Well over seven hundred.
That's how many miles passed underneath my feet last fall preparing for the St. Jude Memphis Marathon 2018.
Early mornings were filled with yawns, snoozed alarms and the buzzing of my Garmin watching telling me it was, indeed, ready for me to start. But yet, I was still fast asleep in my mind. Sometimes alone, but more often with a friend, I ran the streets of my city until I knew every crack in the pavement along the Tennessee River.
It was marathon season.
For me, that's the fall in Tennessee. At the beginning of the training cycle, it's so humid that I lose pounds of fluid on long run days but by the end....oh, by the end it is gloriously cold. At least, that's how it normally plays out. I expected this year would be no different.
This was my third consecutive year training for the St. Jude Marathon and if you know me well, St. Jude is my place. 818 Ministries started serving there a few years back (we deliver handmade hats and handwritten letters of encouragement to patients fighting serious illnesses - check out our website!) and the first time I went I absolutely fell head over heels in love with the place and the people.
God is doing a work there. Their people are the most compassionate staff I've ever experienced. Daily they are saving the lives of children fighting cancer and since their doors opened, they've taken the survival rate of childhood cancer from 20% to 80%! I always call it the "Disney" of all children's hospitals. It truly is all it appears to be on the commercials, guys.
With that being said, there's no other organization I'd rather run 26.2 miles for.
The last couple years, I've ran in celebration of all God's done through the story of my buddy AJ Cucksey who is fighting brain cancer. If you don't know his story, check out this story about his journey and friendship with former UT quarterback Josh Dobbs.
Running the long miles with someone I personally know in mind who is fighting the battle that the race proceeds are going toward always helps me on the hard days. This year was no different.
But as race weekend approached something did feel different. I couldn't quite put my finger on it but it felt a little uncomfortable - sort of like when you buy a new shirt and forget to take the hang tag off and you have that tiny itch on your neck and then remember to pull it off. I wasn't sure exactly what God was going to do at this marathon but I was fully convinced He was up to something.
I didn't check the weather until the day before I left for Memphis (although plenty of people had mentioned that it looked like it would be a warm weekend). On Wednesday, I pulled my weather app up to see that the high for race day was in the mid-70s.
My heart sank.
If you know me well, you know I don't run well in the heat. My body can't handle long distance in extreme temperatures with the amount of fluid I lose and I'm very prone to heat exhaustion. With that in mind, I couldn't stop thinking about how miserable race day was going to be if it truly was going to be "July" in December.
I woke up Friday morning with an odd, "passing all understanding" kind of peace. I looked at Dustin and said, "I think I need to do the half."
We went to the race expo to pick up my race packet and, with a lump in my throat (that I didn't acknowledge in the moment) I walked over to the "St. Jude Hero Help" table.
"How do I drop to the half marathon?"
"Oh, it's super easy! Just go in your assigned corral and start with the full marathoners. Just make sure when you split to go right on the half marathon course!"
I had never done that before. It felt wrong and a little uncomfortable. Kind of like a "walk of shame" of sorts. I'm a planner - an ENFJ to be exact. When things don't go as I planned, it's not my favorite. I had put in the miles. I had done the hard thing. I was ready. But then, life happened. It was going to be above seventy degrees and I knew my body wouldn't make it to the finish line.
I stood there in the rain outside the expo center while I was waiting on Dustin to pull the car around. As I dialed my dad's number to tell him about my decision I saw a poster with a child's picture that I recognized from a hospital visit. In that moment, the Lord reminded me why I was there in the first place.
Rebecca, this isn't about you. It's not about a bigger medal or a more impressive finish line. This isn't about how many miles you slaved over for the last six months. This is about celebrating these tiny warriors that are fighting for their lives each and every day. This is about the healing work I am doing in the lives of the patients, families, physicians, nurses and care givers of this place. Run for Me. Run for them.
So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.
(1 Corinthians 10:31, NIV)
The next morning I laced up my shoes and when the gun went off and everyone started running, I understood why this race felt different. I was able, unlike years past, to really take in the environment...the hype of the crowd, the "ABCs of Cancer" posters at each mile and the city I've grown to love. However, all of that pales in comparison to running through the campus of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital with patients lining the streets. This time, I took it all in. I high-fived every patient I could get my hands on and through tears I saw countless patients call me by the name printed on my bib as I ran by.
Then, I saw the poster. I looked to my right and saw a child, a patient, sitting in a wheelchair cheering. She was holding a sign that said, "Run because I can't!".
"That is why I'm here" I thought as my eyes met hers and we smiled.
"She is why I'm here."
As I crossed the line and the volunteer put a medal around my neck, I got a little emotional thinking about all my memories of the patients and families of St. Jude. I'm so thankful for the research they have done to save the lives of children fighting cancer. I personally know so many families who've had a child on the other side of a cancer journey because of their care.
That's what December 1, 2018 was about. And, as I'm realizing, sometimes courage is about doing the hard thing in a brave way. And sometimes, the hard thing isn't our first choice but it's the best choice. Sometimes, it's trading our agenda for His agenda. He had plans that day to show me moments and truths that I would've missed had I been focused on crossing the finish line of a full marathon.
He is ever-present. Even in the last-minute-change-of-plan-moments of the every day, I don't want to miss Him. I don't want you to either.
So, I trained for a marathon that I didn't run. But in the process, He showed me more about His character and His ways. They sure are higher than mine.
Maybe you find yourself in a situation where you have to choose the "right" path over the "expected" path. Know that He isn't any less faithful in the "right" than He would've been had you chosen the "expected".
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
(Isaiah 55:8-9, ESV)
Jesus, help me not to miss You in the moments where you shift my original agenda. You know I'm a planner and that I like an order and a process to all that I do. But when you reorder my steps, help me to not only see You in those moments, but see those around me. Help me find unexpected opportunities to serve others and show them Your love.
In Your Name,