Saturday, May 30, 2009

Pushing Forward - epilogue?

. . . . .

The longer the race, the more preparation required. I’ve been a runner for not even two years now. Before then, I had always hated it. In fact, it took a solid eight or nine months before I started to enjoy it. Which is why I started running in races – I needed the motivation to keep training.

Since then I have run in several races, ranging anywhere from 3 miles to 13. Different distances have required different training approaches. Also, how I train affects how I run. At some races my goal was simply to finish. Others, I was competing to place and earn a medal. But before I get completely sidetracked onto another equally relevant topic, I want to look at the topic of preparation.

Did you know that distance runners eat while they’re running? Ultra-marathoners will pack entire lunches in their fanny packs to eat on the go. Or they strategically place their food and drink along their course so they can grab it as they run past. Restroom breaks are also carefully planned, knowing the time and location of the stops. Weird, huh? But it makes sense. Your body still needs to function while you’re racing.

Personally, I prefer goo on my long runs. It has the consistency of thick honey and comes in little pouches that fit well into pockets. Whip one out on the go, and you’ve got yourself a burst of energy. The first packets I ordered were berry flavored. Figured you can’t go wrong with fruit. I was pretty excited to try it out, so one day as I was jogging along I pulled it out, opened it, and helped myself to a mouthful.

And just about gagged.

That stuff tasted horrible. But it did the trick. Gave me the boost my body needed to keep going. I’ve also left bottles of sport drink along my longer routes to grab about the times my body is wearing down and out of sweat. Keeps me from being dehydrated now and sick later.

My training schedule is also very important to my success. I don’t just go out and see how far I can run every day. Instead, I will run long one day, run short and hard another, and lift weights in between. I need a good balance of training to make me a well-rounded athlete. Know what else I do? I rest. Some days are devoted to no exercise at all. Because forcing myself to work too hard will wear my body down faster than anything.

How much more do we as Christians need these balanced preparations in our own journeys! Can you imagine, if you have never run before, waking up one morning and deciding to put some shoes on and take a 26 mile jog? Or if you are already a runner, what if you decided to abandon your sneakers for a pair of flip flops? Not going to work very well.

We need and depend on our brothers and sisters in Christ to cheer us on and offer us encouragement and guidance. We need our regular dose of church and Bible studies to refresh us along the way, as well as our personal prayer and Bible study times. Sometimes, we even need to step back from it all and take a break. Without these things, we’re not going to make it to the end. Our spiritual bodies are going to collapse in exhaustion and defeat.

So train hard. Eat a steady diet of God’s Word, rest in His company in prayer, and run hard alongside other believers so that you do not grow weary and give up.
. . . . .

Thanks for sticking with me through this ongoing topic! Please feel free to leave any feedback or further thoughts you have in the comments sections!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Pushing Forward - Life Lessons, part 5

I think I'm starting to wind down. If you need to catch up, here's part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4.

. . . . .

I had an argument with God about my misery one day on my drive home. I was supposed to be done working early that day. My plan was to go home and take care of a few chores, work out, get some down-time to myself, and enjoy my evening. As it turned out, I worked late and therefore had no time for any of the aforementioned activities. I was not happy. In fact, I was downright p***d off.

“God, I was supposed to be done early!”

Who said you were going to be?

“It was in the schedule! I was scheduled to be done early! I hate this job!”

Who said you were going to like it?

“You gave it to me! I’m always working late! I have no time to have friends!”

Who said you’re always going to have friends around?

“I never get to do what I want to! I hate never having any free time for myself!”

Who said your time was yours to have?

It went back and forth like this for a few minutes. I knew He was right. I had made my circumstances about me. After that last retort I was pretty much out of arguments. God was not feeling sorry for me like I wanted Him to. He wasn’t going to make things better because I had chosen to be miserable. I knew all this. But I didn’t like it. And knowing it just ticked me off even more.

So I pouted about it for a while. That’s how I handle most of my problems. I pout and mope. Eventually I was able to start to see what was going on. I still didn’t like it, but I could at least try to be reasonable.

I have known for a while that this time in my life is a season of preparation for me. For what, I am not sure. But right now my main purpose in life is Jeremiah 29:13. I am to seek God and find Him. This is a season for me to grow in Him. And in order for that to happen, He has had to strip me down to almost nothing.

