On January 1st, I embarked on Year 2 of the "Run the Year Challenge." I had accomplished it in 2020, (just barely under the wire). I made the decision that 2021 was going to be different. Not because of the one mile increase but because I was going to pace myself better and finish sooner. I could ensure I had flexibility if there was an injury to my foot, ankle or knee. I was also, according to my New Year's resolutions, going to improve my time for every mile. I was going to beat every personal best I had set during my races in 2019. I also decided to set random, arbitrary rules that pertained to no one in this national competition but myself: All miles had to be done on foot and solid ground (no gyms/ treadmills/ ellipticals/ etc.) and all miles had to be done outside. I'm not sure where the idea for those two rules came from but I had set the bar and failure wasn't an option.
It took only 42 days for my whole 365 day plan to completely unravel. It came apart as 133 cars piled together.
Often God gives us things in life to test us. We've been told that a million times over. The tests are designed specifically to strengthen you as a person. And the test I received that morning was His way of attempting to strengthen me. I had signed up for a year of strengthening my legs, lungs and core through running. He had other plans on what to strengthen though. Any time we do any exercise, we are strengthening our bodies. And we do that by tearing them down. The microtears you make in your muscles as you exercise them eventually accumulate to form muscle mass. Professional athletic trainers say, "You have to break muscle down to build it back up stronger." It's interesting to note that unbeknownst to me, God's spiritual personal training program is incredibly similar. His approach is a bit more, "I have to break the person down to build her up stronger."
And that is exactly what He did.
On February 11th, I had run 273.93 of the 2,021 miles. The day I hit my knees on the bathroom floor and cried out, "I can't do this anymore," I had covered 422.08 miles. The day I finally got help was 454.79 miles. The day I began to read the Bible was 541.68 miles. And the day I was handed my first Bible was 724.24.
Each of these milestones is marked with an actual mile. A moment in the year that I can tangibly point to and say, "This is when ___." But the more miles I tallied the more evident it became that these nightly "I need to get my miles" journeys were less about reaching 9 minute milestones and more about one-on-one time with my Coach. Every night, like clockwork, I would get home from work and I would lace up my running shoes. And in the thick pollen of spring or the asphalt melting heat of summer, I would hit the ground running. But more importantly: Talking. At first it was a struggle. I had never had these kinds of conversations before and more importantly: I was never allowed to talk to Him this way. So I had to ease into the conversation. A few songs on Spotify followed by the imperative opening line: "Hey God, it's me. Kristen O'Hare. I know You're busy and I am so sorry to bother you but I wanted to talk to you about----"
And we talked. Mile for mile, the two of us talked. At times, He must have felt like He was being interrogated because my questions turned into scenes from Law & Order squad rooms. The "why's" and the "how could you's" and the "didn't you know?" questions followed the pleasantries and greetings. As the soles on my shoes wore thin on the asphalt, concrete and Camp Bowie bricks, my soul was searching for more information. More guidance. More answers.
The training intensified when I realized hurdles were being added to the daily 5.5 mile-6.2 mile course. I didn't sign up for hurdles. This was a distance challenge not an endurance challenge. Again, I was completely wrong.
Each hurdle could be approached from a different angle.
The options include:
- Option 1: I could attempt to jump it on my own without any assistance.
- Result: Fall flat on my face. Jump back up- ignoring every cut, bruise and sprain- and pretend it didn't happen. And keep moving forward, wounded but none the wiser.
- Option 2: I could go around it thereby avoiding it entirely.
- Result: Going around the hurdle doesn't make it go away. It's still there on my next lap around the track.
- Option 3: Ask for help by talking it over with Him and figuring out what the best strength training for that jump would be to successfully make it over.
- Result: Find a way over the hurdle by following Him which would result not only in stronger faith but also stronger muscle mass.
- Option 4: A combination of Options 1 and 2.
- Result: Most likely paralysis both physically and emotionally.
The first real test of my strength training came when "The Rumor" surfaced at work at mile 673.81. The rumor no one wants to hear: especially a female who has spent the last two decades working on her education and career to become a trained professional. "The Rumor" took me by complete surprise and compounded with working through "The Unraveling" at the same time set me up for the first big hurdle. How was I going to approach "The Rumor" while fostering my fledgling faith? I had the 4 options to pick from. I was strength training with THE Trainer. So there was only one option to take the night I heard about "The Rumor."
I went with Option 5: Make plans with my friends Jack and Jameson on how to reclaim my reputation by writing a counter argument. The Result: A pounding headache the next morning and a manifesto that read the same as if it were typed in Wing Dings font. The Lesson learned: "J" names have failed me almost every time except for one; so for this particular issue it's best to consult my Coach at the track. But first eat some burgers and fries to help with that hangover and talk scripture rather than personal manifesto with my dear friend. And learn that even though I had failed and turned away from Him instead of towards Him, mercy and forgiveness were available to me with love.
The hurdles kept popping up though. And I would stop at each one and look at it straight on, desperately wanting to turn to old habits. I wanted to resort to my comfort zone and say, "I can do this by myself. I am fine." But I didn't. It took a lot of "I'm sorry" and "I will do better next time" and "You saw that didn't you?"... But the conditioning and training continued.
Through the heat of summer, I felt my body start to grow weaker. Shin splints, tendonitis, and constant swelling of my knees and ankles slowed me down physically. Mentally though, I was digging in deeper. My talks with Jesus were getting longer, more conversational, more inquisitive and less interrogative. For the first time in my life I viewed Him as a friend. I had this mental image of Him lifting my chin up, looking at my downward gaze and saying, "Get back up. We're not done yet. But I'm proud of how far you have come. You are loved. But you can do better than this. Show me."
