“Archy, archy, archy,” I’m awoken by Pooperson’s cranky old lady barks. I tap my FitBit to see what time it is. The glowing screen displays that its 3:34 am. Yep, it’s Pooperson’s bewitching hour. Even on Saturday, she’s consistent. Pooperson is either angry at the birds roosting in the holly tree outside our window, there’s a bug somewhere in her proximity, or she can see the deer grazing in our side yard. Regardless, I get up before Quiggles starts his low, trying-oh-so-hard-to-be-manly chest growl.
I walk down my hickory staircase. Two fuzzy blurs pass me before I reach the landing. I open the back door and whoosh, they’re gone. I’m sure Pooperson will do a perimeter check with Quiggles right on her heels. I drag myself back upstairs, successfully navigating around the bench at the foot of the bed following the narrow carpet between my side and the fireplace.
I plop down in bed, grabbing my down comforter to snuggle against my chest. I can hear Jason’s rhythmic breathing somewhere over to my right. “How does he do that? How does he always sleep through Pooperson’s tantrums?” I think.
Just one more hour before my alarm goes off. “I’m committed to this. I’ve verbalized this. People will know if I don’t do this. Therefore, I will do this!” my mantras begin. Today, I’m going to run. Yep, today will be my first half marathon since the catastrophe known as the Savannah Rock and Roll Marathon of 2015. Let’s just say the city of Savannah was ill equipped to handle 40,000 runners and a November heat wave. But before I even have time to relive that race or all the months of long distance training that led to that disappointment, my alarm began echoing on my bathroom vanity.
Next thing I know, I’m back out of bed, turning off my cell phone alarm. Outside, I can still hear Aussie and Quigley (yes, these are their birth names but their nicknames are many) outside giving whatever poor creature hell with Aussie’s consistent “archy, archy” followed by Quiggles’s low chest tuffs.
Back downstairs I trudge for my much needed injection of caffeine. I let the kids back in. Quigley pauses to let me wipe the mud off of his paws. Aussie’s a little more dramatic with her entrance, trying so hard to tell me how she just saved our home from some natural intruders, probably a fuzzy family of fluffy bunnies.
I wait for my first cup of coffee to percolate while the internal battle of wits begins. “Natalie, you will do this!” the encouraging corner of my mind starts off, trying to beat the rest of my mind to the punch line. “But what if you can’t?” Negative Nancy interjects. (Don’t you just hate her, your internal Negative Nancy?) “What if you don’t finish?” “What if you can’t finish?” Even worse, “What if you slow down and are forced to (gasp) walk it?” Oh the horror! (Now you can see where Pooperson gets her flair for the dramatics.)
This internal battle of hypotheticals and worst-case scenarios continues throughout my morning pre-race routine. “You could go back to bed,” Nancy whispers as I’m getting dressed in my closet. “You could curl up on the couch and read,” she entices as I’m making my omelet (extra spinach, extra sprouts, and extra avocado).
I gather my race essentials (race bib, wireless running Beats, endurance gummies, Yeti full of Nuun hydration water) and head out the door. The kids aren’t even there to wish me good luck. They’re already back in bed, worn out from saving the world.
The road from here to Athens is dark and empty. Perfect time to travel. Not so perfect time to be stuck in the Mini for 39 miles with Nancy. I could finish listening to Robert Downey Jr.’s interview on the podcast Off Camera with Sam Jones but instead my fingers hit Spotify and my “Praise” playlist begins. Nothing says “Get crunk!” like After the Rescue’s “Come Thou Fount,” but this is what I need. I don’t just need distraction, I need reassurance. I need Christ. Just like the tank top I’ve Pinned to buy, “A little bit of coffee, a whole lot of Jesus.”
I was supposed to run this Chick-Fil-A half last year. I was a streaker, meaning I had run the first two years of this race series, and 2016 would have been my third. But just three weeks out from my miscarriage, I was able to have my race bib deferred. Sweet, CFA, never even asked why. They were just more than obliging and transferred my race entry for this year. I’m pretty sure the lady on the phone even said “My pleasure.” Gotta love them!
But you see, I haven’t been running. Not really. I pretty much forfeited running most of last year until the leaves began to change. In the fall, Jason was sent to an IB conference at St. Pete Beach where under the guise of no one knowing me, I began to run again. Nothing crazy, the first morning just three miles along the hotel sidewalks. The next morning, I managed four. By the fourth morning, I hit my favorite distance, six miles.
