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I have been running most of life.  I ran the bases when I was six.  I ran the soccer field all through high school and my early 20’s.  I ran my first triathlon when I was 24.  I ran my first marathon when I was 26.  I have been running for what seems like my entire life.

I love to run.  Even though it is harder now to find time, I do.  Even though it is harder now to really compete, I try.  Running is often painful, but it is always beneficial – physically, mentally, and spiritually.  Run time is often prayer time, think time, and find peace time for me.

I have run countless races over the past dozen years.  When I first started, my husband would come to a lot of them and cheer for me.  As time, change, and kids crept up on us, it became increasingly harder to find Mr. Rodeheaver attending my races.  While I am overwhelmingly thankful that I still get to run races often, it is very rare that I ever have any fans encouraging me at a race these days.

The truth is that when you love something – be it a sport or a hobby or a job or a calling – encouragement is nice, but it is generally not necessary.  When you love what you are doing, the reward is the privilege of doing it.  Getting to do what we love is our motivation.  No one has to remind me to set my alarm to wake up early.  No one has to shake me and roll me out of bed.  No one has to tell me to get dressed and feed me protein bars or pep talks in order to motivate me to go outside.  I do it simply because I love it.  Even still, when encouragement is offered, it is a rare and treasured blessing.

As I ran a little race this past Saturday, my cheerleader made a rare appearance.  My husband and I were away celebrating our anniversary and I found a 5K to run for fun.  I told him he could fish while I ran, but he insisted that he wanted to watch.

Throughout the entire race, he sent running memes, pictures, videos, and words of encouragement to me.  I could see him cheering from what seemed like mile from the finish line all the way to the end.

Truly, we should all learn how to be cheerleaders.  We should all be cheering for one another and encouraging each other in whatever good we find to do.  Encouragement is always helpful, motivating, and inspiring.  I often wonder why so few encourage excellence.  But then I remember Jesus.

Jesus was the most excellent person who ever lived.  He did all things absolutely perfectly.  Still, there were more than a few people who despised him for his excellence.  So much so, that they not only hated him, they sought to kill him for it.  Consider the words of John:

So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. 48 If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”…”Jesus therefore no longer walked openly among the Jews, but went from there to the region near the wilderness, to a town called Ephraim, and there he stayed with the disciples.” ~John 11:47-48, 54

Jesus’ own people were so jealous and insecure when he did the things his own Father (God!) sent him to do that they hated him completely out of town.

Jesus did not receive much encouragement from men even when he did what was absolutely perfect.  His encouragement was from His Father, God.

The truth is, I want the well done.  I want it with everything in me.  It matters nothing at all to me if men hate and despise me.  It hurts, but it does not change who I am or what I will be found doing.  If I am doing what pleases my Father, I will wait patiently for him at my race’s end.  All the years I spend running alone will be worth it when I see him clapping from a distance because he is the One I love more than life itself.

Encouragement has it’s place.  I wish that we would all become more like cheerleaders for one another because, let’s face it, life is hard enough and good words are often hard to come by when you’re living out your calling in life.  But if we are sold out and surrendered to the work we get to do here out of love for He who gave us the work in the first place, encouragement and earthly approval is very secondary.  Encouragement is only a perk – an added bonus if and when it elusively appears.

All I really want is the well done.  I want to truly be the good and faithful servant.  I want the well done at the finish.  I will gladly forfeit every false and phony accolade that compromise and complacency would bring for the proud words of my good and faithful Father.  I can wait for the well done because the One who will say it is worth every lone and heavy step taken towards Him.

 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. ~1 Corinthians 9:24

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Runners like to zone out.  Getting in the zone is especially important for difficult or distance running.  As with many sports or intense activities, that place referred to as “the zone” is often the key to success.  It may determine whether you win, lose, or even finish.  An off day can often be chalked up to a lack of focus and inability to stay in the game.

 I always joke and say I’m not allowed to talk to my husband when he drag races.  I have learned to speak as little as possible out of respect for his need to stay completely focused and on task.

