When my husband and I left for our honeymoon in 2018, we drove from Seattle, Washington down to Sonoma County, California. We spent a beautiful week in a small bed and breakfast in the middle of wine country. While on our drive, we stopped in Northern California to visit with some church friends of my husband in McKinleyville.
I had never been to California at this point in my life, so I was very excited for our drive down the West Coast. Northern California, where we stopped, is full of curvy roads, small towns, and the biggest trees I have ever seen. The beautiful Redwood forests we drove through were spectacular. Trees so tall you couldn’t really see the sky. Bigger around the trunk than you can wrap your arms around twice. Deep rich colors of brown and green.
While we were driving, we saw a tree that had fallen over and some of the roots had come with it. They were long and strong. It made me think about how they had to sink deep into the ground to be able to support the tree and it had to be healthy and strong to nourish such a large tree.
We hear the word root all the time in our life. My husband and I talk about how we are excited to finally plant our roots here in Missouri, meaning we have a plan to stay here long term. We hear about roots when people talk about gardening or when they talk about their family history. We see the idea of roots in the Bible as well.
This passage has been sitting on my heart for the last few weeks and I wanted to explore it a little bit deeper with you readers.
Ephesians 3:16-21 states, “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love may have power, together with the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ. And to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”
There is so much to unpack in this. The author of this letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul, is writing down his prayer for the believers there. The first time I really sat down with this passage, the phrase “being rooted and established in love” stood out to me. It made me pause and think to myself, where are the roots in my life? Where are my roots planted and getting nourishment from? What is that nourishment bearing in fruit in my life?
Our roots should be established in Jesus Christ. When our life is rooted in our faith in Him, love is the fruit that is produced. Paul writes in Galatians that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. When we have a life that flows from the nourishment of faith, we can start to see how wide and long and high and deep the father’s love is for us, and for all people.
A sacrificial kind of love that went all the way to the cross. A love that washes other’s feet. A love that heals the sick, blind, and lame. A love that forgives. A love that saves. A love that restores and nourishes the soul. A love that conquered the grave. A love that left a tomb empty because our Savior was alive. That’s how wide and long and high and deep our God’s love is for us. It’s a love that is life giving.
This brings to mind the hymn titled The Church’s one Foundation in which the first verse says, “The church’s one foundation Is Jesus Christ, our Lord; We are a new creation By water and the Word. From heav’n he came and taught us What perfect love can be; Through life and death he sought us, And rose to set us free.”
Wherever you are today, whether you have roots as deep as a Redwood in the California forests or you are as new as fresh planted tree, know this. God’s Word is the nourishment for your soul. Keep your roots established in Him and see the fruit that comes from it. This doesn’t mean that life is going to be easy, but it means we will have an unshakable foundation to which we can live and move and have our being. From that solid foundation we can then support the body of believers with love, service, and grace. God is good, friends. Plant your roots with Him.
I’m standing in our new kitchen, drinking a cup of coffee, and typing on our island counter as I look around at the sea of boxes. The office in the basement isn’t set up yet. Our bedroom is a mess. The number of boxes needed to be unpacked seems to grow by the day. It’s a little overwhelming, while at the same time exciting. We bought our first house. In this housing market, it was only by God’s hand that our offer was accepted. Every time I look around, I am grateful to God that He has given us this space for us to call home.
As soon as the ink dried on, what seems like, the thousands of papers you sign to buy a house, I was ready to walk in and start making it our home. Visions of dinner parties, wine nights, children running around the backyard as Phil and I sit out on our back patio filled my mind for weeks while we waited for our closing date. The reality is a little less glitz and glamour. Every unpacked box we sift through and unpack we find ourselves asking, “Do we really have this much stuff?”
We had new couches delivered the day before we moved in. I can’t tell you how exciting that was for me. I think that’s when you become an adult – when you’re excited about big furniture purchases. Again, I imagined hosting friends, having long conversations hanging out in our living room. Truly, if I could host people at our place every day I probably would because I love the feel of the living room.
