Runner

by Susannah Baker

First of all, I wanted to issue a huge thank you for all of you who prayed for Ananda, the man I wrote about in last week’s blog (click here to read). I don’t think it’s any accident that I sent out the blog on Monday, many of you prayed, and Tuesday afternoon I saw him again, the only other time I saw him before we left Idaho. It was, of course, at an inconvenient time, when I was trying to hurry home to put Mia Grace down for a nap. But I had promised the Lord that if I saw Ananda again, I would go up to him and share the things I should have shared and wanted to share the first time I saw him, even if the timing was inconvenient.  I also had each of you to be accountable to.  So after spotting him out of the corner of my eye and tracking him down through a maze of white tents at the Farmers’ Market, I finally found him and waited ten minutes for him to finish tasting every jam and jelly known to man and then locating a box to carry the two huge jars of berry jelly he bought. Once he turned around, I called for his attention, and we had a good conversation right there in the middle of downtown Ketchum for all the local vendors to hear. I can’t say that I said it perfectly, but I did my best to communicate that there was a God who loved him and who had laid His life down to carry him instead of Ananda having to go anywhere to pick up this God on his own strength.

He smiled his toothless grin and said, “Ah, yes, I have had many visions in my life of seeing many gods. In one vision, the Dalai Lama came to me, full of light, kissed me, and said, “Now you will see God wherever you go.  And you know,” Ananda told me, “I have.  I see God everywhere.”

 “Have you ever seen Jesus, Ananda, or sought Him through reading the Bible?” I asked.

 “Yes, of course I have read the Bible,” he responded. “I’ve read the Old Testament, the Synoptic Gospels, the New Testament (and he named a few other ancient manuscripts connected to the Gospels that I cannot even begin to remember or pronounce).”

 “Well,” I said, “I’m going to pray for you, Ananda. My prayer is that Jesus will come to you in a vision and tell you who He really is – that He is the God above all gods, and that He loves you, desires to carry you the rest of your days, and wants relationship with you.”

 “Okay,” he laughed and said, “if I have a vision of Jesus, I will give Him a hug.”

 And after that, we parted. I left to go put one sleepy little girl down for her nap, and he continued on with his business at the Farmers’ Market.

 So can I ask you one more favor? Your prayers moved mightily on Ananda’s behalf last week, so this week, will you pray with me that Jesus will come to Ananda through a vision or through a dream, and that Ananda would be led back to the Scriptures, back to the only true Word of Life, and surrender his life by faith to the Lord Jesus Christ? I am not in Idaho anymore to see the results, but I know your prayers were powerful on his behalf last week and can be again. And please continue to pray for you, for me, for all of us, for boldness to speak about the God who loves us, carries us, and longs to have relationship with, reconciling the world to Himself through Christ.

 “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were entreating through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” II Corinthians 5:20-21

But today, I want to talk about running, because sometimes we all need a little encouragement to run. I don’t mean that we all need to work up the will power to lace up a pair of tennis shoes and take a few laps around the block, but I do mean we all need the encouragement to keep going around the track in whatever race we are in, not only when life is hard, but especially when life is hard.

In case you moved to Mars or don’t have a television, last Friday was the opening ceremonies of the Olympics, and all summer, I have been thinking about my favorite sport to watch. It’s not gymnastics, although that’s the logical choice for every female in America who grew up watching Mary Lou Retton, but it’s track and field. Jackie Joyner Kersee was my hero growing up, and I dreamed of being an Olympic sprinter until the day I tore up my knee on an asphalt track my freshman year of high school and never ran competitively again.

But I never stopped running, and to this day, running is something I enjoy doing several times a week.  I think I like running so much because it’s so relatable. You don’t need special equipment to participate in the sport or knowledge of special rules or a fancy scoring system to understand what is going on. Everyone knows what it feels like to strain towards the end of a finish line. Everyone can relate to beads of sweat on a runner’s forehead and tight muscles in his or her calves from having to push through the final mile and keep going when all you want to do is stop. And everyone can relate to injury in the middle of the race when you have been running so hard and training for so long and all of life just crumples in a moment. Not everyone can relate because he or she was a member of the cross country team in high school, but everyone can relate because running is so much like life.

I think that’s why the story of Olympic runner Derek Redmond grips my heart: “Derek Redmond, a twenty-six-year-old Briton, was favored to win the 400-meter race in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. During his career, he held the British record for the 400-meter sprint and won gold medals in the 4×400 meter relay at the World Championships, the European Championships, and the Commonwealth Games. Despite numerous operations on his Achilles tendon over the years, he felt confident as he began to run in the semifinal race.

