Just Show Up
The two little girls looked like any other kids waiting for someone at the race finish line. Bright t-shirts announced their presence and their ponytails blew in the wind as they took in the sights and sounds of runners completing an overnight, 200-mile team relay at Ragnar Tennessee. But as I looked closer, I noticed they were talking to a few guys from a team I’d noticed all along the 32-hour race course. The men were part of a team called Run Free, and while there must be many differences among them, they all have one thing in common: they are all amputees who run using a prosthesis called a blade. They are all determined runners who have made their story one that won’t be defined by excuses, limits, or regrets. These little girls were talking to some of the most inspirational athletes at that finish line.
Let me tell you a little about what these runners had done, just that weekend. I had seen the first one out at 6:30 AM on the north shore in Chattanooga, having just started his first run on the banks of the Tennessee River. He would hand off the team’s baton about six miles west, to runner 2. That runner would take his turn, before handing off to a third runner a little further down the course. And so on, until all 12 had taken three turns each, and the team ended up, on very little sleep, near the honky-tonks and bustle of downtown Nashville. It’s what we all did that weekend, and yet we don’t all have the story of the Blade Runners—not even close.
Early on in the race, I spent some time in a ‘quiet room’ at a middle school that hosted the runners. The quiet room was a school gym where we were welcome to sleep before our next round of running. One of the blade runners was there, both of his prostheses off, sleeping near upright against a large bean bag. When it was time for him to go, he pulled a protective cloth over each of his upper legs, planted each one in the top of a blade, secured it, and hoisted himself up, leaving to find his team. It was a pretty simple process, from my view—a testament to the technology that allows these runners to get going quickly. The blades give the runners the power to accomplish great things, and offer a stark contrast to the vulnerability one must feel when he or she cannot walk without assistance.
And here’s the thing—the blade runners even did it with humor. Among the messages on their van: “Show us your leg!” and “Honk if a leg falls out!” No excuses, no self-pity.
So here’s the question I’ve been turning over and over in my head. What if team Run Free hadn’t shown up last weekend? What if they’d decided that it was too hard? That they didn’t want to sleep, upright, in a school gym? That running three times in 32 hours was too hard, or that the mountains on the course were too much, or that the storms blowing in that Saturday were too unpleasant?
On a basic level, I suppose there wouldn’t be a great fallout. What’s one missing team among 200? Not much. The other runners who didn’t know the team even existed wouldn’t really care. It’s just one less van at the exchanges. Twelve fewer runners using the porta-potties.
But what of those girls at the finish line? If you look closely at the picture below, you’ll see why it was important that team Run Free be at the finish line. Both those little ones are amputees. Both wear blades. And I watched them both jump and bounce around at the finish line because of those blades. And, now, because of what they saw the team accomplish, they are both able to say “Running is completely do-able and normal for amputees like me. No excuses.”
All of that, because 12 guys, one by one, showed up. Even though it was harder than it might be for someone else. Even though, at some point, they probably wanted to quit. Even though they weren’t sure who might be watching.
Next time you want to take the easy way out, or quit altogether, I urge you to consider these guys. Consider those little girls. Do the right thing. Whatever has tried to emotionally, mentally, or spiritually disable you—find a way to silence, tame it, and eventually defeat it. Get help! Pray. Study. Find someone who can counsel you on how to do it. These are all tools we have access to, just like a blade for your race in life. So find them, use them, and get going.
When things are hard, show up.
When you want to quit, show up.
When you have every excuse, show up.
You never know who needs you to be there.
If you’d like to learn more about the Amputee Blade Runners, you can visit their site here, and their Instagram here.
The Math of Motherhood
But a wandering mind is not always a bad thing. This week my mind wandered into some simple math as I rocked with my youngest. She’s two, so our post-lunch hour often sees a lot of contorted faces and declarations of “But I’m NOT tired! I don’t WANT a nap!” Those moments make the sight of her still-chubby cheeks, fluttery eyelashes and gaping mouth, finally at rest, all the more welcome. And so, not 15 minutes after deep sighs and much struggling with her, I found myself looking at all her sweet sleeping pudginess and thinking, “Oh, I could do this forever.” Babies’ sleeping faces, I am convinced, are what keeps us from eating our young.
