Breathe and focus on God
Welcome! Grateful to connect with you!
I hinted in my welcome that I'd shared "just bits" of my running stories on my social media pages and wanted to expand on those. To get to those stories though, I think it will paint a picture if you understand where my running journey began and share a little more about myself.
Sports are a large part of my life, whether competing as an athlete myself or claiming a team (As you learned before, I have too many). I was a competitive gymnast for 15 years and even have a few state titles hanging on my shelf along with medals and certificates for other sports through the years including, soccer, volleyball and track and field. I'd like to think my competitive nature has settled through the years, especially in the times I have not been actively competing as an athlete.
After graduating from college and through my first few jobs, I was not all that active. I enjoyed the occasional activity and coached gymnastics. Coaching looked like dancing, demonstrating, lifting and spotting small children. Ultimately though, I was not very active beyond the stress and heightened heart rate that comes with watching sports... especially when your teams are in Georgia. If you know, you know. I made it through 28 years of life, including all those years of gymnastics without ever breaking a bone! Truly, a testament to the quality strength, conditioning and trained body awareness of being a gymnast. Then, fast forward to November 2018, as I was walking across a cross walk, was hit by a Ford F-150 with raised wheels, no less (again, welcome to Georgia) and fell to the ground, breaking my ankle. True story, it happened. In the midst of the healing process and working with my physical therapist, I realized that I missed being active and actively competitive. So, I decided to start running.
Let's be real, running is hard! What could possibly be fun about dying slowly? I get easily distracted by watching the meter and praying the finish line closer and closer. When I first began, I could hardly make it a mile without stopping. It was pretty embarrassing. But I'd committed to it. My only goal then was to "just do it." After a month of this, it was routine and felt somewhat natural. I still wasn't very good at it, but I could see and feel so many benefits.
One of those many benefits was seeing people and reflecting on what I saw. Near the beginning of our first quarantine period, I shared this "Running Story" to Facebook...
Remember, that was a time when we were just figuring things out about the coronavirus and realizing the lengths we'd have to go to in staying away from others. Seeing people out and about meant staying far away. It meant feeling weird and awkward. In some ways, it meant feeling unhuman. As I approached this parking lot attendant, I watched him wave away a driver, their interaction seemingly dismissive by the look on the driver's face as I passed by. So, I decided to do what I have watched my dad do many times in similar situations, thank a person doing a job no one wants to do. There was no way to know this man would return the kindness, but sure enough he did and I was grateful. I saw God.
Another running story I shared which occurred after a particularly bad day in the world was an interaction with a toddler, his momma, and another stranger. My mind had been affected by the world news that day and I wanted to quit before I'd even began. I remember thinking, "What's the point? I'll just try again tomorrow." Most runners can tell you, somedays, the only thing that gets you to the run is the habit of doing it. Nothing about motivation. That day's run was out of habit. It was near the end of the run as I was weaving through a few particularly annoying curves on the boardwalk. These curves are annoying mostly because there always seem to be too many people. People who do not understand the etiquette of navigating a walkway when there are other people around. That doesn't even account for living in a global pandemic which we need "stay at least 6 feet apart" at all times. I could write a whole book on sidewalk, like grocery cart, etiquette. Can you feel my annoyance? It was as if God heard my annoyance and defeat as a prayer, when I came upon a mom with a little straggler about 10 yards behind her. I start to approach and the child makes eye contact with me... then starts to sprint as fast as his little legs would carry him and belly laughed! I know, you know that laugh. You can tell they are going to laugh so hard that they can't stop? Once they can't stop, you start in too because there is no use in trying to keep a straight face? It is the best kind. The child's mom, a woman approaching from the opposite direction and I all realize at the same time... he's racing me! For three seconds, we were strangers laughing and the world didn't seem so big, hard and scary. I'd be willing to bet those women were out and about that day looking to escape a similar sense of dread and confusion as to why the world can be so difficult. In the middle of that child's laughter, I saw Hope, God.
One short conversation. Three seconds of a child's laugh. That is all it takes for God to create a crease of hope for us to keep going. My journey in running is exactly that, a journey. Journeys have directions, twists, turns, stops, waits, and paces. We don't always want to participate. A lot of times, we want to disengage from the journey. Like any other journey, God enters in. We find hope when we pay attention to what God is trying to tell us. Now, I believe that like God is absolutely coffee, God is also running.
It was in some of my early runs that I read an article about how to train our minds for endurance. Not to get off on a tangent, but if you study the human brain, it is impossible not to see God. Our brains are incredible! The mind is ALWAYS stronger than we think it is. It often helps train our minds by creating a word or short phrase to run through our heads or sometimes even say out loud to help us focus and keep going. Eyes on the prize. Full steam ahead. My phrase when running has become, "Breathe and focus on God." Breathe? Well, this should seem obvious, but remember the slow dying? Remembering to breathe when it gets hard is just simple enough. Focus on God, for me, looks like paying attention to what is around me and not being distracted by the distance I have left, the time I'm trying to meet or the laundry list of struggles. I "focus on God" by literally naming things I see in my immediate surroundings. Nature. Clouds. Sunshine. Children learning to ride bikes. People returning smiles. Birds chirping.
Breathe and focus on God. See the kindness of a stranger doing a job no one wants to do. Breathe and focus on God. Hear the laughter of a child. Breathe and focus on God. Feel the release of tension and anxiety of the world through strangers living in it with you. Breathe and focus on God.