Since Meg Menzies back in January I've felt many tugs on my life.
A tug toward being a better husband and father.
A tug toward seeing both as moments to treasure and not forevers to take for granted.
A tug toward understanding the truly important in life.
A tug toward finding good in the people no one else seems to find.
A tug away from yesterday and tomorrow and a determined shove toward today.
All of them, I'm sure, are tugs from God.
I guess you can see there've been a lot of tugs. God knows I've needed them. But I have to confess. One tug I didn't feel that many others did after Meg died was the tug to run. An occasional jog - maybe - but not the kind of miles and times that are piling up on the Megsmiles Facebook page. Any run measured by a satellite and requires the hour hand on a watch is a run that's out of my league. And I tend to embrace challenges that are in my league.
That all changed back in October when I signed up to run the Richmond Half-Marathon. I shared how that came to be in an earlier post - (Running With Endurance the Race Set Before Us).
Shortly after pushing the button to register for the race I embarked on a crash training program. I made a college career out of cramming weeks of exam studies into a single caffeine-laden night. So it seemed quite an unexpected gift when the running gods granted me an entire month to prepare to run 13 miles. Then came the first week of my training when my completely make it up as you go program called for a 2 hour run. At the end of it, I nearly puked. The running gods laughed. The reality was, though, I'd just covered 9 miles and I still had 3 weeks left to figure out how to cover the final 4 of the half-marathon in Richmond. Don't chuckle too loud there running gods.
(Oh my God, where in this I can't breath or feel my legs world am I going to find 4 more miles in 3 weeks?!?!?!?!)
I knew if I was going to make 13 miles I was eventually going to have to conquer a double-digit miles run. I'd never done that without the benefit of wheels. It sounded daunting. I'd always considered folks slightly off kilter who willingly ran that far without Freddie Krueger running close behind. But there I was, slightly off kilter, layered with clothes and ready to go. (Oh yes - the layers. Not only had my sensibilities reached the point where running 10 miles seemed like a good idea, it suddenly seemed equally sensible to run through clouds of my own breath biting at me while I battled the alternating numbness and tingling of my frost bitten fingertips.)
And yet still - off I went.
For this particular run I'd laid out a 5 mile loop through town that run twice would get me my 10 mile goal for the day. At the end of the first loop I said to myself: "halfway home." And with those words every glass I owned suddenly became half empty. I couldn't imagine turning around and repeating that loop - at least not without an oxygen mask or a Yellow Cab. Preferably both.
But begrudgingly I started loop 2. In doing so I learned two things. First and foremost, I learned just how I determined I was to cross the finish line of the Richmond half-marathon. Second, I learned that breaking a 10-mile run into two seemingly simpler 5-mile runs means you actually have to talk yourself into running twice, which for me was one conversation too many.
Toward the end of that second loop, less than a mile to go to my front porch and mission accomplished, I knew I'd run further than I ran the week before. In doing so, though, I was still no more confident I'd find the final 4 miles I'd need at the Richmond half. My head hung in exhaustion and my front porch felt further away than China. Just then, though, I saw a headlamp bounding toward me through the cold fog ahead. I've come to recognize that bound. I knew it was Scott Menzies - Meg's husband - out on a morning run of his own.
When he reached me I couldn't wait to tell him I was finishing up a 10 mile run for the first time in my life. My tone sounded celebratory - even to me - the same guy who just seconds earlier was thinking it might make more sense to stick my thumb out and hitch a ride home. When I told Scott he gave me a big hug and said great job. Scott's always been quick to point out he's not a "great" runner when I talk about how fast or far he runs. But this guy ran the Boston Marathon. So in that moment, in that hug, his great job might as well have been Hank Aaron telling me nice hit.
I finished that last mile in record time. I don't know what the old record was, but believe me, I finished in record time. I began to have the slightest understanding from where those final 4 miles of the Richmond half were going to come from.
Last Saturday put me at one week until the Richmond half-marathon. In my mind, if I could go out and run 12 miles then I'd feel confident I could get the 13 next weekend. My strategy was one big 12 mile loop. No small loops this time. No temptation to reconsider.
I actually took a completely different route than I've been running. I headed out of town for several miles along rural roads surrounded by farmland and trees colored by autumn. At about mile 5 in my run I was overwhelmed by the peacefulness of it all. For a while I turned my music down and just listened. There was nothing but the sound of my breath and the pounding of my feet. Both sounded much smoother than I know they really were. For a distance there were no cars and no people. Nothing seemed to move but me. I felt a sudden burst of energy I can only describe as an overdose of hope. And in that instance it finally made sense to me what I was doing trying to run this race.
It had been on my shirt the entire run, it just didn't occur to me as strongly as it did right then. I knew in that moment, though, I was running the Richmond half-marathon because Meg ran for Him. I stopped for a moment and sipped from my water and simply allowed myself to be completely awed by the Him she ran for: his creation, the peace, the opportunity to barge through the middle of it all, grateful to Him for every step of it.
As I picked my pace back up, I couldn't help but think of the hope Meg's parents must have in knowing that Meg ran for Him. I imagine some days it feels like the only hope. There have been days I've wondered how Mrs. Cross has put aside her pain to offer encouragement to others. Have a good run. Be strong. Have faith. These are the words the grieving hear - not offer. But as I ran on I was reminded of just how she does that. Mrs. Cross knows Meg ran for Him. And although she knows that brought no guarantees here on earth, it does offer a promise she'll one day run again with Meg and Him forever in paradise.
I gave a presentation with Scott a couple of weeks ago. We were talking to some college students about the importance of making good choices. As he talked about his life with Meg, pictures of her and their 3 adorable kids charmed us from a screen in the front of the room. All of us were mesmerized by their beauty. All of us but Scott. His eyes were filled with a hurting I can't comprehend, an impossible to shake longing for the beauty to be whole again. I wondered - how does he stand there and part the sadness to bring forth encouragement to college kids. There's only one way, really. Scott knows Meg ran for Him. He painfully endured watching her last run come to an unimaginable halt, but today clings to the promise that comes from knowing that day - and today - Meg runs for Him. He knows that because Meg was committed to God, one day an unimaginable halt will be lifted and their run will resume for eternity. That is how he parts the sadness.
So much of the rest of that run was devoted to the promise and hope that comes from running for Him, from doing everything for Him.
Nearly 7 miles later I arrived home. I'd completed my 12 miles. I knew for the first time, without any doubt, I'll be able to finish the half-marathon next weekend. Not because of my intensive training program (please hold your laughter until the end), not because I've suddenly felt a tug to be a runner, or even that I feel driven to avoid humiliation at all costs. No, I will finish that half-marathon next weekend for one reason only.
Because Meg ran for Him.