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

IT IS FINISHED

Image

IT IS FINISHED

After just recovering from pneumonia, I come back to the real world to be smacked up-side the head with many new issues: water pipes breaking, insurance issues, and an additional “to do” list that I can’t even look at right now.

I need a break.

Hiatus-a gap or a break (Webster’s)

Or- a vacation, a time to be still (Me.)

One of my new year’s resolutions was to achieve more balance.

Yet, I have a tendency to plan up my vacations, my breaks and my still time.

With stuffy nose, tired eyes, a multiplicity of “to-do” lists and my last nerve being frayed, I find myself lost in the land of “burn out.”  I own the fact that I contributed by my own inability to say “no,” my tendency to not be still and to end up un-balanced, and there it is: One more resolution down the drain!

With planning a wedding and the goals of getting two more books published, all while working at the crime lab, managing rentals and…well, life and relationships, and all of the above– I need a break!

I am taking a hiatus from blogging.

— I will continue posting, but it will be in the form of “guest posts” and re-posts. (AND, you can always find me on Twitter and my Julie Stoddard (Eddy) Facebook.)

After my mom has put her “all” into something and finds her input no longer needed or her portion completed, she throws up her hands and shouts, “DONE!”

I promised God that, as long as He provided words for each post, I would continue to honor that.–Thank you GOD! –for being a faithful provider.

I promised to spend the hours upon hours each week if He would show me at least one person was impacted by those words. –Thank you to each person that proved this in their comments or words spoken to me! And Thank God (again) for moving in people to prove this to me!

God is my constant encourager in a world that tends to beat us down.

For me, this blog has been an incredible and humbling journey of God’s provision and faithfulness.

I set out with a goal of one blog posting a week for an entire year.

–Actually OVER-DONE, but God wasn’t finished, so I continued on in the promises to honor His nudging.

 

But before I can throw my hands up, I have to cover this one thing.

It’s a biggie.

I’ve danced around this topic in the blogs for over a year, but because it’s so GI-NORMOUS. I’ve avoided it.

I’ve seen health be devastated by it.

I’ve seen marriages destroyed by it.

I’ve seen co-workers estranged by it.

I’ve seen parents and children’s lives forever damaged by it.

It’s touched my life in very deep ways.

So many great musicians sing about it–

“It’s anger’s own worst enemy”-Matthew West

10th Ave North-“Maybe there’s something I missed But how could they treat me like this? It’s wearing out my heart The way they disregard”

“’Cause we all make mistakes sometimes And we’ve all stepped across that line But nothing’s sweeter than the day we find…” (Toby Mac)

“It’s the hardest thing to give away And the last thing on your mind today It always goes to those that don’t deserve It’s the opposite of how you feel When the pain they caused is just too real It takes everything you have just to say the word…”–Matthew West

And the great Don Henley gets right to the “heart of the matter”:

“The more I know, the less I understand All the things I thought I knew, I’m learning again I’ve been tryin’ to get down to the Heart of the Matter But my will gets weak And my thoughts seem to scatter But I think it’s about…”

 

FORGIVENESS

“Un-forgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” –St. Augustine

Harboring un-forgiveness is deadly.

 

“Girl, you really did it this time.” It’s that nasty voice in my head hissing at me. “This is huge.”

I can almost see the smug smile on his face.

“How can you call yourself a Christian?” He taunts.

This enemy knows the arrows that pierce the worst.

He is now nodding with arms folded across his chest, “What will the ladies in your Bible study say?”

Image

Me–“Nothing. Because I’ll never tell them! This is too HUGE.  I can’t. I can’t believe I did this. This same sin that tangled me up before I was a Christian. This is huge. I would rather die than tell them this.  –I’ve been a believer for years… and I still couldn’t stop myself. I seriously want to die.”

“Yep,” he hisses his acknowledgement, “You are unforgiveable.”

And I contemplated it: deeply. Pills? Gunshot? Alcohol?  How could I get out of this? All the while, the enemy to my soul was prodding me along.

My thoughts landed on the scene from the movie “The Passion” as Judas, who betrayed Jesus with a kiss, horrified and steeped in his sin, committed suicide. That death was what I earned.

“That’s it! A noose is what I deserve. I am a betrayer of what Jesus had begun in me.”

I breathed a sigh of relief. This pain would end so easily. I was resolved.