Sometimes not being distracted is extremely important – like with drag racing.  Sometimes the distraction itself is extremely important – like with distance running.  When laboring with serious intent, on one hand we need autonomy.  That’s the leave me alone zone.  On the other hand we need a neutral plan of action meant to distract us from the pain and push us to persevere without it feeling like punishment.  We can choose to make this zone a leave me alone zone, too…or we can actually choose to lean on the thoughts, needs, words, or even worries of another to help us finish the task before us.

I competed in the Mt. Summit Challenge Race this past weekend.  Well, participated is probably a better word for me this year.  Anyway, it is a 3.5 mile race straight up the mountain.  It is not the first time I’ve run it by any means and it certainly isn’t the longest or most difficult race I’ve ever run.  But it ranks.  It ranks up there among the races requiring an in the zone mentality.  If you are not all in, you are probably still on the mountain somewhere right now.

I had run up the course four times before the race over the past month or so and I am happy to say I did beat the goal I was striving for.  Though ten minutes slower than previous years, I needed some slack for this I just had another baby year.  So I feel really good about my slow time of 48 minutes.  I did not make it up alone, though.  I didn’t realize my goal without help.  The leave me alone zone only worked until the really hard part.  That’s the part of the race where you’re tired, you drank too much wine and ate too much food last night, your music is played out, you’re almost certain the feeling in your chest is legit heart failure, and you’re still climbing.  I had to find a way to get my mind off the pain or I was soon to be a spectator rather than a participant.  I texted my drag racer because I knew he would be able to speed me up.  “Tell me a funny story” was my plea for help.

He began to tell me about a dirt farmer and a beautiful girl who planted seeds on his dirt.  He told me how they made big messes and how their Master helped them clean up.  And they grew pickles and eggs and omelets and babies.  He sent me a picture of my baby, Sonny, and told me that that “egg” grew sonny side up.  I corrected his grammar and he encouraged me with good words all the way to the finish line.  I found myself laughing during the most difficult part of my race and smiling where I hurt the most.

That was this weekend, though.  Last weekend that dragster needed some encouragement of his own.  Last weekend my husband wrecked his drag car going 170 mph at the drag strip.  The first thing he did after realizing that he was still alive was turn off all the switches to cut the power, unbuckle his five point safety harness, and crawl out the window.  Even after rolling the car several times, taking out at least 50 feet of guard rail, and, by a miracle of God, not getting hurt or losing consciousness in the process, he was still in the zone.  He knew he had to do what he could to keep the car from getting fuel and catching fire and get out as quickly as possible just in case.  Because he is so tuned in to detail, all of his safety equipment worked and the Lord spared his life for his own purpose through those details.

A family from church came and brought us dinner even though he had no injuries.  The wife sat and talked with me about how thankful she was that his life was spared and her husband went and mourned the wreckage of a car he’d been working on since the age of 15 – a car his father gave him.  Another man from church brought Tylenol, cookies, and ice cream for the kids.  The pastor asked how he was several times throughout the week and talked with him about what it might mean in the grand scheme.

A friend told me just the other day that the gym is her church.  I know why without her saying it.  The people there love her, encourage her, teach her, and help her.  That is what feels most like family, especially to those who have no family.

 When I file these realities next to what we’ve been discussing in church about questions like, “Why should we even go to church?” and “Why not stay at home and be a lone Christian?”  I find the answer is crystal clear.  It is not that we cannot make it though life alone.  It is not even that we cannot be a Christian alone.  We can and we can.  What we cannot do is smile and laugh through the pain that life inevitably brings to each and every one of us.  Without encouragement, togetherness, help, and, yes, others whose main task from the Master is to cheer for us and we for they, life does not work as well.  The one-anothering theme is unmitigated throughout the entire New Testament and the focus on doing life in community is littered through the entire Bible.

Getting out of the leave me alone zone is crucial for Christian people.  Whether it is sharing our struggles, confessing our sins, or inviting others into our every day lives, we need one another.  This is how we glory God.  We must learn to encourage as well as or better than the world does with its own.  When the “family” that the gym has created among its members looks, feels, and sometimes even proves more attractive than the church family, we are missing the mark.  If you are a Christian, get out of the leave me alone zone.  Go to church.  Get involved.  Invest in others’ lives.  Serve them.  Listen to them.  Encourage them.  Love them.  Tell them a silly story when they hurt.  Remind them you are glad that they are alive.  Bring Tylenol and cookies.  Ask how they are and contemplate the possibility of intergalactic purpose.