I’ve always been the tortoise of my running friends, and it has taken me years to be okay with that, but what I really love is running solo. I love being in my own headspace (at least for an hour or two). I love rising early pushing the pavement trying to crest the perfect countryside hill in order to catch the sunrise. I love singing out loud without fear of being heard (Banks County cows don’t care). I love being completely free to be emotional without having to explain why tears now frequently pop up when I run.
You see, that’s why I am driving to Athens listening to “Even When It Hurts” by Hillsong United. It’s not about the 13.1 miles ahead. It’s about you and me, God. I’m inviting you into this holy space asking you to run alongside me filling up the expectations of today, the expectations of this year, the expectations of my life with Your perfect will.
Last year when I transferred my race number to this year, I really thought that I would either be a new mother or an expecting one so the race really didn’t matter because I’d finally have a legit excuse to not run it. You see, that has been my anticipation for just about every plan since 2015. Since I officially declared, “Hey God, this is what we want, a family.” But now I know those expectations were false, fruitless (literally). The data is now showing that motherhood will never come without divine intervention and probably more than a little medical assistance.
But this knowledge doesn’t mean that swallowing this information has become any easier. What it does mean is that every month I don’t beat myself up as badly. I no longer think twice before having a glass of wine or before jumping on a trampoline (okay, no trampolines, but you get the point).
Well, before I know it, I’ve traveled the 39 miles and I’m pulling into the parking deck at The Classic Center in Athens. I grab my ear buds, gummies, pin my race bib, and say my final prayer. “Hey God, it’s just you and me. I’m going to do this entire thing, not stopping, because you and I together do hard things. And I want You to see that I’m prepared to continue to do hard things. I refuse to give up. I refuse to step out of Your will. I refuse to let Negative Nancy (Satan, fear, self doubt, self loathing) get me down.” Ok, now the hard part. I had to get out of my car.
Ok, so if you saw my Instagram, you know how this story panned out last Saturday. I did get out of my car. I made my way to the starting line and I ran the race that was set before me. I actually did it. No, correction we did it. God and I. We ran the entire race (well, I more like shuffled those last five miles but who cares). In the silliest of things, a half marathon, God continued to prove that He was there. He is always there. And it was beautiful.
The weather was beautiful. The sun was beautiful. The warmth in my lungs was beautiful. The first two miles went by fast, I managed to stay with a pace group and by mile five, I thought, “Hey, I might actually do this!” Miles six through nine wined us through campus buildings and parking lots before spilling us out at Five Points and down Milledge Avenue for the home stretch of just a 5K left. Yeah, I got passed by a little girl somewhere in that mix wearing her first “My First Half” shirt and I couldn’t help but smile and cheer her on out loud. She was doing this too! At age seven or eight no less!
Today was a celebration of life,
of my life,
of her life,
of overcoming hard things,
of training for harder things to come.
You see, no one ever said following Christ would be easy. In fact Jesus said the exact opposite. He said if we followed Him, we’d suffer loss. Tremendous, painful, searing, dream-crushing loss. In fact, He said that if we did it right, it would eventually cost us our own lives. I was just reminded of this in Maria Goff’s debut, Love Lives Here. She not so jokingly said “If that’s the good news, it kind of makes you wonder what the bad news is.” According to Maria (and I agree), “our faith isn’t found on avoiding the pain, but in living through the loss . . .”
This past year seemed like God was being cruel.
February 25th seemed cruel.
March 17th even more cruel.
But God was not. What I know now is that His kindness, His grace, burns through even the deepest of sorrows and invites life from death at every chance we let Him.
There are things that explode in our lives and we call them curses. Then one day, a year later perhaps, we realize that they are actually something else. There are the most precious kinds of blessings. Today feels like one of those blessings. I can spend all my life, and all my soul, and all my words on the pain of what happened to me OR I can take this glimmering gift and choose to run.
There are moments like this one, where I feel so incredibly lucky, and thankful, and shocked at how happy I am. This has truly been the hardest season of my adult life, it’s not what I planned in the least, but it is secretly beautiful and a special season all at the same time.
The Big Bang Theory, Series 03 Episode 23 – The Lunar Excitation