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?

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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 your brain on…”

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“This is your brain on…”

For those of us growing up in the 80’s, we know this phrase all too well.  The commercial for a “Drug Free America” that began with a picture of a whole egg: “If this is your brain…” then they crack the egg and fry it in a pan. “Then this is your brain on drugs.”

The brain unraveled.

This last weekend I attended a seminar/retreat on Love and Joy (and getting more of it in life!).  The instructor, Christy Osborn, was a corporate trainer for over 20 years. She utilized studies of the brain to understand and train/retrain individuals in the corporate world.

In summary, (or if you remember from science class) your brain communicates through a system of neurons and dendrites. Thoughts are neurotransmitters (chemicals) that travel from the neuron and through/out the dendrite. Picture a tennis ball at one end (neuron) and a stem coming out of it with a bunch of tree branches at the other end (dendrite).

When a negative thought happens (and test subjects were asked to dwell on negative things), the neurotransmitter (chemical) travels from neuron, down the stem and out through the dendrite where it makes paths to other nerve cells.

When your mind dwells on negative thoughts, it produces toxic neurotransmitters.

And it isn’t pretty–

Your brain on disappointment

Your brain on sorrow

Your brain in anger

Your brain in contempt

Your brain on bitterness

Your brain on unforgiveness–

Picture that tennis ball as a dried up prune and the extending branch as a dead and gnarly, blackened, spindly thatch of thorns.

It is a sickness that translates into our lives.

My sister calls this her “bad berry theory in management”—Those people who arrive to work in terrible moods, never smiling, always complaining, gossiping and grumping about everything. Their negativity spreads like a mold or a cancer through the workplace. It happens in life and in our bodies. When we dwell in the negative, our immune response decreases, our bodies are weakened and our pain tolerance levels decrease. We are more prone to illnesses when under stress; when someone dies, when we dwell in the negative.

And just a little more bad news—as it would turn out, those negative thoughts reproduce like a cancer. They stack up on themselves like a heaping, stinking pile of rotten produce.

Negativity perpetuates negativity.

Of course, we all will experience negative thoughts from time to time (the loss of a job, a divorce, losing a loved one, etc.,); the secret is to not get stuck there!

Ready for the good news?

Positive thoughts also reproduce themselves.

“Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8)

For positive thoughts, the same process occurs with the neurotransmitters traveling from the neuron to the dendrites–

Your brain on joy

Your brain in compassion

Your brain in forgiveness

Your brain in acceptance

Your brain in encouragement

Your brain in love!

Picture a robust golden apple and a stem emerging from it with branches loaded with a bounty of beautiful, shiny green leaves.

These positive neurotransmitters are like a shot of pure joy straight to the heart. They result in emboldening the immune system, increasing your tolerance for pain and strengthening your whole body and mind.

And ready for a little more good news?! (A good practice for that idea of MORE positive!) 😉

“I’m trading my sorrows. And I’m trading my shame. And I’m laying it down for the joy of the Lord.” Israel Houghton & New Breed

Remember that stinking, rotten pile?– It can be brought back to life!

 

The power of HOPE.

“And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.” (Romans 5:5)

We have a God who knows everything we’re going through.  He knows our hearts and our minds. He created us! And with His power in us, there is nothing man can do to us that He can’t transform to good.

“In my distress I prayed to the Lord, and the Lord answered me and set me free. The Lord is for me, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me?” (Psalm 118:5)

For the doubters, unbelievers or many who are just stuck in the negativity, there is a place you can take it all and be changed.

“Anything is possible if a person believes”…“I do believe, but help me with my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)

Take your burdens to Jesus-He can handle your disappointments, your discouragements, your hurt, your pain, your unforgiveness and your unbelief.

“We take every thought captive so that it is obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5)

With his power, given to you by the Holy Spirit, you can overcome; you can trade in your sorrow, your hopelessness and your pain for hope, love and joy.

Retrain your mind by taking a negative experience and locating the hope in it and the negative can transform to positive!

How does this work? Here are a couple of examples–Knowing that with Jesus, though you sorrow for your loved one who left this world too soon; you find hope in knowing you will see them again!

Or, spreading hope in the walk of life by being there for a friend who is diagnosed with cancer. Helping guide her because you survived that same diagnosis.