I gave up a great community of friends, a schedule that allowed me to do things I enjoy, and the convenience of living in a city. I now had fewer friends and no time to enjoy them or anything else. The small town I moved to where everything closes at 6:00 was in the middle of nowhere. I was working in a job I didn’t enjoy that consumed just about every waking hour I had. Adjusting to such a schedule takes time and energy. By Wednesday of each week I was exhausted and had nothing left. Almost everything I once held dear I was now without. And for several months I fought it. Hard.

But after this angry exchange in my car, and a few other events, I began to see how God was working. He had to do things this way, because the lessons I needed to learn wouldn’t come any other way. Not that He wasn’t able to do it differently, but because I wouldn’t listen.

He was asking me to be dependent on Him. For everything.

And in order for me to realize my need for this dependence, He had to take it all away. And leave me with nothing else. Except Himself.

Does this mean I’ve learned my lesson and things are all hunky-dory again? Heavens, no. This dependence is a day-by-day choice I have to consciously make. When I stop doing it, He gives me a little nudge with His paring shears and I have to learn to do it all over again.

It’s all in my focus. When all I'm trying to do is survive long enough to finish the race, the wind blows hard and the rain slashes my face. I can’t breathe and I’m just barely stumbling forward. But when I am focused on running to Him, I don’t notice the wind and the rain as much. It's still there, beating at me from every side. But depending on God allows Him to unleash His awesome power in my life.

Because of Him, I can make it to the end.

. . . . .

Only one more to go! Then you can rest from this "marathon" series!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Pushing Forward - Life Lessons, part 4

This topic has managed to become a series out of control. Only a few more days, and then we can move on. To catch up, start with this link, then go here, then here.
. . . . .

All of that previous race talk and winning crowns of glory sounds good. But practically speaking, what does it look like?

Honestly, most days you can find me on the side of the road. I’m crabby, tired, and functioning for survival only. I don’t stop to take the extra minute to talk with someone, I rush through all my obligations so I can get done sooner, and don’t give away any more of my time than I have to. I live the entire week for Saturday, and Sunday nights make me sad because I have to start a new week all over again.

How would I like for it to look? I would like to willingly get out of bed each morning and live in each moment of the day. I would like to take unplanned and unpleasant events in stride without letting them do me in. I would like to smile more, make my patients feel more special, and reflect the joy of Christ in every breath I breathe. I would like to willingly offer my time to work late, volunteer for more activities, and make it a point to build relationships in my community.

This journey called life isn’t a short race, like the mile I used to run in middle school, or a 5k that I like to run now. Those races are challenging, but over relatively quickly. This isn’t even like a 10k, which lasts much longer and hurts a little more, but is still over before noon.

No, this race is like an ultra-marathon. (Did you know there are actually people out there who run 50 to 100 mile races? For enjoyment? Makes my voluntary 6 mile runs look a little less crazy, huh?)

Day in and day out I run this marathon God has placed me in. Yeah, I suppose I offered to come along when I signed on to follow Christ. But I thought things were going to look a lot different. I was planning on a sunny day, lots of happiness and excitement for the whole race. Lots of people around to cheer me on and encourage me. Several food and water stations along the way to nourish and refresh me. God would surely bless me with that, right?

Not so much. Lately, it’s cold, rainy, and windy. I’m pretty sure everyone passed me up long ago. I have no idea where this course is going and what’s ahead. All I can see is a huge hill I have to get over. My knees hurt, I can’t breathe, there are no water stations in sight, and I haven’t seen anyone in miles.

Each step on the pavement feels the same. Each day has the same routine. The longer I run the more tired I become. Sometimes obstacles trip me up, or I have to crawl up the big hills. My day doesn’t go as planned. I have to work late. I’m doing things and cleaning up messes that I never saw in my job description. I just want to go home and curl up and sleep for the next month. I’m tired, crabby, and just want time for the things I enjoy.

But it's not about me.

. . . . .

To be continued...

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Pushing Forward - Life Lessons, part 3

If you're just joining in, this is the third post in a series of I'm not sure how many. For part 1, click here, and part 2, here.

. . . . .

I had a very brief track career that lasted for all of 7th and 8th grade. I ran the mile as my event. Even then I was never the best runner. In fact, I remember only one time in which I didn’t place dead last. One race in particular stands out in my mind. I was running against only a few other girls, but they would have fit the category of “super-athletes.” The gun went off and I was left in their dust before my feet ever started moving. I tried so hard to keep up with them, but they were too fast. I couldn’t finish the race with them. I had to walk. My stomach hurt and I couldn’t breathe. I was embarrassed because there were dozens of students and parents watching me. But I was determined to finish. And I did. I had to walk a good part of that race, but I eventually crossed the finish line. Afterward my coach came up to me. She understood what had happened, that I tried to follow the fast girls and completely failed. She said to me, “You have to run your own race.”

