There is an image I cannot erase from my mind. Travel with me for a moment to Kenya. At the end of the safari, my family rode in a gutted JEEP back toward civilization. Our driver, an authentic Masai warrior, barrels over rough terrain, nearly missing zebras, antelope and wildebeest. The JEEP throws us around, like an amusement park simulator ride on massive steroids!
(Our wild drive across the Mara. The dark dots are all kinds of wild animals traveling together)
I look behind me, and the rest of our crew is closing in on us in their JEEPs with their drivers. It looked like a scene from Indiana Jones with 6 stripped down, dirty JEEPS blazing across the Mara leaving thick dust trails behind them. Like stunt drivers performing a rehearsed routine, our Masai drivers were in a race to get their JEEP back to the main road first. This was our amazing adventure for at least 2 hours. It was the most freeing ride I’ve ever taken. Wide open plains dotted with wild animals. Full throttle. Full sun. Then…the most unexpected thing EVER happened.
(A sample of the open plain we traversed)
Music! Music began to play. Not just any music. Our Masai warrior hits a switch, and amidst the loud, rushing wind and hair slapping me in the face, Justin Bieber’s song, “Baby” began to play. What? Our entire family busted out laughing and asked how in the WORLD did this warrior, who kills lions with his bare hands, get a hold of this music? I commented that Bieber would probably never imagine his music being the backdrop for a crazy thrill ride across the Mara in Africa.
Our driver, donning his personal machete and gorgeous, exquisite Masai garb, told us that previous travelers turned him on to it. After “Baby” was done, Jamaican island music rang out over the whistling wind. Wrong landscape, but surely more fitting than American pop music. Again, a gift from previous travelers. Bruce asked him how he was playing music in this old, gutted JEEP. He explained that he had made a homemade iPod of sorts and hardwired it to the vehicle. We were impressed with his ingenuity!
But, I digress.
As we embraced the rocky, grassy, unmarked plains of the Masai territory working our way back to Kipsigis country, in the far distance we saw the most unbelievable sight! Every time I think about it I get chills.
Far off on the horizon, we saw a dark figure moving very fast. Squinting my eyes, straining to see, I caught the glimpse of a man. Running. Foot travel is the mode of transportation for most people in Kenya, but there wasn’t anything typical about this man. He was wearing athletic shorts, a crisp, white tank top, white knee socks and running sneakers. None of which had we seen anywhere in our time in Kenya. Where had he come from, and where was he going?
We all gasped at the same time and said, Surely he is in training! For the Olympics, perhaps? We asked our Masai driver and he concurred. He didn’t know the man, but said Olympic hopefuls do, in fact, train in this terrain. Our jaws fell agape as we watched, mesmerized, at this mystery man’s grace and speed. This man was the fastest runner I’ve ever personally seen with my own eyes. And poise! His long legs stretched out before and behind him, back straight, arms taut – he didn’t even seem real.
No one has bright, white clothes in the Mara. They wear native attire. No one has shoes and socks so brilliantly crisp we could easily spot them from a distance. They are barefoot. Oh yes, he was training indeed.
And, think about where he was running! Most runners I see run in the city, suburbs or on greenway trails. This man was completely alone, running in the land of hungry lions, temperamental Cape buffalo, sly jaguars, wicked- fast cheetahs, territorial hippos, elusive rhinos, venomous snakes and audacious hyenas. As much as that thought would make ME run like the wind (for my life!), I still could not have done what he did. He had a goal and was training for a dream.
Did he realize he was living his dream? How about us? Are we? Do we?
For this man, he was already living his dream. At some point, he stopped his normal day’s work, put on his training outfit (perhaps sponsored by someone?), and took his first step. That step led to more, quicker steps, and those led to miles and miles of lightening fast, all-out running – racing the wind and daring the company of wild beasts.