But, there’s a difference between hosting a party and hosting your best friends, right? When we host a party we clean the house, we sweep the pile of clothes or laundry basket into the closet and shut the door. We tend to make all our furniture neat with pillows placed in exactly the right spots. We have food platters, cheese and sausage boards, and drinks nicely displayed on the counters waiting for people to come. More than likely we are dressed in our better clothing. We want the appearance of being organized, tidy, and fun.
When I host my best friends it’s completely different. They don’t need an invitation. My best friends can come over whenever and don’t even need to knock on our door. They come right in. They see the mess of toys on the floor from our kids. They see the piles of laundry that need to be done, or are done, but haven’t been folded yet. They can grab food and drink out of the refrigerator and do not need me to set it out for them. When we host best friends, there’s no need to put on anything for special for them because they know us deeply and love us in all the mess of life. Both literal mess and figurative mess.
The same is true with God. Our lives are messy because we are sinful people.
Have you ever heard someone say that they can’t go to church because they’ve done too many bad things for God to forgive them? Have you heard someone say that God is mad at them?
Have you heard someone say they feel as though they’re not put together enough to come to church?
I have heard it many times from many people, It breaks my heart in two each time. I want to shout from the rooftops, “There is nothing too big for God to forgive and help you through!” And yet, even as a life-long Christian, there are times when I feel like I need to put on a mask to walk in the door at church. There are times when I water things down for God because I feel as though he will be ashamed of how I acted. Those are the days when I place a strained smile on my face and walk through the doors. Those are the days I push everything I’m struggling with aside as I talk with a friend from church and answer, “I’m good” when they ask me how I am.
Have you been there too?
Maybe you’ve been fighting with your family on the way to church and then walk into the building with everyone thinking that you all have it together. Maybe you’ve been away from the church for a long time because you felt the sin you’ve been struggling with over and over needs to be gone before you can go back.
Friends, the church is not for perfect people. It’s for the broken. It’s for the lost. It’s for the heartbroken and needy. It’s for the lonely.
The church is the family on earth God has given us to rally each other, love each other, hold each other up.
The church is a place to come as you are because we’ve all got sin. We’ve all got baggage. And Jesus invites us to come, confess, be forgiven, and be given his grace and mercy. Matthew 11:28-30 says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Jesus wants your piles of mess. Just as you would let your best friend come into your house and see the dirt, laundry, dishes, boxes…Jesus knows and sees all your mess too. And he invites you to come and rest with him. He wants those long conversations. He wants you to rest in His Word and in His promises. He’s done all the work already on the cross and in his resurrection.
The church, at it’s best, is the place you come to and know you don’t have to sweep your mess into the drawers and closet. No. It’s the place where we come to be given the gifts of God and to be supported by our family. That support might look like a meal for someone who is sick. That support might mean helping hold someone accountable. That support might look like babysitting for an overwhelmed mom in need of a break. That support could be listening to someone who needs to share how they really are doing and not just answer with another, “I’m good. You?”
The church is so very beautiful when done this way. The gifts we are given in baptism and communion. The grace we are given in confession and absolution. The support we given in the fellowship of people. It’s all meant to show the glory and love of God. There is no good enough to be there. There is no need to wait until you’ve got it all together.
If you haven’t been back to church in while. I invite you to go back. To return to the love of the Father’s house.
During the homecoming weekend of my sophomore year in college, a group of men in their early thirties asked if I would let them onto the freshman girls’ floor of which I was Resident Assistant. After obtaining permission from my director, I let them walk around, cautiously listening from my room to their conversation. They loudly reminisced about stupid things they’d done during their college years on that floor (many of which involved bodily fluids). I was annoyed and couldn’t wait for this strange encounter to end. But, after all, they were old.
