I stood in the large open room in church surrounded by women that were once strangers but now friends. I had stopped in real quick just to drop off some food for a friend that couldn’t make it to the MOPS (mothers of preschoolers) meeting. My husband was in the parking lot, waiting for me.
I was exhausted, anxious, afraid, and filled with both dread and excitement. I could practically feel it rolling off of me in waves. What on earth was I doing? I didn’t know. It’s no secret that I live and breathe running. I’ve been a long distance runner for years and I had trained diligently for the last 6 months for this very day. But why? Why attempt to run 100 miles? Maybe I was searching for something. Maybe I was trying to find myself in those miles. Maybe I was trying to get back a feeling I had lost long ago. Maybe it was none of that. Maybe I was just running away. Maybe I couldn’t face it. Maybe I was so afraid of what I couldn’t control, I had to do something just to prove to myself I was still in control. Maybe I just wanted to feel like me again.
Just 2 weeks prior to that day, we had scheduled another skull surgery for our 3 year old son Emmett. Heartsick didn’t even begin to cover it. I was torn between breathing a sigh of relief that we could get this over with now and help him and wanting to pack up everything we own and run away with my son to keep him from any more pain and suffering. I looked at my little boy who didn’t understand what was in store for him and it was a dagger to the heart. It filled me with the kind of fearful, anxious pain that makes you abruptly start crying in the middle of everyday mundane tasks without warning.
Here was that task, dropping off food to a group of friends, on my way to try my hand at running 100 miles for the first time ever. I almost wasn’t standing there. I almost decided it was too selfish of me to go ahead and run this race with another impending surgery. But after a lot of careful thought, I decided I had to. For Emmett. For myself. And for everyone that’s ever wanted to give up. I wanted to be the person that didn’t go down without a fight. But I wasn’t sure I could do it. I didn’t know how I was going to run 100 miles. I didn’t know how I was going to hand over my heart and soul to a group of surgeons again. I didn’t know if I was ever going to stop being afraid for him or if I was ever going to be brave enough.
That’s when the MOPS leader, who is a dear friend of mine, began talking. She was reading a devotional about bravery and courage when she stopped to pull out a small, fancy envelope. She handed me the envelope and inside was a key with the word courage on it. I started to cry as I looked around at the faces of these loving, supportive women. They thought I was courageous even when I felt absolutely terrified. They believed in me even when I didn’t believe in myself. They were rooting for me even in the middle of my own second thoughts. Tears of gratitude continued to stream down my face as they prayed for me before I had to leave.
I stashed that courage key in my running pack and it traveled with me for all 29 hours and 44 minutes as I completed 100 miles. There were some very dark moments during that race, just as there had been in our life, but I knew I wasn’t alone out there. 3 weeks after race day, I put that courage key in my pocket the morning of Emmett’s surgery, while I ran and walked obsessively outside of the hospital waiting for him to be out safe and sound, until I was holding his hand once again. As I curled up in the hospital bed next to my son amidst a mass of wires and tubes, I knew I had it. I could feel it. One of the greatest gifts I had ever been given was not just a key, but someone that believed in me, someone that believed I could do it, no matter what “it’ was. And whether it was on a running trail at 3 am or in the ICU of a children’s hospital, their belief in me sustained me until I could believe in myself too.