This may come as a shock to most of you, but last weekend I ran the Fargo half marathon.
A part of me purposefully kept it a secret because I was scared I wouldn't be able to finish since I didn't have time to train adequately.
Those of you who truly know me, know that I do this... I commit to things without really thinking about the commitment they require.
I did the same thing back in September. You can read about it here, here, and HERE.
So when my dad started bugging me about entering the fargo half marathon with him, I told him I couldn't do it probably 5 times, but then something clicked in me and I just knew that I had to do it.
I didn't know HOW I was going to do it
I just knew that I HAD to.
I couldn't think of a better time to run a race than right after graduating college and right before our family almost doubles in size... nope, I just knew I had to do it.
So about a month ago I called my mom and told her, that if it wasn't too late, to sign me up with dad.
Then for the next month I pretty much forgot about the race. Maybe I didn't as much "forget" about the race as try not to think about it.
I couldn't think about it.
My mind was consumed with school and thinking about the race would have only added more stress and anxiety to an already very overwhelming life.
So I did what I had to do.
I focused on graduating.
Then the next day...
In a recent post I mentioned that I ran on Saturday morning and how amazing it felt, well what I didn't mention was that the ten miles I ran that morning was my one and only training run before race day.
I know... I'm crazy. But would you expect anything less from a 23 year old who has a baby, lives in a two bedroom apartment, and is about to adopt two 6 year olds? Yeah, I didn't think so :)
Crazy is just a way of life in our home.
I got a long run in and figured if I can run 10 miles, I can make it 13.1 in a week. Right?
So Friday morning Ryan and I packed up our car and headed to Fargo.
We wanted to get there early because we had another purpose for our trip... a bigger purpose.
Two weeks ago we finally received our fingerprinting appointment date. These fingerprints have to be done in Fargo since they are for an FBI background check. We knew that once we got our fingerprints done, we would get our USCIS (stateside) approval soon after. Our appointment wasn't until June 3rd, but we were encouraged by other families to try to get in early.
Two weeks could be the difference between life or death for our boys.
I was so nervous to be denied, but we made our way through the metal detectors, up the elevator, and into the little immigrations office. I was expecting a full waiting room, but...
So we walked up to the front desk, laid our appointment letters on the counter, filled out a clipboard of basic information, and then Ryan's name was called.
Two minutes later Ryan arrived back into the waiting room and my name was called.
Two minutes later it was all done.
I wondered if the woman even noticed that we wern't supposed to be there on that day, but as we were leaving she yelled out to us, "Now make sure you don't come back on June 3rd."
Ryan and I laughed all the way out to the car. You know that kind of laughter where you're just so giddy/relieved/in awe of God's faithfulness.
Once in the car, we thanked God for answered prayer. We have known many families that have been turned away, so we know that our experience was not the norm.
We both agreed that no matter what happened the next day, our trip was totally worth it.
The rest of the day we relaxed and visited with my parents.
We enjoyed a carb filled dinner and then went to bed early, knowing that me and my dad needed all the rest we could get.
I awoke at 3AM to crashes of thunder and the pounding of rain against our window.
Truly not what someone who is going to have to run 13.1 miles once the sun rises wants to wake up to.
Even then, I just had a sense of peace, that this race was going to be exactly what it was supposed to be for me.
By morning the rain had let up... a little.
We followed all of the other crazies into the Fargo Dome as we awaited starting time.
As we were waiting, Someone from Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) opened up the event with a prayer. I leaned my head down as I was stretching and listened to the words as he lifted up all of runners, the entire Fargo event, and those effected by the bombing in Boston to the Lord. In that moment my heart broke for the families that were there in Boston that day to celebrate and accomplish something good and were instead changed forever by a sudden display of evil.
There are no words.
but, even as my heart was hurting, I looked around at the thousands of people that came together that morning and I realized that good will always triumph.
We must not allow ourselves to be overcome by evil, but instead we must overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:21)
In a sense, that is what the Fargo Marathon represented this past weekend. It was over 6,000 people and their families coming together and saying, we're not going to live in fear. We're not going to stop running this race, called life.
That was a beautiful moment for me.
After that, me, my dad, and thousands of other people of all different colors, shapes, and sizes, joined each other on the starting line.
Then we were off!
Unlike the Bismarck race, I didn't really know what God wanted to speak to me about during this one. I knew I wanted to reflect on graduating college as that was a huge accomplishment that took seemingly forever to complete.
