I am a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a, a book lover, a follower of Jesus, and recently, a very infrequent blogger.  While none of these labels describe all of me, each word gives you a bit more information about who I am.  When I blogged about labels last fall, I never in a million years thought I would ever add the word “runner” to my list.

As a kid, I dreaded P.E. class.  Don’t EVEN get me started on dodge ball or red rover!  I have always much preferred curling up with a good book to exercising or playing sports.  As I have gotten older and my jeans have gotten tighter, I have begun to appreciate the wisdom of regular workouts and the physical and emotional benefits of making exercise a part of my life.  Because my husband has always been an athlete (the kind of boy I hated during dodge ball games!) we invested in a workout room with all the equipment a number of years ago and that has been my primary exercise outlet. For me, part of the appeal of the workout room is the television.  If I must exercise, at least I can distract myself watching E True Hollywood Story!  

One beautiful day this past May, as I headed down into the basement, I found myself wishing that my exercise routine could be done outside instead.  The flowers were blooming, the trees were budding and the temperature was a perfect 75 degrees.  The obvious choice would be to go for a run, but I knew that running was not for me.  My sister is a runner.  My brother is a runner.  Kelly is NOT a runner.  I am the non-running sibling.  I had tried before to run and I couldn’t do it.  In college, my boyfriend (now husband) and my roommate talked me into going running ONE time.  I lasted about 5 minutes, at which point I turned around and headed back to the dorm to take a nap.  I am and always have been a very good napper.  I hated running.  I was bad at running.  I wasn’t built to run and I had made my mind up about it.

However, in May, the idea of exercising outside persisted.  I went online to look up walking programs, thinking that perhaps a fast walk on a pretty day would be a nice addition to my exercise repertoire. Long story short, I ran across an app for my Iphone called Couch to 5K that promised a very gradual progression from walker to runner.  When I started in mid May, I would walk for 2 minutes, then run for 90 seconds, repeating this process for 20-30 minutes…all prompted by an encouraging voice on my headphones.  After a few weeks, I was walking 3 minutes, running 5 minutes…gradually increasing the amount of time running.  Throughout what turned out to be the hottest summer on record, I did this 3 times a week every week except one…I was too intimidated to run with all the cross country kids when we were in Philly on the mission trip!

Just recently, I started running the whole way.  I still do a 30 minute workout and I am now going about 2.75 miles in that time…not exactly a blistering pace, but I’m not in a hurry.  Just this week, it occurred to me that I now consider myself a runner!  My husband pulled up next to me in his car one day when I was out running and said that I actually looked like a “real” runner, whatever that is….having known me for 30 years, he said this with a bit of disbelief in his voice!

So, why am I sharing this here?  This isn’t a running blog, but more often a place where I talk about my faith journey.  As I thought about this progression from walker to runner, it occurred to me that I am learning some very important lessons in this process that are likely applicable to other areas of my life.

First, I wonder how often we limit ourselves by stating absolutes about who we are or are not.  One of my girls said something the other day about the way she learns.  Her statement was said in such a way that it was clear she had made up her mind that this was an immutable fact…this was just the way it was and she had to deal with it.  As we talked, I encouraged her to not to limit herself at this young age and told her that the way I learned best had evolved at each stage of my education and was continuing to change as I grow older.  Growing and changing is part of growing up.  “I’m bad at math,” “I’m unorganized,” or  “I’m not a runner” are all examples of self-limiting and self-defeating statements.  I “choose” not to run is different than saying I “can’t” run.  While a healthy and realistic understanding of our strengths and weaknesses can be useful in making choices about how we spend our time, I wonder how often we shut down God’s plans to stretch us by immediately dismissing those things we have decided aren’t our particular talents.

Secondly, let’s be clear, I am not a runner in the same way my sister is a runner or my friend Neil is a runner.   For me, running 3 miles without stopping to walk is a huge accomplishment.  For them, that is a warm-up.  But that’s ok!  Letting go of the need to compare ourselves with the way another person does something is the beginning of freedom.  I am not ready to go running with anyone right now, I am not ready to enter a race right now, I am not planning on ever running a marathon right now…but I might change my mind someday.  Letting go of a particular image of who or what defines the word “runner” allows me to explore the new and perhaps, different ways that I might also choose to describe myself with that word.  The same freedom applies to labels like “mother,” “teacher,” “singer,” “writer,” “artist,” or even “Christian.”  Isn’t it glorious that God made us all so different?  It is sad how often I limit His creativity by trying to be like someone else instead of celebrating my unique expression of my God-given abilities.

Third, I did not become a runner overnight.  For me, the path was slow.  Perhaps others started running by just going out and running.  For me, that didn’t work.  For me, the process of alternating walking and running is working, but it might not work for someone else.  For me, breaking my “run” down into baby steps worked at the beginning, but it might be too boring for someone else.  When I began the Couch to 5K program, it warned participants not to rush through the suggested incremental stages and it also advised you to repeat weeks, if you felt you needed to do so.  I took their advice because it sounded like they knew what they were talking about and because there were stories of others who had been successful using this approach.  I allowed myself to go slowly, I allowed myself to have bad days when I went backwards in terms of my progress and I allowed myself to be a learner.   In my journey with the Lord, I would be wise to remember the value of slow and steady progress, the importance of spiritual mentors, and the humility of always remaining teachable.

Lastly, for reasons I’m not sure I understand, I made up my mind to stick with this and so far, I haven’t quit.  Somedays…initially, most days…I hated it.  On hot days, and there were many, I really hated it.  At first, my body hurt after every run.  And then, it began to hurt less.  It is only recently that I have begun to actually enjoy running and I am experiencing the benefits that drew me to try this path.  Now that it is cooler outside and I can run farther, I come back from my runs exhilarated and I look forward to the next run.  I may never run farther than 3 miles, but for now, I am having fun and it makes me feel strong and alive.  I am proud of myself for trying something new and doing something I thought I couldn’t do.  As I move closer and closer to my 50th birthday and to the time when my little birdies will leave my nest, I know there are going to be many more opportunities to re-define myself and try new things.  That gets me excited to see what God has planned for me next!

Lessons from this journey: be willing to learn, be myself, slow and steady, be committed.

Hebrews 12:1-2 (New Living Translation) 1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. 2 We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.  Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.