This essay is part of our summer series called “Running for His glory,” focusing on the intersection between running and faith. I met Abigail through an online writers community called Hope*writers. I am grateful for her honest story on how running provides an avenue for healing for her as she battles mental illness and physical setbacks.
By Abigail Alleman
It was a poignant moment on a summery June day. My sister asked me a simple question. “Will you run a 5K with me?”
I didn’t know what to say. Did she really think I could?
Three months earlier, we were ripped out of our missionary life, suddenly and completely. We had spent 10 years building a ministry in Hungary.
Prior to our leaving the country, I spent two weeks in a state hospital, punctuated by three days in the ICU. I was eventually given a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Along the wearying journey of stabilization, I had early side effects to medicine. It left me walking like an elderly woman.
I had to learn to sleep, walk and even breathe again. My confidence was low, and it was a struggle to do basic things, like take care of my three young children.
But all of this changed that warm June day.
I was staying at my other sister’s house, and I decided to try to run. Physically, it was about 10 years since I last ran. I hadn’t been able to figure out how to do it while having babies and living in different countries.
And then came my life-altering diagnosis. Life pulled no punches, and I was beaten and bloody.
My sister’s invitation was the perfect question at the perfect time.
As I went out to walk, I decided I would try to run part of the time. I had no phone or watch to measure distance or time. I just ran. Most likely it was about half a mile. I was amazed. I could run!
I sprinted into the house and hugged my twin sister: “I feel alive again. This is symbolic of the healing God wants to do, I know it!” I felt a tingling from my head to my toes at the promise of it all.
Now, four years, three half marathons, and numerous 5K’s later, I am still running. The joy which God has restored in my life through running is immeasurable. I feel capable and strong as I run, and it bolsters me for the journey I am on with mental illness.
Running is one of the most powerful spiritual disciplines I have known in my 40 or more years as a believer. Sometimes, I pray, meditate on Scripture or listen to music while running. This refreshes me and is a win-win. But it is also true, sometimes I am just trying to make my goal.
I will say to myself, “Okay…just another mile. No too long, another half mile. Still too long, another quarter mile. Ok, just this next stride, it’s all I can handle right now.”
Whenever I want to give up on running, I remember how it’s parallel to my life’s course. Around all of it, all the days and ways, highways and byways, is the grace of God. He loves me no matter what and will bring me Home forever. This is eternally true.
Yet, running shows I have a choice as to how I will get there. Will it be an aimless meander where I often stop moving forward, or a focused path journeyed with enthusiasm? Will I fight against the things that try to make me stop running the race of my life for God’s glory? Will I be an overcomer?
As I run, I learn to make the choices which vault me forward in my growth. With every stride, I am sowing thankfulness. Along the sidewalks of my life, daisies, lilies and roses bloom. A treasured gift was given through a trusted sister’s question, and I will forever be grateful.
What about you, friend? How does running make you stronger on this long, winding road home?
Abigail Alleman is a wife, mother and missionary. She and her husband have served 14 years with the student ministry of Cru in both the U.S. and Hungary. Her writing is known for its vulnerability, authenticity and redemptive beauty. She blogs her love of story at www.abigailalleman.com. Find her on Facebook and Twitter.