My sister Peggy Lively and I just completed our 16th marathon in our 16th state. We have high hopes of completing one in all 50 states. We are often asked, "Why in the world are y'all doing this crazy thing?". Honestly, we just fell into it. Maybe I shouldn't use the word "fall" when talking about marathons. But truly, we've sorta gone into this adventure blindly (hmmm, another poor word for safely accomplishing 26.2 miles). Before my first marathon, I had never run in ANY race. Well, I do remember the three-legged race on field day in elementary school, and that wasn't very pretty, at all. Peggy and I can't explain it; something came over the both of us at the same time and within only minutes, we both decided to "just do it". And so, the 50 marathons in 50 states began.
With this being number "sweet sixteen", I took a moment to think about the marathons to date, and these are the things we have gained in this journey:
Togetherness. Our marathon weekends, believe it or not, are therapeutic for the both of us. We cover a lot of ground even sitting in our hotel room as we listen to each other's triumphs and trials of life. We laugh a lot, and we cry too. Also, throughout the weekend and the race, we pray for the particular state we are in. We pray for ministries, schools, communities, government, marriages, and families. The 26.2 miles cover not only the roads within the cities we walk, but our words reach heaven's throne with fervent faith. These extra long treks have helped me understand the meaning of "persevering in prayer" (from Eph. 6:18), and it helps me stay the course when I get back home.
Outreach. "And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds" (Hebrews 10:24). Both Peggy and I have come to realize that the marathon weekends are about much more than the 5 1/2 hour-ish trek on marathon day. It's about the people we meet (airplane passengers, hotel managers, marathon participants) and the friends and family we visit (old neighbors, nieces and nephews, ministry partners). I will not be able to express in a small paragraph the giant things God has done in and through our travels. Our hopeful goal each time we go to these cities is to spread the love of Christ and encourage others in their own personal journey. Just like a marathon, life is not a feel-good-all-the-time-experience, and if Peggy and I can help encourage someone even a little bit, we call it a successful weekend. In our different travels, we've met complete strangers and they are now dear friends. We've reconnected with people from years past. As a result, the blessings of these relationships have been immense. I'm excited for what's in store.
Adventure. I must add here that our dear mother sends Peggy and me off with some spending money each and every trip. Bless her for making these trips doable. She supports "our mission", which is real simple: live full, love well, and pray much. With that being said, who knew we would go to a World Series game in St.Louis, or see the Grand Canyon in AZ, or peer out into the Atlantic ocean in Maine, or go to the Dairy Queen in North Dakota? That's pretty awesome for this introvert who loves her comfy chair in the confines of her own four walls! I'm thankful for each of these trips and eager for more. God knew I needed to GET UP and GO FORWARD...to His people and to His world. I'm thankful for the privilege.
I finish these memorable moments with an encouraging word for your very own marathon of life. Hear the Forerunner say:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2
Recently, I read two passages of Scripture that had the same idea in it, yet their meaning was completely opposite.
The first phrase is found in I Samuel 16:49 which speaks of David killing the giant Goliath:
And David put his hand in his bag and took out a stone and slung it and struck the Philistine on his forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell on his face to the ground.
The second phrase that caught my attention was when I flipped to the passage found in Ezekiel 1:26-28 which gives details of the prophet’s personal encounter with the glory of God:
…there was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like sapphire; and seated above the likeness of a throne was a likeness with a human appearance…and there was brightness around him. Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain…such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking.
How interesting…same posture of both the giant and the prophet, yet one face planted due to pride and the other due to humbled awe.
I guess the hard question I have to ask myself is this: which one of these men am I like in every day life? Do I call my own shots, make my own judgments, and plow forward with my own head-strong plans like Goliath intended to do? Or do I sit long enough with the Lord to meditate on His majesty, that is marvelously transposed with His mercy, to where the only thing I can do is, like Ezekiel, fall on my face in response to His glory and grace?
