Wednesday, April 6, 2011

13.1...One Step At a Time

So...I ran my first half-marathon on Sunday morning.
And, as with most goals and "dreams" in my life, when it came right down to it, I didn't want to go. I REALLY didn't want to go.

You see, I'd been doing great on the training side up until about 2 weeks ago when I got the flu. Ever since then, any training had gone down the tubes. Besides, my running partner--Honey--had hurt his knee, and I was worried that putting another 13.1 miles on that knee might not be a good idea.

So, I grew increasingly annoyed when he insisted that we "just do this", and I made him pay for it with my bad attitude for about the first 3 miles.

In hindsight, I've decided the enemy knew the Holy Spirit wanted to teach me some important "journey" lessons on that 13.1-mile trek, and almost caused me to sabotage an amazing experience. (Some people call that spiritual warfare.)

But, with Honey's help, Grace won...again! (If you're confused, go back and read my 50th birthday blog from September.)'s a little of what I learned from those 13.1 miles for my longer journey home:

1. Training is important. Very, very important.
Yep, I pretty much blew the last two weeks of training. But, because of all the time I'd put it since January, my mind and body "remembered" how to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

This marathon-like-journey home requires its own training. But this training is even harder--not just of the mind and body, but also of the "heart." It requires learning to trust that Abba Father is Who He says He is, will do what He says He will do, and (sometimes toughest of all) that I am who He says I am (not who all the voices in my head and heart say I am)....
And all that requires faith...every single step of the journey home. Now, I used to have faith in faith. In other words, I used to believe that if I just had a little more faith, this journey would be a cinch. But, a few years ago, my pastor changed my life by giving me the following "definition" of faith: "Faith is faithful obedience to God's Word in spite of circumstances, consequences for feelings." (Doug Sager) And, of course, if I'm going to be obedient to God's Word, I have to actually pick it up and read it, and then actually "live it out."

2. The enemy does not want us to start...much less finish.
Because of this, we need someone...a running buddy...someone like my Honey...who will not be put off by our bad moods and sour words. Someone who will love us enough to help us get to the starting line, take each step of the journey, until we finally and Home.
That Someone on this spiritual journey is the Holy Spirit. One of "His" roles is to come alongside us and whisper to our heart, "We can do this. Me and you together. We'll get you to the Finish Line."
And, of course, that Someone often has a familiar face. After all, we are called to "be Christlike"--like Christ--to each other. So, one of our jobs is to whisper...sometimes shout, "We can do this. Me and you together. We'll help get each other to the Finish Line." (So many of you reading these words have been that someone to me, and I am grateful.)

3. Water is vital.
During the race, I had decided to skip the first two water stations--didn't want to visit too many of the porta-potties. But, shortly after I skipped the second one, I got REALLY thirsty and started to feel REALLY tired (and it was only the 2nd mile). So, that third water station was a welcome sight, and I chugged down two cups, and took a third cup for the road. As I thought back about that much-needed water, I remembered Jesus' words to another thirsty woman at a well in the heat of the day:
"Jesus answered, 'If you knew the generosity of God
 and who I am,
you would be asking me for a drink,
and I would give you fresh, living water.
'The woman said, 'Sir, you don't even have a bucket to draw with,
and this well is deep. How are you going to get this 'living water'?...
Jesus said, 'Everyone who drinks this water
will get thirsty again and again.
Anyone who drinks the water I give will never thirst—not ever.
The water I give will be an artesian spring within,
gushing fountains of endless life'."
(John 4:10-14, The Message)
And, I thought of a song we used to sing at the Kimberly Church of God--"Fill my cup, Lord. I lift it up Lord. Come and quench this thirsting of my soul...Fill my cup, fill it up, and make me whole."

4. Directions keep us out of serious trouble.
Later in the race, there came a point where the half-marathoners turned right, while the marathoners (you know--those insane ones who run 26.2 miles) turned left. As we got near that crucial intersection, race volunteers started shouting out over and over, "Half-marathoners turn right. Marathoners turn left."
Honey summed up my feelings perfectly when he joked, "That would be the worst wrong turn I ever took."
Of course, the Holy Spirit and God's Word give us life-saving directions. But, sometimes, we also are called to help each other not take a "wrong turn". The apostle Paul calls it "speaking the truth in love."

