Do you like to run?
You know what I mean—you put on some comfortable, breathable clothing. Maybe use a little Glide to prevent chafing and lace-up a pair of good, supportive kicks. Then step out onto the roadway, path, or track. Sometimes the birds are singing, enticing the sun to peek over the horizon. Other times it’s dark. Silent. You’re the only one stirring, playing catch-me-if-you-can with the dawn.
You place one foot purposefully in front of the other, keeping your stride consistent and even. Pretty soon you fall into a rhythm; your feet no longer seem conscious of their movement. Your heartbeats come faster until they too find their elevated tempo. Arms swing at your sides, elbows bent, moving in synchronization with each heel-strike. Your lungs expand and contract with each breath, delivering more oxygen to your muscles. Your toes push off allowing your other foot to cascade into the next stride. As you move forward, your other senses take in the sights, sounds, and feel of the atmosphere.
Ahhhh, someone is making coffee. Wait, do I smell bacon?
If you can’t tell, I love to run.
It’s where I release stress and allow my mind to go blank. Thoughts may come, but they filter through so quickly they don’t have time to take root. When I’m battling through a challenging situation or trudging through a hardship, running is my favorite thing to do. It stops my thoughts for a while and clears my head. Gives me time to pray and let it all go. And when I finish, I’m better able to attack the situation in front of me.
Running is also my chance to escape and be alone for a little while with nothing demanding my attention or anyone needing anything from me.
Currently, I’m unable to run due to some minor medical issues. To say I miss it is an understatement. My PT knows I’m chomping at the bit and is praying for my non-existent patience. Walking is great and all, but there’s nothing like running.
The thing is, I have never run a marathon. I want to. It’s on my bucket list. But to this date, I have not been able to. I’ve done half-marathons, 10-mile runs, 10Ks, and 5Ks. But that 26.2-mile race is still beckoning me. Challenging me. Taunting me.
My precious friend Ally Bowen, on the other hand, has.
She’s run 3 marathons to date with 4 and 5 coming up this fall; and she’s run 8 half-marathons, not including training.
And you know what?
SHE HATES RUNNING!
I know what you’re thinking because I thought it too: Why. In. The. World. Does. She Run??
First off, let me reassure you, she’s not a masochist.
She has a mission burning inside her heart. A passion that can’t be sated with anything else. A reason she wakes to her alarm at 4:15 am, regardless of the weather.
And second, no forget it.
Why don’t I just tell you Aly’s story?
Did you know $50 provides one child with clean water for the rest of her life? That’s ok, I didn’t either. Not until one winter day when I got up to go to church…
In 2013 our church teamed up with World Vision (WV)
(Learn more about WV here.)
During the services, their representatives shared their mission and a challenge.
WV is a Christ-based organization with a heart for the poor here in the US and around the world. They’re child-focused and dedicated to helping children by sustainably growing their communities, providing education, and building wells for fresh, clean, life-giving water.
Did you know millions of children around the world don’t have access to clean drinking water? I didn’t either. That’s hard to fathom, isn’t it?
Do me a favor, think about all the times you use water through the course of a day. Like me, you may not even be aware of how often you turn on a tap or take a sip. In the course of our day, we take basic tasks such as filling a water bottle, flushing the toilet, and washing our hands for granted because water is not something we need to think about or consider. This is our normal. Let the Lord be praised!
These kids cannot imagine that.
Instead, their normal is to walk an average of 6 miles twice a day to fill a few pots with putrid water for their families to survive the day. The water they gather is dirty and laden with bacteria and other harmful things, but they don’t have any other options. They need water to survive. And, of course, if they’re walking back-and-forth to the waterhole twice a day, they’re not getting an education or learning how to care for themselves.
So WV strives to change their normal. To offer them a better reality and a brighter future.
They do this by partnering with individuals, businesses, and congregations across the country to help raise money to drill wells, build schools, train teachers, and provide medical and dental assistance.
WV also offers child sponsorships, individuals you can “adopt” and build a relationship with as they grow up. Your monthly support offers them everything mentioned above as well as you—a mentor, someone to love them and pray for them as they do this thing called life.
So on that chilly Sunday morning, WV threw the gauntlet down and challenged our congregation to run a marathon (or half-marathon) with them. It didn’t matter if your experience with running was jetting to the freezer for some ice cream, if you were a casual runner, or a marathoner well-acquainted with foot races. Regardless of your experience, they offered training plans and group runs. All you had to do was
- register for the race
- commit to train
- collect donations to help build a well.
And the Crossroads Crazies were born.
After the service, Ally and her husband sat in the meeting to get more information. As she listened, her heart was breaking—for the children and her fractured marriage. As they both filled out the paperwork, committing to the half-marathon, she silently prayed training for and running this race would
- give them a common goal
- help them continue to reunite
- do something good for God.
At that time, she didn’t believe she could ever, would ever lace-up for a full 26.2-mile marathon. No way! She hates running! A half is a stretch. A big stretch. It was the most she would commit to.
Little did she know, God had other plans for her. And her marriage.
Ally took the year off.
She figured she ran her race. I’m done. Great time. Great personal growth. It was a great time of reconnecting with her man. Done.
…don’t you love that phrase? It’s my favorite in Scripture. When you see it, you know there’s a significant turn of events coming. His will is about to be done.
