Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas

After an exhausting season leading up to today, I confess to being focused on what to get for the kids and how much I have left to wrap instead of what this holiday is about and who is it for.

It's funny how you look at Christmas when you're younger. I described the day with immutable traditions, like breakfast with the family, opening stockings with chocolate, the family slowly unwrapping gifts one at a time. These traditions don't look the same as they did 20 years ago, but then again - what does?

I want to start a new tradition for myself, maybe one to share with my own family later: prayer.

To my aunt, I pray for you to have renewed health and spirit. I pray that you let God change the way you love and live, and let Him give you the energy to be the change you want to see in yourself and the world.

To my cousin, I pray for wholeness for you. I want you to be balanced in what you do, and include time for you to take care of yourself as well as others. I admire your focus on the things and people that are important to you, but I pray that you balance that focus with perspective.

Mom, I pray for you to be just as indestructible as you pretend you are. I want you to stick around as long as I do; I want you to continue to be blessed with a body that is free of the ailments that seem to plague the rest of us. I pray that we can grow closer together again in this next year. I pray that you achieve everything and more you have set your mind to do.

To my sister, I pray for you everyday. I don't know what else to give you that will be as effective as an answered prayer. I pray that you grow into a Godly, independent, successful woman who realizes that she is strong and powerful and should not be timid.

To my stepfather, I pray your heart softens. I pray that 'gentle' would be a word to describe you in any context.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

"Christmas is not your birthday!"

The church I've been attending since the end of the summer mentioned this line, which the pastor has apparently said more than once: "Christmas is not YOUR birthday!"

I love this Christmas-birthday line for a few reasons. We tend to fall into the trap of treating Christmas like an all-out shopping glut. Savvy marketers are constantly telling us about the latest deals and why we can't possibly live without them. They reinforce a message of materialism and the need for stuff. Don't get me wrong, I don't think you shouldn't go buy your 8-year-old a toy for Christmas. But in our politically-correct environment, we never hear the same intensity for the message of our salvation through Christ that we hear for the message of a door-buster deal at 3am at Wal-Mart.

It's not OUR birthday, it's HIS birthday. We celebrate the birth of Christ, and through Him the birth of our own hope, love, faith, and peace. So I guess in a way it is our birthday, because we received these gifts through Him, unearned and undeserving. We celebrate Christmas by giving gifts to ones we love, but I challenge you to rethink your definition of a gift, and challenge you to broaden the scope of those you love. I challenge you to do something for someone who you don't know, who maybe didn't earn anything from you this year, who maybe doesn't deserve anything this year.

Maybe that's why I like the Christmas Carol: a undeserving, harsh man receives grace and a second chance for Christmas. Really, aren't we all the Scrooge? Take your second chance this Christmas.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Goals, part i

What do you do when you reach your goals?

You realize they weren't big enough.

----

I've been so focused on my short term goals and needs for myself that I have failed to find anything bigger to dream for.

Go to school.
Go to more school.
Go to school until you get enough degrees to get a job.
Get a job.
Get health insurance.
Have heart surgery.
Check, check, check, check, check, check.

Now what?

Still figuring that part out.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Another lesson I didn't want, but I'll take.

Do you have those people in your life, that you just can't be around? Come on, you know who I'm talking about. Maybe its a smelly guy who works at your gym. Maybe its a person who is always making excuses for not getting a job. Maybe its even someone closer to you than that: and you can't stand them. I'd be lying if I told you I didn't feel that way towards some people. More people than I care to admit.

Have you given up hope on them? Do you and the rest of your family, friends, or coworkers just assume nothing is ever going to change? Do you tend to pray or wish that you don't have to deal with them?

Ah. There we go.

It finally dawned on me this weekend that I've been failing to pray for these people. I had always been so focused on myself, and how these people made me miserable that I never could move beyond my own annoyance, frustration, or anger.

I find it oddly fitting, that after a week of focusing on 1 Thessalonians 5:15-18, that it's verse 14 that hit me over the head:

14 And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone.


I'll be honest. Praying for the people I don't like to be around is much much much harder than praying for people I really enjoy being around. In fact, I'm having a little trouble, but I found this verse to a good start. Verse 14 seems to be a call for us towards those people that bug us. Can you think of a person for each of these? Warn the idle. Encourage the disheartened. Help the weak. Be patient with everyone. Combine this with our command to be prayerful, joyful, and thankful, and it seems clear instructions on how we are to handle those people we just can't handle.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Attitude in Circumstances

My mom told me a sad story that happened to a coworker recently. My mom works in a hospital that is making some big organizational and management changes, and has shifted all levels of management and staff around. People who had been very used to the old workplace dynamics found themselves needing to adjust to the new personalities and organizational structure. One of the new staffers was working a shift with an original staffer, and some minor disagreement arose. New staffer went right to the now-also-new manager with her version of the event, and new manager immediately accused the original staffer of wrong doing. The new manager didn't step back to see the situation from both sides, and the problem quickly escalated beyond the original minor issue. HR and legal got involved, and the original staffer shortly quit - unwilling to work in such a hostile environment.

I thought about my mom's coworker as I found myself in the middle of a similar situation this week. I confess I get so stressed out at these things. Everything that went on in conversations seemed like personal attacks; maybe I just took it all personally. The only thing that calmed me down coming out of that meeting today was reading the passage below. It had been following me all week, but it took me walking through my own troubles to begin to understand it.

I Thessalonians 5:15-18
15 Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else.

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.


Paying back wrong for wrong is perhaps one of the biggest temptations that arise out of these situations. And yet when you find yourself backed into a corner, we are told to look out for the other party, even to do what is good for them.

I want to skip down to verse 18 for a second - what is the "this" he's talking about? I think part of what the author, Paul, is trying to tell us is that "this" is that situation where you're tempted to pay back wrong for wrong. "This" is both our troublesome situation, as well as our prayerful, thankful, rejoicing reaction to it. Meaning it both God's will that we go through these circumstances, and it is also His will that we react in a loving way to them.

Why should we??

Let me tell you about these circumstances - they have a greater and bigger purpose than we can ever see while we're still in the midst of them. The bible is full of passages that tell us and show us how troublesome circumstances are actually working for our benefit. James 1 for example:
2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,[a] whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

What about Joseph who was sold by his own brothers into slavery, only to rise to great prominence in Egypt, enabling him to later save them and a nation? (Genesis 37:12 to 48) Or David, who fought Goliath, battled constantly against enemies, and then friends who became enemies - and then became the king of Israel? Or Jesus himself, crucified - but who is our Savior who sits in Heaven?

So the Bible is full of stories and passages that tell us how God uses our circumstances for a greater - and to us, unimaginable - purpose. What Paul tells us here in 1 Thessalonians is about our attitude as we go through these circumstances.

He calls us to be joyful, prayerful, and thankful.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Injured List Lessons Learned - part ii

I'm not ready to continue my "Runner's Stages of Grief" from yesterday yet, but I'm realizing I've got more lessons to learn.

I went through heart surgery just over 11 months ago. Besides the healing my body needed to do, I don't think I went through the emotional and spiritual healing I needed to do, too. I was completely in denial that I needed anything other than physical healing.

I wanted to share my story of literal heartbreak rebounding to run a marathon, but I came to the realization that I wanted this story shared for my own glory, not for God's.

I stopped seeing running as the glorious gift that it was. It became a distraction from my other problems. It became a justification for my other problems. It became all-consuming and painful. I did nothing in moderation, and convinced myself that if I could run, than all my other problems could be solved. I did not admit or consider that my problems could be solved without running, especially since they'd always been the answer before.

Now I find myself in the position of having running taken away from me again. But this time, I'm determined to learn a lesson from it that I did not before. I am not invincible. I am not patient. I still require all kinds of healing. I only practice moderation in moderation.

I need to stop running like there's no tomorrow, because I need to finally admit to myself that I will have a tomorrow. That my disease and poor health tend to limit my focus to my immediate needs - I don't think about how I'll be doing or living in 5 or 10 years. I need finally make goals that span that long and longer, and stop planning like I won't be around to achieve them. I need to trust in God that He'll provide my health for me down the road.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Injured List Lessons Learned - part i

It's been well over a week now of broken foot. I'm beginning to think that running injuries might follow something similar to the stages for grieving...