5. Cheerleaders are priceless.
(Just so you know, this was the most touching lesson I learned on Sunday.)
At crucial times along that 13.1-mile journey, people... strangers... were there cheering me on. Just as I'd started to "give in to my urge to give out," someone would shout, "Looking strong. You can do it. Come on. You're getting closer."
Now, the reason it affected me so deeply is because I realized that, on this journey home, I'm much more prone to be a "preacher" than a "cheerleader". I'm much more likely to tell fellow journeyers what's wrong with their "walk" or their "running clothes" or "how I would do it".
But, if someone had done that to me--especially at Mile 11--as I had to go UP one of the steepest hills of the race--I probably would have sat down and given up...and, quite probably, cried.
But they didn't preach. They didn't point out that my gait wasn't that graceful. Or that I had put on too many layers...They simply kept telling me, "You can do it!" And, step-by-step, mile-by-mile, I started believing them!
And, that made me want to be a cheerleader--for my Honey, for my sons, for my nephews and niece, for my family and friends, for my boys' friends, for YOU!
It made me want to come alongside, hand you a glass of "living water" and whisper--sometimes shout, "You can do it. I know you can. You're almost there. You're closer than ever! Keep moving. It's gonna be worth it!"

6. You know what they call the last person to finish a half-marathon?
(This question was posed to me by my brother-in-law, Shawn, [a triathlete], after I described to him my blazing lack of speed.)
My answer to Shawn--"Lucky to be alive."
Shawn's answer to his own question--"A half-marathoner"
Wow! That put it in perspective. I finished--it might not have been fast or pretty--but, with help--I finished!
It reminded me of some timeless words to fellow "runners": "...Let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith...." (Hebrews 12:1-2, NLT)

7. The Finish Line is a Party!
On Sunday, the Finish Line was the 50-yard line at Neyland Stadium. (Can you say, "Wow!) As you neared it, the announcer called out your name over the loud speaker, your "finish" was shown on the JumboTron, and everyone cheered, and then they handed you your very own medal! It was AWESOME!!!
But it dulls in comparison to our Finish Line when we finally make it Home! When we here those longed-for words, "Well, done, my good and faithful servant..." Here's a glimpse God gave to John to help us "press on":
"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth,
for the old heaven and old earth had disappeared....
I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying,
“Look, God’s home is now among his people!
He will live with them, and they will be his people.
God himself will be with them.
He will wipe every tear from their eyes,
and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain.
All these things are gone forever.”
And the one sitting on the throne said,
“Look, I am making everything new!”
And then he said to me,...
“It is finished! I am Alpha & Omega—the Beginning & End.
To all who are thirsty I will give freely
from the springs of the water of life.
All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings,
and I will be their God, and they will be my children.
....Then one of the seven angels...came and said to me,
“Come with me! I will show you the bride of the Lamb.”
So he took me in the Spirit to a great, high mountain,
and he showed me the holy city, Jerusalem,
descending out of heaven from God.
It shone with the glory of God, sparkled like a precious stone
—like jasper as clear as crystal....
I saw no temple in the city,
for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.
And the city has no need of sun or moon,
for the glory of God illuminates the city,
and the Lamb is its light....
Then the angel showed me a river with the water of life,
clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and the Lamb.
It flowed down the center of the main street.
On each side of the river grew a tree of life,
bearing twelve crops of fruit,with a fresh crop each month.
The leaves were used for medicine to heal the nations.
No longer will there be a curse upon anything.
For the throne of God and of the Lamb will be there,
and his servants will worship him.
And they will see his face,
and his name will be written on their foreheads.
And there will be no night there—no need for lamps or sun—
for the Lord God will shine on them.
And they will reign forever and ever."
(From Revelation 21-22, NLT)

So, to all my fellow travelers on this marathon-journey home, "Press on! You're closer than you were yesterday! Keep going--you can do it!"