On your mark, get set….

It is a crazy thing, a bucket list.

You think about the things that you want to do, to accomplish.  It is a list of the things you dream about doing, people you want to meet, places you want to go, goals you want to hit.

My list isn’t written down, it just floats about in my thoughts.  It has been added to, edited, tweaked, revamped, added to again, and some (very few) items have been checked off.

Some of the items on my bucket list are:  setting my feet upon every continent, visiting every one of the 50 states, running a half-marathon (check!), riding in a hot-air balloon, opening/running a B&B with a spa, learning how to cook a whole chicken (okay, so some of my dreams aren’t very big!), and living to see all of my children graduate,  get married, and meet my grandbabies.

And run a marathon.

That one is just about ready to be checked off.

running feet

Back in January, I signed up to run in the Mankato Marathon.  I’ve spent the last nine months, hours upon hours, training, running, focusing on accomplishing this goal.  For nine months, I’ve been a bit obsessed over training plans, calendars, carbohydrates, and fueling.  For nine months, I have told everyone I know that I am going to do this, and probably annoyed everyone around me with talk of it.  For nine months, I have sacrificed almost every Saturday morning to spend running for 3, 4, and sometimes, 5 hours.  And now, in just 9 days, I will put my feet at the starting line, and push forward with 1,500 other men and women to run for 26.2 miles, up and down hills, through long straights and sharp curves, all for the right to say I’m a marathoner.

But it is going to be ugly. That I already know.

I live currently in a very, very flat part of the state.

Mankato? Not. flat. at. all.

It’s going to hurt. It is going to be hard.  My goal? To finish. My other goal? To finish under the 6 hour, 15 minute time limit allotted for the race. Long past after most of the other 1,500 runners finish.

Fast? No. But finishing? That is what is important to me.

That’s what I keep telling myself, anyway.

I’ve never been a fast runner, never been much of a runner at all. In fact, I still have a hard time calling myself a runner, even after finishing a half-marathon, a 7 miler, a 10K, and a couple of 5K races. But I am stubborn, determined to finish what I start.  Of course, I would love to finish in less that 5 hours (definitely not going to happen).  I’d be thrilled to finish in less that 5 1/2 hours (probably not going to happen, either).  6 hours, 15 minutes, the time limit allotted? Hopefully, I will finish in less time than that. I am hoping I won’t be the last person to cross the finish line.

Because, yes, I might be that shallow, that proud.  There is something within me (probably the mental scars from junior high phys ed) that doesn’t want to be the last one to cross the finish line. As if there is shame in that. As if conquering 26.2 miles of ascents and descents is not enough, I think I have to do so in a certain time limit, held to some standard in my head that I have to come in before somebody, anybody, else. Shallow, right? (Or maybe all runners think that, and I’m just putting it out there for the world to know…)

And there is fear, too. Fear that I can’t push through, fear that when it gets hard, when I lag behind the crowds, that I may just want to fold up and quit.  Other than having babies, there is nothing else that I have committed 9 months in preparation for.  But you can’t quit in the middle of labor.

You can’t just stop in the middle of pushing, and say “Yeah, enough of this. I’m done. I’m going home.  Just leave that kid in there.”

Running? There is an out.  It hurts? I can quit at any time. There is nothing that commits me to finishing, other than my own mental fortitude. Nothing forcing me to follow through, except for myself.

I have been thinking through how I am going to deal with it when the pain starts, when the fatigue sets in.  Having read plenty of articles about running a marathon, I know there will come a time when I hit a wall, when the carbs from breakfast are used up, when the energy stores run low, when the blood sugar crashes, when it will get hard.

My plan when it gets hard? To focus outside of myself.  I have started a list of people I want to think of, pray for,  when it starts to get tough.  Each mile of this race, I want to dedicate to a loved one, some who are still here, some who have passed on.  I’m making a mental list, but I am pretty sure I will need to write it down before race day. Who knows what my mental processes will be like by mid-race, and I want to make sure I don’t forget anyone.

My nephew with a heart defect, who has been through multiple surgeries, and who still needs a miracle.

My father in law, who passed away several years ago from cancer.

My husband’s great-grandma, almost 102, and my baby girl, almost 4.

My children. My husband. My family of origin.  My family I have been blessed to marry into.

My friends who are like family.

Sweet friends who are mourning the loss of their first pregnancy.