Life is an intense activity.  Get in the zone and run with endurance the race the Master has marked out for you.

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I survived my first week of training.  I lost a few pounds and gained a few insights.  I have to admit, throwing punches at a real person takes some getting used to.  It’s one thing when you’ve got beef.  It’s another when you’ve got nothing but appreciation, admiration, and respect.  It is not natural.  It’s hard to get in the right frame of mind.  You have to focus on something other than that human being.  You have to focus on your mission; your position; your goal.  

“Frankie liked to say that boxing was an unnatural act, that everything in boxing is backwards. Sometimes best way to deliver punches is step back. But step back too far, you ain’t fighting at all.” ~Eddie Scrap On Dupris in Million Dollar Baby

You know what is even more unnatural?  Being jabbed at.  How about being jabbed at by a dude twice your size, ten times your strength; skill; speed; knowledge; precision and who possesses all the skill and experience you have not even begun to learn yet.  

“I wanna run away from you, Coach!  I’m scared!  You’re stalking me down!  I got nothin’!”

“You do not run!  Never run.  You wanna fight?  Fight!  You wanna run?  Get out on the road.  You might as well give it up.”

For a wanna-be fighter who has an extremely poor defense and only knows how to play offense when when the opponent is a stationary, lifeless bag, I needed to hear that.  For a girl who has spent her entire life running – both literally and figuratively – Coach has something here that I desperately need to learn.  

Never run.  Fight.

I love to run.  Running is my favorite activity when I’m happy, sad, mad, or ready to implode.  Running gives me clarity.  It relieves stress.  It gives me peace and time to meet with my Maker; to pray; to decompress; to re-prioritize.  

Running does other things, too, though.  Running avoids.  Running ignores.  Running fails to deal with what’s still waiting at the finish line.  Running makes a kind of pseudo peace even though it knows there’s a stalker standing inside the ring who must eventually be dealt with.  It’s an extremely poor defense when you are confined to a ring surrounded by fire.

The Lord is using my very amateur attempts to learn how to box to teach me what to do when running is not the answer.  

Running may save me from pain in the moment sometimes, but it will never keep me from feeling the pain in proximity to the problem day in and day out.  I’m going to keep getting burned on those flaming ropes if I continue trying to run from the fight.  The truth is, I’m going to need some offense.  Poor defense is not sufficient to win the match of life.  

Our culture has all but lost its ability and desire to debate, discuss, dissect, and deal well with its opponents.  Instead, we run.  We hide in flaming corners getting burned by our own foolish defense.  We must fight for the truth by staying in it no matter how small of an underdog we seem to be.  

Running has its place, but so does fighting.  You will not fight if you keep running loosely lodged in you back pocket.  You will not run if you are a real fighter.    When you begin to realize that the shame of deserting is far worse than the pain of getting beat up, you cease to run and you learn to fight to the very end.  

I want to be a real fighter.  I want to be able to run without needing to.  I want to learn how to focus so fully on my mission; my goal; my God that it no longer matters how I feel about my opponent.  Whether I love, hate, fear, or have neutrality towards him, I want to be able to lay it down and strike at the heart of that fighter every single time.  Then, I will be of use to my manager.  Then I will not need to run no matter how badly I am beaten.  Then I will have the heart of a true fighter.  

“In the clearing stands a boxer 
And a fighter by his trade 
And he carries the reminders 
Of ev’ry glove that layed him down 
Or cut him till he cried out 
In his anger and his shame 
“I am leaving, I am leaving” 
But the fighter still remains. ~Simon and Garfunkel

 

 

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“Mommy!  Mom!  Mommy!  Mommy!”

Maylee runs toward me with great anticipation.  

“What?”

“Mommy!”

“What?”

“Mom!”

“What?!”

