Summary: The "Holiday Marathon" provides a backdrop for understanding the sort of "Marathon of Faith" which we are called to run.

Yesterday we made the colossal mistake of attempting to run errands in the mall and surrounding areas. Oh, I know better than to go to the mall between Thanksgiving and Christmas, but yesterday was still the Saturday before Thanksgiving. And…on top of that…there’s an extra week between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year. Given those two facts, I felt that it would still be safe to go into South Portland on Saturday, November 18th—with five full weeks still left before Christmas.

But no…parking spaces were hard to find, traffic was blocking intersections, and horns were honking. Of course, the worst part of this was that we had several stops to make, with just one or two errands to run in each place—we needed a gravy boat for Christmas dinner (a gravy boat that I managed to drop on the floor between the cash register and the exit), we had to have Melody’s engagement ring cleaned and inspected, we wanted to check on a couple of items at Sam’s Club, we picked up Pumpkin pies at Shaw’s for the Root Cellar’s thanksgiving baskets, we went to the stamping store for some card-making supplies, and we stopped at Quizno’s to grab a quick bite to eat.

And yet, it’s quite possible that we actually spent more time in traffic than we spent in the stores.

Walking through the mall was quite an experience— The Christmas music had begun, Santa Claus was posing for pictures with the children who had waited in line…and the crowds…well, the crowds were something else. You have to understand that Melody and I typically walk through the mall with purpose—even when we have no plans to purchase anything. We usually start at one of the four “anchor” stores and walk one or two complete laps around the mall—keeping our pace brisk, often passing those who are simply “window shopping.” Well, yesterday, there was no “walking with purpose”… we ended up getting stuck behind people no matter where we went, and so we completed a half-lap, did the errands we needed to, and left as soon as we could.

As I observed the crowds, I saw expressions of happiness and joy blended with expressions of despair and depression. I watched couples appear happy as they spent money—and I wondered if they were concerned that they had already spent too much. I watched single parents argue with toddlers—and was amazed to see toddlers appear to win. I followed behind teenagers who had drenched themselves in the latest holiday scent from Bath&Body Works, and I observed the kiosk workers trying hard to make a sale—in hopes that they would make enough to have a Merry Christmas.

All of this to say—the marathon has begun. It is now a non-stop frenzy of activity between now and December 25th. Cards must be written on, addressed, and mailed. Chex mix must be made, and presents must be bought. The decorations will be hung, and the fireplace cleaned out. The presents that we worked so hard to purchase will be wrapped and given away, in hopes that the recipient finds them useful and doesn’t simply put them in a box with other gifts they don’t know what to do with.

In the midst of all of that, we’ll attend extra church services, go to a Christmas party or two, and take in a concert or play. In addition to all that, we’ll try to maintain a semblance of “Holiday Cheer,” trying to be happy and at peace with the world—even the driver who made a left-turn in front of us while talking on his cell phone.

Yeah…sometimes I really do feel like this season of the year is like a marathon. From now until January 1st, 2007, it will feel like a constant race—with little time to stop and smell the poinsettias. There will be less time to sleep, and that sleep will be interrupted by remembering items to add to the ever-growing “To Do” list.

But, it’s good to know that we are not alone on this journey toward Christmas—after all, you just need to go to the Mall to find people just like you—spending money, wishing it didn’t cost so much, hoping the recipient likes it. They’ll be putting on a happy face just like you—trying to hide their own insecurities and disappointments with life. Just when you think you can’t go another step, you’ll see another shopper carrying more bags than you have, and you’ll be encouraged to know that yes, you can do it. When you feel like giving up, your spouse will lovingly spur you on by saying— “oh, let’s just go in one more store.”

Spurred on to continue, surrounded by a great cloud of other shoppers cheering you on, you will make it through this marathon to Christmas. You will fix your eyes on the goal, and not be distracted by mundane things like sleep or personal comforts. You will run the race with great endurance. Your heart and flesh may be wasting away, but the hope of Christmas morning will give you the strength you need to carry on. You won’t be deceived or led astray by all the other things you could do, but will instead stay true until the end. After all, that’s how marathons are run—with a great crowd to encourage you and a clear goal in mind.

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