---

Step One: Denial.
"It's just a little ache! That's what the foam roller is for. Just a few more tylenol, sleep it off, you'll be fine for tomorrows long run."

Step Two: More Denial.
Saturday morning's long run rolls around and you can't walk to your shoes, let alone put them on. In this phase of full-blown denial, you complete the Saturday morning pre-run ritual in its entirety, limping all the while. It's not until you're on the trail, three miles away from your car, that you let the truth finally sink in: there's really something wrong here.

Step Three: The World Revolves Around ME!
Three miles away from your car, you're stuck on the trail - in the rain, wind, and cold - and you're weighing the options between taking an hour to limp back to the car, run as fast as you can through the pain because the weather out here stinks, or call your Mom and beg her to come pick you up. You eventually settle on a 50/50 and run track-pace miles in between limping pathetically. You call mom once you're back to the car anyway. "Mom, can you please cancel your Saturday plans? I'm a grown up now, but I'm acting like a three year old who was just told he can't have a puppy." You spin the ER trip as "quality time" and drag her there with you. When you arrive, you make sure you let everybody know that you're running a marathon at the end of the month.

Step Four: Whining.
"What do you mean no running for a week?! Maybe longer??" With a strict no-running rule (and the threat of further damage to your injury), you're disgusted at everyone enjoying running while you can't. Your previous running clubs, dailymile website, twitter - you're struggling unsuccessfully to resist the temptation to whine about how unfair and heartbreaking it is that you're not running your race. To everyone who inquires about your injury, you insist on reminding them that you were running a marathon. In fact, whenever anyone says anything that is REMOTELY related to a running activity (e.g., "nice weather!" or "I hear there's a sale at REI", "want to go camping?", or "Hi."), you begin monolog-ing on how you've got this heartbreaking running injury, and you can't do anything, whine, whine, whine...

Step Five: Bargaining.
Your race date is fast approaching. Will you still try? You worry about losing all that careful training you've painstakingly built over the past several months. Ok, you admit there's no way you're running it... but what if you walk it? Can you walk 26.2 miles in an aircast? Is there any reality in which that is a good idea? But this was going to be a big race for you! You fundraised for it! Maybe you should try anyway. But what if you make the problem worse? You contemplate the options while you've got an ice pack on your elevated broken foot.

Step Six: Dawning Realization.
With all of this new-found free time, you are inexplicably getting more sleep, are less tired, and have more time for other things that you remember you used to enjoy. You're slowly getting out of the habit of "I can't eat that, I'm going to run in an hour/tonight/tomorrow morning." You have lost the superpower of eating carbs on par with the national output of rice in China, but surprisingly you're not half-starved all the time either. You have time to read now?? And suddenly all that time with the foot immobile has turned into a pleasant excuse to read all afternoon. Instead of heading to the track or gym, you find yourself very satisfied at the prospect of dinner and beer/wine with friends.

---


I'll have to pause my Runner's Stages of Grief here, as this is about the step I'm on now. I suspect this stage might segue into paranoia (I'll never run again/miss more races/am dying, etc.) while I'm still hopeful and eagerly anticipating a glorious pain-free run in the future.

Have you been injured? What steps would you add?

Friday, October 7, 2011

Thankful for: Friday

There are always lame things that happened in your day or your week. Keeping these lame things from making you lame means not focusing on your problems, and refocusing on what you're thankful for. I had a lot of opportunity this week to continue my focus on how 'everything sucked'. Instead, what I was so upset about last week has turned out for my benefit this week. I'm going to keep this simple tonight, and just write on my lame/gain:

Lame - I was stuck working on somebody else's project all week, doing less-than-glamourous work for them, while my own projects fell behind.
Gain - Turns out, I learned a lot about the people and processes that were important for my project by working on someone else's project.

Lame - Stress Fracture. No Running. Sad face.
Gain - I've had tons more time and energy. I would normally be worrying about my Saturday long run on a Friday night, but instead was able to enjoy pizza and wine with some friends.

Lame - Did I just break my nose?? (again???)
Gain - But it was giving my little 8-year-old a cousin a kiss good night (and his forehead tried to help..). <3


What was your lame to gain this week?

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Three Things Thursday

Taking a cue from blogging/running/tweeting/hilarious/awesome friend Carly, I'm making this a Three Things Thursday. I'm thinking this will be Three-Things-I-did-today-because-I-couldn't-go-running Thursday.

1) I slept in (till 5:30am... ) and went right to the office. Had a working lunch, instead of a workout during lunch. And instead of working out from the end of my business day till traffic opens back up, I just kept on working. I MISS my runs, but I'm thankful it's been an intense productive period the past couple days at work, instead of lame and stressful. I haven't needed the running as stress relief like I did last week. (Fyi - therapy is dark chocolate and fast running. No claims on effectiveness, but it's rather amazing at bringing on the zen).

2) I'm usually in this very predictable routine of work-run-eat-sleep-repeat. The no running allowed this week has at least been good in giving me time to spend doing other things, such as a soup, salad, and wine dinner with my BFF Althea. Cheers to taking time to slow down and appreciate red wine, company, and conversation!


3) I wrote down a very, very simple prayer list at the beginning of this week. Literally, just a bullet list of 5 items. Not that I don't pray - although I'm not great lately about doing it consistently - but this no-running thing has finally brought me to my knees in prayer. I went back to my list today, and suddenly realized that God had been at work in each of those over the past several days. It's such a simple exercise, to keep a prayer journal. I've done it off and on over recent years. But I have not made it a consistent exercise to look back and purposely reflect on how He's answered my prayers.

Do you keep a prayer journal? How do you use it?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

(No) Running (Allowed) Update

It's been about a week since I first injured my foot. And I'm going crazy. Nutso. Insane. Three fries short of a happy meal. Bonkers. Wacko. (You get the idea).

I'm sad to say I don't really think it's getting better. Every time I think its on the mend, I have to remind myself how much tylenol I've just had. I can't even walk without limping. I confess to pretending I'm a doctor with a degree from google, especially when I read things like this:
What causes stress fractures?
  • Over use! (check)
  • Too much training, too soon without enough rest! (check, definitely the without enough rest part)
  • Overpronation (ehh, I pronate a little)
  • Oversupination
  • They are common in army recruits (often called a march fracture), runners, ballet dancers, and gymnasts. (double check)
What are the symptoms of stress fractures?
  • Foot metatarsal pain which comes on gradually. (check)
  • Pain is located towards the mid/front of the foot. (check)
  • Pain is aggravated by weight bearing activities such as walking, running or dancing. (check, and #sadpanda)
  • Pain to touch the bone at the point it is broken. (Check. Hello third metatarsal!!)
  • Swelling is often present. (check, and it's gotten worse this week)
  • An X-ray will often not show the fracture until two or three weeks after it has started to heal. (uhh what???)
Here I was thinking my x-rays from my ER visit this weekend were relatively conclusive. Unbeknownst to me, they may not show anything for another week or so!

I'm usually not the diagnose myself type. I was prepared to let this foot have some well earned rest for 7-10 days, and I confess I was expecting it to be much better by now. It's been 4 days of no running and limited walking. But maybe this internet diagnosis will get me back to Dr. Fleeter, who 'scoped my knee after a fall two years ago. (Turns out, he also specializes in sports and running injuries, and supports the local triathlon group).

Maybe most scary of all, I need to revisit my Marine Corps Marathon aspirations. After an intense training summer, my attitude towards running has shifted a little. I get wrapped up in the training and the goals, and I forget what a gift it is to be running and moving without the fear of my heart blowing up. This enforced break - short as it is already - has already reminded me that running's not a chore. I literally wake up and my body is already craving that freedom of movement, seeking that predictable meditative momentum of the trail.

"Whatever you may be missing right now - a person, a place, a feeling, maybe you are injured and missing running - whatever it is, have peace and take heart - remember that any goodbye makes room for a hello." (Kristin Armstrong, Author and runner)

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Big H is for Hospital

Big H is for Hospital, and they know me oh-so-well here!

At this moment, I'm at Johns Hopkins, hooked up to an IV for a 3-hour infusion of life saving medicine into my body. This might sound dramatic, but I do it every 8 weeks to keep my immune system from eating itself. I have an auto-immune disease called Takayasu's arteritis. Basically, my immune system thinks my large and small arteries are bad, so it actively tries to destroy my large and small arteries. (That's bad, FYI.)

