On Running and Brokenness

Welcome to fall: The season where running is the thing to do. Around here, fall and spring invite runners of all varieties to the sidewalks, streets, and paths around the city. All the cool kids are doing it. You cannot help but see droves of individual runners and groups of runners of all ages along the main street outside of our neighborhood. Our city holds a couple half marathons and one marathon each year. It abounds in running culture.

Once upon a time, I would have happily signed up for every event possible. I would have even won a few races. I was hard-core. I say that pridefully. On my best running days, I ran with freedom and joy, my feet barely touching the pavement. It was my element. A kindred spirit with Eric Liddell, I felt God’s pleasure when I ran. I hit a spirit-note that resonated with the music of heaven when I ran. Granted, on a bad day, I ran as a slave to an exercise addiction and an eating disorder, but isn’t that what the enemy loves to do? Pervert the holy into something toxic? It doesn’t take away its God-breathed intrinsic holiness.

Once upon a time, I celebrated the crisp leaves and even crisper air with an “easy ten-miler.” (And no, that is not an oxymoron, believe it or not.) October ushered in the most glorious running adventures imaginable, and best race times as well. Last October involved longing, because I was waiting out my six-week postpartum time after Elijah was born. There was promise of a restored body, however, and soon. Six weeks is not too long to wait to run again. There seemed to be no reason to think that I couldn’t return to my passion as soon as my pelvic floor could bear it. This October, however, I find myself coming face-to-face with grief and possible bitterness. I see the blissful, healthy runners, and jealousy electrifies my being like a bolt of lightning. I swear, it sometimes physically hurts to see them. I see even sluggish runners, straining with bodies that aren’t quite adapted to the exercise, and I feel envy.

They tell me I am sick. Even my two-year-old daughter tells me that I am sick. As I place the blood pressure cuff on my arm to take my blood pressure ten times a day, she says matter-of-factly, “Momma sick.” I don’t know where she got that. No one told her that I was sick. The poor (and wonderful) child is an intuitive genius. I never know how to respond. Anyway, I would be out there running with the best of them in a heartbeat if I were able. I would be up with the sunrise, pounding out those delicious miles on the trails in the park if I could stand up in the morning without my vision closing in and turning black. At this juncture, however, I am lucky if I can stand up long enough to push my daughter on a swing for five minutes, or take a shower without needed to lay down for half an hour to rest.

I am so beyond sad about my limitations. I never imagined that at 33, I wouldn’t be able to function at a normal level, even bordering on “disabled.” They tell me that this is chronic. It sounds like it gets better at times and worse at others. I’m still waiting to find out what is embedded in my brain, but for now, I am trying to swallow the bitter pill of POTS. With a one-year-old and a two-year-old. I have to have people drive us to playgroups just in case I pass out while we are playing ring-around-the-rosy. This feels humiliating and pathetic. I struggle to embrace grace toward myself to replace the self-loathing and shame that seems to naturally come with my long list of limitations. In my hubris and high expectations, I assume that chronic disability should not be placed upon a young mother of two toddlers. But who am I to call the shots? Who am I to assume that I would be immune to life and the “hard” that inevitably comes along with it? And who am I to assume that within the “hard” isn’t found the greatest treasure of all?

I want to be able to run. I want to be able to push a stroller for a simple walk. I want to be able to go grocery shopping, be alone with the kids, walk up a flight of stairs, stand up through an entire song at church, sweep our kitchen floor, and have dance parties in the living room with my daughter. Some day, maybe I will again. Maybe I will run next October. You never know. As self-indulgent as that rant feels, it leads me to my next moment of gratitude.

I have what really matters. I had the gift of snuggling with my sweet Elijah until he drifted off to sleep tonight, as I reveled in his half-asleep baby babbling. I experienced the privilege of watching my daughter read to herself for an entire hour, quoting the words of books by memory that we have read dozens of times together. I get the joy of cuddling in next to my sweet husband at night every night and feeling known and loved. For me, that connection in itself is an honor that I never imagined to be a possibility. I am engaging in unlikely relationships with individuals who are reaching out to me in my physical brokenness. My brokenness is a blessing. It is a magnifying glass through which I can really study the truly important and remarkable snapshots of life. These moments are mine, and they are where my life is found.

I am thankful for all of this…and I would also like to be able to run. I miss it.   But, really, life is beautiful, maybe even more beautiful from this perspective.

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