This summer my husband and I took our three children back to the same Alma Mater for a quick walk around (it only takes up a square mile) to reminisce and explore the outdoor changes. We couldn’t go indoors (thanks, COVID) but still got to walk our children by the frisbee field, chapel, and the bell tower where we shared our first kiss. Our stories were a little less risque than the guys who tromped onto my freshman girls’ floor, but I realized as we walked away from the campus: we are now the “old” ones. Yet much to the chagrin of my nineteen-year-old self, I am ok with that.
Age is, of course, relative. Some might consider my husband and me to be young, barely having crossed the bridge into our thirties. As my children grow older and enter elementary school, however, I feel distanced from young parents bringing home their first newborn, tired-eyed and unsure.
The western society in which I live glorifies youth. We put serums on our eyes and work our bodies to hide the signs of gravity. We consider it a compliment to be told, “You look like you’re just out of high school!” forgetting that no amount of filters or botox can change that each morning we wake up a little bit older.
In contrast to a youth-obsessed culture, however, Proverbs 20:29 reads, “The glory of young men is their [physical] strength, and the honor of aged men is their gray head [representing wisdom and experience]” (Amplified Bible).
We are all somewhere on the line between that first gulp of air and our last, quiet one. We don’t know the scope or sequence of our days, but we can lay our lives into the care and trust of the one who created us, simply living each day to the fullest. As I grow older, I am trying to surround myself with the women who see aging as a blessing. Women who embrace each season with its different gifts and challenges, and from whom wisdom seems to fall like leaves in autumn. Although we may lose our strength, or find it more difficult to maintain, with each passing day, we can glorify God with our minds by sharing where our life experience meets his scriptures.
In this in-between time of youth and age, I am also learning to embrace God’s unique gifting to me. For example, in my early twenties, I strived to be an extrovert, believing that constantly surrounding myself with people would be the only way to gain friends and have a meaningful life. However, more time on earth and more interactions with wise mentors gives me the confidence to embrace my love for people while acknowledging my need for quiet reflection. An evening of journaling and reading leaves me more energized than a night out with friends. I still enjoy the night out with friends – I just need a little recovery time. I am so thankful for the wisdom, and subsequent peace age has brought me.
What has aging taught you about yourself? If you’re a list maker, I encourage you to sit down with a blank pad of paper and your favorite writing utensil. If you’re a verbal processor, take a great listener for a walk. If you’re a deep thinker, find a lake to sit by as you ponder. What strength do you have right now as a result of your youth? What wisdom do you have as a result of your age? What does the balance tell you about where you are on your earthly journey, and how can you glorify God through your current place?
Heavenly Father, we thank you for our time on earth. Please give us the peace to accept where we are currently and the wisdom to embrace our future. Thank you that Jesus Christ walked in our mortal shoes, feeling the weight of a perishing body, giving up his life so we can spend eternity with you. May we bring you glory in every phase and every age. Amen
Last summer we grew our first garden. My sweet husband built a couple of small raised beds in the sunniest, most out-of-the-way-of-rambunctious-children spot of our yard and filled it with rich midwest dirt. We took it easy: one basil plant, four cherry tomato plants, four Roma tomato plants, and two cucumber vines. This little garden produced enough to keep us busy eating, weeding, pickling, and watering.
Then this spring, in full Molly form, I decided small success meant I could grow by leaps and bounds (despite the fact that we did not add any square footage). My unrealistic expectations were exacerbated by the ample seedlings available at the local greenhouse, and we returned with three different tomato varieties (with multiple plants of each), two serrano pepper plants, cilantro, two basil plants, three cucumber vines, and four watermelon vines. Did I mention that we still intended to use only the original two beds?
