What Love Looks Like: Running (and Praying) for Each Other

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On waking up + praying for my sisters + cheering from the sidelines.

By Stefanie Thomas | Twitter: @STsheloves


A gust of wind coming through my bedroom window woke me up. The window pane rattled and I opened my eyes to see white sheers billowing towards me. I looked at the clock: 3am.

I remembered the weather report had said there was a wind warning, and a chance of heavy rainfall overnight. The previous day had been unusually hot and muggy for late September, and I was actually ready for a bit of rain (I find it kind of peaceful–clearly I was born in the right city). But my 3am thoughts were not on me and my own visions of a cozy Sunday. No, within seconds of being stirred awake by the howling wind, my mind was on the company of women who would be running a half-marathon at 9am that morning. Regular SheLoves Magazine readers are likely familiar with this bursting-with-love endeavour, but for those of you who aren’t, dozens of women (most of them self-proclaimed non-athletes) raised their hands and said “YES” to running a half-marathon and raise money for Living Hope to support women in Northern Uganda. (Read more about why they said Yes here.).

I jumped up to close the window and crawled back into bed. I could have drifted back to sleep quickly, but I remembered something Tina Francis (a.k.a. @teenbug, a.k.a. the gorgeous dynamo whose stirring heart started this whole half-marathon thing) said in a video she’d made for TGIF–her weekly SheLoves Magazine column. She’d asked for people to pray for the runners—not to just say “we’ll be praying for you” but to actually pray.

I thought about two years earlier, when my sisters and “Monkey Sisters” and I had walked 60km in the “Weekend to End Breast Cancer.” I remembered what the journey had been like for me—the fundraising, the training, the 60km walk itself (it was mid-August and smoking hot out, and at the end of day one I got a stress fracture in my foot and had to wear a boot cast for six weeks, but that’s another story). I recalled how I’d felt the night before the walk, and I thought about what I would have wanted prayer for.

Intercession

I curled up on my side, pulling the covers over my shoulders: Okay God, here we go! Prayer time. I prayed that all of the women (and men!) running the half-marathon would be—at that moment—sleeping well. I prayed that each of them would wake up feeling rested, and would have time to enjoy whatever breakfast would be best for their individual running needs. (One woman’s scrambled eggs is another woman’s oatmeal.) I prayed for the runners I know and adore (you know who you are) and for those I’ve never met.

I remembered how I’d felt the night before the 60km walk and I imagined some of them likely having a nervous tummy. I prayed that each and every one of them would feel a peace wash over them and carry them through the run. I prayed that during the half-marathon bodies would be limber, aches and pains would go away, blisters would go unnoticed. I prayed that if the course started to seem impossible, these brave runners would feel a surge of energy to keep going. I imagined them crossing the finish line—hugs and high-fives, smiles and happy tears.

(Side note: As I type this, I just saw a tweet from Tina: “Need prayer … Please. Past 15 km. So many tears …” You didn’t know, Teenbug, but I was praying for you. Big Time. I was with you on this journey. So many of us were with you on this journey!!!)

The Bigger Picture

A few times during this middle-of-the-night prayer session I started to doze off. But I brought my wandering mind back to the present and kept myself awake so I could pray everything I wanted to pray for these half-marathoners. When I thought I’d covered everything on my “To Pray For” list, I felt momentarily satisfied. But then I remembered the bigger picture. I remembered why these runners were running.

My younger sister has made me laugh on many occasions by handing me her camera to show me a picture of someone or something, then zooming out to reveal that the thing I was looking at was actually just a tiny part of the distant background. (Kids, feel free to try this at home—it can be very entertaining!)

(This just in—another tweet from Tina: “Flying baby … 🙂 beautiful breeze.” Yay! I hope you were feeling all of our collective prayers! Seriously, this tweet just rocked my world.)

Well, in the middle of that night, I felt my mind do this reverse close-up. My focus was on the runners and suddenly it zoomed out to land on the women they were running for. I remembered our sisters in Northern Uganda. I thought of all of the ways they have been undervalued, abused and violated. My heart hurt for them. Many of them have had their faces mutilated–lips, noses, ears severed–by LRA rebels. The money raised for Living Hope will go towards their post-surgery recovery. While it was pretty easy to think of what the half-marathoners might need prayer for, just hours before their big run, I couldn’t begin to create a list of all of the things I would wish for these women in Africa. So from the comfort of my bed that night, I held these sisters in my heart and prayed that they would experience: Freedom. Safety. Empowerment. Healing. Peace.

As I drifted off to sleep again, I added this: God, I know there’s a rainfall warning, but for the runners … No rain tomorrow morning. Please, and thank-you.

What woke me up in the morning was not wind rattling my window panes but the thunderous sound of a heavy downpour of rain hitting my roof. It was coming down in buckets.

No!!! I almost had to laugh. Maybe running in a downpour would somehow feel cleansing? Maybe every raindrop is a tear shed for what the women of Northern Uganda have endured? Maybe. I glanced at the clock. 8:20am. Okay, God, you’ve got 40 minutes to get this out of your system. I dozed off …

When I woke up a while later, what I noticed first was the silence. No thundering rain on the roof was a good sign. From behind closed eyelids I could sense a brightness in my bedroom. I opened my eyes to see sunshine peeking through the blinds. I looked at the clock. 8:58am. A much-needed sleep-in for me but more importantly, sunshine for run time. Thank. You. God!

I put on the coffee and began to write this post. I followed some of the runners’ updates on Twitter and Facebook. I prayed. I felt my heart swell. And when I saw Tina’s tweet after she crossed the finish line, “BOOM. So many many tears. Done. Love my girls. Xoxo” along with this picture, I felt the tears spill over.


And then I saw this picture of Idelette, founding editor of SheLoves Magazine, as she finished the half-marathon. This one got me too. It gets me every time I look at it. The smile on her beautiful face says it all:


For 11 weeks I’d followed along with the journey of these now half-marathoners. I’d seen pictures of training runs, smiling sweaty satisfied friends linking arms. I’d read progress updates some of the runners had posted online. I’d sent messages of encouragement. I’d made a donation. But none of these things gave me blisters, or sore knees or ankles. No, I wasn’t there when these determined women laced up their running shoes early in the morning, or after a long day at work, when they headed out into the heat or the rain to run, whether they felt like it or not. Now that’s got “SheLoves” written all over it.

By the time this piece is posted, the half-marathon itself will be one week in the rear-view mirror. But for the beautiful women of Northern Uganda, the life-changing gifts are still to come.

To all of you glorious runners, thank you for your heart and hard work. I was only watching your journey from the sidelines but it brought inspiration, cheers and a few tears. Thank you for blessing our sisters in Africa and thank you for blessing me!

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Editor’s note: Please join us in also reading Tina Francis’ epic TGIF post on this experience: Three A-Ha Moments in the Aftermath of running my first half-marathon, including a recap of the 14-week journey of our “SheLoves Half-Marathon.” –idelette xoxo

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About Stefanie:

Stefanie is a Registered Clinical Counsellor living in Vancouver, BC. She feels blessed to work in a helping profession and is grateful that her work requires her to show up not in a power suit but with listening ears and a compassionate heart. Stefanie enjoys spending time with family and friends and has never met a kid or baby she doesn’t like. She is a noticer and appreciator of birds (chickadees, herons, eagles) and many a beach rock has come home in her pocket. Stefanie is a lover of music, tv and movies, and she is gifted at absorbing and retaining useless pop culture trivia. She loves walking, fresh air, the smell of dirt, and anything of the salt and vinegar persuasion. She can often be found puttering.

Image credit: Girl in window, by Corlijn Groot

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