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Dear 16-year-old Me,

God is watching out for you. I know things aren’t really going the way you’d like them to, but God has a (better) plan for you and He cares for you, every little tiny detail, not just the big things. He’ll provide what your heart desires, you just have to be patient.

In the meantime, talk to your mom. She understands more than you think. And talk to your sister, she does, too. Talk to your friends. Talk to anyone! Tell others what you REALLY think and what you feel. Your opinion and your feelings matter. And sharing will deepen the connection with friends and family, which is what you really desire. Even if your thoughts are silly or “wrong” or illogical or immature. Or make you vulnerable. Having feelings you know aren’t right doesn’t make you a bad person, just human. It’s okay, you’ll learn and grow from it. Keeping everything to yourself will allow doubt and negativity to fester. And the sooner you learn to process and share your feelings, the easier it will be to avoid some mistakes when you are older.

I know you think it’s better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and prove it. But you aren’t a fool. You aren’t perfect! Nobody is. You don’t have to be perfect for people to like you. And once people know you, they will know you aren’t perfect, but they will like you anyway even more! You love to make people laugh and eventually will learn it doesn’t mean they are making fun of you (never mind the time your friend laughed at your shoes, you liked them so who cares what he thinks). You’ll discover how much people actually embrace quirks and think perfection is boring! Embrace who you are, and if you don’t know, start the process of figuring it out. You are so much more than just a “pretty face” or a “silly girl.” You don’t have to take calculus or physics to prove you are smart! You are just going to get frustrated. Math is not your thing, but that’s okay, you’ll marry a guy who can do that for you. It’s okay to let others do things for you. Of course, you’ll learn that when you are struggling in computer science classes in college, and that’s not quite what I’m talking about. But you’ll get it. Let people see your weaknesses so they can support you. Be vulnerable. And not knowing something doesn’t make you stupid, so admit you don’t know everything and ask lots of questions.

It’s okay to be shy, but it’s not okay to be impolite. Think about how you come across to other people when you think they don’t like you, when in fact they think you don’t like them. If you didn’t worry so much about what other people thought, you would see that everyone was worried about themselves, too. There are so many people who are lonely and could use a friend. Smile. Say hi. You won’t be shunned for being nice. I know it would devastate you to find out people thought you were stuck up. People like you more than you think. That college boy doesn’t ride his bike to your house before you leave for prom because he wants the exercise …

You are creative! Maybe not in the way you usually think about it. Use your creativity to express yourself, not as a means to finding perfection. And you love to run. It’s a part of who you are so don’t stop because your friends don’t understand it. Find some friends who can relate to that part of you after high school. But don’t let it consume you either. I don’t want you to miss out on other good things God has for you. You are so passionate, if you could just find what you want to pour your energy into.

You are loved! Not because you are beautiful (though you are. seriously. puh-leaze you are NOT fat.), not because you are creative (though you are), not because you are fast (though you are) or smart (you are!) or because you TRY SO HARD (even though you do). You are loved because GOD loves you, you are His precious daughter. There’s nothing you can do to make Him love you more and nothing you can do to make Him love you less! Soak in that grace and then pass it on to others.

–38-year-old you

Free to fail

As a perfectionist, failure is not an option. I am afraid of failure. As a mom, a writer, a wife, a friend, a coach, a mentor. Even though I fail–continuously, I don’t acknowledge or admit it very often. But what I have come to learn is that failure is not optional … because it’s required.

To reach perfection, you must fail. To do anything otherwise is to come close maybe, but yet be so far. Because it’s just not possible to be perfect. At least not on my own.

If fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, failure is the beginning of perfection. Because failure is how we come to know and experience and rely on God. In the midst of failure, we see God because we are not distracted by our own “glorious” self. Failure, according to Webster’s, is “to fade or die away, to be inadequate, lack, to leave undone … a defect in character or ability.” Call it what it is: failure is the inability to accomplish on my own. If I can be perfect–or think that I can–I don’t need God. When I fail, I know I need Help (yes, that’s Help with a capital “H”).

When I recognize myself as the failure I am, only then can God accomplish perfection for me. Jesus was perfect so I don’t have to be. Free to fail.

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
2 Corinthians 12:9

Sold.

SOLD.

No word could be quite so exciting … or scary.

As soon as we received an offer on our house, which felt sudden even though it has been on the market 9 months, I went into almost complete panic mode. Was this what we wanted? What are we doing? WHY? Are we really going to do this? Suddenly what seemed a difficult decision before became even harder. I trust you, Lord.

The offer was low so it felt like we were having to give up the home that we loved for next to nothing, especially with all the blood, sweat and tears—and, oh yeah, money—that we put into it. I trust you, Lord.

God reminded me about Abraham and his sacrifice of Isaac. Similarly, God had asked us to let go. Yes, our home is of value to us. But God has a different plan for us and we are being obedient by not holding back. We believe God’s command to let go of our home and believe God would be faithful to His promise to provide for us. I trust you, Lord.

