I GIVE UP!

 

I GIVE UP

(Lead Me Part 3)

“And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us…” (Hebrews 12:1)

 

What do you do when things go wrong?

Not just the—“I slept through the alarm, spilled coffee on my white shirt, heading out the door to the car with a dead battery”— kind of day. But more like the—“You stayed too late at work for a boss who is mad at you for taking too much bereavement time, so you and didn’t get home in time to change the diaper on your parent who barely knows who you are anymore, and you missed the call from your own doctors who need to see you in their office; they have the results of your biopsy”–kind of day??

When it rains, it pours. And this type of day/life happens to even the best of us. What do you do with these kinds of days?

I find comfort in the realness of the journeys of the followers of God in the Bible. Job is widely turned to as the book in the bible that demonstrates enduring faith through the very toughest these kinds of days.

As I re-read his story, I am reminded that people back then believed that when bad stuff happened, they must’ve done something wrong and God was punishing them for it. Yet, Job had done nothing wrong! His whole life, his prosperity, his family, his reputation, his health was all snatched from him and he was INNOCENT.  (Sound familiar?) Then his friends, day after day, rubbed salt in his wounds with accusations and empty words.

Job was having one of those kinds of days. And, let’s face it—we all will be faced with days like these sooner or later. And, when my day comes, I would like to think that I would have the endurance, patience and faithfulness of Job.

But I know myself better than that.

And, if you know me at all, you know that I love finding parallels of our ordinary days and relating them to our journey on this lovely planet that is our temporary home.

I was training for my first marathon; an endurance run of 26.2 miles.

At the same time, my father was battling metastatic malignant melanoma level 5; an endurance run for his very life.

The doctors told him it was untreatable, but he wasn’t willing to accept that. Experimental treatments gave him the hope and ultimately more time in the race.

Marathon training gave me hours upon hours by myself to pray, cry, feel the pain, rage against the pavement, to be numb, to pray more and to increase my endurance. Mile by mile, just moving forward was my therapy.

At times, my own thoughts and questions would drive me to the brink of giving up. So, I tried using headphones and music on runs longer than two hours. It was on a desolate, long, hot run out on the nearly deserted Salt River Indian reservation, miles from home that I was smacked in the face with the reality of hopelessness of my father’s diagnosis.

The questions were relentless–How was he handling this? He puts on a brave face and still maintains his sense of humor, but what happens in the dark of the long night? Would we ever get a father/daughter dance at my wedding? Would he make it to see my marathon? Would he survive this next treatment? What if he gives up? Why does cancer even exist?!?

As my feet traveled along the winding canal, the gravel shifted under me like quicksand, the tears began choking my breath. I doubled over as the side-stitch from lack of oxygen pricked at my side. I stopped dead in my tracks. I couldn’t go on.

I didn’t have the endurance like Job. I gave up.

I sucked in deep breaths trying to regain my composure. I bent over. How could I give up? How could I give up when my dad is fighting for his life?

And then coincidence/grace stepped in. The song that began playing was by Mercy Me. As their words traveled through the ear-buds right into the depths of my struggle, a drop of hope quenched my spirit. I stood and slowly began walking, one foot in front of the other. Before long, I had regained my stride and was running. As I pressed on my journey, these words of hope reverberated with my soul:

“Hold fast

Help is on the way

Hold fast

He’s come to save the day

And what I’ve learned in my life,

The One thing greater than my stride is Your grasp

So hold fast”

—Mercy Me “Hold Fast”

 

“It is the LORD who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” Deuteronomy 31:8

When I’m having one of those days, I remember Who travels with me. He never lets me out of His grasp.

It’s been the darkest nights and toughest stuff on this life’s path that I’ve felt my relationship with God so intimately.

 

I look back on the faithful answers God delivered throughout. I remember how He answered so many prayers. How, although my father lost the battle for his life, we did get that “father-daughter dance;” we had more time together; and he not only bought me this from my first marathon:

Gift from dad

 

 

 

 

But my father was there, cheering me on as I crossed the finish line.

 

I’ve said it before—I am not a leader.

I’m a follower.

My friend, “quotable Kelly” is a leader. She effortlessly has led a group of women (including me) these last eight years.

Quotable Kelly on far right

She’s led us not only through an increasing knowledge of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ, but has also traveled with us through the peaks and valleys of life. She shared her wisdom, experience, understanding and heart with us. Yet, her life takes her away from our group. Leaving a void in the leadership for our group and, leaving a void in our hearts for her presence and wisdom.

I’ve been asked to step up as leader. I, in no way, feel worthy or up to it—I’ve enjoyed being in the follower role.

Yet, in life, sometimes we’re asked to do things we don’t feel equipped to handle.

And then the questioning begins.

The human heart was made to love, but is it equipped to withstand the loss of loved ones?

The human brain is so imaginative and creative, but how do we comprehend cancer? Alzheimer’s? Children who go hungry? Divorce?

How do we lead in this messy life, when we are a follower?

How do we hold fast, when we don’t feel equipped?

I am a runner. I believe I’m equipped to run because I’m not coordinated enough to do anything else! (See the post on ZUMBA!) 😉

And in life and in running, you just have to put one foot in front of the other. Keep going. And I KNOW it isn’t easy.

But when it comes to “events” that can be planned for, I am overly equipped to handle this! When I can see an upcoming race on the calendar, in my self-sufficiency, I will do everything in my power to be ready and equipped!

