The Hurt and The Healer - Marathon 2014 October 17 2015, 2 Comments
It's 5:45am. I've been up for almost 2 hours. I'll just be honest, Remy woke me up crying because her butt hurt. Yep. Through tears, she begged me to "come check it in the light." Diagnosis = chapped rear. I haven't been able to get back to sleep for a myriad of reasons. Lots on my mind, heart and soul.
Today is Bryer's 3rd birthday. It's a fact that has almost gotten lost in the week that we've had. But in the dark of this morning, arms and legs wrapped around my maternity pillow, I am remembering.
It is also marathon weekend which brings much excitement. I can't help but think on the marathon last year…and I've been trying to relive and recreate the gift it was to me…yearning to find and feel Bryer and God as I did so tangibly that day. I need to get there again so desperately.
So, here I am with the laptop open.
"No pen or quill, no scribe in perfect skill
With flawless words could capture all You are
No lofty thought, no scholar of this world
Could grasp an inch of such infinity
Though we cannot comprehend such a mystery
Just a glimpse of You revealed is compelling us to sing…"
I've yet to share about my Nationwide Children's Columbus 2014 Marathon. I've had much trepidation that I wouldn't be able to summon the right words to match the dimension of the experience. But much like the above lyrics, the glimpse of Him revealed is compelling me to write. TRY to write, anyway. Let's see where this goes.
To God be the glory.
Before I get to the race, I need to back up a bit for this all to make sense. For those of you that don't know me well, I was always considered an "athlete". I was a basketball and volleyball player in high school. And I guess I was good enough to have been asked to play in college where I enjoyed (most of the time) playing roundball for 4 more years at The College of Charleston. After graduation, when I had no more teams to play on or competition in my life, I picked up running. Running became an easy something to do to keep myself in shape, but it also began to fill the gaping hole basketball had left behind. I began going further and further, competing only with myself. It satisfied something deep within and there on some back road bordering Delaware and Licking County in rural Ohio, my love for running was born.
I ran my first marathon in 2004 and was hooked. It became a passion. I could figure so much out on a good, long run. I hashed things out with God. I praised. I unloaded my stress. I took in the beauty of God's creation. I day dreamed of becoming a wife and mother. I spent invaluable time with my girlfriend, Chrissy. When I traveled for work, one of my favorite things to do was lace up my running shoes. Hello Las Vegas Strip at 5am. Good morning Manhattan Beach, CA! Central Park, you are beautiful! San Francisco you are busy and steep. Park City, Utah you are breath-taking…literally. I loved to run. Period.
I went on to run The Columbus (twice), Chicago, Richmond and Paris marathons. There's a reason I am telling you all of this….I promise I'm getting there.
In October of 2008, Justin and I welcomed our first child, a daughter. We named her Remy Pearl. Motherhood was pure bliss and more than I ever had day dreamed. Completely love drunk, I couldn't imagine adoring anything more.
She was 6 months old. I had been having some random but manageable pain, but then one morning I woke up and couldn't move my neck and my elbows were locked up. For the next couple of months, I went to the chiropractor and several other doctor's for the various problems that I thought were unrelated.. I was in the middle of training for the Cleveland Marathon and got up to 20 miles in training only to have to bow out at 13 during the race. I was miserable and it got worse. Most mornings I couldn't get out of bed. It only got more intense. After a few months, I was finally diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis. I had never heard of it before. Have you? By the time Remy was 14 months, my quality of life was pretty terrible. My knees were completely hot, swollen and stiff along with my neck and both elbows. I cried most days. I shuffled into work because I could hardly bend my knees. Turning the steering wheel, washing my hair, pulling my shirt off, picking up my daughter, bathing her, turning over in bed….and the list goes on….was excruciating.
I went from a strong, athletic, independent women to a very dependent, weak, sickly and immobile one. Not only that, but I was losing my ever loving mind. My one stress relief was absolutely not in the realm of possibility. Running? No Way. Therefore, I had zero coping method for what, up to that point, was the hardest time of my life.
It was an extremely dark and trying period. I waded through a lot of muck externally and internally. I went through some ugly stages of bitterness and anger. I had heated arguments with God. I was depressed. I didn't like this new person I had become. I didn't know how to be her at all, let alone with grace. I was bound with fear of what my future might be like should I remain in this state or heaven forbid get worse.
Amidst all of this, we had Sander William in November 2010. A Bright spot:) My RA does better in pregnancy, so I enjoyed the remission. It came back after he was born and to make a long story short, I then got pregnant with Bryer and he was born October 17, 2012.
Everyone knows the year we had with Bryer. By the time he left us for heaven, I hadn't really ran in almost 4.5 years.
