I lace up my running shoes for a Sunday afternoon run around the little lake three miles north of home.
I haven't run the paths underneath these trees since spring. Back then, the buds were just coming onto the branches. Each greenish pearl promised to explode with the cologne of perennial hope.
A few flips of the calendar, and -- poof -- it's two seasons later.
Fall is whipping through my hair. A stiff autumn breeze shakes the shoulders of the tree I'm standing under. The yellowest leaves shudder and fall.
I confess publicly before God and humanity: this is the run I was day-dreaming about during church this morning.
I did wonder, for a long and painful second, if it's a sin to wish for a run at church.
Now that I'm here, under the tree while fiddling with my iPod, I think I'm okay. I ask God if He was offended by my lack of focus. I can't say for sure, but it felt like He patted me gently on top of the head, like a Dad would do, as if to say: "That's okay, honey. I have something else to show you today. Wait for the sanctuary."
Which makes me even more jazzed about this four-mile jog around the lake. It's like He planned this all along.
My first steps are slow, as they usually are, but I gain speed after my muscles loosen up. I smile a smile that's as wide as an Iowa cornfield -- a smile I haven't felt in a while. A cheesy, cheery Carpenters song, "Top of the World," is stuck on repeat in my iPod, and I can't change it. But I don't care. At this point, the whole song makes me laugh the happiest laugh. Out loud.
But then? Everything changes.
The trail switches back to the west. I run into headwinds. The tree canopy thins, and the unseasonably warm fall day wraps itself around me rigidly, like a straight-jacket. The Carpenters song will. not. stop.
A vast army of grasshoppers assaults me at every turn. I half-wonder if a new plague has befallen us. Maybe the lake will turn red next. Maybe I'll be pelted by frogs.
To add insult to injury, the path takes a sharp incline.
My steps slow. Soon, I'm walking. I want to throw Karen Carpenter and her song in the lake. I want to throw my cheesy grin beside her.
And then my mind rewinds to relive a hundred moments in my own life where my "dream run" fell apart in the headwinds of this life, just when I thought it was getting good, just when I thought I was on "Top of the World." Maybe you know what I mean.
These are some of mine --
I'm the hopeful little girl, thinking I might get at least a white ribbon for my effort, but I'm always last to cross the finish line.
I'm the confident news reporter, but then ... I'm quickly overlooked for the sought-after columnist job.
I'm the glass-half-full daughter who prays hard, believing the cancer is gone, yet finding herself holding her mother after finding out the cancer has actually spread.
I'm the wife, squeezing her husband's hand at the edge of his father's grave on a winter day.
I'm the mother -- wanting to do this mama thing like a boss, but never living up to my own carefully written expectations.
In every case, I've believed for the best. I've believed it when I took my first step onto the asphalt tracks, the newsrooms, the doctor's offices. I've believed the best when I wrote first paragraphs with passionate belief that I had something to say. I've been the mama committed to raising her girls with more love than their hearts could hold.
But often, I've turned the corner and found myself in the headwinds. Everything I believed at the beginning doesn't look good anymore. My words sound stupid. My prayers seem weak. I feel Pollyanna and foolish.
Friend, I've lived in the hard run, the kind that burns your lungs and makes you believe that "uphill both ways" is an actual thing.
And I suppose that when that happens to us, we could decide to stop running altogether. That feels safer. To just disappear...
Yeah. I've wanted to give up.
Except for the fact that if I did that, I'd be stuck on the wrong side of a lake.
So on this day, I keep walking. And then I start running again. And it hurts a little. Mercifully, my iPod cooperates and Karen stops singing.
And then, it happens -- The thing that -- I now believe -- God brought me out here for --
I turn a corner, and arrive at this little peninsula where, back in April when the cologne of hope enveloped the world, we stood right here. Here!
This is the place where my daughters and I threw a bunch of rocks in the water... These rocks bore the written burdens of women at the Jumping Tandem retreat in April.
I sat on the ground, and prayed. I cried again for every women who is stuck in the hard run, the long run, the uphill-both-ways-run, the I-dont-know-if-I-can-do-it-anymore-run.
Sitting there, I remembered how the girls and I had tossed rock-burdens in this water, when spring was so green and hopeful.
I remembered, too, how we'd set up stones like an altar to remember what God can rescue us from, how the miracle is happening in us even when our run toward home feels excruciatingly uphill both ways.
I sat here and remembered this:
And I remembered you, sons and daughters who are in the hard run.
And I remembered me. And I remembered my past.
Because of stone altars, I am pretty sure we are gonna make it. And how we've got to keep on moving even when it hurts.
I can feel the pat on my head again just now. It's a pat on my head that says, It's okay. We're going to be okay. I promise, you're going to be okay.
I'm inclined to believe it.
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