Sheets of chilly Autumn rain streamed down unto the saturated course, and my wellies squished with every stride. Rain rolling off their noses and mud sucking the shoes off of their feet, they slid and trekked through the mud. It was my favorite kind of race-day. The kind of day when talent is shelved for guts, and mud makes champions.
We can all run atop a dry and even course, but it’s in the depths of the hills and the chill of uncooperating weather, that our true grit is revealed.
None of my cross country runners knew that they were preparing for this race all season long, but I did. I knew something they didn’t. I’d been up and down these muddy slopes before, and I remember the triumphant feeling of shelving the mile-splits and running after the competition through that mud. Sometimes, we don’t realize what we’re preparing for until we’re knee-deep in a mud …trying to keep our shoes from being sucked off.
Today’s verse is about trusting what God says about preparation. He knows what’s coming. He’s numbered our days. His plan for us is good, and His will for our lives is perfect …even though it sometimes looks like a big shoe-sucking mud puddle.
Get your fields ready: Plan carefully and acquire the means as you build your house.- NIV Study Bible Notes
Distance runners plan carefully. We know we have to run far, but we can’t get there all at once. Miles must be accumulated a little bit at a time, week after week, as we prepare our legs and strengthen our bodies and our lungs to handle the heavy load. We must plan carefully in life, too. Making drastic increases in any area of our lives cause red flags to fly.
Wisdom is required to build a house;understanding is necessary to make it secure. Proverbs 24:3
Wisdom doesn’t come easy for a distance runner. At first, we’re not sure we’ll survive that first three mile run. Our lungs burn and our legs have no idea what’s happening. That first race, we’re not sure we’ll make it to the finish. It seems impossible, and we feel a little defeated. But in time, as we run a little farther, and survive to see another finish line …what we know starts to trump how we feel.
We have to let what we know trump how we feel.
house. Symbolic of the life of an individual or a family.- NIV Study Bible Notes
We become what we prepare to build. And the truth we stand on must be rock solid, because everything that flows from the heart that we guard will provide the foundation on which we build our house.
Jesus died so that we can have an impenetrable foundation and an immovable confidence to build our house on. Him. The Cross. The grace He gave us when He gave up His last breath is the very foundation our lives are built on. Anything else is just shoe-sucking mud.
Father, Praise You for runners! For distance runners! Thank You for giving me the opportunity to run and to coach, so that the lessons I learned would affirm the wisdom You planted. Forgive me …and forgive us all …for thinking that the athletic and academic feats we accomplish come from our own strength. Bless us to build our homes on rock sold truth …on Your Truth. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Get the conversation started by commenting below, and let’s encourage one another as we face life in 2017 armed with grace!
“MOMMMMMM-A!!!”cried my wallowing six-year old, accompanied by her trademark stomp of dissatisfaction. “It’s doing MINUSES now …that’s too HARD….”
For days, exasperated sighs and incorrect buzzers had drifted from the kitchen counter at breakfast. But every once in a while, I would hear a jubilant yell:
“A smiley-face! I got a smiley face! I beat the teacher! Ha ha ha ha !”
It’s my hope that, somewhere in her small victory celebrations and the obsequious high-fives, the fact that she’s learning math trumps beating the “teacher” on the other side of our tablet.
The capricious people-pleaser innate to humanity seeks “the smiley-faces” from life’s audience. And when their approval alludes us, it can leave us feeling unworthy, unqualified, unloved, and all sorts of other “un” words. We can relieve our hearts of the burden to please others, when we start to see Him first.
Paul is talking about the discipline he enforced upon his own life to serve Christ. (NIV Notes) When my life get’s hard, I tend to snap. When the side of my brain that signals I’ve earned the right to lose a little control trumps the logical side, I am libel to tell my kids to pick up there “s-word.” Or, ask them what in the “hocky-sticks” they are thinking. I might stomp up the stairs, roll my eyes at my husband, or cause my kids to flinch in fear. Anyone relate?
When the endurance of preparedness kicks in, the logical side of our brains replaces lunacy with a pause. A moment, to just sit in the pocket of reaction and allow the memory to search out truth. If we read the truth of God’s Word day after day, it will remain alive and active to guide us on the fly.
Paul knew the cost and sacrifice of such discipline, but knew also it wasn’t aimless.
“All the runners run” challenges me to lay down my efforts to succeed in exchange for consistency and discernment.
In a long-distance track event, I like to watch the runners who get boxed in after the lanes merge. Despite all of the preparation and experience the sport can offer, some of the best runners in the world still end up there. Against all odds, sometimes a runner jolts out of the pressure pocket like lightning …and sails back into the race. I love to root for those runners.
