Thursday, December 8, 2011

Barefoot Running: Lesson #1

You could say I've been running barefoot.

The last time I borrowed a pair of shoes was in December of 2010. Those shoes of patience slogged across the finish line for an Arthritis Foundation Jingle Bell Run in honor of Jack W. I recall being elated that I was NOT the last person in my age group to cross the finish line.

Then came The Bad Stuff. It's never the "good" stuff that causes us to pause and reassess. I mean, does anybody ever get a nice raise, or achieve a 4.0 in school, or publish a book and react by thinking, "Now, it's time for me to go on sabbatical . . . it's time to examine my shortcomings and reassess"? Oh, perhaps some incredibly successful, goal-oriented folks who aspire to win friends and influence people do this. Mostly, though, The Good Stuff propels us forward, keeps us energized, and we whisper our gratitude into the air, running in cushioned shoes toward the next good thing.

But, The Bad Stuff mercilessly knocks the shoes right off our feet. We run barefoot, scratched and raw, until the pain of it brings us to our knees. The Bad Stuff forces us to look inward, is relentless in its demand that we search for meaning, insists that we understand the lesson in every trial. For my own part, 2011 was littered with lessons, and it seems fitting to close out the year by sharing those lessons with you.

Lesson #1: Colton

Few things are more heart-wrenching than having a child with serious medical problems. I am confident of this. I have experienced it. Yet, it is even more difficult to watch your own child agonize over his or her child. And, it was during such a time late last year that something jerked this blog's entire collection of borrowed shoes right out from under me.

Little Baby Colton, a new grandson, was born at the end of last December. He was precious, tiny, helpless -- and I was so fortunate to have arrived just in time to hear his first little cries. Yet, it was only a short while into his fragile little life that signs of trouble emerged. He would spend the next forty days moving in and out of intensive and critical care units. He was subjected to open-heart surgery when he was less than four weeks old.

Time and time again, I'd see the agony in the eyes of my courageous son and his wife. I could hear it in their voices. Time and time again, Colton would teeter on the edge, I'd ask myself how much agony was enough, and his Momma and Daddy urged and cooed and caressed him back to safety.

But, I saw something else during those weeks that I am unable to explain. I saw this teeny little baby, whose anatomy simply did not support survival -- do exactly that. I recall being mesmerized as I observed what was clearly, plainly, his unadorned will to LIVE. But, there was something more. At times, it seemed, when he surely was exhausted, when even the will of a grown and burly man might have failed, something indescribable happened. It was an underlying force, something even more fundamental than instinct. A strange energy was driving this baby, pushing him, sustaining him. It defied human understanding or explanation. It was, perhaps ... spiritual.

Therein lies the lesson. Over my lifetime, after seeing a sizable portion of The Bad Stuff happening to people, I'd developed what I thought were very practical ideas, carefully crafted opinions, about what is merciful and what is not, about when life has meaning and when it is devoid of meaning. Not only have I had to rethink all those ideas, but I've had to discard most of them. Truth is, life itself has the power to determine its destiny. Life warrants no interference, life needs no other wisdom.

Soon, Colton will be one year old. His little chuckles of delight and loving manner have been the most marvelous gifts. His birthday will be a joyous day! And, in honor of that remarkable milestone, I want to celebrate with a random bloggy giveaway. The prize? A $100 Visa giftcard! Here are the rules.

1. You must write a comment on this blog or one of the coming "Barefoot Running" blogs. Your comment is your entry.

2. The comment must be about you or someone you know who's running barefoot (facing a challenge). Use first names only, please.

3. The comment must explain the lesson you've learned while running barefoot.

4. The comment must contain your email, so that I can contact you if you are the winner of the giveaway.

5. Each entry will be assigned a number. Random selection from this pool of numbers will occur on December 22--just in time for Christmas!

I hope to find lots of comments!

Until next year, I'll be posting about barefoot running lessons, looking for shoes to borrow -- and thinking about the next mile.