“He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others.” (2 Corinthians 1:4)

Hope is knowing that:

When chaos surrounds you, there is One that can calm the stormy seas (Matthew 8:24, Mark 4:35, Luke 8:22)

When things look their darkest, there is One who can light your way (John 8:12)

There is a safe place you can lay all your grief, unforgiveness, shame, anger, bitterness, negativity and contempt

There is nothing new or negative in this world that you can think up that He doesn’t have the power to transform for the good of those who love Him. (Romans 8:28)

Picture Jesus Christ betrayed, battered, bloodied and wearing that awful, thatchy, spindly crown of thorns, taking his last breath hanging on the Cross, paying the final debt for mankind and thereby enabling us all to live free from the negativity of sin–

That, my friends, is your brain on HOPE.

THANKSGIVING, FOOTBALL and THE GREATEST FAN!

Best Fans EVER!

Best Fans EVER!

Nothing says Thanksgiving like….FOOTBALL!!!!
(Except maybe Turkey, and Black Friday, and food coma, and family, and stuffing, and pumpkin pie…) But still, what better to do than to plop down in front of the t.v. after being stuffed with turkey, shopping ‘til you dropped and just “chillax” in front of a great football game?!
Love football?
I believe Denver Bronco’s fans are some of the VERY BEST FANS of all time.
Are you a fan? What does this look like?
How about:
You’ve had season tickets for 17 years.
You attend EVERY home game, rain, snow, sleet or shine (and sometimes all of the above on the same day—it is Colorado!.
You bleed orange and blue.
The original bronco emblem is tattooed on your left ankle.
The new bronco symbol is tattooed on your right shoulder.
Every game day you are fully decked out: the orange and blue jersey, orange face paint, foam finger, etc.
You cite Bronco’s stats like a wall street ticker.
Your dog’s name is Elway.
You serve only blue and orange foods at your house party for the away games.
You cried and fell into a depression for weeks after Dan Reeves was let go.
Game day you are cheering and screaming for each pass completion, touchdown, extra point and interception. You yell at the television like you were there. You have been known to invent words in your tirades against the ref’s poor calls.

Now picture being that same Bronco fan (fully decked out and on one of your historic rants) in a stadium of the most avid, amped up (and also fully decked out) Raider’s fans (or Patriots!;)). Black and white tattooed arms thicker than tree trunks surround you. You are all by yourself. And the score is 52 to 3. Broncos are losing.

Still a fan?

I think this is where that saying about “where the rubber meets the road” comes from.
Will you roll up your sleeves to display your tattoo? Still ready to defend your team, even when they’ve left the stadium and you alone remain? Are you really ready to bleed and find out if it’s truly orange and blue?

Now Picture:
You love Jesus. You attend every Sunday service (unless there is a Bronco’s game-Thank GOD for Saturday services!) You tithe your 10%, volunteer at the homeless shelter, attend bible study and can recite specific bible verses at the drop of a hat. You raise your hands in praise during every worship song, pray for your enemies, love your neighbor and have that icthus (the fish) bumper sticker firmly affixed to your Ford.

Now, take away your comforts, your finances, your marriage of 50 years, your career, your health, your family.

Still His fan?

When you’ve lost it all, will your heart fill with doubts? When the nay-sayers and well-meaning friends ask what you’ve done to deserve this, will you question His sovereignty? Will your mind spill over with unanswerable questions: “Why?” “Why me?”

Why do bad things happen to good people?

For many a heartache and wound that I have survived, I am able to look back and thank God for His growing me in those times. It’s those very same rough times when my relationship with Jesus grew deeper and more intimate. I can often look back and see a purpose to those pains and, in that “20/20 hindsight,” I can find some answers.

When I can’t, I rely on Proverbs 3:5-6:
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”

But why do innocent suffer? Why does evil often go unpunished?

Although I don’t have answers to many of these tough questions, I know One who does. I know that He will not waste a single tear and I rest my hope in the fact:
“…that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

God can handle your questions. And it may not be until you see Him face to face that you will have your “20/20 vision” and answers. So, until then, know that nothing can separate you from the love of God–
“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38)

“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures forever.” Psalm 136:1

In losses, in pain, in heartbreaks, in failures and disappointments, in any circumstance from the beginning until the end: His love endures.

He is your biggest Fan.

