On my morning runs I really try and become aware of my surroundings. Recently I have been running old country roads near where I grew up. I have driven these routes countless times but obviously never had the time to study details of the environment as I have solely used these routes to get from point A to point B. When you walk or run a route and do it on a continual basis you notice things that you would not normally notice. You notice who has a barking dog, who has a really shady yard, who has an old man on the front porch smoking a cigarette. You notice small things like wildlife scampering in the woods nearby as you approach, huffing and puffing. You notice pretty things and not so pretty things. You notice smells, heat, clouds and…well you get the idea.
The road of life can be like all those times I spent in the car driving those two-lane old country roads. You start down the road and before you know it you are at a destination and you almost wonder how you got there. You were on auto-pilot. You were zoned out. You coasted through out of habit. You lost touch of your surroundings and all the details of the journey. You get comfortable when you are in a climate controlled vehicle that is able to travel way faster than you could on your own. You take these vehicles for granted and then rely on it to get you through each day.
Running on a hot and muggy road that is designed for cars is a humbling way to travel. I recommend everyone do it at some point because it gives an interesting perspective. Cars wiz by; some swerving unnecessarily into the other lane to give you enough space. Some giving you a look of pity or confusion as if to say, “What are you doing? You poor soul.” You realize that in a way you are helpless. You are going down a path that is not fit for you at a ridiculously slow speed with everyone staring.
Taking the Hard Road
Running on roads is dangerous. It’s unconventional. It’s freeing. When I get a baffling, pity-filled look from a driver I want to smile back as if to say, “Hey man, you need to try this. What’s the rush?” I used to be a speed freak when I was younger. The faster I could get to my destination the better. In a way that is how I lived as well. Just get through life fast and maybe I can outrun my problems. Perhaps I can leave my sin, anger and fear in the dust. That is not how the journey works. The faster you run, the bigger it slams into you when you are not watching. Like a freighter rear-ending a sedan. Now I know that the best way to travel is to always take the more difficult path. That builds strength of character. That builds faith. That builds renewal.
Another thing that I have noticed when running on or near public roads is that you become a bit of a spectacle. When I used to run in Korea, I got a lot of stares (probably because I was white but also because not many people run for exercise). At first I was offended and self conscious about being stared at while running. After a while I embraced it and used it as a motivator to run well and look happy doing it. My life should be a testimony of God’s grace, mercy and love no matter what I am doing. I should reflect Him to everyone, even in the mundane. This also puts an analogy in my spirit of being willing to fight battles and struggle while others can see. Whether we realize it or not, people are watching to see how we handle adversity. They are watching to see whether we will fight or give up. When people look at my life, I want them to see a man that will never give up. On God, on others or on myself. I want people to see a man that has made catastrophic mistakes but is now committed to taking the painful steps toward recovery. And if at times I find myself on a very lonely road with no spectators then I will continue to run because the most important one that is watching is guiding me every step of the way.
Trash Along the Way
Litter is everywhere; in cities, lakes, beaches and old country roads. Remember when I said all that about the things I notice while running? One of those things is trash. It’s amazing how much trash accumulates on the side of the road. No wonder society has so many initiatives that include someone (voluntarily or not) picking up trash on the side of the road! You want to take a guess what the number one item that is discarded on the side of these roads? If you guessed silver cans and dark bottles then you win. Have you ever sat and thought what empty cans, bottles and even whole cartons of beer on the side of the road means? Like not metaphorically (I will get there I promise), but literally. It literally means that drivers who may very well have been intoxicated while driving chose to hide the fact that they were driving while drinking by throwing it out their window. There are a lot of beer cans out there. That means there are a lot of cars being operated by an intoxicated driver. That is not a fun thought. It’s scary and (no pun intended) its sobering.
I look back at my own life and I cringe at all the times I made bad choices and tried to hide it. On my journey I was drunk behind the wheel….. a lot. I made excuses, justified my actions, and actually really wanted to change at times but just kept going back. Over time my road was littered with evidence and now I am forced, like a prison inmate, to clean it all up.
Today on my run, I was making a note of all the beer cans, when something new caught my eye. Among all the depressing proof of poor choices on that very road was a gift. In reality, it was probably a mistake. To me it represented victory, albeit small and relatively insignificant compared to all the moral carnage that lay all around it. It was a gift card for a free Chik-fil-A sandwich. I have lived without the blessed Chik-fil-A for about 7 years now so my heart jumped when I realized what this really represented. I know I am being melodramatic and maybe a bit over spiritual but seriously its Chik-fil-A. And it’s a free chicken sandwich. It’s a big deal to me. I celebrated this small victory as I am celebrating the small victories that I am winning right now with the struggle on the long and winding road of recovery. With a “Thank you Jesus, Amen.” And with a Chik-fil-a sandwich!