And I tend to be an “over-trainer.”

My husband and I are full swing into our triathlon training and our event is this weekend.

Have we done enough? Have we gone far enough? Have we done the work and put in the miles?

And since I’ve been in charge of our training, the answer is: “Of course we have!”

But it didn’t come easy and it doesn’t mean that stuff won’t go wrong along the way–

“Honey, if we are going to get this run in, we need to go now!” I urged on my new husband before the Arizona heat got unbearable.

I’m not sure why I do this, however; because he hardly ever runs WITH me…

Usually, I love to run. It’s routinely become my prayer time, my return to sanity, my time to rage against the pavement when I’m having one of those days, and it’s my time to commune with God. It’s where I leave all my questions.

I believe it’s saved my spirit more than once.

But when my new husband and I “run together,” it drives me NUTTY because he runs about 15 feet in front of me. And we never use headphones when we run “together,” so no luck on finding some encouragement or distraction there!

It completely deflates my spirit as I huff and puff, trying to reach the unreachable carrot that is my new husband gliding along the pavement in front of me.

running ahead

But today, on this run that we should’ve started an hour earlier, I didn’t want to fall behind. The quicker we went, the sooner we’d be done and out of the heat. Right?! Yet, today I simply cannot keep pace with him. After getting frustrated and slightly overheated, everything about holding fast, pressing on and “just doing it” falls away…

The noise inside my head is rambling on about how we should’ve gone earlier. I should’ve gone without him. I should’ve…should’ve…should’ve…I **BONK**

I give up.

I wave him on telling him to go on without me.

I let out an exhausted breath and bend down (pretending to stretch.)

While I’m down, I look back at the upside down road I have just traveled. And in this moment, it happens to me.

At the end of my own limits, my own capabilities, my endurance and sufficiency, a new strength is found—It is here, as I give up on my own strength, that the Unseen moves in.

“My grace is sufficient for you. My power is made perfect in your weakness.”—2 Corinthians 12:9

I remember back on the other roads where I was to the breaking point.

footsteps on journey

And I remember the enduring faith of Job.

–“The account of Job’s life isn’t in the Bible so we can compare experiences; it’s there so we can rest in the knowledge that God is in control in every circumstance of our lives and that He is full of wisdom and grace…It is our journey with the Lord that is precious to us because we realize how close God is as He walks with us every step of the hard way.”-Joel Osteen THE HOPE BIBLE

Job knew who he followed and who was with him at every step. He also knew God was the prize at the end of the road he was enduring.

“And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us…” (Hebrews 12:1)

“…We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfect our faith.” (Hebrews 12:2)

I stand up and re-affix my eyes.

I run. And during this specific run, I remind myself that we all have our own race to run. By trying to do this at another’s pace, the joy was sucked out of my own journey. By accepting my capabilities and my weaknesses, I fall into my own cadence and I focus on running my own race.

I am struck by the parallel truth that each of us must be responsible for our own journey. Not anyone else’s, just our own. As the miles pass beneath my feet, my joy for this run returns. Up ahead, I see my new husband waits for me at the corner.

He needed a sip of the water (I always carry.) He drinks.

I nod at him, “Go on ahead,” I say with a genuine smile.

He takes off again.

I sigh, watch him go, and I continue at my own pace. A teensy bit of heat exhaustion creeps in and I imagine that the saguaros are a message from God-wIM000571.JPGith their arms raised in encouragement, they are cheering me on!

 

 

I remind myself that this pain and these miles prepare me for something greater down the road. I HOLD FAST in knowing this race of life requires endurance.

I press on.

About a mile later, I catch up to my overheated hubby—he is walking.

“It’s too hot,” he says. “You go on ahead.” He smiles at me.

He has **BONKED**

I give him more of the water and know that those same saguaros will cheer him on.

But he has given up on this run.

I run on.

I reach our destination before he does.

I prepare two tall, ice-cold glasses of fresh filtered water and go back out to cheer on my husband.

 

Whether you are facing something that you don’t feel adequately prepared for; running a race that you’ve done everything in your power to endure; stumbling through one of those days where your spirit is tested; or when you are entrenched in the toughest stuff of life and just want to give up, –there is still One who leads the way for us.

“So Father, give me the strength
To be everything I’m called to be
Oh, Father, show me the way
To lead them
Won’t You lead me?”

—Sanctus Real’s “Lead Me”

 

He will equip us when we are at the end of our abilities.

He is with us for every step and cheering us on.

And I can only imagine what it will be like to see Him face to face as we cross that finish line!

crossing a practice finish line

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I GIVE UP!

 

I GIVE UP

(Lead Me Part 3)

“And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us…” (Hebrews 12:1)

 

What do you do when things go wrong?

Not just the—“I slept through the alarm, spilled coffee on my white shirt, heading out the door to the car with a dead battery”— kind of day. But more like the—“You stayed too late at work for a boss who is mad at you for taking too much bereavement time, so you and didn’t get home in time to change the diaper on your parent who barely knows who you are anymore, and you missed the call from your own doctors who need to see you in their office; they have the results of your biopsy”–kind of day??

When it rains, it pours. And this type of day/life happens to even the best of us. What do you do with these kinds of days?

I find comfort in the realness of the journeys of the followers of God in the Bible. Job is widely turned to as the book in the bible that demonstrates enduring faith through the very toughest these kinds of days.

