I found my New Balance shoes at a used clothing giveaway at church. In all my favorite colors, they caught my eye. They were nearly new – only a few pebbles in the treads, and a little tear in the mesh of the toe. On the inner soles they read, “Running”. An ambitious claim, I thought, if I were to be the one to take them. I had gotten into a routine of walking regularly, but the pain in my knees had prevented me from running very much, if at all. I used to jog in my teens and early twenties. But there had been two babies, about 25 pounds of weight gain, and over a decade of aging since then. Not to mention, arthritis runs in my family. Three out of four of my immediate family members have had joint replacements.
As I examined the shoes, however, I noticed they were in my size. I put them on, and they fit like a dream. So comfortable. Could it be? Were they a gift – maybe, from God? I had needed a pair of shoes for the treadmill. Feeling frivolous, I put them in my basket. I wouldn’t have permitted myself to buy a pair of shoes like that.
Over the next few months I continued my walks, sometimes on the treadmill, and outside, if the weather was nice. And whenever I put those shoes on, I read that word – “Running” – on the insides of the soles. It beckoned me, optimistically. Was God prompting me to try jogging again?
I attempted it, in small spurts. But the day after a jog, my knees would ache, and they would crackle when I went up and down the stairs. Sometimes, my hips would act up as well. They were especially sore as I laid in bed at night. So I would need to take a few days off from jogging or sometimes from exercise altogether, until my joints felt better. And when they did, I’d try again.
The treadmill was easier on my knees than the pavement, so I did most of my jogging there. When the weather was too beautiful to resist, I ran on the grass along the edge of the sidewalks, to soften the blows. Perhaps the other pedestrians thought I was physically distancing.
Sometimes, I felt like giving up. I wondered if I was doing more harm than good to my body. I was tired at the end of the day, and didn’t think I had the strength to go out. But the fresh air, and the feeling of overall wellness after a run, enticed me.
One day, however, a man out for a walk with his family imitated my running in a mocking way as I approached them. (I jog slowly and carefully, to lessen the impact on my legs.) I was shocked to see a grown man behave that way, and felt the way I did when I was teased back in middle school: hurt, and ashamed. He may as well have thrown me to the ground and squashed me with his foot. But then again, maybe he was right. Who did I think I was, anyway? What kind of a pointless exercise was this? I must look ridiculous. A mom out in her raggedy exercise clothes, huffing and puffing away.
But the shoes said I could do it. They were “Running” shoes, after all. That’s what they were for. And God Himself, it seemed to me, had said I could do it. He had given me the shoes. He had asked me to run. Or, at the very least, to try. So I kept going. Pounding out my anxieties and frustrations, through the bottoms of my feet. Praying about everything on my mind. Asking God to strengthen me, in body and spirit. And to empower me for whatever lay ahead in my life.
A week or two later, I was going by a house that I passed regularly, where two adolescent kids (likely a brother and sister) often hung out on their front step. Unexpectedly, I heard the girl call to me from behind.
“You go girl!” she cheered, clapping her hands. “You’re winning!”
I raised both my hands in the air and kept on going. That she was sincere, I can only hope. Whatever the case, her encouragement put a spring in my step. I thought about the power of our words, and our interactions with people. How easily can they build or destroy!
It’s been about a year since I first picked up that pair of shoes. It’s autumn again – dark and cool in the evenings when I run. The streets are quiet, and yellow light spills from the windows of houses.
The other night, I had planned to walk rather than jog. I was too tired, I thought, to do anything more. But when the evening breeze hit me, walking wasn’t enough.
And along with the breeze, I was hit with a realization: I was no longer pushing myself to jog. I had to jog. I needed it. I craved it.
I also realized that I had lengthened my route, and was still completing it with ease. My knees and hips were doing a lot better. They hardly gave me any trouble anymore, even after jogging on two or more sequential days.
And perhaps most significantly, one change had happened so gradually and unconsciously that I almost forgot to notice.
I was running on the pavement! Without even thinking about it. And my knees felt great.
As I finished off my route with a short sprint, the way I always do, I was filled with thankfulness. For the increased strength that jogging has given me. For the progress I’ve made in a year. For something that is within my ability to change that affects my health and confidence in a positive way, in a world that has become so uncertain and threatening. That an ordinary, every day mom from nowhere in particular can still improve herself, accomplish something, and feel powerful, though the rest of life can sometimes make her feel ignored and devalued.
I sped up. But I knew I could increase my speed even more. So I quickened my pace, again. And then, I did it again. Cruising over the bike-lane markers that I use as a finish line, I thought about God, and the shoes He had given me.
You know, I’ve had some disappointments. I’ve been knocked down. Doors have closed. Sometimes I just can’t seem to find my place.
But my Father sees me. He believes in me. He spurs me on.
He said I could run.
He was right.
What makes you feel strong? Is there anything God is prompting you to do, to better yourself or your situation? I would love to hear about it in the comments section below.