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I am running again. Late last week I ran on the greenway of our little city. It follows alongside the Roanoke River that weaves like discarded ribbon through Roanoke’s kaleidoscope of neighborhoods and businesses. On Saturday, I ran Chestnut Ridge Trail; a 5.4 mile craggy loop, wrapping up and around mountain peaks that hem in part of the south side of Roanoke’s valley. One day, I even ran in the rain. That used to be a normal thing for me; but not since moving to Roanoke.

It’s been almost four years since I’ve run regularly. Don’t ask me why. I don’t know. I moved to Roanoke, hated fighting with the hills—everywhere—and so started doing CrossFit…more and more…until I wasn’t running anymore. But, then I was invited to be part of a team doing a weekend-long trail race in April. It sounded scary and like bad timing and oh-I-don’t-think-I-can-do-that. But, the runner in me started knocking from the inside.

“C’mon. Please. I miss you. You miss me. Let’s run again.”

Fine. Stop pestering me.

So…one morning instead of turning right out of the school parking lot headed to CrossFit; I turned left toward the greenway. I stepped out of my car into the early slanted sun. I adjusted my stocking cap, made loose fists with my hands and tucked them safely inside the ends of my snug, long-sleeved shirt—one I haven’t worn as a running shirt for years now. I breathed in deep, let cold fill my lungs, felt hard pavement against the soles of my shoes. I stuck one foot forward, pushed off with the back, and just like that, I was running…Running.

It felt like going home. Falling in love again. Eating mint chocolate chip ice cream…again.

It’s is exactly what I’ve needed. The fill of cold fresh air. The scud of each foot pushing against pavement. Morning bird song moving past me high and clear—their music notes dancing across air particles. Icy river water pushing forward over rocky outcroppings and shallow bottoms. And me, running in sync with all of it; part of the harmony and melody of this place where I’ve been planted. I felt beautiful again in that created image sort of way—pure and bright and holy even; bearing the stamp of, “very good.”

Oh, how I so need that stamp on me right now. I need it on me and I need it visible—so visible I can’t ever miss seeing it. No, more than seeing it; I need to know it in my soul.

It’s amazing how there are some seasons in life so challenging, so “get me outta here!” feeling, that it doesn’t matter how many outwardly ‘neat’ things are happening for you. The damned crushing weight of this fallen world insists on treating you like an animal in its cage.

There’ve been lots of ‘neat’ things about 2017 already: My oldest son being recruited by great Division III football teams and completing the requirements necessary to become an Eagle Scout. A weekend in NYC with Superman to see the Broadway hit, Hamilton (hopefully more on that later—if I can get my thoughts to settle on it). My front living room being turned into my library/office as I type these words. And being selected as Roanoke’s 2017 Writer on the Bus, part of the Art by Bus program (definitely more on this—stay tuned!).

And yet, here I am, holding all these things, my palms heavy with them, wondering why they aren’t enough to keep me buoyed against the angst and hurt I feel when another son—the bookend to my oldest, and in an opposite kind of condition—hurls his severe insecurities out at our family day in and day out, months on end, in the way of rudeness, sullenness, and quiet disrespect.

On any given day, with this kid, I vacillate between pity, righteous anger, feeling bullied, and sometimes even self-dying love; all before noon. It’s exhausting. It’s isolating. It’s continual practice and fail, practice and fail. It’s prayer and remembering, then forgetting, then remembering again…so on and so forth. Some days I want to flee. Other days fight. And still other days I just want to spend money; live in consumer mode and label it “self care” when really all I’m doing is masking hurt and skirting around what is truly needed; that is, surrender, forgiveness, and even praise.

Yes. Especially praise.

But when I run, I remember. I remember that life is more than “these present troubles.” I remember it is more than Hamilton and new libraries and sons that are—right now—flying high and sons that are—right now—burning down. I remember that I’m not in charge of outcomes. And I remember life isn’t about me.

And then I can fit myself back into this great big eternal life where I belong: as an image bearer, created, surrounded, and connected with the rest of creation from the soles of my feet, up through the sinewy strands of my contracting muscles—for the sole, or soul, purpose of praise.

Inhale…exhale…move through space…so sings my soul.

Bless the Lord, O my soul;
And all that is within me, bless His holy name!
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And forget not all His benefits.  —Psalm 103:1-2