Without medicine, my blood pressure goes up as my arteries become inflamed. All this internal pressure leads to poor circulation throughout the body, less oxygen and nutrients circulating, and increased stress on the arteries. The decreased circulation means I heal super slow, more tired than the average 20-something, and am much more clumsy. Which is a great combo: I clumsily run into things, and then it takes forever to heal from the bruises I get! Under all that pressure, these arteries balloon out in places to attempt let the pressure out. This is how I got the (very life-threatening) aortic aneurysm. Or at least this is my 5¢ understanding and summary of the medical factors at play.

But thankfully, I have medicine! We (and by we I mean my team of doctors) usually have to tweak the medicinal cocktail from time to time to suppress my immune system. The heavy hitter is this infusion I'm getting now. Thank you Jesus for health insurance!! Without health insurance, this treatment would kill me - or at least my pocket book. This medicine is about $9,000 a treatment. At 6 times a year, this treatment alone would come to $54,000 annually. That's more than I make before you even take out taxes, and that's not including all my other medical treatments.

Aside from coming to the hospital every other month, I take a slew of medicine and supplements every morning:
  • Coreg CR for blood pressure (ugh, and it's about $50 a month)
  • Prednisone for inflammation and immune suppression
  • Cellcept also for immune suppression
  • Asprin as a blood thinner and for pain
  • iron, folic acid, calcium, potassium (all the medicine drains these out of my system, so I have to actively replace them.)
  • 2-3 Emergen-C packets a day to restore electrolytes. I've found out since this summer and spring this makes a HUGE difference in my lymphatic return (big word for circulating fluids throughout your system).

So this is why when I get headaches I worry that I have a brain aneurysm. Or why when my heart starts to thump too hard I worry that it's exploding. Or why when I see a bump on my skin I think I've got cancer.

I'm not normal. But I like it that way. My health keeps me humble.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Duh. Or D'oh?

My positive and determined outlook did not last as long as I'd hoped. I made it 4 hours (into my 12-hour work day) before melting down again. I'm not even sure now why I keep melting/breaking down. Maybe I got my expectations raised too high with this promotion - and I'm still being treated like the intern. I confess I yet again indulged in a fair amount of self pity. (Oddly enough, I am very productive when I am so pitiful!)

I went outside to run some lunchtime errands (and by run I mean walk, and by walk I mean limp). It was a pleasant dry brisk day outside...but at least the urge to run off through the hills was tempered every time I stepped with my left foot. Had some time to get away from my computer and think though. I was rattling my brain, "What can I do to fix this? What can I do to mend these relationships?"

Duh. I kept thinking "What can I do" - when I realized I can't do anything. I can't do anything but pray and let Him fix the situation, soften the hearts, open the doors.

I confess my prayer life has been abysmal of late. (And of late, I mean for at least the duration of the summer, and if I'm honest, probably about a year). I felt like a prayer superstar going into surgery last year. Now, I've somehow turned into a person who earns things, instead of remembering they're all freely given. I've turned into a person who relies on human conventions and distractions, and not a person who relies on prayer and hope.

How did I get here? How did I go from that emotional apex and physical trauma to an almost marathoner who's an emotional basketcase? That's probably a much longer post that I'm still figuring out. But I clearly need to be broken again to remember that I rely on God and not myself. Maybe this is the 'D'oh!' part: more brokenness to come.

Is it lame that I thought heart surgery was easier than this? Don't answer that.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Thank you - even for the crappy stuff

I couldn't have had a worse week. Job felt like it was falling apart. My body felt like it was falling apart. Couldn't sleep, couldn't eat. I was beyond frustrated and in general outraged at the perceived injustices I was facing and the unfairness of everything that had been steadily contributing to my growing misery.

I picked up "Mere Christianity" again Friday night, after a really, really, really lame totally awful, depressing, exhausting, soul-crushing day. I opened it up to the first chapter, "The Law of Human Nature." "Everyone has heard people quarreling... [Man] is appealing to some kind of standard of behaviour which he expects the other man to know about." Lewis, the author, goes on to explain how we quarrel over 'unfairness' or 'injustice' - we "try to show that the other man is in the wrong." He ends the first chapter with this direct conclusion: one, that humans everywhere have a concept of how they should behave; and two, that they do not in fact behave the way they think they should. Lewis, in the succeeding chapters, goes on to postulate that this universal sense of Right and Wrong is evidence of God.

Amidst my constant internal litany this week of how unfair work and life were, this first chapter seemed to sum it up. But even inside this awful week, it was evidence of God. No matter how much I had been avoiding Him lately, or felt that He had been avoiding me - He was right here the whole time.

I calmed down over the weekend - which strangely should not have happened. After injuring my foot this week, I attempted an 18-mile long run on Saturday morning anyway. This turned out to be a terrible idea for several reasons. One, between my left foot incapable of completing a toe-off while just walking, and my right knee incapable of going down the stairs, I was a complete mess and should have known better. Two, it was raining, windy, and below 50ยบ out. Three, I was still really upset and stressed, and in no shape to make sound decisions - like turning around in the first half mile.

But this ended up being an opportunity to spend some quality time with my mom, which we both sorely miss. Albeit, this quality time was spent in the ER making sure I didn't have a stress fracture, but it was oddly comforting quality time nonetheless. We've spent so many days in emergency rooms or hospitals and it reminded both of us of how we've supported each other in these situations over the years. Saturday, my foot issue seemed almost pedestrian in comparison (hahahaha foot issue.. pedestrian! Come on, funny, am I right??)

Sunday morning I went with my aunt to her church for the first time - and was totally surprised that I really liked it. I found myself caught on a prayer leading into the worship. "God, thank you for your gifts this week." It reminded me of a clip of Pauley Perrette - and how when she didn't know what else to pray, she'd pray "Forgive me for everything. Thank you for everything." It hit me like a truck - I should be thanking God for my crappy, awful week! Yes, I realize this doesn't make much sense. But clearly He's provided me lessons and opportunities this week. And for sure they were difficult, but equally were they important. I'm not even sure what all the lessons from this past week were, although I'll be continuing to face their consequences for much longer. But I've got to believe the pain I'm suffering now is to spare me from worse in the future. That by putting me through trials, He strengthens and teaches me. I pray that I'll learn.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Rut

I recently re-found this draft from September and had to post:

As much as I've been trying to deny it, this summer has been a dry spell. It sounds funny talking about a dry spell in when my neighborhood is under a foot of water from 4 days of Tropical Storm Lee. But maybe there's something to that: a fish not breathing when he's in the middle of the water is pretty silly.

I was on the treadmill tonight listening to sermons. They were about a year apart, picked totally at random, and yet managed to overlap on theme and verses.

I am more than a person who had to have heart surgery because her disease ate her aorta. I am more than my disease. But I am only these with God. I am just my disease without Him.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Perspective

After almost a year, I'm returning to the Virginia Beach Rock n' Roll half marathon. You might recall, I ran last year's event the weekend before an appointment with my heart surgeon - the appointment he announced I'd have heart surgery.

I clearly remember the night before last year's event staying up until about midnight worrying if my heart would explode the next day. The next morning, I awoke, only nerves guiding me to my pre-race coffee, oatmeal, and banana. Over breakfast at about 5am, I couldn't tear myself away from my bible. I recall reading Hebrews 12:1-3 over and over again:
1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Reading that took away my apprehension, reminded me that if my heart was going to explode, it was His will. If it wasn't going to explode, that would be His will too. If I was going to die (which I sort of thought I might, knowing how big my aortic aneurysm was at this point), at least I was going to die running a half-marathon, and glorifying God.

As Ali (my now-married former roommate, inspiring runner, and in general awesome person) were milling around the race start, I had this odd compulsion. People were going to know I had heart. We wandered around the volunteer desks, seeking a sharpie. I had Ali draw a giant sharpie-heart on my arm, with the word "surgery survivor" overtop the red heart. (At least I think..looking back on finish photos, even the sharpie couldn't withstand my sweat..ewww). It's funny how a badge of honor like that made me take on the race with renewed purpose. I prayed and thanked God the whole way, completely aware that each mile was a gift.

