Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Everyone Runs When It’s Nice Outside


It was race morning.  Our 5.30 alarm was accompanied by the sound of pounding rain.  I could almost hear my two-year-old granddaughter’s favorite question, “Are you KIDDING me?!??”   And as we drove to the marathon, all I could think was, “So at what point do you pull the plug?”

My daughter Kat and I waited under a small tent by the porta-potties that landmarked the start of the marathon.  It was 49 degrees and still raining.   Immediately, I noticed something very different here.  No fancy running clothes and none of the arrogance that pervades big citified marathons.  This rag-tag lot came to run, dressed in make-shift apparel to fend off the weather, some huddling under plastic garbage bags in an attempt to stay dry.  I looked out into the rain and turned to Kat, who had just consumed the ultimate pre-marathon fuel:   a blue-and-purple-frosted pop-tart.  She smiled at me and quoted what she has always heard her dad say, “Everyone runs when it’s nice outside.”   For sure, she possesses a large chunk of her father’s DNA.   I was already shivering.  Bill handed me his cycling “sleeves” to ward off the chill.

In the first few miles, we were all soaked, the trail muddy and rutted with rain.  We veered around the largest puddles, which stood like a chain of lakes on the path.  The cluster of 100 or so participants at the start quickly unraveled into a colorful thread of solitary runners.  Soon, I came upon one ancient runner, who listed to one side, but kept up an impressive pace.  This 76-year-old was running his 260th marathon, chatting away about another one next month and a 2.48 finish at Boston when he first started marathoning at 45.  Whoa.  I was awestruck. 

The views and spring foliage were shrouded by a steady downpour of rain, low-lying clouds, and a trail of mud and cinders.  At one point, the bridge over a large divide had been demolished by a tornado, causing us to scramble down a steep slippery embankment and literally claw our way up the other side.  Cows stared at us from both sides of the path, silent spectators totally bored with it all. 


Comprised of several out and back portions,  the course required a two-way passage of runners coming and going.  Even before I could see her through the rain, I could hear Kat shouting out, “GO, MOM!!” each time as she passed me.  A woman in a red tank top, who ended up as the overall female winner, repeatedly cheered me on by name.  I surmised that she had been running with Kat at some point (pictured above).  Later, I discovered that Annette is a world-class ultra-marathoner who had incorporated this race into a five hour training run.  Again, whoa.  I was running among legends.  A young man flew past me, wearing flip-flops.

My second time through the bridge detour  -- the Valley of Despair -- at mile 16 initiated a slow hemorrhage of what energy I had left.  Several miles later, my iPod earphones no longer functioned as there was too much water in my ears to keep them in.  The thin white wires now danced and slapped against my race number, creating  a rhythm for my feet.    In front of me, I found a large man shuffling up the final ascent to the 21.5 mile turnaround.  As I inched past him, he remarked that he had run another marathon the day before, accomplishing his first back-to-back marathons.  “Not as hard as I thought,” he cheerfully concluded.   The patriotic colors of his damp shirt announced 50 marathons in 50 states.  I was truly eating a huge piece of humble pie at this point. 

I splashed through the puddles now, no longer wasting any energy to go around them.  Heading downhill, sheer gravity and my trusty German stubbornness pulled me toward the finish line.   Kat, who had already finished, ran the final half-mile at my side, chatting away with words I can’t remember.  The last two-tenths of a mile seemed endless.   A man in a very wet windbreaker reached out and pulled the tag off  my race number.  “You’re done,” he informed me.  I hadn’t even seen the finish line.  I hobbled across the road to a warm towel held out by my gracious husband who had been waiting patiently in the rain, cheering us on and handing us baby Snickers and power gels as needed.

I finished my seventh marathon, but something significant happened on this run.  As everything in me screamed, “You don’t EVER have to do this again,” I was wooed instead to the adventure of it all, the opportunity to do something again far beyond my own capabilities.    I faithfully train, but the marathon itself takes me past what I can do on my own accord.  It reminds me that life OUGHT to be an adventure.  God designed it that way.  And life is not just getting through the cold rainy days and miry bogs.  But embracing the strength God imparts.