We waited a day—one long, nerve-wrecking, emotional, tear-filled day. Then we countered, giving our realtor the power to negotiate. And then we waited. I trust you, Lord.

Praise God the buyers accepted the first counter offer by the next evening, which was only $2,500 below our asking price and meant that we would not have to bring money to closing. It was bittersweet. We weren’t sure whether to celebrate or mourn. We are sad to leave our home and community but also excited for how God was working in our lives and what He has planned for us next—and hoping that He reveals that plan sooner rather than later!

I trust you, Lord.

“And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you.” Psalm 9:10

Christmas compassion

It was Saturday afternoon. I was walking around the Dollar Store with Avery as she prepared a “girl” box for Operation Christmas Child. She was sorting through the hair accessories to find just the right pretty things to add to her box, which already had a stuffed animal, cute socks, ring pops and Hello Kitty toiletries, while dad and Charlie were going through school supplies. She asked me quietly: “What about the mom?” I hesitated at first. But realizing what she said, and feeling tender-hearted at her question, I bent down to see her face to face. With eyes tearing up, I hugged her with one arm and said: “Oh, honey, the mom’s gift is seeing her child smile and to watch her child receive a fun box to open.” She nodded and smiled. I knew she understood.

Christmas is a great time to instill a heart for giving and to put into perspective how rich and blessed we truly are. We had talked plenty about these needy children. Both kids were excited about the “big” bag of goodies we went home with to fill the boxes, so we didn’t pass up the opportunity to contrast that with the pile of gifts they get each year for birthdays, Christmas and who knows what else …

The next day, we went through the Samaritan’s Purse gift catalog as a family. As part of our Christmas shopping last year, we included gifts for those in need and continued the tradition this year, each of us making selections.

Avery was already disappointed she couldn’t put food in the Christmas Child gift box, so it was no surprise that she selected Fruit Trees first thing out of the catalog. We also have talked a lot recently about the need for clean water in other countries so I was glad to see her choose a Freshwater Well, too (having updated it from Clean Water for a family because it “would help more people”). Matt and I agreed that we would have added the well if one of the kids didn’t pick it, it was marked “urgent need” after all. I told her to pick 3 items but these were the two most important to her so we focused on those. Charlie can’t help himself, it was harder for him to narrow it down; he chose 4 so it evened out. The first thing I read, he wanted to give. “Of course they need that!” It also touched my heart that he selected Training and Equipping an Evangelist as well as Transform the life of a Disabled Child. Instead of the soccer balls. I shouldn’t be surprised by my sensitive boy, but I was. Of course, watching a child select any item to give to someone in need brings joy to a mom’s heart.

We all have a lot to learn. I know how easy it is to think only of myself. But every act of compassion makes it that much easier to think of others. I hope, for me and my family, the trend will continue after the “giving” season.

“For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore, I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’ ” –Deuteronomy 15:11

My first half marathon

I had carefully planned out how to prepare for my first half marathon, the Hillstriders‘ March Madness event in Cary. It was outside my comfort zone for me to register for this run in the first place (and I had to get up at 6am on New Years Eve, the thing sold out in less than 2 hours!). Not only as my first half marathon but as a very competitive race on a tough course (traditionally in inclement weather). This is a race that names its primary hills things like Sneaky Hill, Substantial Hill and Lung Buster hill, oh and Big Hill. I was ready though, at least 4 weeks out. I love hills and I’ve been training on Huntington Hill and the hilly Hanson Rd, not to mention the unpredictable terrain of the single track trails.

But how does the saying go? “The best laid plans of mice and men …” Even the best ideas can go awry. Another reminder to trust God and not myself. Because spring sprung and my respiratory infection became bronchitis that wouldn’t give up, my training plan for the past few weeks instead consisted of sleeping (all day in some cases), catching up with the kids’ and other projects and running all of … 4 times in four weeks. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to finish as fast as I had originally planned, but I was beginning to think I wouldn’t be able to finish at all.

Because I was sick, not only was I unable to run, but I was so fatigued I barely could do anything. Depression started to set in, which made me even more tired and continued a downward spiral for me. I knew there was a combination of mental and physical obstacles that I would have to overcome to snap out of it. Thankfully, God used this time to grow me. He reminded me that while I am a runner, it is not where my identity is found. It was then that I was free to begin to let go of the pride I have in who I am (because of what I have done) instead of who God is and what He can do through me.

