On divorce. On running. On Jesus.
It’s both a noun and a verb and to have this verb as a temporary constant (this is not an oxymoron, might I add) is unsettling, riddled with fear. And this unruly animal forces you to live in the in between.
You can’t go back, you can’t go forward. You’re anchored in place. You have to live - to divorce - in absolute gray. Staying put. Waiting on professionals that say things like disclosure and petition and mediation and affidavit. Fighting emotions that arise when you least expect it, because this is grief.
Most of you know that this isn’t my first divorce. In my early 20’s, I married my college boyfriend, despite my better judgement. And 10 months later, I had an affair (with Rick) and was left on my knees (with Jesus). In the darkest hours, I met Jesus. Or he met me. I had heard of him (I grew up Catholic with very little spiritual foundation) but I never knew him. At the lowest point of my life, he rescued me. He made beauty from ashes and if that was the end of my story and that was all he had done for me, it would be enough.
But, it wasn’t the end. It was the beginning.
I started running in 2007 while going through the first aforementioned divorce. I was renting a studio apartment on Lake Michigan in Chicago and one of the most amazing running paths in all of the United States was three blocks from me. So, I had to do it. But, there was a catch. I hated running. Hated it. I think I hated running because I wasn’t good at it. I was slow. I didn’t have form. I have short legs and big boobs which honestly is the worst combination if you are a runner. And as a competitive person, I’m folding. I surrender. God gave me other athletic abilities, but not this one.
My softball coach in high school always put me as the cleanup hitter (for all of you who don’t know softball/baseball, that is the 4th batter in the lineup) because I was one of the strongest hitters but the slowest runner. It was a good strategy because inevitably I’d get a hit, make it to first base and we’d advance a runner and in some cases score. The coach used my strength and my weakness and most times, it worked. (Disclaimer: I also struck out a lot but my batting average was generally in the 330 range thanks to my triples so it’s all good.)
The water of the cold lake drew me in and as I began this relationship with God, I craved this time and I craved the run. I craved nature and music and crying all the tears as I hobbled down the beautiful coast while the other runners passed me by. I wonder what they are thinking.
I ran in the mornings and I ran at night. It was a spiritual experience for me as I was learning who God was and why he would rescue such a sinner. I was slow - I paced in the 11 minute mile range (for all of you who don’t know running, this pace would actually not be considered running; it would be considered jogging or even power walking but let’s not get caught up in semantics). But if you’ve never been a runner, slow is often where you start and I had to accept this. In running and in that season of my life.
I was living in the in between. Hobbling through life, literally. I had no vision of my future. I was in so much pain. I caused so much pain. I couldn’t go back. I couldn’t go forward. I remember God would often whisper to me this: stay. I’d want to run from the pain and he would tell me to stay. I’d want to call the whole thing off with Rick and he would tell me to stay.
What if this season is the most sacred season? What if staying put, in the in between, amidst the pain would be where God would do his best work? What if this was God's training ground? Holy ground? The anchored place. Don't round the bases just yet, Ann. Let's go to the batting cages first.
These were things I was learning. So I stayed. But I stayed knowing that I wasn’t here to stay. God wouldn’t keep me here, keep me there. But, I had to listen intently and pray fiercely and follow his lead. I’d move when he say to move. And while I waited, I put on my running shoes and hobbled down Lake Michigan. Running (ahem, jogging) became my medicine. I’d run in 30 degree weather without question. I’d run to allow my physical body to feel free, even if it were just for 20 minutes. The more I ran, the better I felt. The more I stayed, the better I felt. Let's keep practicing, Ann.
That was my season then, this is my season now. My first divorce God met me, showed me love and grace abundantly. Kept me on training ground, anchored. Today, he is doing the same thing. He’s the same God. But, I am not the same. My faith began in 2007 and it has been building since. He has developed me. Shaped me. Guided me. He’s shown me massive love and taught me how to love. I now know I have to stay. He's doing something in me. He's working on me. We are practicing. We are in training season.
I have been running off and on over the last 15 years but in the last 18 months, I’ve been running consistently, 4-5 times a week. God was preparing me for this emotional marathon. Last week at Orange Theory, we had to run a benchmark mile. We do these challenges every so often and last year, I ran it in 9:15. This year, my goal was to run it sub 9. I ran it in 8:54. In 2007, I was barely jogging at an 11 minute mile pace. In 2021, I hit a PR, over 2 minutes faster than my beginners pace. This is the long game. This is slow growth, the kind that I believe has the power to change our lives.
But we have to be anchored first. We have to train, amidst the pain. We have to let patience rule us. And we have to let God lead us. Run slow. Practice often.
And I can’t help but think this is also the faith journey. I have had huge miraculous encounters with God over the years. But mostly, it’s a daily, slow and steady journey together. Quiet prayers, beautiful worship, getting to know each other. Patience, repentance, following, practice.
And so today, while I live in the gray, going through a divorce, I am clinging to the truth of God, what He has done before and am reminding myself - he’s not done. The in between is arguably the toughest place to live but likely the most revealing, the most necessary and the most important season. I have to stay in this season - in this divorce process. I am being taught extreme patience. It’s forcing me to be the most uncomfortable I’ve ever been. It’s forcing me to show up to therapy, to look myself in the mirror, to reset my life, to pray more than I ever have, to have dance parties by myself in my kitchen, to be okay crying myself to sleep, to learn a new way of loving myself and loving others. Because grace. And His love.
But, I am not here to stay.
Divorce is not my destination.
The pain is bringing purpose.
I will go forward.
I am not here to stay.
This is a season.
While it’s the hardest season yet, I am thankful for it.
Because I know I will not remain here, in this place.
It's training ground; holy ground.
I’ve seen what God can do.
My story isn’t over.
Your story isn’t over.
We may have to live in between, to divorce.
But, we aren’t here to stay.
Stay, he says. But, don't worry. You're not here to stay. I have big plans. Just keep running your race.
Hebrews 12 says this: 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.
I'm running the race. And I’m eager to see what my running pace will be a year from now.
The best is yet to come.
Onward and anchored,