Passing the bar

I am a runner. It’s as much a part of me as my blue eyes and the freckles that still line my nose. Even during the years that I didn’t run due to injury, family stress, and plain lack of motivation, I was still a runner. And, even if the day comes when I can no longer move faster than a shuffle, I will still be a runner. Once you run, it becomes a part of you, helping to define you, mostly to yourself, but sometimes to others. I’m not fast, certainly not talented, and not very athletic; yet, still, I’m a runner.

Over the years, most of my family, and not a few of my friends, have alternately thought me crazy, obsessed, or a health freak. They thought I had been drinking the Kool-aid, and, if not stupid, then somehow not quite right. And, truth be told, they have probably all been right, at least to some degree. But, in the last year, there’s been a change, a shift of attitude, a dawning of understanding. Because, you see, some of the doubters have become runners. I’ve watched with delight and amazement as some of my family have taken up the torch and started their running journeys. My daughter, Kaitlyn, who was very athletic in high school, but never a runner, ran her first race the other day (a 6k) and actually won her age group. Yes, proud mama here. My sister, whose health habits and history are a blog post all on their own, has begun to run/walk and is feeling the pull. One of my closest friends began a couch to 5k program in February, after never running a step and vowing that she never would, and is running her first 5k in the morning. Amazing.

My excitement for them is boundless. I remember my first real race – a 5k in Fort Gaines, Alabama. It was so long ago that I can’t even remember the year or the name of the race. What I do remember was the feeling. The excitement and nervousness at the start, the Confederate drum corp that kept time to my pounding footfalls and heartbeat, the rush of adrenaline when I knew the finish line was near. Gary and I ran that race together (although he outdistanced me easily), then went on to run the Crescent City Classic the next year in New Orleans. I was a runner. Many years and hundreds of miles later, I still feel that nervous excitement at the start of a race. The wondering if I had trained enough, if I would be able to achieve the goal I set for myself; the elation when I do, the crushing disappointment when I don’t. I actually envy my new running friends a little – they have so much to look forward to, new PR’s, exciting new goals to set. The great thing about running, though, is that every run is a new one. Every day is a new day and brings its own set of challenges. Some runs are diamonds, some runs are stones, but you learn and grow from every single one.

As new runners, I want them to treasure every moment. To remember how it felt when they could barely walk a mile, then the satisfaction they felt when they were finally able to run it. I want them to remember the sense of accomplishment they feel at their first finish line and carry that into their lives. Running is such a metaphor for life that you can’t help applying the lessons you learn in training and racing to your personal and professional life.

Most of all, I wish them joy. Joyous runs that take them around new cities and down new trails, literally and figuratively. Runs that lead them to places in their lives they never thought they would go. I’m so excited to be passing the bar, watching you run with it, then taking it back for my own race. Happy trails, my friends!

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A call to boldness

I just finished reading “The Hunger Games” trilogy, and I must confess, a more depressing trio of books I can’t imagine. Yes, they were well written, and the storyline was compelling, but I found myself wishing for the end when I was only about halfway through the second book. There is an encompassing sense of melancholy that hangs over the entire series. It’s not that I don’t recommend it, the series is thought provoking and imaginative. It’s just not escapism reading. Not for me, anyway. However, I think it speaks volumes about the mood of the next generation. Indeed, I would say the mood of my generation, as well. I think we are at a critical point in history, and our next steps will determine the direction of our nation, even the world. We have an entire generation of young people (and older people) who don’t know Christ, who think the truth is relative, who think love can’t last forever, and who seem to be mired in hopelessness.

So, where do we go from here? As Christians, I think our directives are clear. We have been given a commission to go tell, and we are failing miserably. I know that I am. I’m not by nature a bold person. I don’t like to stand out in a crowd, am too much of a people pleaser to enjoy conflict, and have no desire for my voice to be the one that is heard. There is all too often a disconnect between my thought process and the act of speaking that leads me to stutter incoherently or not convey my message clearly. I’m not a theologian or an academic, and my thoughts and opinions don’t really make compelling listening. And, yet, I have a ministry. As our pastor reminded us this morning in church, if you’ve been called to Christ, you are a minister. Not that you will ever have to stand in a pulpit, but you have ministering opportunies all around you every single day.

A couple of years ago, I felt God calling me to deepen my walk with Him. To increase my knowledge of Him, and to learn to listen to His voice. I’ve called myself listening, but all too often, I’ve gotten His voice confused with mine and run full steam ahead toward something that was clearly my desire for me and not His. He doesn’t stop us when we do that, but he certainly doesn’t bless those efforts. So, I’ve slowed my life down. Don’t laugh if you know me well – I really have. I still have more misses than hits, but I am slowly reprioritizing my life to include more time spent alone with Him. Listening. Seeking. Worshiping.

We have a world around us that is hurting. We have to strap on our armour and set out in boldness to bring that world hope. What does that look like in practical terms? I can only speak for myself, but maybe you’ll see something in my struggle that will help you with yours.

It starts with love. We have to learn to be beacons of love and light in a dark world. That means learning to love everyone. This is a hard one for me. I’ve gotten to a place in my life that I want solitude more than social encounters, even with those that I already love. Times of solitude are fine, deeply needed even, but we can’t go there and stay. God wants us out in the world, among those hopeless people. People that He already loves. People who are difficult to love. People who don’t look like you or sound like you or believe the same things that you do. People who need to hear or be reminded of His love, His hope, His future completely entwined with ours.