After weeks of anticipation and anxiety and an attempt to keep my perspective, the eve of March Madness finally came. Because the run was on Sunday, we went to church Saturday night. There are times I wonder if I should feel guilty for running a race on the Sabbath … but I have discovered that I actually enjoy attending church the night before a race as a last-minute reminder (when my nerves are getting the best of me) that it’s not about me. And in light of the fact that I have been struggling for breath the past few weeks because of the bronchitis/allergies/asthma trifecta, wouldn’t you know it God gave me a song that I had never heard before to close our worship, with the line: “Your breath fills my lungs.” What an amazing gift to me! I can thank God for every breath, even as I am huffing and puffing on the roads of northwestern Illinois. And although I was still nervous for what the next day would bring, I went to bed with a sense of peace I would never expect before a race (especially one like this). The next morning, I woke up with lungs that felt clear and full and I didn’t cough once during the race. To Him be the glory!

Now, fatigue on the other hand, I definitely experienced. I could feel my lack of recent training in the second half of the race.

Once I hit mile 11, I have never wanted to quit so badly in my life. I was embarrassed at first to admit it, thinking that my mental breakdown was a sign of defeat. I. felt. horrible. I whined and complained and dragged my feet for more than 2 miles! I just wanted to be done. But, I continued on. I didn’t quit (though I did walk, which I would NEVER do in a race. Ever.).

I think this experience will only make me stronger. In the end, I finished at 2:05, which I realize is meaningless to most people. My goal was under 2 hours, considering it was a tough course (and a warm day, I didn’t have nearly enough water).

I am disappointed, only because I know I could have done better (I have run longer training runs at a faster pace than this) but the effort I put in went way beyond what my time reflects. It could have been “easy” for me to run the race the way I had planned with the proper training, but I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to be challenged and allow God to strengthen me through it all.

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” James 1:2

In the beginning …

How do you explain the concept of evolution to a child?

In attempting to do so last night when she was reading a scientific book about brown bears, even my daughter could hear how ridiculous it sounded. Try it. Uh, okay. “The author believes the mommy brown bear had a baby. Then that baby became a mommy and had a baby. Then that baby became a mommy and had a baby … and so it continued until the brown bear became a polar bear.” Her response? “Whaaaat? That doesn’t make any sense!” Smart girl.

Okay, so maybe I am a little biased in my description of evolution. But it did make me stop to think. If I really did believe in it, how would I explain it? I really couldn’t come up with a better way to make sense of it for a 5 and 7 year old.

What I can make sense of (and I know this isn’t true for everyone) is that the Bible is God’s Word. And God’s Word is true. In God’s Word it says, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” How much simpler is that?

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Gensesis 1:1

My Portion

I’ve been asking God to speak to me LOUD and CLEAR. I so desperately want to hear His voice in the chaos of life. I’m being more intentional about taking quiet time, literally being quiet, to make myself available to what He wants to say. But sometimes it just doesn’t go the way I want.

I’ve been thinking about this and wondering what God’s trying to teach me by being so darn quiet lately. On Sunday, we had a time of reflection where our pastor asked us to think about the chorus from Hillsong’s “You are My Shield:”

You are my Shield, my Strength,
My Portion, Deliverer,
My Shelter, Strong Tower
My very present help in time of need

I wasn’t really sure what we were supposed to do during that time. But at the last second the pastor said to focus on one characteristic and think about what that means to you. I read through the lyrics a few times. Again, feeling a little unsure about whether I was connecting with God through this exercise. I began to wonder if I was doing it right at all? Nothing was shouting out at me.

But I started to think about “Portion.” What does that mean exactly? He is the fulfillment of all my needs, not anything from my own doing or from those around me or anything in this world. I decided for me it meant God is exactly what I needed when I need Him. I don’t know if that’s what the songwriter meant, but it was a powerful statement. Soon, the moment was over and we sang the song together.

When it ended and we were standing to continue worship with another song, Avery–who I didn’t think had been paying attention at all and I was about to “shush” for talking–leaned over to me and asked: “Mom, what does portion mean?”

I blinked back my initial shock that I had been just meditating on that very question and was able to give her a quick but thoughtful answer.

It was comforting confirmation that even when God’s not SHOUTING in my ear, that I can hear Him guiding me when I am willing to listen. He is faithful to provide wisdom when we ask for it.

“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Psalm 73:26

Make a joyful noise

I can’t sing. I know it. My mom knows it. My husband definitely knows it. Even the poor folks who sit in the seats in front of me at church know it. I had never taken voice lessons or sang in choir. I don’t know how to sing A from C, and I don’t particularly have good rhythm.

I want to sing. There’s a singer somewhere deep inside who is desperate to sing loud and proud. There are times in the car or when I am with my kids that I make up silly operatic songs over everyday things like “What do youuuuuuuu want for lu-unch?” with some jazz hands, just to make them giggle. Thankfully, they don’t know the difference yet. But I hadn’t yet made a connection between my ears and my voice. And when it really counts, I barely move my lips and hardly a whisper emerges.

But there’s hope for me.

So I was told.

I have a friend who actually musically talented, a music major who once taught music in fact. As embarrassed as I was, I told him once, as ridiculous as it sounded, that I wished I could sing. To my complete surprise, he said: you can! He explained to me that singing is a skill based on muscle memory. The voice is an instrument that can be learned like a piano. Obviously, some people have God-given talent. But for everyone there’s always ways to improve. So, over the past two years, I had been thinking about taking voice lessons.

