Yesterday I completed my second full marathon. It was arguably the least glamorous 26.2 miles in history, but that’s not really what’s important here. Since then, I have been asked a variety of (essentially) the same question: “Why do you like running so much?”
Truth be told, I don’t know if I do. I don’t like being sore for days after a race, and I hate the salt that crystallizes on your forehead. However, there is something I love about it, and it has nothing to do with actually running.
I was a cheerleader from the time I could walk until I was 14. (All of my college friends are laughing at this point? Yes?) Regardless of your vision of Erica holding pom-poms, I decided on a whim to quit the sport I desperately loved and try something else out as I entered high school. For whatever reason (reasons I learned years later), I chose running and started summer conditioning for our high school’s cross country team.
On a muggy and damp July morning, we were doing our usual calisthenic work-outs, one being the karaoke (maybe your coach called it the grapevine?). In a split-second turn, I felt a pull, a pop, and I was flung on my back as my kneecap dislocated. To be candid, I don’t remember perfectly what happened next. I remember bending my neck and looking up to see my right kneecap completely on the outside of my leg, essentially seeing a perfectly smooth plank from my thigh to my ankle. I remember screaming in pain, and I remember seeing so many black spots that I eventually closed my eyes as coaches and teammates huddled around to wait on an ambulance.
And that’s what my next several months looked like: waiting. Waiting for the ambulance to arrive, waiting on the x-rays, waiting for torn and ripped ligaments to heal. Waiting to stop feeling pain and waiting to get some answers on why this happened.
As I met with my doctor one afternoon, he said something that shook me to my core. No, it wasn’t that I was no longer allowed to wear my $1 Old Navy flip-flops because they don’t have arch support — though he did say that. He looked me in the eye, halfheartedly soft-smiled, and said “Your body may never be able to handle the pounding on your joints. Have you thought about swimming?”
No. No, I hadn’t thought about swimming. No, I had no desire to swim considering the fact that I cannot dive. I was upset. Upset, but mainly pissed.
3.5 years after lying on the grass feeling every ligament tear, I completed my full first marathon. Yesterday, tears streamed down my face as I crossed the finish line of my second.
Before I continue, hear this: this is not a story on tenacity. It is not about hard-work, though there was that; it’s about what I believe versus what the Lord believed for me. It’s about the fact that when I was lying on the grass writhing in pain, if someone crouched down next to me and said, “E, I know you’re hurting right now, but I promise it’s going to be okay. Heck, in just three years you’ll run a marathon,” I would’ve looked them in the eye and told them exactly what I thought about that statement:
I started my freshman year at one of the biggest high schools in Ohio with an elevator key and on crutches. I spent months at physical therapy, breaking down and crying time-after-time with my mom. In the course of a year, I went from being a top four 800 runner, to coming in dead last the following track season. Every single meet, week after week. My leg wouldn’t kick right and I couldn’t move quickly and every time I crossed the finish line I would burst into tears. I told people it was because my knee hurt — which it did — but it was also because I was embarrassed. Exhausted. Broken. If you told me then that Jesus was working in the mess, that His hands were there healing me even though I didn’t see it nor feel it, I would’ve said that was crap.
But He was. In every broken moment and sheer pain, Jesus was healing me from my core outwards, and it took years to get to the outside.
And here I sit again. The past couple months of life have been hard. Really hard. A couple nights ago my friend was talking about God’s faithfulness and provision, and between my tears and exhaustion I told her what I thought of that: crap.
That if God wanted to heal, He could heal. If He wanted to provide, He could provide. And then she said something that reminded me of my broken high-school self: “You’re allowed to be pissed. Be mad and scream and yell at God. But I’m telling you from experience that it took me real time to get better because God was doing a real work in me that was too hard for me to see in the raw moments of sleepless nights.”
A real work. A work in us that doesn’t happen overnight. That could take months or years or decades. He’s faithful. I’m saying that because I think you need to read it — because He is faithful in the presence of death and job-loss and illness and brokenness — but more so because I need to write it.
It is easy to look back now on where I was 6.5 years ago and talk about how God is faithful. It’s easy to be out of the mess and above the pit and claim how good He is. However, He is the same God. He was just as faithful when I was unable to walk and when I crossed a finish line. His faithfulness and love never changed — but my belief and trust did. It’s easy to claim truth when things are simple and calm. It’s easy to claim Him when we get what we want, but that’s not faith. The true test is when we don’t. When I wasn’t able to run or when I’m sick or when my friend died. God is still faithful because He is unchanging. The real question is not God’s faithfulness to me, but rather am I still faithful to God?
God isn’t good because six years after what I believed was the end, He showed me it was just the beginning. God is good because He is our Lord. He is just. If Him healing me was Him making me a swimmer, He is just as faithful as Him healing me to help me cross another finish line.
I have a small tattoo of a cross on my foot. I got it on the anniversary of my friend dying to remind myself that there is nothing more powerful than the cross, in death and in life. I got it on my foot to remind myself of the God we serve: that he heals us, carries us, and walks with us.
That’s why I run. I shouldn’t really be able to. I don’t always love it. But I am reminded step-by-step, by putting one foot in front of the other, of who our God is. That He heals us one step at a time. That doesn’t mean I enjoy it — I don’t. I’m about efficiency and sometimes I look up and just want to know what the heck He’s doing. There are set-backs; there might be consistently coming in last place for a while.
God’s faithfulness isn’t about our wants and desires. It’s not dependent upon when things work out and we can look back in the valley and thank Him for pulling us out. Because guess what? While you’re in the valley, He is just as faithful. I don’t always feel that way; I sure as heck can’t see it sometimes. However, it is true. Step-by-step, He heals. It doesn’t always turn out the way we expect, but our expectations are so small compared to His greatness.
Through the struggling and tears and pain, He is working for us. Much more importantly, He is working in us.