This past Saturday was unlike most of our Saturdays. Usually, we sleep in, devoid of alarm clocks, to catch up on long days and nights of work. But this day was different. The Virginia Ten Miler was to take place right outside our window. I must admit that last year all three of us (the dog included) slept through the whole thing. But this year, we made it a point to be sure we got up. My husband got up first, at about 8:15 AM. He peered out our bathroom window and exclaimed, “Em! You’ve got to see this! There’s a whole pack of Kenyans running in front of our house!” No prodding was needed for me after that. I absolutely adore Kenyans. And after reading the autobiography of Lopez Lomong, a Christian Sudanese refugee survivor who escaped to and stumbled into training in Kenya, I get such an exhilarating thrill watching African runners and hearing their stories. And here some were running right in front of my house! We quickly got ourselves presentable and headed out to the front yard with our lawn chairs. I felt so emotional…like I was watching the Olympics or something. (I cry every time the Olympic ceremonies come on t.v. I don’t know why- I guess I just enjoy seeing so much of the world come together for one common congregation. And the personal journey stories…oi!) The next wave of runners caught up to our viewing point about 10-15 minutes later. I could not believe we slept through this last year!
It took me a few minutes to compose myself because I was afraid that if I yelled out a cheer I might burst into tears with my Olympic-like emotions. (Part of it probably had something to do with the fact that I was still waking up.) But once I got a grip, I started joining in with the rest of the volunteers and crowds lining the street yelling, “Come on! You can do it! You’re almost to the top of the hill!” As I peered through the mass of athletes striding past my front yard, I saw my friend, Annie. “Annie!!!!” I shouted. “Come on, girl! You got this! Keep pushing through! You’re almost there!” She returned the biggest smile as she waved through panting breaths and blew past our home. Then, from time to time we would see clumps of folks in shirts from our Alma Mater and we’d shout, “Go, team Liberty! Jerry’s kids!” They would give us the thumbs up and keep going. Scattered throughout the crowd, we saw several other folks we knew, but weren’t expecting to see in this very setting. “Go, Hannah! Go, Miranda! Go, Kate!” were among our cheers for friends we rarely see anymore. Most surprising to us was when our old pal Bliss, who was in our wedding and now lives about an hour away from us darted past and grunted, “Hey!” through struggling breaths. Our hearts were elated to have an unexpected moment of joy with our friend and to be able to cheer him on as he strained up the hill on our street.
It occurred to us how important our cheering station was. The nickname for our city is, “Hill City.” And they don’t call it that for nothing. The race started down the street from us and much of the journey from there to the finish line was uphill. Our position lay just before they got to the top of the hill. Getting to the top of that hill was one of the most difficult parts for these dedicated runners. The cheers from the crowd were crucial to getting them to the finish line. Additionally, those running the full ten miles looped back past our house toward their prize. We were given the opportunity to spur them onto their goal once again. As the Kenyans held their steady lead we exclaimed, “Safiri Salama!”, which means, “Travel well and safe!” in Swahili. With one swift motion between their arms and legs, they carried on, determined, with their eyes on their prize.
My husband, David, and I were marveling over how amazing it was to serve in the roll of spectators at this event was. We’ve both tried our hand (well, legs and feet actually) at running and know how difficult it is to even make it through a flat leveled mile. Our appreciation for these competitors had grown by leaps and bounds that morning. “You know, that must be a lot of what Heaven is like,” my husband piped up. His observations were so rich in imagery. The words of Hebrews 12 came to life as he spoke. He mused over how truly amazing the race and getting to the goal is. You find yourself aware that you are surrounded by a pack of runners headed toward the same finish line. You catch people out of the corner of your eye striding in front of, beside, and behind you as you approach the same destination. Your ears perk up as once familiar voices shout, “Come on! You can do it! You’re almost to the top of the hill!” People you haven’t seen or thought of in years and others that you’ve missed dearly are either running or cheering you on toward the finish line. You struggle to keep your breath steady and to keep going, but your strength is renewed when you realize that you’re not alone on your journey. We sat in wonder as we thought about those that were cheering us on from all angles of the finish line and how real and beautiful the race really is.
“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, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:1-3 NIV)
Who’s in your great cloud of witnesses? Are you throwing off everything that hinders you from getting to the finish line? What baggage has you struggling? Have you given up or are you persevering to the end? Have you taken your eyes off the prize?
Do you realize that like the Kenyans were to the rest of the runners, you’ve got a Pioneer who has run before you to make passage to the finish line and to beat down the pathway so that your feet may tread in His footsteps? Many times when I run, I do a little mind game telling myself that Saddam Hussein or someone else truly evil is running after me and I must run or he will get me. Jesus did far more than that. He ran toward the cross, the epitome of the enemy’s supposed might. And then He kept on running as He lapped it’s power. The key? His eyes were set on the joy before Him. He scorned the shame of the cross and embarrassed the claims to power as He pushed through pain. He got to the finish line, and He took a seat. Not as I would, in a collapsed heap on the ground, but on the right hand of the throne of God. He sat right down, but not for long, I imagine. He stood up once again as He cheered those coming behind Him through the path He paved.
Every person behind the pioneer of the race is weaker than the last because they’re further removed from the first finisher. But those who are just ahead or visible only by a blur and those cheering toward the finish line help keep them going because they remind them of one critical, life fueling element: hope. Hope of the joy set before them.
The cool breeze of the Holy Spirit reminds us that we are not alone and that the wind from God’s very Word gives us just enough of a push to keep us running.
I’ll tell you one thing. As Priscilla Shirer says, “You cannot outrun the hound of Heaven.” But you can sure run after Him on the path His feet have pounded as you persevere to the finish line.
And that, my friends, is a race you simply cannot sleep through.