Beauty from ashes. That is what I witnessed in Boston

That’s the first thought that comes to my mind when I reflect on the past weekend. Just. Wow.

I ran the Boston Marathon yesterday. My seventh marathon – my second Boston. And yet it felt like a new experience – like nothing else I’ve ever done. I can still hear the cheers. See the faces. Passionate. Determined. United. Urging us on toward the goal.

Overwhelming. Compelling. Powerful cheers.


I came to this laptop tonight to write my usual post-race report. I’m finding it hard to write about this one. I mean, typically, I would write what I had for breakfast, and how I dressed, and what shoes I ended up wearing. I would document my race-fueling plan, so I could remember what worked and what didn’t – for next time. But I don’t really care about any of that right now. It seems so insignificant. Who cares?

What I’d rather reflect on is the amazing power of the human spirit I witnessed yesterday. Masses of people – primarily strangers, standing side-by-side for miles and miles, cheering on primarily strangers. Cheering as if they were family – every runner felt special – as if the crowd was waiting just for them.

Buoyed by the chants and shouts, I felt compelled to clap and wave and give the “I love you” sign back to these new friends along the way. I had my name written on my leg, so often times I heard them shout, “Go, DeDe!” And each time, I would say, “Thank you!” Or using American Sign-Language, I’d wave an ILY at them. My arms got tired after a while, but I just wanted to connect with this crowd of precious hearts.

You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. -Genesis 50:20

Someone came up with a crazy plan to bring harm to people in Boston last year. As I ran along, feeling compelled by the energy and compassion of this crowd of perfect strangers – all of it inspired and ignited by a desire to overcome evil – I thought of Joseph’s redemptive words to his brothers…what you intended for harm, God intended for good – to accomplish what is now being done… Yeah. I think that’s about right.

The intention of those who placed bombs on the course was to bring harm. And indeed, they succeeded. They brought horrific harm. Heartbreak. Death. Sorrow. Pain. Immense harm. And that cannot be changed. But there has been an impact that goes beyond those losses. There are gains.

I am not saying it makes any of the loss worth it. I have a boy about the same age as Martin Richard, and I could never say to his mother anything would be worth losing her son in such a tragic way. No, of course not. However, there has been some immense good that has grown out of this sorrow. I witnessed it for four straight days. I witnessed something seldom seen in a vast city today – unity and love. Compelling compassion for one another. Loving one’s neighbor as oneself, even!

Everywhere we went, we felt it. The connection to others was automatic. From shuttle drivers to ticket-takers, to security guards to random strangers – love was in the air. The news said Boston was on “high alert,” but I felt Boston was on high-accord. It was sweet and warm and wonderful.

And so unique.

That, I suppose, is the sad thing. Perhaps this kind of experience of shared sorrow is what made our country great in the first place. After all, didn’t we come as a people with a common desire to live in a land where freedom would ring – where we could pursue life, liberty and the pursuit of complete joy? I think so.

Beauty from ashes. That is what I witnessed in Boston.

The champion yesterday was donned with a crown of garland…and it made me think of Isaiah’s words:

To grant those who mourn in Zion (or in Boston). Giving them a garland instead of ashes. The oil of gladness instead of mourning. The mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting. So they will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified. -Isaiah 61:3

I don’t know if I will ever write my usual race report for yesterday’s race. It was such an amazing day. How I ran, what I wore, and what I ate and drank are so meaningless to me right now. I’d rather tell you about who I spoke to – like Megan and Karen at Athlete’s Village before the race. Megan had morphine tucked inside her jog bra, two epi-pens attached to her race belt along with a large inhaler. She planned to walk/jog the course because she hasn’t fully recovered yet from last year’s race.

She completed the marathon just under four hours last year then went back to watch her friend finish. She was standing by the fence, trying to get a look at the finishers coming in, when the first bomb went off – right near where she was standing – shards of metal cut into her flesh.

But Megan spoke mostly of the blessings – the beauty. She talked about how she has a large group of friends now who would otherwise be strangers if not for the events of 2013. The injured have become like family, all of them having met many times since last year, and now they are continuing to meet as part of a recovery program. She said most of them haven’t yet looked at the many photos and images from the day. It’s too hard. But she added, “But now, I know if I did, rather than seeing a bunch of strangers, I’d recognize every face in those photos. They’ve become my closest friends – people I have come to love like family.”

Beauty from ashes. Indeed.

DeDe Gibbs
Port Edwards, Wisconsin
April 21, 2014
Age – 49
Bib # 21458

A Boston Postscript:

As I Have Planned, So It Shall Stand

When my husband, Dave, and I boarded the plane for Boston a couple weeks ago, a woman came by our seats and asked if we were together. We said, “Yes.” She asked if either of us wouldn’t mind trading seats with her. She wanted to sit by her friend who was on the aisle of our three-seat row. She said, “My seat’s up in first-class!” Dave perked up immediately. I had already made the decision that my husband was not going to be left sitting next to this beautiful, blonde, athletic woman for over two hours. So I relented, and the woman switched seats with a very happy Dave who grabbed her ticket and dashed to the front of the plane.

