Come

Another of my posts recently made it onto another Christian devotional website.  You can start reading and link to this post below!

The best running advice I ever received was given to me before I became a runner.

For years, I secretly dreamed of being a runner. I wanted to be one of those people who could jog down the street while simultaneously talking to a friend. Some folks made it look so easy. Fun. Meanwhile, I had trouble holding a conversation just walking up a flight of stairs.

I had friends who were runners. Sometimes I even tried to follow their advice. Still, I failed. Until the day I received the ultimate running advice…

Continue reading at http://www.christiandevotions.us/viewblogentry/88.

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Inspire a Fire

Exciting news!

I was recently invited to become a monthly contributor to a popular Christian devotion website, Inspire a Fire. My first post was launched yesterday. Check it out at http://www.inspireafire.com/training. (And consider leaving a comment there to let the organizers know they did a good thing inviting me!)

I am so thankful for this new opportunity and for all of you who continue to encourage me to write, even on days when the words don’t do what I want them to.

Stay tuned, my friends. I am still – in the words of this post – in training.

There Are No Losers Here

I have a tragic flaw.

Okay, so I have more than one, but this is the one I’m going to tell you about today. I love sports, but sports do not love me.

(Sigh.)

I’ve tried softball, but I tend to duck and cover when the ball comes my way. I’ve tried flag football, but I cannot catch a football to save my life. In middle school, I played basketball.  I loved basketball. Sometimes I even did something amazing, like make a basket. But in three years of playing, my team never won a single game. Not one.

I was thinking of this a few weeks ago as I was running past the tennis courts. (In case you’re curious, I took tennis lessons for two summers and still can’t hit the ball.) As I jogged past watching the players, I had the audacity to think: maybe running is my sport!

Keep in mind that even as I had this thought, I was wheezing and gasping near the back of the pack. Hope does not disappoint, Paul says (Romans 5:5).

And here’s the hopeful thing about running.  Running is the only sport where every person at the starting line could win. I don’t just mean everyone has the potential to win.  I mean everyone can actually win.  Simultaneously.

I realize only one person crosses the finish line first. And when the summer Olympics roll around there will only be one gold and one silver and one bronze. But the very heart and soul of running is not about besting the other guy; it’s about besting yourself. Running is about stretching, growing, pushing, improving. It’s about hitting that next personal record. Every other sport has a winner and a loser.  In other sports, even in the friendliest just-for-fun matches, one team can win only if the other team loses.

Not so with running.

One of the unexpected things I love about running with a group is the opportunity to cheer each other on. We each have different goals, but every week we all start out, and every week we all cross the finish line. It doesn’t matter who crosses first or second or last. Every week we are improving . We laugh in amazement, “I remember when I couldn’t even…”

There are no losers here.

Perhaps Paul knew what he was doing when he compared faith to running a race. After all, Jesus Christ came so that whoever believes in Him  – not just the ones who believe first or strongest or best, but whoever believes! – might not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).

 God wants all of us to win the faith race. This does not mean it is easy. Paul even says, Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it (1 Corinthians 9:24). In other words, every one of us should train as though we are going for the gold, even though our true goal is far more valuable than that. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable (1 Corinthians 9:25).

In this race we are running, we all have obstacles to overcome. Each of our races may be different, but the Bible tells us how we are to face them.  We are to run with endurance (Hebrews 12:1).  We are to run looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). And just like with my running group, we are to consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together…but encouraging one another… (Hebrews 10:24-25).

In this competitive world, it is very easy to fall into the trap of thinking someone else must lose in order for us to win. If we stop to think about it, we will suddenly realize we are actually all on the same team. The route ahead may look hard, but with Jesus as our Coach and God’s Word as our training manual, we can run our race knowing that every one of us will make it across that finish line.

High fives all around, my friends. And let’s keep running.

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me, but also to all who have loved his appearing (2 Timothy 4:7-8).

Consistency

Here’s something runners know that I have recently come to know too:  Consistency matters.

When it comes to running, consistency has never been my forte.  Before my trainer-friend got ahold of me, I’d run when I felt like it.  My progress was spotty because my running was spotty.  It took me more than a year to run a mile, and even then I was never sure if I could do it again.

