Sunday, June 18, 2017

LOL: Ways Humor Can Help You Deal With Grief


Will I Ever Laugh Again?

Back in the 1990s, I read a book by Barbara Johnson that I never forgot. Stick a Geranium in Your Hat and Be Happy was one of those books that stays with you because it's unlike anything you've ever read before.

Barbara Johnson's candid look into her grief journey was unique because it was hilarious. There were parts of the book that made me laugh out loud and yet I was reading about her life tragedies. How can that be?

Twenty something years later, as I am on my own grief journey, I do reflect back on that book for ways to help me deal with the different parts of grief.

Among those ways is humor.

Can one really laugh again after dealing with tragedy?

The answer I have learned is YES!





"Love makes the world go round but laughter keeps you from getting dizzy." -Barbara Johnson


Scientists suggest that there are benefits from laughter:

1. Lowers blood pressure.
2. Reduces stress
3. Works your abdominals (that's a great workout we all can do!)
4. Improves cardiac health
5. Releases endorphins

These are just some benefits I found online! There are many more...


When you're deep in grief, you may think you will never laugh again. And if you do, you immediately feel guilty because your loved one can no longer laugh.

I mean, your're supposed to be sad and solemn, right?




That's the popular idea: Be sad and lonely in your grief.

But what I learned from the late Barbara Johnson is that laughter will sustain you through those very difficult times. She lost two sons (one in Vietnam and the other to a drunk driver) and helped her husband deal with a brain tumor until his passing. Yet this woman was funny. I mean, FUNNY! I highly recommend her books. She could find humor in anything.




Change is never easy. Losing a loved one brings immediate change.

Barbara Johnson wrote about celebrating the little things in life to deal with the sudden change. She wrote about things like celebrating the first of every month. How simple is that? The first of every month means you made it. You made it through! So, celebrate!

 Find ways to celebrate the little things in life: You walked 10,000 steps for the first time in months? Celebrate! You made it through the day without a flashback or tears? Celebrate! You were able to talk about your loved one without weeping? Celebrate!

Celebrate these accomplishments with a special treat for yourself: a hike, a new pair of earrings, try a new restaurant, a new pair of shoes, or watch a funny movie. I knew one guy who collected watches. He'd buy a new watch each month because it made him feel special. Celebrate with LAUGHTER! Post a funny joke or meme each week. Make it a goal to bring a smile to someone's face.


Do something your loved one always wanted to do:

Try a comedy club one night! Go with a group of friends and laugh...just laugh out loud together at nonsense.

Try a hot air balloon ride and record it on video.

Try traveling by train to another state and blog about the experience.

Try reading a book your loved one always wanted to read but didn't get to. Write a book review!


The key word there is TRY.







What's So Funny About That?



I once had a lady say to me, "You've been through so much and yet you smile."

I smile because I finally can.

You can, too.

And it's okay. I know there will be times you will feel guilty about it, but don't, because that's what our loved ones would want.

We've seen the benefits of laughter and we know it can help our physical health, but can it help our mental health, too?

Yes!

There are plenty of researchers out there who have done the hard work. Their results show that laughter is most beneficial to our mental health because of the way it relieves us of negative thoughts and releases those hormones that reduce stress. Laughter through pain also helps us break down those emotional blocks we build up around ourselves. Find the humor in things and enjoy a good laugh.








In the long run, finding humor will get you through it all. If you're struggling to find humor, then pick up a copy of any one of Barbara Johnson's books and enjoy a good laugh and a good story about surviving the grief journey.

Remember, your mind is healing. Laughter will help your mind heal. Finding humor in everyday life will bring laughter. Now go and share that laughter!








Blessings,

Ruth



















References: 
  • Gelkopf M, Kreitler S, Sigal M. Laughter in a psychiatric ward. Somatic, emotional, social, and clinical influences on schizophrenic patients. J Nerv Ment Dis. 1993;181 (5):283-289.
  • Gelkopf M. Sigal M, Kramer R. Therapeutic use of humor to improve social support in an institutionalized schizophrenic inpatient community. J Soc Psychol 1994;134 (2);175-182.
  • Gelkopf M, Gonen B, Kurs R, Melamed Y, Bleich A. The effect of humorous movies on inpatients with chronic schizophrenia. J Nerv Ment Dis. 2006;194 (11):880-883.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Where is God in Grief?