My reasons for lessons weren’t grandiose. I didn’t expect to get on stage for church or sing a solo in a talent show. I just want some confidence, to overcome the fear of my voice. I want to enjoy singing, not be distracted by how bad I think I might sound. Singing is fun and it’s good for my soul. Above all, I wanted to worship God with singing. I want to honor Him with my voice. One of my favorite songs to sing, alone in the car of course, has a verse:

I love you, Lord
And I lift my voice
To worship you, Oh my soul. Rejoice!
Take joy, my King, in what you hear
May it be a sweet, sweet sound in your ear

I know that my song to Him doesn’t have any requirements for tone or pitch or resonance. He doesn’t hear my voice the way people do. He hears my heart. But there’s still my flesh getting in the way, a barrier to my singing my heart out for God. My fear of what others think.

Well, I finally did it. I stepped outside my comfort zone to embrace something new. A dear, patient friend of mine does voice and piano lessons in her home. In exchange for creating Music by Liz‘s logo and business card, I had 2 free lessons to get started and then I continued at $20/lesson.

My first lesson was the hardest. I had to overcome how self-conscious I was, even when it was just me and the voice coach, Ms Liz. First up? Scales of course. She played on the piano and sang la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, laaaaa! I sang … something that didn’t sound even close. “Okaaaay. How about I play one note at a time?” She said in a nonjudgmental voice as if speaking to one of her early education students. So embarrassing. But I pressed on. One note at a time.

One of the things I learned about myself throughout the lessons was that I have a hard time “hearing” the piano. I can match pitch much more easily to a voice than the piano. As unbelievable as I thought it was, I *can* match pitch to the piano, it just takes me a little bit longer and is a bit more work. I know that if I made it a priority and put the time and effort in, I could make a real difference. Even after just a few months (and not as much practice as I wish I could have), I was able to do the scales more easily (still not perfectly!) and with some confidence.

I also learned that first lesson that I am soprano. Seems to most people maybe that I should have already known that, but I didn’t. It was really exciting to me, just to label where I fit. Having a greater awareness of my voice, how to breathe when I sing and even knowing what my weaknesses are was really exciting to me. Even conquering my fear of singing solo with someone else listening (an adult that is). I did it! As a side note, some of the skills she had me practice were great for releasing tension and aggression while driving (better to sing Mama Made Me Mash My M&Ms! loudly than to scream at the car in front of you that you can’t control!).

Unfortunately, I only had time for a few months of bi-weekly lessons before other priorities got in the way. I am excited about what I learned and how much I improved. I am not sure if my mom would appreciate it or my husband or the people who sit in the pew in front of me … But I can sing louder and with more confidence.

“Worship the Lord with gladness; come into his presence with singing.” Psalm 100:2

Stopping on the Sabbath

This past week, our church and small groups were studying the importance of honoring the Sabbath and what that might look like. One of the characteristics proposed by author Peter Scazzero is “stopping.” In Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, he writes: ” ‘To stop’ is built into the literal meaning of the Hebrew word Sabbath. Yet, most of us can’t stop until we are finished with whatever it is we think we need to do: projects, e-mails, cleaning, errands … There’s always one more goal to be reached before stopping.” Uh, yeah, I can relate. It’s as if I think what I’m doing in this world is more important. But this is not it. This world is not all we have.

Saturday night I found myself laying in bed realizing I didn’t finish the prep work for the bulletin board I had planned to decorate at my kids’ school on Monday morning. I began to debate whether I should finish it on Sunday. Is this an opportunity to honor the Sabbath in a new way? It’s busywork but not paid “work.” I am not grumbling about getting it done but I’m not “delighting” in it either. It’s honoring to God that I do the job well but not necessarily bringing Him honor. At least not in the way that “stopping” and setting it aside for a day to trust that everything will get done. On the other hand, nobody would really notice if I came in on Tuesday instead of Monday to finish the bulletin board … or if I finished it all. But it was important to me to ensure it got done.

I have limited time in the morning before my son gets home from Kindergarten. I already had plans for the afternoon with errands to run with him. Then to complicate matters, I have been fighting off a cold for a few weeks and it’s starting to transform into a respiratory infection. If I ignore it, I’ll likely have pneumonia within a week or two, rarely fails. So, I’m thinking a visit to the dr’s office is needed, but if I don’t get in first thing during walk-in hours, forget it, I’ll be there all day!

So, what am I going to do? What’s the priority? Some may say I’m overthinking it or think who cares? But if I can’t trust God for the little things to be done, how will He grow my faith to accomplish the big ones? I went to sleep not really sure what I was going to do.

Sunday, we had a wonderful time, including a lunch date between my husband and me, family time outside, and dinner with friends who had our family over for dinner and a game of Carcassonne, which we had just purchased and never played. I hadn’t given the prep work another thought. Until 10pm. I decided to go to bed and leave it for Monday morning.

