Running Races, Running Buddies

In October 2017, I finished a marathon. I won’t say I ran a marathon, because the truth is that I spent much of my time walking, not running, and slowly at that. “Don’t sell yourself short,” you may say. “You’re exaggerating. You finished! It couldn’t have been that bad.” Yes, I finished, but it was a marathon with thousands of runners and I finished last. Dead. Last.

Officially, I was 3,137th of 3,137. My time was 7:48.47, with an average pace of 17:53.

Receiving my medal after walking under the collapsed finish line.

I still have mixed feelings about that race. After all, I put hours and hours and miles and miles into training for it. I enjoyed the process, and I enjoy running, even if I am much slower than every other runner I know. When I am in training, I can even get to a decent, consistent pace, around ten-minute miles. And I did finish. There were two extenuating circumstances, in particular, on race day that made it difficult to finish: wind gusts up to 40mph (the finish line blew over minutes before I arrived!) and aching, painful shoulders from a new bra (chafing led to the purchase. Enough said). But I also can’t help but be disappointed with my performance and embarrassed to admit how I placed.

I think what I’m most disappointed about is that, besides a handful of times, I haven’t been out running since. And I miss it.

People who do not enjoy running are always mystified to hear that others do enjoy it. I used to be one of those people. I first started ten-ish years ago to lose weight (why else), and continued because I loved the physical and mental challenges and rewards. A few years later I joined a running group through my church began to love the social aspect of running. Runners are a special group of people, encouraging and supportive and friendly and running can be a social activity even for someone like me who runs most often by herself. Er, ran.

In fact, if it weren’t for other runners and my runner friends, it would have been much harder for me to finish the marathon that day. People along the way encouraged each other. One friend from my church group (an ultra-marathoner) finished his half, ate a meal, met up with me, and walked the rest of the way to the finish line with me.

Even in life—non-running life—my runner friends are there walking alongside me. One asks me monthly if I’m running again and encourages me whether I am or not. His wife has taken me on as her “daughter” and always calls me “my girl.” These people are dear to me, and they are people I never would have known if it hadn’t been for running. It’s nice to know I have friends who will encourage and run beside me, not only in physical races, but also in the spiritual one we’ve all signed up to run together.

Last week, when I posted Not Enough, I had stumbled and grown discouraged. But many readers—fellow “runners”—came alongside me and encouraged me. I am so thankful and blessed to have each of you to run alongside with in life. I only hope and pray I can encourage you to get back up and keep going if the need arises. Let’s run together.

Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfected of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Heb. 12:1-3, NIV)

As for running in the physical sense? I can’t just end this post without challenging myself to take it up again. I don’t know why I do this to myself when snow is inches deep on the ground, the temperature outside is below zero, and the wind chill is lower than that, but do it I will. For now, my challenge to myself—my goal for the year—will remain undecided, but I will undertake a mini-goal of getting on the dreadmill for at least three runs before I post next week. And if any readers would like to be my virtual running buddies, I could always use more running friends. Runners are some of the best people I know.

Supporting Arms

As a writer, words are important to me. I can (and do) spend hours finding just the right words to convey my message when I write, and a well-written worship song—especially one that echoes God’s own words to us—will have me raising my hands in praise. But all too often, finding just the right words to say eludes me. My mouth is much less wise than my fingers, often blurting out ill-advised words that have little thought put into them. In the moment, when what one says is what counts, I fall incredibly short.

Last night, I didn’t have the words to say. I felt helpless to help my husband. He was hurting, anxious, and a little lost, wanting to cling to and draw strength from God but not quite sure how to do so. His mother, in her late eighties, was admitted to the hospital yesterday. The doctors have located the problems but can’t offer any real medical solutions. My husband’s is a position many of us have been in, and at the end of the day I found myself, as I have in years past, trying to encourage and support him as he learns how to lean on God. But I felt incredibly inadequate to the task. And even as I offered Bible verses to respond to the concerns he voiced, I wanted to run and hide. I know how much supporting him in times like this will cost me, and I don’t have the strength to endure it.

That’s just it, though, isn’t it? I don’t need the words, and I don’t need the strength. Instead, I have to trust that God will provide both the words and the strength, for me and for my husband. Jesus told his disciples not to worry about what they would say, “for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say” (Luke 12:12, NIV). And when Moses doubted whether he was up to the task that God had given to him,

The LORD said to him, “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the LORD? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.” (Ex. 4:11-12, NIV)

And although I forget time and time again—even as I am counseling others to do so—I need to rely on God, not on myself, for strength, for that is when his glory is revealed: “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness'” (2 Cor. 12:9, NIV).

What I do need to do—what I am called to do in times like these—is offer my husband what support I can. Sometimes, when the words to a worship song are right and it seems fitting to lift up my hands in praise, my arms tire but I resist putting them down until the verse or chorus has passed. At times like those I think of Moses, lifting up his hands and the staff of God in support of Israel as they fought Amalek (Ex. 17:8-16). When Moses lifted the symbol of God’s power and presence into the air, the Israelites prevailed in the battle. But when Moses began to tire and his arms fell, the Israelites began to lose. It is then, when he was tired and Israel was losing, that God called upon Aaron and Hur to come alongside Moses and lift his hands up for him, “one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset” (Ex. 17:12).

When I was facing my own inadequacy last night, I texted a friend of ours to (again) ask for prayer, letting him know of my own struggles. He responded, “You will be exactly what [your husband] needs when he needs it. God has equipped you with everything that you need to get through this.” God hasn’t called upon me to be strong, but he has called upon me to support my husband, to hold up his arms, to carry his burdens (Gal. 6:2). In turn, I am able to cast my own cares on him (I Peter 5:7) and, in him, find rest (Matt. 11:29-30).

This afternoon, as I struggled with finding the words to finish this post, our friend texted me again: “Praying for you today!” It turns out, that as I have been working (writing) to hold up my husband’s arms through prayer, through study, through understanding, others have been holding up mine in turn. The Bible doesn’t tell us that anyone came along to help Aaron or Hur, but in my imagination I can see a chain of people holding the arms of my husband, his mother, his family, and even me up in prayer. Even in the midst of uncertainty surrounding my mother-in-law, we can rest in the arms of our Lord and our brothers and sisters in Christ. Praise the Lord.