Have you found yourself boxed into places you’ve never wanted to be …places you prepared never to be? Let me encourage you from a place of commraderie. Human weakness will never go away, but neither will Jesus. Sometimes the only way to get the prize is to take a leap of faith. To reach out for His hand through the spikes clipping by, and let Him pull us back into the race when we’re ready to jolt.
Phil 3:14 explains that the winner of the race, in the time period Paul wrote this letter to the Corinthians, won money and a wreath of leaves. (NIV notes on Phil 3:14) We train awfully hard to earn promotions, win medals, buy houses, and take vacations. The incomparably majestic crowns in Heaven are going to make a free trip to Disney World equatable to a free Oreo cookie. Just one cookie. Without the milk.
When I get to heaven, I want God to be proud of me… like a whole reward chart overflowing with smiley-faced stickers. He’ll always love me, but I want to have endured obedience in the pursuit of holiness. I want to break free from the pack and run down that straightaway praising His name as the tape breaks across my chest. I want to win. For Him. God doesn’t paint a whole picture of what that looks like for everyone. It’s as individual as each one of us. And His is the only approval we’re intended to rely on.
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If you know me at all, you know I do not understand God’s purpose for squirrels. Just don’t. I don’t think they’re cute, I don’t get sad when one loses a race across the road with a car, and I don’t find joy in feeding them. The feeling is mutual. I’ve been chased out of my own yard by squirrels, and at my previous residence, definitely yelled at by squirrels. I was sad that my husband and I had to have three giant, hollowed-out trees removed from the lot we built our current home on, until I was told they were home to a pretty giant family of squirrels. With one maple tree left in the yard, I felt home free from squirrel harassment. Until yesterday…
Lo and I were sitting out on our front porch on a beautiful summer morning, admiring our sunflower patch. It’s smaller than usual this year. I decided to replace the giant sunflowers that have grown there in the past with smaller plants this year, so they wouldn’t topple over in the wind. With the plethora of rain and clouds we’ve been blessed with this summer in Northern Ohio, we’ve yet to see one single sunflower bloom…until yesterday.
Lo turned back around to our little table and to her paper that she was practicing the letter “D”on, and I to my journal and cup of coffee. Listening to the lake and summer breeze and the birds…all of the sudden we heard a rustling from the sunflower patch.
“MOM!!!!” Lo jumped up, “IT’S A SQUIRREL! HE’S EATING THE SUNFLOWER!!!”
“GET OUT OF HERE, SQUIRREL!” we both yelled. “GO AWAY-GET OUT OF OUR GARDEN!”
The squirrel had left the flower half-eaten and severely dismantled, but we chased him off and sat back down.
The rustling returned immediately. He was back for the rest of the flower. This time, he snapped it off and ran back up the lone maple tree with it in his mouth…sat on branch just out of our reach…and proceeded to munch on the flower.
By this time, Lo and I were in the yard, at the base of the tree, me with a broom in one hand and a hard shell in the other trying to whack the thing one way or another. The broom broke, and the flying shell did not scare the squirrel. He sat there munching the flower until it was gone, and then sent the leaf attached to it floating back down to the ground. Then he just laid on the branch to full to move.
All the while my older daughter, Brianne, had now joined us in yelling at the squirrel, who could obviously care less about what our plans were for that beautiful sunflower. See, the sunflower patch just so happens to sit in front of a giant smiley face sign, in honor of the Elementary School principal who lost her battle with cancer. The smiley face was her thing, and when we moved the sign to our sunflower patch, they grew out of control. It become a happy little tribute. The squirrels have never bothered it before.
When I was texting my husband what had happened, that snapped off sunflower reminded me of “the marathon.” (Leave it to a dumb squirrel to bring a difficult memory to the surface.)
Each stride of my marathon training was in praise of the miracle of my healing from a fused spine and AS. God literally allowed me to experience a healing from disease, and through prayer and God’s Word I felt confidently called to use the marathon as a platform to spread my testimony in order to give others hope.
Nursing a sore Achilles that I was scared would end my journey to the marathon, I remember taking a deep breath and praying before the start of my last training run. With an Elevation sermon series ringing in my ears, I put my feet in God’s hands for 20 miles. I relaxed into Him and into my stride, soaking in the scenery of the sunrise along the lake as I sailed on down the road.
“Go, Mommy! Go-Go-Go Mommy!!!” my girls chanted as they and my husband met me for pit stops along the way. Runners will relate to the smile that creeps on your face when your out on the road doing something you never in your wildest dreams thought you could do. That’s how I ran that day. In disbelief of what God can do with my life when I just surrender it to Him.
Legs barely able to pick themselves up from fatigue, I stopped my watch immediately after it beeped for the 20th mile. Eyes welling up with tears, limping up my sidewalk to my house…, I looked down at my average pace. 8:29 per mile. Boston qualifying pace for a girl my age is 8:20. Holy smokes…it was within reach. Tears flowed down my face as I praised the Lord for his faithfulness and strength.
