I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back. Philippians 3:12-14, The Message
I have so loved learning about the fruits of the spirit through Ruth’s story, and as I think about Ruth and the obstacles she faced and overcame on her way to a happy, fulfilling life with Boaz, Naomi, and her children, the more I’m encouraged to trust God with my life, and keep believing that the past couple of tough years are not indicative of what’s to come but that God has a greater and richer life for me and Jason.
Ruth’s joy is sometimes defined as “contentment derived from confidence and assurance,” and that perspective on what is often confused with happiness could not have come at a better time. We ran a half marathon and marathon in Savannah, and I really wanted to achieve a few goals:
- Run a negative split, meaning run the second half faster than the first half
of the race
- Run it in 1 hour, 50 minutes
- Enjoy the race.
I did not achieve the first two goals. Savannah was unseasonably warm for November 7, and humid as a steam room to me, coming to the coast and down to sea level from Atlanta. I started the race running some strong 8:10, 8:15-minute miles but by mile 7, I felt too hot, and by mile 8, the wheels were coming off and I was walking long blocks of the course while chugging every cup or bottle of water I came across. Miles 9 and 10 were spent with numerous four-letter words going through my head because I knew I wouldn’t make my time goal, alternated with thoughts about how I might get out of the two half marathons I’m already registered for in March and April without completely eating the registration fees I’ve paid. (Getting a doctor to write me a note stating I’m pregnant and can’t run actually crossed my mind. It was bad.)
By mile 11, I was jogging/walking out of the quieter section of the course and back into an area where there were bands playing, firefighters watching from their station (Hellooooo, gentlemen), and more people cheering. Plus, with less than two miles to go, the finish line is relatively close, so it’s easier (at least for me) to suck it up and run no matter how much it hurts.
I ran up the finisher chute and crossed in 1:57, ironically enough to the song “I Can’t Feel My Face When I’m With You,” which was appropriate because I could not feel my face or my feet.
I was determined to achieve my third goal of enjoying the race and the post-race, though, and had James 1:2-3 on my mind:
Count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. (NKJV)
Half marathons are the type of event where, during the race, you hate life and your ambitious self for even thinking you would be okay running fast for two hours. Then you stumble/triumphantly blaze across the finish line and the pride that swells inside blocks out your immediate past memories of pain. The next week, when you hear about another half marathon in some trendy locale (that’s offering a discounted registration!), you sign up because you want that high again. I’m told this same emotional cycle happens when you have multiple children.
But half marathons also produce patience, or maturity, as some Bible translations write. You can’t finish a half in the upright position without committing to train, actually doing some training, plus watching what you eat and drink, getting enough sleep, and sticking to other healthy habits in preparation. Sometimes these habits aren’t fun: giving up sweets, alcohol, processed foods, or whatever your food vice is. Saying no to Friday night plans because you have to get up early on Saturday for a long run. But you do it, because you have a long-term view for your long-distance race. You take the mature approach.
Likewise, the testing of our limits and our commitment to our faith and to living more like Jesus produces maturity. Challenges to our enduring belief that God will guide us through life’s miles always result in a stronger faith because if you look closely, He’s always in front of us, clearing the path, and behind us as well, hemming us in. He’s there at mile 8 in the form of a benevolent neighbor handing out water they purchased for runners when you badly need hydration. He’s a handsome firefighter just around the corner from where you decide to start jogging again, because you have just two more miles to go and are hopeful they won’t feel as rough as the 11 you’ve just conquered.
He’s faithful to you and your spouse, and the foundation of your marriage when the start line feels like mile 7 already. He’s always there for you, if you are faithful to Him.
1:57 is still faster than half of my half marathon times. I ran six miles under a 9-min/mile pace. I did not pass out from the heat. I had trained my body and my mind well enough that even though the race was tough, I had the steadfastness to keep moving and the self-assurance to know that I would still finish, and could still manage a sub-2-hour time if I wanted. So I did. Those small victories were enough to make me smile down at my medal and feel proud.
How wonderful to know a God who walks with us every step, even the painful ones!
My cousin finished about 10 minutes after me, so I met her in the finisher’s area and we rested, collected our clothing bags, and checked in on our family through our tracking apps. Jason finished his first 13.1 miles in 2:28, which is so good for him during a marathon. Exactly 26 minutes later, though, I received a text from the official race tracking system and from him personally that said he was at the 20-mile mark. This meant he traveled 7 miles in 26 minutes, which is impossible. We quickly found out that runners were being diverted from the marathon and half courses to shorter courses due to the heat. Jason ran a total of 20 miles for his race. He was mad that he wasn’t allowed to run the whole distance. He takes pride that he endures marathons and sticks with a challenge. He received a marathon medal, but he threw it in the trash can at our hotel room because he didn’t feel like he deserved it. (I plucked it out and saved it; it’s a nice medal and he still ran 20 miles!)
But he also didn’t pass out from the heat, and he was upright and mobile, which was not the case for everyone: the medical staff was busy catching runners in wheelchairs at the finish line, and two runners died after the race. We don’t know if their deaths were a direct result of the heat or not, but I’m very happy I had a disappointed husband to deal with, and not a dead one.
Next, another cousin and her mom crossed the half marathon finish line in about 3.5 hours. They were exhausted, but so, SO proud they had completed a half. They pumped their arms up and down and had the most giant smiles on their faces when they crossed. You couldn’t help but feel so happy for them! Hugs all around, and then we relaxed in Forsyth Park with some waters, Gatorades and beer while listening to Rascal Flatts.
So this race, this big event to which we dedicated dozens of hours of training, stretching, muscle soaks, and extra sleep, wasn’t characterized by the delight I’d hoped for but WAS full of confidence, gladness, and finally, contentment that comes from looking beyond the clock and into God’s Word. He’s sovereign and still provides joy even when the race we’re in seems to go off course.