by Melissa J. Ledbetter
Thirty more seconds, 29, 28, 27, 26...12, 11, 10. I can do anything for 10 more seconds, I'd tell myself as I ran those last few, several times. These thoughts went on repeat through my mind every round of my "couch to 5K" walk/run rotation. I remember the effort it took some days to push one foot in front of the other, but I felt good.
My friend Jessica is a real runner, and she's always my go-to for all things exercise advice and running shoes. She dropped her pregnancy pounds in a matter of days; mine stuck around. At my request, she had put together a weekly plan for me to strengthen my core and get my body back into shape; I had no idea what happened to that piece of paper. She continued going to the gym daily before 6am as I tabled all fitness aspirations, pregnant with my 4th baby. When I fell and broke my elbow with 4 kids ages 6 and under, she brought us dinner and helped clean out one of my closets. At that point, I wasn't even talking about exercise.
My kids grew a little bigger, and we moved to Chicago. We had a beautiful park near our home, and I called Jessica for her updated running shoes recommendation. I felt like I was finally getting back on track.
I got off the couch as planned, but I never made it to the 5K. One regular day, in my shoes, on my running path, I watched my husband become the target of a gang attack; and, in a moment, the path changed, and I couldn't find my way back to what I had known it to be. The road looked different, and I was different. Our family of 6 banded together and tried, with a lot of support from people around us, to figure out how to best move ahead. Our steps together felt well-intentioned but disjointed, like we were running a 3-legged race but were not matched in size or gait and sometimes just had to drag each other along. We moved to my hometown for 10 months, and surrounded with family, lifelong friendships and well-structured support, fear began to ease away, and ground became visible where we could take uninhibited steps. The beauty of that town is captivating, and I pulled my running shoes back out. I knew I'd not used up all the life in them, and to the backdrop of block after block of historic homes, old oak trees, wrought-iron fences, and a town square that saw Abraham Lincoln speak out against slavery in a debate with then-Senator Douglas, I kept pushing one foot ahead of the other.
We knew our time living in Quincy was essential but temporary, and we landed in the beautiful Carolinas region. To be specific, we crash-landed. Moving big kids is different than moving little kids, and starting over is hard, hard, hard, even in the best of circumstances. We have put a lot of intention into learning to "do the next thing" when life has felt most challenging; and as the months are turning into years, I'm filled with gratitude for the ways God has carried us and strengthened us to move forward. We have all come a very long way.
A few weeks ago, I went looking for something in our attic and opened a bin I'd been missing. Laying right on top were my running shoes. They were broken in beyond providing any more support, and the once-soft rubber soles were yellowed, hardened and cracked. I pulled them out of the bin, and as I held them in my hands, the emotions of nearly 3 years of time ran through my body. I looked at the gray, turquoise and yellow shoes I'd chosen and felt the memories they carry, and the knowledge hit me hard: I'm still here. My passions, my dreams, the purposes for which God has given me life - they're still here.
So, I did the next thing. I texted Jessica, and I gave her some current stats so she could advise me on some highly supportive new running shoes; since, after all, my last running shoes were in the ATTIC. As always, she gave me great advice, and I got the shoes and downloaded the Couch to 5K app on my phone. So far, I'm on track.
If you are pushing through hard things right now, wherever you are - I'm with you. Let's keep doing the next things; and, encourage the people around you to keep moving one foot ahead of the other. It matters, and you matter. We're in this, and I'll see you, on the run.