As I re-read his story, I am reminded that people back then believed that when bad stuff happened, they must’ve done something wrong and God was punishing them for it. Yet, Job had done nothing wrong! His whole life, his prosperity, his family, his reputation, his health was all snatched from him and he was INNOCENT.  (Sound familiar?) Then his friends, day after day, rubbed salt in his wounds with accusations and empty words.

Job was having one of those kinds of days. And, let’s face it—we all will be faced with days like these sooner or later. And, when my day comes, I would like to think that I would have the endurance, patience and faithfulness of Job.

But I know myself better than that.

And, if you know me at all, you know that I love finding parallels of our ordinary days and relating them to our journey on this lovely planet that is our temporary home.

I was training for my first marathon; an endurance run of 26.2 miles.

At the same time, my father was battling metastatic malignant melanoma level 5; an endurance run for his very life.

The doctors told him it was untreatable, but he wasn’t willing to accept that. Experimental treatments gave him the hope and ultimately more time in the race.

Marathon training gave me hours upon hours by myself to pray, cry, feel the pain, rage against the pavement, to be numb, to pray more and to increase my endurance. Mile by mile, just moving forward was my therapy.

At times, my own thoughts and questions would drive me to the brink of giving up. So, I tried using headphones and music on runs longer than two hours. It was on a desolate, long, hot run out on the nearly deserted Salt River Indian reservation, miles from home that I was smacked in the face with the reality of hopelessness of my father’s diagnosis.

The questions were relentless–How was he handling this? He puts on a brave face and still maintains his sense of humor, but what happens in the dark of the long night? Would we ever get a father/daughter dance at my wedding? Would he make it to see my marathon? Would he survive this next treatment? What if he gives up? Why does cancer even exist?!?

As my feet traveled along the winding canal, the gravel shifted under me like quicksand, the tears began choking my breath. I doubled over as the side-stitch from lack of oxygen pricked at my side. I stopped dead in my tracks. I couldn’t go on.

I didn’t have the endurance like Job. I gave up.

I sucked in deep breaths trying to regain my composure. I bent over. How could I give up? How could I give up when my dad is fighting for his life?

And then coincidence/grace stepped in. The song that began playing was by Mercy Me. As their words traveled through the ear-buds right into the depths of my struggle, a drop of hope quenched my spirit. I stood and slowly began walking, one foot in front of the other. Before long, I had regained my stride and was running. As I pressed on my journey, these words of hope reverberated with my soul:

“Hold fast

Help is on the way

Hold fast

He’s come to save the day

And what I’ve learned in my life,

The One thing greater than my stride is Your grasp

So hold fast”

—Mercy Me “Hold Fast”

 

“It is the LORD who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” Deuteronomy 31:8

When I’m having one of those days, I remember Who travels with me. He never lets me out of His grasp.

It’s been the darkest nights and toughest stuff on this life’s path that I’ve felt my relationship with God so intimately.

 

I look back on the faithful answers God delivered throughout. I remember how He answered so many prayers. How, although my father lost the battle for his life, we did get that “father-daughter dance;” we had more time together; and he not only bought me this from my first marathon:

Gift from dad

 

 

 

 

But my father was there, cheering me on as I crossed the finish line.

 

I’ve said it before—I am not a leader.

I’m a follower.

My friend, “quotable Kelly” is a leader. She effortlessly has led a group of women (including me) these last eight years.

Quotable Kelly on far right

She’s led us not only through an increasing knowledge of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ, but has also traveled with us through the peaks and valleys of life. She shared her wisdom, experience, understanding and heart with us. Yet, her life takes her away from our group. Leaving a void in the leadership for our group and, leaving a void in our hearts for her presence and wisdom.

I’ve been asked to step up as leader. I, in no way, feel worthy or up to it—I’ve enjoyed being in the follower role.

Yet, in life, sometimes we’re asked to do things we don’t feel equipped to handle.

And then the questioning begins.

The human heart was made to love, but is it equipped to withstand the loss of loved ones?

The human brain is so imaginative and creative, but how do we comprehend cancer? Alzheimer’s? Children who go hungry? Divorce?

How do we lead in this messy life, when we are a follower?

How do we hold fast, when we don’t feel equipped?

I am a runner. I believe I’m equipped to run because I’m not coordinated enough to do anything else! (See the post on ZUMBA!) 😉

And in life and in running, you just have to put one foot in front of the other. Keep going. And I KNOW it isn’t easy.

But when it comes to “events” that can be planned for, I am overly equipped to handle this! When I can see an upcoming race on the calendar, in my self-sufficiency, I will do everything in my power to be ready and equipped!

And I tend to be an “over-trainer.”

My husband and I are full swing into our triathlon training and our event is this weekend.

Have we done enough? Have we gone far enough? Have we done the work and put in the miles?

And since I’ve been in charge of our training, the answer is: “Of course we have!”

But it didn’t come easy and it doesn’t mean that stuff won’t go wrong along the way–

“Honey, if we are going to get this run in, we need to go now!” I urged on my new husband before the Arizona heat got unbearable.

I’m not sure why I do this, however; because he hardly ever runs WITH me…

Usually, I love to run. It’s routinely become my prayer time, my return to sanity, my time to rage against the pavement when I’m having one of those days, and it’s my time to commune with God. It’s where I leave all my questions.

