Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Real or Fake

When I was a little girl, our Christmas tree was my mom’s pride and joy.  She wasn’t big on interior decorating, but oh, when it came to Christmas, she loved our tree.  Now keep this in mind that in the 1950s and 1960s, EVERYBODY had real trees, you know, the kind that you cut down on a farm or carefully chose from the selection of pre-cut trees offered by the Boy Scouts in the A & P parking lot. Picture the happy families singing Jingle Bells as they merrily drove home with the tree tied to the top of the station wagon, laughing all the way.  And at the end of the season, our neighborhood had an enormous bonfire when all the neighbors gathered and burned the trees.  Our family was not able to participate in any of these festive traditions.

You see, our tree was fake – or as my mom would proudly say, “artificial.”  It wasn’t even “life-like.”  It was a silver aluminum tree on a stand that revolved.  Mom, in spite of the fact that the two of us were the only girls in our family of six, decorated the tree with pink balls, all identical.  No hand-made ornaments profaned it.  The tree was not illuminated with strands of lights, but with two enormous pink spotlights on each side of the tree.  The tree was strategically placed in front of the living room window so that all the world would see it.  It looked like the window at Macy’s.  There were no brightly wrapped presents under the tree.  First, because my mother was TERRIFIED of someone breaking into the house and stealing them, and secondly, because until the day before Christmas, there were no presents yet.  I can remember my parents going out before church on Christmas Eve to what eventually evolved into Toys R Us and frantically purchasing whatever might keep four children occupied on Christmas morning that did not have to be assembled.  Santa did not wrap in our house.  And one Christmas, I remember my brothers and I receiving plastic skis with roller skates on the bottom of them, which were probably the only toys left in the store that late.

I always wanted a REAL tree.  There was something Christmas-y about the tree being real.

There is also something REALLY Christmas-y about what IS real about Christmas.  When we talk about the Christmas Story with our children, it is vital that we distinguish for them that the story of Jesus is REAL.  I have a basket of Christmas-themed books, some of which are beloved tales, but the story about baby Jesus is TRUE.  A good friend of mine talks often with her boys about what is TRUE and what is PRETEND, so that they learn to distinguish the two.  Young children are not readily able to do that – that is why little children like cartoons— talking animals are real to them.  The story of Jesus is truth – not made-up, or make-believe, or even life-like.  HE IS LIFE.    HE IS TRUE.  And that makes all the difference.  He really lived, He really came, because God loved us that much. 

Please make sure that your kids KNOW that.

For unto us a child is born,
unto us a son is given,
and the government shall be upon His shoulder,
and His name will be called
Wonderful Counselor,
Mighty God,
Everlasting Father,
Prince of Peace.
Isaiah 9.6

Sunday, December 19, 2010

18 Degrees and Other Such Fears

The first bitterly cold run of the winter arrives each year on tiny frosty feet.  I know that it is coming.  I try to ease into it, adding yet another fuzzier layer as the temperature dips, the gloves, the hat, all fashion sense discarded.  Oh, it would be a lot more comfortable running inside on the treadmill, wearing just shorts and a tank top, watching the meteorologist guess at the forecast and broadcast pictures of bad weather wherever it may be.  (Have you ever met an optimistic weatherman?)  But then again, running on a treadmill is exactly that – running on a treadmill, heading nowhere, the little digital numbers increasing oh, so slowly (surely I have gone longer than THAT!?!)

I dread that first COLD run.  It is a fear of mine.  I don’t like to be cold.  And well, I live in Chicago, so be it, time to figuratively “put on your big girl panties” and get out there, except in these temps, it is more like “big girl long underwear.” :) 

It was 10 lonely degrees this morning.  I waited until it “warmed up” to 18 degrees, bundled up in fleece and a soft shell jacket, and headed out.  The air was crisp, the sun created enormous shadows through the lacework of tree branches, and well….it wasn’t too bad at all.  I actually had a very nice run.  By the time I returned home, the temperature had dipped to 15 degrees.  As it usually plays out, my fear was just so much bigger than reality.  “I was afraid of THAT?”

We all have fears that hold us back.  What a shame.  In so many things we encounter, we search for the avenue of convenience and comfort…….and oh, how much we miss of the life God wants us to experience --that which runs out in the snow and laughs out loud for sheer joy.

