Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Life's Unanswered Questions, Thirteen Miles, and a Friend

by Beth Saadati

With another hour left in the race, my legs begin to tire. My calves start to cramp. The familiar burn sets in, but the South Carolina inclines still need to be ascended. Every time we go uphill, Rocky picks up speed.

“What are you doing?” I ask.

“It’s like pulling off a Band-Aid. You do it fast to get it over with.” He powers ahead in a challenge to follow then waits for me to catch up. In wonder, I shake my head . . . and keep on running.

* * *
Two years ago I’d run my first half marathon to push through grief after my teenage daughter’s death. Last year I’d run to conquer the course with my running partner, Amy, and her son, Hansel—one of my favorite students, one of Jenna’s friends. This year I’d wanted to complete it a third time, although I no longer knew why.

With a son or daughter’s suicide, a wave of grief often crests every few days for the first four years. Nearly three years in, healing had gradually come. At the end of August, however, a tsunami hit hard.

Minutes after being told a mother’s daughter was missing, memories had come rushing back. Details and emotions I’d buried when, for a couple of long hours, my daughter hadn’t been found. Flashbacks of the unforeseen trauma from the night my husband and I, with a roomful of friends, were delivered the devastating news. 

New questions now haunted me. “Why, God? When Jenna was missing, where were you?” Though I wrestled to receive answers, none came.

But a Facebook message arrived from Ohio in the form of a belated birthday post from Rocky, another favorite former student when he was a high school freshman and I was twenty-three. Half my lifetime ago he’d led in YoungLife, served on the newspaper staff, and kept track stats for the team I’d coached. He’d even been a groomsman in my wedding.

When is your half marathon? he asked. Maybe I could come down.

It’s in two months, but I'm way behind in training for it. This year I’ll do well to finish.

I’m marking my calendar, wrote Rocky. Let me see what I can do.

With English essays to grade and college recommendation letters to write, the new schoolyear kept me busy. But September was marked by silence. The heart-piercing questions lingered, and God was uncommonly quiet.

I remembered my pastor’s words. “God isn’t about clarity. He doesn’t answer ‘why.’ Instead, ask Him what He wants you to learn.” While I battled sadness and lies, I asked. And I waited.

At the end of the month, Rocky sent a new message. You still training?

Yes, I replied, but I’m only up to eight miles. I saw you just ran seventeen. Maybe I should run vicariously through you. I failed to confess I was close to quitting. Despite the joy of training each Monday with Amy and Hansel, I’d lost the heart to run.

No, you should run in actuality, Rocky wrote. You’re not getting off that easy. I’m holding you accountable. I’m working on setting up business meetings in Columbia and Charlotte so I can have an excuse to be in South Carolina. I guess you're just going to have to get busy . . . cause this is happening.

I replied. While running this morning, I crested the neighborhood hill and saw an eagle silhouetted against the sky. Like the Isaiah 40:31 promise.

God’s promises never fail, Beth, he typed back. You’ll be ready.

Within days, Amy, Hansel, and Rocky had registered. Backing out was no longer an option, but I still doubted there’d be enough time to adequately train. Worst of all, the stifling quiet and tough questions remained.

When Rocky arrived the evening before the race, we talked about the 13-mile course. Because he was preparing for a marathon, I asked what time he was hoping to attain.

Rocky paused and looked at me. “I came all the way here. I’m going to run with you.”

It’s not what I’d expected. It seemed selflessly crazy. He was younger, stronger, faster. This was his first half marathon; not running his best would come at a cost. He was choosing less . . . so I could achieve more.

Seconds after he spoke, I began to see what I needed to learn. The season of silence was being broken. Unable to argue, I nodded and smiled.


“You doing okay?” asks Rocky after slowing down until I join him.

“You’ll know when I’m not.” The iPod earbuds I depend on to help me zone out are still tucked into my shirt.

Rocky challenges me. “I’m not going to let you just finish. Listen to what’s around you. And don’t look at the time. You can run better than you think you can.”

