The clock reads 8:30am and my weather app tells me it is a perfect 70 degrees outside. I choose a t-shirt and black capri leggings that stretch past my knees. My favorite black socks are thick and they hug my feet as I pull them on, tiny blue dots on the heel giving a happy splash of color.

The workout belt I ordered off Amazon fits snug around my waist and I tuck my phone and keys in the zippered pockets. My blue-tooth headphones hang loose around my neck like a necklace because I don’t want to jam them into my ears until I am ready to run.

I get one last sip of water from the tap, knowing that I will spend the next 40-ish minutes out in nature, beneath the sun, surrounded by wild birds, hyper squirrels and hidden hawks. My heartbeat speeds up in anticipation. My legs are twitchy as if they know what is coming.

When I walk past the bunny cage, they scurry around, complaining that my sudden movement has interrupted their grooming time. They look at me, perk their ears and then hop away, uncertain of my sudden movements.

“It’s just me, calm down.” I reassure them.

Rusty, the older one, hops back over to where I am and sticks her head through the cage so I can see her twitching nose, the tiny white hairs studded on pink flesh. She wants a head rub.

Rusty and I both have the same love language, so I bend down, my tennis shoes squeaking, to rub with the only two fingers that fit through the grate. She closes her brown eyes slowly in bliss, and her ears fold back down as she relaxes. Her fur is soft like a velvet patch. She is hungry for attention, for touch, for a little bit of love.

Me too, honey. Me too. 

I smile because she is so innocent. She is a happy bunny in a world that my husband has made so divine for her and Reuben. When I am home, just a simple glance over to their cage makes me feel a little less alone.

“You guys be good. I’ll be back.” I say as I stand up. Rusty’s eyes pop open and she hops away to find Reuben. Once she sniffs the ground, her front paws spread in front of her and she slides down onto the tile, her back feet kicking out behind her in relaxation.

Toby the turtle looks over at me, her eyes bugging. She is already basking in the lamplight and I’m jealous that she got a head start.

While they settle into their morning routine, I am out the door.

The sunlight pierces toward me as I lock the door and prop my shoes on the hood of my car to tie my laces a little tighter. There are a few briars stuck in between the rubber flesh from my last trip across the lawn, so I pick them out and flick them away. I have a bad habit of not untying my laces after I run, and I can tell that the laces need a redo. I remember how my brothers used to do the same, letting their heels press down on the back of their shoes, folding the leather to avoid tying the laces. I smile, thinking the bug has bitten me too.

I breathe the first gulp of fresh air and let the warmth melt into my skin. My chest is high and expectant, opening up to let the day kiss me. It’s not just the temperature that lifts my spirits but the sudden openness of the whole world all around me. There are no bounds above and I am tiny in an ocean of blue expanse, green foliage and tingly sunlight.

Freedom.

At the end of my driveway, I look side-to-side to watch for cars before I jog across to the sidewalk. My first steps are quick and purposeful. I am headed to the trail for a three-mile run and have already started to think about what I want to listen to while I run.

My mood dictates many life decisions by my mood and I often overthink things. I download too many podcasts because I don’t know if I will be in the mood for comedy like Relevant or The Office Ladies; Bible teaching from Lysa Terkeurst, or author interviews. I check out five books from the library and am choosey about reading fiction or memoir depending on my emotional scale. One of my reading goals this year is to read one book at a time, no matter what mood I am in. So far, I have done pretty well, and it has already given me relief from decision fatigue.

Music is also hard to choose because if I have already spent time with God that morning, I rarely crave worship music. If I am in a feisty mood, I turn to female power singers like Carrie Underwood or Kelly Clarkson. If my soul is achy and I want lyrics with depth, I turn to Mumford and Sons, Imagine Dragons or Sara Bareilles.

