Philippians 3:13-14 “Brothers I do not consider that I have made it my own.  But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

“College will be the best four years of your life!” is a phrase I heard numerous times during my senior year of high school and into the summer before I started college. I was eager for a new start, but little did I know that my four “planned” years would turn into a five year, atypical journey to graduation and life ahead.

During college, God taught me that life is not an easy, 100m sprint down a straightaway like I was used to. It can be an exciting rush of adrenaline, but the hills, steep curves, and slides off the path are all apart of the journey too. It wasn’t just a 3.1 mile race or even a half marathon, but a continuous run with Him. God used the grueling parts of the race as well as the easy strides to work together to take me to another finish line in May 2011.

In May of 2006, I crossed the finish line and felt that I had run a tough race. I looked ahead, knowing that once the gun fired for the next one, I’d have to work even harder to finish. Little did I know that five years later, after a steady pace with hurdles and hills, I’d step once again to the finish.”

Lots of letters in the mail, recruiting calls, and campus visits—college already seemed stressful! I felt as if I was running around with my eyes closed. Where would I end up? This didn’t seem like a very clear course.  All I could do was pray; how else was I to know where I was supposed to be?

One day I stepped on a campus I knew very little about called Dana College. “Oh what a cute little place!” was one of my first reactions.  I simply loved it. I sure hadn’t felt this way about any of the other colleges I had toured.  I continued my blind (or what seemed that way) journey onto other campuses, and was always anxious to leave. What about that place up on the hill? I wanted to go back, so I did. I went a second and then a third time. God made it pretty clear that my four-year course would be in Blair, NE and that it was ok to begin warming up for the start. Little did I realize that this “warming up” meant preparing myself emotionally, mentally, and physically, by running 510 miles for my first season of college cross country.  The race would be tough, but I was excited. Before I knew it, the gun fired; I was now a Dana Viking!

The pace of college life was generally steady, but I came to several small hills very quickly on my new course. Immediately I was faced with the question, “Will you run for yourself, or will you run for God?” I was very aware of this question within just my first lap, and the answer was simple. “Of course I’ll run for God!” It wasn’t quite as easy as I had imagined. Those first two years I encountered many obstacles—several hills, roadblocks, and detours. At times I doubted whether or not I was on the right path. Even into my third lap, I considered turning around and changing courses entirely.  When I jogged too far off, I would look around at the trees, the sky, and the clouds. I prayed a lot, and each time my feet were directed back to my original course.

During my senior year, God reminded me that this was where He wanted me to be. Although it was an exciting last lap of the race, it was also the most difficult. I had hurdles that I had never jumped before, parts where my legs and entire body ached so badly, and times where it was tough to even breathe. With only a few minutes left of the race, I experienced that second wind that many runners face after running a great distance. I knew there were only a matter of seconds left, but they would be some of the best moments of my race thus far. Because I had strayed a bit from the original course, I knew I would have one more time around before I came to the finish; little did I realize that I was running as if this was my final stretch.

The sun began to set as I looked ahead and knew that on May 22, 2010, my last lap around this course would be the best yet. What a pretty night at Dana College.  My body felt strong, the air was easy to breathe, and I felt like I could run forever…

One afternoon the sky grew dark. A huge storm came into Blair and I began to run off the course. Sometimes runners love the rain during a race, but not this time. The raindrops felt ice-cold and they hurt! It was so hard to see; in fact, I couldn’t even see the course in front of me.  “The storm will pass, it won’t be all that bad,” I told myself. This time though, the storm got heavier very quickly. I began to panic, but kept running. The rain stopped, and then the whole city was unusually quiet.

I looked ahead, but the course was gone. I looked to the right, and to the left, and my course was nowhere in sight. When I turned around, I saw the beautiful course that I had run on—four long loops, hills, and obstacles that God had helped me get through over the years. Although that was my familiar course, it was far off in the distance. I tried running toward the course, but I couldn’t step foot on it again. It was closed off forever. When I asked God again, “Isn’t this my course?”  God answered, “Not anymore, Christine. There’s a new one.”