Where is God?

In my last post, I wrote about that foggy brain feeling caused by grief. I wrote about how strange everything became after I experienced loss. 

That foggy brain feeling also applied to my spiritual walk with God. 



Never was there a time that I felt God had abandoned me, but I must admit there were times when I sat at my desk at home with an open Bible before me unable to pray. 

The words wouldn't come. 

I had lost my older sister in October and five months later, I lost my mother. We had found my mother in her home. She had died alone at age 79. 

I was told by the Crisis Prevention paramedic that I suffered a traumatic loss which is different than a loss from chronic illness. I was told I needed counseling. 

At first, I didn't listen to the paramedic. I thought I was just fine. But later, I began to understand what she was talking about. 

I understood when I began to feel God wasn't there anymore. 






Where is God in Our Grief?


Once I obtained support through my grief, only then did I learn that my spiritual walk with God was affected, too. 

How about you? Did your experience with grief affect your relationship with God? Did you begin to feel anger toward Him? Did you, like Job, begin to question Him?

Nowhere in scripture are we told that it is wrong to call out to God in our pain. Instead, He tells us in His word that He prefers a broken heart. He loves a broken and contrite spirit.

"The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise."

God created us in His image. How did He handle grief?

"Jesus wept."


















As I sat there before my Bible that one day, I honestly had no words to speak. I was dumbfounded that I no longer had my sister or my mom with me anymore. The thought just couldn't materialize in my head. The words I wanted to say to God, I knew would be wrong. So, I sat there and stared at God's word.




He is There

A few weeks later, the fog began to lift and God's word became more meaningful to me than ever before. 

But how? How could I still cry out to God after experiencing so much loss in such a short period of time? Wasn't I angry? Wasn't I full of doubt? Did I doubt His existence? I mean, how can a good God allow so much suffering?

Isn't that the ancient question? How can a GOOD GOD allow pain and suffering? 

After analyzing this concept, I have come to the conclusion that, as with all things pertaining to God, there is a purpose everything. Yes, there is even a purpose for evil:

Evil (moral, natural, or supernatural evil) will either draw us closer to Him or push us further away from Him. 

I came away from the experience of writing two eulogies in five months time that the purpose of this form of natural evil was to draw me closer to God. 

What about you? Did your loss of a loved one draw you closer to God? Or did it push you further away? Did you find yourself doubting His existence?

If so, you would not be alone. 






In the Midst of the Storm


Many people feel alone in their grief. Many begin to doubt God.

The purpose of storms is apparent: The winds make the trees stronger. Their roots dig in deeper to the soil and the pressure of the wind on the tree trunks make them thicker to withstand stronger winds as they grow. The wind blows the pollution out of the air. The rain makes the grass grow. The rain replenishes the earth. 

Without the storms, everything suffers. 

And when the storm passes? Crystal blue skies are left behind.


But sometimes, those storms are devastating. We all have seen how tornadoes and hurricanes rip through a community leaving destruction and death in their wake. 

Why?

Why does God sometimes quiet the storms, yet allow others to destroy?

Again, He allows this form of evil to draw us closer to Him or push us further away. But one thing we can know for certain is that He is there in the midst of the storm. 

We never have to endure it alone. 





Lessons Learned

And that's the lesson I learned through this storm...this hurricane called grief. I never had to endure it alone. God is sure and steadfast. God knew my spirit was so broken that the words wouldn't come out of me. 

So, He patiently waited...and waited...until that day when the words came. They came flooding out and He was there to listen. 

The answer to my "why" never came, but I no longer needed those answers. 

I began to heal. 





What about you? Have you been able to talk to and walk with God yet? If not, what's keeping you from your spiritual walk with God?


I hope this post has helped you understand that God has never left you. He is simply patiently wading with you through the waves of your grief storm. 

He is that anchor that holds us. He is that stronghold we can reach out to. He is that shield that protects us. 

Never question it, He is there in the midst of your grief.





Blessings,
Ruth









Sunday, June 11, 2017

Get Over It Already!





