Isaiah 40:31 – They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary. (KJV)
It was four o'clock in the morning on a moonless, muggy night — just the way I wanted it. With 240 pounds of bulging blubber and mushy muscles on a five-foot, eleven-inch frame, I wanted no one to see me trying to jog.
At the high school track's starting line, I punched my stopwatch and groaned into a trot, trying to banish thoughts of rapidly overpowering fatigue by reflecting on the three simultaneous events that led to my being here at such an early hour.
One, two, three cruel strikes — and I was out. Strike one: In the home we built, my blue-eyed, brunette bombshell bride left a goodbye note, and little else. Strike two: A freakish lawn mower accident severed my right big toe and rendered the next toe useless. Strike three: I had metamorphosed from the outdoor, active type to a sedentary sofa slob. One day I was a lean, athletic male who had attracted the attention of a gorgeous female, much to the envy of my tennis team pals; the next day, I was a fat, divorced, lazy, lame loser.
Staggering and wheezing down the track, battling nausea and fatigue, I completed one lap. Then, while walking another lap, I lost my composure and wept in gushes, feeling sorry for myself, bemoaning my handicap, but realizing down deep that it was only part of the problem, a part that could be overcome. Little did I know then that this painful, early-hour experience was, for me, the beginning of one of the most difficult journeys humans make: the journey within.
Somehow, I rallied enough self-discipline to maintain my punishing pre-dawn practices, and even set what seemed at the time to be an impossible goal: to come to the track someday and run five miles without stopping.
Running caused the foot to ache, and favouring it made my stride awkward, but I kept putting bad foot and good foot in front of each other, remembering that winning is no more than this: to rise each time you fall. I also remembered a few lines from a poem:
- If you think you'll lose, you've lost.
For out in the world we find
Success begins with a fellow's will;
It's all in the state of mind.
Life's battles don't always go
To the strongest or fastest man;
But sooner or later the man who wins
Is the one who thinks he can.
- Walter D. Wintle
The five-mile goal came and went. Then it was ten; then a half-marathon. Finally, I was in great shape and confident enough to enter my first really big race, the Mardi Gras Marathon — a 26-mile jaunt across the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway from Covington, Louisiana, to New Orleans. The time on the big clock at the finish line was awful and unimportant. I finished the race: I won.
My triple dose of adversity was bitter medicine to swallow, but it healed me. Through adversity, I had come to know myself; I completed the journey within. Three strikes, I'm out? No — Three strikes, I'm in!
Prayer: Merciful Father, in the difficult journeys we must run, without and within, please lead our steps aright. Amen.