Anyway, that’s when the math came. I started wondering how much of our lives we mothers spend rocking our children, cuddling with them, or nuzzling that sweet spot of skin where their neck meets their shoulder. That time is more intensive in the first year or so, certainly, but I wanted to know, from birth to, say, age 4, when the cuddle time often starts to dwindle, how much it might work out to be. Five minutes a day seemed like an average that I could work with, math-wise. It accounts for the decrease in time that comes with your child’s growth. And it is also probably not intimidating to anyone not naturally given to cuddling.
The answer? Five days. Five days! If you cuddle with your child just five minutes a day, then by the time they turn four, you will have spent five days worth of sweet moments with that person. I suspect many moms spend far more than five minutes a day loving on their kids, so scale it up to 10 minutes (10 days) or 15 (more than two weeks!) if that’s you. And certainly older kids need their snuggles too, so it doesn’t stop there.
Is that encouraging to you? That a bit of daily faithfulness to showing affection can add up to so much? I hope it is. It takes so little to pour into a person, and they aren’t the only ones who get something out of it. Though being “touched out” can be a real thing for moms, make no mistake--research shows that we greatly benefit from physical contact with our kids as well.
These minutes spent rocking and cuddling are not a waste. They may delay the laundry, yes. They may not banish those visions of Future Me wearing cute dresses and long jewelry again. And they may not always feel like a Publix commercial. But I assure you, they are not misused moments. So mama, don’t ever let those feelings of wasted time linger, because when you look at how you spend your days, they add up. The simple math of brief but frequent cuddles equates to bonds that can’t be divided, unshakeable trust multiplied, and love unspoken, times infinity. Not bad for five minutes a day.
A faithful person will have an abundance of blessings...
I saw it, briefly, but I saw it over and over again. The big, overly-happy smile of a young mom at story time, and just above it a flicker of self-doubt in her eyes. A tiny tremble of “what on earth am I doing here?” that perhaps she hoped the other moms didn’t catch.
Have you ever been in a group of people and wondered just how many things are actually going on under the surface? Today I looked around at all the young moms at the library’s Tales for Two-year-olds and wondered: how many were bored to tears with Twinkle Twinkle and Old Macdonald for the 8-gazillionth time? How many beautiful hearts were doing battle with their culture-rattled brain—demanding to know how this could possibly make sense when the bills are piling up and the “check engine” light just came on and here they are Ringing Around the Rosy instead of sitting back in their cubicle? How many came only because they want to get out of the house or because they wanted to be able to say they did something worthy of getting dressed that day, or because 'they'—the experts in the books and on the blogs-- say storytime is good for kids’ social skills…and stuff. Whatever all that other stuff is.
Full disclosure: I've been all of those moms! Every. Single. One. When my first was a new toddler, I was already pregnant with her sister and could barely muster the strength to shower and drive the three miles to story time, let alone grin big and make twinkle-diamonds with my hands. The most exhausting thing was the voice in my head telling me what I was doing was a waste of my time. A woman I know later expressed it better—“Couldn’t I just pay someone to do all this mindless playing I spend all day doing?”
Outsource the mindlessness. It makes so much sense, doesn’t it?
But Mama, I am here to tell you… what you are doing is the opposite of mindless. It is something that, whether you intend it to, or not, will reap benefits for years and even decades to come.
As a mother who also has older ones now, I see every day so much benefit from the songs and stories and time together. Those words have set the foundation for language skills that have produced articulate kids who love to read and write on their own. The rhythm and music has lead to an interest in math games and logic and debate (not to mention my joy in hearing them sing, whether they are two or ten!). And, the most important, in my book: happy memories that lead to secure connections and emotional health, that mean when their world is shattered and they are devastated, they know they have a safe place.
