Amazing experiences are like pearls hidden in a shell. Unless you know there is treasure inside, it is just an ugly shell. This weekend may have looked like a crazy-dirty-roll-my-eyes-at-another-race-type-run to most people, but if you can be patient, I hope I can unpack and share with you some treasures I found hidden in the rough.
It started as a team of twelve people I barely knew. Names painted onto a van. It ended very differently.
We had two vans, with six runners per van. Every runner had three legs to complete, so we made check boxes for each of us to fill in as we finished. Art meets brawn. Or something like that.
As second runner, I waited for my first run and tried not to think about how cold I was. I imagined the warmth that would soon be coursing through my blood once I got going. Once Bonnie tagged me, I was off.
I had a two-mile climb before cresting the hill and experiencing an incredible view. The van drove by me to yell through the windows, words of encouragement. And I listened to words of worship and blessing through songs in my ears.
And the single hawk bursts into flight
And in the east the whole horizon is in flames
I feel thunder in the sky
I see the sky about to rain
And with the prairies I am calling out Your name…
And there is still a faith
That can make the mountains move
And a love that can make the heavens ring
And I’ve seen love make heaven ring…
From the place where morning gathers
You can look sometimes forever ’til you see
What time may never know
How the Lord takes by its corners this old world
And shakes us forward and shakes us free
To run wild with the hope
The hope that this thirst will not last long
That it will soon drown in the song
Not sung in vain
And I feel thunder in the sky
I see the sky about to rain
And I hear the prairies calling out Your name.
I slowed my pace to catch this view with my phone. It doesn’t do it justice. I felt so free up there, maybe a bit like how a bird feels when he’s flying across the beauty only visible between earth and sky. I could feel the glory of the mountains breaking into song and the trees clapping their hands. I was spectator to the majestic song of praise that is constantly being sung. My feet kept time, I met with my Maker up there, and it felt like holy ground.
At the second exchange, I tagged runner 3, and we were off to encourage him. Sometimes it meant screaming through open van windows, and sometimes it meant using sidewalk chalk along the craziest climb of the race.
Through each exchange, each runner tagged the next.
There was a particularly breath-taking view along the way, right before Matthew’s first run.
Who spoke the Earth and sky to form
Who sets the sun and calls the dawn
Who breathed me out of dust to life
With the will to trust or run and hide
I will stay should the world by me fold
Lift up Your name as the darkness falls
I will wait and hold fast to Your word
Heart on Your heart and my eyes on You
Who loved me through my rebel way
Who chose to carry all my shame
Who breathes in me with endless life
The king of glory Jesus Christ
After Matthew ran in to finish leg 1 for our van, we headed to another exchange to wait until van 2 finished their first leg. We slept, refueled, and played Phase 10. It’s always more fun when you win.
I was a bit nervous about running through the night. Donning my headlight, strobe light, and reflective vest, I headed out into the darkness. They weren’t the only things lighting my way.
For all of this life
Your Spirit ignites
A heavenly fire
Untouched by the night
You opened our eyes
Turned death into life
Revealing all truth
There’s no one like You.
In the midst of the darkest night
Let Your love be the shining light
Breaking chains that were holding me
You sent Your Son down and set me free
Everything of this world will fade
I’m pressing on till I see Your face
At a few points during that run, my team pulled over and got out of the van to cheer me on. I’m having a hard time putting into words how that actually made me feel. It was a condensed version of life, really. We all go through dark times, when fears are tangible and light is dim to nonexistent. The second I took my eyes off the light from my headlamp, and darted them into the woods lining the dark road, my heart could feel the darkness. When our eyes are fixed on the light and power that is Jesus Christ, we are truly set free from the fear of darkness. Because darkness is really just the absence of light. Dark times can also be very lonely times. There was literally not a speck of life on some stretches of that road. When those cheering voices came into view, the feeling of loneliness and isolation was immediately overwhelmed by love. Love stands outside on a cold dark night and yells your name until you smile and find more strength in your weary legs.
When we finished our night runs, we were able to rest for a couple of hours at one of the exchanges. The third and final leg began right at dawn. My legs were sore, but quickly the adrenaline gave me an extra boost I didn’t think was possible. We had a few people’s cell phone’s taking pictures along the way. This one is not from my particular leg, but every run had the ever-encouraging “one mile to go” sign posted and blinking. It was pretty exciting to hand off the bracelet one more time, and then revel in the joy of being finished.
Finished running, maybe, but not finished cheering on my team.
When we all completed our legs, we ate a delicious meal before driving to the finish-line in Washington D.C. I even managed to wash my hair and self in the small bathroom sink at Panera. Glory.
The view was gorgeous from the finish line, and then it began to pour. Van 2 team did an amazing job of enduring over very difficult hills, through the night, and in the rain. A few minutes before our last runner crossed the finish line, the sun came out and smiled on our tired but happy team.
Driving home, the sun kept on shining. Check marks on the windows reminded me of hundreds of miles run. Goals accomplished. Hills conquered. Darkness overwhelmed by light. No longer just names painted on a van. Real souls, with stories of their own. Real hearts that pump blood through their bodies. Bodies capable of more than each of us thought possible at times. Names turned into friends. Friends who made me laugh to my core, and changed me in some intangible way I haven’t quite figured out yet. But I know I’m better because of them.
I’ve been shaken up a little. Pushed out of my comfort zone a lot. And somewhere out there on the road, I found a part of myself I didn’t know was missing.
When I agreed to this race, I only saw the shell. I was skeptical of the entire idea. Yet through the hard work and grit and grime, a real pearl emerged. It reflects teamwork, laughter, determination, and friendship. Unique and priceless. Press on. You never know where the next road will take you.