The Grief Journey


Back in 2014 when my older sister was diagnosed with stage 4 colon and liver cancer, my grief journey began.

Now it is 2017 and I have lost not only my sister, but my grandfather-in-law, my aunt, an uncle and, finally, my mother.

In the span of almost two years, the grief journey has increased in complexity with greater obstacles placed in my way by circumstance and also by myself. I admit it. I made it harder than it had to be.

Now that I look back, I can see how understanding the grief process has helped me.

But not everyone understands grief nor how to handle it.

Unless you have experienced it firsthand, you cannot possibly understand it. You can sympathize with someone, but you will find it very hard to empathize with them.


Time to Move On

I suppose the main thing about grief that I never understood was the impact it had on my thinking.

Before I sought grief support, I walked around daily in a fog.

It truly felt like a fog had clouded my mind. Everyday tasks that were once easily completed became difficult. I became annoyed with myself because of all the mistakes I was making in my work. I became annoyed with coworkers and my students. I mean, everything bugged me!

I also became very jealous of people. I envied their relationships they had with their moms or sisters. I was shocked by how upset I would become by people's conversations about the mundane.

Eating became routine. I no longer found pleasure in food. I simply went through the motions. I lost a lot of weight, but not in a good way.

And don't get me started on sleep! It almost never came. Flashbacks came nightly. And when I finally did fall asleep, waking up to go to work became a chore. That shocked me because I was always punctual. I found myself struggling to get to work.

In fact, I didn't want to go to work anymore. I had anxiety on a daily basis.

Try to imagine what it is like to live like this.

Most of the time, I would tell myself, "Isn't it time to move on? Shouldn't I be over this already? What's wrong with me?"

Moving on from grief is a myth. But I could tell people expected me to have already moved past it. When I would bring up my lost loved ones, I could see how nervous it made my coworkers. So, I would remain silent and try to "move on" on my own.

This, I found, was almost impossible.


What I found through grief support was the explanation I didn't know I was searching for.

Grief was what had caused my brain to fog over. Grief was what had caused my annoyance toward everyone and pretty much everything. Grief had caused my anxiety. I look back on those early days after my sister had passed and remember how I would cry from listening to a song or a TV commercial or a line in a book. I remember jerking awake at night from the slightest noise. I had never experienced that before. I remember sitting still and just staring into space for long periods of time. Why was I doing this all the time?

Grief.

In grief support, I had my "ah ha" moment, as Oprah likes to say, and felt the heavy burden lifted off my shoulders. Once I gave myself permission to feel the way I felt, the relief came. Once I gave myself permission to grieve at MY OWN PACE, the relief came. And once I learned how to communicate to those around me about my thoughts and feelings, the relief came.


Get Over It Already!


If you know someone who is grieving the loss of a loved one, there are things you can do to help. But there are also many things you can do to cause more harm than good.

What can you do to help?

Listen. 

Just be there to listen to them talk about grief, their feelings, their memories, their struggles. Listen without feeling like YOU have to solve or fix everything. No, you are there to help hold them through this hard time that will pass. You cannot fix anything that they are going through.

What can you do to harm them?

Tell them to get over it already. Tell them it's time to move on. Tell them to get back in the game, that's what their loved one would want.

All of these sayings aren't about helping them, but they are about helping YOU and this isn't about you. Wanting your loved one to be like they were before the tragedy or loss occurred is normal, but it can never happen. They are forever changed. And that's ok!

Asking them to "get over it already" is like asking someone who just broke their arm to "get over it already" because you need them to help you do yard work or paint the house. Yes, their injury does inconvenience you for a time, but that's just the way it is.

Healing takes time. So does grief.

Simply be there for them when they want to talk. Listen to them, laugh with them, and cry with them. In doing this, you are helping them heal faster.







I Didn't Mean to Say That


Yes, you will make mistakes.

In grief, some things will be said that may cause pain. I know I yelled some things to my husband in a fit of rage that I didn't mean to say. He was gracious and understood it was the grief talking and not really me. There were times people said things to me that they really didn't mean to say, so I learned to understand this.

If you don't know what to say to someone who is grieving, it's okay to tell them this.

