This afternoon, my running partner and I went to East Grand Rapids to trudge through a seven mile run. I was dreading it a bit, partially because it had dropped 30 degrees from yesterday, but mostly because it was a new distance for me. But it was (relatively) pleasant, other than the long straight stretch right before the end of the run, where I felt like Parker on a long car trip. I kept asking, “Are we there yet? Do we have less than one mile left? How far have we run so far?”. I’m sure I was just as annoying.
But we finished, felt good about it, and have plans to add another mile next weekend. My friend is training for a July 4th 15k, so we just have a few more weeks to get her up to speed. I might try and run the annual 4th of July race in Ely, MN instead…maybe twice for solidarity? (Yeah, right.)
Running has become a regular part of my life, so my interest was piqued a few weeks ago when our pastor dug into Acts 20:22-24. These verses are a portion of Paul’s final words to the church elders at Miletus before he heads to Jerusalem, and there is a distinct focus on “finishing the race”. Verse 24 states, “However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me – the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.” The call is not for us to finish first. The call is not for us to beat anyone else. The call is not to give up with 100 meters to go. We are called to finish, and as someone who runs, I totally connected to this concept, because for many people, including me, we run road races for the accomplishment, the camaraderie, the adrenaline, and to finish the race.
As he was talking, I scribbled down a list of words that came to my mind about what you need to finish well…
- Consistent Practice
…and loved that they translated to running both physically and spiritually. One that stood out to me is “consistent practice”. It is amazing to me how much easier it is to run when you are doing it regularly. Take a week off, and your first couple runs back are rough. Same thing with practicing your faith. The more that you consistently ask for the filling of the Holy Spirit, the more natural it becomes. The longer you get in the habit of studying the Word every day, it becomes a regular part of your routine. I have loved being a part of “Hello Mornings” for that reason; it gives me a purposeful time with God, and also provides two of the other crucial components – accountability and community. I would never EVER run seven miles on my own; it’s only because my friend and neighbor asked me to run with her and then showed up at 1 p.m. to pick me up. I would probably not be working my way through the book of John if I didn’t have a community of women who waking up and getting into the Word too.
If you don’t have this type of accountability and community, find it…pursue it…hunt it down. It matters deeply.
And then there is commitment, which flows naturally from some of the other components. Consistency turns into commitment, which is supported by your community. Run into some rough terrain – a long mile or a disintegrating relationship – without all of your pistons firing correctly, and you are in for a rocky ride. Have your endurance built up, your trust rock solid in the One who has the long view in mind, your support system that seeks to push you in the right direction, and while it might not make it less rough, it makes it survivable.
Our task? Testify to God’s grace and spread His story through every inch of our lives. Our goal? To finish the race. Nothing else matters.
Ben went and had an MRI of his head last weekend. Frequent stabbing headaches with unexplained triggers will get you an easy pass to the big tube with the metal face mask and the jackhammer melody. It’s the first thing doctors do, my sister told me, to rule out any of the “big stuff”…tumors, aneurisms, and the like. More than likely, it would confirm that he needs to adjust his lifestyle. Less stress, more self care. More accurate eyeglasses prescription and less screen time.
But that night, as I started to drift off to sleep, my confidence faltered. What if there is something seriously wrong? What if we are at the beginning of something impossibly difficult? What if….? I couldn’t finish the thought before hot, silent tears started to drop on my pillow. I tried to stifle my sniffles, because I knew that any comfort from Ben would send me over the edge, and I wasn’t sure if I would be able to stop crying.
I slipped off to sleep, dreaming the elusive dreams of the exhausted, and spent the next several days thinking and praying. Wednesday we found out that the MRI came back normal. This was incredible news, even though our hunt for answers isn’t over yet. You can’t just say, “well…it’s nothing immediately life-threatening, so things will just be…better.” We have some more figuring out to do.
But what was more profound to me during those days when we were waiting for the results were the questions that kept running through my head. “Will I trust God to handle this?” “Will I face whatever comes with faith and courage?” “Will I be able to follow Job’s example of accepting what comes, and not blame God?”
Actually, it was less the questions than the answers. Last year, when my Mom was facing possible debilitating back surgery, I asked myself similar questions, and didn’t have very good answers. In fact, I ended up with shingles, partially because I let myself get run down with worry and stress. This time around, my answers were much different. I have spent a significant amount of time over the past year getting into the Word of God and really focusing on solidifying where my beliefs land.
What I believe? I believe God is a compassionate God, and that He has our best in mind. I also believe that sometimes bad things happen, and that while we can’t always comprehend the reason at the time, we can always trust that God’s story will be told through those challenges and that He will bless our trust and obedience.
Easy to say, hard to act on, right? Absolutely. And I totally understand that we sidestepped “the worst” last week. You might ask me how I would have responded if the results had been different. You might ask me how I would respond in five years if his headaches are still unexplained. My answer would be that I pray that I would continue to find that peace that comes from trust in an all-powerful and all-knowing God, and that I would continue to be compassionate and caring to a husband who is hurting.
I go back to a verse that I wrote about in an entirely different context a few days ago on Mom Colored Glasses. This is what I will spend my time meditating on. Truth…beauty…goodness…not paranoia…ugliness…or untruth…
It is easy to feel inadequate.
A kid, aching ankles from growing pains, and all I can do is say that I’m sorry and give her a capful of Tylenol.
A husband, head pounding from stress, and all I can do is bring a glass of water and close the shades.
A friend, heart breaking from loss and pain, and all I can do is try to murmur the right words and pray the right prayers.
