The Summer I Ran

I'm not much of a runner. I often think about it – how cool would it be if I could run like Forrest Gump?!  

There was one summer though – I was a runner. It was the summer of 2005, the only time in my life I've run consistently for months. I was kicked out of a Christian volunteer program for starting a relationship with one of my male housemates. And since fraternizing was frowned upon, the Program Director removed us from the program and city, as soon as he found out. The very next day, I was put on a plane to return to my family in NY.  

You see, I'm a good girl who follows rules. Growing up in a conservative church didn't allow for anything but perfection. I was hard on myself. This incident was the first major time I broke the rules. Needless to say, I had all this emotion and energy I didn't know what to do with.  

Knowing I wasn't much of a runner, I had to figure out how to keep a pace that would allow me to run for a good length of time. I would drive to the local park to run on top of the nearby dam's flat surface. Not too fast, just a steady jog. I was easy on myself. I knew if I pushed too hard, I wouldn't keep going. And I needed to run. I needed to sort out everything that had just happened – it went down so quickly. I didn't even know how to articulate my situation yet. So, I started my running journey.

Shortly after, my partner-in-crime and I made plans to meet back up in Atlanta. After a few weeks in ATL, he asked me to move with him to his hometown of Spokane, Washington. With plans to get engaged, I said yes, packed up all my things, and drove across the country with him. Long story short, he broke up with me two weeks later. I thought I loved him, but turns out – he took advantage of me. So, I continued running.

I had already landed a very cool job in Washington, and decided I wasn't going to run home with my tail between my legs. Pride kept me there. But humility saw me through. And thankfully, I kept running, almost daily, right through the fall. Then, the Spokane winter was just too freezing for a novice runner to keep going outside. But by that time, I was able to talk about what happened with a lovely circle of support. Turns out my mom had a cousin living nearby who ministered and mentored me. It was transformative.

In fact, I am experiencing another transformation today. For many years, this story has made me feel shameful and embarrassed. I have told people in person, but have never written about it publicly. Thinking about Kevin's recent messages at Mosaic, I find comfort knowing God is not looking for private perfection, but a journey of Divine union and transformation. And that truth has set me free. I don't need to strive to be that "good" girl anymore or feel shame when I make mistakes. I just need to be in union with God. And sometimes that union looks like running on a dam, in the middle of nowhere.

I might never be a runner again. But keeping the pace - like with running or in my relationship with God - is what helped me through the hardest time in my life.

-Jennifer Pelham Lawrence