Running the Race You Didn’t Sign Up For
[This essay is featured as part of Sarah E. Westfall's Not My Story Essay Series.] “Just go ahead without me,” I implored her through tears, my runner’s bib wrinkled as I hunched over in pain. As a sea of runners maneuvered around us, my friend and running partner stood next to me, our conversation a frozen moment in time at the base of Spaceship Earth in Epcot. We were a mile from the finish line.
Two days before, when our happy group of five friends picked up our race packets, we discovered that two of us would begin from the last corral for the race. That meant we were placed with the walkers—who are wonderful and would earn the very same medal for the very same distance—but after training hours and miles in freezing temperatures, with blue lips and chattering teeth, we were ready to run this race.
This wasn’t the race we signed up for.
On race morning, my friend and I stood in the dark waiting to hear the gun shot for our corral. Finally, a full hour after the race had begun, it was our turn. We fought through the throng of walkers around us, making little progress. Our pace lagged behind that of our training runs. Then, as we began our last mile, we started up the slightest incline by Spaceship Earth and what felt like a snapped rubber band ripped pain across my knee. I couldn’t walk.
This wasn’t the race I signed up for.
“Just go ahead,” I begged my friend, but she refused to leave. She put her arm around me, holding me up through that last, eternal mile with her. We’d done everything we were supposed to do. We put the miles in, found our pace, learned strategies for endurance. Why had we trained so hard for it to result in this?
Before I committed to this run this race with my friends, I prayed. Honestly, I wasn’t sure I could do it. When I ran a 10k with some of the same friends, I was proud of achieving that goal, but it was hard and I was slow. Running just didn’t come easy. But when I prayed, I sensed that God whispered, “Lean on me.” When I heard that assurance that He would carry me through it, I never anticipated that I’d be literally leaning on my friend to cross the finish line. Even in this, through the support of my friend, He was with me.
After the race began a confusing blur of months filled with mistakes by doctors and increased pain and inability to even take long walks. During that time, a friend sent me a verse, “Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed,” (Hebrews 12:13-14).
The phrases “weak knees” and “straight paths” stopped me. I wanted stronger knees. I wanted straight paths. I wanted my lame places to be healed. But these verses also called me to pray: to lift my hands, to kneel down, to seek Him.
After almost a year of seeking Him, pleading with Him for healing, through the gift of a second opinion from a new doctor, I had surgery on my very torn and tattered meniscus. My doctor said, “I don’t know how you kept walking on this—this one is a mess.” He couldn’t repair it, but he removed part of it, saying I’d likely not run long distances again, but I’d be able to walk without pain.
This is when God spoke to my heart: it is enough to walk with me in the race I’ve set before you. I’d been trying to keep up, but He was teaching me just to fix my eyes on Him. My pace didn’t matter—my focus on Him did.
Read the rest at Sarah E Westfall's Not My Story Essay Series.