Do not fear, O Zion,

          let not your hands grow weak.

The LORD, your God, is in your midst,

a warrior who gives victory.

He will rejoice over you with gladness,

He will renew you in His love,

He will exult over you with loud singing

             as on a day of festival.

                                  Zephaniah 3. 16-17

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Those Crazy Christmas Lights

I woke early this morning and as usual, it was still dark.  The room was cold.  My legs were reluctant.  My brain creaked slowly into action, reaching for my slippers and sweatshirt at the side of the bed before running (again) into the bedpost.  Shuffling my way down the stairs to brew my morning boost of caffeine, I hesitated on the bottom step.  Whoa, what is that?  There was a strange GLOW coming through the front windows of the house.   I had scurried outside before bed last night to unplug the Christmas lights on the right side of the front porch, the one-year-old timer no longer working, but the left side was on a different timer, scheduled to turn off sometime after 11 p.m.  Well, here it was 6 a.m., and they were still blazing like an all-night diner.

Why can’t a timer work the way it is supposed to?  As it began to dawn outside, I realized that a timer is only designed to replicate what God has already created.

     …to Him who made the great lights,

             for His steadfast love endures for ever;

        the sun to rule over the day,

             for His steadfast love endures for ever;

        the moon and stars to rule over the night,

              for His steadfast love endures for ever.

                                          Psalm 136. 7-9

We depend on God’s design that the sun will appear each day and the moon and stars at night.  We take it for granted.  God’s design is so precise that the very minute of sunrise and sunset anywhere in the world can be calculated to the second, never early and never late, thousands of years in the past and thousands of years in the future.  For even to those who do not believe in God, sunrise and sunset are expected and depended on every day like clockwork.  It is just one of the ways that God reveals Himself.  And  through that faithfulness, He reveals hope.  Hope in a Biblical sense is not wishful thinking, but that on which you can stake your life. 

Tonight there will be sunset, tomorrow the sunrise.  No surprises there.  And no surprise either “that His steadfast love endures for ever.”

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Last Six Miles -- Again

After eighteen weeks of training and 26.2 grueling miles of the race last Saturday, the marathon was over.  The next morning worshiping at Fellowship Memphis church, I could feel my phone buzzing in my pocket.  There were missed calls from two of my brothers.  Not even twenty-four hours after the race, I found myself in yet another marathon, faced with a situation beyond my strength.  My vulnerable 89-year-old father in Florida was in a crisis situation. “Get down here now,” one of my brothers said with desperation in his voice.  I was on a plane the next morning.  “Please pray,” I texted several friends.  “I am headed into a storm.”  I  did not know how to handle the emergency, nor did I want to.  There was a confrontation coming closer by the minute, my strength had made a fast exit, and I was sorely lacking in wisdom.  “Help me,” I prayed out loud.

Down in Florida on my brother’s pullout couch, I lay awake all night, tossing and turning, going over and over in my mind what had happened, what I was going to say, and what I needed to do, as if I was writing the dialog of a screenplay on steroids.  Finally just before 4 am, I turned on the light and read my Bible, grasping in both hands the verses that God revealed to me.  Now almost dawn and needing to get up in just over an hour, I turned off the light, prepared to remain awake and meditate on what I had just read.  Immediately, I sunk into sleep – equipped, assured and covered.

“It is I who answer and look after you.  I am like an evergreen cypress, from Me comes your fruit.”  Hosea 14.8

The next few days were tough, no question about it.  I was scared to death.  God led me right up to the edge and back again.  But it seemed strangely familiar.  And I recognized that I was running the last six miles again when my strength was not my own, so far beyond what I could do on my own steam.  That was right where God wanted me to be, so that I would rely on Him.  It was exactly what I faced in the race, and I was thankful that reliance was still so fresh in my heart.  I had no idea what God would do.   I just needed to follow Him into it.