I knew that I wanted to reflect on my marriage as Ryan and I are approaching our two year wedding anniversary in the next couple weeks.
I knew I wanted to reflect on our adoption process because hallelujah, how far God has brought us!!!
And then there's Landon, who's life, no matter how normal it may seem now, will never be taken for granted. Every moment spent with that child has changed me and grown me into a more beautiful and selfless human being.
Yes, there was so much that I wanted to reflect on and praise Jesus for, I had doubts that 13 miles would even be enough time...
But as I started running I began to get glimpses into the direction this race was going to take me and it wasn't one that I wanted or had planned on going down.
I knew that the first five miles would be hard.
I know it doesn't really make sense, but I am convinced that the first five miles of any race are the most difficult... at least for me. It seems like after those first five miles my body adjusts and then I can enjoy the rest of the race.
So during the first five miles, my body was hurting and during that time, God spoke to me about what life is going to be like after we get Ivan and Levi home. We have done enough training to know that when you first bring an adopted child home, (especially an older child, especially an older child that has been through immense trauma) for a while it is going to be HARD. Most researchers will agree that it takes at least six months for a child to adjust and begin to attach, but for some children and families it can take years.
So as my body was pounding against the pavement and I was asking myself what I was doing I tried to relate it to how I know I will one day feel, after we have brought the boys home and life as we knew it has changed forever.
I know that there will be moments that I ask myself if I made a mistake. maybe I shouldn't of signed up for this. I wasn't ready. This is too hard. This hurts too much. I can't do this, God I can't do this.
I told myself all of those things during the first five miles and I know I will have those thoughts on the hard days once our precious ones are home.
but I kept telling myself that it was going to get easier, my body would soon adjust and find it's rhythm.
I held onto hope
and that is exactly what I know I need to do during the first five miles after our boys are home, whether those five miles take us months or years to get through. We have to hold onto hope and keep putting one foot in front of the other. We have to fix our eyes on Jesus and know that the finish line will make all of the endured pain worth it.
So I ran through the painful five miles and then just as I expected, my body adjusted and the pain eased.
I enjoyed the sixth mile. I wasn't thinking about myself or focused on my pain so I was able to look around and appreciate the scenery.
Isn't that just like us?
Sometimes we get so focused on our own pain that we are physically unable to experience the beauty around us.
I have run so many miles of my life, unable to see past my own pain. I don't think God wants us to live like that. There is always something to be thankful for, something to sing about, someone who needs encouragement from the trenches.
That last sentence sounds really good doesn't it? It is easy for me to type it now as I sit on my comfy couch, in our cozy apartment, away from the rain and wind that is blowing outside my walls.
I don't think I could of wrote it last Saturday though...
After the sixth mile my foot started to hurt.
This is a very bad sign for me because I have plantar fasciitis (PF is a painful inflammatory process of the plantar fascia, the connective tissue on the sole (bottom surface) of the foot). Usually it doesn't bug me at all, but there have been occasions when I run that it will flare up and become a problem for me. It was the reason I had to walk (hobble) the last three miles of the Fargo marathon in 2011.
So I started to pray that God would touch my foot and that it wouldn't cause me pain during this race.
God, in His sovereign power, chose not to heal my foot and with every step, the pain only got worse.
Was I upset?
Was I disappointed?
Was I regretting not training and living off of coffee the two weeks leading up to the race?
Oh, you better believe it.
But through the pain, I tried to remind myself that every race I have run, God has used to change me and teach me lessons that I never would of learned without the journey in between the start and finish line.
I spent mile 7 and 8 begging God to comfort me and heal my foot and by mile 9 the pain had worked it's way up my leg. Now I couldn't tell if it was my foot or my knee because every muscle and joint from the knee down on my right leg throbbed with each step.
I knew I was starting to favor my left leg and I know that whenever you start to favor one leg over the other it will only do more damage in the long run.
It. hurt. so. bad.
I was battling with myself in my head. All of the pain was telling me that I needed to stop and walk, but my stubborn pride would win out and I continued to run, granted I was getting slower and slower. Half way through mile 9 I heard the whisper of God.
Humble yourself and walk. It's okay, everyone has to walk sometimes.
So I did.
Some people alternate between walking and running the whole race. Some people walk through all the water stops, but I don't.
I don't really know why, but I just figure that you don't actually run the race, if you walk during it at all.
Now, I can see how full of pride that way of thinking is.