PEAKS and VALLEYS

from GEONiius.com

from GEONiius.com

PEAKS AND VALLEYS
Mary Chapin Carpenter, Dire Straits and Mark Knopfler all sang, “Sometimes you’re the windshield, sometimes you’re the bug.”
You take one step forward and end up ten steps back…
Have you ever faced something seemingly insurmountable?
Divorce, Depression, a Diagnosis, Death of a loved one…
Have you made it through or conquered that “thing” and stood back a moment to breathe and bask in that moment?
I think this is what they were singing about…life.

As a kid, it always cracked me up to hear parents and teachers telling how they “had to travel to school by foot in the snow and it was uphill both ways!”
I totally get this now. Life is tough.
I’ve had those moments and am witness to this in several friends who are right there, right now. As if those insurmountable things are everywhere; surrounding, taunting, jabbing. Like you’re standing at the bottom of the lowest point of the vast depths of the Grand Canyon, entombed by its red cliffs, and on your last drop of water and final morsel of nourishment…

Approaching the hill at mile 23 of my second marathon, I heard the “POP” and felt something inhuman happen in my knee. It was sharp-shooting pain like I have never felt before, EVER.
Several doctor visits, MRI’s and consults later, I learned all about bulging discs and the nerve pain I was experiencing. I was told to quit running, to take up swimming and prescribed physical therapy (and injections, but no way am I having needles inserted in my spine!). The doctor told me, if I absolutely had to run, to quit for a year and if I continued to run, I better do it on soft surfaces and only uphill; downhill would aggravate the condition.
If you are a marathon runner, you know this news is like hearing your best friend just shot your dog and ran away with your life savings and your spouse (and insulted your mom on the way out!) Plus, if you are a runner (or athlete of any kind), you can relate to not wanting to give-up.
“…The spirit indeed is willing but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41)
I kinda half listened to the doctor’s advice; and half marathons are only one-half of a full marathon…
The Whiskey Row half marathon:
“Starting and finishing in historic downtown Prescott, home of the famous Whiskey Row, this out and back course is considered one of the most difficult in the United States, offering panoramic views of Northern Arizona. Starting at 5,280 feet, the elevation increases at 7,000 feet at the 13 mile turn around. The course is paved road for the first and last 3.5 miles, the rest is on Forest Service dirt road in the pines.” (From Active.com)
I registered, booked the hotel and was not going to let a little nerve pain get in the way. Well, if you know anything about back pain– it can take you to your knees in about .00015 seconds! I pushed through the pain. I stretched, attended physical therapy, did all those exercises at home, learned to swim and got addicted to ibuprofen (if that’s possible!)
I showed up at the starting line and prayed that I wouldn’t end up on my knees (no pun intended!) I lightly jogged until we hit the first uphill; I gritted it out and passed people! Funny thing though, it is followed by a downhill (those parents and teachers were full of sh*#!! 😉
A pack of three women, each with matching motivational t-shirts kept blowing by me on the downhill. I walked and prayed all the way down; hoping the ibuprofen would keep those bulging discs in check for a little while longer. Yet, on the next uphill, I was able to pick it up again and I caught back up to those three women! As I passed them I wanted to stop, but they cheered me on! Then, when they passed me on the next downhill, I whooped and hollered for them. For 13.1 miles of peaks and valleys this continued.
“Cause He who is in me, is greater than I will ever be and I will rise”-lyrics from “Rise” by Shawn McDonald.
And guess who crossed the finish line at the same time?
Me and the three.
Regardless of pace or terrain, we end up at the same place if we press on.
“How were you able to run all those up-hills?” One of the three approached me after the race and asked me, “Was this your strategy?”
As we chatted, I explained my run was not a strategy but was my survival.
We do the best we can with what we’ve been given.
The pain I am feeling from last weekend’s FBFW half marathon run as I write this reminds me that I tempt fate. I also realize that at any point, this could be taken from me. Will I be okay with that fate? –The prognosis of not running to me is worse. So I trudge on.
There are no guarantees in this life. Or are there?
Paul said it best in 2 Corinthians 6:16:
“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.”
This life is hard. It throws things at us that we never saw coming.
BUT, there are moments when you will be renewed; you will be the shiny, new, crystal “windshield.” Relish those moments—regain strength, breath in all that is good and pure and praiseworthy. Because, guess what?
Bugs happen.
Whether you are just trying to breathe, just needed a moment of rest and gritting out the uphill climb of that heart pumping, legs aching, body deteriorating and spirit dousing ascent and cannot even see the summit , OR
If you have ascended from that valley, are breathing in the majesty of God’s peaks, mountaintops and towers of glory, OR
Maybe you are gliding the downhill slope and breathing in with ease as if the wind itself is propelling you effortlessly through the moments of this life and you can enjoy some peace and rest;
My hope is that; wherever you find yourself, the valley, the peak or the slope of life, you take in a deep breath and PRESS ON!
And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
-Hebrews 12:1-3