Today I choose a playlist on Spotify called Love Songs because I am grateful for Kevin. Lately with the roller coaster that is our journey toward adoption, we have drawn closer and his patience and kindness throughout the process continues to blow my mind. I want to think about him, and the first song that comes on is “Hey There Delilah”. I smile because in college I used to playfully sing the lyrics catered to him.

Ohhhh it’s what you do to me
KP
It’s what you do to me.

As I turn the corner to the park, I keep my eye out for hawks perched on the light posts. Sometimes there are two, scouting the fields for wriggly worms or naïve lizards who won’t live past breakfast. Their shoulders are deep red and when they fly, I am transfixed by the grace of their wide wings and precise speed.

My heart swells with quiet peace.

Lord, you are here with me, aren’t you?

I am grateful for His presence, for His gift of life to me today. For a healthy body to move and for energy to burn. I think back to the days where my stomach hurt daily, and I cried through hours of cooped-up cubicle life. Now, with the freedom to work part-time, I am happy for the chance to be outside where my lungs can expand and my skin smiles with each whoosh of the wind. Kevin works hard to provide for us and I remind myself not to take it for granted.

People have told me that running isn’t the greatest sport for my knees and hips, and I feel the tension as I begin my run. The weight of my body clunks along as I struggle to find my pace. My rebuttal has always been that running is the only exercise that rids me of all the pent up energy. Carrel kids were blessed with a surplus of energy; ask my parents, our teachers and youth group leaders. Half of our report cards, (especially mine) said that we were chatty, restless, difficult to settle down and keep in our seats.

The class period after lunch and recess was the worst for me, as I was sweaty from a game of basketball and gulping water to chase away thirst. I would sit at my desk, breathing in the smell of Michigan air still on my clothes. The classroom was a tiny house, and I, a giant. My foot bobbing up and down with the desire to get back outside.

I remember running through the grass as a kid, barefoot and full-lunged, breathing in bursts and chasing after a soccer or football, my little brother’s pursuit pushing me to run faster.

When I passed out on the grass, my legs sprawled and hands spread out like a summer snow-angel, I loved to press my hands in the center of my stomach where a strong beat pulsed. I didn’t know it at the time but it was just blood passing from my heart to the rest of my body through my abdominal aorta. My fingers uncovered a thumping bridge crossing my belly, moving, whispering, I’m alive, I’m alive, I’m alive. 

The trail at the park is a half-mile loop and I run down the slope on one side and then back up the hill on the other side, feeling the burn in my thighs. Once I get to the tree at the top, I slow down and walk for a little while to calm back down. The squirrels are chasing each other up the tree, and some are eating and dropping acorns in my path. I pass under their tree and continue to give my body space to breathe.

After another lap, I notice my shoulders tense up and my breathing grow ragged. I shake my hands out and start breathing in through my nose and out through my mouth.

My neck is stiff so I roll it around and reach down to adjust my runner’s belt so it doesn’t slip up and start bouncing around. I adjust my posture and picture my dad running the same way; chest out, arms bent, head high. He is the model of form in which I liken my stride, when I take the time to pay attention and get out of a slouch.

The park is quiet today like most days, and I am the only one on the path. I follow the curvature of the sidewalk and try to watch out for edges so I don’t trip up. About a month ago, people were practicing on the baseball field and with every crack of the bat, my head jerked in their direction so I could see where the ball was going. I was paranoid that a tiny baseball would fly over the fence and nail me in the head.

Unfortunately, when I took my eyes off the sidewalk, my ankle caught on the grass on the right edge and I tripped forward, scraping my hand and knee.

It took a minute for me to assess what happened before I got up and walked it out, feeling the bruise on my knee deepen into the bone.

That’s gonna hurt tomorrow. I thought.

My hand was bloody circle, the skin pinched up above it. It stung, so I closed my fist and looked back up to stay on course. It had only been a mile and a half and I would be ashamed to quit early because of an embarrassing trip.

So I kept going.