The miles had been logged. The work was done. After two months straight of “longest run ever” long runs, I was finally ready to race. Months of diligently icing ailments and stretching and strengthening weak spots. Hours upon hours striding down long country roads, face half frozen during the cold winter, hobbling through wind and pain. Collapsing in my driveway with tears of agony after my 13-miler and 18-miler.
Every run was a leap of faith. Eight miles, ten miles, twelve miles, thirteen miles, fifteen miles, seventeen miles, eighteen miles, twenty miles. Each time I asked God if this was the way. Each time asking for prayers that I would make it through. Each time finishing the run that I had started.
After a day off to rest, I went out to run an easy five miles down the pier to the lighthouse and back. Halfway back down the pier, I felt a pinch in my Achilles.
For the next two weeks, I would watch my dream shatter right before my eyes, because after all that training….all those miles….what I couldn’t do…was rest.
Just like that sunflower was picked right as it was finally starting to bloom, I sidelined myself with acute Achilles tendonitis two weeks before my race. It was so severe that a lump formed where the damaged tissue was, probably due to a microscopic tear. Unlike the sunflower that was snapped off after it fought through the rain and cold weather and finally started to bloom, it was less clear to me what the purpose of it all was. The sunflower fed the squirrel.
Never did I imagine that I would make it through all of the training, but not even to the starting line of the race.
I watched others update their facebook status and tracked my friends on race-day…much like watching that squirrel eat my sunflower just out of my reach. There was nothing I could do about it. What was once a clear “yes” from God was now a very loud “no.” To race on my Achilles would risk allowing it to snap right in half…but why was that leap of faith a “no?”
I felt God telling me that I didn’t need the “show” of race day, and I felt Him answering my prayer to remain humble through not being able to race. My kids and their summer vacation kept drifting into my mind, making the risk of landing myself on crutches for the summer less and less worth the sake of saying “I did it.”
God encouraged and affirmed my decision not to race while I was sitting in the dance studio waiting for my tiny dancers, listening to Pastor Steven from Elevation Church preach on my i Pad.
“What if the thing that God wanted from me all along was not that I would arrive, but that I would reach?” Pastor preached.
A pit formed in my stomach as he continued on…
“What if what He really wants from you…what if the real goal is just that you keep reaching?”
My eyes welled up with tears…
“What if the real goal isn’t that you could make it around the bases without falling down-but what if even while you were flat on your face-what if even while you were down-what if even though it looked like you had lost-you missed the fence by 60 feet and just didn’t know it yet.”
When I knew I wouldn’t be able to race the marathon I had felt so called to race, I was crushed. How else would I ever be able to tell people about the miracle I had experienced? How could I encourage others not to give up hope when I had failed to reach my goal. These were the thoughts I prayed so earnestly for answers to as I listened on…
“What if reaching… pressing… coming after God with all your heart… trying again-the righteous may fall seven times but he gets back up (Proverbs 24:16)-that’s the goal,” he preached on, “Get up again! Press towards the mark! Stretch your imagination! Stretch your faith! Stretch your limits! REACH.”
I don’t understand why God does the things He does or when He chooses to do them, but I do trust Him with my life.
I made a goal to try to be like Paul, who said…
“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or want. I CAN DO ALL THIS THROUGH HIM WHO GIVES ME STRENGTH.” Philippians 4:12-13
Whether I can run or not…
I came up short, and yet I don’t feel slighted in the least. If God didn’t lead me through my training, not promising…but allowing me to envision crossing the finish line…I might not have even tried.
Dreaming of pointe shoes and driven towards dance, I related to Brianne as she struggles to get her “splits.”
“Brianne,” I said, “think of your splits like me running twenty miles. I never though I could do it, but I just kept trying…just kept running. Have faith in yourself, have faith in God, and try your best. Just keep stretching. ”
This morning, I made breakfast and lunches to the sound of a unicorn galloping throughout the house. I can’t make this stuff up. With sound effects, she made laps around the first floor for a good hour… in full character. She stopped only to hug Daddy goodbye as he left for work, and to eat “unicorn’s” favorite breakfast…a Pop Tart. This is why she is the most difficult child to discipline.
I appreciated her funny little antics, and let her buckle up and walk up to pre-school as “Lo the Unicorn.” I didn’t want her to be distracting to her class…but man…I had to seize the opportunity to spread the laughter on this cold, foggy, spring morning in Northern Ohio.
In the midst of dealing with dashed marathon hopes due to injury, and going through withdrawel on my fourth day off of running, little Lo rescued my day before it even began.