 "I don't know what to say, but I'm here with you now." By saying this, you are being honest with your loved one or friend. You are letting them know you are with them during this difficult time.

Good days will come! I promise! Rest assured that your loved one will laugh again. He or she will smile a genuine smile again. Your friend will show some semblance of who they were before their grief journey began. And you will treasure it more than you did before. It will almost seem like old times. But know that it isn't. The good days will begin to out number the bad days.





The Year of Firsts

I remember as the first Christmas without my mom approached, I was given advice to do something totally different. I followed this advice and ended up having a wonderful Christmas with my family.

The year of firsts is the hardest one of all. Every birthday, anniversary, or event will remind you that your loved one or friend isn't there. The one thing I learned is to communicate throughout that first year. Write notes or emails or letters to family, friends, and coworkers about the upcoming milestone to prepare them for how you might be that day. This way, people around you will know why you are gloomy or homesick or depressed on a certain day. I did this as my mom's birthday approached and it really helped. I felt like I had permission to be sad that one day and everyone around me would understand.

Communication is key to surviving that first year. Loved ones and friends will be there for you if they know about it beforehand. Remember, they cannot read your mind and they cannot comprehend what you're feeling. To expect them to know isn't really fair. They are living their lives, too. They are dealing with their own issues, too.

Communicating with each other is what will help you learn to help others.







Support

Some people are too proud to reach out for help. Or they may think they aren't grieving at all. They may think their grief is over with.

But seeking out support is the best thing you can do no matter how long it has been since your loved one has passed. I attended a support group with a man who had lost his father over 60 years before. He had never sought help with his grief, so he decided there's no time limit. We all helped him deal with the anger he still had bottled up inside.

By talking with others who are grieving, you can learn more about your behavior. For instance, you could say to a friend, "I was happy yesterday and I felt so guilty about it." Because your friend has never experienced grief, she won't know how to respond.

But those who have lost a loved one will understand exactly what you mean and will be able to help you work through that guilty feeling.

Support groups can truly be a blessing.

Yet, they can also hinder your progress. It's important to know when to step away from a group. You know your needs better than anyone else. Sometimes a group of sad and angry people might not be what you need at this stage in your journey.

I had to step away from a support group that seemed to be "stuck" in their sorrow because I needed to be around people who had worked through that stage into acceptance and resilience.

Paying attention to your needs is most important. You need to know when your group is no longer helping you move forward.





Getting Over It

I once read that grief isn't a destination, but a journey. This is so true. Getting over the death of a loved one isn't easy. Their life will always be with you. Getting over a traumatic loss doesn't happen overnight or at all. Like a marathon, it isn't easy, but it is possible. With support, educating yourself, and persistence, you can make it through.


With family and friends, God's love and help, you can get through it. Learning to live with grief takes patience, determination, and grace. In the end, you are stronger for it and can begin to help others on their journey.

I hope this blog helped! There will be more posts coming up about the grief journey.



Your turn: Are you dealing with grief now? How have you been able to progress through the journey? Are you living with someone dealing with grief? How have you been able to help them progress? What part of the grief journey has been the toughest for you?


Blessings,
Ruth





















Monday, January 2, 2017

Word for the Year? Oh Bother...



Look Out!!

As I sat in my office this time last year, contemplating what my "word for the year" would be, I had no idea what was coming. How could I know? I can't read the future. Who can?

No one.

So, I did what most of my blogger friends do this time of year, I selected a word. It was difficult because the year before (2015) had proven to be pretty ugly. My family had lost a loved one to cancer and the wounds were still fresh. For the life of me, I don't even remember what my word was for 2016, but I do remember I had high hopes for the year. "Let's make it a good one!" I remember telling friends on social media.

A good one.

Ha!

All I can think of when looking back on 2016 was all the change that had happened. Some of it self-caused while other parts just happened.

Without a plan? Of course not. God is in control of all things. His plan is perfect. I can see that now, but in the midst of the storm, it's hard to see that perfect plan at the other end.






The Year of Change

That's how I will always describe 2016. So much change and much of it too soon.

Beginning with January, because that's how every year begins...the year started out quietly. We lost my sister back in October of 2015, my husband's grandpa in November, and then my dear friend lost her mom on Christmas Day. *Sigh*

Blessedly, January was a slow, boring month by comparison. No one close to us had died.

