It was a spring day, 1978. I stood on the track at what was then called School of the Ozarks. I and my Branson 8th grade track team faced stiff competition from nine other schools from across the area. My contribution to the team, minimal as it was, involved running three laps around the track, or the 1320, three-quarters of a mile. Back then in Jr. High track we didn’t have the mile run. The 1320 was the longest race available. Since I had only one speed—slow, the 1320 fit me perfectly. However, I never led a race, due in large part to my teammate Ed Sainato, as well as Jeff Pigg from Rogersville, by far the two fastest in the area in the 1320.
I stared up at the clouds. The sun hid itself behind the thick canopy. The wind whistled through surrounding trees on the hillside where the track stood. I held a secret I shared with nobody else. Today, I would lead the 1320. I might not finish the race, but for once I would be in the lead, at least for the first lap.
The gun went off, and I took off in an all-out sprint. I jumped in the lead, running my hardest while everyone else set off in their normal pace to last the entire race. On the backstretch I had increased my lead. I could hear my hard breathing as I stretched out my stride, and the surprised yells of encouragement from teammates. Going around the third turn, I saw a shocked look on Coach Gordon Godfrey’s face. “Go Stone!” he yelled, smiling.
It was around the final turn my breathing suddenly became more labored, and my legs suddenly felt like concrete slabs. I let up from my sprint and tried to relax into a long stride, but my breathing became more forced, and the breaths of fellow runners became more distinct behind me. I managed to finish the first lap in the lead, but quickly around the first turn Ed Sainato and Jeff Pigg flew by me. I finished the race second to last but did win the first lap!
This memory flooded back to me this morning as I walked on Bear Creek Road. I remembered my hard breathing that day forty-four years ago as I consciously focused on taking deep breaths while I walked. I have battled severe asthma for the past 10 years, with several trips to the ER. I am on daily medication and carry a rescue inhaler always. While back then I never even thought about my breathing, today I must focus on taking deep breaths and relaxing.
As I think about it, this asthma is a gift from God. I have tended in my life to go through each day like running that 1320. I go hard and fast. Anxiety and pressure surround me. Many of my asthma attacks have come from a combination of physical activity and mental stress. And Lord knows, life has especially been stressful these past couple of years. I’m sure it’s been for you too.
Asthma forces me to slow down and breathe deeply. When I allow it, I take life as more of a dining experience rather than a rush through a drive thru. By focusing on my breathing, I have noticed I also slow my eyes, ears, and nose down as well. I take in the sights along Bear Creek Road of the trees, birds, and sky. I listen to the calls of the crow and cardinal. I smell the sweet air and Oak smoke from a neighbor’s fireplace. I talk with God and thank Him for the gift of each breath, of life, of family and friends.
With my asthma I’ve learned I don’t have to go out hard each day trying to “win the race.” Instead, I need to take each day as a gift, asking the Lord to lead and guide as He sees fit, and asking Him to open my eyes, ears, and heart to His leading and teaching. Asthma has helped me learn to be more grateful for the little things, hopeful in the hard times, and reliant on God’s grace for each breath of my life.
How about you? How are you running each day? If you are at a frantic pace as I have often been in my life, can I encourage you to stop for a moment and take some slow, deep breaths? While you do, look around you. Notice loved ones, trees, your dog or cat, pictures of long-lost family. Keep breathing slowly and realize each breath, and each day, is a gift from our Creator.