  1. A Mile In His Shoes…Gene D. (Part I)

    Gene has faced adversity & life’s challenges every day of his life since Nov. 1998 in which he was admitted to St. Joseph’s hospital with serious complications that included high fever, chills and extremely low blood pressure. Shortly after being admitted, he was rushed to ICU where he was connected to dozens of tubes and machines,. He was at this point literally fighting for his life! He had been suffering from a blood disease for years that could not be pinpointed by hundreds of doctors. He was in & out of the hospital every few months up to this time only to be discharged with no explanations of what was attacking his body and it seemed that each time would be getting more serious than the last. On this particular November day, he hit his all time low! His body started shutting down and preparing to take it’s last breath…the doctors were called to his side and started immediately to try to revive him! They administered several blood pressure meds that were directed to the main organs of his body, this in turn clamped off the blood flow to his outer extremities which left his arms & legs without circulation. He was connected to a ventilator that would breath for him. It wasn’t long after that his feet and hands started to turn a dark color because of the lack of blood flow. His doctors informed me and the family that he would have to undergo multiple amputations if he survived the night. I along with our two kids and other family members despairingly watched as his hands, feet & legs became hard as leather and black as night but were so thankful that he was still with us despite the belief of his doctors that he wouldn’t live through the night. Little did they know there was a higher power at work here. I spent that night sitting balled up in the corner of the waiting room praying that he would still be with us at mornings first light. God did take someone very dear to me that night, my younger brother died at home while I was at the hospital with my very sick husband! At mornings light, the doctors informed me that Gene had made a remarkable recovery during the night. I was able to leave him long enough to go home for my precious brother’s funeral. Gene was taken into surgery where his legs were amputated at the knees, his right hand was amputated five inches above the wrist and his left hand was amputated at the knuckles, leaving only the last joint of his thumb. I can remember vividly walking into his hospital room upon my return and seeing only a piece of my husband lying on the bed where just a few days ago he was a whole person! I immediately felt nauseated! How could we possibly face life this way? But I knew that I had to be strong for him and for our kids and we were ecstatically happy that he was alive!

  2. A Mile In His Shoes…Gene D. (Part II)

    The doctors came in and talked with us and explained the procedures of the surgery and the reason for leaving the nub of his left thumb. He said “Gene you will be surprised at what you can accomplish with just a nub for a finger” and through the years, we have definitely discovered what a significance that statement has made on Gene’s life as far as being able to accomplish some of life’s simple tasks. Gene was scheduled for therapy every day for a month and then was admitted to a therapy hospital upon being released from St. Joesph’s. Here he was subjected to amputation therapy and fitted with prosthetic legs and told that it was up to him. He would not even contemplate the thought of never walking again! He was dedicated to his therapy time and continued to improve a little every day. While in this hospital, he became an inspiration to several of the other patients who were going through their own tragic traumatizing amputations. His encouraging words and persistence to walk again and his faith to know that he would, gave them the strength & courage they needed to push forward. The kids and I were overjoyed when we saw the improvements he was accomplishing with every visit that we made! After only two months of in-house therapy, he was released to return home. At this point, he had been away from home for over four months. He returned to find that the church family had pulled together and built a wheelchair ramp to our home entrance and were very supportive to him & the family. He is truly an inspiration to his family and several individuals to this day. He never gives up on anything he tires to accomplish and he actually accomplishes jobs that would be a challenge to a normal person. He walks three miles a day on a treadmill, he hunts, he plays with his grandchildren, he tends his garden, he operates his tractor, his lawn mower and he embraces each new day with the “let‘s see what I can accomplish today” attitude. His first thought every morning he awakes is “Dear God, please give me the strength and ability to do the things I need to do on this day! He is truly a blessing and living proof that God continues to work his miracles even after the doctors have given up! Even though he & I are no longer married, we have remained close friends and always look forward to spending time with our kids & grandkids. I find myself at times having to seek his help with things that I can’t do myself, things like car repair, plumbing, and etc…and every time he gets the job done like a piece of cake! I don’t think there is anything that he can’t do! His family has an unabounding amount of love and respect for him and we are greatly appreciative to God for allowing us to keep him in our lives for a while longer! I’ve learned that my complaining of leg pains is trivial compared to what he endures every day of his life. I’ve also learned that if we would take the time to look around whenever we are complaining about our aliments, we would indeed see these awesome individuals that face life’s challenges on a daily basis with gratitude and we would realize how blessed we are to have the bodies we have. Gene we love you dearly and encourage you to keep the faith and strive to push forward.