When I ran, He determined my stride. When I jogged, He kept the cadence. When I walked, He slowed to my pace. When I needed to sit and catch my breath, We sat together. For the first time ever on this journey of covering thousands of miles all by myself: I was not alone. While my muscles were breaking down only to rebuild themselves into stronger muscle mass... my heart was doing the same.
Metaphorically and literally, the running turned to jogging. The jogging turned to walking. And at times, the walking turned to just dragging my feet like a slow crawl. I needed to continue to put one foot in front of the other. I knew the miles would piecemeal themselves together if I could get enough in. Every mile is compromised of feet and inches, I would tell myself. If I could not manage to get one foot in front of the other, then I just needed to get one inch closer. Giving up and giving in were not options. I could NOT give up on reaching all 2,021 miles. And I could not give up and give in on how far I had come with my faith. I could not give up on how far I had come with Him.
He was breaking me down. With every mile, with every conversation, with every question, and with every answer, He wanted me to know that He was there but also that He was leading this race. My need to control and plan for everything was not going to work with Him. Every mile needed to bring me further from that life and closer to one with Him. I needed to yield control of everything to Him. And it started with those miles. No records were going to be broken. I would find a mile taking upwards of 15 minutes sometimes because the sunset made me stop in my tracks and just stare at the sky. I would walk at a snail's pace just to take in the colors of the Texas sky. It's as if He had painted it as a way to say, "Slow down. Breathe. This is my arena you're running in. Look around you. See what's under you. I'm setting your pace."
Every mile taken was my foot hitting solid ground. Every mile exposed me to the elements: the rain, the sun's heat, a quick breeze, the chill of a new winter coming. "The challenge must be done outdoors" was an arbitrary rule- or so I had thought. He knew what He was doing when the game plan was created in January. This rule ensured that every mile was deliberate and every mile took place with His landscape as my view.
And the sunsets. The countless, unbelievably beautiful sunsets that made me cry on more occasions than not. Those were our most powerful forms of communication. The sky illuminated in colors I could not recreate when I found myself needing confirmation or assurance. He found a way to paint the sky and let me know He heard me.
I found myself reaching milestones that had nothing to do with psychical distance. My milestones were measured in a series I began to write called, "A Catholic Reading the Bible One Chapter at a Time." The concept was born of a thought I had on the track wondering, "How many people are my age and were raised never hearing these stories? How many people have spent their entire lives not connecting these points like I am for the first time? How many people who were raised Catholic need to learn what I am learning?" And I wrote. I wrote piece after piece on Joseph's Dreams and Hannah's taunting. I wrote about breaking the "chain of command" established within religion and the freedom of "broken chains" found in a relationship.
Which is why when I completed all 2,021 miles on December 18th, there was no celebratory line to cross or party waiting for me. I stood on a muddy gravel road in Broken Bow, Oklahoma surrounded in silence and closed my eyes. I thanked Him for getting me this far. For every step that I had taken alongside Him. I found a lot of irony and comfort when I saw that the medal for this year's race was a compass. As the poster child for the directionally challenged, it made perfect sense to put a compass in my hand because otherwise, I was lost. And that compass was earned by following Him.
I had heard a story this year when reading the story of David about how ships used to have two compasses for navigational purposes. One compass would be right on the helm for easy access to the person steering the boat. But that compass was easily influenced by it's surroundings. The metal from the ship or the typography around it could alter the direction of the compass. So, to balance the navigational prowess, at the very top of the ship, a compass was placed for "true direction." And to find that direction, someone would have to climb to the very top of the ship and read what direction that compassed showed. It was a compass that was not influenced by it's surroundings and was always constant. I knew, that in my hand, that medal was symbolic of the compass at the top of the ship. The one lead by Him and not the world around me.
And as I stood on that muddy gravel road in Oklahoma, I smiled. I smiled because I had reached a goal I set out to finish on January 1, 2021 with absolutely no knowledge of what was ahead of me in the coming weeks and months. But I didn't consider a "finish line" officially crossed.
Why? Because these miles are no longer for building up my muscular strength and endurance. They're for my faith and my spiritual strength and endurance. I'm going to embark on 2,022 miles with Him beginning January 1st. And I already know that huge changes are going to happen in just the first couple hundred miles.
● I'm going to embrace some incredible people whom I love though have never met.
● I'm going to hike and get miles in surrounded by trees, rock ledges, mountains, and cactus.
● I'm going to bathe myself in water I have never stood in before.
● I'm going to stand in the fire- more than once- and know He's standing with me.
● I'm going to continue reading the Bible until every chapter has been marked "complete."
And then I'm going to read it again.
● I'm going to travel, on foot, 2,022 miles with Him and see where HE takes me.
I'm also going to continue to write about what I am learning and how it is changing who I am as a person. There are stories that will come out of 2022 that I hope I can give justice to through the written word. But there will be one rather large edit.
"A Catholic Reading the Bible One Chapter at a Time" has come to an end. The series had a good run but the author knew it was time to let it go. For more than 1,500 miles she yelled, cried, screamed, laughed, shook her head and had every reaction imaginable in her talks with Jesus. The author lost the identity given to her long ago. And in it's place, she built a new one rooted in love and built on the truth she stands on with every mile moving forward.
2,021 miles provided a heartbreaking canvas to make something out of broken pieces. Mile after mile a new person was created being strengthened with every single breakdown. The next 2,022 miles are filled with introductions, explanations, battles, transitions, and testimonials. And whatever else HE has planned for HE is in control. Stay tuned for the next edition of: "A Christian Reading the Bible... For the First Time: One Chapter at a Time."
Have y'all ever read Daniel 3:16-28?
He ● Was ● In ● The ● Fire ●
(Still processing the realization)