She placed the paper race bib in my hands, quickly scanning the number to confirm it matched my registration sheet. “Good luck! And have fun out…”, her voice trailed off in my ears as I awkwardly thanked her, diverted my eyes from her focus, and stuffed the bib down in my newest race ‘swag bag.’ (The only reason I ventured into the crowds at the pre- race expo was to obtain my “free” t-shirt, race swag bag, and hopefully some fun giveaways from the endless rows of vendor booths.) I spotted a headband company booth. I do not know which desire was stronger: coveting the huge display of non- slip headbands in every shade of pink and cool patterns OR the envy of the gorgeous Lulelemon clad girls selling them who had clearly (in my mind anyway) crossed many a marathon finish line with flawless knees, no sweat, and of course no injuries. I resisted the urge to add one more pink accessory to my fitness wardrobe, and continued on my mission.
I registered for my first full marathon(26.2 miles of ridiculousness) in December, three months after my dad’s passing. Days before I turned in the keys to the office space his practice leased for fifteen years--the place I had worked for seven of those years. It could make for a compelling moment if I described to you an emotional surrender of the keys to the Lessor. You know, one where the ‘key drop off’ represented my seamless transition to the next phase of life. (Gag! I could barely even type that saccharin sweet bull. That scene is more in line with the Christmas Hallmark movies I was escaping into at night.) In reality, I practically hurled the Ziploc bag of keys across the counter and ‘Elaine’ danced my way out of the building! (I had already stood across each beloved co-worker as they took their keys off their own key rings to release to me. I had, months before, located my father’s key among his janitor style key ring, acquiring my now staple fashion accessory.) My job was not complete, as I was still working to close out 2014, but leaving behind the actual office space felt like freedom!
My thumbs in the air kept me dancing(ish) through Christmas, a very necessary Festivus, and I could not have been more thrilled when the Ball dropped and the world welcomed 2015. But amidst the holiday hustle, my ‘freedom’ or hope of it quickly felt overwhelming. “What am I going to do next?” “Who is going to look after mom?” “Am I ever going to quit finding myself at Krispy Kreme asking the tough questions of life? Why can’t my coping mechanism be ‘Soul Cycle?’”
It was a dance with God that felt more like a battle because I kept(keep) assuming the lead role. I would get a taste of the satisfaction of living presently and trusting God for His plans, but quickly looked down at my feet and doubted His lead. (Oh Peter, I totally feel you on that whole walking on water episode!) My devastation and denial of the fact that my life prior to September 18 was ever coming back paralyzed me in a sense to accept where I was at the present time. The ‘new normal’ chatter everyone kept tossing at me about ‘life after losing a parent’ felt bizarrely unfamiliar, and to be frank, thoughtless. “New normal?!,” I raged inside. Yes, ‘the loss of a parent’—or um, more fitting, the shocking suicide of my beloved dad, who was a huge part of my every single day. Not only was my daily dose of encouragement, laughter, wisdom, and wit gone, but so was my career. My life that felt planted and deeply rooted from years of living was eradicated in minutes. And in the wake of it, more heartache and confusion. But yes, random person, it has occurred to me that I will need to ‘figure my old and new shit out.’ ←my translation
Do not mistake, I have used the phrase ‘new normal’ often(even though I immediately loathe it when it rolls of my tongue). I have written it throughout this process, on my posts here too, but it is interesting how we expect people(and our own self) to smoothly glide into a new pattern of living. Our culture does not do grief well, and we love to tidy it all up rather quickly. Whether we are conscious of it or not. How much does that cheapen a life though? I think it is Anne Lamott who joked that she hopes her people never really ‘get over her’ when she dies because that means she lived a valued life that’s absence is deeply felt. My father’s life and my life as his daughter and employee were years in the making so it is actual absurd to think it can be “grieved”(processed/dealt with/gotten over/take your pick of words, folks) in some sort of subjective timeline we give each other and ourselves. Sure, we don’t expect it to be instant(but almost), and we carry on about how it is a ‘process’ but do we really want to go through the steps? The steps are tough. And it’s often a lot of ‘right foot, left foot’ with no true timestamp or finish line. We know God promises healing and restoration, so we prefer to just ‘get there already.’ You know, “Just do it.”