Whew.

And then came February...

My cousin called me one morning while I was prepping inside my classroom. She called to tell me that my Aunt had been admitted to the hospital and it didn't look good. Unfortunately, my Aunt passed away not long after that.

More loss. More grief. Another family member gone. All those memories were gone, too...

But we endured and life did continue.

Life continued until March 5th. That was the day I won't soon forget. No one can forget the day they find their mom has died at home. Alone.

*Heavy sigh*

On that day, my heart was ripped out of my chest. I hadn't ever screamed like that before and it was an "out-of-body" experience.

Seriously.

I was outside myself looking at the scene of myself sitting on the ground, rocking back and forth, in front of my mom, wondering what was going on. It was surreal.

My mom was gone. Forever. Nothing could change that. I didn't realize I was suffering from trauma until the Firefighter/Crisis worker at the scene had told me so. I'm forever grateful she did tell me this, otherwise I'd be stuck in the "I'm fine, no seriously, I am just fine..." mode forever after until mental illness took over my mind.

So, I had to write yet another eulogy and plan another funeral service. And God carried us through it all.

And did I mention my Uncle died the day after my mom?

CHANGE.

Too much, too soon. Too painful. Too sad.

After all that, the year was just a blur. Death seemed to be everywhere. It began to take over my mind and the nightmares and flashbacks of finding my mom haunted me daily. Who would die next? My brothers? My dad? My husband? Oh God, please not my son!

Grief support groups are tremendous! I followed the advice of my pastor and sought out a group. It was difficult at first. Those meetings made the entire experience painfully real. I was now part of this sad group of sufferers. I had lost five loved ones in five months. My poor husband and son had lost them, too, but I guess I was the one who needed the support. And it's true. I did need it.

Talking about my pain to others knee deep in their own pain did help. Learning how to answer all the questions I had about grief also helped. Reading pre-written prayers to God helped since I couldn't even pray anymore. I would simply sit there and stare at the open Bible, unable to speak or think.

May came and I decided I needed more change. Can you believe it? Yes, that's how I am. I decided to resign as a teacher and see what else God wanted me to do with my life. That was a leap of faith off a very high cliff with jagged rocks below. Sharp, jagged, scary rocks...

Then came June.

My son...my only child...announced he wanted to move out. I don't blame him. I would want to get away from me, too. I cried pretty much everyday.Who needs that? He found an apartment nearby (thank You, God...) and moved out. I handled it better than I thought I would! Was I healing? My support group thought so.

We moved our son out and got him settled in. Then, I decided to make more changes. Good changes. I got a new job at a familiar place: Grand Canyon University. It felt like going home after your folks moved into a nicer house than the one you grew up in. AWESOME.

And then we decided to sell our house and move after eleven years. Because...CHANGE!

That's how I roll.

September came and we had made it through another hot summer, another move (our eleventh, I think...) and settled into a smaller home for the duration of our time on earth. I hope.

The Holiday season was upon us, and now it was time for more CHANGE. But this one was definitely for the best. My support group advised doing something new for that first Holiday season without loved ones. I am so glad I listened to that advice. We spent Christmas in Prescott, AZ at a little cottage and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. We laughed together! It felt great to laugh again. Really LAUGH again.




Now, a new year has begun. I'm sitting in my new writing space looking out a my new view...flowers and trees...and smiling. Really, SMILING.

God has been faithful through it all. I am truly grateful for that fact. I can look back and see His hand over me, protecting me (my heart and mind) all year. What a messy year of CHANGE.

Yet I survived. My little family survived. I'm so grateful we survived.

So, my word for 2017 will be GRATEFUL.

For my husband
my son
my brothers
my nieces
my aunts and uncles and cousins
my in-laws
my friends
my little doggies
my new job
my new home
my talents
my lack of talents
my books
my artwork
my Savior
and for all the opportunities that are to come.

I know more challenges are coming. More CHANGE is coming. Some will be self-caused and all will be God ordained because He is sovereign. There's rest in that fact.

Looking back can be painful...looking ahead can be scary...but knowing God is there through it all makes life doable.

