Caroline Kelly had to face the pain of her dad's illness while caring for young children and felt like she couldn't cope until God gave her an unexpected gift.
The week had started out strong, but a visit to my parents to take my dad out for coffee hadn’t gone well. Alzheimer’s is a thug. It muscles its way in, takes up space and gradually shuts down the volume of personality; aggressively tearing down memories of children, grandchildren, holidays and events. It steals the joy of a shared private moment, scourging the brain of the ability to make and follow a conversation. Alzheimer’s coupled with vascular dementia is awful.
I left demoralised and with the feeling of having become the parent. Having a parent trusting you to take care of them when it should be the other way around is uncomfortable.
I huffed and puffed as I put my gym gear and laptop down next to my husband at his desk, it took me exactly five minutes before I announced: “That’s it, I’m going for a run.” And out it all came; the emotion, the anger, the acknowledgement that this feeling of weighty gloom wasn’t hormones, wasn’t a late night, it was sadness. I was sad and that was ok.
With nothing to distract me, just the pounding rhythm of my feet and the sound of my breathing, I let it all wash over me. Just half an hour of what some might call mindfulness or meditation, but what I call silent prayer. And not always silent. If God truly is who he says he is, then those thoughts, those emotions – those unvoiced fears and frustrations, they form as much of your prayer life as your morning reflections. More than that they are, I believe, equally as powerful when directed to the King’s throne.
“So let us come boldly to the throne of our Gracious God. There will we receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us.” Hebrews 4:16. This is one verse in a whole chapter of promised rest for God’s people – even for your restless, angry heart.
As soon as was humanly possible all sporting and exercise came to a crashing halt, thanks to the shinier offerings of parties, friends and alcohol.
If you know a runner, you’ll know they will NOT stop talking about running. Like so many sports, there’s almost a religious quality to the worship of putting one foot in front of the other. While I relate to that, it’s not how I view my running. Not as an idol to be worshipped, but instead the most unlikely gift I could ever receive. On a par with my husband receiving a briefcase for his 15th birthday – unexpected and somewhat baffling.
Out of my window right now, I can see the green freshness of the South Downs. Packed with trails to run, woods to explore and coming to an abrupt halt at the edge of the cliffs, I love this part of the world. But my 12-year-old self would beg to differ. Packed off to run the hills in PE, we shivered and plodded our way up steep, flinty ascents, fell down rabbit holes and frequently got lost. As an unfit, slightly overweight, shy kid – I loathed it. Coming last every time was a weekly humiliation I dreaded. It felt tortuous, unnecessary and downright cruel. Even the encouragement of a kind teacher who mentioned she admired my determination to finish, did nothing to lift the mounting fear and anxiety of Tuesday morning PE.
As soon as was humanly possible all sporting and exercise came to a crashing halt, thanks to the shinier offerings of parties, friends and alcohol. Flash forward a couple of decades and I was standing on a bridge in Geneva and looking out across The Arve river crashing and twisting its way over rocks and boulders far below me. It was probably around March and spring hadn’t quite sprung, there was a dampness to the air and I was shivering. At home my newborn was probably grizzling for food, while my toddler runs amok. I was depressed and for the briefest of seconds I thought how nice it would be to not exist.
God has given running to me. He’s healed the shame. He’s restored my dignity and he’s given me an outlet for all that life throws at me.
Then I run on, determined to finish week two of Couch To 5k which, by the way, I hate pretty much every second of. Weeks later I’m laughing and running with friends who keep me accountable to weekly meetups. Months later I enter my first race, years later I complete the London Marathon. I am an actual runner. And as I reflect back today after that angry, mental health run I think about that journey. From the kid full of shame about their body, to the new mum feeling overwhelmed on the bridge and I realise – God has given running to me. He’s healed the shame. He’s restored my dignity and he’s given me an outlet for all that life throws at me.
"So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him." Matthew 7 verse 11.
If you’d asked what I wanted, I would never have asked for running, but in that silent prayer for help, that’s what He gave me. He’s the perfect example of a Father and while my own dad fades, I know I’m kept safe in the palm of my Heavenly Father. So here’s the challenge. If you pause to reflect for a moment, what unexpected gift has God given you? Maybe it’s a person, a skill or a hobby that has totally changed your life for the better. I’d love to hear about it.