Learning to Run on Gravel

My dad once told me that when he was little he could run on gravel barefoot. Looking at the small rocks that were our driveway, I was a more than impressed 10-year-old. He might as well have told me he used to be able to walk on hot coals.

Of course, it all comes down to what you prepare yourself for. My toes couldn’t run on gravel because they’d spent all their young lives tucked inside rubber-soled shoes. Or at least sandals or flip-flops. When he was 10, my dad’s toes could do the impossible because they’d slowly worked, day-by-day, to build up the callouses needed for the superhuman feat of running on rocks.

There’s a parable somewhere in there, isn’t there?

We’ve spent four years in a country as different from either of the ones in which Laura and I were born as day is from night. Let’s just say we’ve been wearing rubber-soled shoes since we could walk. And then we landed in a place where running on rocks is a necessary skill. We’ve been working on our callouses. How much we love our shoes. Left to our natural inclinations, we’ll reach for our laces and pull them tight every time. It’s that deeply ingrained.

Even while we continue to practice the art of running on rocks here, we’re still newbies, white belts, level one apprentices. And because of that, we must be able to admit in humility that at times we’ll simply need to put on our shoes. I say it as much as a confession as anything else. While the feet of our local friends are strong and used to gravel, our feet still bruise easily and still often require that half-inch of rubber between our toes and the hard ground beneath.

For us that means that every once in a while, for the good of our aching feet, we need to leave the country. We’re painfully aware of how luxurious international travel seems to our local friends. Just as luxurious as wearing shoes down a gravel road. (And to think we have multiple pairs!) Yet the fact remains. We simply can’t do what so many of our friends do every single day of their lives. So go we must. For our feet’s sake. For our souls’ sake.

That’s not to say we apologize for our soft feet. Even four years in, we’re still getting used to gravel. We wish our feet were stronger. And that’s not to say that what our local friends experience every day is nothing since they’re used to it. That’d be like saying running on rocks is no amazing feat since the runners’ toes are used to it. It’s amazing precisely because they’re prepared in ways the rest of us aren’t. We look at our local friends in awe at their mad rock-running skills. The fact that God’s hand is on them and holds them and strengthens their feet is breathtaking. They might as well be walking on hot coals all day long for all the mind-numbing endurance they show every morning they get out of bed. We want to be more like them.

As for us, we still need to pull on our shoes sometimes, board a plane, and fly to a different time zone. And so that’s what we do. Not because we deserve it. Not because we enjoy flaunting our dark blue passports. For us it comes down to tired feet in a land where strong feet are a must.

But we’ll be back, our dear friends who run barefoot on gravel like we run on grass. You continue to amaze us. We are looking forward to seeing you. Thank you for your patience with our soft feet.


We’ll be out of Central Asia until the end of June. We’ll continue to post each Sunday and Wednesday. Some of the stories will continue to be from Kyrgyzstan; others will probably be from our time away.

4 thoughts on “Learning to Run on Gravel

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  1. This is a courageous choice. I honor you for it and trust that your time away will provide much healing and perspective and direction. Much love to you!!!! If you find yourself in Colorado, please let me know. We’re overdue for some Ticket to Ride.

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    1. Thanks, Sarah! Those three words (healing, perspective, and direction) sum it up nicely. And yes, we’d love to play Ticket to Ride again!

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  2. My daughter used to work in a hospital adolescent med-psych unit. She had to come home once in a while. She said she had to remember what normal was. I think are breathing under water where you live and now and then need to come up for air. God bless and enjoy your journey.

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    1. That is a good metaphor for it. I think you’re right. We’ve been really enjoying these past few days so far. Thanks for your encouraging words.

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