When we placed the tiny little plants in the garden, everything looked neat, even, and promising. I felt proud of my spacing and planning thinking, I’m providing for my family! I’m basically a homesteader. However, as the summer heat grew, so did the plants. The tomatoes, overcrowded, developed a leaf fungus from the lack of airflow which destroyed the foliage and produced far fewer tomatoes than we hoped. Right after planting, the first trimester of pregnancy hit full force, and I did not find time or energy to trellis the cucumbers, leaving nowhere for the vines to grow. The watermelon vines tangled with the cucumbers and often we wouldn’t find the produce until too large and bitter to be of use.
By late summer, except for inconsistent watering, I avoided the garden. Disappointed and overwhelmed by the amount of work to be done, I simply picked and watered where needed and shielded my eyes from the chaos. The yellow-spotted leaves on the tomatoes looked hideous and vines creeped everywhere possible. Ashamed of my choices, I avoided acknowledgment and care.
Until last week. I armed myself for battle, donning mosquito spray, a five-gallon weed bucket, and a trowel. I pulled off every fungus-infected leaf, leaving the few good ones on the plant to collect sunlight. I removed three non-producing plants, leaving more room for the surviving ones to spread out, and weeded the space around and underneath. I still have more work to do, but the garden no longer looks as hideous, and the remaining plants seem grateful.
As summer freedom turns to fall rhythm, I’ve realized how much my garden reflects my life. Afraid of insignificance, I committed to too much. I made promises to countless friends and family members. I told myself I would write more and start building a career. I looked up new recipes and planned countless adventures with my children. Outwardly we were busy and efficient, but inwardly my mind became crowded with weeds.
The more tired and overwhelmed I felt, the more I compared myself with others and came up short every time (ironically prompting me to do more and commit to more).
How is your heart in this transitional season? Are you seeking significance? Do you say yes because you’re afraid of the consequences if you say no? Do you want to be everyone’s friend and confidante? If you nodded along to any of these I empathize with you deeply. We strive so hard, sewing patches haphazardly onto our vests. When we look over our shoulder it seems everyone else has more patches than we, but instead of the panicked look in their eyes, they’re in a happy little circle, laughing and enjoying one another’s company. We start to reflect the J. R. R. Tolkein quote, “I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.”
Paul writes of feeling stretched, convicted by his own striving in Philippians 3. By all outward appearances, Paul had it together. His garden was the picture of pedigreed heirloom plants, all neatly ordered in well-manicured rows. However, even though his social media accounts would have boasted #nofilter and #blessed, he writes,
“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him”
This past week, after the relief I felt from cleaning out my garden I realized I needed to clean out my heart, too. Over and over I’d heard God’s nudging, telling me to lay down my ambitions, to recognize him as sovereign and holy, to see my own brokenness, to recognize that I cannot do it anything by my own strength. I asked God to reveal to me where my own selfish desires were crowding the good he had planned for me and waited.
Usually, I write these posts after I’ve learned the lesson and changed my ways, but today I’m drawing you into the weeding and pruning. I am saying no, I am laying down perfection, but I am not yet harvesting the fruit of this process. I am still waiting for God’s divine trowel to wrestle the weeds and overgrowth away. If you feel thin and stretched, overgrown or overcrowded, please join me in the blessed relief of letting go.
Heavenly Father, we know that striving is not wrong. You call us to say our best yes and to divine work. However, sometimes we strive too hard and say too many yeses instead of finding our fullness in you. Remind us that we do not have to work to receive the blessed gift of your son, Jesus Christ. Weed out our “too much” and replace it with your peace. May we always be found in Christ.
I am honored to introduce Emily Schatz to the campfire this week! Emily and I attended the same University (THE Concordia University Chicago), and I was always struck by her calm cool and devotion to the Lord no matter what life threw her way. Today, she is an incredible mom to two gorgeous girls and devoted mentor to many youth. Emily is truly a woman seeking to see and share God’s heart. Please enjoy her heartfelt words today, and may they encourage you as you live in your season.
A Season of Change
Our family has had many changes in the last four months. These changes include leaving my job, relocating our family from Colorado to Missouri, and moving in with my parents. Then I started a new job, and to add even more change, now our family is getting ready to close on our first house. Change is inevitable. We find it everywhere. We find it in every season of our lives.