Comparing that experience with this year's couldn't be more different. I've had open-heart surgery, but rebounded and healed impossibly fast. The gift to run and race, when instead my heart should be exploding had now moved on to the gift to survive and thrive. I've fearlessly trained faster, longer, and harder for this year's race, with a longer goal of the Marine Corps Marathon in 8 more weeks. I've started to obsess over training plans, race paces, and race day nutrition when before I would have been happy to just toe the line and finish. I've got a lofty time goal (2:15 is lofty for me, anyways), and I'm endlessly staring at race pace bands.

It's been easy to get caught up in all of these goals and expectations I'm setting for myself. It's been entirely too easy to forget where I've come from in the past year, and how God has indescribably blessed me through this race, successful surgery and healing, and letting me get back on my feet again.

It's interesting to me that going into this race Venus Williams drops out of the US Open citing an auto-immune disease as the culprit. It's a poignant reminder of how fragile our health can be. I've still got my underlying autoimmune disease, and it can be a constant struggle to maintain my energy, stamina, and even optimism. The great days of health and fitness I have are little gifts in and of themselves - I can't bank even on having these.

And despite the heart surgery, despite the autoimmune disease, despite everything else that piles on and stresses me out in life... I run. "I can do all things through Him who gives me strength."

It's my prayer that I have more opportunities to share my testimony this weekend than I can imagine, and that God would use me to lift up and give hope to others.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The little things

Sometimes its not the big things that get in our way or cause us to stumble. It's the little things, and especially the little things piled up that really humble us.

One of the hard lessons I've learned lately is that I'm not unstoppable or completely independent - much as I'd like to pretend that I can do anything by myself. To be reminded of this, it takes me being half-debilitated by a medicine change to admit my vulnerabilities.

Which leads me to my next lessons: 1) if it isn't broken don't fix it (at least when it comes to your health), and 2) you pay what you get for in medicine. Maybe these aren't universal truths. But when I approached my cardiologist two weeks ago asking to change my blood pressure medication, I should have known better. The medication (coreg CR) was working just fine. My only qualm with it was that it was $50 a month; so I asked for something cheaper, something available as a generic. This turned out to be a huge mistake that took away the precarious fine health I enjoyed.

I stopped the coreg on Friday (when I used my last of the old prescription), took nothing Saturday, got the new medication Sunday, then finally took it Monday evening when I came home. That night I didn't sleep - literally stayed awake the entire night - and then attempted to go to work the next day. I should probably add that I ran about 20 miles over the weekend. Tuesday at work I made it about an hour before my body started shutting down, and was a slug the rest of the day. Wednesday did not fare much better, and to worsen the problem, the AC at my rented room/house blew. All these blood pressure changes left me dizzy, nauseous, depressed, tired. Which also did not improve my issues with this rented room; I gave my 30 days notice and stayed at my aunt's house ever since.

There have been many discussions in the midst of all this. I called my cardiologist's office and she's out of town; another doctor approved my request to go back on the coreg. I've had a lot of difficult conversations with myself and others as I was on the forced slow-down. I hope and pray that I've learned something valuable from this and that God will give me my health and energy back. Mostly, that I'll really allow myself to be filled by Him and rely ONLY on Him.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Humbled to Serve

Something that stuck in my head from my adventures over the weekend as I volunteered for the Marine Corps Historic Half Marathon..

I was at the Finish Line of the MCHH, stationed with Kimani and a stretcher ready to catch people as they drop across the finish line. Fortunately, there were very few people that required my assistance, but this left me in a perfect position to witness the faces of the half marathon finishers. We weren’t stationed at the finish until about 9:30 am, so we were watching the last half or third or so of people finish the race. These were obviously not as fast as others, but scope of achievement for them as they crossed that line was proudly apparent on their faces. Many were out of shape, or it was a first race, but for all, a huge accomplishment. One man came across the finish line shaking and crumbled as we placed him onto a stretcher. He was still sort of spazzing as he’s being tied into the stretcher, and we finally make out, “I finished, I finished!” Then there were the Marines, handing chilled bottles of water to finishers and saying, “Good job, sir,” or “Good job, ma’am”. As the finishers walked through the finish chute, there was literally a wall of Marines, armed with finisher medals. I was helping somebody walk off cramps as they progressed through the chute – at this point most finishers were coming across staggered, one at a time – we approach that wall of Marines, and one steps forward, ready to decorate my cramping finisher with his heavy medal. It was an odd reversal, the Marine decorating the civilian. But for many, this race seemed to reflect the general feeling of “I don’t know what I can do for you; but I can push myself through 13.1 miles to show you I appreciate what you do for me. And it won’t be near enough pain I’m going through to come close to showing how much I really want to thank you.”

It seemed as if the later the race progressed, the more solemn, and proud, and satisfying the finish was. The Marine next to me told me why of all the race duties he’s done before this was by far his favorite. “You see their faces before or during the race. But it’s so much more gratifying to see them cross the finish. The achievement is written all over their faces. I like being able to say ‘Good Job,’ right here.” (I’m paraphrasing from what I remember, and I wish I had gotten this guy’s name).



There’s nothing like a good-looking Marine handing you cold water at the finish. I can’t tell you how these Marines made the day for the finishers. From the daughter-mother-grandmother team I watched cross the finish hand-in-hand to the 80-year-olds proudly stride through, having these Marines here meant the world.

Besides being stationed at the finish line, served alongside current and retired Marines at Medical Operations and got to know them all a bit. Our OIC (officer-in-charge) at Aid Station 2 was a vet named Harold. What a character, definitely fun and enlightening spending the morning with him and Kimani, our former enlisted, currently working as civilian staff at Quantico. Hearing some of their stories and backgrounds - Harold has been on 7 tours of Iraq - and basically hanging out with Marines all day gave me a little flavor of the culture. I couldn't be prouder of them.

A race is a humbling experience. You push your body through what your brain tells you shouldn’t or couldn’t be done. At the end, you’re spent, physically, and sometimes emotionally. People race for different reasons. Some are trying to push themselves, see how far they can go past possibility or comfort. Some are competing, trying to outrace the man or woman ahead of them. Some are raising money or awareness for a worthy cause. Some are racing for all three. I can’t tell you how proud I am to be not only celebrating my heart surgery recovery with the Marine Corps Marathon, but to be fundraising for Semper Fi Fund at the same time. I am so proud of my Marines. Our Marines. They deserve a lot from us, and I can at least do this.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Progress!!

Just a short update...

New PR!

ACLI Capital Challenge
3 miles
Official Time 29:02
(Unofficial Net Time 28:40)

Split 1: 9:23
Split 2: 9:50
Split 3: 9:17

UMMMM I've never done splits for a race under 10 minutes! Stinking proud of myself.

In other news:
  • Played again at church this morning. Beautiful set. I could really get used to playing there, especially as I'm *mostly stopped freaking and stressing out about performing in front of others.
  • Ordered Mom flowers for Mother's Day and had them delivered to her while she was working a double shift at the hospital on Saturday/Sunday. To be followed by Wine Festival next weekend. BEST DAUGHTER EVER. :D
  • School is almost over!!!! I can be a human again!!! (Until Summer and FINAL semester for UVA starts in 2 weeks...)
  • Signed up for more races... posts will be forthcoming.
  • I've been able to run well again, and totally digging the trails. It's felt really good to get back to running-as-worship, and running unplugged. Hopefully more on this later too. Again, I've been a busy-running-working-schooling-zombie. But no excuses! :)

I run in the path of your commandments, for you set my heart free. Psalm 119:32

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Giant bucket of fail...

Many people know of Jeremiah 29:11. It's one of those 'cross-stitch' verses that make it on to encouraging hallmark cards.

"For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

And that is not to make light of this verse, because it is powerful and encouraging. But there is so much more to it:

Jeremiah 29:10-14
This is what the LORD says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.

I will be found by you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back from captivity.

I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”


Immediately before the verse where God says I have plans for you, he tells the Jewish people "When seventy years are completed for Babylon" - in otherwords, when you have been through your trials, and struggles, and life - "I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place." We often leave 29:10 out of our cross-stitch pillows, because somehow it makes 29:11 seem less encouraging. As if now we have to endure our trials, often the trials of our own making.

And I keep forgetting that. I neglect to make God the focus of my life, even more so when I feel overwhelmed with all the problems and responsibilities I've created for myself.