I believe it’s saved my spirit more than once.

But when my new husband and I “run together,” it drives me NUTTY because he runs about 15 feet in front of me. And we never use headphones when we run “together,” so no luck on finding some encouragement or distraction there!

It completely deflates my spirit as I huff and puff, trying to reach the unreachable carrot that is my new husband gliding along the pavement in front of me.

running ahead

But today, on this run that we should’ve started an hour earlier, I didn’t want to fall behind. The quicker we went, the sooner we’d be done and out of the heat. Right?! Yet, today I simply cannot keep pace with him. After getting frustrated and slightly overheated, everything about holding fast, pressing on and “just doing it” falls away…

The noise inside my head is rambling on about how we should’ve gone earlier. I should’ve gone without him. I should’ve…should’ve…should’ve…I **BONK**

I give up.

I wave him on telling him to go on without me.

I let out an exhausted breath and bend down (pretending to stretch.)

While I’m down, I look back at the upside down road I have just traveled. And in this moment, it happens to me.

At the end of my own limits, my own capabilities, my endurance and sufficiency, a new strength is found—It is here, as I give up on my own strength, that the Unseen moves in.

“My grace is sufficient for you. My power is made perfect in your weakness.”—2 Corinthians 12:9

I remember back on the other roads where I was to the breaking point.

footsteps on journey

And I remember the enduring faith of Job.

–“The account of Job’s life isn’t in the Bible so we can compare experiences; it’s there so we can rest in the knowledge that God is in control in every circumstance of our lives and that He is full of wisdom and grace…It is our journey with the Lord that is precious to us because we realize how close God is as He walks with us every step of the hard way.”-Joel Osteen THE HOPE BIBLE

Job knew who he followed and who was with him at every step. He also knew God was the prize at the end of the road he was enduring.

“And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us…” (Hebrews 12:1)

“…We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfect our faith.” (Hebrews 12:2)

I stand up and re-affix my eyes.

I run. And during this specific run, I remind myself that we all have our own race to run. By trying to do this at another’s pace, the joy was sucked out of my own journey. By accepting my capabilities and my weaknesses, I fall into my own cadence and I focus on running my own race.

I am struck by the parallel truth that each of us must be responsible for our own journey. Not anyone else’s, just our own. As the miles pass beneath my feet, my joy for this run returns. Up ahead, I see my new husband waits for me at the corner.

He needed a sip of the water (I always carry.) He drinks.

I nod at him, “Go on ahead,” I say with a genuine smile.

He takes off again.

I sigh, watch him go, and I continue at my own pace. A teensy bit of heat exhaustion creeps in and I imagine that the saguaros are a message from God-wIM000571.JPGith their arms raised in encouragement, they are cheering me on!

 

 

I remind myself that this pain and these miles prepare me for something greater down the road. I HOLD FAST in knowing this race of life requires endurance.

I press on.

About a mile later, I catch up to my overheated hubby—he is walking.

“It’s too hot,” he says. “You go on ahead.” He smiles at me.

He has **BONKED**

I give him more of the water and know that those same saguaros will cheer him on.

But he has given up on this run.

I run on.

I reach our destination before he does.

I prepare two tall, ice-cold glasses of fresh filtered water and go back out to cheer on my husband.

 

Whether you are facing something that you don’t feel adequately prepared for; running a race that you’ve done everything in your power to endure; stumbling through one of those days where your spirit is tested; or when you are entrenched in the toughest stuff of life and just want to give up, –there is still One who leads the way for us.

“So Father, give me the strength
To be everything I’m called to be
Oh, Father, show me the way
To lead them
Won’t You lead me?”

—Sanctus Real’s “Lead Me”

 

He will equip us when we are at the end of our abilities.

He is with us for every step and cheering us on.

And I can only imagine what it will be like to see Him face to face as we cross that finish line!

crossing a practice finish line

“Mister T” and the Peaches

School is back in session! Although I don’t have children, I get to reminisce and share in the excitement this year because my new husband is a teacher!

I not only love this teacher ;), but I LOVE teachers and I loved school! Looking back, even the teachers who were “mean” spent their lives making sure I learned to pay attention, to give respect, how to multi-task, and (ugh!) even how to do long division. And, (now I know) they took on this job while making “dittly squat” for an income!

Both inside and outside of the classroom, my teachers delivered lessons that still stick with me to this day.

I remain in touch with several of my junior high & high school teachers who had a profound influence on my life. This story is about one of these men; we will call him “Mister T.”

Colorado Peaches

Colorado Peaches

Colorado peaches are some of the best things on this green earth! A fresh Colorado peach is so juicy, sweet and tender, perfectly ripened by the Rocky Mountain climate and soil—they are out of this world!

My father loved peaches—only Colorado peaches, though. He loved them so much that he bought the tree and planted it in his yard so he could experience one of those beauties at his whim! Plus, as the cancer began to take over his body, his trips to the grocery store lessened.

Sadly, that tree he planted bore not a single peach.

Year after year—nada, nothing, zilch.

My father passed away March 29, 2008 and never ate a single Colorado peach from his tree.

Why?

The question that is never far away

The healing doesn’t come from being explained

Jesus please don’t let this go in vain

You’re all I have All that remains

-Mercy Me “The Hurt and the Healer”

If you’ve lost someone close to you, you know how it goes. Even though you feel your world has stopped; the world, in fact, keeps spinning. Time continues forward; people keep moving on; there is always the “TO DO” list.

