What To Do When You Just. Can’t. Get. There.

[Glenn Hardin competing in hurdles at the 1936 Randall's Island Olympic trials, New York, NY]Sometimes, life seems like a series of problems, a string of obstacles that come your way. You’ve waited the long winter, tilled the soil, and planted the crops. You feel a sense of satisfaction as you water your garden and notice the first green shoots peeking through the soil. You go to bed at night thinking of how wonderful it will be at harvest time when you can eat organic vegetables planted by your own hand. But then, you wake up the next morning to find that winter’s last frost came in the night and destroyed your hard work and hope for the future.

I’ve seen this a lot in my life. I had a strong vision to see a school, or series of schools, started in Cambodia for the poorest children that I could find. I spent three years preparing: gaining permissions, developing a team, moving to a rural town, and raising funds. Then, a week before the school opened I became ill. I flew back to the USA, never involved in the fruit of my labor.  Now another man is reaping that harvest. I am proud that this year the school serves over 130 children from impoverished families. But it still stings that I’m not a part of it.

My wife and I talk a lot about the future. Our children are hitting the teenage years and we wonder what the “right thing” is to do for them. Even though we love our family and friends, it’s hard to imagine returning to the USA for any significant time. It’s not the place, it’s us. As a friend once put it, “Yeah, Dustin, you don’t belong here. You vibrate to a different frequency, like you’re from another planet.” That may not sound like a compliment to you, but I found it very encouraging. I understand what he meant.  It has to do with our calling and purpose. It’s unusual. It begins with, “Go…”.

Lately, life feels like a Marathon run with hurdles every ten feet. Every time it feels like we are rising up, something happens to cloud our sense of victory. I feel like we’re along with Frodo and Samwise on their journey through Mordor where their obstacles compounded each step of the way:

Sam: Mordor… the one place in Middle-Earth we don’t want to see any closer… the one place we’re trying to get to… is just where we can’t get. Let’s face it, Mr. Frodo. We’re lost! –J.R.R Tolkien

Obstacles make it hard to see. Yes, they could see Mt. Doom in the distance in the land of Mordor where the shadows lie, but they couldn’t see how to get there. I feel like that now! I can see the mountain that we’re trying to get to. Yet, I’m a bit befuddled as to exactly how to get there.

A dear friend’s favorite companion is his 1978 CJ5 Jeep. I know that his Jeep is his favorite person, because he spends more time fixing it than he spends time with anyone else (that was before he got married). I used to hang out with him while he tinkered, modified, and overhauled the thing. He was really good at it, and it was hard to stump him. But every so often he would sit down, light up a smoke, and say, “It’s time to stop and stare.”

Sometimes we need to take a step back from what we’re doing, stop thinking, and stare. It’s a better alternative than giving up, because chances are you are on the precipice of the solution you need. After a while, my buddy would get up, stamp out his cigarette, and get back to work. New ideas came. He didn’t quit.

Like my buddy and Sam Gamgee, I won’t give up either. I try different ways to go until I figure out that I’m going in circles. Then, I need what Sam and Frodo found. A guide.

Hopefully, the guide that I’m looking for won’t drool over raw fish, show multiple, opposite personalities, try to steal my ring, and try to murder me in my sleep. Hey, I’m not picky, but really? Gollum? The point is, I know that I need someone to help out. I’m ready and waiting. They say that when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. So we’ll see. Maybe the teacher is me this time, and I just need to stare a little longer.

Until then, I’ll keep going. There’s another trait that you need to get through one of life’s obstacle courses. Determination. So I’ll leave us with another quote from The Lord of the Rings, this one about Samwise:

One tiny Hobbit against all the evil the world could muster. A sane being would have given up, but Samwise burned with a magnificent madness, a glowing obsession to surmount every obstacle, to find Frodo, destroy the Ring, and cleanse Middle Earth of its festering malignancy. He knew he would try again. Fail, perhaps. And try once more. A thousand, thousand times if need be, but he would not give up the quest. ― J.R.R. Tolkien

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About the Author

Dustin White

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