The month following his death (September 12, 2013) was The Nationwide Children's Columbus Marathon and Bryer was a Patient Champion at mile 21. Justin had signed up to run it that summer while Bryer was home. With the turn of events and Bryer's death, it was nothing short of amazing that Justin went ahead with the race. Without proper training, he managed to run it in just under 4 hrs. I have never been more proud of him.
I watched the runners that day. I was more than moved. I had been through my own recent war and had entered a new battle called grief. I was so weak and worn, but these men and women, they ran in my place. They ran in honor of my baby boy when I couldn't. They were pushing themselves beyond the limits to honor his life. They were running for children still fighting for their lives and in celebration of those children who had triumphed. And while I celebrated with them, every fiber of me wanted to be out there. Oh, I never have wanted to run a race so badly. I would do anything to honor and celebrate my child.
We got home from the marathon and while Justin recovered on the couch, I laced my up my shoes. I just HAD to run or do something. I made my mind up and set out on a familiar old walking route across Alum Creek Dam. It was the PERFECT fall day. I ran. I hadn't ran in years, but I kept going. The sun was beating on my face. I looked up into the sky and the clouds were lined up in white stripes laid perfectly against the bright blue sky. I love stripes. I smiled. I kept going knowing full well how my mind works: however far I ran out, I'd make myself run back. I ran a total of 5 miles that day. It was glorious. It was to Bryer from me and to me from God.
***I had noticed a reprieve of RA symptoms during the last few days of Bryer's life. Typically, if I had laid down for a long period of time, my body would become painfully stiff requiring me to crack my elbows or knees back to straight. I remember being aware of how fluid my body got off his bed after laying there for hours with him. It is definitely something I took note of, that's how strange it was.****
So it's hard to pinpoint when exactly I started feeling relief from my RA, but after that 5 mile run, I just kept running. Responsibly, not wanting to over do it or throw myself into a flare, I'd run 2-3 miles a couple times a week. It was bliss. Then 3 times a week. I cautiously increased my mileage over the course of several months until one day I tried 8 miles with Bryer's PT and my friend, Kim. We did it…and fast. I couldn't believe it. I think I cried when I got back in the car, finally alone. That was the spring of 2014. By mid summer, I was consistently running 5-6 miles 3-4 times a week. I was so content and beside myself to have running back in my life. It was such a nice companion in my grief. A true gift that I didn't take for granted one second.
Never did it occur to me that I might be able to run the NCH 1/2 marathon let alone the full. Justin signed up again which I was surprised about. So, I just did it one day. I signed up … for the FULL because it was only $15 more. What a deal! ;) I figured I could always just run the half if my body didn't cooperate. And, there was my plan: see what my body allows me to do. Kim signed up and our training began. Oh and I must mention, I went off my medication in June due to it causing hyper pigmentation of my skin. I was turning into a smurf, no lie. So here I am, a woman with Rheumatoid Arthritis, off all medication and training for a full marathon. Probably not too smart.
It was now October, 2 weeks before the marathon. We finished our cold, windy, sleet driven 20 mile training run. Though feeling a bit delirious and I can't say I wasn't hurting, our last long run was in the books. Unbelievable. This meant I was going to attempt the marathon. I was really going to do this. In the parking lot of Worthington Hills Market, I put my head on the steering wheel and sobbed.
Marathon day 2014
All of that to get me to this point. The race! You can understand now how emotionally charged this race was on so many fronts. To have thought the year before as I hugged Justin at Mile 21 that I would have the opportunity to run it myself, I wouldn't have fathomed. Not only that, but I had the best training buddy and friend beside me, another gift.
The simple fact that I was standing in a corral, with a race number across my abdomen, earbuds in my ears and Little Cow tucked securely into my shirt was a miracle. The music, the fireworks, the energy from the crowd, the shirts that championed children who are fighting for their lives or in remembrance of. I was completely bombarded with emotion. Tears streamed down my face and the gun went off for the start. Here we go..
Kim and I are cruising. It's a beautiful day. We are seeing family and friends and lots of signs. My heart is so full. We are seeing other Bryer's Song runners. We are on pace. It was glorious.
Then at Mile 16 Kim started to feel a little funny. We stopped for several minutes. Her heart was racing and she felt light headed. Long story short, after much discussion, which involved a not so helpful police officer, she decided she should get medical attention. She told me to go on. Sigh. I was bummed, but I chugged on. I was now at Mile 18 and I turned on my music for the first time. It was on shuffle. The course and crowd were sparse at this point.
And here's where words won't do justice.
