(Written yesterday, posting today… “Really, Westin, $40 bucks for wireless from the already overpriced rooms?”)
It’s here. And right now, the only place I know where to start is on Monday at 11:00am.
The full-on emotion began first thing yesterday morning. First cup of coffee in hand, I opened the sliding door, walked onto the deck and just took it all in. The crisp air, the beautiful skyline, the simple serenity and peace in that moment – the upcoming moments I knew (know) would be a once in a lifetime experience. And yes, I started to tear up, followed immediately by a laughter filled soliloquy which I very much hoped the neighbors would not witness. I have zero time to be brought up on crazy charges. This whole thing is crazy enough.
I dialed the number. The day before, I listened to a voice mail from Becky (always “Beck”) – my very first girlfriend in life. We met in Mrs. Mudrack’s 2nd grade class; her in the ridiculously oversized circular glasses and me in the ridiculously unfashionable jeans with an embroidered roller skate on the back pocket. That was 35 years ago…
“What are you doin’?” she asked as she picked up the phone, no other greeting necessary. (Mind you, it’s been 8+ months since we’ve spoken).
“Hey! Got your message yesterday. Having my morning coffee; where are you?”
“Wal-Mart. Shampoo aisle.”
“Yuck. You cracked me up in your message; I do NOT plan to pack my concealed carry for the trip.”
“Yeah, well…people are nuts. THIS is nuts! I can’t believe you did it; you’re going…you’re almost there. You did it, Nap.”
(welling up, but trying to remain stoic): “Thanks, Beck. Definitely ready to be there.”
“Remember when you first found out you were sick? You almost died.” (stoic wasn’t working and I couldn’t shut it down because I was choking up)
“You know, you really are amazing. You don’t have to prove a thing to anyone, well, maybe yourself…is that who you’ve always been trying to prove something to?”
My stomach felt exactly like I know it’s going to feel at the start line on Monday. She’s asking me this from our hometown, the one with a population roughly 1/7 of the number of runners who will be on the course Monday. Thankfully, she didn’t really want an answer.
It went on like this for a while, seemingly out of nowhere. She was pep talking me in a manner that only certain people have the authority or wherewithal to do. I can’t quite explain it, but to hear those words out of the mouth of someone who has known you – really known you – for your entire life is paralyzing. Like, you kind of have to believe it…you want to believe it…but you have spent an entire lifetime pretty much not believing it. Maybe out of disbelief; maybe out of fear; maybe out of one too many (of the wrong) silly boys telling you differently as they walk out the door in search of someone who isn’t always on a mission. (Side note: my partner in crime on this Boston adventure told me she is going to make me wear a shirt emblazoned with “I LIKE BOYS” on the front, just in case anyone thought I gave up.)
Beck wished me luck, made me swear to text her my bib number so she could track me, and we hung up – right after the “love you’s” were said in all their soothing familiarity.
History. Roots. Friendship. People who have stood by you through thick and thin, watched you fall, and are now genuinely happy that you’re standing again, as the person God designed you to be – those people I will love and cherish until the end of time.
Speaking of the end of time, after composing myself from that conversation, I readied myself for Good Friday service. Purposely arriving early, I grabbed an aisle seat, turned off my phone, closed my eyes, and became still. I was physically still, but even more importantly, my mind was still. The only thing I focused on in that moment was the reason I was there. The reason we were there as a church body…the reason any of us are here at all.
And I started to cry all over again.
You know, when I qualified for this marathon last February, it was in the midst of a campaign supporting a 4 year-old boy with leukemia. Every step I took, I thought of him and not only the cancer struggle before him, but the general struggle of “life” he will have after that. The same one we ALL have. The ups, the downs, the fears, the failures, the heartaches…God did not promise us it will be easy. He did, however, promise to save us in the end if we just believe.
We must believe in something greater than ourselves. Sure, sounds easy when you read it, but if you truly ponder it, what does it actually mean? What does it actually take?
When you qualify for Boston, you are not automatically just “in.” You do it, you sign up with the hopes that not too many other faster runners either want in or will remember to sign up, and then you go on living your daily life as you always do until registration officially opens some 5 months later. The excitement is instantly followed by anxiously waiting for the unknown, which is completely out of your hands.
The parallels are astounding. As Jesus was walking that heart wrenching trail along the Via Dolorosa after everyone, including his best friend, had renounced him – He never looked back. In physical pain more excruciating than any of us can fathom, on His way to bear even MORE pain on our behalf, He was the picture of selflessness.
As a man, He did nothing wrong. Never. Not once. He was absolutely sinless. But He also knew this day was coming; the day he had to anxiously await, for the sole reason of fulfilling the purpose for which He was sent.
There will be 36,000 runners lined up on Monday morning. They all have stories. They all have past hurts for which only they can understand the initial piercing, the subsequent scars, and the ongoing depth. Indeed, they all have their own crosses to bear. Some will be running in remembrance of someone. Some will be running to take back what was stolen from them at one point in their life, including and especially last year. Some will be running for closure. Some will be running for hope. I will be running for all those things and one thing is for sure: Just as we are all in this thing called life together, we all run Boston on Monday together.
We will be running as sinful, broken, and selfish people. We won’t know the outcome until we cross that finish line on Boylston Street. And all I can say, 2 days before that time comes, is I am incredibly thankful. Never, especially on exactly race day 15 years ago, did I think I’d be crossing that finish line. It would have been incomprehensible for me to imagine. It still kind of is, actually.
Today, as I sit here in the grand old Charlotte airport waiting for my connection into Boston, I continue to think of one other finish line that matters even more. THAT one will not greet me with a postcard saying “Confirmation of Acceptance” (loved the irony when it arrived in the mail, by the way). THAT one awaits us all with outstretched arms…if we only believe.
There will be no giving up on Monday and no looking back. For 26.2 solid miles, I plan to give nothing less than my every physical and mental all in a 3:39 culmination of everything I’ve been through over my own 40 year course. I’m going to believe.
All this while having the honor and privilege of running alongside those who are also standing up again. Thank you, God.
I (will) have fought the good fight, I (will) have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
-2 Tim 4:7