I’ve Come This Far… A Kind of a Flashback Friday

This morning was an absolutely beautiful morning for a run along the beach. There was (for California) a crisp coolness in the air, the sky was wonderfully blue, the Channel Islands were beautifully visible, and the surfers were out in mass. I ran a very easy five miles and just enjoyed everything around me.
When I returned home I remembered  that back when I first started running, I’d go maybe four miles, drive home, and then barely drag myself out of my car on stiff and tired legs. With this memory in mind I thought that I’d look at the very first run recorded on my Garmin. It was December 26, 2011… so now you know what I got for Christmas that year.

Many people can walk faster than my combined run/walk four years ago.
Many people can walk faster than my combined run/walk four years ago.

This first run (on my Garmin) was in my old neighborhood. It was a run/walk and not too easy. I also weighed almost 60 pounds more than I do today.

So what about today?IMG_0339

As I previously mentioned, this morning’s run was to be short and very easy. The assignment for today was just that, slow and easy. So how does it compare to my running ability of four years ago?

Pretty nice improvement! My next goal is to get my easy run to a 10 minute mile, and my marathon race pace to 9:00. Well actually my next goal is to complete the Surf City Marathon (Huntington Beach, February 7) in 4:45:00 or better. We’ll see. It seems a bit daunting right now but actually running and finishing a half marathon seemed a bit daunting at one time too.

Happy running everyone!

Had a good cry lately?

candleThis coming Sunday is All Saints Day. For me it’s a special day because we remember those who have died in the church the previous year and then we invite all who are present to light candles in memory of loved ones. It’s an emotional time.

While my sermon is not yet ready for this coming Sunday, I’m thinking a lot about tears. In our readings we have two promises that God will remove or wipe away our tears (Isaiah 25 and Revelation 21), and the weeping of Jesus at the death of Lazarus. When I read these texts I automatically think of death, or more specifically the pain and grief that accompany the loss of a loved one. I also usually read these words with tears caught in my throat as I spiritually embrace this promise of the day that we will grieve no more.

But this week, as I’ve thought about tears, I’m realizing that my tears are really part of who I am. Would I want to give them up? I don’t think so…

I’m also thinking of the tears that do not accompany grief.

We have tears of joy. How many of you have laughed so hard that you cried?

We have the tears of frustration that come when we have so much pent up energy that the only release is through a good cry.

The tears that accompany the moving away of someone dear to us… and the tears that accompany broken relationships.

We have the tearful pride that we feel in the accomplishments of others (especially our children and other loved ones). My now adult children can tell you of many times that my emotions seemed a bit over the top at the experience of a special time in their lives.

Sometimes that tearful pride, or welling of emotion can happen with someone that we don’t even know. That happened for me this morning (as an aside, I often get to live the sermon that is percolating through my mind). Anyway, this morning I read a story about one of the runners chosen for the cover of Running World magazine. This runner doesn’t look like the stereotypical runner…as in not really thin. In fact she is still, from a BMI perspective, over weight. Hers is a story of one day contemplating suicide and realizing that she really did have much to live for. It is a story of hard work, determination, community, and faith. You really should read it here:

http://www.runnersworld.com/cover-search/cover-search-winner-michelle-hercules-walker

And we have the tears that accompany our own accomplishments.

I too am someone who, while active most of my life, has had a constant battle with my weight. I took up running a few years ago to lose weight and subsequently discovered that the benefits of running are so much more awesome than just weight loss. And sometimes, while on a particularly hard run or passing a previously insurmountable milestone, I’ve felt myself choke up with tears of joy at what I’ve been able to do and experience while out on the roads. I’m sure to the observer on these occasions I looked like I was suffering but not even close.

What about you? What tears do you look forward to having God wipe away? What other kinds of tears have you experienced?

A Race Day Recap

I think this was mile 2
I think this was mile 2

Last Saturday I ran the Lexus LaceUp half marathon in Ventura. It was a lovely day and not too hot.

This race occurred 6 weeks after the Ventura Marathon. Back in August, when I signed up for the Lexus race I thought, “no big deal.” But then as my miles decreased substantially for my marathon race recovery I became concerned about my readiness for a half marathon.

It is at this point that I am thankful that I have been working with a coach on my training plan. I know that if I had been on my own I would have tried too much too soon after the marathon. But he had me easing pretty slowly (it seemed) back into a training routine.

Scott and me before the race. He did his first 10K.
Scott and me before the race. He did his first 10K.

My longest run prior to the latest half was 8 miles on October 17. During the week before the race I was a bit nervous as I wondered if I’d be able to jump from 8 to just over 14 miles (including warm up). I had to keep telling myself that this distance in my pre-marathon training was pretty easy, so I’d be good to go.

