12: Renewed Strength

12: Renewed Strength

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Time to Thrive

Renewed Strength

The miracle isn’t that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start.

~John Bingham

“Runners… on your mark. Get set. Go!”

Nike tights, shorts, and a jacket protect my muscles. A black headband covers my ears. Black gloves warm my fingers. Still, the chill of this 37-degree October morning pierces through the thin clothing.

Positioned two-thirds of the way back in the 1,133-person mob of half marathoners, I jog until I reach the starting line. Then the pack lurches forward. I advance with them, establishing my nine-minute-mile pace as the pre-race song lyric, “I would walk 500 miles,” echoes in my mind.

Yes, I would walk 500 miles for you, I think. That’s the only reason this forty-five-year-old mom is running 13.1. Even though you, Jenna, my teenage daughter and beloved firstborn, aren’t here beside me.

Memories from the past ten months rush through my mind, while sidewalk well-wishers clap and cheer. I recall a single treasured, long-awaited run — looping twice around the neighborhood hills — with Jenna. I see her radiant dark eyes, her bountiful brown hair, her long slender legs that out-strode mine two steps to one. As we finished, she looked at me. Her eyes sparkled; her contagious smile emerged. She had been waiting to start pre-season track team conditioning. Wanting to run well, she had asked me to train with her.

I never imagined that first glorious run would also be my last with my daughter.

I never imagined that one week later death would unexpectedly steal her from this life.

Jenna’s favorite verse was from Isaiah 40:31 — “those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength… they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” I ran for her. And, I remembered.

The long-distance training runs were blanketed with memories. My steady strides carried me past the elementary school where Jenna laughed and learned, past the church where I worshipped beside her, past the cul-de-sac where she took her final breath.

It hurt. But one day at a time — one run at a time — I journeyed through the grief.

Confident I can finish this race now, I smile to myself. I have been waiting for this morning.

A quarter mile into the run, however, a sharp pain shoots down the inside of my right thigh. My first injury of the year from a moderate jog a few days earlier is worse than I was willing to admit.

The faithful fans continue to cheer. They display their signs, wave their arms, and ring their cowbells. The adrenaline should be spurring me on, but I am slowing down. I struggle to pick up my leg. It doesn’t want to lift. I know I should stop before I damage my body more.

Running a different half marathon six months from now isn’t what I want though. This one was my goal. This one is for Jenna.

I continue. But every time I plant my right foot on the pavement, I wince, unable to fathom twelve more miles of this.

Removing one glove, I touch the iPod armband and increase the volume. Worship songs stream through the earbuds. Tuning out the world around me, I focus. One step at a time, one tune at a time, I resolve to keep on running.

The route — through Greenville’s historic neighborhoods, up and down Cleveland Park’s winding wooded paths, across the tree-lined Swamp Rabbit Trail — is beautiful. I want to take it all in, but I can’t. At mile six, pain shoots down the outside of my right thigh and across my hip. I am tearing multiple muscle fibers, one with names I can’t even pronounce.

Rounding a corner, I see my dad. He can tell something is wrong.

“I’m hurting,” I pause to tell him before passing by.

“Stop if you need to,” he says. But knowing I won’t, he strategically calculates three other places where he can encourage me along the way.

The ache, the throbbing, sears through me. I haven’t felt such intense physical pain since childbirth. Somehow that seems appropriate, and I wonder whether a mother’s pain and a mother’s love aren’t intertwined in an inseparable cord.

Though I see nearly nothing as I pound the path past ten tennis courts, a teenager’s striking red hair captures my attention. She cradles a Starbucks coffee between her fingers, its steam rising to warm her. Then I recognize Abigail, one of Jenna’s closest friends. She flashes a knowing smile. She cheers me on.

And so I continue, although the pulsing pain tries to stop me. In the middle of the course, the fans are few. But as I glance over at a neon-colored sign, I see Amy, my running partner before an injury removed her from the race. Then, at mile ten, Hope, who loves me as if I were her own mom. I wasn’t expecting friends to come out to watch and root for me on this frigid morning. But I’d have stopped by now if they hadn’t.

With three miles remaining, however, doubts assail me. Then I remember the words Jenna used to speak while wrapping her arms around my shoulders and resting her chin on the top of my head.

“Mom, it’s gonna be okay.” In that moment, I know that somehow it will be.

Sooner than I anticipate, I see my husband with my two younger children, Jenna’s sister and brother. They applaud and stride beside me for several steps. Turning a corner, the tall walls of Fluor Field baseball stadium loom before me. Now I know the end is close. Finally, I round the outfield and enter the chute, two hours after taking that initial step.

I hobble, hardly able to walk, as a volunteer drapes a medal around my neck. That’s when I remember the verse and realize that, for 13.1 miles, I hadn’t really grown weary.

So, God was there, and His promise is true. I’m reminded that He never said the way would be absent of suffering, but in Him my strength will be renewed. He’s probably smiling, I think, and Jenna most likely is too.

Amy is the first to reach me. As she receives my sweaty hug, she asks if I would do it again.

Without hesitating, I answer. “Absolutely.”

Because now I know my heart can embrace the pain that comes with loving deeply… and still choose to run life’s race well.

~Beth Saadati

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