Blessed be the LORD,

who daily bears us up.

                   Psalm 68.19


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Double-knot your laces and always carry a Snickers in your pocket

I am now five days out from running another marathon.  Yea, I know.  “Don’t you remember the disaster in last fall?”  (See my October 2011 post “Woman Hit By Train”).   But this one promises to be different.  The route will not be lined with surging crowds, asphalt and tall buildings, but adorned by all the radiance of springtime in the mountains, meandering over an old converted railway bed along a river.  Only one hundred runners are registered, no t-shirts, no medals, no timing chips, and just ten dollars to enter.  The aid stations consist of card tables set up by the local  Boy Scouts and the ladies at the Methodist Church.  I expect plenty of homemade goodies to fuel us on.  Quite a contrast to the pressure of a big city marathon, none of the stress, but all of the fun.  Just run and enjoy it.  I may not even wear a watch.

At this point, there is nothing more I can do to be ready.  Eighteen weeks of preparation are done – a total of 547 miles of slogging through mud and sleet since mid November.  Every day I marked my little notebook with mileage or rest, carefully following a plan to get me ready for the big one and stretch me to the brink and back again.  

The race date has been circled on my calendar since last fall, but in real life, we don’t always know what marathon we are headed for - – a life-changing event that arrives unannounced on the most ordinary of days, difficult family situations that emerge at inconvenient times, an unanticipated blow that knocks the wind out of you, those sudden frightening monsters who actually live under the bed after all, a thousand things that we never expect in a million years and lack the endurance to carry alone.

In My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers remarks about the preparation that really counts:  “If we do not do the running steadily in the little ways, we shall do nothing in the crisis.”  

What’s on my training plan for life?  Be ready for what appears to be ordinary.  Because it’s ALL big stuff.  First things first.  Read God’s Word and follow Him into His day for me.  That is the most important thing I can do.


Train yourself in godliness;

for while bodily training is of some value,

godliness is of value in every way,

as it holds promise for the present life

and also for the life to come.

…For to this end we toil and strive,

because we have

our hope set on the living God…

                    1 Timothy 4. 7-8,10

Friday, March 16, 2012

Strength In What You Don’t Know

On a Saturday a few weeks ago, I ran a half-marathon in a state park near Nashville with my daughter Kat.  Even though the race was dubbed the “Frostbite Half,” the daytime temperature was expected to reach the low 50s, perfect for a run.  But the night before, the forecast turned from delightful to dismal.  At the starting line, it was a bone-chilling 24 degrees with 20 to 30 mile per hour winds.  Not what I had in mind.   How many clothes can one wear and still be able to run?

“Set, go,”  and 640 crazy runners headed down the road.  For the first two and a half miles, people passed me like I was a lame turtle.  This is not good, I thought.  The race began with an uphill.  This also was not so good, but I thought, well, what goes up, must go down.  But the path kept an almost constant uphill climb on old rutted logging roads through a forest of ancient cedars.   At mile 6, I reached for my little Snickers, now frozen and tasteless.  I kept running, expecting any minute to see a sign verifying “the middle of nowhere.”  I couldn’t stop -- they would not have found me until three weeks later frozen by a tree.  I thought about all the times in my life when quitting was not a choice, and I HAD to keep going:  four difficult pregnancies, eight major moves as a family, and responding to cries in the night when I was running on empty.  Just keep going, I told myself then.  And I told myself now.

Just past the halfway point, my husband and one of our daughters, holding a mug of steaming coffee, jumped out of their nicely warmed car to cheer me on.  “It’s downhill the rest of the way!” my husband lied to keep me going. 

At mile 9 on an unpaved dirt road, I could hear small rocks crunching beneath my feet, hoping that it was only gravel and not pieces of my frozen toes breaking off.   The course turned onto a two lane highway, where runners now struggled single-file on a narrow shoulder, separated only by a skinny white line from cars and trucks whizzing past.  No trees blocked the wind, making it hard to even stay on the pavement at all.  I felt like I was running in place.  A few more people passed.  I no longer cared.  With one mile to go in the race, we turned back into the cedar forest, uphill to the finish. 

