Winning in Life Isn’t Comfortable

I put my 7-year-old daughter on a flight to Japan six weeks ago, unaccompanied.

It was a bright Wednesday morning in May as we drove to the airport. I kept looking in my rearview mirror, studying her round hazel eyes and the curious, innocent expressions on her face. Her little pink backpack sat on the seat beside her, full of snacks and activities to keep her occupied on the long, 12-hour flight to Tokyo.

Her and I have traveled between the United States and Asia multiple times together, but this time she was going alone to spend the summer with her dad and step mom.

Prior to this day, I had done weeks of research about unaccompanied minor flights. I got the best advice. On paper, this looked safe. Kids fly on unaccompanied flights all the time — it sounded like a piece of cake.

As the miles slipped away beneath the wheels of my car, the distance between us and our inevitable goodbye was closing in on me. The feelings in my chest and throat were tightening. I fought to steady my resolve.

Several hours later I watched my only child—my little girl, my baby, my dreams come true, my whole world — disappear around the corner of the passenger ramp to board her flight.

The last thing I saw was her dark hair above her bobbing pink backpack.

I instantly collapsed into sobs. I held my stomach on the other side of the glass as I experienced the tearing pain of letting go. Two hours passed by before I made my way out of the airport, numb.

I questioned my sanity. I wondered where my faith had gone. What kind of mother was I to go through with this?

This week, I waited anxiously in front of International Arrivals at the airport for her return with a big “Welcome” poster and a winged cape for her. I planned to tell her that she is a super hero. Aside from the day she was born, I’ve never been more ready to see her face.

This was the finish line.

We did it. We had both spread our wings and flew.

While she was in Japan, I traveled from Denver to Nashville, Birmingham, London, and Uganda, Africa.

We were both stretched far beyond our comfort zones and we grew exponentially as a result. (A big word seemed appropriate.)

When she finally walked through those sliding glass doors toward me, she appeared taller, confident, and calm. I knew she felt invincible and that thrilled me to the core.

This is not supposed to be THIS hard. I’ve said that. Have you?

We want to be comfortable. We want things to be easy.

The part of us which seeks familiarity, which hangs on to known misery rather than seek unknown happiness, demands comfort, not challenge
— Barbra Russel

It’s not wrong to long for comfort and it’s not wrong to be comfortable.

None of us like to be uncomfortable. Sometimes that feeling of discomfort is an internal signal of a red flag, but most often we simply feel discomfort because we’re outside of our comfort zones. It’s important to distinguish which one we are feeling.

We’re deeply afraid of things that are different.

I was raised to believe that I was being punished when I faced hard times. But what if challenges simply mean that I’m growing?

If you’ve every watched anyone train for the Olympic games, you know that competing to win takes everything that an athlete has. Strength is built slowly, through small, consistent actions. Strength is built through challenging ourselves and embracing uncomfortable moments.

27' Mural Painting by Meg Delagrange in Rays of Grace Academy with the Hoffman Family Foundation, Uganda, Africa

Winning isn’t comfortable. Ever.

Growth comes from struggle. Period.

My heart hurts to write every word of this because I hate it. I hate that winning is hard. I hate that growth requires struggle.

I should know something about struggle. In the past ten years I’ve struggled through PTSD and depression after losing my niece to SIDS, 4 babies lost via miscarriages (twins lost at 18 weeks), a divorce, the death of my grandmother and caregiver, and most recently the sudden death of my best friend and brother, Mike.

I’m still learning to embrace pain and struggle. It’s messy. Trusting this process I’m in doesn’t look like anything I’d ever choose on my own.

I’ve discovered that the hardest, most desperate, most shocking moments of my life have birthed a fire deep inside of me. As tragedy refines me, the light that bursts through my broken pieces shows others the way to fight through a dark season.

Difficult circumstances have flavored my life, causing me to process it’s moments with a grateful perspective. Tragedy shows me what I’m really made of.

I’m telling myself as I tell you: embrace the pain and the struggle. Then take the leap into the unknown and find your wings.