“I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.” -Mother Teresa
It was a crisp, beautiful day in the Tetons. The sun was burning white hot in the endless blue winter sky. Wray Landon and his friends Nate and Brady skied to the summit of the South Teton. Wray looked down at his watch. It was 11:25 am. A good way to spend a Sunday morning. Nate and Brady were behind him as they descended the southeast face of the peak.
Suddenly, the snow gave way under Wray's feet. A two-foot crown avalanche ensued. His friends watched, helpless, as Wray was swept over a 15,000-foot cliff. It was February 21, 2010. "Big Wray," as he was known to his family and friends, was just thirty years old.
When I received the news of our friend's death, I was shocked; I stood frozen, unable to move or think or comprehend why this happened. I couldn't believe he was gone. No one in our town could believe it. My 7 year-old daughter felt the impact of his death, too; she had a very deep connection with Wray and still maintains that bond with him in memory and in prayer.
Driggs, Idaho is a close-knit community of about 15,000 people. The small town is nestled between the Tetons and the Big Hole Mountains. People here care about each other. We love each other. We are are a family. The news about Wray was a devastating blow.
During my run through America, I received a message from Wray's mother. "As the end draws near and things get difficult, as they will, Wray will pick you up like wings of an eagle and carry you to the finish." Her words haunted me. I read the note over and over again.
On the last day of my run, as I made my way into Victor, Idaho, it seemed as if the whole town had come out to see me home. Crowds of people lined the way to the finish. It was an awesome sight. Suddenly, the skies roared to life. The clouds darkened. Thunder clapped in the horizon. The wind whipped, a furious sound. It started to pour. People suggested I stop running. I refused. I wasn't scared of the weather. It felt like a party to me. The skies were rejoicing. Sister Marybeth turned to me and said "Lisa, listen to that thunder. God is bringing us home with a boom!"
Despite my broken foot, the throbbing pain, my spirits were flying. As I rounded the corner for the final stretch, I could see my family in the distance. There was the finish - just ahead.
And then... I can hardly describe what happened next. As I ran to the finish line, I felt the full force of the wind at my back lift me up and hurl me home. My feet were hardly touching the ground. I was running so fast; no one could keep up with me. I was soaring!
I felt him. Right then and there. It was Wray. He came out to see me run. His spirit was as big as the mountains, and he was carrying me to the end. Along the way, I kept telling people, "It's Wray! It's Wray"
As I broke through the finish tape, the clouds parted and a dazzling ray of sunlight fell right over the scene. I looked around. My daughters were there. Little Annie made the finish line tape. My husband, Jay, who had run the last five miles with me, held me in his arms. People were cheering. My heart was overflowing with love in that moment. I couldn't stop crying. Just thinking about it today makes me feel so overwhelmingly loved and blessed.
I hope that you feel the same kind of love in your life that I felt on that day. I hope, for just one moment, you can experience that sense of awe and humility and realize how rare and precious a thing is love. It's what makes life worth living. It's the reason we go on and endure.
One year ago today, I set off to run 2,500 miles across America. But, running was the least important part of the project. Run Hope wasn't about setting distance records or becoming famous; it wasn't about ego, money, or recognition. It was about allowing love to enter your heart and touch you and everyone around you. It was about making a difference with the most powerful weapon we have: our hearts.