When people ask me what I like to do for fun, I usually say I like to run.
This is laughable to people who actually know me, because usually I like TV on the couch more than I like to run, which means that I rarely actually go for a run. Sometimes it’s a problem even with people who don’t know me well, like coworkers who ask about my running habits and if I’ve signed up for such and such INCREDIBLY LONG DISTANCE race coming up in a few weeks.
But on Saturday, I went for a real run. A friend suggested it and came with. Were it not for her I probably wouldn’t have gone and almost certainly wouldn’t have finished.
To be honest, it was practically the first exercise I’ve done since sometime in October when the dark came earlier and the days got colder. The path was muddy and my legs balked at the uphill, but there’s nothing like the high after a good run. We walked part of it (ostensibly because of the mud, but really, we were just out of shape), but we finished. The sun was shining, the sky was blue, the trees were starting to bud, and I remembered that I loved to run.
Toda, however, I was tired. I came home from church and laid on the couch, ready for a nap, ready for bed, really. It was gray and sprinkling and a little bit cooler and all I wanted were sweatpants and cookies and for the couch to swallow me whole, perhaps. But some small and persistent part of my brain got me off the couch, into running clothes, and back to the park.
My favorite trail run is a few miles from my house and starts with a painful uphill (There. Are. Stairs.). Even when I’m in great shape I usually walk part of it, and I am nowhere near in great shape right now. But I dutifully started off at a brisk pace and soon found myself completely and fully gasping for breath.
I wanted to finish today. I wanted to run the whole thing, to make it through to the end. So I kept running, albeit slower than I probably could have walked.
I always say I love running because it helps me to work out my anxiety in healthy ways, and that’s true. But it means that while I’m running, I start thinking anxious thoughts.
Last week in my community group, a dear friend told me that I don’t have to think through the “what ifs”. I can just live, now, and take life as it comes. That perhaps I am not, in fact, meant to think through every conceivable outcome of every decision I make every day, that faith perhaps means that Someone Else will sort through those scenarios and lead me in the right way.
This is not how I usually live.
But today, with heaving breaths already three minutes in, I whispered weakly, “Today I am running. Tomorrow will happen tomorrow.”
It wasn’t quite hopeful, but it kept me moving forward (and most of the time that’s all I need).
As I rounded the corner on the last mud-soaked uphill, I was fairly certain I couldn’t continue running up, and I was more certain I didn’t want to. It had started raining gently and my shoes were sticking in the mud. My legs and my lungs and my head were pounding and there was only a few hundred feet uphill to my car. No one was around, no one would know if I walked the last bit.
Have you ever noticed that when the sky is grey the whole world turns grey? The grass and the mud blend together into a grey-ish brown. Grey squirrels scamper by, brownish sparrows flit, even the new buds on the tree appear greyish in the grey light.
As I was considering whether my next step would be a walk or a run, a cardinal hopped right into the middle of the mud. He radiated red light, a fierce splash of color on a whitewashed world.
He had the audacity to be red on a grey day.
I ran the rest of the hill. It was a slow and limping run, but I didn’t walk one step of the trail.
I’ve been following a blog called Mundane Faithfulness for a while now. I’m sure you’re reading it too, but if you’re not, you should read through the archives. Kara passed away today, and if ever anyone has been a cardinal on a grey day it is her. Her perspective on suffering is humbling, encouraging, and freeing.
In a letter to Brittany Maynard, the advocate of doctor-assisted suicide, earlier this year, Kara wrote, ”Suffering is not the absence of goodness, it is not the absence of beauty, but perhaps it can be the place where true beauty can be known. In your choosing your own death, you are robbing those that love you with the such tenderness, the opportunity of meeting you in your last moments and extending you love in your last breaths.”
When the sky is grey, the whole world is grey. Or, we can have the audacity to be life and color and hope in the midst of suffering and darkness.
Like a cardinal on a grey day.
Photo by drewzviewz via flickr.