I remember standing in line to sign in for my very first half marathon. I was just about to crawl out of my skin I was so nervous. While I had been diligent in training, there is something about all the unknowns of your first anything that no amount of physical training can overcome. I had all the tools I needed, but I wasn’t quite sure yet that I could finish the thing- and that’s all I expected to do. Finish.
The woman just in front of me in line was not old, but she was enough older than me that I remember recognizing the gap. As she stepped up to the table she signed in and, without looking up from her writing, she said to her running buddy in line with her- “I don’t feel quite as prepared this time. I think I’ll just try to stay under two hours.” They both nodded in solidarity.
UNDER TWO HOURS?? That’s a nine minute mile. As someone who was just in it to finish, I couldn’t fathom that I’d be anywhere near the finish line before these “seasoned” runners were warming up with hot coffee and post-run treats. It didn’t stir jealousy in me, only determination. I resolved right then to one day sign up for a race and say calmly, “I just want to finish in under two hours,” and believe the thing to be attainable.
That was 10 years ago.
I haven’t spent every bit of that time working toward my goal. Goodness! Growing, birthing and nursing babies, taking care of bonus kids, moving, working, and well…LIFE- make it quite impossible at times to plan ANYTHING, much less a training schedule. But I’ll tell you, this goal never completely left my sight. Sometimes it was so far in the distance I had to squint to remind myself and renew motivation. But two years ago it started moving into reach. It was attainable, with some work I knew I could get there. I started exercising differently and felt stronger than ever.
In February this happened.
I realize I just wrote a ridiculous amount of words about achieving a very run-of-the-mill goal, not a run that would win any race. That is, if you believe achieving this goal to be a purely physical accomplishment. If you’d seen my face as I crossed that finish line you would know it was certainly not only physical. And if you’d heard me chanting to myself in the last miles, “I CAN do hard things” you would know there was much more riding on the finish line for me than the time on the clock.
I’ve preached a lot about running together. I helped start a running group and established the mantra “You never run alone”. But it turns out sometimes that just isn’t the case. In fact, sometimes it is exactly the opposite. Sometimes you find yourself not only running alone but NEEDING to run alone.
You may have incredible people to train with who encourage you as you approach the starting line, and the best of the best cheerleaders receiving you at the finish. But there are days when the one foot in front of the other race itself has to be run alone. You have to decide for yourself and believe you can do this thing, or you never will.
And I know that to be true now. Because, you see, the Lord was sweet in letting me run this particular race alone. I think He knew that I would need to face the thing head-on and find my own way to the finish. To know I could do it. Alone.
The timing was sweet because the nature of the situation RRL and I are in right now is just that- very much alone sometimes. Don’t hear me wrong. We have the best of the best supporters. We have family and friends that would be there in a minute if we asked. And often are. But in the trenches no one else can decide to keep moving my feet for me. No one else can determine whether I’m going to keep fighting or give up. No one else can decide whether the race is worth the pain it might cause. People can run WITH you, but no one can run FOR you.
There are times I do not WANT to do the daily grind of parenting 7 small ones. There are days I do not WANT to keep up with the emotional struggle of helping a broken situation. There are days I don’t WANT to run.
But I always want to see the goal fulfilled. I always WANT to see those 7 kids grow up to know without a doubt that they were loved. I always WANT to see the Lord work to restore and redeem. I always WANT to reach the finish.
Only I can decide that the finish is worth the race. Sometimes I have to put my head down, put my earphones in, and ask only the Lord to go beside me.
Because in that I know I’ll reach the finish line with a spirit not of relying on others or even on myself. I’ll be reminded that at times I had to run by myself. But I never EVER ran alone.
One day I’ll arrive exhausted at the finish line and throw my hands up in the air in victory. One day no one else but me will give an account for what my life held. Alone I’ll stand and say “You know what, it hurt sometimes. I kinda made a mess of things at times. But I chose to keep running. I chose YOU and here I stand.”
And in that, my friends, there will be great joy. The joy of running a good race!