Saturday, August 13, 2016

Dedicating The Last Mile

Hands, put your empty hands in mine
And scars, show me all the scars you hide
And hey, if your wings are broken
Please take mine so yours can open, too
'Cause I'm gonna stand by you

--Rachel Platten


Back in May of 2005, Ben ran his first (and only--so far) marathon.  He read a couple of books on how to train, and he successfully ran it with his sister and my brother by his side.  He had been a runner for years, but not this extreme distance.  Though he trained, prepared and finished, it was still incredibly difficult for him to do.  His stomach had revolted during the race which held him up for 20 minutes, and for about two weeks after the race he hobbled around like an old man, the sides of both of his feet bruised and painful from swelling inside of his shoes during the 26.2 miles.  When he finished the race, we both cried as we hugged, celebrating his victory.  The entire process of it all was extremely inspiring and emotional.

Ben told me after the race was over that in one of the books he had read to prepare, it shared a tip to maintain motivation during the race by dedicating each mile he ran to someone significant in his life.  He said he dedicated all of his to different people; his parents, his friends, his teachers, his siblings, to me, to our unborn son (who would be born 2 weeks later) and to the other children who would follow, to God, to himself, to his sister and my brother.  He said thinking of who he was running for kept him focused, pushing through the exhaustion and pain.

Oh, tears make kaleidoscopes in your eyes
And hurt, I know you're hurting, but so am I.
And, love, if your wings are broken
Borrow mine 'til yours can open, too.
'Cause I'm gonna stand by you

Last weekend found us in the kitchen, once again crying as we held each other.  We are on the final mile of the marathon he has been running for the past 8 years.  You would think being at the end of this grad school process....being able to see the faces of loved ones come into focus through the crowds....the color of the finish line ribbon brightening as it nears.... knowing these are the very last steps he would have to run before finally being done would bring some sort of relief just because he is so close.

Instead, the fear of falling and not making it back up, the worry that he may cross too late to be awarded the accolade for starting and finishing this near-decade journey has gripped him.  The terror that the voice in his head that has tried for eight agonizing years to convince him he will never be Good Enough has finally become so loud that it is all he can hear, it has stopped him in his tracks.  He is frozen and immobile.

Even if we're breaking down, we can find a way to break through
Even if we can't find heaven, I'll walk through Hell with you.
Love, you're not alone, 'cause I'm gonna stand by you.

I am not, and never have been, a runner.  However, I am a pretty great cheerleader.  I've been given the Gift of seeing the best in others.  I'm great at motivational speeches and finding a silver lining, at seeing Gifts of others no matter how deeply buried they are, and doing all I can to bring them to the forefront.  Somehow when the mountain becomes steeper and the path more rocky, I can summon Faith, Courage and Belief in the Good that it could overcome anything--especially when it comes to those I love.

Oh, truth—I guess truth is what you believe in
And faith—I think faith is having a reason.
And I know now, love, if your wings are broken
Borrow mine 'til yours can open, too.
'Cause I'm gonna stand by you.

I'm sure being on the receiving end of me as a cheerleader could potentially become extremely obnoxious to someone who just wants to hear the words "It's okay to give up.  You've done enough, you can stop running now.  Just sit down and rest, breathe.  Don't push yourself anymore."

The thing about the marathon of grad school is that there have been so many times through this process I have felt God inside of it--writing this story, molding and shaping both Ben and I to become who He wants us to.  With each hurdle that has been put along the miles Ben has run and I have cheered along by his side, I have the sense that there is a greater purpose at work.  So the blistered feet, the scrapes and stumbles, the mistakes and disappointments we have continually faced have not devastated me, but only caused me to feel this purpose even more intrinsically than before.  My push to finish the race, my belief in the Good, my motivational speeches--they're all extremely sincere.  Where they come from inside of me, I can only describe that place as Truth.  Something I know without knowing how I know it.  It's just there, existing as honestly as something I can actually see or touch.

I'll be your eyes 'til yours can shine
And I'll be your arms, I'll be your steady satellite.
And when you can't rise, well, I'll crawl with you on hands and knees
'Cause I... I'm gonna stand by you.

Aside from potentially driving a runner crazy, another problem with being a cheerleader is that there is only so much I can do when it really comes down to it.  Ben is the one reading, training and running.  No matter how many speeches I yell from the sidelines, how many cups of water I hand to him as he jogs by me, no matter how much I can feel that he can finish this, I have no control over how much he feels it.  I cannot physically move his legs for him, breathe more air into his lungs or transfer my adrenaline into his veins.  If I could--believe me, I would.  Over and over again, no matter what that sacrifice might to do my own body.  I would do it.

You're all I never knew I needed
And the heart—sometimes it's unclear why it's beating.
And, love, if your wings are broken
We can brave through those emotions, too.
'Cause I'm gonna stand by you.

When we stood holding each other last weekend in the kitchen while our baby girl slept above us in the crib on the second floor and our two middle girls played together above us in their bedroom and our son cheered and yelled at the game system above us in the loft, I felt this as a Moment for us.  Time slows, and I'm keenly aware of all of my senses, combined with the feeling of him with me.  We've had several of them in our marriage--most of them happening during the past eight years of this marathon we have been participating in together.

"Do you remember telling me when you ran your marathon you dedicated each mile to someone, to help you stay motivated and to finish?"  I asked.  "Will that help?  I want this last mile to be for you, for you to feel your worth and acknowledge all you've been through and how hard you've fought."

"No," he replied.  "This last mile is for you.  I would not be here if it weren't for you, I would have quit long ago.  This last mile I dedicate to you."

I hugged him tighter and cried harder.  "Don't give up.  You finish this." I whispered, handing another metaphorical cup of water to my weary, incredible runner.

After a few minutes we separated, Ben picked himself back up and began running his last mile again.

Much later that night, while the kids were asleep and Ben was downstairs working, I prayed.  "Please, please, please," were the only words I could say as tears streamed down my face.  Even though I couldn't say any more, I silently finished my prayer.  Asking directly for the things Ben and I were both fighting for, even if that required a miracle happening.  Pleading for that miracle to come to pass.  Also adding in though, that if that miracle is not part of the story He is writing for us, to be able to withstand the blows.  As much as I really, really want him to receive the certificate he has been working for years to receive, I care more about the state of my runner when this is over.  

"Miracle or not, this will end regardless.  Just please give us the strength to still stand whatever the outcome is."  These were the words I silently ended my prayer with.  I felt immediate reassurance from that Truth place, that my words were heard.

It was then that I decided.

Ben may be dedicating his last mile of this marathon to me, but I am dedicating my last mile as a cheerleader and a support of this marathon to God, because without Him urging me and strengthening me so I could encourage Ben, I would not still be here.

And now as the finish line approaches, and Ben gives the last of this marathon everything he has,  and I yell my words of encouragement while he makes his way down the final path, and God continues to write Our Story,

we wait.

1 comment:

Marc Gilchrist said...

You guys are easy to love. Thanks for your gift of inspiration for us!