The Persevering Heart (Part 3 of 3 in “The Runner” Series)

“Mrs. Strain?  This is So and So’s doctor’s office.  I am calling to let you know that we found something on the ultrasound indicating something may be wrong with the baby.  It is something with the spine.  It could be spina bifida.  You will need to come in again in a few days and have another ultrasound performed.”  Not exactly words a pregnant mother wants to hear to start off her week, nor are they words a pregnant mother wants to hear ever, on any day of the week.  My reaction?  Fear gripped my heart.  Tears spilled down my cheeks.  And then…I prayed.  And then I asked others to join me in praying.  I’d already been through a high-risk pregnancy two years prior—a risk to both me and my baby.  Many people had prayed, and my miracle baby girl was born safely and was healthy.  And now, for days, many prayed again, and when that next ultrasound was performed, a perfect spine showed on the screen.  And five months later, a perfect little boy joined our family.

“Mrs. Strain, I’ll be right back.”  The pediatrician left the exam room while I kept my nine-month-old son laying on the exam table.  The doctor was gone for what seemed like an eternity, and when he came back, he was not alone.  Two other doctors followed.  Talk about fear gripping a mother’s heart.  The pediatrician instructed the doctors to examine my son and perform certain motions with his legs.  They did so, and all left the room.  What is going on?!  The pediatrician returned presently and informed me that he believed my son had a neurological disorder, and we were being referred to a specialist.

“Mr. and Mrs. Strain, your son may never walk.  He has a genetic muscle disease.”  What?!  I had always joked that I wanted my son to be a musician like me rather than an athlete like his father.  And now?  All I wanted was for him to be an athlete.  A mother’s mind races at times like these.  The chest tightens.  The tears spill.  And the fears come.  “Mr. and Mrs. Strain, we will put him into some physical therapy and see what happens.  There are one of ten possible diseases he has.  Do you want to do invasive testing now or just wait and see if he deteriorates?”  We opted to wait on testing for a bit and see what would happen with some therapy.  And people prayed.

“Mrs. Strain, your son is late in reaching physical milestones.”  (He had sat up late, didn’t crawl other than army crawl, and he wasn’t standing or trying to walk yet.)  “If we have some custom braces made for his feet and ankles, that may help him.”  And so, off to the orthopedist we went, and then back to therapy, and all the while, people prayed.  The therapist said most children with my son’s condition do not progress—they give up and sit there.  Well, this is when things got good.  My son walked, threw balls, and climbed on things. 

“Mrs. Strain, your son will lag behind other children physically, but it looks like he will be able to do things okay as long as he keeps building muscle strength.  Eventually, that strength will offset the disease, and people may not even know he has it. He will have to wear the braces until early elementary school when he’ll eventually have enough muscle strength to compensate for the disease.  After that, he will always need something in his shoes for shaping and support.”  Eventually, we did not have to go to neurology appointments or therapy anymore, just the orthopedist and podiatrist.

And then, my son ran.  And he has not stopped running since.  And people prayed, and have not stopped praying since.  My son ran around the house with his sister and out in the yard with the dogs.  He is the one who led the way in new physical endeavors.  And in second grade, he began his athletic career (after he’d had some piano lessons!). 

In second grade, he completed a 5K and got 2nd place.  He competed in other races while in elementary school and even placed first.  He built a collection of ribbons, medals, race tags, and participation t-shirts.  In 7th grade, he played football in the fall and ran track in the spring.

And then in 8th grade, my son, whom we were told might never walk, became a long-distance runner on the cross country team.  In high school, he trained by running over ten miles at a time.  Who can do stuff like this except God!

As the years have passed, difficult seasons have come for my son, as they do for us all.  He went through years of bullying which included physical injuries.  Challenges came in school and college and come now at his workplace.  But he gets up every morning, and he pushes through.  While our hearts ache along with his, he continues to do the hard things, the right things.  We undergird his life with our persevering prayers and support him with hearts full of persevering love.  And we all persevere in keeping our eyes on God.

Yes, hearts that have persevered in prayer and petitioned God have seen God in His great mercy and grace give my son a persevering heart.

Every day we have to get up and do the hard things, the right things.  But we remember, whether the valleys are dry or they are flooded, whether the sun beats down on our heads relentlessly or we never see it, we can persevere.  The same power that raised Jesus from the dead lives in us, and we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us and gave Himself for us.*  Because our hearts belong to Him, we can persevere.


I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

(Philippians 3:14 KJV)


*See Romans 8:11, 35, 37–39.