Race Day: this was my 5th half marathon and it was the first time I’d ever done a pre race warm up that actually consisted of running, another benefit of someone experienced giving me direction. So at 6:15am I ran a slow mile, hit the restrooms, did some dynamic stretches, followed by 4 strides. I was ready to go.

In lining up for the race I made the mistake of lining up towards the back of the pack (still feeling like a newbie?). The problem with this was that I had to start the race trying to get around a lot of people who were slower than me. This was a bit frustrating and totally my fault. Next time I will line up in a better position.

A strategy for my long runs and marathon is to walk for about 30 seconds every half mile. I usually do this for the first hour in an effort not to go out too fast. I actually did it for the entire Ventura Marathon because it was working for me in the heat (at least for 20 miles!). So I started my race with the same plan. I missed the first walk at .5 mile because it was too crowded to walk. I then walked at 1, 1.5, 2, and 2.5. Upon realizing that I was speeding up to make up time, I decided to just run.

This was a very easy course with a gradual uphill for the first 7 miles. When we returned (downhill yeah!) I was able to run at what for me is a pretty fast pace.

I started to fade at miles 12 and 13 and was trying very hard to stay on a good pace. It was hard but when I looked at my split times I didn’t fade as badly as it seemed. This is good as I’m trying to finish strong. In the last 100 yards I managed to sprint across the finish line!

After all this I’m happy to report that my official time was 2:13:11, almost 10 minutes faster than my last half marathon time of 2:22:56 (last December).

I’m doing another half marathon November 7th. Its another Saturday race. Yeah! It has lots of hills. Yikes!

The race included a coupon for a food truck item. I was able to enjoy an almond milk, banana, and date smoothie. Yum!
The race included a coupon for a food truck item. I was able to enjoy an almond milk, banana, and date smoothie. Yum!

On Killing, #2

41Bu29eZsZL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_My second post on the book, On Killing, covers the first section. I liked this section of the book (probably much more than I think I’ll like what’s coming next). The titles of the section and each of its chapters actually provide a pretty good summary of what will be found.

Section I: Killing and the Existence of Resistance: A World of Virgins Studying Sex

  • Chapter One: Fight or Flight, Posture or Submit
    Most of us are familiar with fight or flight, but before that comes posturing… seeking to scare the enemy away. Interestingly, this week I read advice, before going on a trail run, about how to react when encountering a mountain lion. The advice was all about posturing. Apparently we do it with one another as well.
    One form of posturing is to fire one’s weapon over the heads of opponents. This quote describes a firefight at Vicksburg in 1863, “It seems strange that a company of men can fire volley after volley at a like number of men at not over a distance of fifteen steps and not cause a single casualty.” (p11)
    Another quote “‘One of the things that amazed me,’ stated Douglas Graham, a medic with the First Marine Division in Vietnam, who had to crawl out under enemy and friendly fire to aid wounded soldiers, ‘is how many bullets can be fired during a firefight without anyone getting hurt.'” (p13)
  • Chapter Two: Nonfirers Throughout History & Chapter Three: Why Can’t Johnny Kill?
    While some soldiers fire and miss their targets, some never fire at all. Sometimes these men provided support to the ones who would fire their weapons.
    S.L.A. Marshall, studied the firing/killing rates of soldiers throughout WWII He concluded, “the average and healthy individual… has such an inner and usually unrealized resistance towards killing a fellow man that he will not of his own volition take life if it is possible to turn away from that responsibility… At the final point… the soldier becomes a conscientious objector.” (p30)
  • Chapter Four: The Nature and Source of the Resistance
    I’ll let the author speak, “We may never understand the nature of this force in man that causes him to strongly resist killing his fellow man, but we can give praise for it to whatever force we hold responsible for our existence. And although military leaders responsible for winning a war may be distressed by it, as a race we can view it with pride.” (p40)

I would summarize this entire section as an introduction to, and an explanation of the reality that most human beings are not able to kill their fellow human beings. As I was reading this I was thinking a couple things. First, this instinctual aversion to killing is a good thing. The second thought is a bit related in that I continually thought back to the words found in the very beginning of the bible. These words have always guided me to think about my “enemy” as one who also bears God’s image.

26Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”27So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. 28God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” -Genesis 1:26-28

Some additional thoughts/questions:

  • Often in times of social upheaval, or war a group of people is made to be the scapegoats for whatever problems are faced. These people are then dehumanized in the most horrific ways. The Nazis did this with the Jews. It happened in Rwanda. In our history we’ve done it to justify slavery and the genocide of the indigenous populations. I think that the making the “other” as less than human then makes it easier to kill or in other ways treat that person as less than human. I don’t know if this will be addressed in this book. But as people of faith we must continually speak out against these messages to remind ourselves and others that all human beings are worthy. This I know is not easy, especially when we look at all the horribleness in our world. To which I must cry, Lord have mercy.
  • My other observation is in regards to those soldiers who are trained to kill. I’m anticipating that I will read about how we have conditioned and trained our soldiers in ways that improve their ability to kill. Before reading this my question for today is… At what cost?