Yes, she’s getting a little redundant here.  Every mom knows what’s going on here.  Every child does this.  My temptation, if I’m not looking closely enough or paying careful attention to her, is to furrow my brow and answer sternly.  Guilty.  I’ve done it plenty of times.  It goes something like this:

“What already?! Quit saying my name if I answer you!”

But I’m learning.  When I do that and impatience gets the best of me, I miss her.  I crush her little spirit and squelch her joy before she even gets to the part where she can’t wait to show me what she made or tell me what she learned.  Her countenance drops, her smile vanishes, and her great expectations of her favorite friend wanting to know her are dashed in an instant.

Instead, I raise my brow, I smile, I open my eyes as wide as they go and look her in the face.  I run toward her and I repeatedly answer, “What!”

Because, if I’m not too busy being self-absorbed and stingy, I simply cannot wait to see what she’s up to.  My response is full of the same excited expectation as her requests.  She cannot wait to show me her world and I cannot wait to see it.  I am not annoyed; I am blessed beyond belief when I see her new block tower with me and her on top or her special picture of she and I standing in the middle of a dozen hearts.  

My other two girls will do as much when they bring me cards or makeshift, self-inspired crafts.  There are Q-tips, cotton balls, misspelled words, stick figures, scribbles and repetitive themes galore.  But despite my love for order, grammar, and the nagging teacher in me, I never see those flaws when I’m graced with those kind of gifts.  No.  These are that in which I delight.  

“…But this is the one to whom I will look:
    he who is humble and contrite in spirit
    and trembles at my word. ~Isaiah 66:2b

God delights in his children.  He looks only at our hearts.  He never criticizes our redundancy or gets annoyed with our misplaced, mis-communicated excitement.  He is not selfish with his time or impatient with our makeshift gifts.  He is not annoyed with our misspelled, ill-fitting words when we rush in to talk to him.  His children already know their attempts at perfection are not good enough.  He never feels inclined to remind them.  No.  He is not like us.  God looks at our hearts like a mother looks at her youngest child – raised brow, eyes wide, arms open, expectant smile.  I can almost see him extending his hand to receive what he does not need from me and hurrying to tell me how beautiful it is, how much he loves it, and how thankful he is that I chose to give it to him and no one else. 

Bank on it.  If you’re running to him, no matter how awkwardly, he is waiting to delight in you. 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yk9G7OyKwLM

 

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Uncle Bruce’s garden

When the wildflowers begin to join in among the weeds I remember the soldiers who spring up for a time simply to answer their call and are soon gone again.  

On an old bicycle I turn down upon the old country road where Daddy used to let me drive and where I was only allowed to ride my bike a quarter mile out.  How different that old road looked when I was just six and there was nothing but wide open spaces, seeds to plant, and a field of wild strawberries ripe for the picking. 

Maturity breeds liberty I suppose as I glance over to that old neighbor’s yard where I so longed to play in the tree house and wear out my welcome.  I study the tender plants of late and consider the days of picking beetles off of young corn and sharing Sunday spaghetti with the only ones who mattered in the world.

I return to my normal course and wonder why it seems so foolish to even try to go back.  Still I wish.

Two days later I’m back on my bicycle in the country.  Racing, I push and pull with all sincerity.  Transitioning to the run, my hair flies around my unpainted face and I am there.  Every ounce of strength is propelling me further into the fight with each steady step.  I envision that old road and I am finally content.  I realize I am most free when I am fighting the hardest.  So it is with every soldier.

How many days of hard work and heated practice it takes to grow!  How far I’ve come from regulatory rules and experiencing honest joys.  Some changes are good.  Some are not. 

And so I go back.  Foolish, yea, I must say it surely seems so to me.  But go I none the less.  I go back to the hard places where I am a slave, a child, a willing surrender-er.  Yes, where joy is a choice and peace is a challenge.  After some unfounded protest, I take my memory of that delightful detour and my half a day old medallion and I determine to become a fool.  I keep them close to remind myself where I’ve been and, more importantly, where I’m going.  I plan to push forward at all costs as any good soldier before me has done.  I put away the rules and regulations of immature faith and I embrace waiting.  I hold onto childlike joy and I choose to expect.  I purpose to cling to my fellow soldiers tightly and find my greatest freedom from inside the good fight.  

