Running beside you during the Connecticut marathon took away every excuse I ever had. You were lying on a recumbent bike, your legs still and your arms cycling. I pretended not to look at you, but really out of the corner of my eye, I was watching you the whole time. The way you smiled even when you got to the steepest hill as your legs lay helplessly before you, and you had only your arms to propel you forwards. The way the tears ran down your face as you looked up at the sky after crossing the finish line.

Your family surrounded you then, and I saw someone drape the medal around your neck. And I wanted to run up to you and ask: How do you do it? What is it within you that defies your limitations, that refuses to be stopped, that rises above the paralysis that you face every morning when you wake up?

A Paralympian on a recumbent bike.

And then one of your children draped your sweatshirt around your shoulders and I saw your motto written in bright blue letters across the back: “No excuses.”

I think about those bright blue letters when life gets hard. We say we’re going to change, but often we mean we’ll change “if.” If the weather isn’t too cold or too hot. If the new job works out. If the traffic clears. And the kids don’t fight. If the line isn’t too long. If we don’t have a headache. If everyone around us acts the way we expect them to.

Four Excuses to Give Up this New Year

1. It’s not working. When we’re working toward a goal, we often can’t see the progress that we’re making. Sometimes it even feels like we’re moving backward. We’ve been working so hard, and we can’t see any results. What’s the point of trying? But it is precisely at that point when we need to keep pushing forward. If we could see a real difference every time we tried to grow then change would be easy. It’s not. Keep moving. Don’t stop right before the finish line.

2. My life got harder. When we try to change we usually find that life gets harder than it was before. That’s because any significant growth or meaningful goal requires us to leave our comfort zones. And when we leave those comfort zones, life really is harder. We leave behind bad coping habits for stress before we have new strategies to replace them. And it seems like suddenly there are endless obstacles in our way. But going back to where we were before won’t make life any easier. It will just make it less meaningful. When it feels like life is harder, it means we are getting closer to our goals, and we are also growing stronger from pushing our way past the obstacles.

3. This isn’t what I expected. This isn’t what I expected my career to be. This isn’t what I expected marriage to be. This isn’t what I expected parenting to be. This isn’t what I expected life to be. We say these things all the time, often silently, without even realizing it. And the message that we are telling ourselves is: If life can’t live up to my expectations then I don’t need to live up to its expectations of me. But most of our expectations are resentments waiting to happen. Reserve your expectations for yourself. Don’t use life itself as an excuse.

4. I feel like I’m going in circles. Last year I was working on the exact same character trait. I was struggling with the same bad habit. I was making the exact same resolutions. I feel like I’m going in circles. It’s not worth it. But here’s the thing: If you have really been working on yourself, it may look like you came back to the same point where you were before, but you’re not. You may still be impatient or impulsive or lazy but not the same way you were last year. You may still have to face the same struggles, but you are different. You have learned new strategies to fight back. You have experienced new things. It feels like a circle, but it’s really a spiral and you have climbed further than you can imagine.

So to the woman who cycled 26.2 miles beside me with just her arms: Thank you. Thank you for taking away my last reason to give up when the hills seem too steep. Thank you for looking up at the sky at the finish line and showing me what real tears of joy look like when you feel like you’ll be stuck forever, unable to move and then you realize that all along God has been preparing for you a way out. A way forward. Now every time my commitment wavers, I remember you and the bright blue letters across the back of your sweatshirt: No excuses.