I ran. And I don't know where else it could have come from, but God. But my last 8+ miles were faster than any of the previous. That wall that I have hit it every one of my previous marathons… you know the point where you feel like you might actually be running on broken bones and you are running as fast as you can but it's barely faster than walking? It never happened. I don't want to over romanticize it, of course I felt some pain, but it paled in comparison. AND this was with my 34.5 year old, post 3 kids and RA body we are talking about.
My ears were flooded with music as if it were perfectly choreographed. I remember lifting a hand in praise and worship as I ran through Upper Arlington, the sun brightly peeking through houses and trees. I closed my eyes for moments. I felt like I was in a dream.
"You crush the enemy underneath my feet. You will deliver me. Yours is the victory."
"There's hope in front of me
There's a light, I still see it
There's a hand still holding me
Even when I don't believe it
Even after all I've seen
There's hope in front of me"
The last 5-6 miles…I could FEEL Bryer with me.
See, part of the deep ACHE, no matter what I know to be true in my faith, is the loss of the physical Bryer. My baby. I try to recreate it, find him, but if ever I do, it's a fleeting moment…a scent, a taste, a sound. Then it's gone. But these last miles, Bryer was so near. I wasn't grasping for him either, he was just there. I would squeeze Cow's head right beneath my chin as if to squeeze Bryer's hand. Yea ok, reading this back…it all sounds weird and dramatic. I can't explain it.
I thought about Bryer's own race here on earth and I ran for him. Almost like, the harder I ran and the more I gave could somehow replace his some of his suffering. Futile I know. Oh how I would've taken his pain upon myself. I guess this run was a physical expression. With everything I had, I ran for him. And there's simply no other way to put it, he was WITH me and he was happy.
Then there was God's presence. SO STRONG. I hadn't felt His presence like that since the day before and day of Bryer's death. Thick. Truthfully, I had ached for it as I had ached for Bryer...and they both were there as if I could touch them.
As I ran, I praised the Giver of these sacred moments. This race was a praise offering to my most faithful and loving God. I was completely overwhelmed by God's goodness in allowing me such an experience. I was completely lost in it and most certainly carried by it.
The three of us floated through Victorian Village The crowd got denser as I neared the finish line. I had one more turn to make and these are the lyrics that played into my ears and wrapped around my heart and soul.
The Hurt & The Healer"Why?
The question that is never far away
The healing doesn't come from being explained
Jesus please don't let this go in vain
You're all I have
All that remains
So here I am
What's left of me
Where glory meets my suffering
Even though a part of me has died
You take my heart and breathe it back to life
I fall into Your arms open wide
When the hurt and the healer collide
Sometimes I feel it's all that I can do
Pain so deep that I can hardly move
Just keep my eyes completely fixed on You
Lord take hold and pull me through
So here I am
What's left of me
Where glory meets my suffering?"
And as I turned the corner and saw the finish line, the bridge came on. I ran to the finish line of my race and I meditated on the finish of Bryer's race...the actual moment he finished... as I listened to the following words….
"It's the moment when humanity
Is overcome by majesty
When grace is ushered in for good
And all our scars are understood
When mercy takes it's rightful place
And all these questions fade away
When out of the weakness we must bow
(And as I crossed the finish line)
And hear You say "It's over now"
3:39 19 seconds. Only 4 minutes slower than my best time (ran by a 25 year old, non mother, non RA diagnosis) And I put my time not to brag on me, but to brag on God. That was not me. That was a gift. It could not have happened by my own strength or merit.
I pulled out Little Cow from my sweat soaked shirt and made my way to a white fence where I slumped over in a heap of tears. Emotion came as the all the angles of what had just happened collided. All the parallels. The praise. The reverence. The remembrance. The gift. Bryer's eternity.
And then I cried more because it was over. I wanted to remain in the thickness of God's presence. I wanted to remain in the closeness I felt to Bryer. The searing separation became so evident once more. I had just had a GLIMPSE of heaven. Maybe not with my eyes, but with my spirit. Can you imagine what it will feel like when we are actually standing face- to-face with Jesus in the fullness of His presence? The reunion with our loved ones?
My mind cannot even comprehend the glory, but that day my spirit got just a taste.
I needed that reminder today.
Cow Comfort December 18 2014, 5 Comments
While I was pregnant for Bryer, we knew the baby would need a blanket. Well, obviously. But, I'm not just talking about any blanket. See, Remy has Giraffe and Sander has Tiger. They are made by Angel Dear. A super soft and so darn cute extra layer of love. We wrapped Remy in it, tucked it under her arm and covered her in the carseat with Giraffe. She developed a sweet and binding relationship with that blanket. So that's what we did with Sander and Tiger. Same result, maybe even a touch deeper with those two! These blankets are like additions to the family and completely necessary to their physical and emotional well-being. No exaggeration. My kids never took a paci. But, these blankets…oh boy, these blankets.
