Sunday, August 14, 2016
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.
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...
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.
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!
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.
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.
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 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!
"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:
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.
Monday, June 6, 2016
Lake Powell, AZ
Nowhere in the Bible is it written that the life of a Christian will be easy. Instead, we are told the Christian will suffer as Christ suffered. Meaning, storms of life will come and go and leave their marks on us as they do the unbeliever.
I remember last October, after my sister passed away from cancer, I had registered to run a half marathon at Lake Powell. I wasn’t sure if we should still go so soon after my sister’s death, but we both knew my sister would want our lives to go on. As my husband and I were driving toward Page, AZ, for a half marathon race, we could see storm clouds gathering above the city. It’s hard enough to run a half marathon, but to run in the rain and wind makes it even harder! I could feel the fear and trepidation building inside me.
We tend to fear storms because we’ve all experienced them: literally and figuratively. We know how dangerous storms can be. All of us would love to live a life without storms, but what would that life look like?
Years ago, in Tucson, Arizona, scientists built the Biodome: A place where scientists could live and work in a perfect environment. They had perfect air, water, and soil to grow perfect food. They even made a simulated ocean! There within the Biodome, these scientists could study the effects of a perfect environment in hopes of replicating it in life.
After a while of living in this perfect environment, however, these scientists noticed something shocking: the trees they grew were dying. They were simply falling over dead at a young age. Concerned, they took samples of the air, water, and soil to try and figure out what was causing the deaths of these perfectly healthy trees.
All their tests showed nothing was wrong with the water, air, or soil. Perplexed, the scientists had no idea what was causing the deaths of the trees, until one day the answer came to them: No wind.
You see, there was no wind inside this “perfect” environment, but trees need wind. As a young tree grows, the wind beats against the trunk causing the roots to dig in deeper and the trunk grows stronger after each storm. Without those strong winds of a storm, the young trees did not become stronger. Instead, they became weaker and fell over.
We might desire to live in a “perfect” environment (a life without storms…) but by studying God’s creation, we can see that a life without storms makes us weaker.
I thought about this life lesson as we approached Page, AZ. I knew I could run the race in the rain, but it wouldn’t be easy. The morning of the race proved to be beautiful with the sun rising through the thick storm clouds. It only sprinkled on us as we ran.
Later that night came the rain, wind, and lightning. But we watched it from a safe haven inside our hotel room. It was a beautiful sight!
I have endured many storms in life. Recently, my whole family endured that hurricane called “cancer.” We endured for a year alongside our sister, mother, aunt, daughter, and friend: Tammie. Watching someone you love die a slow painful death isn’t easy. You feel helpless and hopeless. You walk away from that storm forever marked…forever changed.
But, after the rain and wind departs, the skies are clearer, the sun shines brighter, and the new day is remarkable. You walk away a stronger person for having endured the storms.
The good shepherd knows how to handle the storm. He gathers his sheep and provides a shelter. During the storm, he watches the sheep to make sure none wander off and fall into a raging river or off a cliff to their deaths. He keeps a vigilant watch all through the night. And in the morning, he counts his sheep to see if any are lost. If any are gone, he searches for them and returns them to the fold. He binds their wounds and heals them.
So, never fear the storms of life. They come to make you stronger. The rain makes you grow and the winds make you stand firm. Praise God you have the Good Shepherd who will remain with you throughout the storms. He will never leave you nor forsake you. There is purpose in everything He does.
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” John 10:11
“As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness.” Ezekiel 34:12
Friday, May 20, 2016
New Smyrna Beach, FL
Rest & Relaxation
Ah, the beach. For me, there is no better place to relax and unwind after a busy school year. As a former school teacher (this was my last year...), I found much solace in sitting on the beach and listening to the waves last summer in New Smyrna Beach, FL. It was the best way to decompress.
What about you? How do you prefer to rest? Do you even rest at all?
I tend to have many projects going at the same time. I'm crazy that way. I think I find busyness as a way of avoiding things...primarily completion. But I have improved upon that little hiccup in the system. I actually do complete novels, paintings, or blog posts. I know many people who never complete a project. They just go on to the next.
He Makes Me Lie Down in Green Pastures
Lately, I have been working on a project that speaks to my heart. I am writing a women's Bible study based on Psalm 23. The part I focused on today is the concept of rest. In the first verse, David writes about the Lord our Shepherd.
"He makes me lie down..."
Curious isn’t it how David wrote that the Lord makes him lie down? Wouldn’t one want to lie down in green pastures?
Think about it. When was the last time you stopped and rested. I mean really rested? The good shepherd would stop his flock and make them lie down to rest.
I, myself, understand this idea perfectly because I usually am against resting. I am very good at multi-tasking. Aren’t most women? It is hard for me to stop and take a break from anything. My brain is usually going one hundred miles an hour.
As a runner, I almost feel guilty when I take a day off from running even though I know my body needs rest to recover. Rest is the best way to avoid injury.
So, I can easily understand why the Lord has to make us lie down in green pastures to rest.
That’s a sad reality, isn’t it? But we women tend to become so busy that we do forget the importance of resting.
"Pastures of tender grass..."