As we went about the tasks of cleaning out his closets, settling accounts, paying doctor bills, we nearly missed what was happening with the tree.

Neighbors began calling.

He had one of the old voice message systems that recorded messages on a mini-tape. We heard his voice at every missed call. It was heartbreaking, like he was still here and waiting to return calls. “Just leave a message and I’ll get right back to you…”

At least four neighbors called and several family members who had been to the house; all with very similar messages –

“…Let us know if you need help. Especially with that peach tree…”

WTH?

So my sister and I went out to the yard to investigate.

What we saw stunned us into silence. With tears in our eyes, we looked up and shook our heads in disbelief.

Five years after he planted it and just two months after he passed away, that peach tree’s branches were so filled with peaches that several of the branches hung to the ground! Many had leaned over into each of the neighbors’ yards—No wonder they were calling!

 

Peaches at last!

Peaches at last!

Our silence turned to awe.

There were so many peaches that each of those neighbors and family members picked to their hearts content. We packed several baskets and took them to friends.

Abundance

Abundance

We had some ourselves and baked no fewer than 12 peach pies which we froze and enjoyed over the next two years. Those pies were absolutely heavenly! We’ve held on to one, saving it for a very special occasion…

It’s May 30, 2014 and a beautiful clear Colorado day; the day before I will to marry my “Mr. Right” in Golden, Colorado. He and I go for my favorite run to Two Ponds and then around by my Dad’s old house. As we begin our run, I always pass by one of my favorite junior high school teacher’s house. Every time we do this run I tell my fiancé— “One of these days “Mister T” will be out taking care of his yard. I can’t wait to introduce you!”

We round the corner at the exact time we see his garage door opening and guess who steps out and begins working on his fence?!?

Barely able to contain myself, I nudge my running partner, “Today’s the day.”

I continue to jog right up to my old teacher. It has been years and he has aged; I can see it in his eyes. His eyes shine with recognition and a little confusion.

“Mister T!” I say, “It is Julie…uh..Stoddard…uh.. but soon to be different.” I wink at my fiancé.

“Oh my God it is!” He says and wraps me in a big hug.

“I always remembered the Stoddard girls; that deep voice you girls have, just like your dad!”

We go through the introductions and the reason we are back in town. He is happy in sharing his congratulations and I tell him how much he meant to me as a teacher and mentor. I know he is still making a difference in young lives as he shares some of his latest endeavors. Yet, there is a sadness in him; a weariness.

“How’s your dad doing? He still up around the corner? He still doing well?” He asks.

It’s my turn to feel sad.

“He passed away just over 5 years ago.” I tell him of the death sentence he was given. I also share with him the 13 years of bonus life we had with him and the triumphs of the unconventional treatments. I hold back on sharing how tough those last months were, watching the losing battle, I don’t like to re-visit that pain.

He looks me straight in the eye, I see the sadness in him again, “I’m so sorry, Julie. He was a good man.” He looks over to my fiancé, “Not that you need to hear this right now, with your good news for tomorrow…But, my wife,” he stops and looks back at the door to his house, “Over 40 years we’ve been together…She’s in there…can’t walk; can’t take care of herself; wearing a diaper.” His shoulders sink, “I just got through prostate cancer. The next day she falls. Now she doesn’t even know who I am.”

I choke back the tears in watching my teacher struggling with this. It all just seems to flood out.

His eyes drop, then he looks up, “I used to talk to God all the time. Now I just have questions. Why? I just don’t know anymore.”

This breaks my heart. I remember those feelings; the anger, the questions, the frustration, the helplessness, the weariness, the very same struggle I see in him.

Breathe

Sometimes I feel it’s all that I can do

Pain so deep that I can hardly move

Just keep my eyes completely fixed on You

Lord take hold and pull me through

-Mercy Me “The Hurt and the Healer”

And I did just what this song said. I fixed my eyes on the Lord and laid all my questions and feelings at the foot of the cross. I handed it over to the only One who I knew could bear my questions. I trusted Him to be faithful. But the heartache is still real; cancer is still cancer; Alzheimer’s is still a thief, death still happens. I still have questions.

But I trust I will be given answers some day.

 

“Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity.” 1 Corinthians 13:12 (The Hope Bible)

OR, like one of my new favorite quotes from Sonny Kapoor who repeatedly says in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, “It all works out in the end. And, if it has not yet worked out, then it is not yet the end!”

 

I grab ahold of my teacher’s hand and tell him the truth, “I wish you didn’t have to go through this. I don’t know why. I don’t have any answers.”

I really don’t. I hate this. I wish I had something hopeful to share with him. I am at a loss. I tell him he isn’t alone. I end up sharing how hard it was at the end for us with our father; the deep pain of watching one you love wither away, mentally, physically; the utter weariness and exhaustion of one’s spirit to witness such a thing.

But, I also tell him how I wouldn’t have survived without the prayers of my friends, encouragement from family and others sharing their struggles & stories. I tell him that God hasn’t left him and can handle his questions and to never stop talking to Him. I tell him how I believe God draws very near to us when we are brokenhearted; how I truly felt that. I tell him we will pray for him.

We continue on our run and we do. As we go by my father’s house and the tears come.

We pray for the pain we witnessed in “Mister T.” We prayed for his wife. And then I remember all those peaches.