As he pushes my pace, he points out details I would have missed seeing, dishes out encouragement, and makes me laugh. Because it’s October 31st, a few runners are dressed in costumes. We trail a man whose torso is surrounded by a stone-age car.

“Come on, Beth,” Rocky urges. “We’re not going to let Fred Flinstone beat us. That’s the problem of running in a pack. You forget that you can go faster.”

Then he distracts me with questions. After I finish answering, he grins and says, “While you were talking, you probably passed fifty people.” Before it seems possible, we’re at mile ten.

When we approach my dad, who’s strategically positioned himself to cheer at different points, Rocky says, “Did you see the way your dad looked at you? He’s proud of his daughter.” 

Again, near the course’s end, he's the first to see my husband and two kids. “There’s your family," he says. "They’re here for you too.”

Not long after, we turn into the baseball stadium, round the outfield track, and run through the chute. I can hardly believe how quickly two hours have passed, how fun it really was.

As I high-five Rocky, I recall a photo taken in my English classroom in 1992. My track team bulletin board hung behind Rocky and me. On it were my favorite slogans: She Ran 10,000 Miles Just to Get Here. Push yourself. Nike’s Just Do It.

I laugh inside and think, “Twenty-three years later, we just did.”

Before going to sleep that night, I hang the new medal on a wooden peg beside my bed. I want to remember what God had so gently shown me through a friend. That, one step at a time, He’s encouraging me to follow, urging me ahead. Despite unanswered questions, He is here. Running with me.

And it’s enough to finish any race well. 


  1. Wow. Thanks Beth. What a great friend you have. And a good race. A half is tough and demands a lot of sacrifice. Great job.

    1. Thanks, Tim. Running has never been easy for me, so it always feels like a victory. :)) And, yes, Rocky and many other great friends have had the courage to come close after Jenna's death when, statistically, people often pull away. I'm thankful.

  2. Congrats on finishing the race! I must say I'm impressed...a half-marathon was my goal when I was running but my knees couldn't handle it. And yes...Rocky seems like a God-send. Keep praying for Trevor for's been a really tough few weeks.

    1. Yes, I love seeing the Father provide in ways we never would have imagined. It was good to run the half with friends. I wish your knees would allow you to do that too. Uni-cycling is a cool alternative though. :))
      I will continue to pray. I'm so sorry, Celeste; it's a hard battle. I can imagine how hard it's been.

  3. Replies
    1. Thank you, Marcia, for seeing what I couldn't. Your suggestions improved the piece, and your encouragement keeps me writing. I'm grateful!

  4. Thank you for your transparency, Beth. Just as you have invested in others, the Lord brings along others to invest in you. Don't you just love the truths of God's relationship economy?

    1. Yes, I do. It still catches me by surprise when it happens though. Thank you, Vonda. Your words are insightful and good.

  5. Beth, you are blessed to have the friends you do! I'm so proud of your continuing to fight through the pain of losing Jenna. I know that's not easy. Praying for you see friend!

  6. Yes, undeservedly blessed. I can't imagine having to journey through this without the support of many good friends. Thanks, Mary, for caring and encouraging.

  7. Reading through your blog and i see two familiar Haas family faces. What a blessing to have Amy by your side, she is a precious, sweet, strong woman of faith and we love them! Thank you for sharing your story, your memories and your heart. I have a son who just turned 13 and i plan on sharing your story with him, not just to show him the after effects of suicide, but to teach him to use kind words, to speak up for others, walk in someone elses shoes. Your Jenna sounds like such a vibrant and special girl, I will keep your family in our prayers, i know time may make it easier but i know there will always be a hole in your heart and your family. Blessings to you on your journey, God is already using you in more ways than you could ever know!

    1. I couldn't agree more. As I've journeyed through Jenna's loss, Amy has stood by me in so many ways. So has Hansel. They've been thoughtful, steadfast, and courageous friends. God has used them to bring me joy and carry me through difficult days. How fun that you recognized them. :)

      My prayer is that the story will make a difference in many lives, including your son's. Your words encourage me because, as you said, there's still a large hole. Thank you for sharing this. You blessed me tonight.