The phrase "green pastures" is translated as "pastures of tender grass.” You know the kind of grass: soft and cool to the touch. It reminds me of that rye grass we plant in winter here in Phoenix.
Imagine your bare feet on the soft cool tender grass shaded by a tree. Who wouldn’t want to lie down on that grass and rest? Contrast that to the dry harsh desert landscape: The coarse sand and rock burning in the sun. The Good Shepherd seeks out the green pastures for his sheep to enjoy.
He seeks out the land for us to enjoy!
Why would we not follow our Shepherd and find that rest? My challenge this summer is to make the time to rest. It will be a challenge, too. I want to finish three books and self-publish them this summer, start a drawing instruction YouTube channel, and also write and teach this Bible study.
Oh and did I mention I am also looking for a full time job? Tired yet?
See what I mean about crazy busy? It can become overwhelming and the Shepherd must lead His sheep to the green pastures, stop them, and bend their legs to force them to lie down as a good and loving shepherd does.
It's up to you and me to actually follow His lead. He knows best. Who are we to fight Him?
So, are you ready for the summer? Are you going to be so crazy busy with projects and plans that you will forget to stop and rest? Or will you truly heed the Master's call and spread your bare feet in the cool shady grass that He provides for you?
I hope you heed His call and find rest.
Enjoy your break!
Tuesday, March 8, 2016
How much do we trust God?
I'm a runner and I truly enjoy the experience of running alone. It's my time of reflection where I do my deepest thinking.
I also enjoy participating in races! One race I enjoy the most is the ultra marathon. I have had the pleasure of running this race with a large group of other crazy runners who love it just as much as I do. One race I have never tried is the trail ultra marathon where you head out into the desert alone and complete the race 50-100 miles in 10 mile loops. That idea terrifies me! I like the 1 mile loop that connects me to other runners, the food tent, the port-a-potties, and a comfy chair I can rest on when needed.
But to be out there for ten miles at a time alone in the desert? That's risky. There are snakes out there! There's more of a chance of falling down and getting injured, especially in the dark. Running through the desert in the dark...now that's crazy!
I prefer the safety of the 1 mile loop. I prefer the security of being with other runners. I prefer the known rather than the unknown.
We Christians tend to be like this. During our life-long race, we tend to enjoy the security of the seen instead of the unseen...
After listening to Dr. R.C. Sproul teach about when God called Moses to return to Egypt to perform a miracle, I was reminded of all that God asks His servants to do.
If God asked you to reach down and pick up a poisonous snake by the tail, would you?
God's tasks are never easy ones. These tasks tend to take us out of our comfort zones.
Sometimes we Christians forget that we aren't called to a fluffy white perfect marshmallow existence here on God's green earth. We tend to think that the word "Christian" means: having a perfect life.
How far from the truth can that be? Pretty darn far...
I hate snakes, so if God asked me...or commanded me...to pick up a snake by its tail, I know I would question Him. I know I would hesitate.
Well, this year has been about as challenging as picking up a rattlesnake by its tail. I experienced my mother's death this month and this comes only 5 months after grieving my sister's death from cancer. Now the grieving process has started all over again. My treacherous trail ultra-marathon has begun!
This is the task that God has appointed unto me. Frankly, I'd rather pick up the snake, for crying out loud.
When God commanded Moses to go back to Egypt and perform miracles in front of the Pharaoh, no one can blame him for questioning God's choice. "Who, me?"
I have been asking God the same thing lately. "Who, me? You want me to handle all this on my own? Me?"
God doesn't expect any of us to handle anything on our own. This is what women need to learn more and more in this time of feminism. Being alone is not part of God's perfect plan. Being alone was what God called "not good" when He created Adam. And so, He gave Adam a helper. He gave Eve to Adam.
God has given me my helper, my husband, Scott. But He has also given me The Helper, the Holy Spirit in addition to Himself.
I will never go into Egypt alone to face the Pharaohs of this world. God goes with me and He carries me through the storms. I never have to run the race alone through the desert facing all the risks out there.
No, I will endure this ultra-marathon with my God who loves me. I don't know what else is coming, but I do know He feels I can handle it with His help.
Before you run a race, it's wise to take a look at the route. God gives us the route in His word and He also provided us with the testimonies of those who have gone before us! We can learn from their wisdom.
Hebrews 12:1 "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..."
The longer I live, the more I understand why Paul and the other writers of the New Testament used running the race as a metaphor for this Christian life with God.
It is a race! It is the most difficult race set before us: one through the dark desert trails full of obstacles and dangers all the while the approaching storms bring the cold wind and rain...not fun!
1 Corinthians 9:24 "Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it."
I will continue training by being in God's Word, praying to Him, and trusting in Him while I endure these obstacles He has put before me. I will work on my stride, my dietary needs, and hydration during the race. I will trust in Him when the darkness comes and the hungry coyotes howl in the distance. When the snakes cross my path, I will not falter.
And my God will be there the entire time.
My goal? Like Moses...like Paul...like Jesus: To finish this race strong!
2 Timothy 4:7 "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith."
Let us all face this race prepared and on task so we can all cross the finish line together! It isn't an easy one. No white fluffy marshmallow creme trails. No. It is challenging.
But we can trust God. He has gone before us and He will go with us.