This wasn’t the first time running had been the reason for an injury. Between 2008 and 2018, I sprained my ankles five times. The first time was in Chattanooga at college on a warm April day. I was out on the field across the cafeteria known as “The Greens” throwing the football around with the guys.

A cute boy in a light pink polo and jeans was chucking the ball like an NFL quarterback and even though I had a spring play performance that night, I was too busy falling in love to stay in my room and practice my lines.

I ran out for a long pass and stepped in a small dip in the grass, feeling my ankle pop. I felt the pain immediately and didn’t get up for a minute. Soon, a blur of pink was standing in front of me. I winced and held out my hand. He was a conservative kid and had strict boundaries about physical contact with girls.

I knew this.

But I also really liked him.

He hesitated but when I twisted my face a little more in pain; he cupped his strong hand around mine, his thumb tightening around my thumb and pulled me up. I hobbled around, grimacing but also feeling like I had won the lottery when Kevin Patton had broken his own rules to help me.

That afternoon in rehearsal, the cast prayed over me and my ankle. I performed in the play with no problems and no pain. At night, I held an ice pack to numb the pain, tears running down my face as I thanked God for protecting me throughout the performance.

My most recent sprained ankle was on a beach in Costa Rica the first day of our mission trip. Kevin worried about the rocky surface, as he knew how frail my ankles were.

The beach roared as the teenagers ran around me like beetles, scooting toward the soccer ball on a foreign beach. It was misting, so I had put my contacts in and was enjoying the fresh air after traveling in planes and vans all day. We couldn’t stop laughing and squealing like a herd of pigs let loose in the mud.

I was in heaven.

But as I crossed a bed of rocks in my tennis shoes to get the ball someone kicked out of bounds, my ankle snapped and sent me tumbling to the ground. The teens rushed toward me in concern but Kevin and I both sighed, aware at the reality we knew too well.

As the pain pulsed, the teens helped me stand and wrap my arms around Kevin’s neck as he scooped up my legs, on one each hip. He had carried me off a few volleyball courts and Frisbee fields in the years since Chattanooga.

The fact that I was in Costa Rica and would nurse an injury for the entire week was devastating. But I wasn’t too surprised. I should have been more careful on the beach, knowing my history of four sprained ankles. I had been too eager to run, to play, to live an adventure, that I forgot to channel my inner mom-voice (which is Kevin saying, “Be careful”), and this time it had cost me. Not only would I miss out on activities that week but I would be a burden to the team.

That was difficult to swallow.

I felt God’s grace in a new way that week. The teens graciously encouraged me, and I learned to shut up and not complain. I was grateful for the bags of ice that the staff gave me and the conversations in Spanish that we enjoyed when I hobbled up to the counter for my request. “¿Puedo tener una bolsa de hielo por favor?” I was eager to speak my favorite language, though they were used to tourists and spoke great English.

Running has never been without its damage. The sore muscles, the hip injuries, the sprained ankles, the scraped hands. Never mind the hot lungs, the mental fight to keep going when I want to quit, the tears that run down my face when I am thinking about personal battles and healing wounds with each step. Some days there is pain in my legs, pain in the throbbing muscles down my sides, or pain from the emotional blender that is life.

So I run harder, with determination and focus to not let the pain win.

With each step I take, energy shoots out of my fingertips into the world and I leave everything behind, running farther and farther down the path. I pump my arms and feel my core strengthen. My legs hit the pavement in a rhythm and muscles propel me forward like a leader in a marathon, always looking ahead and never behind.

I am strong.

No, there is no race. Surprisingly, I have no goals. The park is nothing fancy, and sometimes I venture off to another park or beach or neighborhood for a change of scenery.

But my body knows the scene. It surges with excitement when I open the door dressed in workout clothes. The sun hits like magic and I breathe in the sweet air. My body breathes in relief that I am finally giving it time to do what it’s made to do.

Run, Run, Run.

Far and fast and forward toward a future I can’t see until the relief in my chest explodes as I sprint right through it.

And I am free.