After inhaling a cup of  hot chocolate, I chuckled to find out I had finished second in my age category.  I was just glad to still be alive.

If I had known how bitterly cold it would be, if I had known how uphill, if I knew what I was getting into…would I have even gone there?  I doubt it.   If anything, running has taught me that there is a strength in what you don’t know.  When you are faced with adversity,  pray to God for stubbornness and plow your way through.  You may not know what is around the next bend.  But you will “keep on keeping on,” as they say in the South.  There is a strength and grace in not knowing, a blessing in our ignorance.


He gives power to the faint,

and to him who has no might He increases strength.

Even youths  shall faint and be weary,

and young men shall fall exhausted,

but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength,

they shall mount up with wings like eagles,

they shall run and not be weary,

they shall walk and not faint.

                                     Isaiah 40. 29-31


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Evidence for the Taking



I wasn’t going to run yesterday.  I plunged into my morning work, and when I came up for air at noon, I was startled by the brilliance outside.  I couldn’t put on my running clothes fast enough.  I cast aside long tights and my fleece jacket for the first time in almost five months, and dug out my shorts, sleeveless top and sunglasses.  It was that warm.  As I headed down the sidewalk, the internal i-pod of my brain kept playing over and over U2’s song, “Beautiful Day.”  Indeed.  Like the crocuses just peeping through the winter’s remains, we emerged from the endless shroud of gray damp days into what appeared to be a different dimension, God’s glory over all the earth, there all along in a way which we could not comprehend before, now evident by the radiance of the sun, mild breezes warming my skin, and kids playing with scooters on the sidewalk.  I saw two grown men shooting hoops in the middle of the day.  Mothers were pushing strollers, and preschoolers on the playground shrieked with quantum joy as if just released from hibernation. 

It was a perfectly drawn picture of restoration, the depth of color as thick as oil paint applied with a trowel, its richness on a level of impossibility, the world and everything in it drinking in the breath of God and teeming with new life.   I was so distracted that I ran past the intersection where I needed to turn.  And laughed out loud when I realized it.

Somehow we know that this is the way it is supposed to be.   No randomness here.  The world has been revived, brought back to life, just like always, one season following another.  And through a day so blue and gentle, God gently reminds us who He is.


Have you not known?  Have you not heard?

The LORD is the everlasting God,

the Creator of the ends of the earth.

He does not faint or grow weary,

His understanding is unsearchable.

                           Isaiah 40.28

Monday, March 12, 2012


When our girls were young, there were almost always cries in the night and my body, incapable of responding again, somehow would find the strength to get up one more time to see what was the matter, everything from  lost pacifiers to nosebleeds, stomach flu (the worst!) and once an emergency room case of poison ivy.  I never knew what to expect.  On one particular night, having walked upstairs for the umpteenth time, I settled one of the girls down from what seemed to be a series of bad dreams.  Instead of going back down the stairs, I lay down exhausted on the floor next to her bed and pulled a doll’s blanket partially over me.  Sure enough, within just a few minutes, she cried out again as phantoms had crept back into her dreams.  I didn’t even get up.  I just reached up and patted her arm.  “Oh, Mama, if I knew you were here, I wouldn’t have been scared,” she said.

It is when life is dark and shadows are suddenly animated that God injects into our story the word YET.  It is His way of patting our arm to assure us of His Presence.  I love that word because it lets us know that whatever we face is not the end of the story.   He is here.  This situation or crisis is not the end of life as we know it;  there is something more or something different about to happen.  And He is still in control.  Indeed, in lowland Scotland, “yet” is local dialect for “a gate.”  It is another opening, a new door.  There is more and more to be.  It is looking from the present time – which may be dark indeed – to what is to come.  The Bible is full of this word of promise.

When darkness filled the land of Egypt, “Yet all the Israelites had light in the places they lived.”  Exodus 10.23

In a time when David was being hunted down and filled with despair:  “Yet I am always with you.”  Psalm 73.23

Over and over again, “Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you;  He rises to show you compassion.”  Isaiah 30.18

“Yet their Redeemer is strong;  the LORD Almighty is His name.”  Jeremiah 50.34

“Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope.”  Lamentations 3.21

Some friends of mine faced a desperate situation last week, and yet, they knew that God was still in control.  It is a word of hope and trust, even when we may not yet understand.