Sometimes change is hard.
Sometimes change is needed.
Sometimes change is God’s grace disguised.
Sometimes change is welcomed with open arms.
Moving back to my childhood home in Missouri has felt like an extended vacation. I have lived far away from my parents for years working as a Director of Christian Education. (For those that don’t know, a Director of Christian Education is a Lutheran church work position that handles all aspects of Lutheran education in the church for all ages. Typically, many will work in youth ministry, but DCEs are a jack of all trades.) I have worked in the suburbs of Seattle, Washington and the Denver Area of Colorado, so it’s been a while since my Midwest heart has been home for any longer than a week at a time.
To be honest, it was a bit scary. My husband and I felt the pull to move back home for many reasons, but the desire to be close to be family was top of the list. This momma wanted to be by her support team. But, any big move is a massive leap of faith. What will my husband do for work? Where will we live? Can we make it work so I can stay home with our girls? All these questions arose. So, my husband and I prayed. We prayed for an opportunity to come home. And we waited for what seemed like ages. When we visited our family in St. Louis for Christmas, there was no doubt in our minds. It was time to come home.
“God will provide.” My husband told me. God gave me a good one, this husband of mine. Always reminding me when I try to do things myself to lean on the Lord.
When we headed back to Colorado, we started to take steps to see if we could really do this. My husband’s job offered him the opportunity to work remotely from Missouri. I told my job I was leaving, and we sold our condo. Good Friday morning we headed out in the moving truck and headed toward the sunrise.
Honestly, after we moved there were weeks wondering if I would ever take another job working in a church or to even have that opportunity come up in the St. Louis area. The Lord heard many prayers from me asking what was the point? Am I supposed to be doing this youth ministry thing, because right then, I wasn’t so sure. Then, like God does, he answered my doubts with faithfulness, tender love, merciful grace, and reassurance.
Two doors opened for me to go back into youth ministry. Truthfully, I wasn’t sure how I felt about jumping back in so soon. I was enjoying being a stay-at-home momma. I had been weary and I was just starting to feel restored.
When we walked into my current church for a site visit, both my husband and I felt filled with peace that could only have come from the Holy Spirit. I clicked with the staff. I was excited about the vision the Pastors had for the church’s ministry. I hadn’t felt this excited about church in a while. After taking some time to really discern God’s will for our family, I accepted the position of Director of High School and Young Adult Ministry with this church. It’s been the most refreshing change I’ve experienced in years. Even through my doubt and being afraid to take another chance, God showed up, faithful as always.
All these changes have been full of up and down emotions. Yet, we’ve seen God’s hand in every single moment. In the low points, it’s not always easy to see why we go through certain seasons. Now looking back, we can thank the Lord for every moment that He showed our family His generosity, His love, His forgiveness, and His unchanging faithfulness.
God has placed a verse on my heart for the last few weeks as I’ve reflected on all these changes. Lamentations 3:22-23 says, “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Those words ring in my mind and soul as I’ve begun this new chapter in my new church.
There is a piece of fabric that I have entwined around a cross that sits on my desk at work next to my computer.
Last week as I was sitting at my desk working on plans for the upcoming months, the fabric caught my eye. You see this strip of fabric has been with me from the beginning of my time as a DCE. The day I received my first internship placement this fabric was part of a larger piece. As it was prayed over, a strip was pulled off for each DCE in my class. Every time I see it I am reminded of God’s unchanging faithfulness in my life. He’s been with me through each job change, through each move, through each up and down life has brought me. Looking at the fabric wrapped around the cross reminds me how I want my entire life to point back to my savior. Things like how I act, what I say, how I serve others, how I parent, and how I disciple my students; I want all these things to point to the one who restored my soul. The one who rescued me from sin and death and instead, through the waters of baptism, gave me faith and eternal life.
