running

What a Half Marathon Told Me About My Relationship with God

I crossed the finish line at 1:54:55, five minutes better than my goal time of two hours. But I came in with a limp. My right leg was cramping bad for the last couple miles. Frustrating, since I’d focused on my diet in the days leading up to the race, shoveling bananas into my mouth at a record pace and replacing bacon with oatmeal. I’d stretched before the race, pounded some sort of new age gel to prevent cramps, and me and waterwere like this (crosses fingers).

So one thing came to mind.

“I hope it isn’t because of my left leg. It’s weaker from a car accident years ago, so maybe my right leg was cramping because it was overcompensating,” I said to a friend after the race. He’d only known me for less than a year.

“Car accident?” he said.

“Yeah, I was in car wreck when I was 18. Crushed my left hip. Half of it is made of metal.”

He looked at me an extra moment. “And you just ran a half marathon? That’s crazy!”

“Oh yeah, guess so. And next year I’m running a full marathon,” I said with a blank face.

And yet in 1999, I lied in a hospital bed with tears in my eyes, fearing I would never be able to run again, or dance (seriously, I love to dance).

How easily we forget God’s favor. And his judgment.

Miracle Mile

Running is perhaps my favorite activity. I joke that I only enjoy it when I’m done, but that’s a lie. I love the way it pumps blood through my body and how my mind processes the day’s events as air blankets my skin. I feel more in tune with the world while I’m on a run than any other time. And due to a careless mistake on the highway all of this was nearly taken from me.

Eighteen-year-old Matt was a terrible driver. Real talk: I got three speeding tickets in my first year driving. I think my tire went flat a dozen times and my battery died just as many from leaving the headlights on. And in March 1999 I nearly lost my life. I have no recollection of the car wreck and there’s no clear record of what happened, but I have a feeling it was due to my carelessness. Regardless, the impact of the wreck crushed my left hip. I lost so much blood they had to cut me my stomach open and stick rags inside, and one of the surgeons warned my parents I might not make it through the night.

Perhaps this was God’s judgment? I’m willing to admit it was pretty justified. Again, I was a horrible driver.

But then came the miracles: #1, I did live; #2, some of the top surgeons in the country were assigned to work on me (example: my orthopedic surgeon had just been on call to operate on the president when he came to town); #3, we had insurance.

All things considered, some cramping after mile 10 is pretty minimal. I should have been on the ground weeping, raising my hands into the air to thank the almighty God for his miracles. And his judgments.

“Remember the wonders he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced,” the psalmist wrote in Psalm 105.

After the wreck I wanted nothing to do with God, and before long I wasn’t thankful for anything. I kept getting speeding tickets. I partied hard. I landed in a deep, dark depression, flunked out of school and wanted to die.

I never want to go back to that horrid place. And yet, wanting and doing are two different things. It would be so easy.

Group Therapy

I always tell people that what Sioux Falls lacks in weather, it makes up for it in heart, and I’d never seen so many sign holders and cowbell clangers than at the Sioux Falls Half Marathon. A group of friends from my church also came out, and every so often I’d hear their cheers in the distance and would spot them, and my body filled with energy and my legs started moving faster. It totally pumped me up. It helped push me to the finish line.

And I’m wondering…maybe that’s one reason I don’t speed anymore. Or at least, I try not to. Most recently, as I’ve been enduring a divorce, and some days amnesia clouds roll in. Admittedly, singleness loads me up with temptations and I could go off the rails and do some foolish things. But thanks to the good days I’ve been front-loaded with prudence, which leads to some extreme measures to stay clean.

I’m also a big group junkie. I’m part of so many groups out here – church groups, writing groups, exercise groups – and that’s absolutely essential. I need people running alongside me, cheering me on.

Regardless, sometimes the good days don’t feel like good days, since God’s judgments can hurt. And the longer the race endures, the more it hurts, too. But once I reach the finish line my pain falls off and my mood reaches the sky. Every time.