When I woke up in the morning and after I dropped the kids off at the bus, I had enough time to get ready for the day, print what I needed to finish the bulletin board and get to the doctor’s office around 8am. I cut the printouts while I sat in the waiting room (and finished just as they called my name, literally). Then I was done with my appointment and at the school before 9 (so a little later than my scheduled 8:30 arrival but that’s not unusual). I decorated the bulletin board, helped in my daughter’s classroom and finished early with that so I was able to help also in my son’s kindergarten classroom. I had the opportunity there, even though she hadn’t planned on me coming that morning, to work with the kids one-on-one on a writing assignment (something I never get to do but love it because I can interact with the kids and get to know my son’s friends a little better and she how he is behaving, too). Truly a blessing!

I picked up my son from the bus at 10:45am, we had lunch and then I ran my errand. We got home and it wasn’t even 12:30 yet. It’s like my day expanded! I was able to get everything done that I had planned and still have half the day left to do more (or, you know, take a nap). And my Sunday was undisturbed. Awesome.

“Six days work shall be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the Lord.” Exodus 35:2

Running like crazy

I finally read the last page of the “controversial” book Born to Run by Christopher McDougal. It was a fun, interesting read (albeit a bit ADHD) and incredibly eye-opening at the same time. I feel a bit like I am the last to know about minimalist or barefoot running (I did *notice* the FiveFingers shoes and disregarded those runners as crazy). But I figured I’d write about it, just in case there are others like me who just love running and don’t so much follow the trends. But you might want to take a look at this one. It’s a new idea that’s really not new at all, which is my favorite kind. And it goes against what most consider to be conventional wisdom, even of doctors, major shoe companies and running magazines. Bonus!

The author suggests that our bodies were built for running. Imagine that, a perfect Intellectual design! It was only with the advent of the modern running shoe in the 70s (blame Nike here) that people focused on longer strides and striking heel first, which has led to injury-prone runners (who then visit podiatrists and buy new shoes … sound suspicious at all?).

More complexity, higher technology, super cushioning, pronation prevention and stability control cost more money and are marketed to help runners avoid injury. However, all that technology actually interferes with how the muscles of the foot and leg respond to the ground. One researcher remarked that the extra cushioning is akin to navigating in the dark. Without tactical input, the foot is missing adequate stimulation to avoid injury. And, in fact, weakening the arch and other foot muscles, causing common running injuries like plantar fasciitis. Running is, no doubt, hard on the body. But McDougal adds that attempting to protect the body this way is like wrapping an egg in cushioning then slamming it onto a hard surface. It will still crack.

I was suddenly grateful that I have always bought cheap shoes! They may actually be better for you in the long run. And you really may be better off in your old, worn-out shoes than new-fangled ones with all the bells and whistles (don’t miss this part: *especially* if you have flat arches, pronate or are prone to injury). Of course, if you want, you can jump in on the trend that brand manufacturers are taking advantage of and buy a minimalist running shoe at a price. Or, go old school and wear inexpensive plimsolls like our parents used to.

The key is to run the way your body is meant to. When done correctly, the body is built to absorb the shock.

The best way to describe the “correct” way to run is to mimic the body form of sprinting: torso leaning forward, knees bent, landing on your foot’s midsole. Take off in the grass barefoot and you’ll start to understand. Run like a kid again! When I watch my son run, he has perfect natural form. And he’s fast. It’s awkward at first to change my stride and the way that I run, but it’s starting to feel more natural after a couple weeks. I must be doing something right because my calf muscles are killing me. As an aside, while I agree that there’s some awkward changes, the important thing is to feel what’s natural. I don’t think everyone should try to copy a particular person’s running style. Have you ever seen women’s marathon record holder Paula Radcliffe run? Did somebody just NOT tell her she’s not supposed to bob her head while running? She holds the women’s course record for the Chicago Marathon from 2002 also. I remember because she finished just as I crossed the halfway point. Ugh. I tried to mimic her style to see if it helped me run faster or longer at the time. It didn’t. So, keep it simple. Run what comes natural, just natural without the “aid” of running shoes.

The realization that shoe marketing is misleading will come gradually as runners figure out the truth, which they have been and will continue to when they actually try it.

Granted, I’ve read one book. I maybe should have done a little research of my own before I jumped on the bandwagon, but author Christopher McDougal already did all that work for me! From high-tech science labs to the reclusive Tarahumara Indians of Mexico’s treacherous Copper Canyons, his adventure to search for answers makes for a pretty rock solid case that everything we thought we knew about running was wrong.

He builds the case following a cast of characters (a bunch of lovable but crazy people, if you ask me) who in the end become friends in a fifty-mile race through the heart of Tarahumara country, that pits the rag-tag bunch of Americans against the tribe. It’s a compelling, heartwarming (leave it to me to get emotional!) story.

