Prayer for a Miracle
One of my favorite pastimes as a grandmother of three beautiful children is reading books to them. The stories teach us important life lessons through the characters, and the time we spend hugging and laughing is comforting. Books are a sure way to get an always-on-the-move child to sit still for a minute and let a love-hungry Nana get some sugar. Reading also bridges the gap for grandparents as we think of the stories our own parents read to us, along with the stories we have lived and the memories we have made. We develop a firm appreciation for the importance of all stories, but particularly our own stories, and we realize the tremendous responsibility we have in sharing these stories – not only with our grandchildren, but with all who will listen. There are messages to be heard, and blessings to be realized.
Some of my favorite words are those of Dr. Seuss, from The Lorax: “It all started way back…..such a long, long time back….”(Seuss np). And this is how I begin my story for all who will listen.
It all started way back…..such a long, long time back. The year was somewhere between 1974 and 1976, which put me between 8 and 10 years old. I lived with my parents and younger brother on St. Simons Island, Georgia. My parents were avid runners. Dad had run track at Ware County High School in Waycross, and Mom was a natural runner, too. They ran road races, and we ran together as a family activity many days. My first road race was the Super Dolphin fun mile, where I won my age group. I vividly recall my mother saying, “I couldn’t believe it. I heard clapping, and I looked up to see who was coming around the corner, and it was you.” Funny how the impact of words can seem so insignificant at the time, but years later they resonate in ways that are most unexpected.
Fast forward and pause here and there throughout life and visit points of rich history that running has played in my life. I ran in elementary, middle and high school for periods of time. My first husband began running and often placed in his age group in his heyday. I continued running intermittently as our children were growing up, but I left the organized running events to others while our children were very young. In fact, my parents and my ex-husband often ran races together. One of my favorite photographs is of my mother accepting an age division award and everyone thinking that the baby was hers. She needed the t-shirt that said, “Assuming I was a normal grandmother was your first mistake.” My mother was young and more fit than I was at that time in my life! Two of our three children ran high school cross country and track, and our son excelled in the sport so much that he went on to run for the University of South Carolina. He fell in love with a member of the team, and they married. At a recent alumni race for all the members of this team, their two year old son was positioned with some of their friends at the finish line to run across with his parents – my son and his very pregnant wife (which means that technically, my granddaughter finished her first 5K before she was born)!
When Mom was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, the doctors told her to continue an active exercise regimen to improve her memory and her health as the disease progressed. Though she wasn’t able to run much longer, she walked to a quick finish in the Sunshine Festival 5K on St. Simons year after year, and on the last year she finished it, Dad looked at me and said, “I’d hate to walk against her.” Her steadfast commitment to health and to remaining active throughout her life inspired me. Then I saw a friend from Pike County cross the finish line, too. Right then, I made the Sunshine Festival 5K a goal. Surprisingly enough, I told myself that I would run it, and I didn’t know where that promise came from or if I could even keep it. What kind of trouble had I promised myself? At that time, I was finishing a doctoral degree with zero time for exercise or anything else except a dissertation, and was significantly overweight. Generally, mothers try to lose baby weight between births of children, and while I had managed to do that over two decades ago, what I hadn’t lost was weight gained between a Specialist’s degree and a Doctoral degree – and I didn’t have an active bone left anywhere in my body.
When Mom died in December 2015, I was heartbroken that she hadn’t lived to see me finish my degree. Education had always been of utmost importance to both of my parents, and while we joke about its incredible importance today, it became a conditional factor of marriage approval between my second husband and my dad before we married in 2008. “Please encourage her to finish her education,” Dad requested. He did. And I did. But the desire to walk at graduation simply faded when I considered that Mom would not be there to see it all happen. And I was 70 pounds overweight at the age of 50 when I became Dr. Kim Haynes Johnson.
What took place after the degree was completed was a change in my eating and exercise habits. My brother and I got Fitbits and began a (sort of friendly) sibling competition to see which of us could meet a daily goal and get the most steps. Soon thereafter, we walked and finished our first 5K course together as adults – the Ugly Sweater Run in Atlanta, Georgia. Not long after that, we challenged each other to run/walk and then progressed to fully running the organized running events we entered. We set goals, and we achieved them. Over the course of a year and a half, I lost those thunderous 75 pounds and began to look a little bit more like my wedding picture again, and I broke 30 minutes on a 5K course.
In between the time that we registered for the Sunshine Festival race and the time that we would run it, Ken and I came up with an idea to start running longer distances and train for a half marathon. We hadn’t picked one out, but we were sure that we would run one soon and started increasing our distances in preparation. I’m pretty sure that’s when my injury occurred. On a long run day, I thought it would be a good sign to run a quarter marathon and be halfway there. It backfired. At first, I thought it was a strained muscle, but the more I tried to run and couldn’t, I became convinced it was Sciatica. Days away from the Sunshine Festival, I began to feel more and more heartbreak each day as I realized that I may not be able to run the one race that set it all in motion. The one race that my mother had loyally finished right up until she could no longer run or walk. The one race that I wanted to run 4 days before turning 51. The one race that I wanted to feel my mother running alongside me, cheering me on, telling me she was so proud of me.