Please hear me: what you do matters! This is not inconsequential work and it's not mindlessness! Our culture doesn’t celebrate the little moments that you will observe in the next few years—but I urge you to. Please realize that when a toddler knows what is coming in a song because they have sung it 15 times, they feel secure—accomplished! And that beaming smile says “I learned that and now I want to learn MORE!” When they practice jumping like popcorn, their brains and bodies start to work together and later those little popcorn legs will be able to jump way higher than you on the basketball court. And when you hold them in your lap and tell them to quietly listen to Five Little Monkeys, they register that soft, safe space, and know you are their home.
Mama, how you are spending your time with your children is worthy, so worthy. Whether it is at the library or not, time spent with them is the long, slow, brick-making and -laying process of setting the foundation for their life. Like a city skyscraper, these things below won’t be visible when they are older. But if we build that base with them now, they will be set securely to rise high above it. Proverbs 29:18 “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Keep that vision of your child in mind—one day they will be grown, and you are setting their foundation now that they may grow fully, later.
Today I urge you to fight back against the voices that tell you what you are doing with your babies doesn’t matter, whether they are in your own head or coming out of someone else’s mouth. Fight back and say, “This child is worthy of this, and so am I.” Fight back, and then rest, knowing that you and what you are doing, is good, and wise, and right.
I see you and I appreciate you.
Therefore be very careful how you live—not as unwise but as wise, taking advantage of every opportunity, because the days are evil.
Straight talk here: Do you struggle with the weekend? I do. I always have. When I was in school or at work during the week, I could avoid a lot of Things I Shouldn’t Do. Even now, I am way too busy and driven during the week to step outside of where I know I should be, behavior-wise.
And yet. When five o’clock on Friday rolls around it’s like Temptation wakes up, wipes the sleep out of its eyes and springs from bed, hollering “Let’s Party!”
I think the weekends are especially hard for almost everyone struggling with temptation (and that’s everyone). There’s just more free time, more people around, and way more opportunity to do Things We Shouldn’t Do. Rich foods or alcohol, everywhere you turn. The mall, softly whispering your name and feeding you promises of “window shopping only,” even though your bank account has solidly told you not to go there. Or there are the people who beckon you to go to that place, drink that drink, be around that guy—whatever you know you shouldn’t do!—they come on stronger on the weekend. And maybe because we have worked hard at avoiding that very thing all week, we feel tougher than we should, and take Temptation’s hand. Or maybe we just are tired of fighting it, and we give in. Whatever the reason is, I’d like to give you one simple thing to do when you are tempted (this weekend, or whenever).
Ask yourself this: “If I do this, how will I feel in 12 hours?”
It’s powerful. Because it’s a long enough time period for you to imagine ‘sobering up’ after you’ve done wrong. To imagine the guilt you’ll feel over a wrong encounter with a guy. Or the reality of a bigger credit card bill that you can’t pay. Or to realize that you’ll be eating rabbit food for days if you overindulge. And it only takes a second to imagine all those scenarios, and make the right choice.
From there, the situation may determine what you do. It may be immediate prayer for strength to say no. It may be a quick exit from wherever you are. It may be a change of plans and a call to an accountability partner. It may be all of the above! But asking that one question can be a huge motivator that can keep you from derailing all the progress you’ve made!
The weekend is coming, and I hope this helps you prepare. Won’t it be great if THIS is the weekend that you hear Temptation’s gleeful call, kick it square in the face, and say “Not today, Satan. Not today.”?
No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
Let me know if this question helps you this weekend, or if it has helped you in the past. And for a GREAT lesson on temptation, click here.
What to Do When You Fail
When you are sixteen and you are so tired of being brutally uncool and overlooked, and the years of being sneered at pile up, you will do really stupid things. Sometimes it’s a lot of stupid things, and sometimes those stupid things will stay with you for a very long time.
For me, I found a double whammy way to both be accepted and to appear that I didn’t care about being accepted: cigarettes. Of course, this is also a great way to ruin your health, waste tons of money and time, and to discover the hardships of addiction. It took me years (and years) to put them down, and it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. And it wasn’t that it took me eight years to want to be done with them—in many ways I wanted out of the habit almost as soon as I got into it. Quitting, though, was hard, and I failed at it over, and over, and over again.