My favorite quote of the book is a life lesson we could all learn from and is a Biblical principal, even if the book isn’t at all spiritual. It was about Scott Jurek, whose journey to become a star ultrarunner started in high school in the back of the pack and launched when he ran, and came in second, in his first 50-mile ultra on a dare by a college buddy. His passion for running was more about connecting with others and being a part of something outside himself: “But the joy he got from running was the joy of adding his power to the pack. Other runners try to disassociate from fatigue by blasting iPods or imagining the roar of the crowd in the stadium, but Scott had a simpler method: it’s easy to get outside yourself when you’re thinking about someone else.”

I got chills when I read that not only because I’ve never been able to articulate my desire to keep my mind in tune with my body and surroundings when I’m running but because it’s a principal for life. In our small group, we often talk about life’s paradoxes. God seems to turn everything upside down from the way that we think it should be. Because so much of what the author writes sounds upside down, I’m thinking he just may be on to something. Injured? Run with less support instead of more. Feeling pain? Embrace it, run faster. Exhausted and feeling sorry for yourself? Find out how your neighbor’s doing. Afraid? Take a leap of faith and do something crazy.

I’m thinking I need to get in touch with my crazy side more often.

“I have not been called to the wisdom of this world
But to a God who is calling out to me
And even though the world my think
I’m losing touch with reality
It would be crazy
To choose this world over eternity

Call me crazy
You can call me crazy
Call me crazy”
–MercyMe

Grain of faith

It was one year ago on this day that, with barely a mustard seed of faith, I would decide to trust God. I was blinded by my emotions and the gigantic mountain before me and unsure of what was to come. But God was clear what I needed to do, even though it would be painful. Thankfully, I had the support of a godly friend praying for me and encouraging me. And somehow, God gave me the courage to do what was right, even when I wanted to run and hide instead.

I wasn’t sure at first if today should be swept under the rug, celebrated or mourned. That is, until God made it so clear that even though the milestone is a reminder of the painful experience of the past year, there is so much good that has come from it and that’s what I am choosing to focus on. I wouldn’t trade what I learned about God and myself for anything. This was just the beginning of an important journey, one that was not easy but that had a purpose. The mustard seed planted on that day may have been small and imperfect, but it had great potential. God has been growing it to huge heights and … it will only continue to grow.

Obviously, if I could do it all over again, I would want to follow God and stay on His path to avoid that day altogether. I have paid a price for the foolish decisions I made. But I am thankful. God brought me through the experience to restore my relationship with Christ so that I could truly be healed emotionally and spiritually. And it is with hopeful expectation that I pray for opportunities to glorify God and serve Him in my life what I have learned, living proof that with faith as small as a mustard seed, God really can accomplish great things like move mountains (or carry you through them).

“For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” Matthew 17:20b

Sometimes weeds aren’t weeds at all

BeforeBefore (Well, mostly, we’d already started on the left)

Weeds. Everyone knows weeds are bad for your garden. Sometimes there are more than we realize and other times we think we have things taken care of, but either way, we know they exist.

Weeds are a lot of work to remove and keep at bay. But every year in the spring, I weed our landscaping all around the house. I’m happy to do it at the time. The ground is thawing after a long winter and I’m ready to jump start the yard grooming by spending my time outside in the sun. Well, that lasts about two weeks. Then, I usually end up ignoring it most of the rest of the season. So, even with all the prep and prevention, all these weeds seem to find their way to our yard. Sigh. I begin to think: “why do I bother?” So, this year, in the worst area, which never seems to look nice no matter how hard I work … I *didn’t* bother. Wouldn’t you know it, it showed.

So, I finally decided to get serious. I called in one of my best friends, Susan (who was too kind and somehow able to hold her tongue for this long). And she helped me realize something I hadn’t given much thought to before: sometimes weeds aren’t weeds at all. Anything that’s growing where you don’t want it to is a weed. In my case, the “weed” was day lillies. They had taken over! The middle garden in my yard looked unkempt, even when I weeded, because the day lillies were running wild in there, choking my other flowers. They were so abundant that it was nearly impossible to see any of the other plants or even weeds that were hiding! We decided to pull almost all of them. We left one little clump by an old tree stump.

AfterAfter

The next day, I re-purposed the day lillies, planting them along the trail that borders our house, to help keep *those* weeds at bay. I can hardly contain my excitement the transformation that took place. I know it’s not going to win any landscaping awards (keep in mind, we’re not finished yet either, most of the transplanting needs to take place in the fall so we’ll move more things around then), but it makes all the difference to me.

It can be the same with life. Sometimes we get so focused on weed removal and prevention that we don’t realize there are day lillies taking over. Sometimes it’s not the obvious things that are wasting our time or causing us to sin, but those that seem “good” but keep us from being obedient to God and giving Him the glory. Take a look at your “garden” and be sure you make room for His purposes first and foremost, the results may bring joy and beauty into your life that you didn’t even realize wasn’t there.

“Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.’ ” –Matthew 16:24-28

My Friend

I was hiking in a prairie with a Friend the other day. We weren’t talking much, but we were holding hands. There were lots of people around, too, so I kept entertained. It was nice. We took a safe, easy road so the walk was not hard at all. In fact, I think I was even a little bored, I like to be challenged (just a little bit).

Then we came to a fork in the road. I had to make a choice. One way, the path continued, appearing to be safe and easy, somewhat familiar. But different somehow. Sure, it looked a little rocky, barren even. The grass wasn’t as lush and colorful as the prairie. I could see some trees though. There was beauty in it, I think. At least I thought so at the time.

The other path looked more difficult, a steep climb. It was magnificent, but there was a steep drop-off on one side. What if I fall?!? And I couldn’t see what was ahead. Were my friends there? I certainly didn’t want to be by myself. Suddenly, I was too afraid. There are too many unknowns. My Friend encouraged me to go with Him. He was going up the mountain and wanted me to come. He even promised to keep me safe. Well, I don’t know about that. Nobody can keep that kind of promise. But I certainly didn’t want to be alone … Then I realized I could see more friends up ahead on the path that ran alongside instead. Besides, the two paths were parallel to each other.

So, I let go of my Friend’s hand. He didn’t want me to, I don’t think. But I wasn’t worried. I could still see Him. I would wave once in a while and we’d shout back and forth while we walked.

He invited me back onto His path a few times, there were plenty of opportunities to. But those paths were treacherous and vulnerable. Plus, I didn’t want to admit I’d made a mistake. I am sure the paths will reconnect soon … Don’t worry. I can handle it. I was enjoying myself too much, making my own decisions. I was on my own, yet my Friend was there just not as bossy as He was before. Besides, it was interesting, the path, so I got distracted. It wasn’t scary at all, at least not at first; it was kinda fun. It started to get more challenging, but I was enjoying it. No matter how fast I moved, I couldn’t catch my friends though. In fact, the faster I hiked, the further they seemed to be ahead. I was frustrated. Didn’t they see me? I was beginning to think nobody was there at all.

I didn’t realize that I started to veer away from the other path. I never noticed that I couldn’t see my Friend anymore. It was okay though, I had a new friend. Not sure where he came from. I guess he was there the whole time. He said something once about helping me choose this path but I didn’t think much about it. It was amazing all the things we had in common. We talked a lot, especially about the challenges we came upon and the state of the thickening forest around us. It looked so sad, like there’d been a fire that burned the trees and a lot of them had fallen over. He put his arms around me. I felt safe.

We worked together to climb a few toppled trees (I look back now and realize those were warnings to turn back around), but my new friend helped me to see that the obstacles just made the path more exciting. There were even a few “Stop” and “Do not enter” signs. But those weren’t for me. I knew I’d made the right choice. I was certain. Right? I should tell … wait, where’s my Friend? I turned around frantically searching, but I couldn’t see Him. It was getting dark. Fast. Figures. I knew He wouldn’t be there for me when I needed Him.

I took a step backward and suddenly felt myself falling. With a thud I landed on the hard, cold ground. I … I fear I broke my leg. So I start to cry. Great, I’m such a wuss. I collect myself and get over it. Still, it’s pitch black. As hard as I squinted and strained my eyes, I couldn’t see anything. With my eyes closed, I reached around groping with my hands but found nothing but cold, wet stone. “Don’t worry,” my new friend whispered. He was there with me. Then why did I feel so alone? Suddenly, his arms were suffocating me, squeezing harder and harder. It didn’t hurt at first, but now … I just want to be free. I started to struggle and that made it worse, his talons starting to shred my skin. It hurts! I can’t breathe! Am I going to die? Now he’s laughing at me.

“God help me.”

I’m afraid to open my eyes but something’s different. Somebody’s there but I think my new friend is gone. I know now he really wasn’t my friend. I hang my head. I feel numb. But the ground doesn’t feel so cold anymore. I am afraid to trust anyone, even my Friend. He’s there. I know it. He’s not saying much. I’m still waiting for “I told you so.” I feel so stupid. Can someone die from stupidity? I began to think so.

All my Friend says is “I love you.” It doesn’t make any sense. My heart is throbbing, I think it might burst from my chest. It aches from the depth of my sorrow. My Friend holds me while I sob. He says stupidity won’t be my legacy. He has other plans for me.

My wounds are mostly healed now. But I have scars. I think I’m supposed to, so I don’t forget. They aren’t pretty and I can’t always hide them. But my Friend doesn’t seem to notice. Sometimes I want to remind Him. He’s talking more now. Or maybe I am just listening more. Yeah, I think that’s it.

I finally opened my eyes. The view is beautiful. Breathtaking, even when I look behind me. I still can’t see very far ahead, but I am not afraid. The path is difficult … But my Friend is carrying me, and I’m not letting go.

