Hello, ladies! I love it when I'm working on a project, like our series on living the life that truly is life, and the perfect thing just appears to help illustrate it. I know you've all had that happen, and it has to be a God-thing, right? This is what God showed me on Saturday:
If you remember from Friday's post,, my grandniece Madison was here visiting with her three small brothers because their dad was running in the Music City Marathon. Saturday morning, about two hours after the race actually started, Madison and I and her mom and the little boys (ages 3, 2, and 7 months) found a spot where we could see our runner going one way at mile 17 and coming back at mile 26, leaving only .2 of a mile to the finish line.
I've been to marathons before. My husband ran two back in the 1980's, and I ran a half marathon in 1983. But this time was different. For some reason I felt a connection with people as they passed us on the way to completing one of the most demanding athletic feats the human body can accomplish. I was so aware that every person had a story, a different reason for attempting this thing that to some people may seem pretty pointless (if not totally insane!) Yet I don't think any of them knew they were teaching so many lessons --
*Those who trotted past us first, far ahead of the pack, were lean and strong and had barely broken a sweat, even in the 80 degree heat. Hours of training and miles of boredom preceded those fabulous finishes, and those runners were a stunning reminder that if you're going to win the prize, sacrifice and self-discipline and sometimes even pain are required of you.
*Behind them, others passed with faces set in determination, their form still solid but with sweat pouring, water bottles discarded, calf muscles so tight they hurt ME! Those runners weren't in it to win. They had personal goals to meet, I felt, and I couldn't help guessing what they might be. Maybe, "I've never finished anything I've started but I'm going to finish this." Or "My marriage fell apart but I'm still strong." Or perhaps like the famous Olympic runner Eric Liddell, "When I run, I feel God's pleasure." As I watched them I remembered how important it is to mark our spiritual progress in concrete ways.
*Still other runners were obviously barely holding it together when they reached mile 26. We saw limping. Grimacing. Tear-filled eyes. Jaws set in anguish. Some in that group were moving relatively fine but had clearly "hit the wall" at some point and were groping for mental stamina. My heart went out to those folks. Maybe they hadn't trained wisely or hydrated sufficiently. Maybe they'd been so pumped at the start of the race they'd shot out too fast and burned themselves out. Or perhaps the brutal course (the Nashville event is known for its grueling hills) had taken its toll on their positive outlook. Even with the finish line just around the next turn, they looked despairing, and yet on they ran. It came to me that it is far worse to give up than it is to work through the obstacles, even if your finish is ragged.
*And then there were the walkers. They had obviously run most of the way or they wouldn't have gotten that far that soon, but they just couldn't do it any more. Maybe they were saving that last bit of energy for the finish line where they had loved ones waiting. I realized, though, that there was no shame in walking that last mile. The point is to keep moving forward.
* The people I loved the most were the encouragers. Many runners who had apparently lost hope before that final cruel hill were accompanied by someone running alongside, someone who could have finished sooner but refused to leave the struggler. I heard them say things like --
"Look, you have, like, nothing left to go. You can do this."
"Look at you, you're making it."
"Stay focused. I'm right here with you."
Those bedraggled runners would have dropped out if not for those fellow athletes who sacrificed their own times to help. It was never more clear to me that we are not in this race alone. Ever.
* My ultimate favorite part was cheering everyone on. Everyone. I stood at the curb with Madison and sometimes Whit and Dow (who you can see here waiting for Daddy to run by) and shouted encouragement. Slowly others joined us, until we had a tenth of a mile of people calling out, "You look great!" "Good job!" "You've got this!" Some runners didn't seem to hear us. Few made eye contact. But many of them lifted their heads or smiled or picked up speed or kicked it out for that final push. We could visibly see the results of our positive reinforcement. I don't think that lesson requires analysis . . .
We left our post when "Daddy" ran by with a great time of four hours, 34 minutes (even the winner came in at a modest 2 hours, 38 minutes -- the hills and the heat slowed everyone down). But I kind of wanted to stay until the last of the 5,000 who started the full marathon had made it to mile 26, and I was relieved to hear the cheering continue behind me, which just goes to show that it's not all on any one of us. We're simply asked to do what we can when we're put there to do it.
In fact, that was what all the runners, and all of us, have in common. Each is running the race that is set before us (sound familiar?), whether it's to win, to qualify for the next leg of our journey, or merely to celebrate. In the Music City Marathon, every runner was nurturing a side of the self. Each made the time to train. Each paid attention to what was needed to reach the goal. All those poeple had jobs or school or both. Many had family responsibilities (I heard a lot of "Go, Mom!" and "Way to go, Dad!") So what I'm thinking is that if we're called to run a race or write poety or create pottery or start a Bible study group or spend an hour a day alone with God, in addition to everything else that fills our lives, we can --
*make the sacrifice
* mark our progress
* overcome the obstacles and keep moving
* accept help
* listen for encouragement from unexpected sources
Most of the things you've said you'd like to develop in yourselves don't require anything close to what marathon runners have to do. So what's stopping you from carving out the time to go for it? What do you say we all set a goal in our comments over the next few days? They don't have to be huge. They can be as simple as calling it a day thirty minutes earlier at night so you can read for pleasure, or getting up 15 minutes earlier to pack yourself a fabulous lunch, or giving up texting for a week to see if you can have more actual conversations.
If an example would help, I'm giving up watching re-runs of N.C.I.S. so I can pursue my love of reading biographies, just because I like to be inspired by other people's lives.
Let's hear it, ladies. I'll be running beside you, saying, "You can so do this!"
In God for the world,