I begin to wonder. Maybe, this is like those peaches that showed up after my father passed away?

Dad wanted those peaches so bad.

“Mister T” wants answers so bad.

But we may not get those “peaches” in our timing.

It’s the moment when humanity

Is overcome by majesty

When grace is ushered in for good

And all our scars are understood

When mercy takes its rightful place

And all these questions fade away

I fall into your arms open wide

When The hurt and the healer collide

-Mercy Me “The Hurt and the Healer”

 

 

And, just like this “divine collision” Mercy Me so beautifully describes, it is at this very moment, “Mister T”, my dad and I will sit down and savor that last peach pie.

The moment

The moment

The Unseen

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UNBROKEN

I requested it; waited weeks for it to come off “HOLD” from Scottsdale’s Public Library and now, I finally had it in my hands; “Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand. I dove in like a ten year old at a pool party on the hottest day of the summer.

I had no idea what I was in for. The Olympics, the running, the crazy boyhood life, the spirited jokes, the military preparations, the flying, the crashing, the inhumanity, the horrors of war…

And, like a terrible car crash, I couldn’t peel my eyes from it. It was heavy. Like any great novel, you are transported there. I needed to take breaks where I could stare into my own reality and recover from the events– and I was only READING it! “Unbroken” is many things, but primarily about one man, Louis Zamperini who, along with so many others, was held as a POW by the Japanese during WWII.

Each day I awoke after a night-time reading of it and somehow I’d changed; unable to return to the daily tasks of life without my perceptions being altered.

I’m willing to bet that everyone who reads this book will take away something different from it. Depending on whether you are a WWII veteran, a Japanese student, a young American, a runner, an Olympian, a mother, a brother, an atheist, an alcoholic… your life’s experiences will determine the message. Yet, there is depth and meaning in it for all. Reading Laura Hillenbrand’s flawless, detailed tale of this amazing, passionate, heroic man’s death-defying, horrendous experience, and what he did with it, leaves you changed.

The dark night of the soul—this is a journey you take reading “Unbroken.”

The dark night of the soul; Biblical teachers write of this. I’ve heard it explained referring to King David. He experienced this darkness when he refused to repent of his sins. King David, whom the Bible refers to as “a man after God’s own heart,” had committed adultery and subsequently ordered the murder of his adulteress’s husband. He experienced this darkness when he refused to repent of his sins. This “dark night of the soul” is what’s experienced when one turns away from God. Unwilling to accept circumstances, unwilling to face one’s own sins, and in capable of doing it on your own, it’s an unfathomably deep and immeasurable darkness that suffocates the soul—it’s a place without hope.

Louis Zamperini knows about the dark night of the soul—but his hell lasted way longer than a night.

To appreciate the power of the transitional experience and the depths Louis found his soul in, you must experience the story for yourself. Yet, as I amass library fines to finish my own journey through the darkness he encountered, I remind myself that the title is: “Unbroken.”

There is survival from this dark night of the soul.

Page 175 of the hardcover is where the tumult of his life came to a pivotal juncture. Laura details an encounter Louis had at a Billy Graham revival– “What God asks of men, said Graham, is faith. His invisibility is the truest test of that faith. To know who sees him, God makes himself unseen.”

Invisible faith.

When one reads of the full on HELL that this one man endured, I can see why some might believe that there wasn’t a God looking out for these souls. And in hindsight, one can dwell in that despair or make a different choice, like Louis did when he chose to be unbroken by it and turn another direction.

It’s always a choice to search for the Unseen or to turn your face from it.

“Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” – John 20:29

 

Now that my journey through this story is concluding, if I had to sum this novel up in one word, I would say HOPE. In encountering the humiliation and depravity that Louis’s journey took him on, coupled with the intense and powerful heights of this champion’s life, it’s easy to see that hope drove him on; hope was never lost; hope was His experience.

He chose to be unbroken and he saw the Unseen.

And now, as I pass on this treasure to the next awaiting soul ready to immerse in the story, I pray, as they view every sentence and watch the events be brought to life in Laura’s words, that they too, will witness the Unseen.

What will you see?

Run 2 Remember

Run 2 Remember

“Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.” John 16:20

Every so often, God’s grace touches down in our lives at the strangest of times…

This is one of those times.

Marne and Me before R2R

Marne and Me before R2R

It was 0-dark thirty, January 6, 2011 and at 20 degrees it is one of the chilliest mornings of the running season. Me and my running partner drove in the warmth of our car down nearly deserted streets to meet up with our friends at a park in Chandler, AZ to partake in a 5K (3.1 miles) race called The Run 2 Remember.

Because of their smaller distances, 5K’s are usually quite fun and festive, with people dressed in costume and loud music blaring. This particular 5K is run in honor of police officers across Arizona who’ve lost their lives. Military, fire departments and others also join in on this race and run to honor those they’ve lost in service.

It’s an emotion-filled, somber race.

Tense with the chill of the morning and the topic of the event, my thoughts turn to those whom I’ve lost and can never forget; I think of who I run for.

My friend, Marne, with whom I was meeting up with this morning, was grudgingly convinced (by me!) that moving from Colorado to Arizona was a good idea. But, with her deep attachments to family and her intense love of the Rocky Mountains, she was only staying a year; after that I was on my own.

Yet that day in 2011, the7th anniversary of the Run 2 Remember marked our 15th year in the desert.