You see our Lord doesn’t just sit up in heaven and ignore us. He is active in our daily lives. He is with us through every moment. Grieving with those who cry. Dancing with those in joy. The Holy Spirit is a comforter for the heavy hearted and a cheerleader to those who spread God’s gospel message. Jesus is for all. He is active in baptism and through the Lord’s supper. Those means of grace give us a glimpse of the joy of heaven.
You will face many changes in this life, but you will face them with a God who never changes. He is always with you. He hears your prayers and God is always faithful.
Rest in the truth of the unchanging faithfulness of our risen Lord Jesus today.
May the peace that passes all understanding be upon you in whatever change you find yourself facing today. Bring that change to God and know that he is with you through it all.
Halfway through an eight-miler, our feet crunching the gravel roads, my running partner pointed out that although a mile out of town, we could still see our church’s steeple. “I like to see how far away I can get and still catch a glimpse of it poking out above the trees,” she continued. St. Pauls’ Germanic steeple towers above almost everything else in town, gently giving dimension to the skyline. It’s a good thing Victoria is a distance runner, because we have to get pretty far away from town to no longer turn and witness its beauty.
Many, many years ago, according to Business Insider, runners “would often race each other from one town’s church steeple to the next. The steeples were chosen because they were easy to see from long distances…The countryside would also require runners to jump over various barriers over the course of their race. These included stone walls and small rivers.”
Modern track and field competitions modernized this race by using hurdles to simulate the walls and a water pit for the creeks and rivers, naming it “Steeplechase.”
Although I never competed in track and field, I often engage in my own steeple game. Running through life, I get stuck in a path of self-pity or selfish pursuit. How long can I pound down this pavement of self-pity and selfish ambition while still peeking back and seeing the steeple? I can always stop and run back, I tell myself, I’m not that far gone yet…my self-righteousness must not be too bad if the steeple is still in view behind me.
Yesterday I read Psalm 25. A beautiful prayer, which I encourage you to digest in entirety, but I want to highlight a few sections specifically.
David pleads in verse four, “Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your path” and then in verse ten recognizes, “All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.” In contrast to my own selfish plans, God’s ways are full of love and commitment.
But praise be to God we are not left alone to right our footsteps: “The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant. My eyes are ever toward the Lord, for he will pluck my feet out of the net.” We are promised that our sins are already forgiven through Christ’s work on the cross, and we are given the Holy Spirit as a helper when we are caught in the path of self-centeredness. What a gift!
If you run through Concordia, be sure to look for the steeple and remember the steadfast promise waiting for you in love.
I am excited to introduce Nancy Gowen to the campfire community. My (Molly’s) writing teacher, mentor, and mom! Thank you for sharing your gift of words with us today and welcome the the Campfire.
The silence was deafening. All that deep quiet, intending to give a sense of peace and tranquility, nearly exploded in my head and made sleep elusive. The mountain was dark and the cabin completely void of noise, but I was not calmed by it. I finally got out of bed and put in my earbuds to listen to a podcast to drown the quiet.
A combination of life events evidently caused tinnitus, a constant whoosh of noise in my left ear. I’ve had it for years and it is hardly perceptible until I listen for it, or I am in a noticeably quiet place. Being in that much quiet was painful.
Thinking back on that situation makes me wonder about the noise we “hear.” Is it background noise or is it disruptive? What is that hum, barely noticed in the milieu of life? Are we tuned in to the noise of the daily or have we learned to ignore it? I remember the long-long-short-long whistle of the trains behind my childhood home, the constant buzz of cicadas in summer while living in a farming community, military aircraft practicing over the house and whining sirens from first responders coming into and leaving the hospital across the street. Have you had similar sound experiences that you have become accustomed to?
The ear doctor told me that I had better hearing than most of his patients, which seems kind of paradoxical. With constant distraction, do I really hear that well? Apparently, the noise is superficial, or perhaps my brain has accommodated for it. Rather than lament its annoyance, what can I learn from this noise?