There I was, stuck in the middle of the race, but so close to the end. I had become so much stronger, so much faster, and had more determination than ever to keep running. This was my time to make my move and get a good spot at the finish!  Now I had to stop and find a new way to go. I felt lost, frustrated, and devastated. Thoughts of quitting haunted my mind. “No other course can be as good as this, and I won’t even get to the same finish line.” For a while I had that negative outlook that can cause many runners to quit; I came dreadfully close. When I decided to refocus, and trust this race into God’s hands, I found that I was able to still run.

Before starting my original race, I had felt like I was blindly running; that’s exactly how I felt like now. After running on a rocky and uneven course for a bit, I ended up on a new, unfamiliar course in another city. The first few minutes of this new path seemed like a blur, but when the sun came out and the sky was clear, I saw that sign above the track—“Concordia University”.  My  mind flashed back to running on this track in the spring of 2007 and I had taken notice of the beautiful campus and the “awesome” track.  It was our Twilight Meet and our relay had done well. Before I knew it, I found other runners on the course. They were friendly. They helped show me the ways of this new course and ran right by my side. Many times I asked God if I was in the right place. He didn’t directly answer, but gave me a peace that I cannot describe.  He even gave me an indescribable joy when people asked what happened to my original course and it was hard for me to explain.

I had never run on this course before, and had a hard time remembering some of the names of the other people around me. Many times I felt lonely, but I knew God was with me in this race.  There were a couple of big hills, but He gave me the strength that I needed for each stride.  God helped me to the top of those hills and within a matter of moments, I could see the finish line off in the distance.

“This is it,” I remember thinking, and this really was the final part of the race. I was a long way from where I began back in Blair, but I continued to run. That rush of adrenaline came quickly when I not only saw the finish, but also a huge crowd of people cheering on the course.  It was now, in that last stretch, that God whispered, “Here’s the finish. Run like you did right when the gun fired.” I did. With every step to the finish, I knew in my heart that this was God’s plan. It was far from my own, and what I had intended, but it was exactly what He wanted. If I hadn’t been thrown off the first course, how could I have found the finish? If I hadn’t felt like giving up, would I have the perseverance that I now had? God knew. He always does.

When I crossed the finish, I couldn’t even describe the joy that filled my heart. Joy that came from the gifts God had given me, and nothing from my own strength. He ran behind me the entire way, and in front of me to direct my path. He pushed me through those hard parts of the race, and picked me up when I fell. Here, in my hand, was one of two medals I received for this race. This crazy, exciting, most difficult race that I had ever run. I heard my name announced as I crossed. When I looked at my name on my medal, there were other words engraved even deeper. “For I know the plans I have for you.” These words, the best of all that day, were from Jesus, the one who raced with me to the finish. “Plans to give you hope and a future.”

The race was over. It was difficult, but worth it. Looking ahead, it is unclear as to what race I will be entered in next. God holds my next race number, next time, location, and next finish in His hands.

My race began at Dana College in the fall of 2006. I was ecstatic to be on an academic and athletic scholarship and to be living fairly close to home. I loved the college, the people, and the experiences. I had changed my major five times, already had two majors completed, and decided rather late that I wanted to also become a teacher. On my class’s graduation day, I carried the flag in as I led my friends, peers, and classmates to the stage.  My heart shattered a month later when Dana closed in June of 2010. I had one more year to complete and had to change schools. God directed me to Concordia University and completely changed the plans I had made for myself. I was not ready, but God gave me the strength for each day on my new path.

After Dr. Friedrich, President of Concordia University, announced my name at graduation and handed me my second “diploma”, he shook my hand and said, “Congratulations and well done.” Those words will ring in my mind forever. College may not have been the typical “best four years” of my life, but those five years were certainly the most challenging and rewarding. I wouldn’t trade anything that happened because they were God’s perfect plans. 

Life will always be compared to a race for me,  but my mindset of “race” is something God developed during college. I know there will be many more starts and finishes in life, and I eagerly await the day when I cross the final finish line to hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”