Here we go, folks!! 2017 up ahead!!

I wish you all the best. Keep the faith! I know I will...


Your turn:  What is your word for the year 2017? Looking back on 2016, what were your biggest challenges and successes?

Blessings,
Ruth








Social Media and the Grief Process

 Social Media

While developing some college courses for a mental health and wellness program, I read some interesting articles about the impact of social media on those dealing with grief.

I had never really noticed this impact before until I was knee-deep in the bereavement process myself. We all have our opinions on social media. Some consider it pure evil while others consider it essential for quality living.

My opinions fall somewhere in the middle.

But one thing I can attest to is how effective social media has been on my journey in grief. So, I wanted to share some of that experience with you in case you, yourself, are dealing with this unfortunate process or know someone who is.






When we think about social media, images of delicious food recipes and videos, cute puppies and kittens, or funny memes come to mind. But lately, I have seen how people use social media to deal with loss. For instance, on Facebook, when my sister passed away, her page remained open. I and others have posted on her page knowing full well she will never see the posts, but yet we write on her "wall" as a means of keeping her memory alive. 

Why do we do this? 

Does it help us to express our emotions on her page? I believe it does. Somehow, knowing others are reading my thoughts and seeing my posts does much to end the feeling of loneliness one can feel when grieving. I have seen evidence of this phenomenon on other pages as well. This type of expression was never experienced before this century. People steeped in grief were only given the chance to write eulogies or obituaries for newspapers, and (if their experience was unique enough) publish a memoir. And that's about it. 

So what? You might ask this question, but I strongly feel this type of expression is good for mental health.

In the article, "You Don't De-friend the Dead," the author wrote:

 But how do we cope with this grief over time? Grief communication theorists suggest that the          attachment we feel toward the deceased postdeath can be understood as a continuing of bonds:    Rather than severing all ties, the bereaved finds way to renegotiate and understand their relationship  with the deceased now that they have passed on (Silverman & Klass, 1996). 

Continuing of bonds. Yes, I can definitely agree with that assessment. Perhaps that is why social media has greatly assisted those dealing with loss. By connecting with others suffering through the loss of the loved one, that connection to memories of experiences shared or expressed can help understand the impact the loved one had on so many. It's those connections that help keep that loved one "alive."



   



Move On, Already


But can this connection be harmful? What about those who believe it is best to "move on" from or "get over" the loss? Is there merit to such suggestions? Can social media cause the grieving to remain stuck in their grief?

Many say, no, because grief is a process and not a destination. From that same article, Pennington (2013) suggested that the connections found on social media can help those left behind form a new understanding of their relationship with the deceased that will help them move forward through the excruciating grief process. Life without the deceased then becomes a new normal and those grieving are able to heal and grow. 

I can attest to this from personal experience. As a writer and avid social media user, I find that posting about my journey through grief as well as sharing memories about my deceased loved ones has helped me heal and grow as I move on toward that new normal. It also benefits me to know there are others out there who have endured and made it through the various steps in the process. These "friends" converse with me in the virtual setting that proves to be more comfortable than an actual face-to-face setting (Pennington, 2013). 

This encouragement leads to mental health and wellness. 






Better Left Unsaid

Unfortunately, there is always a dark side to social media and some decide it is best to air their grievances toward the deceased on social media sites. These acts can cause much harm to the grieving. As per all parts of social media, discretion is necessary and some people aren't capable of this type of critical thinking. So, harmful and hateful posts are read, leading to more harm than good. But could this harmful behavior also happen without social media? Yes and has happened since modern communication methods have existed. That is truly unfortunate. The grief process is different for everyone and emotions can take over. 




Social Media to the Rescue?

In the end, can social media benefit those who are grieving? Research suggests that it can. There are so many valuable forms of social media sites helping those deal with grief:

Blogs
Instagram
Facebook
Twitter
GoFundMe


All of these sites offer effective assistance to those dealing with loss. I have used many to help me through the process. One thing is for sure, in this age of technology, social media has touched so many parts of life now. Is it going away anytime soon? I, for one, do not think so. Therefore, why not make social media a benefit to those dealing with loss rather than a hindrance? Blog about your experience, post about your loved ones, or simply acknowledge the loss someone else is experiencing. You could be helping someone more than you know. 