It’s January 10 and my hunch is there are a lot of us out there who have already experienced a blow up in our plans to make 2017 the year. Goals are falling apart. We don’t see how to make what we wanted to happen. We’re back in old habits already and we feel pretty crummy about it. Can we share a collective group shrug here and acknowledge this: Failure happens? It is so rare that any of us makes a goal and then follows a blissful, obstacle-free path to reaching it. But that doesn’t mean it’s time to let go of your goals. Here are five things you can do to get back on track.
1. CELEBRATE THE PROGRESS YOU DID MAKE
So, you messed up. You only got to the gym once last week—not nearly the five times you meant to. Or maybe you only made it a few hours before you yelled at the kids—again. Or maybe you caved and your sneak visit to Facebook stole yet another hour from your day.
Yeah, you’re not where you wanted to be right now. But no matter how far off your goal or resolution you are, you probably made some amount of progress. So often we are focused on the distance that still lies between us and our goal that we forget to look back and acknowledge that we made it a few difficult feet past the start line—and that we are closer than we were! This is important and worthy. Write it down, tell it to yourself in the mirror—do something to acknowledge that you made progress as you steel yourself to try again.
2. REMEMBER WHY YOU MADE THE GOAL
Why do you want what you want? Remembering this is key to wanting to start over again and try. Write it down. Or find a picture of something that represents your why and put it where you see it often. Think about it. Pray about it. Keeping the ‘why’ front of mind helps when you face the temptation to give up on it.
3. RE-ASSESS THE GOAL
Was it too lofty? Did it not have a number attached to it (having something to measure really helps)? Did you not make time in your days for something new? Did you forget identify, or to eliminate the thing that triggers the bad habit? Something happened that made it easy for you to fall back into the habit. Now you know, and you can make the change.
4. RECOGNIZE THIS OPPORTUNITY
I hesitated even to use the word ‘failure’ in this blog, except that it echoes back the language we often use. I have, in recent months, though, tried to re-frame what I have previously defined as failure into OTE’s—opportunities to excel, or “learnings”—opportunities to gain knowledge about myself or what I’m trying to do (h/t to Ben Crane and Amy Porterfield for those terms, btw). Both are far more productive ways of looking at things than to tell myself I’ve failed or to define myself as a failure.
After you’ve done the above, you are ready to get back up on the horse and try again. This is always a scary thing, but when we do the other steps, we are more prepared to succeed, and to get further along than we were before. Sometimes it takes one restart, sometimes it takes many restarts. But eventually success in some form comes and we can celebrate an accomplishment that means something big has happened in our lives!
I lost track of the number of times I had to restart on my goal to quit smoking. Certainly it was well into double digits. It was a terrible cycle to be in, but the road to finally accomplishing the goal took a lot longer because I didn’t always do the steps above. But eventually, with perseverance, I succeeded, and it was worth every failed attempt to finally beat the habit. Your goal is still out there--go get it!
...and endurance produces character, and character produces hope...
Embrace Your Gifts
When I was a senior in high school, I reluctantly joined my school’s brand new speech team. Until that point, I had pursued things more artistic things, but I was looking to beef up my college applications and some of my teachers thought I’d be good at speaking. I haughtily told the coach that I needed to do only limited prep events as I was far too busy with other pursuits to devote a lot of time to his activity. But I dutifully showed up for practice and enjoyed the challenge of coming up with three-point speeches in a just a couple of minutes. I remember early on, after one speech that I thought was particularly impressive, my coach, Mr. Meadows, told me “That was good. Now you need to use that writing talent you have in your speeches.” It was a bit baffling to me—in all my haste to get up and get speaking, in an event where you don’t really have time to prepare much of anything, he was encouraging me to write! But he saw that a gift I had would enhance my speaking, and wanted me to see that it could be used in a way I hadn’t thought of. Mr. Meadows didn’t want me to change what I already had, he just wanted me to recognize it and grow it.