Now, I run three days a week because my trainer-friend makes me.  (Accountability is a good thing.)  Twice a week I run with the training group and once a week I run on my own.  The other week I ran two miles.  Twice.  And that’s the amazing part.  Not that I did it, but that I did it more than once.  And as one of our running mentors shouted out the first mile, I thought “A mile is easy now.”  The amazing part to me is not so much that I can run a mile; it’s that I know I could do it again.

At a recent group run, my trainer-friend admonished us to not give up on our solo runs.  “Even if you can only get out the door for 10 minutes,” she said, “make sure you do it.  That extra day of running will make your long runs more manageable and your short runs feel awesome.”

Awesome. I don’t know about you, but I like to feel awesome.  And I find her words to be true.  I have made more progress in 5 weeks of consistent effort than I did in more than a year of inconsistency. Which says a lot for the power of consistency.

When I think of habits, I often think of bad ones. But habits can also be good.  They can be pillars in our life that give us structure, forward momentum, hope. And when our lives get turned upside down, it is the strength of our habits that give us footholds to find our way back.

The question I need to ask myself is what habits do I want guiding my life?  And if one of those habits is my relationship with God, what am I doing about it right now? How consistent am I in reading my Bible, journaling, spending time in prayer, sitting quietly, attending Bible studies, attending church services… No, there aren’t enough hours in the day to do all of it all of the time, but there is always enough time to do some of it consistently.  We need to take one small step and commit to it.  A weekly meeting, a weekly reading, a weekly teaching scheduled into our routine.  We need to establish a level of accountability – a trainer-friend to ask if we’re following our schedule or a small group that meets regularly.

I’ve come to learn that it doesn’t matter how fast or how hard or how far I run on any given day.  Most days it’s not very far, and it’s definitely not very fast.  What matters is that I get up and do it.  And then I do it again.

The same is true for our relationship with God.  It’s not enough for us to meet with Him sporadically.  Pray without ceasing, Paul wrote (1 Thessalonians 5:17).  Do not give up meeting together, Hebrews says (10:25). Like a runner’s endurance, relationships grow slowly, over time. And like consistent running, consistently meeting with God prepares us for the race ahead.  Indeed, consistency in our relationship with God makes the hard stretches of life’s run more manageable, and the good stretches feel downright awesome.

Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint (Isaiah 40:30-31).

How I Love Thee, Indoor Treadmill

Top Ten Reasons why running on a treadmill is better than my trainer-friend says:

10) It’s warm.  Actually it’s a little too warm, which can be problematic, but…

9)   I can roll out of bed and onto the treadmill without having to put on 18 layers of moisture-wicking thermal insulation.  This saves both time and laundry.  Win-win!

8)   Springy pavement.  Is it my imagination, or is running on treadmills way easier on your shins?  I am also discovering that I tend to run more on my toes on a treadmill.  No idea why, or if it will last.

7)   Mirrors.  Okay, so this could be a blessing or a curse.  You’re probably supposed to do something constructive like look at your running form, but I prefer to make faces at myself and give thumbs up to all the other runners in the mirror, namely, me.

6)   Fancy gadgets, like heart monitors.  I haven’t actually used the fancy gadgets (I have such a high resting heart rate I’m afraid my running heart rate would probably set off an alarm), but just looking at them makes me feel high tech.

5)   Calorie counter.  Let’s me know how many extra Twinkies I should pack in my lunch.  I need to make a suggestion to the manufacturer, though, that it would be much more motivational to remove the numbers and simply announce things like, “Congratulations, you just earned yourself three slices of pizza and a pint of Ben & Jerry’s!  One more mile, and you also get a chocolate bar!”

4)   Digital timer.  Perfect for tracking my run-walk intervals.  Assuming I’m paying attention, which sometimes I do.

3)   Digital Pedometer.  Seriously, how can you not love the tick, tick, tick as the numbers go by?  And when I reach my distance, the stop button brings everything to an instantaneous halt.  Because really, why take one more step than you have to?

