A Grand Finish

June 18, 2010 | 15 comments

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: !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Only better.


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.

by | June 18, 2010 | 15 comments


  1. Kelly Langner Sauer


    i've not got much more than that. what a wonderful-cool story!

  2. mom2six

    Way to go to your daughter and you! This is so precious. Through the tears this morning you have given such tangible picture of Hebrews 12:1 and heaven.

  3. Stephani

    I'm in tears. The mother and daughter relationship here blesses me because I know in the future as she grows up and faces life's challenges, you will be cheering her on and because she can trust you now, she will trust you then. Way to go mom!

  4. Lyla Lindquist

    That voice of a dad over the loudspeaker . . . reminds me of another booming Voice announcing the arrival of One He loved, at the side of a river instead of the top of a hill. He rips open the sky for you too . . .

    Now . . . penne pasta and Trix? These were two different conversations though, right? Not at the same time, like both on the same plate? Touching?


  5. alicia

    Love this! I have tears in my eyes and to compare to the other finish line… well that did me in.
    Great story- way to go Lydia!

  6. A Simple Country Girl



  7. Karen

    I am teary eyed as well…what a journey with your little one…what a tribute to your dad…just beautiful!

  8. Julie

    Oh man Jennifer! Thanks for the post and for making me cry this morning-lol.

    This is a beautiful post and I am sure that words do not bring an experience like this to justice. You have been such an encouragement to me- to just do it, so thanks again for sharing.

    Please tell Lydia that your bloggyland friends are so proud of her (and your) accomplishment!

    How sweet it is that you could experience it together!

  9. Red Letter Believers

    I'm tired just reading this post! And exhilerated. WHen our kids run the same race we are in, there is no greater gift.

    I have been in the race for God, and all I really want is to my children as fellow racers …right up to the end

  10. Missie

    Wow! This was super awesome! almost brought tears to my eyes…can you imagine how amazing it will be "running" into Heaven!

  11. Charity Singleton

    No one better than dad (or grandpa) to welcome you over the finish line. A beautiful experience for your family, and a beautiful metaphor for us all!

  12. S. Etole

    Phooey … now I need to find some Kleenix! Great story.

  13. Missy

    Oh my. What a beautiful story and a wonderful experience for your family.
    And what a wonderful example you are for your little girl that she wanted to "run like you momma."

  14. Rebecca Ramsey

    What an awesome story.
    I love your dad already, and I haven't ever met him!
    I know Lydia will remember this race and her strong, loving mama forever!

  15. Jennifer

    Just the thought of that finish line, of my Father speaking words of love, of excitement when He welcomes me home….no key on this keyboard can explain that feeling of anticipation. So cool that Lydia is joining in your running.


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