On Killing, #1 An Introduction

41Bu29eZsZL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_

Last week a friend of mine suggested that I read the book, On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society. Her suggestion was based (I think) on my anti violence stance that borders on an anti war stance. I constantly struggle with this issue. She noted that when I lead our congregation in weekly prayer, I continually pray for the day the peace will reign in our world. After noting this she suggested that I might also pray for courage for those who are called to be warriors. In thinking back on this conversation, and on Sunday morning prayer, I am reminded that I often pray for justice, wisdom, peace, healing, and that we (collectively) use the power that we have to make this a better world. I think that underneath all of this is the realization that it takes great courage to work for the common good. We might see or define this courage a bit differently (and that’s a good thing).

I very much valued this discussion and am grateful that two people who see the world through slightly different lenses can engage one another in a healthy conversation that leads to growth for both of us. A hope and prayer that I have is that more of us can find ways to do this.

So, a couple days after our meeting I went to Barnes and Noble and bought the suggested book. Sadly, immediately after purchasing the book I went to lunch, checked the latest news on my phone, and thus learned the news of yet another massacre, this time in Oregon.

I had mentioned to my friend that a book like this could be good for a discussion group. So right now I am going to try to start such a discussion here, on my blog. I will read a chapter and share my thoughts and hopefully those who are interested will share theirs. And maybe, hopefully, I will learn something as will you, if you choose to join me. You can purchase your own copy of the book on Amazon or your local bookstore.

Today I share my observations from the book’s introduction.

First, the author comments that as a society we have an unhealthy relationship with violence and death. He talks about how death is far removed from most peoples experiences. For instance we don’t experience death in the home as in years past. Today death happens in hospitals and nursing homes so we often don’t have an intimate experience with it. While I agree with this observation to a great extent, I am wondering if those who live in the more violent prone neighborhoods of our country would agree with this generalization.

Most of us also do not slaughter our own food. Instead we buy it nicely cut and wrapped in the local supermarket. According to the author we don’t want to get any closer to the real experience of death and many of us go so far as to condemn all killing, even for food or for the elimination of rodents.

At the same time we don’t want to see real death, we seem to glorify violent death in movies, television, video games, and other forms of entertainment. He sees this as very unhealthy for our society. I agree with this assessment and am chagrined at my own desire for non-violence in real life while I choose to watch crime shows and dramas that show an ugly side of human nature. I am very inconsistent and I must come to terms with this.

This book will focus (mainly) on the killing that accompanies war. I am hoping that it will be valuable as a tool to understand the violence the permeates our culture outside of war as well. It’s interesting that the author writes of the need to study this topic. I agree and right now lament the fact that our congress has made it almost impossible to study the subject of handgun violence in our nation. We need to study this.

As a pastor, my interpretive lens is always (hopefully) the grace and forgiveness that we receive through Jesus, who himself died a violent and horrible death. The good news is not found in his death but in his resurrection… in new life. Today (and for many days past) our country is hurting. My prayer is that we all have the strength and courage to look at violence – not as a source of entertainment, but rather as something that needs to be faced so that we can experience new life.

Please join me on this journey

Learn to enjoy the slow – Part 2

I'm looking pretty slow here at mile 21 of the Ventura Marathon.
I’m looking pretty slow here at mile 21 of the Ventura Marathon.
Last month I shared this blog post about my own need to slow down on my easy and long runs: https://girlrevrunning.com/2015/08/27/learn-to-enjoy-the-slow/

Upon further thought it is time to add a little bit more… that going slow is not everything! No, in addition to those slow and easy runs, we also need to run fast! For me this means one day a week of really hard track workouts, plus the occasional race pace runs.

I’m still pretty new to attempts to run at varying speeds. Last week it was running at the speed with which I would race a mile (400 or one lap), followed by a 5k race pace(1200 or three laps), and then repeat the sequence a couple more times. Sometimes the workout is longer distances at maybe a 10k pace. Usually my first thought is, “I don’t really know my mile or 5k or 10k or whatever pace.” That’s because I don’t run too many races and I feel as if I’m getting faster each week (maybe its all in my head!).

The important point is that to improve as runners we need to run at a variety of paces…with the majority of runs done at an easy pace. I’ve been running for about 4 years and I never really understood this.

