In describing his 2004 win in the Daytona 500, Dale Earnhardt Jr., arguably NASCAR’s most popular driver, said, “Everybody sort of has this mountain in front of them that they put in front of themselves they want to climb…For a moment, for a day, you’re at the top of that mountain.” If anyone had a mountain of expectations to climb, Dale Jr. did and his was tall. As the namesake of a seven time NASCAR champ, Junior’s mountain most likely seemed insurmountable when his father died in 2001 in a wreck on the last lap of this very race while holding off competitors for the two cars he owned in front of him, Dale Jr. and his teammate Michael Waltrip.
I know I have lost most of my readers and maybe credibility at this point, but the Coxes are huge NASCAR and Dale Jr. fans and this is the week of the Great American race. I promise I have a point.
Coming out of college, I had all the confidence in the world and felt like I was on top of the mountain. I had grown from a tiny, fairly shy high school student to a guy who seemed to have everything going for him. I had come to know the grace of God early on in college and for the most part, the next few years of my life was filled with success after success. I studied hard and made only three B’s. I joined a young fraternity and would become president of this group of misfits. Opportunities to join new groups and gain new scholarships came out of the woodwork without much effort. My community of friends was tight knit with many strong supportive Christians to whom I owe so much, and I was dating the sweet girl who would become my bride. I had chosen and been accepted to become an Reformed University Fellowship intern for the next two years working with college freshmen to understand God’s grace in their life.
I know it may sound like bragging, but that was the lay of the land and needless to say the adversities I faced then now seem like mole hills. Life up to this point for me had been smooth sailing. My dad and mom loved one another immensely and me and my new wife more than I would know. I wouldn’t even know the sting of death until I was almost 30 as no one extremely close to me would die until my grandpa in 2002.
All of this produced a very idealistic world view and I was building a huge mountain of expectations and plans for what mine and my family’s future would look like. Kathy, our five kids (it seemed doable then) and I would gather nightly around our family meal where we discuss the day’s events and how God was directing their footsteps. They would attend a classical Christian school learning to love the Lord more and more and of course grow up and marry Godly women. Kathy and I would retire and live happily ever after.
Well a funny thing happened on the way to the forum. Come to find out that my plan which seems almost comical now was not the path God laid out for me. Our lives would be met with obstacles and struggles, sickness and pain. There would be a ten year search for a diagnosis of a rare autoimmune disease for Kathy and my own chronic back pain. Couple that with a couple of untimely layoffs (are there timely ones?), and my plans were derailed more than once.
Having “put this mountain” in front of myself of expectations, it felt like every goal not reached was a failure which is just not the case. I certainly have hopes, dreams, expectations, and goals for both me and my family which I would love to surpass, but the mountain in front of me is artificial, built by idealistic ideas of how everything would unfold. It did not take into account any obstacles or pitfalls to come our way.
God’s plan has always been the same. I know he wants to sanctify me, and I know the more He does, the more I will enjoy heaven. His means to do so have not always been on the top of my list of fun things to do and endure, but I know He loves me nonetheless. There will be a day when we will reach the top of the mountain not because of what we have done but because Christ climbed the mountain for us. The hard part is remembering these things when we feel overwhelmed by our day to day struggles and why having a community to remind us is so important.