“But the Lord was my support. He brought me out into a broad place; he rescued me, because he delighted in me.” Psalm 18:18-19

Mountain view

The Gillette Grove hill. About 10 miles from my childhood home, it wasn’t super steep but it went on for.ev.er. I’m certain it was miles upon milesat least a mile. It was the litmus test in our family of whether one was ready to survive RAGBRAI, a 500+ mile, 7-day bike ride across Iowa. If you could ride Gillette Grove, you could do anything! My parents liked to bike it and they’d make me go with them once in a while. I hated that hill.

Now that I am a lot older and just a little more mature, I found my own hill. Huntington Hill is a quarter-mile hill with a relatively steep incline that takes you out of the river valley of our little neighborhood. Once at the top, sometimes I can get a quick view of our village and the river that runs through it. I have been running the hill (I’d still rather run than bike up that thing) about two times a week since spring. Some days, it’s a real challenge at the end of my morning runs. But it has been integral to making me stronger as a runner. Hill running not only increases muscle power and strength but it even uses more upper-body muscles than flat running.

Hill training is very demanding at first because you work muscles that you don’t use very often while running. There were a few times in the beginning I had to slow down (and blink *a lot*) because I was lightheaded about 2/3 the way up. However, the more you hill train, the easier it becomes. I definitely notice that even though I am putting in fewer miles than I did last year, my runs are overall faster and easier on my body. I especially noticed during the Warrior Dash that this strength allowed me to power up a beastly hill that had everyone walking. As a competitive person, I was thrilled.

In a similar way, God puts mountains in our lives to make us stronger spiritually. He can use difficulties, pain, suffering, and trials to give us even just a little more wisdom and discernment and, I think even more importantly, the ability to comfort and encourage others. You may have to use some spiritual muscles for the first time or in a new way, but you will be stronger in your faith for it. We may not understand our suffering, just as we cannot fully grasp the depth of God’s love for each one of us. But continue to stretch and grow your faith in Him, and not your circumstances, and you may get just a glimpse of the good He can bring from any situation. Don’t you think Job was so thankful he had chosen to believe God and remain faithful during the most difficult battle of his life? Can you even imagine the thrill he got when he recognized the spiritual battle going on and that He had God on His side?

I know that God can move mountains. But He can also see us through them. Then, when you reach the top, God can really show His glory. Amen! If we didn’t have mountains to climb in our lives, how would we enjoy the view on the other side?

“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
Isaiah 55:9

Muck and mire

Warrior Dash

As I stood in 4 inches of muck on Sunday at the Warrior Dash, trying to clean off mud from 3.28 miles of running, jumping, sliding and falling in the stuff, the coincidence didn’t escape me …

My actions were worthless. There was nothing I could do to get clean. The fire hose nazi was attempting to spray groups of 30 people with a single blast of cold water. Back and forth he moved, just out of my reach. Finally, I was startled by the spray in my face and blocked it with my hands to get as much mud off as I could, just so I could stop the stinging of sweat in my eyes and wipe my brow. Overall, though, it really wasn’t much of an improvement. I was standing in it, surrounded by it and really not able to escape it. We finally gave up on the so-called shower and tried some things on our own.

There were some sacrifices made … My now-unrecognizable shoes were donated to be recycled and my smelly, muddy, holey socks and two mud-covered tank tops went straight in the trash. Better. Unfortunately, my bright idea of baby wipes did absolutely nothing. I could clean an inch at a time but created a new soapy mud mess that spread even more quickly than it could clear. The junk towel I had was slightly more successful but it also had its limitations. I at least was able to make my face, arms and hands clean and dry enough to function now.

But watch out! As soon as my hand brushed against my leg or side: more mud! It. was. everywhere. We finally decided to let it dry and cake on so we could get in the car, drive home and take a shower like normal people.

Sin is everywhere we look, we are steeped in it. And any attempt we make to clean ourselves is laughable. Satan so vehemently despises what Christ has done for us that his chief objectives is to make the clean feel unclean. Oh, how he desires to stain the beautiful bride of Christ.

Satan corrupts truth with lies and turns feelings upside down. As Beth Moore writes in “When Godly People Do Ungodly Things,” Satan knows that the nature of humankind is to act out of how we feel rather than what we know. One of our most important defenses against satanic influence is learning to behave out of what we know is truth rather than what we feel.

I didn’t feel clean when I was covered in mud. But does that mean I should give up and live at Dollinger Farms like a pig for the rest of my life? NO! Satan is really good at manipulating outside influences to affect the inside decision-making process of the heart and mind. He wants to make the clean feel unclean in hopes that they will act unclean. And nothing gives him more pleasure than assaulting God’s beloved (that’s you and me, btw). But we can always turn to God to find new direction and ask for His power to overcome whatever muck we find ourselves in.

“For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” Hebrews 10:14