Five days before the race was when I first discovered the injury. Anyone driving past would have sworn that if I hadn’t been human, I’d have been a limping dog with a raw gunshot wound to the left buttock. I denied it, but the pain won at 1/3 of a mile, and I was in tears. With four days to go, the pain tears became tears of anger as I made it ¼ of a mile and succumbed. Three days prior to race day, and Sunday at that, I sat in church with my eyes brimming with tears. I couldn’t talk to anyone. I couldn’t fix the problem. I couldn’t face not running, because it meant so much to me to run this particular race. I considered a chiropractor, but I prayed instead. “Lord,” I said, “I can’t fix this, but you can. This race is important to me. I feel close to my mother there, and I wanted to feel like she was running right there with me. The heartbreak that you know I feel in not being able to run is worse than the physical pain. Please, Lord, you alone can work a miracle, and I need one if I am going to be able to run this race. It means so much to me. Please heal me, and allow me to run the race on Tuesday.”
A feeling of peace prevailed, and I made it through lunch with no tears. I thumbed through Billy Graham’s Angels: God’s Secret Agents and prayed that I would be able to run and that my mother would be right there beside me the whole way – and that I would somehow be assured of her presence. “Our certainty that angels right now witness how we are walking through life should mightily influence the decisions we make. God is watching, and His angels are interested spectators too. The Amplified Bible expresses 1 Corinthians 4:9 this way: ‘God has made an exhibit of us….a show in the world’s amphitheater – with both men and angels (as spectators).’ We know they are watching, but in the heat of the battle, I have thought how wonderful it would be if we could hear them cheering.” (Graham, 164). I continued praying, begging God to take my pain away so that I would be able to run the race. I desperately want this experience of feeling close to my mother.
I asked several key running friends to pray, too, and my pastor. Throughout Sunday, I toyed with the idea of seeking a chiropractor on Monday morning, but decided that sheer faith in prayer was what I really needed. I texted my brother to tell him how disappointed I was at the prospect of not being able to run. He texted back to say that he sure hoped I saw the irony of this pain in my butt, and to remind me that “Mom’s goal was never an outstanding performance – for her, it was always about finishing the race.” As the day ended, I kept praying.
This morning, one day prior to race day, I knew that a lengthy run would be a bad idea, even in the absence of pain. Despite the weekly mileage that I needed in preparation for the race, the rest before the race day is also an important component for any chance of a successful run tomorrow. I had to know, though. I had to know if the pain was still a threat to my race event or whether the Lord had heard the prayers and taken my pain. I set my mileage tracker and stretched. I picked some music and adjusted my earbuds. It was time to find out, and I would know immediately. I looked down the street to the west, took a deep breath, and started a slow jog and then increased to a medium pace. I continued increasing my pace and realized that the miracle for which I had prayed had been granted, and I burst into tears of joy and thankfulness as I ran one mile, then stopped, confident that tomorrow will bring more of God’s good grace – and my mother’s presence by my side as I run. Tomorrow, I will be fulfilling a promise that I made to myself a few years ago to commit myself to a healthier lifestyle and run the race that my mother loved running. Tomorrow, I hope to know for sure not only that my mother is watching over me, but that she is also cheering.An Update with Results:I stepped to the start line with a feeling of certainty that Mom was beside us in spirit. As the gun went off and we started the race, I felt no pain whatsoever. Each half mile was filled with memories of those places: running past where Mom used to watch me play softball in Mallery Park, running where we rode bikes down the streets of our old neighborhood, passing the home where we lived on Martin Street, running past the house where I fell off the roof and broke my arm, running the street I walked each morning and afternoon to and from the school bus, and running past the Dairy Queen (which used to be the Tastee Freeze) where we ate more than our fair share of ice cream. I heard Mom’s voice in my head, encouraging me the entire way. She was saying all the things I imagined that she would say – “Come on, Kimmie. You can do it.” “Keep the pace. Don’t give too much too soon.” “Great Job – you’re almost there.” At mile 3, my brother passed me, and I had nothing left to give to try to stay with him the final tenth of a mile (or beat him, which I would have preferred to do). He broke 28 minutes. I finished just over the 28 minute mark – which meant that in my older running phase of life, this was a PR for the middle age years for both of us. There were blessings for both Ken and me in this race.
The one thing I hadn’t received yet was any communication from Mom that was unexpected or distinctly prophetic. Then, it came in a most unexpected way. When Ken took his dog, Feivel, for a walk, Mom’s dog didn’t like being left out. I couldn’t find a leash anywhere, so I got one of Dad’s neckties, and off Mullie and I went, ambling slowly over to the ball park. One of the current pastimes in many cities across the nation is hiding painted rocks with messages for people to find. As we approached a large oak tree, I caught a glimpse of a bright blue color peeking out of a crevice in the bottom. When I retrieved the rock, I knew it was a message from her. An anchor. One symbol with a myriad of messages for me that can be applied in almost all areas of my life. My prayers were answered on July 4th in the form of miracles. They do still happen!
Graham, B. (1975). Angels: God’s Secret Agents. Dallas: Word Publishing.
Seuss, T. (1971). The Lorax. New York: Random House.