Now, so many years later, I have begun to enjoy the idea of adopting a theme as each new year roles around. While re-focusing can certainly happen any time of year, January presents a natural opportunity. This year I’ve decided that it is time to EMBRACE my gifts, and I’d like to encourage you to do the same. What does that mean? It means that we need to take stock of and recognize what God has given us. And it can be so many things: specific talents, learned skills, burgeoning interests, people who have been put in your life, or situations you’ve been placed in. Now, this may be more difficult when you are younger and haven’t had time to uncover or develop talents. It can also be hard if you have been taught to pursue someone else’s goals for you rather than to cultivate your own. And another challenge is when you have gifts that the culture around you doesn’t value—but that God does. But whatever they are, in order to embrace our gifts we need to become mindful of what we have been given.
Once we realize what our gifts are, it’s time to learn to love them. My daughter has an adorable sign she made in a girls’ Bible study that says “It’s okay to be happy about a skill I have.” I appreciate this so much because for too long the prevailing notion has been that to recognize that you have something good means you are not humble about it. But the exact opposite is true—humility is a choice to put yourself lower than others, which requires knowing that you might actually have something they don’t. It is not prideful to realize “I’m good at this and intend to use it for good.” Or, “I have this money/resource/thing and I can be useful with it.” In fact, to NOT recognize and use what’s given to us is wasteful and displeasing to God—numerous scriptures tell us that if we do not use our talents we invite the ire of God (Matt. 25:14-21, Luke 19:12-27). You can’t love or use a gift if you don’t know what you’ve been given.
Perhaps the most difficult part of embracing our gifts is realizing that when we choose to embrace and use certain gifts we may need to give up other pursuits. I don’t at all mean that we should not do necessary things as they arise—of course we need to respond to urgent needs even if they are outside of our comfort zone. But when we talk about what we are actively growing and using, it may mean accepting that some things we have been eyeing or trying to do are actually better left to others.
I would love for you to come along with me this year… it’s not a resolution or even a goal, but more of a journey, a chance to be more mindful about what we’ve been given and grow in it. I’ll be posting different thoughts on how to find and embrace our gifts as the year progresses and I’d love for you to join me! If you have an idea of what gifts you need to embrace, or if you have questions about how to find them, please leave a comment and I’ll try to incorporate your thoughts into future posts on this theme.
One Simple Thing to Start 2017 Right
Celebrate what you want to see more of.
When I ran a marathon a few years ago, my friend Tim coached me because he knew I needed a plan to reach a specific time goal I had in the race. He sent me workouts in an Excel spreadsheet, and as part of my training, not only did I have to run, but I was supposed to fill in an additional box after the run that indicated how things had gone. We could then use this to track what things worked to set me up for a good run, and what things were working against my efforts toward my goals. Over the months, we could change and refine the plan to make sure I was doing more of what worked and less of what didn’t. In the end, the plan didn’t look exactly the same as it had at the beginning. Because of our simple tweaks along the way, it became a better plan, and it ultimately helped me accomplish a huge goal I’d set for myself.
We are all staring down the blank slate of 2017, and regardless of whether resolutions or goals are your thing, the end of a year is a natural opportunity to reflect on the 52 weeks that have just gone by. But this often comes with a dose of shame and guilt over past failures, and overwhelm at all of the ‘shoulds’ that you think you ought to strive for. Resolution setting can be difficult, aspirations can seem too lofty, and when I start to think of all that could be, I sometimes crumble under the pressure before I start. I know I am not alone.
So as we end the year, I want to offer one simple exercise that I hope will save you from the overwhelm and help you with an easy reset. Businessman Tom Peters says “Celebrate what you want to see more of,” and I say “Amen.” So here’s what we are going to do: look at what worked, and, if you want, look at what didn’t. It’s an easy way to prioritize what we can do more of in 2017, and what we might choose to put off, in order to reach whatever goals you may have for the year. I’ve made this worksheet that can help get you started.
When I work through something uncomplicated like this, it allows me to see things I did well: Protecting my morning time from phone calls and internet usage was a vital step in accomplishing more in my ‘job’ of homeschooling. Re-prioritizing a friendship after focusing for two years on a particularly difficult infant and toddler fed my soul and hers. I started consistently running again, which for me is a self-care milestone. My natural instinct has always been to write off my successes as unimportant, or as flukes, and then to either focus on failures or move quickly on to setting even bigger goals. But it’s so important to take a moment and celebrate those things that worked! It allows me to honor the work I did, and to realize that if all I do is more of that, then I’ll continue to make progress. Simple, right? It actually, really is. I promise.