I came home at the end of the day yesterday. It had been a busy, long, tiring day, and I still felt like a giant bucket of fail for not getting everything done that I needed to. What I had gotten done was important and worthwhile - I was in jail that morning with our prison ministry team, I finished reading a textbook chapter, I spent time with my family, including some important and long-missed one-on-one time with my cousin. And I left my poor mother standing at the end of the driveway, saying goodbye to me, seeing me angry, tired, and frustrated. I still had not written a paper that was due for class on Wednesday (last week). I still had not read the remaining chapters, taken a quiz, or done the homework for my other class. So even at the end of what was a great day, I was angry and disappointed, and had no one to blame but myself.

Amidst this disappointment and self-loathing, I read the above verses from Jeremiah. "You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart." And I realize I haven't been seeking Him first. And that's why I feel so estranged from Him lately. I've been so wrapped up in seeking to take care of myself first. I haven't been whole-hearted in my pursuit. Instead I try to schedule him in my calendar between work, school, and running, and I do so poorly.

Ryan Hall tweeted these verses from Proverbs 1 this morning:
33 But all who listen to me will live in peace,
untroubled by fear of harm.” (NLT)


The rest of it in NIV is
Proverbs 1:32-33
32 For the waywardness of the simple will kill them,
and the complacency of fools will destroy them;
33 but whoever listens to me will live in safety
and be at ease, without fear of harm.”


I so desperately want that peace. I seek to be untroubled by fear of harm. But I am wayward, and I seek to please myself, to keep myself from harm, before I seek His face.

I run recklessly into adventure, without concern for anything else except that blinding joy of movement. I did this without concern for my heart blowing up, I still run recklessly without concern for my health, without concern for my schedule or other obligations. I put this blinding joy first. I pray that as recklessly as I do this, that I would be just as reckless with putting Him first, and I would do so without regard to my safety, health, schedule, but just be all-consumed by that blinding joy of running towards His face.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Crazy totally insane day

I started this day with the following prayer:
Lord, let me glorify you today. Make me bold. Show me where I can be bolder.

Quick recap:
4:45 am - wake up. let out dog.
5:00 am - on the road, heading to gym at work
5:45 am - sneaking in a few miles at the gym. run into my deputy director on the treadmill.
7:00 am - at my computer.
8:30 am - guy down the hall begins having a heart attack.
8:31 am - I administer asprin.
8:45 am - EMTs arrive.
9:30 am - EMTs leave, without guy down hall.
10:00am - I yell at guy down hall until he goes to see the doctor.
11:15am - get a message from my boss that I am involved in a "confidential meeting". no details.
12:30pm - at said confidential meeting.. which I can't disclose. But. I was given an opportunity to witness the truth of a situation as well as witness.
2:00 pm - inventor of RUP (a very big deal at work) comes to my office. I don't screw up meeting, and manage to say something smart.

It got less crazy from there. I'm still processing the insanity from today, and I'm hoping I'll be able to share something that today's adventures has taught me.

Already, its a reminder that whatever boldness I do, whatever gets credited to my name, I can take no credit. Clearly, today the Lord has told me how he arranges my day, and how he gets the glory.

"Not to us, O LORD, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness." Psalm 115:1

Monday, April 18, 2011

Something to be thankful for

"I run in the paths of your commands, for you have set my heart free."
Psalm 119:32

It's been a long day - as usual, a nice long Monday to start off the work week. I'm driving home finally at the end of the day. As I exit the city and get on the highway, I notice every single runner out there. Little twinges of jealousy start to itch as I wish I had the time to be out there enjoying the weather, and the pain-free hips and joints to be able to enjoy moving freely. I try to squash this itchy feeling that I must get outside and move.. especially I'm stuck in my car for the long commute home.

It's somewhere along the road, as I'm heading westbound into the sunset, that I realize I can't stop smiling at everything that God has given me. I involuntarily smile at the sun, and the flowering trees that line the otherwise dreary Interstate 66 back home. I keep daydreaming of being outside and running free - when it hits me: now, after the surgery, I really will be able to run free.

Before the surgery, the whole impending doom of my-heart-could-explode-at-any-time thing left me almost always holding something back. I was always a little afraid. It certainly tinged all the activities I was doing a little gray - there was something a little guilty about them. But this allowed God to show up in big ways to those around me. Me running, hiking, climbing was me almost recklessly giving God a stage to glorify Himself on. After surgery, I was worried that now this stage was taken away - how will I glorify God now?

It was today that I finally realized - I can run free.

I've been telling everyone that knew about my ten mile race the beginning of April, when they ask the inevitable, "How did you do??" - I say: "I busted my hip! Of all things, after all I've been through, I go and bust my hip! The heart - yeah it was a champ - but did you see how I can't walk!? How silly is that??" I would focus on what God has taken away - not what he gave me in return.

He gave me the freedom to run, jump, hop, skim, climb, rappel, swim, leap, dive - you name it - without worrying about my heart.

It's been 5 months since surgery now. And it's taken this long for me to realize what a gift I've been given. God, I'm so sorry it took me longer to realize you have set me free, in so many ways.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

God Opens a Window. LITERALLY.

Cute, true story that just happened:

I am dog-sitting this week for some family friends. Here is the adorable pooch (because come on, how can I not take advantage of the opportunity to gratuitously post cute puppy pics?)



It's a beautiful day outside, yet muddy because of all of yesterdays rain. Dog Riley and I head outside onto the back porch to enjoy the sunshine, and I close the door behind me so the dog doesn't go straight back into the house while he's still muddy.

I close the door behind me.. and yup. Door. Locked. (CRAP!!)

Everything is inside, minus the dog and my textbook. The keys to the house, the keys to my car. What will I do??

I look around, and right next to the door is the window I had opened a couple of hours earlier, to let some of the beautiful weather inside. I nervously approach the window and it's screen.. give the screen frame a little test... it slides right up!!! I gratefully scramble through the open window and unlock the deck door that had locked behind me.

WOW. I never thought I'd literally get to live through the cliche, "When God closes a door, he always opens a window."

This will have me thinking the rest of the day.. what opportunities has God closed for me, while leaving other options open?

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Psalm 130:3-4 - Like Talking to a Wall

"If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared." (Psalm 130:3-4)

"Keeping a record of sins (or holding a grudge) is like building a wall between you and another person, and it is nearly impossible to talk openly while the wall is there. God doesn't keep a record of our sins; when he forgives, he forgives completely, tearing down any wall between us and him. Therefore, we fear (revere) God, yet we can talk to him about anything. When you pray, realize that God is holding nothing against you. His lines of communication are open." (YouVersion devotional)

So my question of the day: what if we're still in the business of building walls? I have the same issues of forgiving others as the next person - it's hard! But I do believe I'm come to a point when I'm healed that all I can see in a transgressor is how God has used that for my benefit. How can I be angry at that? Wall down!

Rather, my issue stems from rebuilding walls between myself and God. God keeps tearing them down, reminding me I'm forgiven. And I keep rebuilding them. As if I'm telling God - "seriously, are you sure you forgive me for this?" And it's not as if I'm out committing crimes - but I consider things sinful for me that aren't sinful for others. Exhibit a - full confession of a binge eater. I have this terrible relationship with food, and I can't ever seem to really enjoy it, because every bite feels guilty. This is a wall I daily rebuild between myself and God. (Last time I checked, we have to eat everyday).

"If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand?" And yet, I still list of all my faults and ways I've screwed up and ways I'm not perfect. And I never seem to forget them, and I'm quick to remind myself and others of how I'm not good enough. The truth is, I keep doing this to myself, and it cuts my legs right out from under me. How can I stand when I continually list my imperfections, despite being perfectly aware that there is only ONE perfect person to walk this earth (his name was Jesus, fyi).

I think these walls we're constantly rebuilding, even as God takes them down, are the daily struggles. The big events (see heart surgery) are almost more tolerable because they're so extraordinary. It's our mundane, daily, absurdly normal routines that threaten to wear our relationship with God away.

Again, I've got to bring it back to love. God tears down these walls so he can love us perfectly, completely, wholly. He has torn down the walls, and 'His lines of communication are open'. WE are the ones who keep closing off our communication with God. He wants us to know how he loves us, and we think we're unworthy of that love. Yes, we are. BUT, that's why Jesus died on the cross for us.