We can’t be afraid to label sin what it is. But, in doing so, we have to remember that there are no degrees of sin. One sin is no better or worse than any other. Which makes us all sinners. Romans 3: 9-18 speaks to that very clearly. (Also Romans 3:23) I know I’ve had enough self righteous church people in my life to last a lifetime. So, as we love people, we learn to listen to them. We learn to meet them where they are and gently encourage them. Show them how God loves them by loving them that way yourself. This is not ever easy, for me it seems particularly hard sometimes. There is a very thin line between righteousness and self righteousness, and it’s vitally important to learn where it is. That’s where the learning to love comes in. We don’t have to know how our sinful friends will come into the kingdom. God knows how. The same way you’ll be allowed into the kingdom in spite of your sin. What we have to do is show them hope, love, the future God has planned for them. And we have to accomplish this while being very aware of those planks in our own eyes.

We can’t allow our own shortcomings to prevent us from being bold. God has a very long history of using people who were neither talented, beautiful, wealthy, or even particularly smart. He will give you what you need, and bring people to your life who need exactly what you have to offer. He has brought so many mentors into my life, people who provided exactly what I needed during each season of my life. It’s time to pay that forward.

This is a post that has been on my heart for weeks. When I started this blog, a little over a year ago, it was to share my journey throughout the upcoming years as I seek some physical goals. But, the more important purpose here is to open up my spiritual walk to any one who may be even remotely inspired to begin their own journey. Not by me, my walk is tremulous and stumbling at best. But, perhaps as I chronicle my journey, you’ll see that your journey, too, is of Kingdom importance.

There’s work to be done. That’s why we’re still here. Be bold.

 For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. 2 Timothy 1:17

Simplicity

I’m sitting on my deck this beautiful Easter evening reflecting on the perfection of this High holy day. I love Easter. Much more than Christmas, because the message of this day is what leads to eternal life.

It’s been such a peaceful weekend for our family. It started Friday evening with a wonderful worship experience at our church. I have to admit, it’s a little hard for this good Baptist girl to get used to untraditional meeting times, but it was well worth it. We had an amazing service in a standing room only crowd, and I know that same experience was repeated four more times throughout this Holy weekend to the everlasting Glory of God. Saturday morning, we slept in, then I went on a long run with my favorite running buddy, my man. We won’t have the luxury of sleeping in on Saturdays before long runs much longer, so we took advantage of it. We went to the Longleaf Trace, a local rails to trails project, and ran a less traveled part of it, so there weren’t tons of people. It’s a beautiful section, alive with the sights and smells of springtime: the smell of honeysuckle, a lazy beaver pond, green as far as the eye can see, and flowers blooming in the most unexpected places. This morning, we left early and went on our first kayaking trip of the season with our youngest daughter, Kaitlyn. We were the only ones on the water; the birds, frogs, and river creatures didn’t seem too disturbed by our presence, and we had church right there on the creek. Then, a grill, a grillmaster (Gary), a good book, and a hammock finished off our day.

As I lay in the hammock, I thought about how it seems like forever since I’ve been this relaxed. I think I’ve been running full steam ahead for the last twenty years, and it feels really good to slow down a little. Over the past months, I’ve made a concentrated effort to stop and smell the roses more often, and I had forgotten how good they smell! The last few weeks I’ve rediscovered that I actually enjoy cooking, and it’s whole lot cheaper than all the eating out we usually do. Not to mention how much better for us it is.

Where did we lose the art of simplicity in our lives? When did it become all about working unitl we dropped, then digging deep to find leftover scraps of ourselves to feed our families? The untraditional worship time we participated in this week really helped me to rediscover that we’ve allowed others to guilt us into saying “yes” to too many things. I have been so guilty of that in my life. Saying “no” is really hard when it is a worthwhile project, but I’ve too often said yes, and my family paid the price. They never complained, but I feel it now, more than ever.

So, along with the other goals I’m trying to achieve this year, I’ve added a new one. One that was inspired by the events (or lack of them) this weekend. Truly simplify my life. I don’t just want to pay lip service to it, I want to weed out all those things that keep me from being the most effective, influential, and powerful woman I can be. Don’t misunderstand those adjectives. I don’t mean that I want to be rich and famous. I can say, without reservation or pretense, that I don’t. But, I want to have time to enjoy with my family, restful, re-energizing time that fills me up and prepares me for the world. Time to really listen to God, to dig deep in His word and find out exactly why it is that I’m here, then the energy to act on that. God has placed some deep desires in my heart that I’m not sure I’m ready or able to accomplish. I know, then, that there are some things in me that He is trying to refine out of me in order to make me ready. One of those things I feel sure is pridefulness. The message of this weekend has shown me that another one is “busyness”. I’ve been entirely too busy and have gotten too little accomplished over the last years. My only hope is in Him. So thankful this day for the gift of the cross.

Psalm 39:5-7
New Living Translation (NLT)
5 You have made my life no longer than the width of my hand.
    My entire lifetime is just a moment to you;
    at best, each of us is but a breath.”
6 We are merely moving shadows,
    and all our busy rushing ends in nothing.
We heap up wealth,
    not knowing who will spend it.
7 And so, Lord, where do I put my hope?
    My only hope is in you.