We run, and it’s hard. We start together, all five of us, Art and I pressing start on the running app at the same time. For five minutes we stay together, warming up with a brisk walk, stretching our arms as we walk, conversing about books we’re reading or what so and so did yesterday. And then the phones chime, and we run.
Art is the fast runner in the family, and he’s three weeks ahead of us. His runs are now nearly half an hour of solid running, while the kids and I are still doing intervals. It’s not long before he leaves me in the dust, trailed by Angry Ranger and Pooka, with Darth Piggy and me taking up the rear.
We run, slower than a sloth swimming in molasses, around the back of the ball field, marking off little milestones. Park bench. Scoreboard. We turn right over the bridge and our feet echo as we jog. The water looks high, my running buddy comments in a quick push of words between hard breaths.
It rained a lot the other night, I gasp back. We make it off the bridge, to the corner, quick right and quick left. There is a long sidewalk between a dirt road and a soybean field, and we fix our eyes on a yellow pole marking a gas line and run for that as if it were the holy grail. Our slow, steady, jogging steps are punctuated occasionally by grunts– my knee hurts— and groans– it’s so humid— and words of encouragement– we can do this. Before we make it to the yellow pole, the phone chimes again. WALK!!! I yell to the children ahead of me. We all slow down to a walk, try to catch our breath. Pooka walks toward me instead of away, so she can give me a fist bump. One interval done.
It is hot and sunny and the grasshoppers jump out of our way as we bear down on them. We are not ready when the chime sounds again, but we set our eyes on a telephone pole and start to run. Art comes running back toward us, and we give him high fives and gasps of encouragement. It feels like maybe we won’t make it. My breath comes hard.
But if I don’t make it, neither will these three kids running with me. Whether I like it or not, they are all counting on me to keep going, and if I stop so will they. In my weakness, He is strong, I remind myself.
We run. This is really hard, I push out between steps and breaths. I don’t feel like I can make it.
Me either, Darth Piggy agrees, already slowing down. His uncertainty– the way he mirrors my own feelings– spurs me on.
Yes we can, I force myself to say. That telephone pole right there. It belongs to us. God is our strength, and He’s totally strong enough to get us to that pole. Somehow our feet keep pounding, our hearts keep beating, our lungs keep breathing, past that pole and another and another, to the place where we turn around and all the way back, until the voice tells us it’s time to walk again.
I am learning in this running that I am weak. That is no surprise, but it is good to be reminded of it. This physical reminder of my weakness– the complaining muscles, the blisters on my feet, the sweat pouring off me– is something good because it drives me again and again to my God. Does He care about whether I can run five minutes at a time? I think He does. He wants me to remember my need for Him, and He wants me to glory the strength He gives.
We aren’t quite back to the bridge when the app chimes and we must run again– the last time. Deep breath. Here we go. Your grace is enough for me— the song runs through my head in slow time to the pounding of my feet. As we cross the bridge, my eyes scan ahead for my husband, but he is out of sight, somewhere where some trees or the curve of the path keep him from view. I’m so proud of him.
We run. My children are around me, except Angry Ranger who likes to keep out in front. Pooka is our little athletic cheerleader– Come on, guys! You can do it! She runs the whole way on her little seven- year-old legs and isn’t even out of breath. We clap for each other. We cheer each other on to the next bench, to that bush up there, to the place where the sidewalk branches.
There is a moment where I’m really sure I can never run again. One minute left, the phone tells me. I look at my kids, sweating and laboring with me, counting on me, faltering as my steps slow. It is good for them to see me weak, good for them to see me gather up my determination and ask God for help and keep going. We can do one more minute. Of course we can. Come on guys. God’s helping us. We can totally do this. We’re going to rock it.
And somehow we run, right to the end.