It also marked another unforgettable day.

Having been in track and cross country, I’ve run so many different races, I’ve lost count. But Marne, a gymnast and a brand new runner, with her husband and three kids to commemorate, was running her very first 5K race.

As they go to get donuts, Marne and I begin affixing our race numbers.

She looks at me with a quivering lip.

“Don’t be nervous. You’ll do great; just run your own pace.” I assure her.

She shakes her head and looks down, “Jules, today is the 7th anniversary of when my dad died.” Her eyes well up as she looks at me, “Can you believe it’s been seven years??”

I flash back to the memories I have of her father; rosy cheeked and always smiling, with his full shock of white hair…I remember the devastation in her voice when she called to tell me of his unexpected death those seven years ago today.

Today, already feeling overcome, I simply don’t have words. I just hug her.

Arm-in-arm, we stand at the starting line. The gun goes off and hundreds of running shoes crunch across frozen desert tundra. We wind around the sidewalks and canals that make up this course. We choke up reading the t-shirts with the photos of loved ones lost in the line of duty. Gasps are heard in the midst of frosty exhales as many are also touched.

We can barely breathe as we watch the U.S. Marines, with frozen hands bravely hoisting heavy American flags, racing along honoring their friends, their family members, their brothers who served and sacrificed.

Running is a great coping method; the forward motion of it, the ease of getting into a rhythm where your mind can wander into forgotten realms. Running forces you to breathe and to push forward when you would much rather stay paralyzed in grief and stuck in a stagnant loss.

With each step, our pace accelerates. Mile by mile, we continue passing countless others lost in their very own races against memory and sorrow.

With each foot-fall advanced and breath inhaled, the light of dawn grows stronger.

Something unexplainable happened as we pushed ourselves on this cold morning. As we changed stride and began sprinting across the last few hundred yards of the race, lost in breath and motion, something else lifted us and pushed us forward…We finished exhausted, frozen and exhilarated.

This day, this anniversary for my friend will be one she will never forget.

With her three kids whopping and hollering and her husband and us tearfully cheering, she accepted her first place medal with such a shocked smile spread across her face. (And for those of us who run 5K’s, we know this is a really, really BIG DEAL!)

First Place!

“Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” Psalm 30:5

Watching her accept her medal and pose for photos, my mind flashed back to the jovial and grinning image I have of her father. This day, the day her father died, but this new day, also her very first race and a first place finish. As if giving her permission to be something other than sad on this day, delivered straight from heaven was something to make her smile on this anniversary.

This was, indeed, a run to remember.

Going Into the Darkness

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“Since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.” Hebrews 12:2

It’s winter (I use that term loosely in Arizona!) but it’s 5 a.m. and it’s pitch dark. The path I usually run became so boring, I decided on an alternate route. It takes me in front of a deserted school. Who knew this road would have ZERO activity on it and not a single street light?!

It’s a deep, deep darkness.

Cold fear prickles the nape of my neck.

I can barely see the pavement in front of me and when a car drives by, the headlights blind me.

Even light seems treacherous when you are engulfed in darkness.

This dark, shadowy stretch of unknown is only about ½ mile. I know street lamps will light my way once I make it to the corner. “Will I make it to see those lights around the corner? Come to think of it, no one knows where I am this morning”… As these thoughts taunt me, a car blazes by and I nearly stumble over a fallen tree branch. –I pick my feet up higher.

I think about hungry coyotes, gnarly javelina, and other hidden predators as I suddenly recall every episode of Criminal Minds. –My breathing accelerates and I increase my pace.

I step further into the roadway in hopes that fewer things will trip me up. I nearly jump out of my skin as I hear the “crunch” of something off to my left. I focus on where the sound came from and see a dark figure walking what appears to be a dog.

Just as I am about to completely freak out, I come to the corner, turn and see the lighted street stretch out before me. –The pace of my heart and my running form return to normal.

Funny thing, this lighted path is where I let my guard down and stumbled up a sidewalk ramp. I scraped my hand and knee and jarred my back out of whack. Hmm…

Just like this run, you can be gliding by on your normal path and easily get tripped up by the human tendency to fall back into bad habits. And it usually hurts.

A few days later when I head out for my morning run, I head straight for the street with the school; the “dark and scary street.”

I tell myself, “If Lara Bowman can run in Colorado’s below zero temps, at 0-dark thirty, every day to honor her son in boot camp, then I can face this!”

I refuse to fear this time. I approach the black abyss and pray to God, “Protect Lara from freezing to death on her run and protect me from this fear of what could be in this darkness. Be our shield and go before us. Please light the way.”

The more I run that “shadowy run,” and refuse to fear that darkness, the stronger I feel.

Day after day, as Lara braves the freezing temperatures; motivated by her love and a promise, she understands how much farther she can push herself.

If we avoid our fears, or are not willing to do the work, we are held back from growing stronger and accomplishing amazing things.

Beyond protecting us on our running adventures, I believe that God honors each of us when we are courageous enough to face our own inner dark places. Whether it’s a past mistake, a recurring sin or addiction, or the associated worry, doubts and shame; if there’s anything making us stumble and keeping us from a full and abundant life in Christ, He will help us conquer it.

And, the more we rely the light of Christ to guide us through the darkness, the stronger Christ’s power can be revealed in us.

“My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” 1 Corinthians 12:9

And this new power and strength is intended for the good of all. It not only empowers us to face the dark places in ourselves, but also emboldens us to help others struggling in darkness.