DIVINE IN THE DESERT

THE DIVINE IN THE DESERT

I have a friend who hates the desert—it’s extreme temperatures, the unfriendly cactus, trees with hidden thorns and landscape filled with animals and bugs that makes you go–”Hmmm?—What was God thinking when He created the hairy, snouted, smelly javelina (a.k.a. the skunk pig)? Or those seemingly death-defying, flying, hissing cockroaches?”

I have heard several unhappy desert dwellers say, “There are two colors in the desert—brown and blue.”

And when my flip-flops nearly melted as I walked across the parking lot the summer when temperatures approached 120 degrees—I get it.

Being from Colorado, I am used to beauty. The Rocky Mountains, soaring bald eagles, the four seasons that create and renew the landscape every year—I respond to Dumb and Dumber –“John Denver isn’t full of sh@*?”

However, after nearly 30 years there, with its eight months of winter, my new reply is, “You can’t shovel sunshine!”

“He holds in his hands the depth of the earth and the mightiest mountains. The sea belongs to him, for he made it. His hands formed the dry land, too.” (Psalm 95:4)

The desert is different. I am in awe of the extreme beauty in the desert; rugged and rough. Take, for example, the jumping cholla that shoots out spiny chunks of itself to ward off predators when triggered by vibrations. A plant with a self-defense plan against a smelly javelina or a burrowing bird?! Wow.

Right now in the desert, the “winter rains” have filled the desert landscape with a rainbow of colors. When I go out running, I witness blooms covering and spilling off of those thorny trees, callous cactus and barbed bushes bright with blossoms in every shade of the rainbow.

When I studied nutrition and holistic health, I learned that a plethora of these desert plants are components of many natural remedies. It would turn out that, living in these rugged extremes actually creates healing properties in the organism. Western medicine and science often attempt to chemically reproduce the healing capacities of these plants. 

Remedies are often found in the most unlikely…

When I moved to Arizona from Colorado, I remember driving down HWY 87.  Alongside the road, lined up in formation, stood a multitude of the cactus most associated with the Sonoran Desert–the saguaro. I later found out these massive structures are protected by law. Crews working to expand and repair the highway couldn’t just remove these prickly plants but had to ensure their survival.  If a person is found cutting one down or harming it, it is a felony offense.

According to Wikipedia, this special species of cactus are only found a few places in the nation and the Sonoran Desert boasts the most and the largest saguaro in the nation measuring at an impressive 45 ft high and with 10 feet across.

To survive the extreme desert conditions, this plant has adapted a system of survival. When it rains, it absorbs and sucks up into its body and woody internal system as much moisture as possible.  The saguaro swells and expands and stores away its life blood. It had learned from the desert droughts. As it swells and stores, it also blooms with its reproductive flowers and will often house the desert dwelling springtime birds.

The saguaro seems to understand life’s extremes; the droughts and the downpours. Because it takes nearly 100 years for a saguaro to grow an arm, when you see the portraits of the standard saguaro, with its two arms reaching out and up, stretching toward the sky, these giants have stood the test of time. With or without their legal protection, they not only survive, but these kings of the desert thrive in the parched, rugged environment.

And when the landscape around these dwellers is changed over time, sometimes (like the photo) they get by with a little help.

I think we have much to learn from this God-given example whose life-span nearly mimics ours. As we experience the extremes of life, suck up the goodness, it will be your lifeblood when the droughts come. As the landscape of our lives change, we will be protected. Our God is ever-present and He might just send help, cleverly disguised in the form of a friend, to support us when we have been shaken through to our very core. But the best example is, through the storms and the extremes, as we thrive and adapt and grow, let our own arms reach out and up and praise the very One that provides us with everything we need.

 

“Let every created thing give praise to the Lord, for he issued his command, and they came into being.” (Psalm 148:5)