Alisha Ruple joins us today to share what running her race has been like this past year. It has been grueling, yet she is one of the toughest most cheerful people I’ve ever met in my life. My first memory of Alisha was when I joined our campus ministry, Razorbacks for Christ, at the University of Arkansas in 1999. She has so much energy and joy for the Lord, it radiates from her. In 2015 we are both much further along in the race God has set before us, and Alisha has had major obstacles in the last year. She may not have the same energy physically as she used to for now, but her endurance has increased and she is determined to make it to the finish…pulling along anyone who is willing to go with her. We are all praying as she continues to seek God and medical advice in this leg of her race.

“Run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” (Hebrews 12:1) Running makes my heart happy in a way that makes most people sick. There’s a beauty to it, but it can be an ugly beauty. Running is graceful, but sometimes it’s getting-back-up grace. It’s strong, but its strength often comes through weakness. There’s energy, but it can be the most tiring energy. I think that’s why so many people dislike running- all of the contradictions. They know it’s supposed to be this awesome thing. Endorphins and sleek muscles and gazelle-like swiftness taunt them. The people at the front of the race make it look so easy. Instead they’re battling chafing and shin splints and a pace that feels more like “wogging” (walking/jogging- thanks Bonnie Culp King!)

I have run a lot of races. I’ve been racing, on and off, for 21 years. One rule I’ve always had for myself has been “NO walking” in a race. None. I might slow down to the pace of a snail, but I would keep my body in a jogging motion. In a training run, sure, walking is ok. But not race day. I came to the race to run it, and run it, I would. I really thought I understood “running with perseverance.” You keep going. You follow the course, no matter how hard, and you just keep running. It’s the only way to get to the finish, after all. This rule has caused a lot of pain, a few tears, and digging into the depths for the focus and motivation to keep moving. Perseverance.

This year has been different though. This year has been hard. What a very little word for what this year has been. One year ago today, a precious friend died. Fives months later, to the day, I said goodbye to the fourth precious person. Four dearly loved ones, five months. Three weeks later, I started running a fever and having a migraine and being fatigued like nothing in the world. Six months later, I’m still not over it. In the middle of all that death and illness, there have been other heartaches, little ones and shattering ones. It’s been a hard year.

At the start of my illness, I was training for a half-marathon (13.1 miles). You just don’t waltz up to that starting line. You train. I needed to train. Have you ever run with a fever of 102? Probably not. I wouldn’t recommend it. Physically, I was too hindered to persevere any more. I couldn’t run the race I had marked out for myself. So I stopped running, and I missed the race. Races are important. Little heartache.

We don’t get to pick our spiritual race like it’s any other race. Hmm, should I do the Disney Princess half-marathon or the Badwater Ultramarathon (135 miles through Death Valley)? It’s a race that’s marked out for us. We’re just plunked down on the course and told to run. I don’t like the course that I’ve been put on this year. You might not like the race course you’ve been put on. That race she is running over there looks so much better, so pretty, so easy. My track coach taught me to keep my eyes forward. Looking around, especially behind, just slows you down. “Fix your eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before Him, he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of God.” (Hebrews 12:2) Jesus didn’t like the race marked out for Him either. But He persevered. He won! He finished! Keep your eyes on that, not on what other people are doing.

We do get to pick what we carry with us during our race. Back in May, I had no choice about what was hindering me. Out of my control. I had to stop running and miss my race because of what was hindering me. But we get to choose in our spiritual race. We can “throw off everything that hinders.” EVERYTHING! Don’t let something make you stop running with God and miss your race.

I signed up for a 5K last month. I did it to support a friend. Remember that “no walking” rule? Yea, it had to go out the window. And you know what? It was ok. My body was weak, my muscles shook, I was able to run only a little, it poured rain for part of the race. But I did it. I started that race, I kept moving, and I finished. I’ve had to do a lot of wrestling with God this year. How do I run this race He’s put before me when I’m too weak to even run? I surround myself with good cheerleaders, I don’t carry any extra baggage (He knows I don’t have the strength for that. Ain’t nobody got the strength for that.), watch out for the sins that usually trip me up (Watch carefully! Runners will tell you it’s possible to trip on air.), and keep my eyes focused on Jesus. And walking is ok. Just keep my eyes on Jesus and keep moving forward. It’s not easy. It hurts and it’s frustrating and I’m tired. But it’s my race, and races are important! So I’ll keep my eyes on Jesus, and I’ll keep moving.

I’ll get to that finish line, and finishing equals winning.

Alisha at the finish of the last race she's run. Her daughter is showing the excitement of her first fun run. April 2014

Alisha in April 2014 at the finish of the last race she’s run. Her daughter is showing the excitement of her first fun run. Alisha encourages me to run my race with the same enthusiasm.