obstacle course

Last night when I lay

sleepless, thinking,

I turned my problems

from back to front,

then front to back,

trying through worry

to wear them down

to nothing.


If anything,

I only made them

loom larger, by slipping

one next to another,

matching craggy edges

until I had fashioned

an insurmountable



Today I find

they are neither

worn to dust nor

mortared together;

one by one, they crop out

through the morning.

And as I meet them,

I huff and sigh and whine.


Yet I recall the first

evening of summer camp

when I was fourteen –

we leapt over fallen trees,

grabbed for tough rope ladders,

splashed through mud pits

in the dark.


We laughed raucously

in the face of each hurdle,

and we emerged

from our challenge

soaked but exhilarated,

with skinned knees

and new best friends.


So tomorrow I vow

to try this: the child who

shakes me awake

is the day’s starting

pistol, and I will leap up

with vigor, unfazed

by my handicap

of inadequate sleep.


— Sarah Dunning Park (what it is is beautiful, copyright 2012)


I have read and reread this poem, and every time a different stanza is my favorite. Not only is her language beautiful, not only do her metaphors so clearly describe things I struggle to articulate – my own difficulty sleeping, my own crankiness in the morning, my own frequent vows to change my attitude – but today it’s the title that gets me. 

Obstacle Course. An obstacle course is designed to challenge. It’s also designed to be fun, and to stretch the way you think about something. What’s the best way across or through? The fastest? The safest? Perhaps, the cleanest? My memories of obstacle courses from childhood all involve laughter. Somehow, the difficulty, the challenge, the struggle – also made us laugh. We laughed as we tripped, jumped, slithered, and fell. Sure, we wanted to win, to get the fastest time, to move on to the next thing — but it was fun.

Does my grown-up version of an obstacle course – the everyday exhaustion, the unending scheduling of school pickups and violin lessons and birthday parties and attempts to see friends, the juggling of time and priorities – ever seem fun?!! Could I possibly reframe it? See life as an obstacle course to be tackled, with laughter, and triumphed over – even if I get dirty in the process? Come out with grass-stained knees and a ripped t-shirt?

This season is a time many of us take stock of what we’ve been given, and make the time to somehow articulate and share what it is we are thankful for. Our family does this, too – we have a tree that I create on our living room wall each November, and each night we write something or someone down on a leaf and fill up the branches with reds, oranges, browns, and golds of thankfulness.


To be honest, I’ve struggled with it this year. Not because I’m in a dark place, or because I’m feeling overcome by bitterness or ungratefulness or frustration… I haven’t really been sure why I’ve had such trouble coming up with something to write on my leaf each evening. Except for this: could it be that I’m actually more content these days than I’ve been in the past? I don’t love my life, but I AM thankful for it in all its messiness and difficulty.

That is, I am thankful for the big things – I am thankful for my husband and my kids, for the health of my parents and my sister and our extended family, for my friends and our kids’ schools and for the ways that God provides for us in both mundane and surprising ways each month. But, honestly, so many things in my life drive me nuts right now. My calendar/schedule, first and foremost. Our bank account and the unending expenses of three kids and New York City, coming in a close second.

So perhaps this is the season for me to learn to be thankful for the mud pit in the obstacle course. For the slippery wall to climb. Can I laugh at the scheduling snafus, remembering the time I lunged for the trapeze and just missed it and fell onto the trampoline beneath? Can I shriek with glee at the way it bounces beneath me, sending me back up, again and again?

1 Comment

Filed under children, contentment, family, holidays, motherhood, parenting, thankfulness, Uncategorized, writing

One response to “obstacle course

  1. wink

    We are told in both the Old Testament and the New to praise God in ALL things. It has taken me a very long time to learn to let go and do just that. What I have received in return is an instant lessening of tension, given in the moment. What I have received that is permanent, always there, is a strand or thread of light and joy that runs beneath all of my thoughts, worries, fears, aches and sorrows — as well as all the fun stuff. This is absolutely a pearl beyond price. I am kept buoyant and balanced by praising Him in all things. It is something to consider doing; simply say, “Praise you, God. Thank you, Lord.” That’s all it takes. May your days grow in contentment.

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