So it was a big deal what he would get. But, it wasn't until the day he was born that it was decided upon, and not necessarily by me. I think I gave a few ideas; however, Aunt Kari came to visit and brought us a package. It was Cow, the big, full blanket in all its soft and spotted glory. Ahh, I immediately fell in love with him and I knew Bryer would too. Not so coincidentally, I choose to believe divinely, my cousin Tarah came to visit later. She also had a gift. A smaller one. I opened it and to my delight and surprise, it was another Cow, but a little one. She didn't know we'd received Big Cow earlier. Little did we know how much we would need both Big and Little Cow over the course of the next 10 months 26 and beyond days. But God knew, didn't He? :)
And so Bryer and Cow's friendship began in the NICU at St. Ann's hospital.
Cow was a constant. Even more so than Justin or I. After all, more nights than not, we had to leave him. But Cow never left. Nope. Maybe one would travel home with us for a wash, but Big or Little, Bryer always had one or the other. He was either wrapped up in spotted affection, Big Cow's head nuzzled right between his chin and neck. Or, Little Cow was tucked under his arm with his little head pressed into Bryer's cheek or lips as if to say, "MOO-wah."
Bryer's brain did not work as it should have from the beginning causing many of his issues, and it only got worse as time went on. We knew he could see, but never knew how well. He could hear normally in the beginning, but for one reason or another (that might be for another post) that declined. For many months, he didn't even have the pleasure of eating by mouth and tasting food.
Oh, but he could FEEL.
If only you could have seen his face during a warm and soapy hair wash…or saw how he'd melt into my hands during a massage…or how he calmed when his rear-end was firmly pat…or saw him completely soothed during our skin-to-skin time or when I'd run my fingers through his hair over and over and over. You can imagine and now grasp how and why Cow became so significant to him. A true blue 'er moo companion. A constant, familiar and oh so velvety touch. Of course I always tried to leave my scent on Cow in hopes Bryer would think I was still there with him…. even when I was in bed 35 minutes away:(
And because I knew all of the above to be true. Cow comforted me too.
And now, Cow comforts Remy, who has all but traded Giraffe for him.
It's in this spirit, we wanted to give each baby in the Nationwide Children's Hospital NICU a Little Cow. Some Cow Comfort. Some moo-re love. Some Cow kisses from us to you, "Moo-wah!"
But it gets better... I hope you'll keep reading!
For the 2nd year in a row, Bryer's Song has sold T-shirts leading up to and then after The Columbus Marathon. The first year, we took all of the proceeds and put it towards the rest of the fundraising efforts that went directly to NCH NICU. This year, we wanted to do something a little different. We again raised money in conjunction with The Columbus Marathon which was something to the tune of $16,000! THANK YOU TEAM BRYER'S SONG!!
But, this year, the proceeds from the shirts sold would be earmarked for uplifting, encouraging and supporting medically fragile children and their families at Nationwide Children's Hospital. We would decide who, what & when. Exciting, but also not something we take lightly. We wanted to use this gift wisely and for the most impact. We had been tossing around the Cow idea OR sponsoring a select few families. We were really torn as to which direction to go.
So I asked Justin….I asked my Mom…. I asked close friends and family. And above all, I asked God. I was leaning towards the Cows, so I started checking into some of the details. I decided to reach out via email to Angel Dear in hopes I could possibly buy the cows through them at wholesale price. So, I typed up an email with a little bit of our story…the what and why…and included a link to our blog and FB page.
The next day, I received the kindest response from Kim at Angel Dear. She passed along her sympathy regarding our loss of Bryer and said she had jumped on our FB page and saw the video of me running The Columbus Marathon with Little Cow tucked into my shirt. She then went on to say, "We'd be honored to DONATE 112 Cow blankies in honor of your son, Bryer". What?!?!
God answered and said, "No reason to choose, Dear. Do both!"
This sweet wink from Him said, "I'm still right here in this with you."
So if you happen to be reading this within the walls of the NICU, navigating your way through those very deep and unchartered waters, receive this as a message to your heart as well, "God is with you!"
I pray you will be wrapped in the light of His Presence and that His Peace and the Hope only He can provide would take up residence in your heart on this journey and forevermore.
I pray this over you, Mommy, skin-to-skin with your delicate little someone whose climb seems so steep.
I pray this over you, Daddy, trying to hold it all together, just wanting to fix it.
I pray this over you Grandmas and Grandpas, who carry the heaviness of a double ache.
And oh sweet precious baby, I am praying for you too.
This season is to celebrate and remember: Emmanuel, God with us! This is the essence of Christmas! I pray this truth fills your heart with comfort.