Each morning before I even roll out of bed I am faced with a decision to make. How am I going to run my race today? Some days are easier than others (like Saturdays). Other days I flat out don’t want to go to work. I don’t feel like being cheerful and nice. I just want the day to be over so I can return to bed.

I may as well sit down on the side of the road and wait for the finish line to come to me.

Not going to happen. Believe me, I’ve tried. I’ve sat and sat, but didn’t get any closer to the end. Thankfully, the finish line never gets farther away. So as I wake up in the morning, I plead to God for His strength for the day. I go about my day and try to remember where my strength and energy are coming from. And while my day may not be any more pleasant, it goes more smoothly. Because I’m not doing it alone anymore. I have Someone running alongside me, cheering me on to the end.

It doesn’t matter if everyone else around me is faster and more successful, or that they finish with greater grandeur and look good doing it. It doesn’t even matter if everyone has already finished long ago and I am the only one left on the course. I have to run my own race, at my own pace, in my own way. So I choose to stand up and run my socks off. I choose to force my body to finish strong. I run to the best of my ability and to the glory of God.

I may not win a medal to wear around my neck. I may not get a trophy to display on my shelf. I may finish so dead last that it’s now raining and everyone has long ago gone home. I may cross the finish line by myself with no one left to cheer me on. But I have run my race.

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness...”

I have won. I have received the prize that will last.

. . . . .

Not finished yet...

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Pushing Forward - Life Lessons, part 2

To read part 1, click here.
. . . . .

But that was impossible. I’d come too far for that. You can’t just quit a race before it’s over. Even if you do, you can’t go back to the starting line for a do-over. Things are moving forward with or without you. My comfortable past was gone, my future unknown. And I’m doubled over on the side of the road, just trying to catch my breath and figure out how I got here in the first place.

Paul likes to reference racing and training in his letters to the early Christians. (Maybe he was one of those athletes in the early Roman games who wore white bed sheets and put green shrubs in his hair.) In 1 Corinthians 9 he writes:

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. …I do not run like a man running aimlessly…I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”

Again in Philippians 3 he writes:

“Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

As I’m standing on the side of the road, doubled over and out of breath, wanting to turn around and go back but knowing the finish line is in front of me, I’m forced to make a choice. Not just the choice of whether or not to finish my race. But the choice of how I’m going to run. Am I going to simply stumble forward until I’m done? Or am I going to pick myself up and run my socks off because I want the prize that’s waiting at the end?

I can tell you which approach is easier. And I can also tell you that I’m not going to be the first one to cross the finish line. No way. Just because I run doesn’t make me a runner. But that’s not the point.

The point is how we finish.
. . . . .

Keep comin' back - it ain't over yet!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Pushing Forward - Life Lessons, part 1

This whole work-every-day-to-make-a-living thing hasn’t proved to be a whole lot of fun for me. I graduated for the final time about a year ago, spent the summer studying to take the physical therapy boards, and then moved to a new state to start my first “real” job in August. So I’ve been working full-time for just over nine months. And wow, what a nine months it’s been.

Not any I’d care to repeat, just for the record.

More and more I’m starting to recognize how much of a journey life is. We’re always (hopefully) moving forward, and each season in life is used to prepare us for the next. But I must say that I liked my previous journeys a little better because they at least had structure to them. Let me explain.

My whole life has been spent working from one goal to the next. I worked my way through school, where my ultimate goal was to graduate from high school. Then my goal was graduating from college. Then graduating from grad school, passing boards, and finding a job. No matter what I’ve been doing, how tedious or fun or difficult it’s been, there’s always been the finish line in front of me. I’ve always been able to see what I was working towards, measure my steps and approach, and then push on to the end. It sure hasn’t always been easy, not by a long shot. But it’s always been tangible, something I could get my head around.

Then life after school began, and things kind of fell apart. Suddenly I no longer had a larger purpose to strive towards. It was wake up early each morning (which has never been something I enjoy), work a long day, get home late, try to get my chores done but run out of time, then collapse in bed so I can sleep for a few hours before waking up to do it all over again. And again. And again. Every single day for the rest of my life. Felt like someone blindfolded me, dumped me in the middle of an ocean somewhere, and told me to swim to shore. How do I get there? Which way should I go? How long will it take? Where are the storms and calm waters? Where am I going to end up?