  3. The above comments were posted on behalf of Anna B., whose email address is

    Anna, your story takes away my breath. I can see you've poured your heart into the telling of it. Thank you for putting forth so much effort. I'm going to keep Gene in mind, and one day, I'll be borrowing his shoes.

    Your two posts together have been assigned the number 1 for the drawing. Good luck!

  4. Chris, I am running barefoot right now. Well, my whole family is. I was blown out of my shoes when I got the call on 10/21/11 that my baby brother only 30 was killed in a car accident. I am walking blindly trying to figure out why. Why would our precious heavenly father take such a young soul with 4 of the most precious babies you would ever met. A wife who loved him more than anything in this world and a family that loved him and need him. How will I be able to make sure his children know and remember what a wonderful person he was, that they never ever forget. How do I deal with the quilt of knowing that I didn't spend enough time with him, tell him I loved him one more time? I walk in circles, making sure everyone is ok, that no one has to worry about anything this his big sister will take care of it. I will be here for his children, love them, kiss them, because he can't anymore. He was one of a kind, I cry everyday, just as I am now. I am not sure if the lesson I have learned through the past 2 months is the lesson intended. But so far I have learned not to take one day for granted. Tell those in your life that you love them everyday. Make sure you are present in their lives. Make each moment count, life is to short. I know one day I will see him again and if I have to, I will walk barefoot until that day. I know he will have shoes for me.
    trishbrittingham at gmail dot com

  5. *the date is wrong* I meant 10/31/11.

  6. Dear Trish,

    My heart just aches for you. The loss of a loved one is devastating. But, it seems to me you have learned the most important lesson from this challenging time in your life: anyone we love can be snatched from us in the blink of an eye. The most ugly truth of this life is that once a person is torn away from us in death, there is no hope ever of making things better, no second chance to convey apologies for past hurts, no opportunity to make up for lost time. Every contact we have with our loved ones should be approached as if it is the last time we have a chance to let them know we love them.

    When I look at what you've written about your brother, it seems to me he MUST have known the depth with which you admired and respected him.

    Permit yourself to grieve now, whenever your heart demands it. Your brother's children will treasure your role in their lives as one of few who looked through the window of his childhood and watched him become the honorable man he was. You will have many lessons to teach them, Trish, many wonderful stories to tell, and the road to healing will be bumpy. Your brother would want you to be wearing some new shoes as you travel along.

    Thank you for writing. Your comment is entry #2.

  7. I am running barefoot right now, attempting to deal with my husband's addiction to pain pills. In the year I have known about it, I have been in denial, come to terms with it, and tried to help him, though sadly, it doesn't seem as if he wants the help. I have issued an ultimatum that he get straight or the kids & I are leaving, though I can't seem to make myself go through with it.

    Next month I will embark on a new journey in my life as I return back to school to persue a nursing degree, all while working fill time and raising my 3 children. I know in the long run my hard work & dedication will pay off because I will be able to find a job making more money, and making things easier for my entire family.

    Thank you for sharing your running barefoot moment so that each of us can learn from each other. Your grandson it just adorable!

    My email is

  8. You're all making me cry. *sniff*

    And, just for the record, Momma C... I think you're pretty darn amazing!!!

  9. Dear anonymous,

    Dealing with the addiction of a loved one is, as I overheard once, "the hardest thing you will ever do." The most difficult aspect of your challenge is to accept that, as much as you want to, you can do absolutely nothing to help your husband. If anything spurs him to want help, it will happen only when he feels that his addiction has cost him everything. The frightening fact is that often, by the time this happens, friends and family have reached a limit with the addict, and realizing that they, themselves, are on the brink of destruction, draw a line in the sand, separating themselves from the addict for their own sakes.