As we know, things did not end well with the prideful giant. Enough said. But with the humble prophet, bowing low was just the beginning:
And he said to me, “Son of man, stand on your feet and I will speak to you.” And as he spoke to me, the Spirit entered into me and set me on my feet…” (Ezekiel 2:1)
May you and I be more like Ezekiel today. Let’s bow before our Creator and wait to hear His voice. And then, when we do hear him, let’s be ready to stand on our feet and do exactly what He says, filled with His power, doing all for His glory.
Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you. James 4:10
Many years ago, I bought some daylily bulbs from a friend of a dear friend. I picked a special place in my backyard near a stone wall to plant them; and then, I waited. The first bloom was a huge celebratory moment for me (I do NOT have a green thumb in the least, so anything that grows in my yard is a minor miracle). Now, every summer I look forward to the re-birthing of these radiant flowers.
What’s crazy to me is that this flower’s bloom only lasts one day, hence the name day-lily. It’s as if this particular plant embraces this fact however, and puts a hundred percent of its beauty into the time it has been allotted. These brick red, butter yellow, and melon orange blossoms splay themselves open unashamedly, shouting “Beautiful!” and “Majestic!” and “Glory!” in the designated place that they have been planted. Scripture uses the blossoming flower as an anology to teach us:
For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. For, “All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever.” I Peter 1:23-25
So, when studying the temporal flower alongside the above scripture, a wise, yet convicting question can be, What am I doing with my days? Am I shouting “Beautiful”, and “Majestic”, and “Glory” in my designated place?
Be challenged by the Creator of both the fleeting flower and your seeking soul. Take in His word, the imperishable seed, and choose to hear it, and heed it. And then, without fail, you will not only be living in this world radiantly but also at some point, leaving this world triumphantly, having impacted it for eternity. And this my friend, is a major miracle.
Teach us to number our days, that we may enter the heart of wisdom. Psalm 90:12
I was having a converstaion with a young friend of mine who has been struggling emotionally, physically, and spiritually the last couple of years. He’s an awesome kid, but he has just kinda gotten stuck with some “smelly stuff” that he, on his own, hasn’t been able to shake from his heart and mind.
I shared a recent analogy with him that the Lord so sweetly shared with me:
We have a driveway that runs through the middle of our two fenced fields. One of the fields has cows grazing on it, the other does not. Interestingly, the field that the cows are calling home, now has a blanket of beautiful gold flowers on it, while the other field has only tall grass (eventual hay).
Now if I were a cowgirl, I could tell you in detail about this golden process: the kind of cows that are grazing, the kind of flowers that are blooming, etc; however, I’m a half-country, half-city girl, so I resorted to google. After much research, I found DairyCarrie: “Manure is smelly and kind of gross but it is also fertilizer that’s full of nutrients that our soil needs. Gardeners like to fertilize their flowers and vegetables to make their plants grow larger and stronger and farmers do the same thing except our garden is a few hundred acres and we don’t have to run to the garden center for bags of fertilizer. We have our own fertilizer producing machines, lounging around…” (dairycarrie.com 5/7/13). Ahh, so there you have it, the cows’ manure helps produce radiant fields of gold.
Using this image, I urged my young struggling friend to allow God to work His wonders in the midst of his mess. If He can spin manure into “gold”for the cows, just think of what He can do with the stinky stuff in the lives of the children He loves so dearly. The question I had for him, and for myself, and now for you, is, “Will you let Him do His wonderful work?” Just know this, God is ready, willing, and able; and He will do it in His time and His way. The difference between the process of nature and dealing with humans is that God allows nature to take its course; but with us, He waits on our hearts to soften towards Him before He begins His work. The Lord longs to be gracious to you; He rises to show you compassion. (Is 30:18) He will never force His way on you, because that’s not true love. He is however, always pursuing, and patiently waiting to bring beauty from ashes. (Is 61:3)
So the choice is there for each of us: let Him “fertilize our soul” with His truth and love, and then reap His radiant glory, or well, just continue on alone in our mess, which only exudes the stench of anger and bitterness. I urge you, let the Gardner in…
And instead of the thronbush will grow the pine tree, and instead of briers the myrtle will grow. Is. 55:13
And instead of manure, the gold flowers will bloom… Yes, as a friend of mine reminded me this morning, God let’s nothing go to waste.