I have never seen anything so inspirational of the human spirit. I’ve watched Dateline and 60 Minutes who produce shows based on the one in a million who beat all odds to compete in sports, music and fine arts. But, those shows have an ending. There is closure when the man or woman, child or adult proves they have accomplished their goals. I never have I witnessed the dream in play.
This man’s race has not yet happened. Does that make him less of a runner? Or, does working hard every day – rain or shine, sick or healthy – running the Mara make him a runner?
The answer is obvious. He is, in fact, a race runner right now.
For those of us who most likely will never train in the Mara, what are the dreams that stir our heart? They are just as important as this man’s, but do we give them the same credit?
Or, do we choose to let the mundane monotony of life be our excuse for not suiting up (be it arming ourselves with a paintbrush, a pen, a camera, a tool, a musical instrument, or our voices) and accept our place on the sidelines?
God gives us dreams. Dreams spur on hope, give us reason to fight against hardships and ignite purpose on our lives. Once we have given those dreams to God, asking permission to pursue them in His timing and for His glory, what holds us back?
I think the biggest thing that holds us back is – us. We feel our limitations. We listen to the doubt inside us that reminds us of our inadequacies and past failures. We measure ourselves against the world and believe that we have nothing to offer. Surely we are not as good as the next man or woman or child.
This happened to me just recently. I was trapped in a conversation with someone who made me feel really bad about myself. The topic was photography. I will spare you the long story, but suffice it to say I told him, in an effort to end the conversation and diffuse his temper, that I was not a real photographer. When I said those words, a part of me died. I totally sold myself out because of a man I barely knew. I went home and sobbed to my husband that my entire history of photography, that began when I was 10 years old when, for my birthday, my great-grandmother put a 110 instamatic in my hands and instantly I found my voice to the world, was gone. All of my work, albeit unpaid, was suddenly worthless. Because I don’t have credentials behind my name, or awards on my bookshelves, or a paycheck to prove it – I sold my dream for the price of exiting a conversation.
I felt numb for a few days. Perhaps, deep down, this is indeed how I felt about myself, and it took verbally cornering me to bring it out? Or, perhaps, I reduced myself to the world’s standards and realized I didn’t measure up. Or, perhaps still, I caved under the pressure and said something I didn’t really believe.
For me, I know it was the third choice. In the days following, God had to show me, in His own unique way, the truth of who I am. He proverbially picked me up, brushed off my knees and wiped the tears from my eyes. He showed me who I am in Him, and that person is someone who believes in her dreams and wants to enjoy every part of the journey, whether anyone else believes in me or not.
Ironically, not by coincidence, God recently put me in not one, but two situations where my being a photographer was validated by two separate people – on their own initiative, not mine. I don’t even know these people. God caused our paths to cross, and I believe it was to reinforce exactly what I felt about the race runner I saw in the Mara. Because, what I felt about that man was that although he had not yet won the public affirmation for which he was training, he was absolutely a true runner in my opinion. No doubt.
The same takeaway is for us. Perhaps more than a single race to prove who wins; it is ignoring what others say about us; it is the numerous days, months and years of practice; it is the countless miles we run in our own way that validate our dreams.
I once ran a 5K cold. My daughter was entered in the race, but when we got there, we were surprised to see hundreds of runners and hundreds of their family members and friends. My daughter didn’t have a cell phone and wasn’t familiar with the trail. All of her fellow group runners had already begun. She was alone. There was no way I was going to let my daughter disappear into a crowd of a sea of people and weave her way through 3+ miles of unfamiliar roads. Spontaneously, I signed myself up, pinned a number to my shirt and off we went. We ran the whole thing, but unlike her, I had not trained for it. Did that race make me a runner? No! It made me a protective mother.
My point is, even some who show up for the race aren’t necessarily runners at heart. Many people have many motives for why they do what they do.
It’s those of us who forge on, despite criticism, despite our own self-doubt, despite the rough travel and slim odds – who are truly living the dream. The dream is the journey.
Are you living your dream today?