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Jane and I skipped church on Sunday.
An emergency call came in on Saturday night from our youngest sister Shannon in Charlotte. It went something like this, “If I am gonna get up before the sun and run in this triathlon, the least y’alls lazy selves could do is come make some ruckus and cheer!”
Spoken like a sister. Sunday morning we were in the van on the way to the triathlon.
Jane was chomping on a breakfast biscuit and I was slurping down coffee as we headed off to watch 1700 women be healthy. I guess the irony of that made us a little punchy as I flatly stated, “Shannon might talk me into doing this triathlon with her next year, but you will never get me in one of those unitards. ‘Cool’ passed me a long way back, and there are just some things the world does not need to see anymore.”
At this point we were walking up a hill as toned bikers whooshed past us in those bright multi-colored unitards. “Seriously”, Jane said, “you are going to talk smack as you are breathing heavy walking up this little hill?”
Mostly you wait, intermingled with short outbursts of wild cheering. That’s how you “watch” a triathlon. Several times we erupted into hoots and hollers, thinking it was Shannon coming in the white t-shirt, only to find when the runner got into our focused range, that we did in fact not know her. She’s probably still thinking, “I wonder how I knew those two obnoxious girls that kept cheering for me? Hmmm, can’t place it.”
After the race, amidst the water cups discarded on the ground and the helium balloons slowly deflating around us, we snapped this picture of me while Shannon gathered her things.
We emailed it to my husband and brother-in-laws with the caption, “It was tough, but she made it.” Within seconds they had emailed back, “Made it to Starbucks.”, and “The only thing my wife lifted this morning was a grande mocha.”
Ah, the painful truth via cyber space. The truth is, except for the obvious lack of muscle tone, the numbers on my shirt being upside down, and the fact that my sweat was only from the humidity, I was dressed like I had run the race. I looked the part.
That got me thinking. Where am I appearing to “run the race”, when in reality I am only “looking the part”? I mean, Bill and I are mid-race. We are in our forties. We have teenagers. We will have been married for twenty years in May.
Here is one expert’s description of some runners mid-marathon.
“Your brain starts to feel like it’s in a fog. You become confused, your will power drops and you may become very emotional. I have seen grown men crying like a baby in the final miles of a marathon.”
Ever have days like that?
Honestly, in my twenties, I would sometimes look around at the lives of friends and acquaintances and think, “They seem to be doing alright, seemingly thriving, without God.” But lately, I am noticing that more and more people are dropping out of the race.
Parents that are beat tired, and choosing to “let it roll” instead of fighting to stay connected with their kids.
Marriages that are either broken or going through the motions.
Lots and lots of people asking if their life will have significance.
I didn’t need God less twenty years ago, but I could cover up my need more easily. I was more healthy, had more energy and was responsible for fewer people.
I could more easily “appear” to be running the race. So could others.
Truth is, there are people dear to me in my life that I simply cannot love selflessly and patiently without God. And, I really want to love them well.
The Apostle Paul put it this way…
“My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12: 9-10, New Living Translation
Apparently, my getting really clear on my junk, my baggage – where I am weak – is a good thing, as long as I call it what it is before God, and humbly ask Him to pour His strength through me. Because more often than not, I feel out of strength. The less confident I am in my own power, the more His is available to pour through me.
So here is my regular prayer.
Father, I don’t want to drop out.
I don’t want to appear to run a race, but actually be falling apart.
I don’t want to love in an ordinary way.
So, I am going to need you. Please forgive me for the many times that I stubbornly turn to my own strength first. I pray that today your perfect, mighty strength would cover my weaknesses, turning something broken into something beautiful.
The beach always makes me feel pensive. Maybe it’s the massiveness of the ocean, and the expanse of beach, littered with people from all walks of life. I dragged my chair, water, towel and book down to the beach for a small window of “mommy time”.
All kids accounted for and occupied. Check.
Husband chillin’ inside. Check.
Tides turn and as unexpected as last week’s hurricane, emerging from the beach house came three generations… my sister, my daughter and my mother, who her grandchildren affectionately call Mommaday. Suddenly, there we sat. Three generations, in the late afternoon fading sun, and I slid my book down between the chair and my leg… recognizing a precious moment in time.
Now, I come from a long line of storytellers. My mom always says, “If a story is worth tellin’, it’s worth stretch’.” So late afternoons on the beach in South Carolina just BEG for stories of days gone by. As I dug my toes into the sand, I listened as my mom regaled my 16 year old daughter with the “proper” ways of Southerners. As crazy as it sounds, the stories eased from southern pot luck suppers, to southern family traditions, to southern ancestry (note the emphasis on Southern).
Nobody weaves a story, stretches a story, or embellishes a story quite like my mother. And nobody loves all likes of people like she does. Growing up, it was as natural as rain for me to see my mom befriend, laugh with and bring Christmas presents to…
the man who pumped our gas
the banker who dad worked with
the dear “Eba” who watched over us
businessmen crafting plans for futures of Charlotte.
