I wasn't far into my recent Georgia Jewel race when I heard footsteps coming up from behind me. Then I heard a voice, "are you Mr. Keith?"
Hearing myself referred to as "Mr. Keith" made me instantly feel like an old man. When I turned and saw how young the man was from where those words came, I felt like I should probably be spending the day in a nursing home and not out on the trails of the Georgia Jewel.
The young man was David Kauffman. It turns out he and his wife Mary Ann were running their first ultramarathon. David told me that in preparing for their race he had listened to my podcast conversations about the Jewel. He specifically pointed out how inspired he was by the one I recorded about my Georgia Jewel failure.
Hey kid - that's not the pep talk I need today!!
David was the first of three runners I encountered that day who commented on my podcasting. I'd never met any of them before. I've said my prayer that day was for God to make his presence known to me every step of the way. By the end of the race, I felt like one of the things God was telling me while we hung out was I needed to get back to recording these podcasts, since I'd been on a bit of a break from it.
I tried to talk myself out of it. I'm busy with work and with other pursuits. Podcasting takes time I don't have. But God just kept putting that on my heart.
So I reached out to David and Mary Ann. I asked if I could interview them about their Jewel experience.
We scheduled the interview for last night. Prior to the interview, I reached out and asked if there was any part of their story they'd like to make sure we got out there. If so, I'd ask questions to lead us there. Never in a million years did I see what came next.
Mary Ann responded to my question.
She said she didn't know how far back I'd traced her story on Facebook, but she'd been married before. She was a 19 year-old newlywed - pregnant with her first child. She and her husband Marcus were returning home from a Thanksgiving trip. Arriving home, they saw what appeared to be a disabled car. Marcus took Mary Ann to a friend's house while he went back to help them. When he got there, though, he discovered the occupants of the car were robbing their house. The robbers shot Marcus in the head. Some time later he died.
I say all the time, the reason I love interviewing runners is because they all have stories that are deeper than a runner trying to win a race or achieve some running milestone. Stories that speak to me. But I'm not sure I've ever discovered a running story quite this deep.
In this interview I start by telling Mary Ann how hard it had been for me to process her story. I told her I have a son who will be 14 soon - not much younger than that 19 year-old mom and wife. I asked her, how on earth does a "kid" handle that kind of event?
Her answer was simple: God.
Mary went on to describe a faith I can't always comprehend. One thing she said to me stuck out in that faith. She said she was grateful she never had to deal with forgiveness. She said she forgave her husband's killers from the beginning. Mary Ann said everything else she had to deal with was hard enough; she's thankful she didn't have to battle bitterness on top of it.
In that moment, before my running podcast ever got to talking about running, I knew why God had me in the middle of that conversation. It was like God was staring at me, looking for my reaction as Mary Ann talked about how thankful she was she didn't have to battle bitterness.
When Mary was done telling her story, I could hear God ask, shall we talk about your bitterness now? Uhm, not right now God - I have to finish this interview.
I asked David, Mary Ann's husband of five years now, how he came into Mary Ann's life. David said, I don't have a big story like Mary Ann's - I feel like I just walked through a door God opened in my life.
It wasn't lost on me that's why I was in that conversation with two of the most beautiful people I've ever met. God opened a door with "hey, are you Mr. Keith?" - and God was asking me if I was going to walk through it.
I'm grateful to share this interview. I can't wait for you to hear what I discovered on the other side of that door. Yes, our conversation was heavy to start, but man did we have some fun too. It might be one of the most fun interviews I've ever done.
I wonder how many open doors I walk by every day. I wonder how many life changing moments I miss when I do. Today I'm full of gratitude that I walked through this one.
The Georgia Jewel Trail Race
Mary Ann Kauffman asks for people to not hate her husband's killers