Finally, I ask my Lord just what kind of fool he thinks I am and he replies, “This kind: We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute.11 To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, 12 and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; 13 when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.” ~1 Corinthians 4:10-13

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5aTLCShRefs

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On day one post-marathon I was convinced that running may truly be an activity I’d have to refer to pre-May 2013.  Six days later, I think my right foot is finally starting to forgive me.  Perhaps I will run again someday – hopefully next week.  Hopefully.

As I sat painfully stretching, examining my mystery injury, I considered Romans 10:15.

 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”

My foot looks lovely enough, I thought, but it feels like an unforgiving failure.  What was most definitely caused by overuse and under-attention has kept me limping for the better part of the past week.  

Oh, foot, I can surely relate.

I have to admit I was a little worried about pulling off my daughter’s eight-year-old birthday party on Friday when the pain wasn’t subsiding.  

How can I bring good news to others if my feet can’t take me where I need to go?  And if I go despite my pain, how will I ever heal?  Now I know why the Lord gave me a pain-filled foot post-marathon.

My only answer this week has been hope.  Hope.  Hope that I wouldn’t live out the rest of my days full of pain and run-less.  Each day I told myself, “Tomorrow will be better.”  And each day I woke up without a better-feeling foot.  But hope repeated, “Tomorrow will be better.”  Six days went by without any better-ness.  In fact, I’m positive there was some worse-ness mixed in there somewhere.  But today is day seven.  Today is Sunday.  Today is Mother’s Day.  New beginnings are bound to burst forth.  I’ve refrained from running for an entire week and rested as much as possible with three children running circles around me.  I’ve kindly attended, stretched, and slept.  My foot is finally forgiving.

But will my feet be beautiful today?  I can only hope.  Here’s the good news I’ve brought to make them brilliant:

Some days we’re called to run.  Some days we’re called to rest.  When we get the two confused, pain ensues and failure is imminent.  As Christians, we will receive the prize of eternal life with Christ.  But that’s not until day seven.  First, he’s promised us six days of suffering, sacrifice, persecution, and pain.  

Who’s in?

Bringing the good news to others often means limping when you want to lounge.  It means providing when you feel the most pain.  It means resting when you really want to run.  Most of all, it means hoping against every hesitation of hell – especially when there is no bona fide better-ness in the here and now.   

Limp.  Humility always precedes valuable ministry.

Provide.  Give freely that which has been freely given to you.

Rest.  Running wild without repose is a remedy for retardation.

Hope.  When the present is harsh, hellish, unhealthy, and unhappy, fix your eyes on the future.  Hope is holy.  It is brought by our Great Helper – the Holy Spirit.

 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. ~Romans 8:24-25

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sBKybUusyP8

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Jonah, a godly man, has turned away from God.  In disobedience, he rebels against the will of God for his life and he finds himself doing just the opposite of what he knows he’s been called to do.  God isn’t about to overlook Jonah’s sin, though.  Here’s what God does:

But the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up. Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried out to his god. And they hurled the cargo that was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them. But Jonah had gone down into the inner part of the ship and had lain down and was fast asleep. So the captain came and said to him, “What do you mean, you sleeper? Arise, call out to your god! Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish.” ~Jonah 1:4-6

While all the men around Jonah are in panic mode, he lies sleeping.  Sleeping!  Sin lulls us into a stupor and keeps us from fearing what has the power to destroy us.  Not only that, sin brings fierce storms.  Into our lives and the lives of those around us, sin yields unwelcome consequences.  Some of which we see here are fear, desperation, chaos, loss, and reproof.

It’s one thing not to know God and to sin.  It’s another to know him well and to blatantly disobey the voice of our own Father.  Both will bring consequences, but the latter is far more severe.  Thankfully, God doesn’t abandon his children when we abandon him.  He may squeeze us with a storm and wake us with strong words of correction, but he will never forsake us.

if we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself. ~2 Timothy 2:13

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Anr7QC4GalQ

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