Salem, Oregon – Resurrection is that moment when Jesus rose up from the darkened cave in which he was buried, cast off his too-tight grave clothes, pushed aside that massive stone and walked out in the bright sunlight of day.
He is Risen, as my grandson Bean declares.
But resurrection isn’t just a one-time happening that absolved a world of its daily and unyielding sinfulness. Resurrection happens every single day in our lives and the lives of those we love, in big and small ways. Too often, though, we fail to recognize the daily resurrections, fail to see them for the miracles they are, fail to shout the victories that are happening all around us.
For the past two years, Gloria Zacharias Steele has lived out a life-altering resurrection. Steele, who turned 58 this week, ran her second half-marathon on Saturday, finishing in just over two hours.
That she can run even a mile is in itself miraculous.
Three years ago, Gloria couldn’t imagine herself walking half-a-mile, much less running a half-marathon, twice now.
My sister-in-law had not always been overweight. During her teen years, Gloria played on her high school basketball and volleyball teams. She didn’t consider herself athletic per se, but she was an active person.
It was during her freshman year of college that Gloria began what would become decades long struggle with weight. She, like millions of people, became a yo-yo dieter. She’d gain 30 pounds and then lose 30 pounds. But by the time she married and had kids, the dieting became less frequent. “I’ve spent more than half my life overweight,” Gloria says. “My oldest is 27 and my youngest is 25, and I never lost the baby weight I gained with them.”
Well, in truth, she did lose it, only to gain it all back along with a lot more. Gloria didn’t even admit to herself the truth of how overweight she had become. “I only saw myself from the neck up because I knew I wouldn’t like what was below that.”
A career woman with a high-profile job, Gloria was the typical overworked mom. The hectic athletic endeavors of four kids – her son and daughter and two step-sons – meant that Gloria was leaving work, running through the drive-up and heading out to this game or that practice. Eating fast food en route was routine for the entire family. It wasn’t until her son married that Gloria could see how much she had neglected herself. “The photos from Kendra and Zack’s wedding. That did it. I couldn’t believe that was me.”
It was as if the real Gloria was hidden within a fat suit. She didn’t recognize herself anymore. “I was on a big hamster wheel,” Gloria says. “I was overweight and didn’t like myself, so I would eat for comfort. I wasn’t confident and didn’t want to go to any social things. My daughter would beg me to come out and do things and I hated it. I didn’t feel good about who I was, where I was, or what I was doing. I’d spent all those years taking care of kids and then they left. Then what?”
It was her husband Bill that took the first step. Zack’s wedding behind them, they both wanted to lose weight before their daughter Hailey and son Tyler graduated from college. Although they had discussed it ahead of time, it was Bill who made the call to the local Metabolic Research Center and signed them both up.
At first Gloria was pretty upset. “I’m a control freak and it bothered me that I hadn’t been the one to make the call.”
It bothered her more that one of the requirements was that they weigh in in front of God and everybody else. Gloria had no idea until she got on those scales that she weighed 330 pounds. She was so mortified she absolutely refused to allow the program director to take a “Before” photo. “That my biggest regret,” Gloria says. “But I came in because I hated seeing myself in those photos of Kendra and Zack’s wedding. I flat out refused to let them take a picture of me.”
The couple chose the Metabolic Research program because it wasn’t a pre-packaged thing. They would learn new ways to eat with real food that could be bought at the local grocers. They would learn to measure food with a scale, and how to calculate the sugar grams of everything they ate. “I’m obsessive about that now,” Gloria says. “You can’t imagine how much sugar is just in everyday foods.” They also learned about how certain combinations of food could aid in their weight loss.
Gloria swapped out the mochas at Starbucks for sugar-free raspberry energy drinks at Dutch Brothers. She swapped out chocolate for apples. She quit drinking alcohol. “Too much sugar,” she says. And she ate lots and lots of protein. Dinner was most often a salad and or vegetable and six ounces of chicken.
She started her transformation in January of 2014. Her goal was to lose 75 pounds by the time her daughter and step-son graduated college in June. She lost 70. But losing that much gave her the confidence she needed to keep going. By March of 2015, Gloria had lost a total of 190 pounds. By the time her birthday rolled around, she was thinner even than she had been in high school.
Not only that, Gloria was running up to six miles a day, indoors, on a treadmill, because, you know, Oregon rain. “I am not a morning person at all,” Gloria says. “So when I told Bill I was going to get up at 5 a.m. to exercise on the treadmill, he thought I’d last maybe two weeks.”
It wasn’t easy. At 330 pounds even a slow walk can be immensely challenging. Gloria started timidly increasing her time from 10 minutes to 15 to 30. As the weight came off, Gloria increased her speed, then it occurred to her that if she could run, she might could lose the weight faster. So she walked for 25 minutes, then ran for five, and then went to 20 minutes of walking and ten of running. Always swapping out the walking for the running. Now she runs for an hour daily and longer on the weekends. She only takes one day off a week.
It was the encouragement that others offered her that enabled Gloria to see within herself a resurrection. She had confided to a girlfriend that she had always wanted to be a runner but would likely never reach that goal. Her girlfriend, who was undergoing breast cancer treatment, responded Why Ever Not?
Belief, after all, is the founding block to resurrection of any sort.
Gloria subscribed to Runners magazine. She joined listserves for runners. She left the treadmill and began to run outdoors, avoiding the dreaded hills, sticking to the flatlands. When niece Konnie suggested they run a half-marathon designed solely for flat-land runners, Gloria nervously agreed. At the start of that race, I sent a text of encouragement to my sister-in-law: Run with Joy. She later had that inscribed on a bracelet she wears. When she completed that first half-marathon, Gloria wept over the resurrection within and without.
She had cast off the doubts that had bound her.
She was no longer weighted down by 330 pounds.
She had cast off 190 pounds.
She was free.
She was a runner.
When Gloria signed up for her second half-marathon, she didn’t tell anyone. “My plan was that if it was rainy, like it has been for months now, I just wouldn’t do it. Nobody would have to know,” Gloria says.
Turns out Oregon is having a glorious Easter weekend weather wise. In the 60s throughout the state. Bill got up on his day off to drive Gloria to Portland where she met up with the other runners at the Marine Drive start. “We ran along the Columbia River. It was so beautiful. The sun was behind the clouds most of the time, but when I turned the corner toward the finish line, it totally broke out. When I run, I sing. I pray. I thanked God for the sun, the river, the day, and my ability to run.”
She had one other thing on her mind in this weekend’s Hop Hop Half: “They had mimosas waiting for us at the finish line,” Gloria says. “I didn’t care much about the mimosa but I wanted that flute.”
A cross is the universal sign of a Resurrection worldwide. But isn’t every resurrection – the physical as well as the spiritual – worthy of a flute raised high in celebration?
Surely, as we celebrate the resurrection of Christ, he is also celebrating the resurrections within us.
So this toast is for you, Gloria, and to the next half of your healthy, transformative life.
You Go Girl.