On the download you will also find a column about what didn’t work. That’s an optional part of the exercise that may point you to things you want to cut out in 2017. It may also relieve you to know that your perceived “failures” can help you do better—because you know to cut them out!
I hope you find this exercise simple but helpful… and I would so appreciate it if you would share anything that you discover when you do it. Did it work for you? What are you celebrating? What will you do more of in 2017? Happy New Year!
Around the corner she came, her curls bouncing and her tutu announcing that Wyndy was here, at the finish line, a runner who had reached her goal. We yelled and cheered for her: her husband, my husband, mutual friends, and the others who were waiting for their own people to come down the stretch. It was October of 2012, and races were new and special for special for all of us. And while runners certainly cherish every finish line, no one did so more than Wyndy.
Wyndy’s sparkly personality drew me in from the beginning. A tiny thing, she nearly knocked me down to meet me in person after mutual friends had told us we’d have a lot to talk about—both picking up running later in life and sharing an equal enthusiasm for the sport, for people, and for God. I had my own difficulties with running—serious scoliosis has always been both a motivation and an obstacle for my athletic goals. But she was the true conqueror. Despite a congenital heart defect, for years she banged out miles and inspired me and others with her “Run. Lift. Core.” Facebook check-ins.
But Wyndy was about so much more than fitness. Fine fare, travel, social media—she used them all for good—to show others what a dedication to God and a genuine zest for living looked like on a daily basis. She used her love of food to serve others who needed a meal. She made time to see old friends when she traveled, and she regularly asked via Facebook, “How can I pray for you today?” She was the type who would do it, too—because she knew the power her Father holds, and wanted to tap into it on behalf of those in her circle who need it.
So when the heart defect suddenly worsened, when the doctors said, “It’s time,” she didn’t shy away from saying she was both scared and ready. Ready for the surgery, ready to go Home, or ready to stay and serve. As she was released from the hospital after open-heart surgery she remained her same plucky self. She posted a picture of her smiling big in the discharge area, publicly praising God for seeing her through. Smiling and ready to recover, she clearly looked forward to going back to life, post-crisis.
We all breathed a sigh of relief that her heart would heal, and our own hearts were stilled that our friend--this beloved wife, mother, mother-in-law, sister and example would live to cook more, quilt more, and live more. And so when, four days later, she died suddenly at home, it was a particularly hard gut-punch.
A light has gone out. A gorgeous, bright, firecracker of a light is gone, and this loss is hard. Even in the far outer rings of friendship where I stand, it is hard. Though we all know where she is—with He who held her figurative and literal heart, this is the kind of death that reminds us all of how broken this world is.
For now, we somehow, in that way that only our great God could come up with, both weep and rejoice as we realize she got to go on first (Romans 12:15). But beyond that, in the coming days and weeks and months, no doubt we will feel the punch again and ask, “What would she have us do?” I suspect she would want us to live more, love more, serve more—like she did. But I think the more important question is—what would God have us to do?
And the wonderful thing, the true testament to her is this: because of her pursuit of Godliness-the answers are much the same. Take care of our soul and our body, knowing that one will live on eternally but the other is an important house while here on earth (1 Cor. 6:19-20). Help others with genuine, specific prayer (James 5:16) and also with physical service in times of need (Prov. 3:27). Enjoy the bounteous food God has given us and take in this marvelous world He created, all with a heart of gratitude (Col. 3:17). Love your people and steward the relationships we are given (Gal. 6:10). Be both ready to stay and serve in this hard, hard world, and be ready to go and be in the presence of God forever (James 1:12).
I’ll miss my spunky, tutu-ed runner friend, all curls and smiles and excitement at the finish line. So will so many other people, and how deeply. But in the race that matters, she got there first, and has gone on to the real reward. I have to celebrate that. I can’t let the sadness of death—hers or others—deter me from doing right. Now that she has gone on, I resolve again, as I have to every day, to keep going in the same direction. And I can’t wait to embrace her, as runners at the finish line do, when I get there too.
