The moon still lit the city streets below, but my sister and I were already awake. Had we really slept at all?
A sliver of bathroom light fell on the hotel-room floor. And at 4:15 a.m., my sister turned on the faucet, signaling the start of a day that would change us.
Still nestled in the puffy white nest of the hotel bed, I texted her: “This is the day the LORD has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
She texted back: “Amen, sista.”
And then we laughed out loud in Room 838 at this absurdly beautiful thing we were about to do.
Some might say: “It’s ‘just’ a run.”
But for us — three women who said Yes! back in January — this was more than a run. Yes, we would log miles on Lincoln, Nebraska, streets on May 2, 2010. We would cross the finish line. We would claim the medals.
But we ran for more than the satisfaction of a bronze circle hanging from our necks.
We plodded out prayer and praise. We ran pavement miles for real people with real hurt.
Because this wasn’t about us. It was about them.
In the early-morning darkness, we pulled the purple jerseys over our heads, with our reasons for running written in Sharpie on the backs of our shirts. We were running for Paul, for Deanna, for Melvin, for Julia and for others who have fought — or continue to fight — leukemia or other cancers.
We ate our oatmeal, fuel for these muscles. We loaded our belts with sports-gels and water bottles, then as a team, we walked together to the start line. We asked each other the questions:
Would our training prove us able? Would our pains flare up and stop us cold?
What if I’d just made some serious error in judgment? Could I really do this thing? Me, the girl who was picked last for every game of kickball at recess, always the last one to cross the finish line? I couldn’t run to the mailbox and back a few months ago. And now, 13.1 miles?
God so often answers fear with Truth in song, and we heard the familiar words from the worship band set up along the sidewalk. The singer’s familiar words rose above the clamor of fear. We raised our hands to the heavens and shouted the words of affirmation:
‘Cause when we see You we find strength to face the day.
In Your presence, all our fears are washed away.”
We found our places among the 8,000, and the gun went off. It took us 15 minutes to reach the starting line, and we lumbered forward in a murmur of nervous expectation.
A woman ahead of me had these words on the back of her T-shirt: “Three months ago, this seemed like a great idea.”
Then it was our turn to cross over, to begin what we’d set out to do. My dad stood on the sidelines pumping fists in the air. The words of my coach rang in my ears. “You’ve already earned the medal; you just have to cover 13.1 miles to claim it!”
And that seemed permission enough to treat the next 2 hours and 28 minutes NOT as a race, but as a journey.
“Lord, don’t let me miss the ordinary miracles in this,” I prayed as I stepped over the line.
And yes, I think I was smiling all the way. Well, except for mile 11. Oh, and maybe that hill on mile 9? And my oh my, today I hurt in places I didn’t know I had!
As I ran, I remembered words that my pastor-friend Bob left on my Facebook wall a few days before: “I believe this is more than just a race. I pray you hear the message God has for you. Have fun running & listening.”
And, yes, Bob, I heard! I saw!
I slowed enough to see the smiles on the faces,
to hear the stranger calling out my name, written on my jersey,
to take the cup of water from the hand,
to see the Ys in the cracks of the road and in the fallen sticks.
I blew kisses to my girls, and slowed enough to see the pride on their faces. They knew what and who and Who (capital W) this was all about.
I left behind personal gain, or the desire to win, or the hope that I’d even look good while doing it. I abandoned freedom from the pain, trading it for a cause bigger than myself.
And, no, I’m no athlete. I’m no hero. I ran for the heroes. You know them:
I ran for the mother getting her diagnosis today.
The grandpa who is finding out, after all these years, that the Agent Orange is why he’s now sick.
The toddler in the chemo room.
The grieving dad in the funeral parlor.
The mommy in the barber’s chair who’s going bald today.
We ran for the fighters who fight harder than this cancer that sucker-punches, kicks, spits and shouts: “I’m not done with you yet.”
Hey you, cancer: We’re coming after you. And we’re shoutin’ louder and fightin’ harder.
We pronounced this moment a God-Thing. At mile 12, sister Juliann and I found each other!
We ran into the stadium and across the finish line hand-in-hand.
For us, this was more than “just” a run. Together, the three of us raised more than $7,000 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. My father-in-law Paul died of leukemia in January 2009. The woman in the middle, Aimee, is Paul’s daughter. My sister, Juliann, is on the right.
Our entire Team in Training team raised about $60,000. This is our huddle the night before.
Go, Team, Go!
Aimee ran the full marathon. And after 26.2 miles, she raised her arms in the air all the way across that football field. What a beautiful soul you are, Aimee! I love you!
My sweet daughters were part of our cheerleading squad.
Fellow bloggers: Do you recognize these ladies? Deidra from Jumping Tandem and Michelle from Graceful live in Lincoln and came to visit me at the hotel the day before my run. They are beautiful women and fantastic writers. Deidra and Michelle, you radiate! And you’re as delightful in person as in Blogger World!
Aimee, Jennifer and Juliann thank you for your support, your prayers, your financial contributions and your words of encouragement. Let’s keep shoutin’ and runnin’! One + one + one … step by step by step … we can beat cancer.