Those of you who know me know that I love to run.
I started my addiction to the sport in 2009 in the middle of a personal crap storm. Family illnesses, marital bumps, financial problems, job losses, and new, uncomfortable beginnings caused anxiety that resulted in me losing an extreme and startling amount of weight. Those who saw me commented and were concerned to the point of intervention type conversations. Running was a way to leave those problems behind and it actually helped me get healthy again.
Since then, I've had some very clear conversations with God while pounding the pavement and He has used those miles to teach me a lot. One of the most jarring and compelling lessons came to me on a marathon distance run. Those of you who aren't familiar with the term "marathon distance run" might need clarification. A marathon is 26.2 miles of temporary insanity. I laughed. I cried. I sang. I cursed. I've always been the type that encourages others along the way but this particular run had me feeling like a smudge on the bottom of someone's boots.
My knee was letting me know I had over trained a little even on the way to the starting line. Not good. We all stood anxiously awaiting the gun start with enough gear to run a small army... GPS, running timers, phones, iPods... I knew this would be tough but I had no idea what was actually coming. My usually polite and relatively quiet knee began knocking on my pain receptors a little louder at the halfway mark. I foolishly ignored it and by mile 17 it began screaming for attention so we were in trouble when we reached the slippery boardwalk a few miles later. My knee decided to turn it's back on me by locking up at precisely the wrong time and I slipped, falling onto my hands and knees. I couldn't get up with a stubborn, unbending knee. I eventually just laid down on my face staring through the slats of the boardwalk at the water beneath me. It smelled funny. At least 6 miles to go and here I was laying on my face trying to figure out a way to keep the buzzards off me til help arrived to get me upright again. At this point, many runners have nothing left to offer others who might need it. As I finally hauled myself up to a sitting position, another man shuffled past me shouting over his shoulder with the only encouragement he could muster: "If you're not OK, stay down." Simple, yet heartfelt. I somehow climbed up the hand rail and began hobbling the last 6+ miles with tears streaming down my face; I'm not sure if it was pain or pride that caused them but I knew this race had no hope of being a Personal Best for me nor would it even be fun at this point. I was giving up on this race one piece of me at a time starting with an aching knee and sick heart. I wasn't having fun. I wasn't with any of my friends. I had nothing to offer anyone. I was completely running on empty. This is where my new friend Wanda showed up.
Wanda was cruising, showing no signs of pain or fatigue, or temporary insanity. But she stopped, wrapped her arm around me and slowed her pace to help a sister in need. She never told me to stay down or even asked if I wanted to quit. She wasn't going to leave me and never even considered passing me off to the next aid station so she could make up her lost time. Instead she spoke words of life into my empty places. She quoted God's word to me as we shuffled along at a snail pace toward the finish line. During that slow and painful three miles I learned that this was Wanda's first race since she had transitioned from man to woman. In my emptiness and weariness I had no words. I simply listened to her story and drank in the life giving words that she had to offer me. With a mile to go, she showed no signs of ever giving up on me. But that's when I saw my sweet sister, who had finished her race earlier, backtracking to find me. Wanda updated my sister on my situation and promised to meet me at the finish line. And she did. We laughed and cried and thanked God for the gift of new friends.
To this day I struggle to reconcile what happened that day. Here was Wanda, who used to be a man, lifting up a stranger... a physically spent, heart broken stranger who would have probably seen her as a project rather than a person in other circumstances. Any other day I might have smiled politely and veered away. I might have voiced subtle disapproval. I don't know for sure because that's not what happened. God saw fit to empty me of myself and reveal to me my utter brokenness before giving me the honor of meeting someone who was just as broken but also just as loved as I am.
I'm not condoning a lifestyle. Nor am I deciding to never speak Truth to someone who might desperately need it. I'm not even telling you Wanda's story. I'm telling you MINE. This was the day that God rolled back the curtains around my heart and lifted some filters from my eyes. This was the day that God reminded me that you, me, Wanda, the mailman, optometrist, rodeo clown, and school beauty queen is a person; beloved in His eyes. People are not projects. Treating them as such is an arrogance that tends to come before a tragic fall. And you miss out some amazing opportunities at relationship...relationships that are needed for your words to be trustworthy in a broken life. No people are not projects to be invested in for the sake of change. They are people to be invested in for the sake of the Kingdom. My arrogance is unending. If God can use a broken, messy, imperfect, dishonest, ugly sinner like me, why couldn't He use anyone He desires and who am I to tell Him that He can't? Don't misunderstand grace for acceptance. I have fully felt the unyielding torrent of God's grace but I know that He cannot give me His desired blessings until I am residing in His will. But He sure can use my situation. And He can use yours. And He WILL use anything and anyone to bring You to a place of mirroring Him more.
I'm so thankful I met Wanda that January day last year. God's fingerprints are all over every person we meet and I'm so thankful that even gender reassignment cannot erase them.
Amanda Williams is a forty-year old wife and mother of two who can still swing her pony tail and display just a tad of sass. She is also a Jesus loving girl who realizes she is nothing without the One who saved her. Amanda has two degrees specializing in serving students with special needs and is currently working in the field of Leadership Development. She is a Christian author, speaker, blogger, and publisher who loves serving beside her husband at her local place of worship, First Baptist Church of Ocala.