Not only is there no end in sight to the mundane working life, there are also no breaks or holidays. No summer vacation, no month off at Christmas, no spring or fall breaks. At least they give you a day off for Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Years’…unless you’re on call. Then you have to work on Christmas day (it’s true, I’m on call for Christmas this year).

Now maybe I could have overlooked all these things if I had loved my job and was excited to wake up each morning to get to work. Sadly, it was quite the opposite for me. My job turned out to be quite different than what I initially signed on to do, and not in my favor, so getting out of bed in the morning became quite the chore.

But I digress. I was talking about journeys. Perhaps the marathon type. If any of you have ever participated in sports or trained for anything, you probably know this feeling. Sometimes when you’re in training or even running the race, you hit a point where you’re exhausted, frustrated, and just plain done. But you’re nowhere near the finish line. Your body and mind are screaming to stop, grab some water, and go back to what you were doing before you started this nonsense. That’s how I was feeling. I hated where I was at and just wanted to go back to life before career.
. . . . .
Stay tuned - more to come!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Down to the Potter's House

This is a post I wrote as a guest blogger on my friend's website. I know many of you have read it already, but figured it would fill the time until I can get a few more posts typed out.

God shapes us in His hands. He is the Potter. But even though we are the clay, we tend to decide for on our own when we’ve reached completion. So we set ourselves on the shelf to dry. But God looks at us and sees what He wants us to be. The beautiful and amazing vessel that He wants to create with His very own precious hands. So He takes us off the shelf. And He breaks us. He has to, because we’ve made ourselves unmoldable. Sometimes He shatters us beyond recognition. But then He picks up each piece of our broken lives and dusts it off. He reshapes it, molds it, smoothes the edges and works with that piece until, through our surrender and His masterful hands, He creates the perfect piece. Then He puts that one in place and reaches for the next. On and on He goes, working with every single piece until we are put back together.

If you have ever tried to re-piece a broken pot, you know that some parts will never fit back together. There are holes and gaps left between the pieces. And you can never fully hide all the cracks. A broken pot will never look exactly the way it did before it broke. But the holes and gaps and cracks become a thing of beauty and glory. For as the Potter puts the pieces back together, He also places His light inside of us. It bursts forth from those holes and cracks so that all who walk by and see the pot will be drawn closer by the light spilling from inside.

“So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as it seemed best to him.” Jeremiah 18:3-4

Getting Started

Welcome aboard! I'm glad you've stopped by at least long enough to read this far. I've tried to find the best way to let you get to know me, as knowing a person creates a deeper understanding of their writing. My conclusion is that most of who I am will have to come out through posts over time. But to get you started, here's a few basics about myself:

Name: Elizabeth
Gender: F
Age: 26
Occupation: Physical Therapist
Other: I have a cat. I like to wear flip flops.

God has given each of us many gifts. I have found that I happen to be a not terrible writer. But it's not a gift that is at the forefront of my ministry. At least not currently. Every once in a while I get a hankerin' to throw some words down on paper. I know this is not from me because what comes out of my fingertips is way too good to be anything that I could come up with. A few years ago I started writing some things down whenever inspiration struck. Forgot about them for a while. When I read through them a couple of years later, I not only couldn't remember doing any of it, I also couldn't believe that I was the one who had written such things. I say all that not to lift myself up and tell you how great I am, but to say that anything you read on here that inspires and encourages you is not from me. Rather, for whatever reason, God has chosen to speak words to your heart via my fingertips. And that is what I hope will happen. "Going public" with my writing is a little scary, because it means vulnerability and transparancy on my part. A lot of my heart is exposed through my words, even if the reader never recognizes it.

Feel free to participate in this with me. Leave comments and feedback, or contribute your own thoughts for discussion. Suggestions are also welcome at any time. I don't have an agenda or ultimate goal in starting a blog. I kinda just want to see what happens by putting it out there for all to see...

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Prayer Wall

Welcome to the Prayer Wall. This is a place where you can leave your prayer requests and know that they are being prayed for. If you don't have any requests right now, please take a few moments to scroll through this page and lift up the ones that are here. I will screen everything before it's posted, so if you wish to remain anonymous or would like prayer but don't want it posted publicly, just mention this in your note and I will proceed accordingly.


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