Elijah heard sounds that seemed to carry God’s signature, but it was the still small voice that spoke His word. Here is Elijah, waiting on God to speak, and God used a quiet noise to get his attention. (I Kings 19:11-13)
Jonah had to be swallowed to hear God’s voice. Noah and Abraham waited years to hear the plan. Jeremiah couldn’t hear God for all of his complaining.
Henri Nouwen wrote many books about prayer and in most of his books, he connects prayer with quiet listening. He suggested that in order to really hear God, a closet was a good place to start (and this was 25 years before War Room was published!). Nouwen writes, “the real ‘work’ of prayer is to become silent and listen to the voice…” (Life of the Beloved) He also understood that we are easily distracted people. Have you ever prayed the Lord’s Prayer all the way through without losing concentration? To stay focused, Nouwen recommended repeating a short Bible passage repeatedly, perhaps 2-5 words long. With practice, we learn to hear what God is saying. I want my whooshing ear to be the silencer of other background noise, or maybe to hear that background better. Maybe that’s the Voice. Maybe I just need to talk less and listen more. Maybe it is time to find a good closet.
On March 6th, 2021 I ran 18.6 miles. No, it’s not a new fad race distance; it was my birthday party.
The idea began with an innocent conversation at the breakfast table. “What was that race I did with you mommy?” my oldest asked.
“You ran a 5K, sweetie,” I responded while spooning scrambled eggs onto the baby’s tray.
“Oh, yeah, because I’m five. Next year I’ll run a 6K,” he responded. I acknowledged his idea with a smile and went back to my steaming cup of coffee.
An hour later, I stepped out into the clear, 65-degree morning for a quick two-miler. As my feet crunched gravel on country roads I mulled over conversations from the past week: acknowledging the fragility of life, lamenting current events, naming personal disappointments and sorrows. My heart ached for circumstances out of my control. I needed to remember the purpose of striving.
My son’s words echoed in my head, and I wondered: could I run a 30k on my 30th birthday? If I could conquer this somewhat crazy goal, and God used my efforts for his glory, then maybe even one person could find hope to conquer their own challenge.
Later that day, I started looking into my crazy idea. I had about six months before I hit my next decade which, according to most training plans on the interwebs, was plenty of time for a decently in-shape mom to get off the couch and get in some Ks.
If you read the first sentence of this blog post, you already know I completed my goal (so much for suspense).
And while I don’t want to diminish the incredible feeling of crossing the (imaginary) finish line, the time spent training is where God worked in my heart, bringing me to my knees and lifting me into his care. I journaled throughout my experience and, through reflection, compiled the top 30 things I learned. Just kidding, no one has time for that. Here are my top six wisdoms-in-progress:
About a week into my training I told my longtime and very dear friend about my goal. She frequently checked in and always spoke kindness and encouragement over me despite my roller coaster of self-doubt (which probably got pretty old pretty quick). Although she lives several hours away, she surprised me at mile ten on race day, and at mile fourteen, Melissa laced up her running shoes and inspired me through the last 4.6. Through her generous spirit, I realized that no matter how big or small a goal might be, we need to open up to one (or several) people. It will be hard. It will push us to actually follow through on what we say. I promise it will be worth it.
Find a tribe
In February 2020 I was six months postpartum with my third baby and hadn’t run consistently since becoming a parent six years ago. When my across-the-street neighbor learned of my pre-child marathon days, she invited me into their weekly running group. Although intimidated by marathon running mothers, I nervously laced up my Brooks and walked across the Trail of Memories one Saturday. They did not laugh when I stopped at three miles, and the community running eventually pushed me to five, and then eight. When I shared my 30k by 30 plan, once again no one laughed, and Victoria even chirped, “I’d love to train for and run it with you!” (she did!) They told funny stories during hard miles, offered their own equipment as a loaner until I could get my own, and opened up their homes for post-run celebrations. (While a tribe can be any group of like-minded people: a mom’s Bible study, a church community group, a book club, or a softball team, I realize that finding an in-person tribe can be difficult right now. Our running club met outside year-round and is a naturally socially distant activity, but don’t give up if your only tribe options are online… see my next point)
No step is too small.