There is a familiar expression, "You can't put God in a box." Agreed. The God of the Universe can never fit in a man-made contraption comprised of mere ideas and speculations concerning His character. If you want to know God, read His word; there, you will find Him. And there, if your heart is humbly willing, He will never stop amazing you with His unbound grace and free flowing love.
BUT, Godcan "put us in a box." Listen to His words of truth:
For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is already laid, which is Jesus Christ. I Cor. 3:11
You hem me in behind and before, and You lay Your hand upon me. Psalm 139:5-6
So we, as Christians, stand on the solid rock of Jesus Christ. When we believe in Him, our footsteps become unshakebly firm because of His truths beneath us. And as we walk step by step, God Himself puts His protective hand behind, before, and over us. We are enclosed on all sides; not constrained as some might speculate, but enclosed with the marvelous mystery of who He is and what He does.
Inside these borders are His wisdom and knowledge, His compassion and kindness, His security and peace, His faithfulness and steadfast love...and these attributes of His character are unending. It doesn't matter what goes on around me, as long as I am hemmed in by His hand. When I dare to step outside of His boundry, the weight and the struggle and the pull this world hits me full in the face like a fierce wind in a winter storm. So quickly, I step back inside to find His warmth once again.
You are a hiding place for me; You preserve me from trouble; You surround me with shouts of deliverance. Psalm 32:7
Yes, God of the Universe, I want to thank You for grace-fully putting me in Your "box", now and forever.
Our lives can be compared to one large puzzle, with God Himself being the puzzle-worker. All the pieces are present from the beginning, and there is a beautiful masterpiece waiting to be put together by its Creator. He knows where each piece fits, and He knows exactly when to put it in its place. Every piece is different in shape and markings; some are bright and full of color, while others are drab and dreary, serving as a neccessary backdrop to the revealed glory by its side.
Do you trust your Puzzle-Working God? In other words, do you undoubtedly believe that God knows best in both the timing and the order of your days? Or, do you find yourself becoming impatient, wanting to yank the "puzzle pieces" from His hand and do life yourself? Be careful, the bible teaches that there will be consequences to this method. Think of Sarai, Abram's wife, who decided to take matters into her own hands in order to fulfill God's promise of bearing a son (Genesis 16).
Do you find joy in your Puzzle-Working God? Or are you upset with Him because your picture is not the one you would have picked for yourself? The bible speaks of this as well in the Potter/Clay analogy: You turn things upside down, as if the potter were thought to be like the clay! Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, "He did not make me"? Can the pot say of the potter, "He knows nothing?" (Isaiah 29:16). I know there have been specific times in my life when I have had to beg the Lord to change my embittered clinched fists to joyful hands of praise... and He gracefully answers my repentant prayers.I encourage you to rest your impatient hands and your questioning heart in a God who is fully trustworthy and entirely faithful--even in the drab and dreary times of your life! These pieces, too, are a significant and irreplacable part of your beautiful picture. God promises hope and contentment in His word when you just can't see or understand what He is up to in your days. There is no challenge too difficult or no project too confusing for this Grand Puzzle-Worker. He longs to willingly and winsomely create your life's portrait, piece by piece, peace by peace.
And Moses thought, "I will go over and see this strange sight--why the bush does not burn up." Exodus 3:3
Turn our heads to see your holiness. Pull our hearts towards your glory. Make us curious enough to walk towards you and willing enough to respond to all that you have in mind. Call us, challenge us, change us. Amen.