Yes, “Just do it!” I said to myself and then again out loud, like a motivational Nike ad. I clicked the submit button on my laptop screen and registered myself for a ma—raaaa--thon. This I could do. I had a plan. Or I was going to make one. Anything to take the focus off all those questions, the anxiety, and fears that were introducing themselves to my new found ‘freedom.’ Living in the present and relying on trust was too uncomfortable. Paying to run 26.2 miles? Totally logical. Sure, the experts suggest a longer training period for your first marathon, and maybe I had not considered the tiny detail of, “Oh I have not run so much as a mile since probably June!” Minor details. I was going to run my way to that ‘new normal.’ Right then. 18-20 weeks suggested? Ha! Aint nobody got time for that!
I revisited my Nike app, somewhat surprised it still recognized me, and hit the pavement. It was amazing. The air was cold and brisk, and I was back in action. I could not wait to the blow through the training, everyday, mapping out my course and how I was going to increase my mileage and speed. I could not be concerned with a step-by-step process and schedule. I had to move. Quickly. Notifications and warnings from my app about my large jumps in miles each week? Ignore. Questions from friends who are experienced runners about my process? Get off my case. I need a 26.2 sticker and I need it now! Plus, I was tasting that runner’s high again, and it was sweet!
Yep, I was leading this dance with God, and I was glad He was finally on board with me. Ignoring His nudges and gracious offers to, “take the lead,” you know, maybe enjoy and follow the process, I ran on. I had a race to run. It may not have answered all my questions, sure, but it was an end point I manipulated to be my solution. My gaze was not on Him, my eyes were on this finish line I had created that I controlled. Until my knee gave way, and my false sense control was gone. Immense knee pain and subsequent injury just several weeks into my training, alerted my heart to what I had done. And what I have done so many times before. I was ignoring the process. I had become too impatient with the ugliness of it, the toughness of it, and the time of it. In doing so, I had been misplacing my hope.
A.W. Tozer said, “The reason why many are still troubled, still seeking, still making little forward progress is because they haven't yet come to the end of themselves. We're still trying to give orders, and interfering with God's work within us. ”
I knew I wanted to move forward in my life, learning to let my experiences refine but not define me, and I deeply know God wants that for me too. He is not in a rush with my healing, albeit frustrating to me. He is just as much concerned with the process as He is the finish line. In fact it is only by going through the process, presently being in each step, that we can be fully prepared and able to finish well. A wise person once told me, “this half marathon isn’t going to train itself,” when I was complaining about my training schedule for my first long race last spring. The distance between the registration and the cheesy sticker is where the real development and growth comes. Gosh how those words continue to sink deeper in my soul and reflect a life I want to continue seeking to live. If God were only about the ‘last step’ of the process, then every follower of Christ would be taken to Glory at the moment of conversion. He has, He must really, have a complex purpose for our lives here on Earth. He is not a simple “sinners prayer, ticket out of Hell” God. He is our Salvation, yes, but He is an artist. THE Artist, who brilliantly works through our mess, and is actively restoring us to Him. Are we awake to it?! If we take a moment to look up from our own feet , we just might see a glimpse of the divine design of our lives.
My training was halted and my pride was deflated, but His control never left. He led me through my injury and redirected my gaze to Him. Again. Meeting me where I was, He still shined His light. I had encouragement from runners and friends. With time off my knee, doctor’s treatment, and increasing it’s strength, God led me down an unexpected path complete with two weeks of hiking! Crazy cool. And you see, this is what He does, with us, all the time, graciously picking us up and healing our wounds. And just in case you are wondering, or insecure as I often am, let me remind you: He is not annoyed or bothered by our constant failing and desire to take control. He cares so deeply and loves us so profoundly that it makes Him glad for us to call on Him as Father and surrender to being His child. Because surrender is not failure, as it can often sound to us. It is the realization of where I true Hope lies(who our true Hope is) and being alert to and open to the process of getting there. And the ‘there’, the ‘finish line’, is ever changing because we get to keep moving forward.
I took to the pavement for the first time this past week. And have had a few jogs since. It was amazing. And I am certain it was more of a dance party down Augusta Road when Meghan Trainor popped up on my playlist than a true run. I still want a 26.2 sticker, and I have not abandoned my goal to get it. I have, however, over the past few months, learned to press into the process, and continue down the path of living and loving in the present. I cannot live in ‘what ifs’ and regrets from past experiences nor can I assume ultimate controller of my future circumstances, or worse, try and control others. God makes for a much better Guide and King than I do. The step I can be sure is steady and ensure that I ‘run well’(see Galatians 5) is to walk with a faith grounded in the freedom found in Christ.
Run well, sweet friends!