There are many people in desperate need of some light. They (and you) may not know it, but you might be the only light that they know.  You might be the person to encourage them through their dark time and get them back on their path.

And the hard work of getting through those dark places reminds us to treasure the ease of “walking in the light.” Remain vigilant for the sin and old bad habits that so easily entangle, (as well as those sidewalks that sneak up and can cause us to stumble when we get too comfortable!)

“Darkness as black as night covers all the nations of the earth, but the glory of the Lord rises and appears over you.” Isaiah 60:2

 

May you be fearless and courageous as you allow Jesus to en-lighten your race.

This is gonna hurt like…

Love to run two

THIS IS GONNA HURT…

“Hold on…Hold on to yourself. For this is gonna hurt like hell.”–Sarah Mclachlan

Two things you should know about me:

I LOVE to RUN

My day isn’t quite right if I miss out on my daily run. My thinking is foggy. My heart doesn’t beat as strong. My legs don’t hold me as upright. And if something comes to knock me out of balance, it is much easier to do when I haven’t had my run for the day.

And

I LOVE JESUS

I desire to live a life honoring God. I try to reflect the love of Jesus in what I do, how I live, how I treat others and in my heart. If I miss out on my time with the Lord, my thinking is foggy, my heart is weak, my walk is not upright and I am very easily knocked out of balance.

These two things are so entwined, interlocked and ingrained in the fibers of my life. My running time is often my time with the Lord; it is when I pray, seek and ask.  My time with the Lord is what keeps me running in this race of life.

“I’m not sick. I’m not sick. I’m not sick.”

It was the start of my weekend and I had lots of plans. I breathed deep and felt the gravelly, wheezy heaviness in my chest. I cleared my throat and began my mantra again, “I’m not sick. I’m not sick. I’m not sick.”

And as my weekend of denial progressed, the coughing began; the inability to breathe through the heaviness in my chest ended my restful nights and …

I got sick.

I hate getting sick because I know if I get out of my running regimen beyond two weeks, I have to start all over re-activating my cardio level, opening my lungs’ passageways and rebuilding atrophied muscles. The months of hard work, hills, interval training and hours pounding the pavement and in two short weeks of illness it’s flushed down the toilet.

So I fought it. Besides quoting my mantra of “not being sick,” I pushed through to keep my lungs open; I jogged, hiked and walked.

I got sicker.

It’s going around.

If you haven’t gotten it, you probably will. Your co-workers, friends and the seemingly harmless (yet, sneezing) 67 year old lady in seat 14D will ensure your immune system gets to partake in this.

Bedridden and nursing myself back with rest and fluids, I had to let go and realized a few things–

Coming back from illness is tough. Regaining wholeness and health is always an ongoing journey, and the next time I strapped on my running shoes—

–it was going to hurt like hell.

 

We live in a world steeped with sickness.

Sin, like an infection, is rampant in our world. If you are free from it now, you will catch it sooner or later. (We all fall short and we all will fall ill). And, if you are healthy, upright and steadfast, you will still teeter toward temptation. Worldly illnesses like selfishness, lying, envy, pride, hatred, bitterness, anger are just a few of the beastly infections we will face.

So how do you prepare? How do you fight them off? Even Olympic trained runners end up injured, even the healthiest of us will end up falling ill from time to time.

If we take a lesson from our bodies; we have to let go, we have to take time to rest, and we must realize we need help at times from a source other than ourselves.

Jesus, The Great Physician, came to heal the sick.

On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17)

If it’s a deep rooted illness–(an on-going addiction, a dangerous dance with drugs, a penchant toward pornography,) or whatever your struggle is–STOP.

Continuing on in that same sick (sinful) direction brings worse repercussions. It will lengthen your “illness.” By not allowing grace into those broken places in our lives, we stretch out our pain and suffering.

Quit doing what you are doing.

To repent simply means to turn…So turn around–Let the HEALER examine your heart and prepare your spirit, cause this is gonna hurt like…

“I came to realize that spirit, as much or more than physical conditioning, had to be stored up before a race.”-Herb Elliott, Olympic champion and world record holder in the mile.

As my physical condition was deteriorating, I built upon my spiritual conditioning.

What I desire is the freedom to breathe in the forgiveness, the hope of redemption and the power of Christ. His mercy through our “illnesses” allows a new direction. This turning and allowing a Healer’s guidance brings new strength to face the path set out before us.

 

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4)

 

As I strap back on my running shoes, I take a deep breath. All that sitting, resting and re-hydrating as I was recovering will make my next few weeks tougher to push through what has built up in my lungs, my heart and my body. But I press on, because I know health and wholeness can be obtained again. My Healer will reward my repentance. My Healer will help me push through difficulties and rebuild me for the next time.

And I am assured that there will be a next time. –

“In this world you will have trouble.” (John 16:33)

So, as I continue in His direction, running this race, I know I will be more prepared to handle stumbling blocks and more able to battle future illnesses. I awaken my vision so I may know where to turn around when I get lost, and I find my hope in knowing that there is nothing in this world that  can come against me that, with the power of Christ in me, I cannot face.

May you be encouraged as you run your race.

“I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead. I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.”  (Philippians 3:14)

 

May you find renewed strength as you face your own obstacles and illness and, may you always find rest and healing on your journey.