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,--Hebrews 12:1

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Struggling? Accept the Gift. Renew Your Strength. Be Content.

The clock keeps ticking and those days just keep getting marked off the calendar. Race day approaches!

On Sunday I'll be running the Little Rock Half Marathon. Three years ago I ran this for my very first 13.1 mile race. It took me 2 hours and 28 minutes to finish that race, coming off 5 weeks of almost no running due to injury. When I crossed the finish line, I somehow managed to keep moving through the chute and into the finishers' area of Riverfront Park. I sat down on the hill above the amphitheater and immediately my legs seized up in terrible cramps. For at least an hour I writhed in pain.

Three years now seem like forever ago. That day, I doubted I would ever again run another half marathon. I was certain the 26.2 mile distance didn't lie in my future. Now I've lost track of the half marathons I've run since, and I have 6 marathons under my belt. Two weeks after Little Rock, I'll be running my 7th full marathon at Wrightsville Beach in Wilmington, NC. So this half marathon on Sunday is really a training run for the North Carolina race on the 17th.

It seems almost crazy to think of a 13.1 mile race as a training run, especially recalling how I felt three years ago after my first time to hit that mark. It seems even more crazy to think of 26.2 miles as something to look forward to, when it seemed no less than impossible after that first half in 2010.

So what made the difference? What changed between March 2010 and now? I've thought about this a lot and there's only one explanation that makes sense...I've turned my running over to Jesus Christ.
"but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint." -- Isaiah 40:31

Back when I started running again at 40, and still when I ran my first half marathon at 41, I was running for me and nobody else. I wanted to get fit, to get back in shape. Pride and vanity drove me and that was all that fueled me on my runs. And I was running. I ran a few 5Ks, some 10Ks, and even that first half marathon at Little Rock. But I wasn't improving, and it would have been a stretch to call it enjoyable. (I mean, can't you tell by my post half marathon description above?)

It was really when Amanda was murdered that I cried out to Jesus and really turned my life, including my running, over to Him. And that's when things really turned around. Suddenly, half marathons weren't nearly killing me. I was running stronger, farther, and faster than ever before. And I ran my first marathon, Marine Corps 2011.

The first several marathons still beat me up pretty bad, but the long training runs weren't hurting nearly as bad as before. More and more miles not only became doable, but enjoyable too. As I grew in my walk with the Lord, what had inflicted insane levels of pain first became tolerable, then enjoyable. Last month, I ran my first full marathon during which I felt good the entire distance. Kind of like the verse above says, I ran and didn't grow weary.
"Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows." -- James 1:17

But don't think my new found strength comes from anything I have done. My ability to stick with it for longer distances isn't coming from me. On my own, I couldn't run a marathon, a half marathon, or even a 10K. Really, without the mercy and grace of Jesus Christ, I wouldn't be able to run a step. It took me a long time to realize this, but every step I take, every mile I run, every race I finish is a gift from God.
"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." -- Philippians 4:12

The really great thing about what I've learned is that now I'm happy regardless of how fast or far I run. In December it took me nearly 6 hours to finish the St. Jude Marathon. Last month I hit my marathon PR when I ran a 4:43 at Mississippi River. In between those two I ran back to back marathons on consecutive days, finishing the first around 6:55 and the second around 7:05. But I was thrilled just to finish each and every one of these races.

By handing everything over to God, I reached a point where just serving Him is enough. It's enough to keep me satisfied. It's enough to make me happy. He's enough. Jesus is enough!

These past few days I've been reminded just how important that realization is. I've been in contact with two former students this week, both in major life crises. The first contacted me via Facebook asking me to call. When I did, he burst into tears to tell me he was hooked on drugs and wanted to quit. The second is going through a bad end to a relationship. Talking to her, she told me she felt like her life "had no value" without the boyfriend who left.

Both of these folks are at a place in life where I was with my running not long ago. I placed my hope and trust in the ability to become more fit, to become faster, and to run farther. My results were less than favorable back then and I was anything but content. It wasn't until I placed my hope and trust in Jesus, turned my life over to Him, that I came to realize none of that stuff was what really mattered. It was then I realized it didn't take fitter, faster, farther to make me happy. Once I got my priorities straight, I was just happy to be out there running. In my conversations with these two young adults, I explained this to them.

The one was trying to fill a void in his life with drugs, the other with a boyfriend. I've heard it said (I believe first by CS Lewis) there is a God-shaped void in all of us, and He is waiting for our invitation to fill it. The void they are trying to fill is that God-shaped void. It took me more than 40 years to invite Him to fill mine.

If you are finding yourself struggling to find purpose in your life, if you're seeking something you can't quite put your finger on, if your life seems to be falling apart, and you haven't asked Jesus to fill that God-shaped void, He is exactly what you need. Jesus is the key, waiting for you to accept Him and unlock the door that will allow you to be content in any situation. The peace that comes from accepting Him as your personal Lord and Savior is the result of the greatest gift God ever gave mankind, salvation through His Son.

So hope in the Lord and renew your strength. Soar on wings like eagles. Run and don't grow weary. Walk and don't faint. Accept God's gift that will get you through anything and everything! It's waiting. He's waiting. All you have to do is ask.

If you don't know Jesus as your personal savior, if you're missing the faith, hope, and love written about here, if you want the peace that we as Christians have in our lives, please visit our Got Jesus? page for step-by-step instructions on how to accept Jesus Christ as your personal Savior.

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