If you know me at all, you know I do not understand God’s purpose for squirrels. Just don’t. I don’t think they’re cute, I don’t get sad when one loses a race across the road with a car, and I don’t find joy in feeding them. The feeling is mutual. I’ve been chased out of my own yard by squirrels, and at my previous residence, definitely yelled at by squirrels. I was sad that my husband and I had to have three giant, hollowed-out trees removed from the lot we built our current home on, until I was told they were home to a pretty giant family of squirrels. With one maple tree left in the yard, I felt home free from squirrel harassment. Until yesterday…
Lo and I were sitting out on our front porch on a beautiful summer morning, admiring our sunflower patch. It’s smaller than usual this year. I decided to replace the giant sunflowers that have grown there in the past with smaller plants this year, so they wouldn’t topple over in the wind. With the plethora of rain and clouds we’ve been blessed with this summer in Northern Ohio, we’ve yet to see one single sunflower bloom…until yesterday.
Lo turned back around to our little table and to her paper that she was practicing the letter “D”on, and I to my journal and cup of coffee. Listening to the lake and summer breeze and the birds…all of the sudden we heard a rustling from the sunflower patch.
“MOM!!!!” Lo jumped up, “IT’S A SQUIRREL! HE’S EATING THE SUNFLOWER!!!”
“GET OUT OF HERE, SQUIRREL!” we both yelled. “GO AWAY-GET OUT OF OUR GARDEN!”
The rustling returned immediately. He was back for the rest of the flower. This time, he snapped it off and ran back up the lone maple tree with it in his mouth…sat on branch just out of our reach…and proceeded to munch on the flower.
By this time, Lo and I were in the yard, at the base of the tree, me with a broom in one hand and a hard shell in the other trying to whack the thing one way or another. The broom broke, and the flying shell did not scare the squirrel. He sat there munching the flower until it was gone, and then sent the leaf attached to it floating back down to the ground. Then he just laid on the branch to full to move.
All the while my older daughter, Brianne, had now joined us in yelling at the squirrel, who could obviously care less about what our plans were for that beautiful sunflower. See, the sunflower patch just so happens to sit in front of a giant smiley face sign, in honor of the Elementary School principal who lost her battle with cancer. The smiley face was her thing, and when we moved the sign to our sunflower patch, they grew out of control. It become a happy little tribute. The squirrels have never bothered it before.
When I was texting my husband what had happened, that snapped off sunflower reminded me of “the marathon.” (Leave it to a dumb squirrel to bring a difficult memory to the surface.)
Each stride of my marathon training was in praise of the miracle of my healing from a fused spine and AS. God literally allowed me to experience a healing from disease, and through prayer and God’s Word I felt confidently called to use the marathon as a platform to spread my testimony in order to give others hope.
Nursing a sore Achilles that I was scared would end my journey to the marathon, I remember taking a deep breath and praying before the start of my last training run. With an Elevation sermon series ringing in my ears, I put my feet in God’s hands for 20 miles. I relaxed into Him and into my stride, soaking in the scenery of the sunrise along the lake as I sailed on down the road.
“Go, Mommy! Go-Go-Go Mommy!!!” my girls chanted as they and my husband met me for pit stops along the way. Runners will relate to the smile that creeps on your face when your out on the road doing something you never in your wildest dreams thought you could do. That’s how I ran that day. In disbelief of what God can do with my life when I just surrender it to Him.
Legs barely able to pick themselves up from fatigue, I stopped my watch immediately after it beeped for the 20th mile. Eyes welling up with tears, limping up my sidewalk to my house…, I looked down at my average pace. 8:29 per mile. Boston qualifying pace for a girl my age is 8:20. Holy smokes…it was within reach. Tears flowed down my face as I praised the Lord for his faithfulness and strength.
The miles had been logged. The work was done. After two months straight of “longest run ever” long runs, I was finally ready to race. Months of diligently icing ailments and stretching and strengthening weak spots. Hours upon hours striding down long country roads, face half frozen during the cold winter, hobbling through wind and pain. Collapsing in my driveway with tears of agony after my 13-miler and 18-miler.
Every run was a leap of faith. Eight miles, ten miles, twelve miles, thirteen miles, fifteen miles, seventeen miles, eighteen miles, twenty miles. Each time I asked God if this was the way. Each time asking for prayers that I would make it through. Each time finishing the run that I had started.
After a day off to rest, I went out to run an easy five miles down the pier to the lighthouse and back. Halfway back down the pier, I felt a pinch in my Achilles.
For the next two weeks, I would watch my dream shatter right before my eyes, because after all that training….all those miles….what I couldn’t do…was rest.
Just like that sunflower was picked right as it was finally starting to bloom, I sidelined myself with acute Achilles tendonitis two weeks before my race. It was so severe that a lump formed where the damaged tissue was, probably due to a microscopic tear. Unlike the sunflower that was snapped off after it fought through the rain and cold weather and finally started to bloom, it was less clear to me what the purpose of it all was. The sunflower fed the squirrel.
Never did I imagine that I would make it through all of the training, but not even to the starting line of the race.
I watched others update their facebook status and tracked my friends on race-day…much like watching that squirrel eat my sunflower just out of my reach. There was nothing I could do about it. What was once a clear “yes” from God was now a very loud “no.” To race on my Achilles would risk allowing it to snap right in half…but why was that leap of faith a “no?”
I felt God telling me that I didn’t need the “show” of race day, and I felt Him answering my prayer to remain humble through not being able to race. My kids and their summer vacation kept drifting into my mind, making the risk of landing myself on crutches for the summer less and less worth the sake of saying “I did it.”
God encouraged and affirmed my decision not to race while I was sitting in the dance studio waiting for my tiny dancers, listening to Pastor Steven from Elevation Church preach on my i Pad.
“What if the thing that God wanted from me all along was not that I would arrive, but that I would reach?” Pastor preached.
A pit formed in my stomach as he continued on…
“What if what He really wants from you…what if the real goal is just that you keep reaching?”
My eyes welled up with tears…
“What if the real goal isn’t that you could make it around the bases without falling down-but what if even while you were flat on your face-what if even while you were down-what if even though it looked like you had lost-you missed the fence by 60 feet and just didn’t know it yet.”
When I knew I wouldn’t be able to race the marathon I had felt so called to race, I was crushed. How else would I ever be able to tell people about the miracle I had experienced? How could I encourage others not to give up hope when I had failed to reach my goal. These were the thoughts I prayed so earnestly for answers to as I listened on…
“What if reaching… pressing… coming after God with all your heart… trying again-the righteous may fall seven times but he gets back up (Proverbs 24:16)-that’s the goal,” he preached on, “Get up again! Press towards the mark! Stretch your imagination! Stretch your faith! Stretch your limits! REACH.”
I don’t understand why God does the things He does or when He chooses to do them, but I do trust Him with my life.
I made a goal to try to be like Paul, who said…
“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or want. I CAN DO ALL THIS THROUGH HIM WHO GIVES ME STRENGTH.” Philippians 4:12-13
Whether I can run or not…
Dreaming of pointe shoes and driven towards dance, I related to Brianne as she struggles to get her “splits.”
“Brianne,” I said, “think of your splits like me running twenty miles. I never though I could do it, but I just kept trying…just kept running. Have faith in yourself, have faith in God, and try your best. Just keep stretching. ”
…and “Be joyful, always.” 1Thes. 5:16