“As runners we understand the importance of our bodies,
because without them we would lose a piece of who we are.”
-Jolee Paden, “Spiritual Runner.”
That’s a truth packed statement, and a photo full of a swollen achilles. Goodbye, piece. It sure looks likes, it, right? I sure looks like the end of my marathon goal…12 days before the race. It looks like failure, heartbreak, lack of discipline, and lost hope.
I had made it through the training…celebrated my 20 mile long run, and was looking forward to taper…but I failed to rest, and launched a minor injury into a possible major. Out for an 8-miler a few days ago, I could sense it was over. Amidst the pain, anguish, and heartbreak lumping up in my throat, echoing in my ears was the Elevation Church sermon “It’s Yours for the Taking” I had chosen for my long run. As the inevitible began to confront me, I heard something about holding on your life verse. Mine is 1Thes5:16, “Be joyful always,” but I didn’t feel very joyful. In fact, I remember exactly what I was thinking…”That’s too hard right now.”
A few moments later I made it down to the end of my old street to enjoy what I knew could be my last run to the sunrise. Comforted by the sound of His word and the sight of his presence, I took a deep breath…and ran the half mile back home. Tears streamed down my cheeks and sobs overcame me as I walked up my sidewalk and into my house. It was over. I could feel it. I believe no one but other runners knows how that feels, so I was thankful to find comfort in these words Jolee Paden’s devotional.
“As runners we understand the importance of our bodies,
because without them we would lose a piece of who we are.”
“Be joyful always. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances.” 1Thes. 5:16-18 It was super easy for me to be joyful and thankful when I finished my 20 mile run. For the first time, I felt confident I could race the marathon. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I could run 20 miles at 8:29 average pace. But God knew it. And I felt Him every stride out there that day, running along the lakeshore at sunrise. Felt His presence every step…even smiled up the hills.
It’s not so easy to be joyful right now. But I will be… and I will keep praying. I will be thankful in all circumstances. Turn my focus towards my funny Lo who always makes me laugh, and my sweet Brianne who has such a compassionate little soul.
When I told my her that I might not make it to my big race, she replied immediately.
“You just can’t focus on that. Instead, focus on how far you’ve come.”
Remarkable words coming from a 7 year old.
“Thank you so much, Brianne! You’re right. Where did you hear that?” I asked.
“From my sweet Momma,” she replied.
“Be joyful always. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances.”
God has healed me before, and I have complete faith He will again. Exodus 14:14 assures me, “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”
I can’t control God’s timing, but I will not lose hope. After all, miracles do happen. Little ones, and big…fat…ginormous..huge ones that change your life forever. Keep facing the sunshine, and lift your head high.
“For those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.” Isaiah 40:31
Ahhh, the beginning of Track season. 32 degrees, but the sun was out and the wind was dead. “Shorts and T-Shirt” weather, as one of our brightest observed. My view of the track has always been linked closely with pain…and joy…and hurt…and triumph…and nausea…and pride…and…well, you get the picture.
From the other side of the track as a volunteer coach, I recalled my initiation into track at fifteen. A green pea, I thought over a decade of ballet wold lend me the coordination and speed it took to be a hurdler. Yet, I took notice of how much fun the distance runners had out on their runs… and I fell over a lot of hurdles.
I laughed as some of our Cross Country runners deserted the distance crew to be sprinters, and wondered what painful episode caused the sudden change in heart.
Quickly pulled back to reality by my run-away child, I caught the glance of every non-parent in the weight room as she stumbled hazardly through bars and leg press machines.
Practice rolled on, and I fed my 8 month old a bottle while attempting to coax my stubborn ‘almost-3” year old down from the bleachers, I collected goals and last week’s mileage from the distance runners. Learn new names, calculate workout paces, establish new goals…and chase after my 3 year old who believes with all her little heart that she can keep up with the ‘runners’ as they exit the track to log some miles.
The thrill of the “chase” made me question my motives, Why coach? Why drag my 2 kids up to the track?
Truth? Track is a piece of me. My little peepsters misbehave and make the experience a wonderful combination of gut wrenching and embarrassment on some days, but being at the track never was a completely comforting experience.
I had drifted towards distance runners, just like I had at fifteen.
I always wonder how people know what their passion is. (Little kids on American Idol that say they’ve known since they were 2 they wanted to sing.) Perhaps it’s just what you gravitate to….what you love so much that any pain that goes along with it is overshadowed by the triumphs.
Maybe my daughters will learn to love distance running and it’s masochistic ways, too. If not in running than in something that they question why they love, until they are out there in it. I’m trying to instill an experience in them that will help shape their determination, by simply showing them who I am. I might not have it all figured out yet, but maybe that’s a good thing to accept early on in parenting.