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.” 2 Tim. 4:7-8
The Christmas Conflict
The big tree, it is up. The gleaming, grown up, red and gold ornaments shine sophisticated from it’s branches. The remnants of my grandmother’s crocheted collection mix in, and I am happy. The little tree, it is up, too. All the construction paper strands and the clumsy gingerbread men hang on it’s slender frame. Christmas time has come.
I had visions, when we put Decorating Day on the calendar, of sweet family time. Of John Denver and the Muppets singing to us as we placed the globes on the tree and talked about our favorites. Perhaps hot chocolate, and a fire. We would have soup and crusty bread after, and put a happy memory in the books.
I did not anticipate a Target trip interruption after entire strands of lights gave up on us, or a cranky toddler who would much prefer Goldi and Bear over decorating, and a pre-teen who cannot be torn from her book to reminisce with me. Did not like sending the children to the kids tree to give their Dad time to hang the fragile ornaments without a toddler smashing them to bits, while I cut potatoes in a mad rush to get a new-to-me soup recipe started in time to eat before midnight. I did not like this, I did not like that, I wanted my vision back instead of this messy, grumpy reality.
When the chaos comes and the plans go awry, the choice comes on quick and demands our action: Call the night a failure and wallow in my self-pity that all was not hot-chocolate-and-Muppets merriment, having failed at a goal that only we know? Or keep our eyes on the true goal and realize these are their own memories in the making? I didn’t know this was the year we would finally replace the hesitant white lights. The year I would have enough post-baby energy to have two trees again. The year the big girls finally realized that the kid tree existed to separate their perfectly imperfect child creations from my shiny, shatterable orbs. (Sorry, kids.)
I managed, this time, to take a deep breath and choose the better part, throwing the vegetables in the pot still in time to help direct the decorating. We reminded the big girls of who made what and when, and allowed them to move some of their creations onto the coveted spots on the branches of the big tree. I took a moment to enjoy the toddler ringing a bell ornament as she waddled happily around the house telling us all about the newly-replaced Christmas lights. I sat during a quiet moment and enjoyed the sight of my husband peacefully relaxing, for a few moments, in the glow of the tree that he had done battle with just hours earlier.
And now… Christmas has come to our house, ready for more new and unforeseen memories. I’m sure there will be broken ornaments, squabbles and hurt feelings in the shadow of these trees. Yet their lights will also glow in the background of kindnesses, warmth, and love as we practice being better. Practice forgiveness for the wanted things that will not come, and gratitude for the little and big moments that, wanted or not, we need. Christmas has come.
Last weekend I had the opportunity to run my first half-marathon since my youngest child was born. It was actually my first in several years, as I had focused on the marathon distance for the couple of years before she came along. A race is always an adventure and this one proved no different—I spiked a fever the night before, we had to detour around an interstate shutdown on the way there, and the course went through some last minute changes due to flooding of the Chattahoochee River. But at 8 AM my friends Katie, Stephen and I lined up with about 1100 other runners in downtown Columbus, Georgia, to complete the 13.1 mile trek.
Now, running and I have a ‘for better or worse’ relationship, and for the last two years we have been in a ‘for worse’ rut. Due to an injury, the pregnancy, and a baby who doesn’t sleep well, I feel like I’m doing more slogging than running at the moment. But I had a plan for this race and I was excited to execute it. I would be solidly middle-to-back-of the pack, chasing the 2:20 pace group and intentionally reserving energy to run slightly faster in the second half of the race. The first six miles went by uneventfully as we ran through a spitting rain from downtown Columbus to the river and along a trail headed south until the turnaround point. The trail was still muddy, and the scenery was nondescript. A few miles in we slower runners got to see the leaders of the race go by, and that is always energizing to me. They are amazing to watch, both in form and in strategy as they challenge each other to run fast but not peter out. At this point I was doing okay--not loving the run, but resigned to doing the distance.