But then something happened. The hissing words of the enemy stopped.

All was still.

Through my tears and agonized breathing, I heard a soft whisper, “But look at me.”

I looked up and around. Where was that coming from? In my mind’s eye, I saw it — the bloodied face of Jesus. His face scarred by the crown of thorns, his battered body hanging from the cross.  His sad, piercing eyes rose to mine.

They say the greatest distance traveled is from your mind to your heart—measurably about 1 foot from head to chest, but for an idea to travel from the brain and find its way into your heart—immeasurably far.

A different whisper now, “I did this for you. I paid for your sins past, present and future. It is finished. I’ve already forgiven you.”

I’d read lots about forgiveness; but to see it face to face; to feel His undeserved sacrifice after what I had done.

It was easier before I was a Christian; easier to discuss those nice ideas of grace and mercy, and then to go about your business. But as a Christian, holding yourself to a different standard, and being held by the world to a different standard, and still screwing up.

“But what about the ladies in bible study?” I asked Him.

“You’ve already experienced their unconditional love for you. They love as I do, they forgive as I do.”

“But what I’ve done is…” I hang my head. My thoughts return to nooses, to ending it, to a way out of the pain, “…it’s unforgivable.”

“I know you.” The whispered words convicted me. In a flash of a moment, I understood He saw every moment of my entire life.

“I know your heart. This is part of it all. I am not finished with you.” That gentle whisper again. “I will continue to work out this good thing in you that I have started. But you must understand that you are pre-paid. Look at me.”

When I looked I saw–

I saw hands pierced for me. I saw a mocking crown worn for me. I saw unspeakable pain and death that my sin deserved. My earned sin was redeemed by this: His crucifixion. And I saw the grace and mercy that flowed from the cross. As my eyes traveled the distance from one nail to the other nail across his outstretched arms, that idea of grace suddenly traveled the greatest distance–instantly.

Image

 

I became newly aware of the beauty flowing from the symbol I hang from my neck. Bloody, battered, betrayed love extending and enveloping me right there, crouched on my living room floor.

“I see how you forgive me. You are Jesus, you are God…But…” the hiss of my doubts began to rise.

The kind whisper again, “You must forgive yourself as I forgive you.”

“But…how?” My shame, insecurities, doubts and questions up-rise in me like lava.

Continuing on this life journey unfolded like a deep dark chasm before me, I wavered…

“You cannot do this alone. It is my example to you and my power in you that will enable you to accomplish this. And I will never leave you.”

“Never?”

“NEVER.”

Suddenly, the chasm of my circumstances was bridged with His mercy. His forgiveness and faithfulness lifted me up and across the doubts as I was flooded with a new resolve and a new freedom.

So many of us live in the belief of our salvation, but are still chained in bondage and not living in the freedom of our forgiveness.

Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”

Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.”—Matthew 18:21

We are to forgive continually; even when it comes to forgiving yourself.

“Most certainly I tell you, whatever things you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever things you release on earth will have been released in heaven.” Matthew  18:18 (WEB version)

Forgiveness brings life to the forgiver. Sometimes the effects are not realized in the world, but are undoubtedly recognized for ever after.

And it’s now about how many times you fall; because we are all going to fall. And it’s not about just getting up, because I see now that is the only choice. I believe it’s what you do when you get up that makes all the difference.

So, as I arise from my knees, what to do about this forgiveness thing?

“Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future.” ~Paul Boese

I realize it isn’t easy. But if I am going to do this life thing, I want a future—and not one steeped in shame and cowering in a corner. I want a future filled with freedom and abundant life!

Remembering the image of Jesus and what he already accomplished for us gives me the visual I need to do this.–I think this is part of what it means to “take up the cross daily.”  (Luke 9:23) Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” It’s difficult and burdensome and it requires a rigorous, daily commitment to focus and carry it out. I find myself continually forgiving myself for my past mistakes, yet that effort has kept me from making the same mistakes again (most of the time!;) I live aware of my human tendencies and realize my need to depend on God for this.  I now also live free in God’s grace and try to spread that around to a world that is severely lacking in this area.

There is a fantastic self-help book out there that will help you along your journey—The Bible.