Romans 5:8 - But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Psalm 127:2 - too tired to love

Psalm 127:2

"In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat— for he grants sleep to those he loves."

I loved the devotional that went along with this:
"God is not against human effort. Hard work honors God. But working to the exclusion of rest or to the neglect of family may be a cover-up for an inability to trust God to provide for our needs. We all need adequate rest and times of spiritual refreshment. On the other hand, this verse is not an excuse to be lazy. Be careful to maintain a balance: work while trusting God, and also rest while trusting him."

We work and work and work, trying to provide for ourselves. And we work and exhaust ourselves to the exclusion of Christ. We do this for several reasons:

1) we think we have to provide for ourselves, alone, or that God won't provide everything we need.

2) we think we are essential - that work won't get done if we don't do it ourselves. By the way, you Martha's out there (of which I am one too), this applies not only to work, but to our family and church activities.

3) we seek to be exhausted and busy because of the distraction that it provides. If we're too tired and or busy, then we think we don't miss or notice that God-sized whole so much.

All of these lead to exhaustion, often hopelessness. This is a symptom of our priorities not being aligned with His.

Even when we toil at God's work, why are we destroying ourselves? Is it for Him, and we do this out of sacrificial devotion? Or, more likely, are we killing ourselves because one of the reasons above? Or maybe were not trying to please God, but we're trying to please those we work with. We think that we must earn the respect of our peers and coworkers by pushing ourselves so hard. Part of me does take pride in the fact that I'm often the first one in the office, and the last one out. Pat of me wants to be known as someone who really pushes themselves, expects more from themselves.

But I know when I am exhausted at the end of the work day, the first thing I want to do is not pray, read my Bible, or meditate on God's word. It's usually along the lines of feeding my face and watching Hulu. And the more I tire myself at work, the more I want to stuff myself with chips and tv. It's like I seek to achieve balance not by taking things away, but by overloading my plate until I'm equally extreme in everything I'm doing.

God wants us to have balance. He doesn't want us so exhausted we cant worship Him or enjoy the things He's put on earth for us to enjoy. What reason are we using to exhaust ourselves? What part of our day are we not leaving to God to provide for us on?

It's my prayer for myself that I find this balance. When I'm exhausted I can only focus on myself and how to relieve that exhaustion. I can't focus focus on others and that's a problem. I hate myself for not being more focused on others, which in turn makes it harder for me to pour out love on others if I can't love myself as well.

The question is this: are we too exhausted to love?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Psalm 119:123

Psalm 119:123

"My eyes strain to see your rescue, to see the truth of your promise fulfilled."


This is us as mentors and leaders, & I feel us especially at hopewell as we pray for God to be at work in the lives of our young people - even as we watch them exit the safe doors of the detention facility to the scary real world beyond. We desperately want to see for ourselves Gods positive impact on their lives - I know for myself, I selfishly want to know that what I have done has not been in vain & that I have added some value to their lives. But the danger is for us to strain to see Gods work even when it may not be Him working, and seeing maturity in the youth that's not there. Or for us to get discouraged when we think we see nothing.

We need to be satisfied with the fact that we may only be blessed to have the privilege to plant the seed in this youth, & trust that God will provide to our young ones those that will water and feed them into maturity & strength.

Remember that it is the tree that takes many, many years to mature is the tree that will live long and endure. Those trees that grow quickly also lack the support to stay and become rooted in the word - and thus are quickly uprooted when their secular foundation falls apart.

We strain our eyes not to see just growth and progress - but to see the truth of God's promise revealed in the lives of these young people. Meditate on what this difference of progress & Gods truth looks like.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

26.2

So I hope you know by now that I have a pretty crazy story.

Please help me continue to write it and share it.

I'm running the 2011 Marine Corps Marathon on October 30. Just under a year after open-heart surgery. I want to celebrate this by running the 26.2 for the Semper Fi Fund: join me?? If you've got a better excuse than I do to NOT run a marathon, then please consider donating. If you don't have a better excuse than I do to not run a marathon, consider donating. :)

http://www.active.com/donate/semperfifundmcm2011/fundTAshley

It's my prayer that throughout all of this I can be bold and consistent in giving the glory to God and using it as an opportunity to boldly declare how sweet He is, and how good He is to me, and to you.

Lessons (not) learned

I wish I could say I've found something really profound to share. I guess the profound thing is the lack of profoundness? Um, let me explain that one.

As I have found myself more physically able to pick up my insane schedule again, I have found myself focusing less and less on God, less intentional about devotions. And what have I learned? Nothing! That's my point exactly.

When we take away our focus from the one who we should be glorifying, we often end up glorifying ourselves instead. And we know how that ends up: it's like building our foundation on sand instead of the bedrock it should be on. It only takes one little event to knock everything you've carefully–but foolishly–constructed to come tumbling down.

I confess to having been extremely consumed with running lately. I would intentionally use it as a time of worship, but I admit I've been distracted on my runs. My goal with running has always been as something that is part of a balanced, healthy lifestyle, sort of like a healthy prescription (runners know it can totally be like a drug, and addicting!). I wanted to be running and training in a way I could keep up my whole life. Have I always achieved that goal? Not so much. This time around, I thought it would be BRILLIANT of me to change up my stride two weeks before a race (despite frequent advice from my =PR= Running coach to never try anything new right before a race). I was faster, it felt more comfortable...right up until I couldn't walk. Race day, instead of it being a glorious debut, I was in pain the entire time. The heart was AWESOME, and stayed in a comfortable zone the entire 10-miler. Instead, I literally limped along for 10 miles at a 12:24 pace - a minute behind my last long run.

If I were to look at this with a me-perspective, I am tempted to be disappointed and frustrated. But I am determined to keep this race in perspective with all that God has blessed me with, especially over the past 5 months. It's amazing (and quite humbling) that 5 months after open-heart surgery I race 10 miles, even more so that the trouble that bothers me race day isn't the heart, but a stupid left hip I injured due to my pride. It's also promising.. which I think is a weird word to use considering I'm injured and my 'short-term' outlook isn't sunny. But it's promising in the sense that He's given me a big, healthy heart and the ability to run again.

It really is a GIFT to be running again, and the only one who can take that away is me - through trying to run on my own, and not by His grace.


"Not to us, O LORD, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness." Psalm 115:1

Friday, March 25, 2011

Born to Run

I am so blessed to be running again. One reason I'm thankful for that is that I've got that time where I am alone, and alone with God in a way that could never be duplicated throughout the rest of my day. For someone who is constantly moving (and perpetually running late), having some built-in time where I am really alone and able to focus is precious. For six months this has been gone, but now I've got this way to worship back, thank God!

During these moments I've had some dates and numbers in my mind:
- Thanksgiving 2009, first 5k, and where I caught this running bug..
- February 2010, 1st half marathon (~3:03)
- May 2010, 2nd half marathon (~2:47)
- September 2010, 3rd half marathon (~2:27) (and the last time I was allowed to run)
- November 9, 2010, heart surgery
- January 31, 2011, first day of running with the Surgeon's blessing!
(- January 10, 2011 'illegally' ran my first mile)
- April 3, 2011 Cherry Blossom 10 miler
- September 2011, half marathon
- October 2011 MARINE CORP MARATHON


It's been almost 20 weeks since heart surgery. I've been able to run about 50 miles during the month of February. I'll have run about 70 in March. I'm getting stronger and faster, and able to run farther every week. I'm just in awe of all of it. I can't stress enough what a gift it is to just be able to run again. I've said it before, it makes feel me invincible to have been through everything and yet still be able to run. I know it's not me who's invincible, but God who's given me the strength to do everything. "My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever" (Psalm 73:26).

As I keep running, I'm trying to keep in mind what all these heart surgery adventures have taught me. I think they're still teaching me.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Worship Like This - part 1

In the last moments Jesus spent on earth with his disciples, he tells them this:

"'This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.'

When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God."
Luke 24:46-53

There is so much in this passage... and over the next several posts, I would like to really work through all of it. But to start, I want to focus on the worship.

Place yourself in the shoes of these disciples: you've been through great grief over the past three days. The person you've followed for three years has been brutally, senselessly crucified. And Friday, Saturday, Sunday, you were without hope. But then, Sunday he finally reveals himself to you - he is alive! "Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?" (Luke 24:26) In these glorious moments reunited with your Savior he speaks to you, promising you power from on high, blessing you. And then he's taken back up into heaven.