A world, hungry and tired, lost and needing to be found, and whatever I do seems like not enough.
I feel so useless while the struggling world around me feels so irreparably broken. Disease, pain, hurt, discord, misunderstanding, heartache, and loss…
And so I pray the prayer of the small, the weak, and the inadequate.
Spirit of the Living God, fall fresh on me.
Give me Eyes that turn away from myself and see the hurt around me.
Give me Willing Hands to serve without wanting anything in return.
Give me Words to speak for the mute and to speak Truth to the broken.
Give me a platform to stand on and to shout Your words without Fear.
Give me comfort so I can give comfort to others.
My meager offerings are but Loaves and Fish, Prayer and Compassion, but please take them, bless them, and turn them into sweet incense that fills the nostrils of God.
I may be inadequate, but let me not forget that there is nothing too small…nothing too insignificant…that doesn’t add to Your beautiful story of restoration. A simple prayer laid bare the floor of the Red Sea so the Israelites could cross unscathed. A simple prayer sent fire from heaven to consume Elijah’s parched offering. A simple prayer can soften hearts and transform lives.
Suffering has been on my mind lately. I have been studying Job, the ultimate example of suffering, while my prayer list is filled with people going through impossible situations. Their pain rests heavy on my soul, but at the same time, I am reminded of two things that I have been learning.
I heard this phrase in a sermon earlier this year, and it keeps popping into my head. It is our job…my job…to comfort others, to be the face and words of Jesus to a damaged world. We have been comforted so that we can comfort those around us. My guilt tries to derail it, one sharp jab at a time, telling me that I don’t have anything to offer, that I have no right to be privy to their hurt when I can’t begin to understand it. But at the same time, I also feel like my relationship with God is more solid than it has been in a long time. Maturing. Deepening. Isn’t that where comfort comes from? Having faith embedded into the core of your being so that when you open your mouth, Truth spills out?
I know that I can trust God and I know that He has His best in mind, because He has done it before and will do it again. And if that means shifting from the receiver of comfort to giver, even though it’s a role I don’t quite feel comfortable in yet, that’s what I need to do…that’s what we need to do. We are to open ourselves so that God can work through us, not because of us.
The second thought that has been on my mind is that even in the darkest place, there is hope that springs from gratitude. At the very middle of my beliefs about God, I have a profound gratitude for my salvation that gives me not a temporal, but an eternal hope. That’s where everything begins. But where it becomes real is in the struggle, in the countless examples where the fragility of our lives are held together only through the strength of God working through us and our impossible situations. Humanity has limits, but with God’s hope at our core, we can endure so much more. I think of Corrie Ten Boom giving thanks for the lice who kept the guards out of the barracks, so they could worship God. I think of Job, with everything stripped away, still not giving up hope. But more importantly, I think of friends and acquaintances who have stared down disease, loss, and heartache and refused to give up hope. They found ways to be thankful in the middle of the hurricane, shining God’s Truth out of every pore.
I know these to be true. I have seen and heard and experienced them in my life. I have felt God’s comfort and the challenge to show it to others. I have felt the swelling of hope that comes from being grateful. Many of us may never have that one deep sorrow that threatens to drown us, but many more of us will. Will we decide to find ways to be thankful, even in the midst of trouble? Will we take the opportunities to look outside of ourselves and comfort others?
One of my favorite verses is 2 Corinthians 4:7-10: “But we have this treasures in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but no crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.” I have always loved this verse, but it has taken on more meaning than ever. Accepting our fragility, and allowing God to do His work through us…spilling comfort and being filled with gratitude.
Recently, I pulled a few books off our shelf to review on Mom Colored Glasses, and of course, it meant that those books made it into the bedtime reading rotation. One of the books was The Easter Egg by Jan Brett, and my kids were intrigued again with the story about a little bunny with a big heart. Instead of creating the “perfect egg” for the Easter bunny, he spent cold and hungry days sitting on a little robin egg to keep it warm after it fell out of the nest. The story ended well, with the Easter bunny rewarding his sacrifice for the newly hatched robin, and they rode off into the sunset together to deliver the eggs for Easter.
It is a great book, a sweet book, but I wasn’t prepared for what happened next. Parker looked over at me with a serious look on his face and said, “What the bunny did? It sounds like something I learned at school.” “What do you mean, buddy?” I asked. He thought for a minute, and then told me that he learned to “think about others first, not himself.” I agreed wholeheartedly, “Yep – that’s exactly what the little bunny did, and so should we.”
He ran up to brush his teeth, but I couldn’t stop smiling as I sat there on the couch. As parents, we spend serious time trying to embed Truth in our kid’s lives. It’s a difficult task, one that sometimes feels like you are running up an icy hill with flip flops on. But sometimes, between all the positive influences in their lives, from home to school to church to family, something sticks. They begin to recognize Truth in the obscure and start to understand what living a Godly life looks like, even if it is in the form of a little fuzzy rabbit.
Earlier this year, I spent an afternoon with a small group of women participating in the very first live webcast in(RL) event hosted by (in)courage. Afterwards, I wrote…
“I left some of my insecurities behind in that room, replaced by the supple skin of Truth. Love God and love others, and do it well. It felt good to refocus on what is important. Not because it is good for me, but because it is what we are called to do.”
in(RL) is coming back this year – April 26 – 27 – and it’s FREE! (in)courage is counting down the days until registration for the (in) real life conference goes live on January 14th, and they are featuring some of the posts written about last year’s event leading up to that date. Mine went live…today!
Check it out here…and sign up on the 14th!