In May, I managed to haul myself across the finish line of a ten mile race. I placed around 41,886 out of 42,000 runners and walked the last three miles of the race, which took place on the surface of the sun. My chip time was far over the stated course limit, but a kindly volunteer still managed to hand me two ice-cold bottles of water, another shoved a bag of junk food in my hands, and a handsome member of the armed forces gave me a medal. Then I sat alone under a tree for half an hour before I came up with the mental and physical energy to figure out how to get myself home (I hadn’t come up with a plan for that because deep down, I kinda’ thought I’d never make it). Some weeks later, when I realized I wouldn’t run unless I had some specific and seemingly impossible goal to work towards, I signed up for a half marathon. I imagine when the November morning arrives, I’ll stake myself firmly in the back of the pack and hold on for dear life.
So, I don’t really understand how I find myself leading an effort to start a running club in my neighborhood. It’s really baffling. Like, monumentally confounding. Running clubs are led by people who own short shorts and who can make themselves go at least the pace of one of the slower mammals. I’m in turtle land. I take WALK breaks to recharge.
It makes no sense on paper, but I feel kinda’ called and mostly at peace with the idea that I don’t fit the common idea of a runner and people* might think I don’t have any business trying to fearlessly lead even the most ragtag group of runners.
Moses keeps coming to mind. “I am nobody,” he said to God. “How can I…?” Now, I’m not trying to equate starting a running club in my neighborhood with leading the Israelites out of slavery and into the promised land. But maybe, just maybe, this little venture will give someone the courage to go for their first run or the accountability to go for their second. Maybe seeing a group of neighbors get together will encourage someone lonely to come on out and meet a new friend. Maybe this most basic of exercises, something you can do without special equipment or a membership to an expensive gym, will strengthen the bridges already under construction. Or maybe it’ll just ensure that once or twice a week, I can’t come up with some lame excuse not to run.
In answer to Moses’ reluctance, God said, “I will be with you.” Talk about an awesome running buddy.
I’m traveling tomorrow morning, early, to the west best coast, first to go to a conference and then to visit my family in Oregon.
I used to travel with abandon and without a care in the world. I’d throw a bag together and head out for an impromptu road trip, eagerly anticipated opportunities to go overseas, and relished the adventure of wandering through new places alone.
These days, that joyful excitement is tinged with a hefty portion of anxiety, particularly when I’m heading off without Isaiah in tow. I start to feel it in my belly weeks in advance – that crunching, churning, acidic fear. I feel my heart race. My sleep is restless and filled with disturbing dreams. I feel guilty for leaving my son so much, even though he’s here with his dad and a half-dozen surrogate parents who genuinely love and appreciate him. I know I’ll wake up the morning of travel, in the early morning hours, and feel a deep dread. I know when the plane takes off and lands, or hits a little patch of turbulence, I’ll cling to the arms of the tiny seats and pray “Please Jesus, please Jesus, please Jesus.” I’ll try to remember my friend Lily’s image of angels carrying the plane on their wings (even though I know, I know…physics). I know when my son and husband get on a plane a few days later to come meet me (forgetaboutit burglars, we have an awesome house-sitter), I’ll fret for their safety until I meet them outside of the security area in the airport. I know I have life-insurance and a living will and that if I do die, they’ll get through it. Life will go on.
I don’t want to be afraid of dying. I don’t want to dwell on the thought that my son might die before I do. But I do. I do.
And while some might say that makes me a bad Christian, I say it makes me pretty human. A human with a slightly defective brain who tries her best to use crushing anxiety and chronic depression as opportunities to learn to trust, to release the idea of control, in a world that wires us for FEAR! FEAR! FEAR! and to chase the lie that we are our own gods.
There’s been a lot of nasty weather around here lately (cough-climate change-cough). Earlier today, a little band of thunder and lightening rolled through the region. It was loud, and a little scary, but not catastrophic. As expected, the local 11:00 am news spent the bulk of their 30 minute newscast talking about the lightening-heard-round-the-city and showering us with information about the storm and its aftermath (one downed power line, from what I gathered).
Yesterday on my drive in to work, a local radio personality was interviewing an automotive writer about driverless technology in cars and during that interview she said, “Any technology that will keep us safer is a good thing.” Not to go all tin-foil hat on you or anything, but when we start thinking that way, we’re only a skip and a jump away from allowing technology (and the people and institutions who control that technology) to rule us. Safety is our god. Power is our lord. And information technology is our savior.
Gosh, does that sound familiar? I can’t help but think of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in Genesis 2. God’s creative power has resulted in a peaceful, nourishing, cooperative paradise. Men and women are partners with other created beings. They are all cared for and in loving communion with the One who gave them life. But their desire for control, to “be like God,” outweighs their appreciation of these gifts. And so the story of human history is now the story of brokenness and longing. Longing for more power, but also for reconciliation and restoration. A constant tug-of-war.
That conflict is in me. I know that the illusion of control is dangerous and, ultimately, doomed to be disappointing. I know that I can’t predict the future, that my son or I or anyone I love could keel over dead at any point, anywhere, no matter what I do or don’t do. That wars ravage the globe and injustice runs deep and wide. My goodness, my preparedness, my checklists and procedures and precautions don’t add up to security.
“I waited patiently for the Lord;
he inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the desolate pit, out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord.” (Psalm 40:1-3)
Security comes from the author of the universe. And we learn through Jesus that it doesn’t always look very secure. Jesus was crucified, many of his early followers were martyred. Jesus-followers today put themselves in harm’s way to be peacemakers and reconcilers. Think of this lone priest in Kiev, standing between police and protestors. That doesn’t look very secure to me. Think of medical professionals who enter countries ravaged by poverty, colonial rule, and war, called to minister through their vocation to those in desperate need. Think of the men and women who stand between warring gangs in the inner cities, trying to stop gun violence.
And think of the everyday people, like you and like me, who face everyday battles fueled by a culture of fear, violence, and injustice. Double- and triple-checking our doors and windows are locked at night, jumping a little bit every time the school calls in the middle of the day, choosing isolation over participation out of our fears of rejection or failure.
I hate to sound like a cheesy valentine, but I think the remedy for this fear is love. “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.” (1 John 4:16b) God doesn’t abide in those who have it all together or get it all right. If you live in love, God lives in you. “Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgement, because as he is, so are we in the world.” (v. 17) Bring it on, crappy, broken world. Bring it on. I’ve seen perfect love in Jesus, and I’m trying to live in love the best I know how. You can’t throw anything at me that love won’t absorb. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.” (v. 18) I know I won’t reach perfection in love. It’s far off, but I know that love abides in me, and that if I listen to that love when fear is screaming at me, trying to get my attention…my heart rate drops, by breath calms, and my mind starts to focus on something besides the chaos I create.
So, tomorrow morning, I’ll try listening to love instead of fear. And we’ll see what happens. And I might listen to this a couple more times, too.