The other day I had an opportunity to run for fifteen minutes. Pre 30k, I would have turned up my nose, whined that I didn’t have more time, and served iced coffee and chocolate at my pity party. While training, I realized even walking my kids to school instead of driving built muscle, perseverance, and desire for more: a domino effect that ultimately helped me accomplish a big goal.
The town where I live is only 1.78 square miles, so during distance runs, I got to know the neighborhoods very well. I recognized new paint jobs, flourishing gardens, and where extra prayer might be needed. Now, as I walk my children to school or enjoy an afternoon run, my eyes are looking for opportunities to pray and praise.
At the advice of my running group, I purchased running “gadgets,” and my body thanked me for proper nutrition, hydration, and a muscle roller. Investing in the care of my body meant I was better able to serve my family and friends as well as enjoy the training.
Rely on God
In the last weeks of training, I continually fought the fear of not finishing. What if I let all these people down? What if I got injured? I relearned the beauty of casting my burdens and fears on the Lord, taking them to him in prayer and resting in his promises. “Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; But we trust in the name of the LORD our God” (Psalm 20:7)
This January my husband and I made lists of achievable, yet challenging, goals that would push us beyond our limits in a good way. I loved the process and I am seeing progress.
One of my goals is to bring more joy and slower satisfaction to my morning by using my french press daily (instead of the Mr. Coffee percolator). On quiet mornings I clean out the previous grounds and measure in the days’ coffee while waiting for the water to boil on the stove: a slow and awakening process. Ideally, with a fresh steaming cup of joe, I sit down at the kitchen table to read scripture and journal for thirty minutes before the children amble down the hallway, hungry and talkative.
Midway through January, my toddler set her internal alarm clock to 4:45 a.m., turning my gentle mornings into groggy automation. Like poorly placed dominoes, my first actions of the day clinked haphazardly instead of creating beautiful ordered patterns.
The downward spiral leached into other parts of life as well, and my goals and dreams suddenly felt bossy and restrictive: run more, screen less, read more, shop less, listen more, talk less, be more aware, whine less, wake up earlier, complain less, play more, be less distracted. Although worthy strivings, the breathe-in in breathe-out script started to feel as overwhelming as groggy trips to the refrigerator and halfheartedly wiping smeared banana off the wood floors.
My ache for caffeine still throbs in chaos, and stubbornly I refused to put Mr. Coffee back on the counter, so the morning coffee routine survived.
Eventually, our mornings evened back out, but it wasn’t until then that I realized the gift of fresh air. It isn’t an inductive Bible quiet time, a three-mile run, or a sun salutation yoga routine. It’s two minutes tops of stepping outside in my pajamas and unceremoniously dumping coffee grounds onto next spring’s flower bed with unbrushed hair and half-open eyes. But, I inhale deeply of the fresh morning air and praise God for the goodness of a new day, a tiny bit refreshed and ready to return to the madness. It’s not perfect and it’s not a magic pill. It’s a gift that I embrace wholeheartedly.
This is free grace. An unexpected grace. I didn’t research the importance of fresh air in the morning and budget time out of my day to make it happen. I simply realized I liked the taste of french press coffee best and was too lazy to take care of old grounds before the morning, and God took care of the rest.
This is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and gave His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. This is amazing grace: a beautiful fresh breath of air that carries us through, lifting a weight off of our shoulders we didn’t even know we carried, sitting in the old air of a house shut-up in the winter. Lost in our chaos. While we were still sinners, Christ died for the ungodly, adopting us as sons and daughters. The most beautiful, precious gift of fresh air.