Words I was told on more than one occasion from our first Pulmonary Hypertension doctor in regards to our youngest son Daniel's care. Words that ran through my mind throughout Daniel's 6 years of life. While Daniel was alive, this motivated me to train and run my first half-marathon races. A few months after Daniel died, I knew I wanted to try and train to run a full 26.2.
In December, I mentioned this stirring I was having to train for a full marathon to my friend Ashley. I told her about the Big D (which the name of the race made me think of our Daniel) that was on April 2nd (the day after Daniel passed away) and how the timing and the name seemed to be a perfect race to run in honor of Daniel. Their family was over for dinner and without too much hesitation she said, "I could maybe train and do that with you." Within a few days of this conversation we both started the training. I was so thankful to have a friend to train with, to run with, and to spur one another on!
We ran most of our long runs together and it was on one of these long runs that I told Ashley the story of Daniel’s tree.
When Daniel passed away, the sweet people that Brent works with purchased a city memorial tree for Daniel. They were able to choose the city park that it would be planted in, but they had no control over the physical location of where the tree would be planted within the park. They chose the park closest to our home. We live across the street from this city park and Daniel spent many hours running, playing and getting dirty on the baseball fields there! So it was perfect.
One morning last summer, Brent and I were out on our back patio having coffee and talking and we noticed a city truck with a tree in the back pull up. The hole that was being dug for the tree was directly across the street from our home. Brent went over to talk to the city worker to find out if that was Daniel's tree. It was. No one knew the tree would be planted directly across the street from us, but the Lord knew. I continue to be amazed by this as it could have been planted anywhere in that 117 acre city park. This was such a sweet gift from the Lord.
You can see the tree sitting on our back patio, but it was not until I started training for the marathon that I noticed the tree is also perfectly centered with our street. As we ran, I was sharing all of these details with Ashley. I told Ashley, "One day when I cross the final finish line of this life, it will not be a tree. Instead, there will be my beloved Daniel smiling, cheering and welcoming me home!"
That thought alone is motivation enough to keep running the race of life most days.
As the training became harder, 16, 18, 20 miles thinking of that tree at the finish was always sweet motivation. Every time I rounded the corner for the final stretch I burst out laughing and crying from the emotion of thinking of the final finish combined with the sweet victory of finishing those long distances I had never ran before. On two occasions our sweet neighbor was working in her flower gardens and I know I was probably quite a sight for her! Oh well. I did not ever try to hold back the emotion.
As race day approached, I told my family I was excited and ready but that I was going to miss seeing that tree at the end!
The morning before the race, April 1, 2017, was the first anniversary of Daniel's death. I woke up just before 7:45 am and relived the moments of Daniel's last minutes here on earth. The morning he died, I was at home and Brent was at the hospital with him. Just like I had on the morning he passed away I went out on my front step and sang "All This Glory". This is what the sky looked like, with Daniel's tree right there in front of me as I cried and worshipped.
Later that evening, the weather forecast was becoming very grim for our race day. Severe storms were forecasted with 100% certainty. Ashley and I talked and had prayed that God would make it very obvious before the race started what we were supposed to do.
Ashley picked me up early on the morning of April 2nd and we drove downtown. As race time approached the weather became worse and worse. God faithfully answered our prayer to make it obvious. We were hoping for miraculous change of weather, but instead it was so bad that the marathon was cancelled. We were both so disappointed. After months of training we were now unable to run.
We went to a cafe and had breakfast and talked about our disappointment, not only with the race but other times in life. For both of us there seemed to be this recurring theme of persevering through life's disappointments. The biggest disappointment in my life being Daniel's death.
We quietly drove home, both of us still processing the reality that the race did not happen. When she dropped me off, Brent was waiting for me. He was sweet and comforting and said he was surprised with how well I was doing considering the huge disappointment. I told him, "God made it clear, and I do not understand why he said 'not today' in regard to running this race. But He did. And I trust Him." Then I went and took a nap.
I woke up around 2:15pm. As I laid in my bed, I thought "I don't hear any thunder...or rain...". I then checked the radar and the sky was clear. I started thinking about Daniel's tree and how I was thinking I would have been disappointed to not see it at the end of the marathon. Then I started thinking about running a marathon here, on my own. At about 2:30pm I called Ashley and our conversation went something like this, "Do you want to run?" She said, "What does that mean!?" And I said, "Like the 26.2? Do you want to run the marathon?" She paused before responding "I'm not sure..." I said, "Well I think I am going to do it and I didn't want to run it without inviting you to join me, so think about it, but not too long because we are going to run out daylight!" We hung up and about 5 minutes later she called me and said "I'm in!"
Thirty minutes later, we were ready to take off! We had the best send off ever! Brent loaded up our refreshment station with water and gatorade. We took photos with everyone wearing an "In Memory of Daniel" or Superman shirt. We had posters! My son Sam led the singing of the National Anthem, My husband Brent did a fake gun shot and we were off!
At miles 8, 18 and 25 our dear friends even came and met us with water and cheering along the path...
It was a grueling race for me. By mile 20.75 my body wanted no more. I had the worst stomachache and I hurt in places I didn't even know existed prior to this race. It was the grace of the Lord Jesus and the memory of my sweet Daniel joyfully fighting through pain his entire life that kept me putting one foot in front of the other. But those last 6 miles were sloooooow and painful and I am thankful that Ashley was so patient, I know she could have finished much faster than I did!
Ashley's and my family were hanging out together at our house and had asked that we let them know when we were one mile out. We did, but by this time it was dark out. I told Ashley that I was bummed it was dark as I would not be able to see the tree as we rounded the corner of our street. When we turned to run back into my neighborhood, we saw flashes of light. As we ran closer, I realized it was my oldest sons Drew and Sam with flashlights! Drew also had his speaker and was playing "My Beloved”, Daniel's favorite song! Drew and Sam joined Ashley and I to run the last quarter mile and as I turned the corner to run down our street to the finish, there was Daniel's tree...ALL LIT UP! Brent had taken our vehicles and turned the lights on to illuminate Daniel's tree in that dark night sky! Oh how thankful I was to see that tree! Brent picked me up as I crossed the finish line with all of those sweet kids and friends cheering!
It was the BEST FINISH EVER. Way better than if I had been able to run the "real" race.
God wasn't keeping something from me, He had something better for me. He is faithful, again and again and again He is faithful.
I ran a marathon. I ran a marathon, in memory of my Daniel, persevering by God's grace through disappointment once again.
"And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us." Romans 5:2-5
One day there will be no more disappointment. As I cross the finish line of life on this earth, Daniel will be there smiling and cheering along with my Jesus and all the other saints who finish their race ahead of me. Thank you, Jesus, for a hope that does not and will not disappoint.
"Therefore since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart." Hebrews 12:1-3
That is the story of my 26.2.