Editor’s note – this was written a few years ago when my dad received his “original” diagnosis of Parkinson’s. While the diagnosis has changed, it still describes my feelings as I enter into this journey alongside my dad.
02 September 2005
“He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength.
Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted;
but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.”
Isaiah 40, v29-31
“God made me fast and when I run I feel God’s pleasure.” Those were the words Eric Liddell used to describe his God given running ability. As a runner, I understand those words. I am not fast, and will never be an Olympic athlete like Eric Liddell, but I do know what it feels like to be consistently steady over the miles. I can consistently run an 8 minute mile over 8, 12, 15 mile runs. And as I run, I do feel God’s presence next to me, running every step with me.
After a 12-year hiatus from running, I decided to get back into running. The kids were old enough now to stay home by themselves while I was out. it didn’t take long to find my stride again. Once the running shoes were on and I hit the paved trail around Lake Calhoun where I was running, my stride came back immediately. It was as if the 12-year break had never happened and I was back into my running rhythm. It felt good.
In my 12 mile run is a 2-mile section of hills and I generally run this section at the end. Sometimes those hills seem to come one right after another, sort of like labor contractions as one nears the end of labor. Depending on which way I am running, they can be extremely steep – one hill seems like a mountain due to the steepness of it. When I hit those hills, I am tired and my legs are beginning to feel like dead weights, but because I have learned to lean into the hills, I soar – I run and am not weary. It is as if the LORD is helping me run up those hills. When the wind blows, it feels like God is wrapping his arms around me, pushing me up some of the steeper hills.
It is a great feeling.
As I have continued to run longer distances, I have noticed that when running hills, you learn lean into the hill. When I do this, an amazing thing happens. My stride lengthens and strengthens and I actually expend less energy to get up the hill. The same is true with the winds and storms of life. It is a balancing act with each hill having its own unique feel, which requires a different amount of lean. This is something that one learns as you run and a fine act of balance – determining where the stride works with me not against me.
Once you hit that balance – you just know.
It is a running thing.
On the flip side, running down a hill is not as easy. All of the pounding and pressure is sustained in the Shinbone up to the knees. Unlike riding a horse, another of my passions, where you let the horse choose how to go down a hill, thus reducing the strain the horse has on its legs. Unless of course you are Jim Craig in “A Man from Snowy River”, my all time favorite movie and you watch horse and rider dive down the side of a mountain! I have seen this movie hundreds of times and every time I sit glued to the screen when Jim Craig spurs his horse on and together they dive over the side of a mountain. Jim Craig is almost lying on his back as they jump down the side of the mountain. It is an amazing thing to watch, but I digress. Running down a hill is not easy!
I have learned much from running, especially as I have increased the distances. Running takes a discipline and consistency that doesn’t come naturally for me. I have learned to run through pain (a pulled Achilles tendon), in inclement weather (the torrential down pour that caused me to slip and pull my Achilles).
Running requires an endurance to continue when one feels like quitting. This type of endurance has helped me in other areas. And I sense that God is using my running to prepare me for the ultimate endurance race. This one will be just as challenging physically, mentally and emotionally, if not more so as any marathon I might run. This race is the one to help my dad finish this life strong. He has just been diagnosed with Parkinson’s. I pleaded with God for it to be anything else but Parkinson’s, – but God, in His wisdom, mercy and love, has chosen not to grant this particular request.
The road leading to this diagnosis began in July when I found myself in Nebraska rather unexpectedly by human standards, but planned by God. It was at this time that I noticed substantial changes in my dad’s gait and balance. I wasn’t sure what to think at the time, but once back in Minnesota and out for one of my long runs, I began to ask God for insight. It was almost like God was whispering in my ear “Parkinson’s disease.” I basically said, “No it can’t be Parkinson’s because he doesn’t have any tremors.” I just shook it off and kept running. But once I got home, I fired up the computer and did some searching. When I typed in my dad’s symptoms, Parkinson’s was one of the first things to appear and as I began to do more research I found out that 1/3 of those diagnosed with Parkinson’s do not have any tremors.
Once again I began to pray for more wisdom with respect to what the next step should be. It was around this same time that I was talking with a friend of mine about my dad and my concerns. Her dad has Parkinson’s and she referred to his walk as the “Parkinson’s shuffle.” Suddenly the lights flew on in my brain and I knew that God was in the process of preparing me for what was to come. I knew that ultimately, the doctors would say that he has Parkinson’s and my time of grieving what has been and what is to come began. Others told me not to put the proverbial cart before the horse, but I knew and God knew what was to come.
Then began the process of calling clinics and making an appointment for my dad to see a neurologist. The appointment was finally set for late November, when I received a phone call from my dad’s GP, Dr. Quick. My dad went in to see his doctor because he wanted to know what was going on within his body – this was very encouraging to be because in July and August, he seemed resigned to accept what was going on as “Just a part of the aging process.” His fight was coming back. Dr. Quick, upon examining my dad made the initial diagnosis of Parkinson’s. When I heard the words come out of both my dad’s mouth and his doctor, at that point I really wanted to be wrong in all of my research – one of the few times I have wanted to be wrong. The words sounded so sterile and I wanted to shout “No, anything but this.” However God has been working through my emotional roller coaster and I was able to talk with my Dad’s doctor very matter of factly. (Thank you Lord).
I am thankful that I have been had these past 15 months to run. It is during these runs that I have met with God and wrestled through hard issues. I have learned to listen to God and to gain His perspective on things and I have released dreams and other things to Him. So when I heard the diagnosis that my dad is in the initial stages of Parkinson’s disease, I was able to say to God, “Let’s Roll.”
Today as I was running, I was seeing some of the fall colors coming out – brilliant reds and gold’s. It is the first indication that summer is beginning to fade into fall with its bright colors and personally my favorite season. It is also a time of changing seasons in my life. Once the daughter who needed to be cared for and now becoming the caretaker for my dad – a change that indicates a rite of passage, but not one that I was planning to come so soon. God, in His goodness, has given me 6 weeks to begin to adjust to this new role and with His grace; I will be able to continue to walk this new path He has laid out.