Other friends who are mourning the loss of their parents.

The list is long already, and growing.  Each mile will have a focus, and every mile will be special.  The names will be written on my arm, and tattooed upon my heart.  They will be carried with me over every mile, and they will carry me in every way.  This is how I will get through the (literal) ups and downs of this race, by turning outward rather than inward, by thinking and focusing on what is greater than me, and the One who is greater than me.

And that finish line? It really doesn’t matter how long it takes me to cross it. Running, walking, stumbling, or perhaps even crawling….I just gotta cross it.

And if I am the very last person out of 1,500 to cross that line?  Well,  I’ll just hold fast to the statement I’ve heard…

Finishing = Winning

#YesIamaChristian

Yes, I am a Christian.

But would I really be able to say that in the face of fear, with a gun pointed at me?

Yes, of course I want to say yes. But would I really be able to do it? Or would fear paralyze me? Would terror take my voice? Is my faith really strong enough to say that yes, I believe, and live that out, even in the very last moment of my life. Would I be strong enough to choose to be a martyr? Would I be able to speak it, especially after watching those before me murdered for their “yes”?

This violence happens far too often, here in our country, and across the world. Evil reaches its hand out and snuffs out a life, or many lives, all for it’s own twisted delight.

Evil finds us in every corner, in every place. The darkness of the world seeps in and soils our lives, and right and wrong become murky and twisted.

We mourn with those who have lost, those whose loved ones were brutally murdered. Our tears fall, and our prayers are raised.

We hold our children a little tighter as we send them off to the bus stop, off to their school. Fear creeps into our hearts, and our faith is tested.

I’m reading the articles, watching the news footage, all with tears in my eyes. The senselessness, the madness, of such an act of violence makes me weep for those who were lost, for those who have lost loved ones. My heart aches with grief.

As more information comes out, it is sobering to hear that the gunman asked his victims if they were a Christian. If they said yes, they were killed, a bullet to the head. If they said no, or did not respond, they were still injured, but not murdered.

Dear, sweet Jesus. Why?

Every time something like this happens, I have to ask why. I wrestle with God, and will admit that many times I become angry with Him, why He did not intervene, change the trajectory of the gunman’s life, why He didn’t protect the innocents. I question, I rage, I weep. And God tells me it is okay. I can challenge Him, I can question Him. Because in all of my questions, I don’t question that He is God. And that He is ultimately the one in control. And that He sees and knows far more than I ever will, than I ever can fathom. And that is what ultimately brings me comfort in the midst of the grief and tears.

My soul is challenged by this shooting. The fact that Christians were targeted, martyred because of their bravery in saying yes…

I am challenged because I do often wonder how I would react to such a situation. It is easy for me to sit here at a keyboard and claim, #YesIamaChristian. It is easy within the safety of my home to proclaim that “Yes! Of course, I would say yes!”

But would I really? I like to think that I would be strong enough to make that decision for myself, that I would grasp martyrdom with both hands, and let my faith buoy me in any circumstance. But the “what-ifs?” plague me. What if my children, my beautiful family, were right there? What if they too would be killed? If I could sacrifice myself to save them, then yes, a million times yes, but what if that wasn’t assured? Would I want them to see, to experience, the pain, the torture and have to live with those memories burned into their minds?

The questions are far more numerous than any answers I have. And I honestly hope that I will never be faced with such a situation, such a test, and I pray that the rest of my family will never either. But I also pray that we are living our life as an example to our children that yes, we are Christians, and yes, we will face the trials of the world, the persecution, the hardships that may come our way and that yes, we will lean not on our own understanding. We rely fully on a faith in Christ. We live in the knowledge that this is not our home. Our souls will carry on past this time, our faith, our hope and our security is not found here, in this world.  I pray that we show a strength, not of our own, but in the One in whom we rely, and my deepest prayer is that each one of my children will also learn to lean in to His strength, often and always.

As we mourn those souls who lost their lives in Oregon, let it stir us to a deeper faith.  When evil raises it’s hand to crush, let us retaliate with prayer, putting our faith in the One who triumphs over death. When we weep, let the God who knit us together comfort us and wipe away our tears.  When we question, let us trust not in ourselves, but in the God who put the cosmos in motion.

And it is hard, sometimes seemingly impossible, to do such things. But as found in Mark 10:27

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”

Let it be so.