This was a year Ally sought God and His purpose for her and her still struggling marriage. Little did she know it was going to involve putting her running shoes back on.
Once again Ally found herself in the WV meeting after church. This time she was sitting alone in the front row, her husband waiting outside the door. Again, no still, her heart was broken for the children. Again, she was intent on the half.
God was behind the scenes, shoving her out of her comfort zone. Taking her to a place where she would grow. To a place where He would be her only safety net. God was pushing her to do the full 26.2 miles. And she didn’t want to. She really didn’t. All through the service she argued with Him, gave Him every reason she shouldn’t or couldn’t train to run a 26.2mile race.
But as she sat in that room, paperwork in her lap, about to check the box for which race she was going to run He spoke to her heart, “This is a sacrifice.”
Guess which box she checked.
When she emerged from the room, overwhelmed and shaken by what she had just committed to and what God had called her to do—she had to face her husband.
Though he was supportive, he was less than thrilled about the time her training would take from their weekends. From him. From their kids. However, he didn’t stand in her way and figured if she ran this race she would be done, and all this “nonsense” would be out of their lives.
This was Ally’s “Reaching” year where she had to learn to let go of herself and cling to Jesus. She learned what true surrender is and what it means to trust God in the midst of the storm of her tumultuous marriage.
Before WV came to rally our church, to organize another team, Aly got a call inviting her to be a TWV (Team World Vision) captain. “Are you kidding me?” she thought, “My husband is not going to like this.”
Whispered, “Trust me.”
As she discussed this leadership opportunity with him, it became clear he would rather she be home and done running. They both knew he was being selfish, but his feelings were understandable because at this point he didn’t clearly understand why she was running. I’m not sure she had a perfectly clear picture either. She just knew this is what God wanted her to do.
Then he asked her a great question, a question I believe came from the Spirit because the answer she gave him would offer an answer to a deeper, unspoken question: Are you running for yourself or for God?
He asked if she would regret missing time with him and their kids as she trained.
Ally had to walk away from that discussion and pray about her answer. (Which is a wise thing to do in an emotionally charged conversation.) She asked God to give her the words to say and the conviction to speak them.
Later, she told him, “I don’t think I will ever regret anything God has called me to do.”
After that moment he got it! He started to understand God had given her this mission, this purpose, for this season of her life. And she finally felt free to truly embrace her ministry to the kids, WV, and the Crossroads Crazies.
That fall Captain Ally ran her second marathon, in the rain, with bronchitis. To say this was a hard year would be an understatement. From start to finish she learned more and more how to rely on God, how to humble herself before Him, and how to let Him have all of her—brokenness and all.
But that year she got more than a finisher’s medal. She received front row tickets to see “God-in-action.” While she was learning about the faithfulness of God, surrender, forgiveness, and healing; God was working in her husband’s heart, drawing him closer to Himself. All while mending the fractures in their marriage.
Don’t you love that?
God used her dedication and witness to plan the seeds of change in her man’s heart and marriage. Then He made them sprout and grow!
Ally is now in it! Her man is 100% by her side—from the sidelines, lol.
TWV is her mission. Her ministry. Her passion.
Instead of running for God, she is now running with God
She still hates running, but she loves the kids; their faces are what propel her out the door every morning.
That winter Aly was invited to attend the TWV leadership conference in Chicago. How her heart yearned to be there, but it didn’t seem possible with her daughter’s gymnastics competition at the same time.
…did what He does best. He made a way, aligned the schedules so she could do both.
She came home on fire!! Her mission was clear! She could see the big picture and TWV’s cause became hers. Her motto became—“Surprise me today, God.”
She boldly approached people, strangers even, offering her card asking them to give. Some did. Many didn’t. It didn’t matter she was part of God’s work here on Earth. She was unashamed no matter how intimidated or scared she felt. She allowed the Spirit to take over, to build her faith.
And her marriage? It healed. Love and respect increased. Unity was restored. Don’t get me wrong; they have their ups-and-downs as all couples do, but their decision to put Christ in the center of their marriage 7-years ago shows.
Ally’s passion still burns. Her fire still roars inside her.
This year Ally was invited to run with TWV in Berlin! (you might see a twinge of jealousy on my face, lol)
To show how thoroughly God has been working in her marriage, when Ally told her husband about this opportunity, she said—“If you don’t go, I don’t go. I need to have you with me.”
And guess what?!? He’s in!
They’re going to Berlin!
This presented her with a bit of a challenge though, Aly’s still Team Captain. How is she going to run Berlin and then Run the Twin Cities Marathon?
…had the answer: Berlin is your race to run with me. Twin Cities is our race with your team. You will be my hands and feet to encourage our team across the finish line.
This year God also shifted her focus. Before she primarily raised money to build wells, but this year she is also running for child sponsorships. She carries pictures of specific kids’ in her purse and shares them with others to sponsor.
This year her mission is specific names and faces. Children’s eyes she can look into, names she can cry out for as she prays, hearts she can connect with. Her life has changed as a child sponsor, and she’s zealous for everyone else to have the same opportunity and experience.
So this year, instead of a fundraising number goal, she has a goal to connect 30 children with 30 new sponsors.
If you’re interested in Sponsoring a child or want more info, click here
If you want to invest in building a well to bring clean water to a desperate community, click here.