Melissa taught at the same elementary school I did. It only took a week's worth of gossip in the teacher's lounge for our coworkers organize a running partnership for the two of us. I was the youngest person on staff, newly married, and almost as qualified to teach as the custodian. She was the mother of three boys, stellar at her job, and beloved by all. She needed someone to keep her company on runs when her husband was on fireman duty.
She informed me that their usual distance was ten miles, but she was willing to cut it in half if I wanted. I said, "Thank you," though I should have said "please bring a defibrillator and oxygen tank in your fanny pack because I am grossly overstating my actual abilities to impress and befriend you." We made plans and I was a little nervous.
Mellisa preferred running at dawn over dusk. I drug myself out of bed and we set out on the dark, quiet streets of Edmond. The first day I really thought I might die. I don't know how I even made it since I still hadn't actually run three miles before without a walking break let alone five. I knew I could not blow the chance to be her friend. Though I was a much slower running partner than her husband, she never complained. We talked about work, and marriage, and her kids. We talked and talked and one day I came home from our run and I didn't feel like puking.
Some friends of Greg's in Texas invited us out for the weekend. Greg was going to play golf and I decided to run my very first 10K at the Ft. Worth Cowtown. A group from a small country church was running their first marathon the same day. One of them was Toby Slough, the church's pastor. Since Toby was a good friend of Greg's we stayed to cheer him across the finish line.
Maybe it was prophetic, maybe it was just a pointed coincidence to look back on later when times got lonely. We watched the men as they came to the end, hurting, leaning on each other, and crying tears of joy. I was inspired, not only to keep running, but to find that same kind of belonging. Only God knew that within months our lives would change and we would be among them, following Toby down a different kind of road, a longer, harder, more beautiful road than I had ever run before.
6 days ago