Monday, April 26, 2010

not heavy, just big

Several times last week, as I was packing and unpacking my car for Tabor's Annual Banquet, I told people I didn't need help because whatever I was carrying was not heavy, it was just big. Of course by the time I neared the 3rd floor after a few loads of big, but not heavy, things, I was really feeling it. Sure, it wasn't too heavy for me, but it definitely left me with some really sore arms. Apparently, to me, "big" means that I can handle it, whereas "heavy" would have meant that I can't.

But I'm thankful to know that heavy and big are different. When things are big, it can seem overwhelming, but there's hope because you can just do one thing at a time and take one step at a time. My friends Brittany and Allie got me through my freshman season of cross country with their encouragement that I need to focus on just one point ahead--the next mile marker, the next stop sign, the next lap--instead of focusing on the 3 more miles I have left to run. Running long distance can be heavy, or it can be big, depending on how you choose to look at it. A race is 6k, 3.7 miles, 30 minutes heavy. But I can't look at it that way, or I'll just not do it. I'll get out of it somehow, by contracting a hysterical injury or, worse, a real injury--whatever it takes, really. Or a race can be taken 8 minute average mile by mile, which makes it seem a lot more doable.

The best part of a long race is, hands down, the sprint to the finish line for the last few hundred yards. There are always a few runners who are a steady few steps behind or ahead of you for the entire race, but at the end, it's a footrace to the finish line, and it's anyone's game. But usually, it's mine. I am a kick ass runner, for the last few hundred yards anyway. It's easier to give up your last few shreds of energy when the finish line is in plain view. The problem for me is that for most of the race, it's not. For me, it just feels heavy, and my body feels weak, and my legs feel weighted down, and my chest feels constricted. But what if it doesn't have to feel like that? What if running a long race well has more to do with how I look at it than how in shape I am? What if I could focus on just getting to the next mile marker? One step at a time. 8 minute average mile by mile.

The truth is, in the end, whether you choose to view the race as something heavy or as something big, your body will probably hurt the same amount, your legs will shake like jello squares, and you will be 97% sure that you are about to throw up all that you carb overloaded on the night before. That's why it seems to me that the only sane way to run a race is to view it as something that is "not heavy, just big." 8 minute average mile by mile, you can focus your energy on getting to that point, and once you get there, you can focus on the next marker. And you know what's so great about looking at it mile by mile? You get to have more than one kick ass last few hundred yards!

I'm not a great runner, but I never minded that. I always thought God had me on those courses to encourage others because when you're in the tail end of the race, there are fewer runners there to keep your adrenaline going, and when you run past the spectators, they are less enthusiastic than they are with the top runners. But I like to be there to encourage the other runners around me that this doesn't have to feel so heavy; it can just be "big," and you can handle it--mile by mile, step by step--trusting that because God has gotten you through the last mile and the mile before that, He will get you through this one, too.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

true strength

One of my friends, Jenn, recently was talking to me about reaching a breaking point. Sure, she has been strong through her circumstances, but if they keep compiling, she's going to reach her breaking point. It makes me think a lot about how God says he will never give us more than we can handle. I always wondered what that means because I guess we have to take what's given to us, right? We have to handle what's thrown at us. It's weird how that works because we have hope when going through difficult times that God doesn't give us more than we can handle. We have to have that hope, don't we?

During college, I experienced a lot of hurt with all the breakups with Ryan, and people were always telling me how strong I was to be places where he was. They said if they were me, they wouldn't be able to do that. But I didn't feel strong. I remember one particular conversation at our women's bible study when my friends said they think I'm strong, and I just started crying. I was trying so hard to hold myself together so I didn't crack, and you don't feel strong when you're just barely holding yourself together. But that is the hand I was dealt. What other choice did I have other than persevering through that difficulty? I didn't view it as strength because I didn't choose into that. I was just existing.

I do not know why God lets bad things happen to us. I don't know why He pushes us until we think we're going to break. All I know is that Jesus offers His strength to us to say "not my will, but yours be done." Which may not make grieving and coping any easier, but to keep hoping and trusting, that's strength. It isn't comforting to be told that you are strong for persevering when you actually aren't. What I was doing wasn't strength.

Strength is in the choosing to hope. Hope isn't something that just happens to you; you have to choose to have hope. You have to choose it every single day, be committed to it, and really, really believe in it. Because sometimes you won't want to. And honestly, you don't have to. You can live in a state of numbness. I did it for a long time. But sooner or later, you realize that having hope is really the only thing that makes sense. It's the only thing you can do. So choose hope, believe it, do it, and live in the freedom that it gives!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

two bras

I have been in a weird place lately. Long story short, I haven't been engaging with God and pursuing my faith. I haven't wanted to. But God met me yesterday as I was tanning on my roof. I'm reading a book called Cold Tangerines, which was a gift from my housemate Megan. It was a big step for me to even start reading the book because I've been slowly disengaging with God, so much so that I even stopped listening to Christian music recently.

So I'm reading this book, and the author is going on and on about all this stuff happening in her life and how God is working in her life, and I thought to myself, "It's just not that simple. What about the world's suffering? What about Africa?" It bothered me that she was painting this picture of roses and sunshine. Well, wouldn't you know that the next chapter was about a trip she took to Africa. Any normal person, especially one who is purposefully not engaging with God, wouldn't think much of this... but I have never believed in coincidences, so I couldn't ignore it. God knew I was thinking about Africa. I thanked Him for putting that chapter right there, right after I had thought about it.

It jogged my thoughts to predestination and foreknowledge and free will and all that good stuff. I love that stuff. And I realized, maybe it's none of those things. It's not like God planned everything ahead of time and then just watches it happen. Plan or no plan, the point is, God doesn't just sit up on a cloud and watch things happen. That's the thing about our God... He is actually with us! I think that God has made me to be a certain woman and prepares me for things... it's like we're walking down the street together, and He says, "Hey Jess, let's walk this way towards the diner" because he knows that I'm hungry for pancakes. It's not like I had the thought about Africa, then he stuck that chapter in there. No, he was present with me as I read and got upset, and our next turn on our journey was reading about Africa.

It's a bit like a mischance of wearing an outfit requiring two bras on a date--one bra for support and one sports bra because otherwise, the shirt would be too low-cut (just in case you find it weird to wear two bras). God knew you might want to go let things go too far, so He prepared you for that by having you wear that outfit with two bras. It seems like a mischance at the time because it kind of ruins that moment. Sure, taking off two bras is absolutely possible, obviously, but it does make it more difficult. God was walking with you, and you didn't know why you chose that outfit, but God knew why. It was extra protection to keep you safe. Or me, or whoever.

God walks with me. He leads me. Even when I'm pretty darn content with walking my own way, he's still working. In every moment, He is present. That's love for you. I experience love when someone meets my needs/wants without me asking for it. That's what God did for me when I was on the roof yesterday. I was so stunned, so deeply in love, that all I could do was grin and say, "Thanks God... you knew I wanted to hear about Africa. You knew it."