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The Wonder Report: August 13, 2021
The Finish Line
Happy Friday … Thanks for welcoming me back to your inbox after an unexpected week off. By way of explanation, I’ll start with a story.
Two weeks ago on a Saturday morning, my husband Steve and I laced up our running shoes, pinned numbers to the front of our t-shirts, and ran a 5k alongside a few dozen other local residents.
We almost decided not to run. When we signed up weeks earlier to participate in the race as part of our city’s annual Hot Dog Festival (in case you don’t know, we live in Frankfort. Get it?), we didn’t know how Mom would be doing. Like all the things we planned for the summer, this one had a major asterisk. But I’d seen her the day before, and though she’d declined significantly, she was holding her own. And the staff assured me there was no need to stay around the clock. At least not yet.
It’s been a while since I ran a race, and though I’d been running and training, my race pace left me a little more winded a littler earlier in the race than I’d expected. I wanted to quit, or if not quit, at least stop and walk. Unlike my husband, I forgot to bring along my AirPods, so I had nothing to distract me from the tiredness either. So I began negotiating with myself: At least make it to the next stop sign. If you’re still winded after you pass the mother and her daughter, then you can walk. Just try to make it to mile two.
I’d passed the one-mile mark before things felt hard, and then, without expecting it, I passed the two-mile mark. Two miles! That meant just a little more than a mile to go. Surely I could do that at the pace I was going. So rather than let myself walk, I thought about the finish line, and kept running.
Except I couldn’t actually see the finish line. If I could just see it, I told myself, then this last stretch would be easier. I rounded the last corner, knowing the finish line was less than a mile ahead. But with trees and parked vehicles along the sides of the road, I still couldn’t see it. Instead, I started counting blocks. With about 10 blocks to a mile, and a little less than a mile to go, I estimated I had about 8 blocks left, and I began marking them off in my mind while I ran.
With four blocks to go, I caught sight of the finish line. I coached myself to hold steady for two more blocks, and then I started sprinting, giving it all I had to cross the finish line.
Even as I was running, I was thinking about all the ways that faith is like running a race. We often think that keeping our eyes on the finish line is the only way to complete the rac; it certainly does help when things get tough. But we’ll never even make it close to the finish line if we don’t first practice. If I’d showed up to the 5k having not first developed the habit of running, no vision of the finish line would have earned me that third-place medal. (I forgot to tell you: I came in third in my age group!)
The same is true of our faith. It’s what we’ve been talking about all summer as we read through Jen Pollock Michel’s A Habit Called Faith: 40 Days in the Bible to Find and Follow Jesus. Eternal life with God is the goal of our faith in Christ—our finish line—but it’s the habit of faith that gets us there.
In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul writes about his own faith in terms of habits and training:
“Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. So they do it to obtain a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way as not to run aimlessly; I box in such a way, as to avoid hitting air; but I strictly discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.” (9:24-27)
Because here’s the other truth when it comes to running: I can’t just practice running. I also have to practice finishing. If I stop halfway through every practice run, I’ll never be able to complete the race.
The same is true of our faith. In Christ, we persevere through hard things knowing that someday, we’ll make it to the end of our life with faith intact ready to be with Jesus.
Again, from Paul:
“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we also have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we celebrate in hope of the glory of God. And not only this, but we also celebrate in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (Romans 5:1-5)
To be honest, as I was running that day, I was also thinking about the caregiving journey I’d been on with Mom. I was tired and weary; I felt overwhelmed by all the needs, and I couldn’t see the finish line. I wasn’t sure how long I could keep running.
But God reminded me of two things that morning as I huffed and puffed between miles two and three: First, I don’t have to see the finish line to know it’s there. And second, through long-term singleness, a rare autoimmune disorder, stage four cancer, professional disappointments, the ups and downs of family life, and more, God has been developing in me the habit of finishing. I know that, in Christ, I can do hard things … because I already have.
The next morning, with the memory of running the 5k still fresh in my mind, I arrived at Mom’s as usual. But something was different. Mom was having pain we couldn’t control, and her breathing had changed. I texted my husband to say that I wouldn’t be coming home.
We moved Mom to her recliner, and the nurse administered an additional dose of medicine, but it didn’t help. Over the next couple of hours, they gave mom more and different medicines that calmed her breathing and alleviated her pain. When they later moved her to her bed, she slipped into a coma. And by the following evening, she breathed her last. Several of us were with her at the end…me, my husband, my brother, my sister-in-law, and my nephew…we held her hand and told her how very much we loved her. But as her earthly life came to an end, I had the vision of Jesus standing just on the other side, welcoming her into her new life. My deepest hope is that she was never alone.
From the moment I’d arrived there that Sunday morning, I sensed God telling me the finish line was near … both for mom and for me. I’ve often told people about the long race I was running as a caregiver, but I’ve known all along that the race was even harder and longer for Mom. And while I’m grateful that God, through his grace, gave me the stamina to finish my part of the race, I’m even more grateful that He helped Mom finish her part, held firmly in His love. She “fought the good fight, she finished the course, she kept the faith,” and though I don’t know exactly how it works, I hope I’ll be there to see Mom receive her crown of righteousness, reserved for her in Christ.
Needless to say, the last two weeks have held a lot of ups and downs for my family and me. I’ve slowly gotten back to my desk in the last few days, but I’m also navigating a new normal after years of caregiving.
I wanted to drop in today to finish up our series on a Habit Called Faith and to let you know that I’ll be regrouping and recommitting to The Wonder Report in September. I had been planning to take a couple of weeks off in late August, and I think that is still a good idea—maybe an even better idea now than when I first thought of it. When I return, we’ll finish up our “When I Write …” series (there are two more installments in the hopper), and I also have a few good novels to tell you about. There will also be art and nature and faith and all things wonder-ful to share, and I look forward to being with you again on the regular.
Thanks for being my people … for caring when I’m hurting and waiting for me while I’m gone.
One day this week, I took the afternoon to visit the Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields, and I was struck by this painting by French painter Carolus-Duran called “Promenade in the Woods.” In the exhibit notes, we learn that the identity of this man and woman aren’t known, but it appears that the woman is wearing mourner’s black … and I wondered if she is grieving for her mother like I am.
My time in the museum proper was not as restful and peaceful as I had hoped, mostly because of the museum crowds. But I did make my way to the museum gardens just outside, and found that my own promenade in the woods was just what my broken heart needed.
The wonder of art and nature always help me find my way toward healing, and I’m so grateful to God for these gifts.
Thanks again for sharing this time with me. If you’d like to send me a note or ask a question, you can hit reply and end up in my inbox. Or you can also leave a comment on this newsletter, which will live in the archive over on Substack. It’s one of my favorite features of this platform.
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Until next time,