The following excerpt is from my creative nonfiction work-in-progress.
. . .
It was dusk when I laced up my running shoes on the trails behind campus.
These trails were almost more familiar than my own breath now, winding in irregular circles around the field like a bowl of water swirled by fingers. Tracing them was tracing the knotty twists in my own story—as if walking them one more time would bring me the answer I so desperately sought. But what even was that answer? I had to admit, I didn’t know. Maybe being rescued? Surely, there was someone in heaven who cared enough to take away the pain that I couldn’t seem to shake.
It was soul-deep.
Alice had told us it would be this way. Writers, who had melancholy souls, always carried away a sort of brick in their back pocket. I had at least three by now, and they were too heavy to carry around anymore. If there was nobody who could rescue me, then I didn’t know how I’d keep living.
It was the magic hour on campus. The sun began to fizzle out below the dry weeds, casting the whole field in a rich gold, and I shoved earbuds into my ears deeper than they were probably meant to go. As long as the lies and thoughts rolling about in my head went away, that was all I was looking for. On came Matthew Perryman Jones’ vibrant anthem.
Into the land of the living
Black bleeds orange into blue
I am coming to life
Light is breaking through
I can hear the bells in the city
Across the ancient shore
I am ready to fight
Let down the scarlet cord
It’s time to shed this masquerade
More than anything, I wanted to feel something right now. For all Christians’ talk about the supernatural power of God and his ability to remake us, I had never experienced anything like it. Charismatics saw God’s supernatural healing, but I didn’t. Why was this? It sure wasn’t for any want of faith or fervency. Jesus just hadn’t decided to heal me like that. And until he did, I somehow had to figure out how to keep on living in the body I’d been given.
No, you cannot love in moderation
You’re dancing with a dead man’s bones
Lay your soul
On the threshing floor
The earth thundered with each step along the road until I couldn’t help myself anymore. I needed to move, and I needed to move fast. Maybe I could try running again. I hadn’t been able to run at all, due to the seething muscle pain that surfaced this year from somewhere under my right rib. Could God heal me tonight if I begged? Even as my feet started to catch up with my pulse, I feared holding onto any shred of hope that might have the power to crush me if it turned out to be foolish. But what did we have besides hope?
I heard the distant battle drum
The mockingbird spoke in tongues
Longing for the day to come
I set my face, forsook my fears
I saw the city through my tears
The darkness soon will disappear
And be swallowed by the sun
Breathing in sync with my feet, I ran faster and faster until I almost escaped my body entirely.
Please, God, I cried. Please…
I believed in healing, prayed for healing, thought I almost felt healing as my rib cage was relaxed and at ease. Pound, pound, pound. Heart and feet, heart and feet further on down the road…
Then it got to me.
The sharp, familiar pain shot through my psoas muscle, causing my right foot to trip a little. I almost turned my leg, so I slowed to a stop and bent over with hands on my knees. God, I can’t take this anymore! I wept, collapsing onto the pavement. Running was the one outlet that released all the stress, all the tension and fears and pain, and now this gift had been taken away.
I yelled, thrusting my fist onto the ground, which caused the fatty part of my hand to throb. I almost cursed with one of the words that appeared in “Jesus, Jesus” because now I knew exactly how that songwriter felt.
It was as near to the end as I’d ever come.
Cheekbone resting against the warm blacktop, my breaths came slower and slower, filling the diaphragm with air and then pouring back out into the night. Gazing at the weeds from eye level, I focused my vision on the tendrils that lined the road—each piece unique from the one twisted around it. For some reason, I felt around for my phone with a sudden urge to pen something on Instagram. (Sometimes writing an honest thought and sharing it with the world was the metaphorical rope I needed to pull myself back up and feel human again.) I snapped a photo of a wheat tip, backlit by a pinkish-orange sky that looked divine and scribbled down a prayer of exhaustion.
“Why does He tarry? And why does He allow us to? Some questions have no answers—his ways are always so maddeningly and mysteriously higher than ours.”
I don’t know that it was trust. It was at least surrender and maybe more like resignation. But it was a form of acceptance nonetheless that wrapped around me warmly like an embrace. I lay with my cheekbone flat against the warm pavement and, there on the bike trail, slowly started to come back to life.
Believer – Imagine Dragons
Land of the Living – Matthew Perryman Jones
Come Back Soon – Andrew Peterson
Beautiful Things – Gungor
. . .
Bailey Gillespie works as adjunct faculty and Director of Academic Engagement at William Jessup University. She lives near Sacramento, California and loves connecting with people over wellness, faith, and the arts. Her writing has appeared on Voice of Courage, The Rabbit Room, and Real Hope Rising. Read more at baileygillespie.com or follow her on Instagram and Goodreads.