As I was walking, God began to speak to my heart.
God rid me of much of my pride through our experiences with Landon. You don't have a choice, but to humble yourself when your baby is wracking up more in medical bills than your family makes in five years and your heart is completely shattered inside. You have to rely on insurance, you have to rely on medicaid, you have to rely on Early Intervention, you have to rely on family and friends, that was the only way we made it through.
At first it was extremely difficult to ask for help, but when you're baby's well being depends on it, you have no choice but to swallow your pride.
Deep down though, I am still that person that wants everyone to think she is strong.
I don't want others to see me cry.
I don't want to admit that I make mistakes.
I don't want people to know that I struggle with anxiety and some days the enemy coerces me right into the pit of depression.
It was that me that God spoke to. With every painfully embarrassing step I realized that I hate being weak.
I hate having people pass me by.
I hate when others can see that I'm hurting.
I realized this ugly pride that hides itself away in me and I knew that I had to kill it.
There is no room for pride when you are walking such a dangerous road.
I know that I cannot be all that my family needs me to be, if I don't ask for help when I'm writhing in pain.
I know that I'm not going to have the capacity to love unconditionally if I'm unable to confess my weakness and share my burdens with the support system God has surrounded me with.
Looking in the mirror and finding the ugly face of pride staring back at you is never a pretty experience, but I truly believe that the pain God allowed me to fight through brought healing and awareness to my being that was completely necessary before I can embark on this next chapter of my life.
Somewhere along the next couple of miles I stopped begging God to take away the pain and instead, through the agony, I began to thank Him, over and over again, for being with me through it all.
Thank you Lord, that no matter how painful my circumstances, you will never leave me or forsake me. Help me to remember this race. The beauty and the healing that I have found in the midst of the pain and shame I'm feeling. Take away every bit of the pride I have hidden away in myself for I know that truly I am never stronger than when I am at my weakest, for it is then that your power is made perfect in me. (2 Corinthians 12:19)
Mile 9 and part of 10, I transitioned between jogging and walking, but mile 10 did me in.
I tried to run again, but I would take one lunge forward and the pain was enough to make me scream.
If there was a medic station I may of called it quits, but I just kept telling myself that I had to finish.
Even if I walked over that finish line, I just wanted to finish and be with my family.
By mile 12 I was hobbling along at a snails pace and dragging my right leg. The pain was so intense I wondered if something was broken.
I wanted so badly to run, but I was completely incapable. I couldn't even bend my right knee without debilitating pain shooting through my entire body.
It was miserable.
But then my mind thought of my Ivan.
Both Ivan and Levi have been diagnosed with CP, but we don't yet have a clear diagnosis for Levi. Ivan we know suffers from spastic tetraparesis.
Spastic Tetraparesis is a form of spastic (tightening of the muscles so that they cannot be moved properly) cerebral palsy in which the entire body is effected, including all four limbs.
When God brought Ivan to my mind my perspective completely changed. Instead of feeling sorry for myself, my heart was filled with sorrow for my son. I thought of how helpless he must feel. I thought of all of the times in the future when he will have to watch on the sidelines as his brother(s) do things that he is incapable of doing. I thought of how he is going to feel when he tries to do something and is passed up by everyone else.
I realized that the pain I was feeling paled in comparison to the pain my child experiences on a daily basis.
We live in a world that praises people for their accomplishments.
I remember when we first found out about Landon's heart and we started researching.
I remember how devastated I was when I realized that Landon may never be able to snowboard with his daddy. When Ryan found me crying that evening and I told him why, I said, "but you love snowboarding." and Ryan said, "but I love him more than anything Natalie."
That moment began a change in perspective for me.
God began to reveal to me that a person's worth is not based on what they can do, it's based on who they are.
Ivan, Levi, and Landon are each fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of the living God, creator of Heaven and Earth. No matter what they do or don't do, nothing can change their identity.
Nothing can change that they are our sons.
Nothing can change the love we have for them.
But all of those things also cannot change that they will grow up in a world that will send them the message that a person's worth is wrapped up in their appearance and their achievements.
I know what this is going to mean for my boys... pain.
and that realization hurt... it hurt worse than the physical pain I was feeling at that time.
I long with all of my heart to protect my boys from the cruelty of this world, but then God reminded me that I am just as guilty as the rest of the world.
Just look at how hard it is for you to endure the pain that weakness carries...
Oh God help me.
