Many years ago, I had an inspiring conversation with one of the wheel chair participants of the Marine Corps marathon. He said that the marathon itself was easier than the training because the streets were cleared and everyone was cheering him on. He had his name on a mini license plate hanging from the back of his chair and runners and spectators rooted for him. If I recall correctly, the man was a veteran with a non-war related injury. When I asked him if he was a runner before his injury he said that he would have never dreamed of running a marathon but after finishing physical therapy he decided to think big with his next goal. Now, he explained to me, competing was such an important and joyous part of his life that he was almost grateful for his injury.
There are many spiritual lessons that can be gleaned from this encounter. The obvious take away is that brokenness can be a harbinger of growth. One is spurred on and emboldened by a challenging experience. We may have heard stories of cancer survivors, for example, who are “renewed and refreshed” in the second act of their lives and boast of truly living after facing the uncertainty of their disease. One friend remarked to me that she cherishes every blessing of her borrowed time.
The lasting learning experience from the conversation for me however was more straightforward; had I not stopped to talk with him, I never would have heard his inspiring story. The story that helps me put things in perspective on the long training runs probably would not have had the same impact if I had merely read about him in the newspaper or seen a short video clip on facebook (although this meeting took place long before facebook) . I am reminded that slowing down, putting down the phone, and truly encountering someone is significant. We are more connected than ever through social media but the technology still falls short of a face-to-face experience. This authentic interactions seem to mean more in the same way that a thank you card beats a thank you text.
God did not choose to stay distant from his people. He did not merely drop a message but come face to face with us, showing us the way. We now know the way and strive to walk (or roll) ever closer in his footsteps.