2)   Buttons. Oh, buttons!  Who could ever get bored on a treadmill with so many buttons to push?  My favorite is the speed control. Ha ha ha, look at me, I’m running 10 mph!  (Okay, so that actually didn’t happen, but the point is, it could.)  There’s also the incline button (I pushed that button once.  Won’t do that again.)  And all the fancy program buttons that I’m still too scared to touch because some of the pictograms next to them look like I might get ejected off the back of the treadmill.  If you hear a crash from the fitness center, you’ll know I pushed the wrong one.

1)   My trainer-friend said treadmills are not fun, and every once in a while I have this incontrovertible stubbornness that makes me see for myself just how bad… Wait a minute…  Was this a trick?

Fools think their own way is right, but the wise listen to advice (Proverbs 12:15).

The Day I Discovered the Treadmill

The day I discovered the treadmill was cold and snowy and – did I mention cold?

The story begins something like this: On any given day, I would much rather lament my running incapacity than to do something productive to remedy it.  Every once in a while I do something advisable (recall Exhibit A).  But more often, I do not. (Notice there is only one Exhibit A.)

Secretly, I want to be a runner.  But running is intimidating.  To be a runner you have to – how should I put this?  To be a runner you have to… run.  Regularly.  And regularly is not something I do well.

Then it happened.  In a moment of weakness I succumbed to a friend’s request to come to an informational meeting about a training session she was starting.

“Just come to the meeting,” she said.  “You don’t have to actually join.”

“Will there be punch and cookies?”  I asked.

Unfortunately, I happened to be available the night of the meeting.  And while I didn’t really expect there to be cookies, there was always the chance…

So I went.

That’s all it took.  Which, of course, my trainer-friend knew all along.  Because as any good trainer knows, just getting to the starting line is the hardest part.  What my friend didn’t know is that for the last couple weeks I had been looking for an outlet to blow off the steam of a 10-hour-a-day desk job.  I had been coming up empty.  This is the door God opened.  Sigh.

I signed my form.  I paid my fee.  Okay then, let’s do this thing.

By the day of our first group run, I was pumped.  I had new running shoes and had cobbled together assorted pieces of hiking/exercise clothing that I thought could withstand a foray into this new and exciting world.  Then the run got cancelled.  They do that if it’s less than 0°F.  Wimps.  (Just kidding, trainer-friend!  I don’t actually want to run through snowdrifts at -20°…)

This is where it is either an amazing benefit or a curse to have your trainer also be your friend.  Because just when I was pretty sure I’d be walking my dog instead of going for a run, I got a message.

“I’ll meet you at the treadmill and help you with your run,” she said.

The Treadmill. (It would not be melodramatic to add Dah Dah-Dah music here.)

Up to this point, I had been on a treadmill exactly once in my life: three days prior in the running store where they were taking exotic measurements to match me to the perfect shoes.  I knew nothing about treadmills except that my trainer-friend had recently lamented she would rather eat dinner with rusted silverware than run long distances on a treadmill.  (Of course, her definition of running long distances and my definition of running long distances are a little bit different…)  The fact that she was willing to coerce me onto the treadmill proves that a) she is a good trainer, b) she is a good friend, and c) I was going to run on a treadmill.

In the end, our schedules did not line up, and I ventured to the treadmill solo.  But here’s the thing.  Even though I had walked by the fitness center in my apartment complex hundreds of times, the fact that I had easy access to a treadmill never even entered my mind until my trainer-friend pointedly brought it to my attention.  I had never thought about treadmills before, and so I didn’t think of them now.  The game had changed, but I was still in my old mind-set.

How many times do we start something new but carry with us old patterns of thought?  Sometimes, even when we know something (I had walked by that treadmill hundreds of times!), we still need someone to point it out to us.  Paul exclaims excitedly that the old has passed away and the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17), but this is not always an instantaneous transformation.  Whether we’re talking about a physical run or our spiritual walk, we need the willingness of someone to come alongside us and give us that extra push.  We need one another to try new things, to be challenged, and to grow.  We need one another to lean on, to learn from, to follow and to lead.

God bless the gift of encouragement.

 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.  Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching (Hebrews 10:24-25).