It was December 2010 and I had determined to cross “half-marathon” off of my bucket-list. With a house-full of kids, carving out time to train was exceptionally difficult, but I kept at it and trained up through about 7-8 miles. I felt pretty good about my progress since my previous record was only a 5K, so race day came and I joined the hundreds of other runners on that frigid morning with great expectations. The starting gun goes off and it takes another ten minutes to cross the starting line. The crowd opened up after a bit, and my pace increased. I passed my 5K record feeling great. Mile five and six were even enjoyable! Rounding out mile number seven, my left hip popped and soreness immediately threatened my course completion. By mile eight I was doing that funny looking limp-run-walk where you pull the arms up tighter to give yourself and others the impression that you are actually moving faster than you are. By mile nine, I was numb, but still walking. My mp3 player had recycled the same set of songs at least three times, so they were now far more annoying than motivating. All the blood in my body had migrated to my lower extremities, which were pulsating and heavy. By mile eleven, I was ready to call an ambulance. After all, my husband had stayed home with the kids and I had no one waiting to cheer me on at the finish line. No one would know if I gave up except for me. Could I handle giving up? How disappointed would I really be in myself? I was debating whether or not I would really follow through with making a “maybe sometime in the future” second attempt, when I noticed that even the sound of my labored breathing was like fingernails against a chalkboard, and there was no water station anywhere in sight. When I thought I couldn’t go another step, I hear a voice on my left, “Hangin’ in there?” “Barely,” I confessed. She admitted that it would be nice to have someone to talk to on the final stretch. Tired and sore we made it through the last two miles. When I looked up and saw the finish line, I nearly cried with joy. She turned to me and said, “Finish strong?” Neither of us was certain whether it was a question or a command, but I replied, “definitely!” We burned up the last ounces of energy we had picking up the pace, and to this day I don’t know what my time was when I crossed the finish line. I wouldn’t have been able to meet my goal that day had it not been for her. She could have done what every other runner did, and just pass me by. She could have passed judgment on my inadequate training or simply kept quiet. By speaking up and coming along side me, her encouragement made all the difference. I haven’t done any half marathons since then, but in considering life as a race, I strive to take her example into every relationship and to help others finish strong. So hang in there. God’s not done with you yet.
When the Wind is a Gale – You keep me grounded
When Debris wounds my Spirit – You sustain me
When I can’t Catch my Breath – You fill me up
When I can’t see my way through – You can
When all seems lost – There You find me
When I can’t hold on – You take my hand
When my song is a whimper – You give it life
When my Endurance fails – You are my champion
In the Middle of the Storm – You are there
You hold me close
You are my strength
You are my Advocate and Judge
You are my Father and my King
Lord, Jesus, I will praise You always
Through the tears – I will praise You
Though bruised and battered – I will lift up Your Name
You are more magnificent than the greatest tempest
And Only You can calm the Storm
In the meantime, Stay with Your student and be my Teacher
We’ve had a few brilliant moments of clarity this month as we’ve traversed through the seven year old being sick, and then myself, car problems, and extended family health issues. One of those perfect windows where everything seemed right with the world was Easter weekend. This year as my older boys ran around hiding sugar-filled eggs for my younger girls to find, and the picture-perfect weather between storms was calming my sinuses, my thoughts wandered back to the Old Testament Book of Nehemiah. It may sound like an odd connection, but bear with me as I chase this bunny rabbit. Nehemiah traveled 1,000 miles with permission and protection from the king of Babylon to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. These walls had been rubble for generations at that point. The people were seemingly lost in despair. Before something beautiful could be constructed, Nehemiah had to take a long, hard, honest look at the damage, and then set out to clear away the debris. So often I’ve thought about something that I’d like to accomplish, but there is too much rubble in the way – too many hurdles – too many inconveniences – and somehow I convince myself that must mean it’s not God’s will for me to complete that particular project. This is exactly what kept Jerusalem wallowing in shame and destruction for so long – it seemed too great a task and they were discouraged, brokenhearted, and overwhelmed by the magnitude of the damage. Our metaphorical damaged walls and lost-ness can have the same debilitating effect – leaving us feeling powerless and ineffective. The answer is not to wait until God sends a Nehemiah, but to follow Nehemiah’s example. He prayed for four months for the city, and then God prompted the king to ask Nehemiah what was on his mind, opening up the conversation and the possibility of healing. Which brings me to the second point: Nehemiah didn’t do it alone. He had others come along side him. God used the king to provide the resources and provisions. Nehemiah’s distant relatives, most of which he’d probably never met, all pitched in and had their section of the wall they were responsible to build and defend. Just fifty-two days later the walls were built – project complete? Not hardly. The clearing of the debris was necessary to build the wall. The building of the wall was necessary for the next step, getting the heart of the city right with God, and people right with each other. There are stages to healing. Where is the debris so thick in your life that you’ve determined to just ignore it? Are you trying to do it alone? The reason that people are supposed to be in a church community is not because it’s the right club to belong to, but because we need to be there for one another, loving each other and helping each other to clear away our rubble and rebuild. “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25 NIV).