Halfway around the track, a fiery pain seared through his right leg. He crumpled to the track with a torn hamstring. As medical attendants were approaching, Redmond fought to his feet. He set out hopping, pushing away the coaches in a crazed attempt to finish the race. London’s The Guardian newspaper quoted him: ‘Everything I had worked for was finished. I hated everybody. I hated the world; I hated hamstrings; I hated it all. I felt so bitter that I was injured again. I told myself I had to finish. I kept hopping round.’” (Cynthia Heald, “Strong Enough to Persevere,” Becoming a Woman of Strength)

Stop right there. Can you relate? Can you relate to Redmond’s feelings of readiness for his race? Ready to not only run but to run to win? And suddenly, in the middle of the race, an old injury from the past that he thought was taken care of and properly healed reared its ugly head, took center stage, and sent him crumpled to the ground, halting his race in mid-stride, yards away from the finish line? Have you ever felt like that? Perhaps the better question is: Who hasn’t felt like that?

Each and every one of us can relate. Death happens. Pain happens. Cancer happens. Sickness happens. Relational severing happens. Financial loss happens. Suffering happens. And it’s not just the pain that tears at our bodies, but it’s the injustice of it all that rips at our souls.

And like Redmond, we struggle to our feet, determined to the finish the race we started out to win, hopping on our one good leg to the finish line.

But something happened as Derek kept going around the track, something that, for me, redefined the race and gave me a whole new perspective on how we are to finish.  Watch for yourselves what happened:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t2G8KVzTwfw

At the moment when Derek’s world and dreams crumpled around him, someone leaped out of the stands, barged past security, and pushed his way onto the track. It was Derek’s father, the man who heeded his son’s cries and ran to his aid to help him finish the race:

“You don’t have to do this,” he told his weeping son.

“Yes, I do,” Derek declared.

“Well, then,” said Jim, “we’re going to finish this together.”

(Phil McCallum, “The Derek Redmond Story,” Deeper Still)

I think my favorite part of the video is watching Derek’s father bat away all the officials, the security, the rule makers and the time keepers. Was Derek supposed to go off the track on a stretcher instead of hobbling on one good leg? Probably. Was Derek’s father breaking all the rules by being on the track with his son, helping him towards the finish line? Absolutely.

But Derek’s father didn’t care. He wasn’t into keeping all of the rules. He was into helping his son finish his race.

Because of his father’s help, Redmond was disqualified from the race and listed as “Did Not Finish” due to outside assistance, but because of a son’s sobs and his father’s loving embrace, the incident has become one of the most celebrated and remembered events in Olympic history. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Derek_Redmond)

I don’t know where you are in your race today. Perhaps you are getting ready at the starting line, fitting your feet into position, preparing yourself to hear the gun go off. Perhaps you are mid-race, mid-stride, running well and your muscles are in mint condition. Maybe you’re in first place. Maybe you’re in last place. Or maybe you’re somewhere in the middle. Or maybe, like Derek, you are a crumpled heap on the track, hating life, hating the world, and hating hamstrings.

But here’s the good news: wherever you are, if you will wait for just a moment, you are certain to hear a Father’s footsteps running down the bleachers. You are certain to hear shouts of “Let me through!” You are certain, in a matter of moments, to feel a hand on your shoulder, an arm around your waist, and a voice in your ear, louder than your sobs and louder than the shouts of the crowd, saying, “We can do this; we can finish this race together.”

And you will. Every child who accepts the Father’s embrace crosses the finish line, no matter the severity of the injury. How do I know? Because two thousand years ago, in a perfect race run by a perfect Son, the Son crumpled on the track…but the Father did not come to get Him. He let Him lay there, forsaken, and suffer and die, so that in the imperfect races that you and I run, we would never have to finish alone (Mark 15:34-37).

So what can I promise you today? I cannot promise you that you will win your race. I cannot promise you that all will go well or that you or your loved ones will remain injury free. But I can promise you this: if Derek Redmond’s father, an imperfect, earthly copy of a Heavenly Father, came running to his son’s aid in his moment of need, your Heavenly Father will come running to yours. And your finish will be better and more memorable and more courageous than if you had never struggled or fell or been injured at all. For your finish will be wrapped up in your Father’s arms, arms that promise to never let you go until the race is done and you cross the finish line.

“Therefore since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumberance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you may not grow weary and lost heart.” Hebrews 12:1-3