Thoughts of fate and dumb luck abandon you in a miry pit of randomness and despair,  but the Bible says, in the midst of fear and darkness and hard times, YET God is working.  There is hope.  There is strength to keep going.  There is meaning and purpose, even in this, and God’s Providence in every dimension, far deeper than we can ever comprehend.  YET is the cry of our Redeemer, the shout of deliverance even in the midst of trouble.

Hang on to that word.  All may be bleak, my friend, yet God…


Though the fig tree do not blossom,

nor fruit be on the vines,

the produce of the olive fail

and the fields yield no food,

the flock be cut off from the fold

and there be no herd in the stalls,


I will rejoice in the LORD,

I will joy in the God of my salvation.

God, the LORD, is my strength;

He makes my feet like hinds’ feet,

He makes me tread upon my high places.

                          Habakkuk 3. 17-19

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Rug pads, sectional sofas, and a half-off wellness coach

I wake up each morning, not to the songs of birds (still winter) or a brilliant dawn (too early for that), but to what seems to be shouts of urgency.  My morning inbox is bursting with exclusive deals that MUST be snatched up immediately – the one and only opportunity in your whole life that must not be missed.  “Today only,” “Hurry,” “Save an extra 80 percent off,” “Exclusive for you,” “Your guilt-free shopping pass,” and of course the clincher:  “Free shipping.”  Who can resist?  My favorite plea, so far, arrived in my inbox yesterday, “57 % off reusable tote, hair removal system, food dicer and more.”  (I did not make that up).  These cyber-words are carefully engineered to stir up dissatisfaction in us and carefully disguised as what you absolutely can’t live without, specifically targeted for you.  Desperation is a powerful motivator, and it has taken up residence wherever your wireless sits. 

The time we waste, those things we regret, the deals which promise what they have not the power to give:  a new life, an amazing change, and miraculous deliverance from your miry bog (half-off, I’m sure).   In fly-fishing, one uses artificial bait to attract fish on the surface of rapidly running water, a tiny little hand-tied temptation guaranteed to grab the attention of fish hurrying by.  And in life, a lure is anything used as a means of attracting, by promising profit or pleasure.  We fall for what has no substance,  ignore what satisfies, and wonder why we are still hungry. 

Use the internet gleefully, but beware of those well-dressed scoundrels who cry out in the bazaar, seeking to draw you in, drain you of time and cash, and leave you with a proverbial Groupon that you will never use.  Make the most of your time.  That is something that can never be returned.

Provide yourselves with purses that do not grow old…

                          Luke 12.33

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Into The Drudgery

I am now praying for four situations where individuals and couples are waiting on paperwork – documents to be approved, signed, and delivered.   I am praying that these “official papers” will be completed, not lost in the shuffle of a million other cases stacked high on some obscure and forgotten desk.   And in the course, I have been praying for those who process those papers.   Certainly, God’s timing presides over the task at hand, but I think of those who day after day, trudge to work, doing that endless paperwork, thinking “is there any purpose in what I do?”

Yes, it makes a difference.  It bears great significance, even when for all appearances, it feels like an arduous road to nowhere.  Satan’s greatest deceit is “it doesn’t matter,” when indeed God has placed you strategically for His purposes.  It is all in how you look at what you do.  How you view your work is just one of the outcomes emerging from your worldview.  If indeed your basic presupposition is that “all is meaningless,”  well, it is easy to see where attitudes will dwell.   But if you acknowledge that “God is,” your whole life is turned around.  This has nothing to do about wishful thinking or denial of reality, but seeing life through God’s eyes, seeing life (and what you do) from a very countercultural and eternal perspective.  No matter what happens, God is still in control.  There is purpose, meaning and design.  Even in what is viewed as drudgery, God can change the world --  even when we don’t think anyone notices, even when it seems trivial,  everything from decisions in the highest office to what seems to be menial tasks at the bottom of the food chain.  It all makes a profound difference.