Your turn: Have you ever posted on a deceased person's Facebook page? Why or why not? How have you seen social media impact grieving and loss? 



Blessings,
Ruth


References

Pennington, N. (2013). You don't de-friend the dead: An analysis of grief communication by college students through  Facebook profiles. Death Studies, 37(7), 617-635.  doi:10.1080/07481187.2012.673536.










Sunday, August 14, 2016

The Race Set Before You









Hebrews 12 "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God..."



The Race Set Before You

Today in church, I was reminded of the hardest marathon I have ever run. We are studying Hebrews 12, where the writer advises us to prepare for the race set before us. 


The race.


We are reminded of those who have gone before us and are now our witnesses. We can gain comfort by reading their words in scripture because they ran their race and endured to the end where they earned their imperishable crown. 


As I sat there listening to our pastor teach, I couldn't help but remember the race and how it's a perfect analogy for what the writer of Hebrews meant...







Prepare


Good shoes, a good training plan, and good health are needed for marathon training. I live in Phoenix, so an October marathon meant training all summer. 


All summer in Phoenix. 


Yuck. What was I thinking?? I did it, but swore I'd never do that again. 




Register


Signing up for a marathon requires commitment, but to register for the most popular marathon in America requires a little bit of luck. Because the Marine Corps Marathon is so popular, you have to enter the lottery and hope your name is selected.


I was selected that March of 2014!

















Upon arriving in Washington, DC to pick up my race packet, it meant waiting in line for an hour just to get in the door, but that's ok. I've always wanted to run this race ever since I saw Oprah run it so long ago. I had no idea there was a Marine Corps Marathon! I knew it was the only race that would mean something to me. I knew I had to do it. 


The Race


My father was a Marine and so was my husband. I was a Marine Corps wife, so the Corps means something to me. But I knew running the marathon was nothing compared to what they had endured during boot camp. I had to finish for them because they finished for us. 




The Course


My uncle had run the race before, so he advised me of the course. "It's hilly, so prepare..." and I did prepare. But you can't really know the course until you are on it. 



The Obstacles


Training for a race always has obstacles to face and this one was no different. During my summer training, I did run up hills to prepare, and in the process blew out one calf muscles. I couldn't even run half a mile! As I wallowed in self pity, I knew there had to be something that could treat such an injury. I sought out the treatment, followed doctor's orders and rode my bike instead of running. For 9 days, I didn't run. That's torture for someone in training! But obeying doctor's orders paid off and I was able to resume running on schedule. 


But that wouldn't be the only obstacle in the way...






The night before the race we were in a car accident. Yes, the night before. Blessedly, no one in our vehicle was hurt. The driver at fault was hurt and flown to the hospital. We were a little shaken up and exhausted from sightseeing in DC all day, but I went to bed and awoke rested and ready to head to the staring line. 


The next obstacle? Finding the starting line. Sigh.


Washington DC is a BIG city and because this race is so popular, there were 30,000 people also trying to find the starting line. After almost 2 hours of driving and searching, we finally found the place to park and the shuttle to take us to the starting line. I'm so glad my husband was with me. I would have talked myself out of the whole thing, I was so stressed!







But we made it to the start and that alone felt like a huge accomplishment! And then it dawned on me that I still had to run 26.2 miles. Oh yeah!




The Race Set Before Me


Finally, I was on the course. Yes, it was hilly just like my uncle had warned. In fact, as we ran through Georgetown, we had 7 miles of hills! But oh how I loved that run. Georgetown was spectacularly beautiful with the architecture, the little shops that lined the route, and the fall leaves fluttering through the air. And the cool air! Mind you, it was still about 104 degrees back home, but it was a balmy 60 degrees that morning. Awwww....







As we entered DC, we ran by the Lincoln Memorial, the Korean War Memorial, and headed toward the Washington Monument. My legs began to ache. I knew I was getting weary. Of course, my body was revolting and wanted to quit. 


And that's when we entered "Memorial Way" where the Gold Star Moms are out,  encouraging us to run our race. Here they were to encourage us when we should have been hugging them! It was moving.


