After my husband Ericlee died from cancer in 2014, I wasn’t sure if I could ever run again. He was my coach, my running partner, and my biggest cheerleader for almost a dozen years. He trained me for my first half marathon and first marathon. He logged hundreds of miles pushing our daughters in the jogging stroller and pushing me to personal records.
I still remember that first week following his funeral when I ventured out to the track for a workout with friends. I laced up my running shoes. Sweat beaded on my brows. My 37-year-old body quivered as I tried to take a deep breath. It might have been the hair-dryer-in-your-face heat of that September evening in Central California. Or it might have been the heaviness of the grief that felt like a dozen bricks pressing on my chest.
Sometimes finding the courage to begin again is the hardest part.
I toed the line and took that first step. I ran once around the oval. Four hundred meters. A distance my body and brain are accustomed to after more than three decades of devoting myself to running.
And then I began to hear it. Ericlee’s coaching voice boomed from Heaven. He was telling me to lift my knees, to steady my breathing, to square my shoulders, and run. My eyes, body, and heart were lifted from grief to hope.
The prophet Isaiah says “…but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:31, NIV). These words remind us that we are called to place our hope in Him. We cannot trust in our own sense of control, courage, and purpose.He is the One who can help us to begin to walk and run again after crippling life circumstances.
In distance running, there’s a phenomenon called the “second wind.” It’s when an athlete is out of breath and believes they can’t go on, but suddenly gets a surge of renewed energy. I often experience it around mile 11 in a half marathon – right after I hit the wall in mile 10. God can infuse us with a second wind when we chase Him on the trail of life.
I felt it that night at the track. A surge of energy that pulsed through my body. I ran. And it felt good. It felt healing to get back out there and honor my beloved. I knew he would want me to keep running, to live his legacy for our three daughters who were ages 2, 5, and 8.
After Ericlee’s death, running became my grief therapy. God helped me find my second wind. Running helped me keep breathing and moving. I started running with a group of mamas on some of the trails in the mountains near my house. I began to experience God’s Presence in a powerful way when I put one foot in front of the other on the trail. My brain had space to process. My heart exhaled and cried out in prayer. And God met me there.
I know it was the Holy Spirit who prompted me to call my long-time running friend Shawn Young several weeks after my husband’s funeral. I saw the pictures on social media of Shawn running an Ironman race in Maryland in Ericlee’s honor and wanted to thank him.
After that first phone call, we started talking regularly. Shawn would check in on me and my three daughters to make sure we were doing okay. Our phone conversations felt comfortable. Shawn was a safe person for me. He knew Ericlee well and wasn’t afraid to sit in the memories with me. Shawn and Ericlee had forged their friendship over their passion for running, coaching, and strong faith. He was in our wedding party. He visited us in California at least once a year and supported our non-profit work in Haiti.
We naturally started talking about running workouts and training. Shawn gave me coaching tips as I tried to get out to run again without Ericlee by my side. Shawn helped me process my loss.
Through a wild weaving of events, Shawn moved back to California from Maryland to care for his widowed mother. While he lived in Los Angeles, he made frequent trips to Fresno to visit us and we rekindled our in-person friendship. I was uncertain of the steps at first. It was hard to imagine that God might be weaving together a second love story for me.
Even in the uncertainty, even in the grief, I felt God speaking to me. His presence was palpable. Despite all the voices in my head that were screaming not to step in, not to trust, not to risk having my heart shattered again, I knew God was inviting me into a new story.
Jesus continued to guide us step by step. I heard nothing but affirmation from my family and trusted friends gave their blessing. Even my mother-in-law, who had buried her son that previous year, welcomed our relationship with open arms.
When we got engaged that following summer, she cried tears of joy that her granddaughters would have a daddy. She adopted Shawn as her son years before I was even in the picture. There was no doubt in our minds this glory story was being written by God.
Marriage in all circumstances requires work and courage. We have to be willing to be vulnerable, to grieve together, and to share our hearts. I am filled with a deep gratitude to be on this new journey. I recognize it is a privilege to experience two loves in this lifetime. I also know that God called me to be brave. And He provided the path.
Friend, maybe God is calling you to step out in courage today. Maybe your heart has been broken in the past. Maybe you have lost a loved one. Maybe you’ve had to move on from a job, a church, a neighborhood or a calling, and your heart is still grieving. Sometimes we find ourselves running a race we never chose to enter. Hold on to hope and look for His glory on the path. In His strength, we can soar to the finish line.
On January 16, 2016, Shawn and I were married in a glory-themed wedding. Throughout the ceremony, we shared stories and music illuminating how God had shown us His glory through every step of our journey. We donned our running shoes at the reception and danced the night away with our daughters in the spirit of Isaiah 30:
“You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you forever!” (Isaiah 30:11-12, ESV).
*This article was originally published as part of the Brave Women Series. If they would like to receive the weekly Brave Women Stories as well as the Brave Woman Manifesto: 5 Things to Tell Yourself When Life Gets Hard, sign up here.