People are people and mom sees them from the inside out.
Today I watch mom talking to my daughter, and she is shifting in her beach chair. Mom hurts when she sits. Actually, she hurts most all of the time. Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis have claimed her once uniquely graceful ballet ability and subdued her nights of late night shag dancing with my dad.
And I see in her eyes that her inability to “do” makes her feel less than. She is more left these days with the simple ability to “be”… the rich knowledge, living history and humor that echoes in our lives. And yet she mourns. She mourns the ability to “do”. Oh… and do not be misled… I miss her ability to “do”. All the shopping, buying the perfect gifts, thinking of the last details, making all holidays memorable and birthdays unique.
But mom has the precious opportunity to model “being” to us now. We would all attest to the fact that she can “do” better than almost anyone I have known. And yet, the stubborn test of age says,”yes, but it is good to simply “be”.”
Thank you, God, that you in the end do not call us to always “do”. Rather, you call us to “be” who you have uniquely called us each to be. You call us to “be” open to your vicious love pouring through us to those around us. Jesus modeled the ability to stop and just “be”.
To stop in the midst of teaching a crowd of people, in order to touch or notice a hurting soul.
To stop to pray and to be with the Father when crowds were clamoring for his attention.
To stop using His gifts in one town and move to the next because he felt the Spirit’s leading, not because all were healed.
Jesus modeled for us the need to not always be “doing”, but to often rejoice in just “being”, with Him. Easier said than done. At least that is what my first 44 years have shown. My inertia is towards “doing”. It seems that when I stop to just “be”, I am confronted with all manner of truths about my heart and life. And yet, faithfully, that is where He graciously meets me, ministers to me, and changes me… to become more like Him.
As I watched mom weave her larger than life tale for my 16 year old daughter… I silently whispered to God, “thank you”. Thank you that mom can imprint her rich colorful crazy ways upon my impressionable wise daughter. Thank you for generational love.
He was only going for 3 days. But I would not be there to pick up his towels dropped on the floor after a shower. I could not remind him that the world appreciates it when he brushes daily, even though he is unconvinced of the priority.
Train, train, train…
Encourage, encourage, encourage…
The whole “release” thing is where it gets scary. It feels like our report card. How does he do when I am not around? Who is he when he KNOWS that we are not looking? Okay.. basically, how is he turning out?
Oh? Did I mention that he got his braces on a day before he left? And that his mouth was really super sore? Should I cancel the trip?
Ah, the temptation to not release.
Wonder if Jesus worried about how the disciples would do? Were they ready?
I realize that I still have many precious times with Will to train, encourage, and lead, but that more and more of my work is “knee work” now. I NEED to release him more and more, let him test his wings, and I need to move more and more faithfully into praying earnestly for the man of God that I know is within him.
So instead of calling, I texted him, “Good night buddy. Sleep good. Brush your teeth, check for boogers, be grateful. I Love You!! 🙂 Mom”
And then, I prayed.
So you can’t give just any present for a 60th. I knew I wanted to give our dear friend Ken something symbolic, representing “who” he is to us, not just celebrating another birthday. As I prayed to the Lord for inspiration, something that might “show” Ken time and time again, who we count him to be, an image came to mind.
Now, I’m not saying God gave me a vision (I’m just not that cool), but I do think he prompted my mind with an idea. The image of a compass came to mind. I wanted Ken to know that I know that he has dedicated his entire life to pointing people “due north”, down the straight and narrow path. He has been a steady and sure guide in many, many people’s life storms.
How many times has Ken asked someone, “What do you think the Lord is doing in your life right now?”, allowing the Holy Spirit to funnel strength and wisdom through him to the lucky soul sitting across from him, helping them to believe, even desire, to take one more faithful step down the unique path that God has created just for them.
No doubt, I spoke with 30 antique dealers and walked into 15 shops personally, looking for a compass. After coming up empty over and over again, I finally heard, “Yep. I have a real nice one. Wanna come see it?”
It was a World War II, standard issue Army compass, and at that moment, I suddenly realized that was perfect. I didn’t need a nautical compass. I needed a compass that had been in war. Ken, a minister of 40 years, is a spiritual warrior.
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore, put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” Ephesians 6:12-13
It was all coming together. I did a quick google of the facts, thinking that I remembered that WW II was nicknamed, “The Great War”. I wanted to tell Ken he was a warrior in “The Great War”. Good stuff, huh? Instead, I found out the Second World War is not nicknamed “The Great War”. That was World War I. The Second World War is sometimes referred to as, “The People’s War”.
As a follower of Christ, if there is ANYTHING we are in, it is “The People’s War”. Do not be mistaken friends: we are at war, and people – real people – are at stake. And it is with that reality in mind that one day I so long to hear the Lord say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant, friend, child.” Don’t you? Fight the good fight today. In some small way, or in some courageous and enormous way….do your part in pointing another person “due North”.