“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” Hebrews 12:1
One of the great mysteries of life is that the people you expect to run with you sometimes don’t, and those you expect to drop out over the years because of distance or time . . . well, sometimes they keep right on running with you.
Case in point: a few weeks ago, my friend from college, Susie Pederson, visited me. She’s on missionary furlough as a translator for Wycliffe in Papua New Guinea.
Susie and I became friends because we were both resident assistants on the third floor for a freshman girls dorm. At first, I wasn’t quite sure how our friendship was going to work out.
I double majored in English and communication arts; she double majored in religion and chemistry (at least, I knew she could translate Hebrew and was in the science building a lot). I was a cheerleader, and she was the vice-president (and, later, president) of the Student Government Association.
However, these right-brain/left-brain differences converged after I came up with the idea of turning the names of the girls who were going to live on our floor into a Scrabble board to welcome them to their new dorm home.
The only problem was, I had no idea how to execute my plan.
Susie came to the rescue: brilliantly combining all 30+ names into a crossword puzzle, which I turned into the bulletin board.
Around this time’s when we realized we both had somewhat unusual childhoods (she was a missionary kid; I was a caretaker kid on a Christian camp); we both loved books and words (later reflected in our careers), and we were runners, even if we didn’t run every day.
I told Susie, while she was here, that we would have to go running, but an opportunity didn’t present itself until 9:30 at night. Thankfully, the stars were bright and moon nearly full when Susie tied her bandana over her short, strawberry-blond hair and pushed a button on her watch.
“You’re going to time us?” I asked, horrified, for it’d been ten years since we’d conquered those Kentucky back roads.
Susie shrugged and grinned, the moonlight reflecting off the lenses of her glasses, and we took off; my Great Pyrenees following at a leisurely trot.
We talked as we ran, which reveals how slowly we were going. We talked about our families and recalled the memories we shared.
The gravel covering the dirt road shone silver as it wove across the bean fields, the pods whispering as the wind tossed them, like the sea.
We reached the mile marker, and Susie pushed a button on her watch. “What’s our time?” I asked.
She looked down at it. “You don’t want to know.”
We continued running again, and she told me about the marathon she ran four years ago, in Texas.
“One couple stood out to me,” she began. “They were wearing bright clothing . . .”
That day, every hour of the six hours Susie ran, the couple in the bright clothing appeared. She had no idea who they were, but they were there as Susie ran beneath the hot sun, her fair-skin burning and blisters erupting on the soles of her feet.
When Susie crossed the finish line, they reappeared, cheering her on. She burst into tears, seeing them. But then they were gone. Susie was never able to thank them for what they did.
“They reminded me of the great cloud of witnesses,” she said. “Cheering me on in the race of life.” She cast a hand over the moonlit field, and I knew exactly what she meant.
Sometimes, we feel that we’re running this spiritual race alone—exposed to the elements of life with blisters of doubt erupting on our feet.
The news does not help matters.
Each day of every week there are headlines conveying the latest devastation: school shootings, hospital bombings, parents being forced to choose between their children as they attempt to flee their homelands, which have been overtaken.
It’s too much. Simply too much. But we are not alone in this. All around us, people are living in fear.
This morning, on our way to church, I asked my husband if the fear’s increasing or if this fear was around when I was a child, and I remained oblivious because I believed—for the most part, at least—that my parents would take care of me, no matter what.
“It’s some of both,” he said.
But then I thought about that couple in their bright clothing, cheering on my friend. At each portion of the journey, they were there for her—encouraging her to put one blistered foot in front of the other.
If people are willing to set aside six hours of their day to cheer on a stranger, how much more willing is our heavenly father to cheer us on, eager to see us continue making the tiny, painful steps in our faith journey and will one day meet us at the finish line, calling us his good and faithful servants, if we just continue to move forward while always trusting in him.
Do you see your physical journey as a reflection of your spiritual one?