Author’s note: the above conversations with the medical professionals are not direct quotes but rather paraphrased summaries.

And just a fun thing to note: in addition to becoming an athlete, our son also became a musician on several instruments. Our cup overflows, and so do our hearts!

©Francee Strain, February 28, 2021

Photo credit goes to my aunt Cheri. She took this photo of my son while visiting us in April 2014, fifteen years after that first phone call regarding the ultrasound findings.

Unbound–Part 1 of 3

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Six days before the Passover Feast—the last meal Jesus would have before His crucifixion—He paid a visit to his friend Lazarus and sat down to have supper with him. This was not the first time Jesus had come to visit Lazarus. As a matter of fact, they shared quite a history together. At one point, Jesus had offered Lazarus a most extraordinary invitation…

“Lazarus was not doing anything when his invitation arrived. He was getting nowhere in life. Actually, He was dead! But despite that he no longer lived and breathed, he received an invitation. This was a most extraordinary invitation, and it did not come in the mail! It was personally delivered by Jesus Himself.

John 11:1–44 gives the account. Jesus had been preaching in another town when word arrived that His good friend Lazarus was ill. Jesus did not immediately depart for the city of Bethany in order to heal Lazarus; instead, He remained where He was for two more days, finishing up what He was there to do. When it was in God’s timing, and after the work had been completed in the place where Jesus was, He then traveled to see Lazarus.

When Jesus arrived in Bethany, He was greeted with criticism and the accusation that He was arriving too late because Lazarus had already been dead for four days! Count them—four. Four days of being dead. Four days that passed while Jesus worked and traveled somewhere else. But Jesus did not allow this unwelcoming reception to stop Him from delivering His invitation to Lazarus. He went to the tomb where Lazarus was buried, told people to move the stone away from the mouth of the tomb, and then proceeded with His commanding voice to issue an invitation for Lazarus to live again. Jesus cried out, “Lazarus, come forth” (v. 43), and Lazarus came out of the tomb. Here we get a really good look at what Lazarus was doing in life. He was dead in a tomb, sealed behind a stone, and bound in graveclothes. But extraordinary things happened when Jesus showed up on the scene. First of all, an invitation was given to a dead person. Second, God’s resurrection power was seen. Third, a dead man got back to living his life. If this does not prompt us to come when God calls, I do not know what will!

God extends the same invitation to us that He extended to Lazarus. God is calling us to come out from death unto life—from spiritual death unto spiritual life. This is eternal life: to know Jesus Christ (John 17:3). No matter what stones are trapping us in life, no matter what we are wrapped up in and tied up in, no matter what stench we are covered with, no matter what cold darkness we are surrounded by, no matter how alone and laid out flat we are, no matter what others say about us, no matter how hopeless things look—even if it appears that our best days are behind us—He wants to free us from spiritual bondage and restore us to life and relationships. He wants us to be healthy and vibrant again, breathing and glowing, being and doing, loving and being loved. He wants us to live! He has placed the breath of physical life into us, but He also calls us to live with the breath of the Holy Spirit.

But does it ever seem to us, instead, like God is far away—in some other city or some other universe? Does it seem that He is ignoring both our pleas and the pleas of those who are telling Him we need help? Are we surrounded by people who are lamenting our situations? Do we have people in our lives who are like Mary and Martha, who accuse God of letting us suffer? Do they believe that if He was truly in our lives, things like this would not be happening to us? At one point, my son questioned why he should continue to pray for me when God was not giving me physical healing. Several people who are saddened by my chronic illnesses tell me that these illnesses should not be a part of my life. What do all of us honestly think and feel?

Does it seem like God is taking His time in getting to where we are and responding to our needs? Has it been more than four days—a lot more? Are we wondering whether He will ever come? Do we fear that He is too busy taking care of other things in other places to have any time for us? Do we think it is already too late and that the situation has passed beyond His power to help? Have we resigned ourselves to permanently live in our current states? Have we given up the fight? Have we stopped asking for help? Have we almost ceased to breathe? I have news for us—good news. We can change, although our circumstances remain the same. We can have a full and joyfully abundant life now—despite the pain—because Jesus came to give us that abundant life. It seems improbable, impractical, and impossible, yet it is true. But we have to make the choice to come out of the tomb and get out of those graveclothes. We have to come forth from the  unpleasantness. We have to respond to His call to leave behind the things He wants us to leave behind, and live.”1

Francee Strain, No Ordinary Invitation: Called to Live a Life of Eternal Purpose, (Bloomington, IN: WestBow Press, 2017), 28-30.

Photography by Francee Strain, ©2018