The two women were also running in the Boston Marathon, and so our conversation started with a sharing of our experiences. They asked me if it was my first time to Boston. I said, “No, I ran my best-ever marathon there in 2011.” They asked for my time. I reported my PR proudly, “3:19.” They were adequately impressed – probably because I can no longer hide the gray hair and wrinkles. They’re both at least a few years younger than me.

Then they asked me what wave I was starting in on Monday. I said, “Wave 3, Coral 4.” They were instantly frowning. Shocked! One exclaimed, “You’re in the wrong wave!”

You see, there are so many runners in the Boston Marathon (around 36,000 – a record number this year) that they stage the starts in “waves” based on your qualifying time.

Runners who qualified with faster times are in the first wave and they descend from there. So, you can see why when I told the women I was running in the 3rd wave, 4th coral, they were surprised. I explained to them that I had qualified in 2012 at Grandma’s Marathon, but I had a hip injury, and my time was almost a half hour slower than my PR. I ran it in 3:43.

The assertive blonde gal said confidently, “Well, you should have submitted your PR. It wasn’t that long ago, and you are not injured now, right?” I said, “Right.” And suddenly I began to get anxious about the matter. My thoughts started to fly away on me…

Whoa? Should I have asked to be bumped up? Am I going to have to spend a ton of energy just trying to get around people who are slower than me? I don’t use a Garmin, is this going to be a bigger challenge for me to stay on pace if I’m running with folks who are at a slower per-mile pace?? Lord, what should I do? Should I seek to change this?

Anxiety began to swell. Then my prayers kicked in…

Alright. Be anxious for nothing. Lord, if you want me to change this, You’ll show me. I am trusting You to place me where You want me at all times, so I am giving this to You. Perhaps I am in this wave for a reason. I am not going to be anxious, but I will look for what Your will is in all this. If I am supposed to ask to change waves, I trust You to show me. If not, I am asking you to give me assurance. I need not be anxious.

You have to realize that after running Boston in 2011, I hadn’t planned to return. I was happy with my experience three years ago, and I really didn’t see a point in going back again. You know? Been there. Done that. Got the t-shirt!…and the dri-fit pull-over to boot! I’m good!

But after the events of the 2013 race, I felt this tug on my heart to get there again. I wanted to stand in solidarity with runners from around the world. I wanted to look for opportunities to encourage those who were directly impacted by the bombings. My husband and I had already set out plans to run at Grandma’s in Duluth on our anniversary weekend, and I knew that was a Boston Qualifier. So after seeing the news last April, I prayed: Your will be done, Lord. If we’re supposed to go, you’ll make a way.

I went into the Grandma’s Marathon on June 22nd with a very weak and ailing hip-flexor. I had just completed my first 100K twenty-one days prior to Grandma’s – and so I decided that if I should manage to somehow defy the odds, and still qualify for Boston, then Dave and I were supposed to go in 2014.

And I did qualify – obviously – and we were there, and I trusted that God had us there for some specific reason.

On that flight to Boston, I let the women enjoy their own conversation, and I went back to reading my book. I had brought along Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts.

I picked up where I had left off on page 84. Moments later, I read this, on page 88:

Surely, just as I (the Lord) have intended, so it has happened, and just as I have planned, so it shall stand. Isaiah 14:24

I was stunned. Wow.

Okay, Lord. As you have planned, so it stands!

I took that as a very prompt answer to prayer, and then I had this thought:

Whoa. Wait! I am going to be running with those who should finish around the 3:45-4:15 mark. That’s the group of people that most likely were directly affected by the bombings last year.

Wow. And the only reason I really wanted to return is to encourage those people. Okay. Okay, Lord. Show me who I might bless.

On race day, they bus all the athletes to the start in the little town of Hopkinton. We camp out on a large open field next to a school. They provide food and drinks and a multitude of port-o-lets (metro-bathrooms), for the racers while we wait for our call to the start line.

After having my restroom break and grabbing a couple bananas, a bagel and a cup of coffee, I sought a place to sit down on the grass. There were racers all over the grounds, lying down, slathering on sunscreen, eating and chatting. I walked toward a grassy knoll, and as I was looking for an open space, I noticed a woman sitting down with a pair of Asics running shoes that I considered trying out. I asked her how she liked her shoes as I parked myself down on the grass next to her. She smiled broadly and said, “I love them! They’re great! I don’t even blister in these.” I told her I thought about giving them a try, but I didn’t leave myself enough time to test them out before the race, so I backed off on making the purchase. I wondered if they’d be a good choice for a marathon shoe.

Then I asked her if she’d been to the marathon before. She said, “Oh yeah. I ran last year. I finished just under 4 hours, and then I went back to the start to wait for my friend. That’s when I got hit by the first bomb.” I was shocked. She didn’t look injured in any way. Then she pointed to her chest and said, “Yeah, I’ve got my morphine here in case I need it on the course today.” I then noticed two epi-pens on her waist belt and something that looked like a large inhaler. She didn’t offer much about her injuries, and I wasn’t sure I should ask for the details.