It has got to start with me.
I have got to embed this truth into the deepest recesses of my heart and mind before my boys are ever going to believe a word I try to teach them.
Fellow mamas, we have got to live this before we can preach it.
If we avoid weakness like it's the plague, our kids are going to see that.
If we are constantly defending our flaws instead of admitting our mistakes our kids are going to follow suite.
If we are always putting ourselves down it makes it much easier for our children to point out the things they do not like about themselves.
I want to teach my kids that it's okay to slow down and walk when the pain is crushing.
It's okay to rely on others for help sometimes.
It's okay to crawl into mama and papa's lap and admit you're hurting.
It's okay to be misunderstood.
It's okay to be the first one to apologize.
In that moment I thought of what I wanted to say to my boys,
Ivan, Levi, and Landon, mama just wants you guys to be the best "you's" you can be. God created each of you with differences, gifts, talents, and abilities. Each of you has your own gift to give to this world, but if you're too busy trying to follow the crowd, fit in, and be like everyone else, there is no telling what this world is going to miss out on, simply because you weren't being true to yourself.
Don't make the same mistake your mama made. Don't be ashamed to admit your weakness so that God's strength can shine through you. You do not have to be the strongest, the fastest, the most popular, or the best looking to make a difference in this world.
Just be the you God created you to be.
Every last step of the race, I was reminded that our race on this earth is not supposed to be easy or glamorous. Jesus was beaten, mocked, spit on and crucified, the last couple miles of his earthly life (before His resurrection)
why should we think our race will be any different?
I saved the little bit of strength I had left for the last couple meter stretch into the Fargo Dome and across the finish line.
People cheered for me because it was obvious I was about to keel over.
Ryan missed my finish (I didn't mind) because he was searching the database to find where I was. I came in over 30 min. later than he was expecting me so to say he was worried is an understatement.
We were both so relieved to find each other. He carried me on his back while I steered the stroller with my arms hanging down from around his neck (we got a few laughs from innocent bystanders).
I wish I could tell you that the lessons God taught me between the start and finish line made me realize that all of the pain was worth it, but truthfully I was still very disappointed.
I apologized to Ryan probably 10 times on the drive home and every time he told me that he was proud of me and reminded me that I finished.
I came home and found this in my inbox
Thank you Fargo Marathon
There's me, in the very back of the pack.
Even with everything God showed me during the race, I couldn't believe the feelings this image stirred in me.
Pretty much any negative emotion... you name it... I was feeling it.
When Ryan came in from unloading the car, I showed him. Partly expecting him to laugh (do I not know my husband at all!)
Ryan looked at me and said, "what are you doing?" and he shut the laptop.
I needed that.
I needed that abrupt reminder that I'm a total hypocrite if I expect to tell my children to believe that their accomplishments don't make a difference in how me, their father, and God sees them.
I cannot be this person God.
I cannot be this person that compares myself and those I love to others.
I know what's coming. I know our lives are going to look different than every one else around us and that has GOT to be okay with my heart.
Oh God help me.
I see it already.
I see it every time I take Landon somewhere and there's another child his age that's walking and Landon is crawling still.
God rid me of all of this stupid pride.
I don't care if I finish very last in the world's eyes, I just want to be first in Your eyes.
Humble me Father, do whatever it takes to make me more like Jesus.
I'm humbling myself and sharing these very personal struggles because I know I'm not alone.
We as women and mothers, have got to let go of this God forsaken need of ours to be the best and have the best.
It's killing us and it's killing our families.
What if we didn't compare ourselves with every other woman and mother?
What if instead we focused on becoming the woman God created and designed us to be?
What if we accepted our weaknesses and praised God for our strengths, knowing that everything good we have is not our own doing anyway?
What if we didn't compare our children to "the other kids"?
What if we spent less time researching what they "should" be able to do and more time studying and realizing who they truly are so that we could nurture the gifts God has given them, no matter where those gifts may rank on the worlds standards?
I have FAR from learned this lesson.
The longing to compare myself and my life to others is something that I need to battle
but I praise God for breaking me at mile 9 so that I could start to see the ugly pride that had hopes of consuming me.
It was not a fun lesson to learn so I really want to get it through my thick skull the first time.
Days have passed now since the race and I've had time to process and chew on everything God revealed to me.
I am convinced that I gained much more in my weakness than I ever could have gained in my strength.
Thank you Lord for the lessons You teach me between the start and finish line.