Then, after seeing Katie pass me headed north, spotting Stephen just before making the turn, and running back through the worst of the mud on the trail, I spotted an older gentleman sitting on a bench, covered in mud. He was with a younger man who seemed concerned. I ran past, slowed, and turned around. “Do you need a phone?” Yes, they did. The older man had fallen and thought he’d dislocated his shoulder. Long story short, I called 911, hollered at a pace group leader to tell race officials we needed help, and waited till the medical staff arrived. I told the EMS operator where to meet them, hung up, and started back to running.
This all took no longer than 7 minutes by my calculation, but in that short time I got pretty cold, and it was just long enough that my running mojo was just…shot. The 2:20 pace group was long gone. It was the 2:30 pacer I’d asked to help us, and they were far in the distance as well. My goal was gone, and I’d lost my motivation. I spent miles talking myself out of quitting the race. Finishing would be winning today.
But then I noticed something. I was now solidly in the back of the pack, and I had lots of time to observe the people I was running with. There was a sharp contrast to the gazelles I had seen run by earlier on their way to victory. The leaders are focused on winning, and you can see it in their faces and their body language. They are amazing, and their stories are generally of long hours of dedication and hard work, with support from coaches or family or both. They work hard, and it’s obvious to everyone because they are at the front.
The back of the pack? Well, these are the people who are just glad they are out there. Their stories (mine too) are often of a lifetime of bad, unhealthy choices followed by realization of the possibility of a better life. They work hard, harder than they ever have, and they will never receive any glory for it. But, oh, they are smiling and they are proud, and they want everyone to join them in that.
There was one lady who wasn’t doing much more than a jaunty speedwalk. But she was high-fiving everyone she passed and flashing a smile that stood in direct contrast to the dreary weather. Before the turnaround on the north side, during another spot where the faster runners were on the trail going opposite us, I chatted up another woman who told me she’d started running at 49 and wanted to inspire her family to change their lifestyle. She, the slower runner, was the one encouraging those who were going minutes per mile faster than she on the other side of the trail. There were several sets of friends running, helping each other through the race. I saw young runners, older runners, heavy runners and lean runners. Some seemed pained, many seemed tired, but when I smiled at or spoke to them, they all smiled back. I think they’d all tell you that the accomplishment of finishing was worth the pain it took to get there.
I tell you all this to say… there is a spiritual connection there. Maybe you are a back of the pack runner in the race to heaven. Maybe you just feel that way today, because you are disappointed or depressed or discouraged. It’s okay. Stay headed in the right direction. The Hebrew writer does not say “Let us run with swiftness, style, and beautiful form!” The key word in Hebrews 12:1 is endurance. Keep going.
KEEP GOING. If you are in the back of the pack, you probably have an incredible story to tell. You are running because you want to cross the finish line and get out of this fallen world. You may have faced miserable times with your marriage or family, had major money or drug problems, or battled an unhealthy mind or body in a way others will never know. You may feel like you are doing hand-to-hand combat with Satan himself on a daily basis. Persevere. The reward will be worth it.
KEEP GOING. You may look at the spiritually strong, the leaders of the pack, and think you’ll never get there. It may feel like they are running right by you and don’t even see you. But they do—I’ve read of an elite runner saying he respects slower runners MORE because we are out there for so much longer, working just as hard for twice, sometimes three times as long. And I guarantee you, Jesus sees you. The Lord sees you, and he knows exactly how you feel (Hebrews 12:3). He knows every hair on your head—and how much more so he knows how hard you are working!
KEEP GOING. When we feel slow, we are often in a perfect position to encourage others. Tell your story and how God is helping you to someone else. Share the race with a friend. Bring in someone who isn’t running right now at all. Smile at someone who may seem better off than you. It could be just what they need—because swift and strong, slow and weak, they live in a fallen world, and they have a battle, too.
We are all struggling. We all have a reason to keep fighting. We all serve a God who wants us to make it across the finish line. So lay aside whatever is holding you back, lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees (Heb. 12:12), and run toward Him.
“Count it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” James 1:2-4
Encouragement Spoken Here
"A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver." Proverbs 25:11