“Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.” John 16:20
Every so often, God’s grace touches down in our lives at the strangest of times…
This is one of those times.
It was 0-dark thirty, January 6, 2011 and at 20 degrees it is one of the chilliest mornings of the running season. Me and my running partner drove in the warmth of our car down nearly deserted streets to meet up with our friends at a park in Chandler, AZ to partake in a 5K (3.1 miles) race called The Run 2 Remember.
Because of their smaller distances, 5K’s are usually quite fun and festive, with people dressed in costume and loud music blaring. This particular 5K is run in honor of police officers across Arizona who’ve lost their lives. Military, fire departments and others also join in on this race and run to honor those they’ve lost in service.
It’s an emotion-filled, somber race.
Tense with the chill of the morning and the topic of the event, my thoughts turn to those whom I’ve lost and can never forget; I think of who I run for.
My friend, Marne, with whom I was meeting up with this morning, was grudgingly convinced (by me!) that moving from Colorado to Arizona was a good idea. But, with her deep attachments to family and her intense love of the Rocky Mountains, she was only staying a year; after that I was on my own.
Yet that day in 2011, the7th anniversary of the Run 2 Remember marked our 15th year in the desert.
It also marked another unforgettable day.
Having been in track and cross country, I’ve run so many different races, I’ve lost count. But Marne, a gymnast and a brand new runner, with her husband and three kids to commemorate, was running her very first 5K race.
As they go to get donuts, Marne and I begin affixing our race numbers.
She looks at me with a quivering lip.
“Don’t be nervous. You’ll do great; just run your own pace.” I assure her.
She shakes her head and looks down, “Jules, today is the 7th anniversary of when my dad died.” Her eyes well up as she looks at me, “Can you believe it’s been seven years??”
I flash back to the memories I have of her father; rosy cheeked and always smiling, with his full shock of white hair…I remember the devastation in her voice when she called to tell me of his unexpected death those seven years ago today.
Today, already feeling overcome, I simply don’t have words. I just hug her.
Arm-in-arm, we stand at the starting line. The gun goes off and hundreds of running shoes crunch across frozen desert tundra. We wind around the sidewalks and canals that make up this course. We choke up reading the t-shirts with the photos of loved ones lost in the line of duty. Gasps are heard in the midst of frosty exhales as many are also touched.
We can barely breathe as we watch the U.S. Marines, with frozen hands bravely hoisting heavy American flags, racing along honoring their friends, their family members, their brothers who served and sacrificed.
Running is a great coping method; the forward motion of it, the ease of getting into a rhythm where your mind can wander into forgotten realms. Running forces you to breathe and to push forward when you would much rather stay paralyzed in grief and stuck in a stagnant loss.
With each step, our pace accelerates. Mile by mile, we continue passing countless others lost in their very own races against memory and sorrow.
With each foot-fall advanced and breath inhaled, the light of dawn grows stronger.
Something unexplainable happened as we pushed ourselves on this cold morning. As we changed stride and began sprinting across the last few hundred yards of the race, lost in breath and motion, something else lifted us and pushed us forward…We finished exhausted, frozen and exhilarated.
This day, this anniversary for my friend will be one she will never forget.
With her three kids whopping and hollering and her husband and us tearfully cheering, she accepted her first place medal with such a shocked smile spread across her face. (And for those of us who run 5K’s, we know this is a really, really BIG DEAL!)
“Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” Psalm 30:5
Watching her accept her medal and pose for photos, my mind flashed back to the jovial and grinning image I have of her father. This day, the day her father died, but this new day, also her very first race and a first place finish. As if giving her permission to be something other than sad on this day, delivered straight from heaven was something to make her smile on this anniversary.
This was, indeed, a run to remember.