THIS is the stage on which the disciples worshiped.

Each of us should worship as these disciples did on that night. Each of us should worship as if we've seen and touched the risen Christ. Each of us should worship as if we've seen him ascend into heaven ourselves. Just close your eyes and imagine this scene set in the end of Luke. It's breath-taking to place ourselves in the disciples shoes and imagine the raw power and glory they witnessed. How real Christ was to these people! Because this great joy that they had, it's ours too. The promises, the blessings they received, these are also ours. Jesus is just as present in our lives as he was in theirs.

"Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him," (Luke 24:31a). Have your eyes been opened to how Christ works in your life? Can you recognize Christ in your life? Is he real to you? When Christ becomes as real to you as he was to the disciples, you can begin to worship as the disciples did.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Vision Casting

What follows is part of an email from a church called Relevant that I follow in Tampa, Florida. Watching them grow over the years has been amazing - and recently they've taken a big step: moving from having Sunday services in the upstairs of a club to having their own building, their own church. It's a huge time of growth for them. The email below is the weekly update from their pastor, Paul Wirth. He wraps up so perfectly what we're trying to do now for Hopewell, so I'm shamelessly stealing:

"I hope that all of you have had a productive and enjoyable week. For me, this has been one of those weeks that I am sure I will look back on for years to come and say that was the week everything changed. This week me, Carl, and Jamie went away for a few days to pray and plan for the future of Relevant and all I can say is that God showed up in a huge way. We were just trying to get away to get our heads above water so to speak and by the time we were finished I felt like I was walking on water.

I believe that God has some huge things in store for each one of us and I believe that His plans include everyone of us. So I just want you to begin now praying this prayer: "God whatever it is that you are about to reveal to me, help me to have the faith to believe it and the determination to do it" I am going to begin to pray this prayer everyday in anticipation that as we seek God and believe Him for great things that He is going to reveal for each of us individually what it is that he has in store for us. And I would like for you to prayer for me that God would help me to clearly cast the vision that He has for us both corporately and individually."

Sunday, February 27, 2011

How do you accidentally run ten miles?

So, how exactly does one "accidentally" run ten miles?

Answers I've gotten today:
  • Got lost
  • Ran 5 miles on purpose, only to realize you were 5 miles away from your car/house
  • Zombies and/or being chased with a knife
  • And my fave... "aren't you supposed to be taking it easy?"
But I don't think there are such things as accidentally running 10 miles. There was absolutely no accident today. I was all geared up (running shoes, windbreaker, iPhone & gps running app, water, clif bloks, heart rate monitor) - by intention. I drove out to the W&OD trail - by intention. Got out of the car, final gear check, quick stretch and warm up.. and off I went. Nothing about my run today was by accident. I will grant you my intention when I went out was not to run 10 miles: it was to clear my head and remember what I loved about being outside moving through the sunshine. (I'm pretty sure 99% of this blog is really written on the trail, for the record).
I've been meditating on Hebrews 12:1.. "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles." The race that we are to, by faith, commit to and focus on, this is not an accident. In fact, it is extremely intentional.
Can you imagine someone running a marathon by accident? It just doesn't happen. These things require training, months, even years of maturing your body to the point of taking such punishment. You put in the hard, long work, to prepare yourself for the race. And then.. then you've actually got to show up to the race. You come geared up, mentally stoked, properly fed, proudly displaying that race number on your chest. Marathons require choice upon choice upon choice of dedicated intention to a goal. Not many people are crazy enough to sign up for a marathon, fewer train for it, a few drop out or don't finish. The proud, but physically humbled cross the finish line.
Some would argue that of all of God's creations, we are the ones that are most perfectly built for long-distance running. We are created by design to endure.
"Lord, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure." (Ps. 16:5)

So getting outside and remembering these things about running - it serves to remind me that we are in the Christian race and it is not by accident. Choosing to really serve God as He has intended us is a choice, and it is not a popular one or one that everybody really gets. God assigns each of us our portion, and our cups. I realize that I've been getting frustrated with the cup that I've been given and especially my portion. I have failed to remember that God uses trials big and even small to temper us into race-worthy champions.

"Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." 2 Cor 4:16-18

Friday, February 25, 2011

Fish on a Hook

I really wish I could say that I've been paying more attention to all that God's been saying to me this month. But I've found myself diving right back into the busyness that characterized me before surgery. I think I've finally realized how mindless much of my busyness is. I've found myself questioning why I'm doing things - what is my intention for involving myself in something else?

I hit my breaking point on the way to work yesterday. I've been getting less and less sleep, and had entirely too many scary things finally getting resolved this week on my plate. I was about to put on the playlist for the songs I'm supposed to be playing this weekend at church, and felt the Holy Spirit moving me to put on a sermon again. This month it's been really hard for me to have the energy to get to church, and I've been sorely missing being fed.

The message really hit home - it was Will Pavone at McLean Bible Church speaking on Hebrews 12:1. "Do you ever get weary in living the Christian life? Do you ever just feel worn out and weary? Many of the folks to whom the book of Hebrews was written, they were growing weary. As a matter of fact, they were exhausted; their fatigue was a fatigue of faith. You see they were tired of the struggles of living the Christian life every day." I'm not usually one to talk aloud to a podcast while I'm alone in my car.. but I found myself shouting at Will Pavone while I was stuck in 2 hours of traffic that morning.

Will continues onto Hebrews 12:1..
"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us."

Therefore.. what's that there for? It refers to the preceding chapter 11, where it goes over the 'giants of faith' from the old testament. Each of their stories is begun by 'by faith', and serves as examples to us how we should be running our race. This by faith preface really is implied in each of the exhortations in 12:1. We must by faith throw off our weights that slow us down, by faith throw off our sins that throw us down, and by faith run our race with perseverance and fixed focus.

It was on the weights that I really started to breakdown. These weights become unhealthy hindrances and we focus on them instead of time with our Father. Immediately, I felt like I knew what my weights were. I was sitting in it. I was sitting in my stupid car, in stupid traffic, continuing to rack up miles, wasting my precious energy and time just to get to work. And why was I working? Just so I could pay for the car and the stupid traffic tickets! But how do I commute less? Live closer, but you can't afford that! It took me the whole day to begin to recover. On top of everything going on with my health, I can't even sleep, I'm broke, and I feel all this shame and guilt because I've got all these things I'm supposed to do, but don't have the energy or time or focus for. I busy myself almost mindlessly, often out of obligation but usually without intent. I felt so broken, and so weary.

I've come to the conclusion that living this Christian life is like a fish trying to swim upstream. We're already swimming against the current, but then there are hooks everywhere that we can't possibly avoid. As we swim these hooks bite in deeper. They pull us in separate directions, and we literally feel like we're going to be torn apart. We've already ceased to be able to swim against the current, and now it, along with hooks, pull us back and drags us down. We're struggling violently to get the hooks out and they only bite in harder. We can't possibly get the hooks out ourselves. Then comes God - or was He there all along? - and He holds us, grips us firmly. He's waiting for us to stop struggling in His grip. At some point we realize we're not only trying to throw off the hooks, but we're trying to throw off Him, because this struggling has made us weary. We are weary because we are trying to rely on our own power instead of completely by faith in God.

Only when we stop struggling, only when we completely submit to being held in His hands and not by our own power will we get sweet, sweet relief. It makes no sense to be still..if we stop struggling, it feels like we'll absolutely be pulled down, continue sinking. Unless you have faith that One stronger than yourself can take care of the hooks. He's waiting patiently, with you encircled in His hands and arms to stop struggling, to stop trying to fight alone and take care of things yourself. Only once you're finally still, finally submit to His will can he tenderly remove the hooks that have entrapped you. And the tender, strong hands of God are more than capable and very willing to mercifully, lovingly remove the hooks and perform what may be necessary surgery to cut them away.

Are we really willing to give ourselves over to the Hands of God to carry us? Hebrews 12 continues on: "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart."

Do I really have the humility to put the Glory of God before my own pain and needs? I think I must find it. If I am to stop struggling against my hooks, my weights, against God's glory, love, and power itself, then I must do two things: admit that God's glory is beyond the scope of my wildest imagination and submit humbly to it.

