweetest sound of all. It’s my Dad, whispering in my ear.
“Well done, my child. You finished the course. You never lost faith. Welcome to joy.”