Another woman had sat down right behind us and joined in our conversation. Her name was Karen, and the injured gal was Megan.

Megan went on to say that she is a law student at Harvard, and so she’s been able to attend all the events the B.A.A. (Boston Athletic Association) has had for the injured and their families. She said they have done a lot to help everyone heal. It’s been phenomenal, and then she added, “You know, not many of us have been able to go to the media sources and look at any of the pictures. It’s just too much to face yet, but I do know this, when I do look at them, I will not see strangers but people who have become like family to me. We’ve really become close. It’s so awesome.”

Wow. Wow. WOW!

I wondered if there was anything I could say or do to encourage this woman. I didn’t really get the time. Before I knew it, as Megan went on about how she likes to pull off a difficult yoga stance at the finish line, I heard Karen saying, “Blue, 1, 2, 3. Blue. 1,2, 3.” I wondered if Karen was a little nutty in the head. But then she tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Blue. FOUR!” I was like, “Huh?” She seemed aghast and added, “Boy, you sure are calm for someone whose wave just got called to the start!” Oh yeah, Wave 3, coral 4! Oh my! That’s me!

“Oh! Oh, boy! I’ve gotta run!” I told them it was fun meeting them, and I wished them a great race, as I jumped up and rushed off toward the start.

And now, I wish I had gotten their last names. And I wonder if I said anything that might have encouraged Megan. I have no idea. I feel that may have been a divine appointment, and I hope I did whatever it was God intended for me to do. It doesn’t seem like I did much of anything but smile and listen. I did assert that what the bombers meant for evil, God clearly has used for good – in bringing many hearts together. (Genesis 50:20) We’d been feeling the power of love and unity in the city all weekend long. And the crowds along the course brought me to tears – they were cheering for every single runner like they were their best friend. It was overwhelming.

I firmly believe Dave and I were supposed to be in Boston this year. Right now, I am not sure what good we did there. I don’t have a clear idea what purpose God had in taking us to the race. I just have this strong impression that there are things that will come yet from our being there last month.

On the face of it, here is what was accomplished: we made many new friends. Most of whom we’re now connected with via Facebook. Two of whom are actually from our home area. We had some very powerful experiences, including standing near the memorials where the bombs went off and where lives were lost. That has caused me to pray even more fervently for those families. We were given a bracelet made of the 2013 race banners – and we purchased one as well, to wear in remembrance of those who were hurt and killed last year. I wear mine to remind me to be praying. The money they collect from the bracelet sales goes to One Fund which helps the families who were directly harmed.

Other experiences that I found powerful and meaningful:

On Easter Sunday morning, we saw the line of hundreds of athletes who sought a blessing from a priest at the Old South Church. Perhaps this event has brought more hearts toward God. We talked to many random strangers about how what the enemy meant to harm the people of Boston – the people of this nation – God has clearly used for good, to bring hearts together. It was clear to all that what was meant to bring division and stir hatred has brought incredible unity and love. I felt that love every step of the way along the 26.2 mile race course.

Someday, I believe I will have a clear understanding as to why God wanted us in Boston in 2014. For now, I’ll just remain confident of this:

Surely, just as (the Lord) intended, so it has happened, and just as (God) has planned, so it shall stand. Isaiah 14:24

I want to close with another verse I read on the plane trip to Boston and share some notes from my journal.

On that same page, 88, of Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts, was this verse:

Does disaster come to a city unless the Lord has planned it? Amos 3:6

Hmmm…wow. I couldn’t believe I was reading that verse as I flew into Boston, a city that has indeed seen calamity. Disaster. Sadness. Senseless opposition. Why? Why would God allow that?

The following is what I wrote in my journal from my reading on the plane. The italicized are Ann Voskamp’s words. Scriptures are in bold and were quoted in her book. The standard type includes my thoughts…

Can it be that, that which seems to oppose the will of God actually is used of Him to accomplish the will of God?

I have wounded and it is I who heal. Deuteronomy 32:39

Sometimes, God’s Word is shocking. Really, Lord? You wound? And You heal? But why?

Should I accept good from You and not trouble? Job 2:10

Live by every word that comes from the mouth of God. Matthew 4:4

p. 96 All new life comes out of dark places.

p. 97 Emptiness itself can birth the fullness of grace because in the emptiness we have the opportunity to turn to God, the only begetter of grace, and there find all the fullness of joy. Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. Acts 14:22

And finally, Ann Voskamp’s favorite saying, God is always good and I am always loved.

So what’s the point? What was the purpose in our going to Boston? I can ponder that question and drive myself crazy wondering, did I miss an opportunity? Or I can trust that God’s purposes and plans always succeed…and some day His purposes will be revealed.

Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and he will establish your plans. Proverbs 16:3

And maybe. Just maybe. The reason I went to Boston is so that I would be compelled to sit here today and compose this blog post. Maybe. Just maybe, someone who needs a bit of encouragement will be blessed by this post. Maybe. Just maybe, that person is you.