Sin is simply anything that separates us from God – it is us deciding what is right and good instead of leaning on His perfect design and plan. If a builder decides to go solo on a whim and deviate from the architects plan, it could create a big ‘ol mess or at the least distrust between team members who thought they were all on the same team with the same goals and methods in mind. When parents aren’t on the same page regarding the training of a child, distrust and brokenness can result and a rift develops in the heart of the child, which continues to impact other areas of their life and relationships. Destruction begets more destruction. We all have some level of brokenness that we have to own up to. Looking in another direction will not make it go away. Ignoring it won’t make it better. Hiding it will only cause it to fester and rot. How do we begin to clear it away? Where do we start? Start with the one who understands every inch of our lives. He was the architect who fashioned an amazing floor plan for each of us, and it was all-good until we decided to confiscate the tools and change up the design. He is perfect, loving, forgiving, and He can make all things new. In the Russian language, the word for Sunday is pronounced Vos-kre-sen-ye. It literally means “Resurrection Day.” But before Christ could be resurrected, He had to die to clean up our mess. It is too big for one person, but not for God. He is the King who provides us protection in the midst of disaster, and whose limitless resources are available to us through Jesus. “Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you” (Ephesians 5:14 NIV). The light of Christ will expose all of the ugliness that we face, but it will allow us to see our way through it – one stone, one hurt, one apology at a time. No person, no Christian, no church is perfect. When Jesus was asked why He was hanging out with tax collectors and prostitutes, He responded, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick” (Matthew 9:12; Mark 2:17; Luke 5:31 NIV). Our souls can be healed – even though we were dead in sin, separated from God, sick, and alienated from the church because of imperfect people that treated us poorly. God has a lot of patience and a lot of patients. While this life will never be perfect, He can take all your imperfect parts and employ others to help you rebuild the walls of a structure that will shelter others during their storms. You may be the answer to a prayer just 52 days from now that someone else is seeking. Shine a light on it. Find others who are following the Architect to help you resurrect this life, and rise each day in the knowledge that He loves you. He invested His whole self in you. You were an investment worth dying for, and you too can be resurrected with Him.
The Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines sovereign as “one possessing or held to possess supreme political power…one that exercises supreme authority within a limited sphere…an acknowledged leader.” It is a noun, a person, place or thing that is tangible and able to be located. A dominant component of this word is the word reign. Also a noun, it refers to a period of time during which a sovereign is in charge of something such as a group, organization, or country…”resembling that of a monarch.” The word supreme is an adjective describing the sovereign as being “highest in rank or authority…degree or quality.”
I can’t express in words how many times I have been comforted by simply repeating the thought silently, or even audibly, “God is sovereign. God is sovereign. God is sovereign.” I cannot see all of the twists and turns that lay ahead. I cannot fully understand things like illness, suffering, stress, and certainly not the delicate intricacies of the cosmos that the Lord God holds together. I can, however, know with full confidence that He sees everything and has a perfect design for it all. Suffering is not a commentary on God’s approval or disapproval, but is a direct result of sin. Sin is simply anything that separates us from God. When a body is separated from nourishment, it will inevitably begin to decay. Humans have willfully separated themselves from God, and there is only one way back to a relationship with Him. There is only one medicine that has an eternal significance, and it is free! Jesus, sinless and perfect, sovereign for all time and beyond, paid the debt for my sins that I could never afford. He then reappeared in the flesh after three days to prove once and for all that there is not only life after death, but that He is sovereign even over death! There is nothing that this world could throw my way that will alter the magnitude of His power, and if I’m on His team, then why should I ever fear or worry over anything? Even in times of distress, He reminds us, “Be strong and courageous! Do not fear or tremble before them, for the Lord your God is the one who is going with you. He will not fail you or abandon you! (Deuteronomy 31:6 NET).
Many will acknowledge His reign and even His rank, but will balk at describing Him as sovereign. Why? Because to describe Him as sovereign indicates that we are not trying to edit Him to fit our desires, but instead editing our lives to fit His plan. The more surrendered I am to His sovereignty, the more fulfilled, hopeful and at peace I am – regardless of the size of the storm, because I am a servant of the One who controls the rain. Will you surrender to Him?