Looks like the training wasn’t just about the race after all.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Day 126 - Runners, Take Your Mark

Yesterday, I ran. I ran until I had nothing left. And then I ran another eight miles. My calves tightened up. My feet cramped. The course turned the corner into the final passage down North Parkway. The wind blew strong against the weary. I could feel every rise in the pavement. I was aware of every crack and every pothole. The road arched down to the curb. Stay in the middle, I repeated to myself like a mantra, once or twice outloud. The only sound I could hear was the rhythmic shuffling of the man behind me so tired that his shoes were dragging on the pavement. Occasional spectators shouted out, "You can do it. You're almost there." I could hear them. I no longer saw their faces. An old woman stood on the edge of the curb absurdly holding out a box of kleenix. And suddenly in this bizarre arena appeared my beloved husband who then ran with me the last five miles, anchoring me to reality. His presence alone was a strength to me. No words were necessary. This was no longer a run, no longer a race, there was a desperation in my breathing. A band was playing at mile 22. "They're pretty good," Bill said. I didn't even hear them. We ran past people stumbling along like refugees. Volunteers held out paper cups of water at the 25 mile mark, I knocked two cups out of their hands before I was able to grasp one, the liquid sloshing down my shirt as I tried to swallow a few drops. We stumbled up the ramp from Danny Thomas onto Union Avenue. And then in the last two-tenths of the 26.2 mile race, Bill whispered to me with urgency in his voice, "You need to go, and you need to go now." We both knew how close it was going to be. Go, go, go. I entered the arena, a roar of sound. I willed my feet to go faster. I could feel the crunch of the gravel. Go, go, go. After four hours and fifteen minutes of running nonstop, I crossed the finish line, almost falling into one of the volunteers who embraced me with a mylar sheet to warm me up. I glanced down at my watch. I requalified for the Boston Marathon with a mere 23 SECONDS to spare. As one of the verses I read that morning said, "Have mercy upon us, O LORD, have mercy." Indeed, He did.
I always learn a lot spiritually in training for a marathon. But the actual marathon itself presses me to the point of realizing and recognizing the strength and mercy of God. I wonder why it takes coming to the end of ourselves before we realize what is a reality every day. It is not a matter of conquering but of His deliverance. It is KNOWING that there is nothing more that I can do. It is not what I am or have or can do, but comprehending what I am not, and who He is.
And realizing that "my utmost for His highest" is not what I can do for God but my weakness -- that which I cannot do on my own.
Run toward Him, run with Him, run in Him.
He is preparing you for the course set before you.
"...and let us run with preseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus..." Hebrews 12. 1-2

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Day 124 It’s all over but the shoutin’

Tomorrow morning, I leave for Memphis.  I am packing now, carefully selecting what I take, considering that most of my suitcase will be filled up with running clothes.  What to take, what not to take?   Well, there is the obvious, all of which is well worn in.  (I made the HUGE mistake in my first marathon to wear a pair of NEW socks.  Bad move.  Within the first six miles, I knew that I was in trouble.  I could feel one of my toes rubbing against the seam of the sock.  By the end of the marathon, whoa, not something I would want to repeat.)  So, I will put in well-worn socks, shoes that have gone on several long runs, a trusty tank top, a long sleeve dry weave shirt, a favorite running bra, and my trademark running knickers which are good in warm and cool weather.  I am also throwing in a hat, gloves, a heavier running shirt, and a jacket, just in case.  Ready to go?

Well, there are a few more necessary things besides a couple of snickers in my pocket.  I need a few extra verses in my heart.  I need to bank on God’s Word.

“I lift up my eyes to the hills.

From whence does my help come?

My help comes from the LORD,

Who made heaven and earth.”

                    Psalm 121.1-2

I need to leave fear and anxiety behind.  No room for those. No need to carry the unneeded weight.

And as my son-in-law reminds our granddaughter Maggie, “Do you have a happy heart?”  I can trudge through this race.  Or I can let it have a deeper purpose.  It is not a matter of attitude or positive thoughts, but viewing this experience from a different worldview.  As I wondered this morning what I have gotten myself into, God impressed on me, “Would you do it for Me?” 

Of course.  And suddenly the long lonely miles took on a different light.  He has used this marathon for things I cannot fathom.  And He will use it even more.  As it said in the devotional My Utmost for His Highest, two days ago on November 30:

“There is only one relationship that matters, and that is your personal relationship to a personal Redeemer and Lord.  God will fulfill His purpose through your life.”

And so, I claim this Saturday morning, “my utmost for His highest.”  Every step, every mile.