Forgive as I have forgiven you-(Matthew 6:12)

I will never leave you or forsake you-(Joshua 1:5)

Christ’s power made perfect in our weakness-(2 Corinthians 12:9)

Start with something simple—like forgiving that guy in traffic for cutting you off, or that teenager, with his pants drooping down and underwear hanging out, in the “Express Lane” of the store with 29 things.

Tuck away the knowledge that Christ’s power in you will allow this to occur. Then, when you are in the hang of it, move up to forgiving a neighbor who called the cops on your birthday party, or maybe a co-worker who took all the credit for that project you worked on tirelessly.

Continue on, keeping your eyes on Jesus,—forgive your parent or a sibling who hurt you in senseless ways. Or, find forgiveness for your child who you sacrifice so much for, for whom you would give your life for, but who endlessly hurts you with their words or ingratitude.

And, once you have daily walked this burden of taking up the cross, achieving levels and depths in knowledge and in the power of forgiveness…take the longest journey and tackle that big one—

Forgive yourself.

“I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” (Phil 3:14)

I say it again–

Forgive, Forgive, And FORGIVE. And then forgive, forgive, forgive, forgive….

Live in the freedom of forgiveness, paid by Jesus once and for all at the cross. Extend forgiveness to others, just as it was extended to you. And be gentle to your spirit; always forgiving yourself.

It is, indeed, FINISHED.

And now, I can raise my hands up to heaven and shout it out, like my mom, “I am SO DONE!”

MAGNUM-SIZED TEMPTATION

What is your "Magnum?"

What is your “Magnum?”

MAGNUM-SIZED TEMPTATION

Have you had these little packages of heaven? Magnum–A creamy vanilla bean ice cream covered in silky chocolate, dabbled with goodies like caramel, almonds or toffee. OMG. Absolute deliciousness. Such a treat when it’s110 degrees out (and the commercials are ridiculously funny.)
I bought four packages when I was expecting company (and they were on sale two-for-one)! I devoured one as soon as I got home and then totally forgot about them. Even forgot when my company came! (What can I say—I am over 40 now.)

It has been two months since I brought those Magnums home. In the freezer they sit, all intact, save the one I ate that day.

Now that summer is over and I failed once again to lose “those ten pounds;” I have decided to get serious about my swimsuit body for next summer.—Small changes over time will produce big results. Right?

So, I am giving up cheese and dairy.

Actually, this is a BIG HUGE CHANGE for me—I have pizza easily 3-7 times a week and have been known to eat a cheese and fruit plate for dinner many a night. And then there is the coffee creamer—Seriously??!! Do they put drugs in it?–It sometimes is the only reason I get out of bed! Especially the Cinnabon creamer. Mmmm…

I digress.

So, I have given up cheese and dairy during the week (Let’s be realistic). Ever since this decision, I swear to you those Magnum ice cream bars have been taunting me. Despite the fact those little gold minions of chocolate beauty sat in there for two months without my even giving them a second thought; post “no-dairy decision,” I cannot open the freezer door to get ice without their sparkly, beautiful gold wrapping blinding me. One even jumped out to me—like it wanted me to save it from its lonely existence next to the frozen peas and neglected pizza! I cannot watch TV without thinking about them. If the temperature’s over 100, they are on my mind.—So…EVERY DAY!

God knew we would struggle and has us pray: “Lead us not into temptation…” (Matthew 6:13)

Temptation taunts in many ways.

My subconscious even struggles. Last week I dreamed I was face deep in a lasagna and cheesy pasta buffet and gorging on the saucy deliciousness. I awoke from this dream with a smile spread across my face as I could taste the garlic cheese bread…THEN BAM!—my smile was instantly wiped clear when I remembered the decision; (Seinfeld’s soup-Nazi style):

NO CHEESE FOR YOU!

“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies…” (23rd Psalm)

This table of temptation is different for everyone.

Whether your table contains heftier tempters like alcohol and drugs, sex/lust, the greed for money; or more subtle ones such as pride, gossip, selfishness, cheese…

“…You anoint my head with oil. My cup overflows” (23rd Psalm)

With Christ, there is a way out.

“He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.” (1 Corinthians 10:13)

With Christ there is a power beyond your own that you can tap into:

“…the Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world.” (1 John 4:5)
And when you rely on Christ working in you, He will strengthen you in those areas.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

So, as I close the freezer door (sans-Magnum,) and I sip my black coffee, I pray your day is filled with the power of Christ to overcome whatever “Magnum” is seated at your table.