“We flag when there is no vision, no uplift, but just the common round, the trivial task,” said Oswald Chambers at the beginning of the 1900s.  “The thing that tells in the long run for God and for men is the steady persevering work in the unseen, and the only way to keep the life uncrushed is to live looking to God.  Ask God to keep the eyes of your spirit open to the Risen Christ, and it will be impossible for drudgery to damp you.”

Purpose?   Count on it.   God has His ever loving eyes on you.


The LORD will fulfill His purpose for me;

Your steadfast love, O LORD, endures for ever.

                            Psalm 138.8


sorry, I need to go finish the laundry :)

Monday, March 5, 2012

Out of the mouth of babes

Video call snapshot 1

One of the highlights of any week is having the privilege of spending Skype time with our two little grandchildren, not quite face time, as the two toddlers are racing (or crawling) around, usually from room to room.  But it is fun and SO special to us.

If we get the opportunity to talk to them on Sunday afternoons, I always ask two year old Maggie about what Bible story she heard in Sunday School that day.  She can usually remember with great clarity.  Yesterday, the things she remembered were profound.  “It was about a little boy,” she said.  “He was dead.  But Jesus came and made him all better from his deadness.”   She almost immediately followed it up with a rendition of Joy to the World, a song that to her transcends any season.

And I realized that in her two-year-oldness she had quite adequately summarized the Gospel:  Jesus came.  And He makes us better from our deadness.


I came

that they may have life,

and have it abundantly.

                  John 10.10

Saturday, March 3, 2012

E. T. Phone Home

Your assignment this weekend is to call home.  I can hear the roar of protest across the internet even as I type those words.  “You just don’t understand what kind of relationship I have with my Mom.”  “You have no idea what he said to me,” or how he looked at me the last time we were together.  “I haven’t spoken to my father in 20 years,”  a woman in Florida recently said to my brother.   And she lives just one mile away from her dad.

Family life can be messy.  God knows that.  Just read the Scriptures and you can see how messy relationships can be.  But God also knows that the most basic of all relationships is that with your parents.  No matter what they have done, no matter what words have separated you, no matter their flaws, she is still your mom and he is still your dad.  God also knows that good relationships are not based on a “parental lottery” of sorts, but firmly rooted in love and forgiveness.  Forgiveness is not about condoning an action or ignoring it, but letting it go, releasing its power and hold over you. 

Good relationships are not smooth ones, just bathed in forgiveness.

In the Scripture, God commands – yes, commands – “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land which the LORD your God gives you.”  Exodus 20.12.  It is, believe it or not, one of the long-ignored Ten Commandments.  Why exactly would that be so important?  Because God knows your relationship with your parents – or lack thereof – will not just affect your relationship with them, but every relationship for the rest of your life – with everyone around you as well as with your children and grandchildren, for generations.  I see it every day.    Anger, resentment, coldness, retaliation.  Sadly, the wedge in those relationships almost always starts with something stupid – a misunderstanding, a mistake, a harsh word, a hurt feeling.  It builds and accumulates into what seems insurmountable.  And it hides behind the excuse, “well, SHE needs to apologize to me first.” Or “it was HIS fault, not mine.”

This winter I have been reading a book about the relationship of parents with their adult children.  The author quotes a study involving mothers and children over the course of almost 50 years.   The research reveals that those mothers with close relationships with their adult children have significantly better mental health, a lack of depression, a stronger sense of confidence, and satisfaction in life across the board.  It has a profound effect on both parent and child.

Last year at this time, God provided me the opportunity to spend a few weeks with my dad as he lay in hospice.  I never felt like I had a close relationship with him, it was never like I wanted, never like the relationship I saw other women  had with their dads.  But in the course of those weeks together, even when Dad could no longer communicate, God changed things.  I learned about forgiveness and grace.  My dad had some redeeming qualities, but he also had some glaring flaws.  And so do I.  Grace is not what we deserve, but it is what we need most of all.

My dad has been gone now almost a year, my mom for seven years, and what I wouldn’t give to be able to just pick up a phone.

Call home today, even for “no good reason,” maybe especially for “no good reason.”   It will change your life.  And theirs.