Mom, she said one day, I want to run like you.
She saw her mama do the completely illogical and wonderfully ridiculous thing — running that half-marathon in May. Could she try, too?
We settled on a 5K, rather than 13.1 miles. And I promised I would press through every step alongside her. In our weeks of training, we traced country roads and gravel paths — step by step by step — with June beating on our backs.
And those roads led us home. We laced up shoes last weekend for a 5K in the town where I grew up: Marathon, Iowa.
Each year, my hometown hosts a marathon to Marathon. And my father, Phil Dukes, is the announcer at the finish line. Dad says that anyone who runs that far ought to have their name announced when they cross the finish line.
That finish line is set right outside the doors of the church where I grew up, and one block away from the home I was raised.
So, last Saturday morning, my little Lydia and I safety-pinned the numbers to our shirts: She was 553; I was 555. We headed west out of town at the signal of a shouted Go!
Pace yourself, Lydia, I told her as she bolted from the start line by the church. Remember: We’ve got 3.2 miles to go, sweetie.
And this mama worried whether those scrawny legs could really circle around the town and propel her to the finish line.
By mile two, my little running partner wasn’t sure either, tears threatening to spill over the rims.
“You can do it, Lydia!” I cheered as we ran. “You’re looking awesome, sweetie. You’re a God-Sighting.”
And the little one — wearing her Watch for God bracelet from Bible School — would tell me that I was a God-Sighting, too.
And that’s what we did for 3.2 miles: We ran. And we walked a while. And we looked for the God-Sightings in the ditches … and in each other. And we imagined a buffet of penne pasta and Trix cereal at the finish line, just so we could trudge up that incline at mile two.
And then, in a blink, we turned the bend and picked up speed for the finish line, stretching its painted welcome across the road. It was within reach. Shoes smacked pavement. On the sides of the road, stood old friends, 4H leaders, Sunday school teachers, who applauded us home, back to the place we started.
The man at the finish line called out for us over the speaker.
He saw us coming, saw us picking up speed. He recognized the numbers and the figures. Because, after all, we were his. He knew us.
“Here they come!” and I could hear excitement in the voice over the crackling speaker. “That’s my daughter, and that’s my granddaughter!”
And oh, I wish I had enough exclamation points to tell you how it felt!!!!!!!!!!!
She and I crossed over together, and I still can’t stop thinking about what it will be like one day when I cross over, when she crosses over. It will be here in a blink, you know. We are mists that appear for only a little time.
Soon we will reach the finish line, stretching wide its welcome. We shall see the God Sightings: the faces of those we recognize, the people who bought our Girl Scout cookies, and the ones who taught us about Jesus. We’ll recognize the ones helped us learn our multiplication tables, and gave us our first Bibles, and took us to church camp, and loved us.
We’ll turn the bend, and we’ll hear the booming voice of the Father, and He’ll welcome us across the finish line.
And yes, oh yes, He will tell those gathered: Here comes my daughter!
And it will be like this: !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
PHOTO: Lydia and I after our race, on the steps of the church where I grew up.
Run well, dear friends. They are waiting for us.
Written in honor of my father. They say that your first idea of God is formed by the way you viewed your earthly father. Maybe that explains why I love God so much. Happy Father’s Day, Dad.