I realize now that I've been praying for answers to my hooks. I prayed for whatever change was necessary to take them out, and yet when the change comes I still struggle against it. Again, finding myself unwilling to submit to His will and His power and His love. And yet, He's constantly reminding me of His hands around me, placing people in my life that continue to lift me up out of the waters and away from the hooks.

"Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

Friday, January 28, 2011

Forsaking Fathers

On vacation over the summer, I was powerfully struck by my last night on our cruise ship. My friend and I had spent the week with the handful of other single people our age on the boat, and two of them had very incredible stories of their past. Joe and Matt (not their real names) were recovering addicts, from some heavy drugs, drinking, sex. They were incredibly crude, and crass. While they had recovered from one addiction, they simply replaced it with another. They were still fascinating people to talk to - eventually I'll try to explain why my friend and I hung out with them all week.

As a recovering alcoholic, Matt had made a habit of buying all the underage teens on the boat drinks, while he indulged in TONS of coffee and cigarettes. The last night, the teens had circled around us, rowdy because most of them were at least tipsy. One 17-year-old was bragging to us and the gathering crowd how he had slept with 3 girls on that ship already, and his mission at college the next year was to sleep with every single girl on campus. He even demanded that my friend and I sleep with him. Obviously we refused, and this sparked an indignant outrage. He eventually left after trying very hard to pick a fight, and Joe made a comment that I don't think I'll ever forget. Joe asked me what kids like this made me feel.

"Frustrated, annoyed. I really wanted to smack some sense into the kid," I said.

Joe quietly responded, "Kids like this used to make me angry, or I'd pity them. But now, I can only feel compassion. You've got to think, if they're acting out in such dramatic ways as this, they've been hurt in deep, serious ways." And this came from Joe, who the entire rest of the trip had been heavily drinking and trying to sleep with various women himself.

With that perspective, I find it difficult to be angry at kids who lash out. They lash out because there is something deep, hurting desperately inside them. And the louder and more dramatically they cry out or abuse others, it only illuminates the depth of their own pain. We cry out, and try to fill this hole that exists in place of the loving relationships we are missing, even as we fervently deny that anything is missing. We are in control. We don't need anyone else, they'll just hurt us.

We have different ways we reject or accept love, essentially. For our different reasons, we have difficulty loving one another. Maybe we were abused, emotionally or physically. Maybe we lost someone important whom we loved and they loved us, and we've never recovered. We are all hurt people.

Each of us knows loneliness in our hearts. We've all felt that sense of abandonment, that we were missing the fellowship that made us whole. Even God knows this sense of loneliness - and remember we were created in His image. "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters." (Genesis 1:1-2) God was lonely, and He created us to have someone to love. He craved a relationship with us.

What about that sense of betrayal each of us have felt? When we are forsaken by those who should love us, especially people who should love us unconditionally? God knows how even this feels. "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46) "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." Jesus died alone on the cross, without his Father, and completely innocent and undeserving of any of his abuse or unlove. Maybe part of Jesus' death on the cross was so that he would intimately know the depths of sorrow and hurt of a father who turned his back on him. Jesus was perfect in that he had no sin, but he was also perfect in that he didn't allow this forsaken-ness to stop him from being our Savior. In fact, it makes him a more compassionate and perfect savior because this hurt brings him even closer to us. Despite this brokenness he experienced, he is still capable of love. He IS love.

"Whoever does not love does no know God, because God is love." (1 John 4:8)

Like us, Jesus experienced what it was like to be unloved, left behind, and abused by a loved one. Jesus is perfect, there's no way he deserved any of it. And yet his Father left him forsaken. If the most innocent of us was forsaken by God Himself, then why do we still think if we are forsaken we must deserve it?

The truth is, we fail to realize that when we are hurt or forsaken by those that we love, it is not because we are unworthy of their love. Was Jesus unworthy of God's love?

If we are ever going to begin to heal, we must accept that we are worthy of love, even and especially with, our flaws. We don't have to be perfect to receive love. Jesus was perfect, and yet plenty of people hated him, had him crucified, and even his Father left him alone on the cross. Being perfect does not mean you are loved more.

If you can't accept that there is a God, friends, family, out there that love you unconditionally, you will never be able to give that love to anyone else, including God. You must accept a relationship with God.

This has been very hard for me. I constantly think I am unworthy and shouldn't receive His love. I close His love for me off because I think I don't really deserve it. "But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: while we were still sinners Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8) The only way me or anyone else will ever heal and stop trying to earn love that is impossible to earn is to let love in. God is love.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Impatient patient

I'm beginning to understand why the word patience is basically the word patient. Patients really need patience.

I finally got to go to cardiac rehabilitation (can you already tell how impatient I was to get started??) and it sort of set my whole weekend up on a theme. I was told a couple things that morning. I was not allowed to run for another 2 weeks, and the little running I had been doing and justifying to myself could possibly have been putting my recovery in jeopardy. In fact, a lot of what I have been doing has been putting my recovery in jeopardy. I haven't been sleeping like I know I should. I have been trying to do everything and stretching myself entirely too thin, even for a person not recovering from heart surgery. I have been trying to do so much (work, jail ministry, small group, running, devotionals, recovery) that I haven't been able to do any of it properly. In fact, I may be doing more damage by doing all of these half-way then by not doing them at all. I've been lying to myself for weeks now, telling myself I am recovered. I am not.

As I was leaving cardiac rehab Friday morning, I caught myself praying for patience. The patience to wait to run and to sit through my recovery like I should be. Two things occurred to me as I wait at the stoplight praying for that. One, I have prayed this prayer before. And two, God was answering it already.

I should have known better. I know God doesn't just flip a switch, and all of a sudden I have patience. Yet that's exactly what I wanted. God provides me the opportunity to learn patience, and that he has certainly provided to me.

So I have spent this weekend trying to figure out how I learn patience. Of course, silly me, I sort of vainly hoped that I could learn patience in a single weekend. Can I hurry up and learn how to be patient already?! Ooooh silly me. I think it will take some time before I've got patience figured out entirely. And I'm not convinced I ever really will know everything there is to patience: I'm human and flawed and I want things now. I think it's in our nature to be impatient and it's something the devil plays to. (Hey Jesus, turn that stone to bread! "Man does not live on bread alone" Hey Jesus, I will give you the world right now! Just worship me first. "Worship the Lord your God and serve him only". Luke 4) The devil plays upon on our need for instant gratification. Jesus replies not only with the Word that is specifically applicable, but he is patient for God for those things which the devil tries to offer him.

So I've come to think that being patient is faith that God will deliver what you are waiting for. Closely linked to patience is perseverance, because sometimes God gives you a cup to drink before you have what He has promised you.

As I've been dwelling on how desperate I am to run again, I was thinking about the last half-marathon I completed. I can easily say it was the fastest, most comfortable race I've been in, and it was the only one I had a plan for. All the other races I've been in, I had an ad-hoc, shoot from the hip, how am I feeling today approach. And none of those races turned out as well for me as that last one that I had trained specifically for. I had a goal and a plan.

I'm thinking that patience is a lot like that too. We have the strength to be more patient when we know there is a goal and a plan to get there.

What if anyone could receive a medal for a finishing a race, even if you didn't race it? Would something like that even mean anything to you? You didn't have to do anything to earn it.

Part of what makes running and these races so special is that not everyone has the patience to endure them. And it does take a lot of patience to train for months and years and to persevere through the inevitable challenges. But the benefits far out weigh the challenges.

On today, MLKjr day, I've seen this quote flashed around: "Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase." I think patience is like staying on that step as long as you need to, and not attempting to skip over parts of the staircase. There is no shortcut to faith, or to those things we patiently await. So how do we focus on our goal and be patient while we work towards that? I think Paul lays out some of that for us:
"Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things." (Philippians 4:8)

As James says, "Every good and perfect gift is from above" (James 1:17)

I think it's also closely related to what follows in that chapter. I feel like athletes especially like to focus on 4:13, but I think God gives us not only physical strength, but the strength for patience and to be content despite our circumstances.
"I have learned the secret of being content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength." (Philippians 4:11-13)

So we focus on what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, what is excellent or praiseworthy. These are things for us to focus on instead of our circumstances, instead of what we are impatient for. We focus on these as we faithfully take things one step at a time. We focus on these as we follow a plan towards our goal, even and especially when our plan calls not for action, but for inaction.