Two years ago, my daughter, “X,” and I started practicing for our first 5k run. I signed on as an assistant coach of her elementary school’s “Girls on the Run” chapter after she eagerly registered as a participant.
We got off to a good start. I loved encouraging the girls and we both enjoyed challenging our bodies to achieve new goals. The weather was nearly perfect for most of our practices, and each time we ran a little bit further than the last.
Then the pain hit. Hard.
My right hip throbbed, burned, and screamed with every step I took.
At first, I tried to smile it away … because that’s what I do when I don’t want to face reality. I put on a happy face and pretend that everything in my world is the way I want it to be … better even.
Next I tried to fix the problem on my own. For four weeks I tested various home remedies to banish the pain. I even spent a few practices as a lap-counter so I could give my hip a break.
That didn’t work either. The pain was intense … and relentless. A week before the 5k I went to see my doctor who told me that I had a rather advanced case of bursitis. Her advice? A prescription-strength anti-inflammatory, ice massages, and an edict to stop running for at least a few months. I could still participate in the race, but only as a walker. My goal … the one I worked so hard to obtain … would not be realized that year.
I was disappointed, but resorted back to my smiling schtick. X understood and agreed to run at her own pace on race day even if it ended up being faster than mine.
Once again, our spirits were up and we each had revised goals and hopeful attitudes. Then came the run and another blow. Extreme cold.
All season, we were blessed with mild weather. There were a few days when temps dipped to about forty, but nothing worse. Until race day. The thermometers reached a whopping 26 degrees the morning of the 5k. The fierce wind pounded the cold straight through our vital organs and into to our bones.
My hip was holding up … but my sweet daughter’s stamina began to unravel. We took off running slowly (I decided to run for the first and last 50 feet of the race), but after a few steps, X started to cry. Then she almost threw up. Then she cried a little more.
We were faced with a decision … head back to our car and go home, or hold on to each other and press forward. I allowed X to make the choice … we were going to finish the race.
As I wrapped my arms around my daughter and briskly walked us closer toward finishing, I knew that a plastic smile was not going to help either one of us keep our wits while fighting the blustery weather.
So I thought of the choices we had already made and the ones that were still waiting to be chosen. That’s when I decided to choose to be thankful. My mind conjured a mental gratitude list that grew as we reach mile markers one, two and three.
I started with the basics and thanked God for life, for lungs that breathe in air (even the cold kind). I then thanked Him for my daughter, for our time together, for our friends, for the earth, for smiling passersby and for the opportunity to learn. One thankful thought chased the other and I kept thinking of blessings that I too often take for granted.
The stretch between miles one and two were excruciating, so my feelings of thankfulness focused on my body. I celebrated the fact that I have two working legs. I thanked God for the pain, because its value is often underrated. I also offered praise for the proper equipment and for the fact that while I was out in the cold at that moment, I had a car to return to … and that car would take us to our warm home.
Close to the end of the race, I focused my gratitude on my running partner. I remembered the joy I felt when I learned life grew inside me. I thanked God that the sweet little girl clinging to me at that moment was my daughter. I thanked Him for her strong will, her ability to see the beauty in others, and for her courageous, loving heart.
Choosing to be thankful didn’t change my circumstances. It didn’t slow the wind, summon the sun, or raise the temperature. It did help me keep sight of hope. It helped me remember that we are never alone.
I find that in times of emotional duress, mustering a spirit of thankfulness opens our heart to the possibility of new beginnings. When we can find at least on thing to be grateful for having, we’re better able to understand that through it all, we are loved by our creator.
And knowing we are loved deeply is the first step in understanding that our pain is not wasted. Your pain is seen. Your pain is felt. Your pain is understood. Through the power of Jesus, your pain can be redeemed.
“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” – Colossians 3:17 NIV