    But, you CAN help yourself. If you are not getting professional assistance to work through this -- and that is assistance just for YOU -- please consider doing so. When one is in a relationship with an addict, the toll exerted on his or her emotional and psychological health is immeasurable. There are many 12-Step programs and certified addictions counselors available in most communities, whose services focus on the families of addicts. Since chemical addiction knows no ecomonic or social boundaries, you may find some comfort in these one of these groups as you observe those who have been successful in overcoming this challenge.

    Your road is a long one, anonymous. It may, in fact, wind its way through the rest of your life. I see that with the forethought and courage required to take on a new career, you will be prepared to handle the next turn. But, you are going to need a new pair of shoes. You'll need something cushioned for the long trip, but something that allows you to stop, to move slowly, to focus on one step at a time.

    Thank you for sharing your struggle. My heart goes out to you. This morning, I will think about you and Trish as I cover another mile. Your comment is entry #3.

  10. I have been running barefoot for over three years now. I am a though cookie so being barefoot hasn't been as painful as watching my three children suffer through all the trauma. My girls are only 27, 23, & 22 which may seem old to some but in their short lives they have had to deal with their two beloved grandfathers dying in '96 & '97 then I had a heart attack in 12/4/97. On 10/6/08 my husband was diagnosed with end stage renal disease and began dialysis 3 days a week. In Feb '09 I found out I was loosing my teaching job due to cutbacks. In Aug of that year I found out that a dear friend in my hometown was in need of someone to stay with her at night due to advanced breast cancer. The girls and my husband insisted I go. I stayed with Sandra from Aug until Nov. One weekend while my family was visiting me my husband became very ill. We rushed him to the hospital where he was diagnosed with MRSA in his right foot and his mitral valve. He was treated with antibiotics but finally had to have his right leg amputated on 2/6/10 then a week later he had to have mitral valve repair, then 3 weeks later while I was on the road returning from my friend Sandra's funeral, he had a GI bleed and came ever so close to dying. The rest of 2010 was spent trying to get him better with lots of rehab. On Oct 1st we were blessed with the birth of our first grandchild, Mason. He has been our shining star! Then in Nov of '10 we found out my husband had a new staph infection on his mitral valve which required IV antibiotics 3 days a week. We had planned to have Mason christened at the church in my hometown on Dec 26th. My husband insisted that we go. On Dec 31st while we were heading back to Atlanta we got word my husband had had a major stroke. We rushed to his bedside to find his left side was useless and he could barely speak or swallow. After months of rehab we brought him home in March 2011. He requires a lot of assistance but the girls have been with me all the way, plus my wonderful son-in-law, my husband's family and my dear friends. About two months ago I convinced the girls to get their own apt and to start living "normal" lives. A week ago I went to see my family dr. I had been feeling really tired and dizzy a lot but had not gone to the dr because our Cobra insurance ran out in Jan '11. Much to my surprise, my family dr called me the next day to tell me that he was very concerned that I might have CLL, Chronic Lymphacitic Leukemia and he wanted me to see an oncologist which I did this past Wed. The dr was nice and reassuring. He did confirm the diagnosis but told me it was a very treatable and slow moving form of cancer. I quickly gathered information on the cancer and my very kind family dr helped me apply for an insurance provided by the government for people with pre-existing conditions. If I qualify for this it will begin on Jan 1st 2012. This will allow me to get the future testing to determine what type of CLL I have and what stage it is in. I am not afraid, truly, but I worry about the impact on my girls and my husband. They have had to endure more than most adults have every had to experience. Being a true optimist, I focus on the positive and know that many, many others have had lives much worse than mine. What I wish for my daughters is that they take these trials they have endured and use them to be warriors for their various life experiences. I don't want them to worry about me or their dad. I want them to be normal and I want to be treated normally. What will upset me the most is if people start to look at me with pity! What I have learned through all this (and this is the hardest lesson) is that I must ask for help, which I hate! I am by nature, the helper, not the one who needs the help! I also know that instead of focusing on the hurdles ahead of us, I am going to learn how to be a long distance hurdler! I am going to don my tennis shoes and start jumping, ok, maybe just walking with an occasional skipping!

  11. Momo,please post your email address, so that I can assign your comment a number and contact you if you win the drawing. Will write more later....


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