Enlarged photographs of fallen Marines lined the route. Some were pictured holding their babies, others were in combat fatigues, and others were pictured in civilian clothes just grinning in life. As I gazed into their young faces, a surge of pride rushed through me. Tears filled my eyes and I knew I couldn't quit. I wouldn't quit. I had to keep going.


I had to keep going for all of them. 


The mantra during the whole race is "Beat the Bridge" because if you don't, you'll be stuck on the other side of the draw bridge waiting for a ferry to come take you to the rest of the race! No one wants that, so I pushed it and ran my fastest 20 miles ever. I made it to the bridge and crossed it on time. 



The Finish


The last 6 miles were excruciating because all my energy was gone. But, as usual, there's one last surge of energy at the end and I pushed through. When you approach the finish line, the whole area is full of Marines cheering you on. Yes, I know they are probably ordered to be there on a Sunday morning, but they aren't ordered to clap or cheer. Yet, they do. They encouraged us on even though they themselves had endured boot camp for 13 weeks. No one cheered them on. 


Finally, I could hear the cheers and the music and that's when I knew I was near the end. One last hill greets you at the end (leave it to the Marines to put in one last hill at the end...) complete with signs painted on the ground encouraging us on:


Beat the Hill!


Dig Deep!


"Okay, I'll dig deep. I'll dig deep.." I thought to myself and pumped my arms. But after a while, it seemed like the hill went on forever!


"Who put this hill here?" I huffed. "Who's idea was it to have this stupid hill here at the finish? I hate this hill!"


One last sign was painted on the ground: 


What Hill?


Arrrgh!! 


Funny Marines. Hilarious.


There it was, the finish line. As I crossed, I saw my husband and smiled for a few photos then made my way to where a Marine Corps officer waited with a medal. He placed it around my neck and I couldn't help but cry. 


I cried because it was over, because he was so young, and I cried because so many Marines didn't make it home. 


When you finish the Marine Corps Marathon, you finish at Arlington. You finish at the base of the Iwo Jima Memorial, that stalwart statue that epitomizes the fortitude and reputation of the United States Marine Corps. 


I cried because what I had just endured was nothing in comparison to what that Marine, what my father, and what my husband had endured to become Marines and have that eagle, globe, and anchor pinned to their uniforms. They endured marathons everyday during boot camp: physical and mental marathons that they couldn't quit if they were to become Marines. 


I was overwhelmed with gratefulness for all those who had endured and that my race was finally...finally...over. 


And that's what the writer of Hebrews meant. 


We have the martyrs and the saints who endured the race of life all around us, encouraging us to continue. We have their testimonies to read so we can know the course and all that it entails. 


But even so, those who came before us do not want us to focus on them. Like those Gold Star Moms cheering us on, they are there to point you to the finish line where the real reward lies. 


Those who came before us point us toward Jesus, who endured so much more than we ever will. 


While I was running the marathon, the streets were lined with people cheering us on. Imagine enduring such a race with people spitting on you, threatening to kill you, mocking you, and throwing stones at you. 


Jesus endured that and more. 


I had my husband at the finish line. Jesus was abandoned by His friends at His finish line. 


Our life race is unique to us all. You could ask 100 marathon runners about their experience and you'd get 100 different stories. We shouldn't compare our races nor boast in them. Instead, we should use our races to encourage those who come after us. Like those marathon coaches who run back to find their teammates and encourage them, explaining what's to come on the course and informing them of water stops up ahead. 


Those of us who have experienced much must use our testimonies to encourage others. After the race, I couldn't imagine keeping quiet about it. I am so glad I spoke up in Bible Study today because my story of completing the Marine Corps Marathon analogy encouraged many in attendance. 











Looking to Jesus


The whole point of running the marathon for me was to pay tribute to the Marines. But the whole point of running this race called life is to focus on Christ waiting for us at the end. 


And when He places that imperishable crown onto our heads, we will immediately remove it and place it at His feet in adoration and worship because, as the author and finisher of our faith, He, alone, has earned it. 


What I have learned?


Endure to the end. 


Run the race that is set before you.


Looking, always, to the Savior at the finish line. 



Blessings,

Ruth