“Piece by piece, I re-enter the world. A new phase. A new body, a new voice. Birds console me by flying, trees by growing, dogs by the warm patch they live on the sofa. Unknown people merely by performing their motions. It’s like a slow recovery from a sickness, this recovery of one’s self.”

Toby Talbot

Caroline Phillips, Pastoral Care

Seventeen years ago I found myself at a crossroad. I had moved home to Alabama after living for three years in Miami.

I went to Miami through the Presbyterian Young Adult Volunteer program after college and wound up staying an additional two years serving at a multicultural United Methodist church leading a youth group and starting an after-school program. I left Miami and a job I really liked because ultimately, I did not think I wanted to settle there, and felt if I didn’t move then, I might never.

I wasn’t prepared for the grief that I would encounter when I returned home to Alabama. After years of living and working in a multicultural setting, coming home felt jarring. I wasn’t quite sure how to process it all, and I wasn’t sure where God was leading me next.

I started taking some classes at the University of Alabama towards a master’s in social work and quickly discovered my heart was still in ministry. As I began to make sense of my experience in Miami and the loss of leaving this place that had been so formational in my faith and ultimately my vocation, I took on a new hobby that seemed to help.

My decision to take up running was random at best. I was looking for something to do, perhaps to get me out of my head and into my body. I also liked the idea of a challenge. I had not been a runner or an athlete of any kind prior to attempting a plan I found on the internet called “Couch to 5K”. I wanted to see if I could run a mile, and then maybe three miles without completely falling out in utter exhaustion.

What I discovered was that running allowed me to clear my head. It made me proud of what my body could do. It helped me connect with nature and find peaceful solitude in the trails that surrounded the home I grew up in. I had no idea that what started on a whim would become a whole new identity for me. It would become a spiritual discipline, and ultimately be a tool for managing my grief in the years to come.

As I laced up, the runs got longer and longer, and the goals became bigger and bigger. I ran my first marathon in 2013, and since have run 11 more marathons in 8 different states. Running was there for me at the height of the pandemic when I was adjusting to the sudden death of my dad in 2019 and the birth of my youngest daughter in 2020. I began to re-enter the world through running because it grounded me.

In some ways, then I was starting from scratch again. I had to walk/run many miles. I had to slowly build up to where I am now. Not every run feels good. Some days my body feels like it has little left to give. Yet I stick with it because running is a journey, just as grief is a journey. One filled with many setbacks, often injuries and disappointments.

My progression is not always linear. Some days I feel like I am doing great and meeting my goals and other days, I struggle to put one foot in front of the other. But I keep at it because I am in it for the long haul, for the journey of every step. And what I have come to realize is that truly every step is a gift. No matter how hard, even when it just feels like I am going through the motions of the day because my body is just used to it by now, my soul rests a little easier having taken those steps.