So the advice for today is to learn to enjoy the slow, but don’t forget to season with some speed.

As I think about this running advice I can’t help but think about how this might apply to other areas of my life. Slow…slow…slow…fast…slow…slow…slow…fast. It’s a nice pattern and a nice reminder that we don’t always have to do everything the same way. Some days we rush and others we don’t. Sometimes we are hanging out with lots of people and other times we cherish our alone time. Some days our prayers are filled with conversation with God and other days we commune in silence. Slow…slow…slow…fast…slow…slow…slow…fast.

What kind of patterns do you see in your own life? How has running (or other physical exercise) helped you in other areas?

A sermon from December 2012 that is sadly still relevant today

Hi friends,

Today I feel an incredible weariness as the news tells us of yet another massacre. I feel as if I have no words and can even sense a loss of hope. Not  in God, but in the collective will of the people of our nation. Here is a sermon that I preached a few days after so many precious children were killed. Sadly nothing has changed.

This sermon was part of a series where we looked at a verse each week from the song “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear”. This was week three of the series, verse three of the song.

And you, beneath life’s crushing load,
whose forms are bending low,
who toil along the climbing way
with painful steps and slow:
look now, for glad and golden hours
come swiftly on the wing;
oh, rest beside the weary road
and hear the angels sing!
(verse 3, It Came Upon the Midnight Clear)

This week our preschool had their Christmas programs… those cute little events where children stand up and sing and their parents act like unruly children as they jostle with each other trying to get a better look. Our last program was on Friday at 10am. I usually come in about five minutes early and sit in my usual chair.

Just before the Friday program I looked at the newsfeed on my iPhone. And so it happened that as the little children were making their way into the church I saw the headline: 26 dead; 18 of them children (that would later become 20). I had already planned to share these words from my favorite Christmas book:

“You know you have the Christmas spirit when the sight of loved ones brings tears to your eyes and you are thankful to God for them and for you.”

I barely got through these words and I am sure that many parents were wondering why the pastor was getting choked up over a preschool Christmas program. I will never forget watching all those little ones sing while thinking about the tragic events three thousand miles away.

This is a weekend when a sermon is not that easy. Because really, what do you say in the face of unspeakable tragedy, unspeakable evil?

Last Christmas Eve, I was inspired to use the song, “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear”, as a theme for Advent this year. It was a few weeks ago that I sat down and coupled the words that we just read together with texts that to me seemed to capture the feeling of the songs verses.

And what is that feeling? In verse three, it is weariness of life where the worries and disappointments and unspeakable evil and incomprehensible tragedy weigh upon us so heavily that we feel as if we are being crushed. Look at the words again of the song, the first half of the verse…

And you, beneath life’s crushing load,
whose forms are bending low,
who toil along the climbing way
with painful steps and slow:

What is a crushing load? Before Friday I was thinking of my own woes, but they do not seem as important today. The poet paints a word picture of someone stooped under such a heavy load that he or she can barely move… But move this person must… Upward with painful step after painful step.

What is a crushing load?

Violence visited upon our children and their teachers in the places of learning.

Violence in a shopping mall, a movie theater, a place of worship, a place of relaxation, on street corners, in homes.

Violence… violence… violence.

We as a nation are bent low… with painful steps and will see more and more tragedy until we as a people stand up and say, “enough!”

Today we mourn… today we try to understand. Why did all these children die when they should be playing and singing and preparing for Winter break, which is really Christmas vacation. They should be preparing to celebrate the birth of another child, a different child, a child who will save us all. These children should be home with their parents and now their parents are preparing funerals. That is not the kind of funeral anyone wants to plan.

I am sure that many are saying words similar to that found in our reading from Isaiah,

“God pays no attention to us! He doesn’t care if we are treated unjustly.”

What do we say to that? How can we take away the pain contained in these words? The truth is that we alone can’t. We don’t have the words… but I believe that our scripture has words that remind us that we are not alone… and the God will give us strength…

The Lord gives strength to those who are weary.”

Can that strength inspire us to action?

And you, beneath life’s crushing load,
whose forms are bending low,
who toil along the climbing way
with painful steps and slow:

You… that you is you and me… it is all of us and we are called to attention:

Look now, for glad and golden hours come swiftly on the wing; oh, rest beside the weary road and hear the angels sing!

Look… change is coming… so take a moment to rest beside the weary road upon which we all travel… stop, rest, and listen. When we listen to the angels we hear words of peace… but maybe that peace seems elusive. So what other messages does God send our way?

We have the words of Jesus…

“If you are tired from carrying heavy burdens, come to me and I will give you rest. Take the yoke I give you. Put it on your shoulders and learn from me. I am gentle and humble, and you will find rest. This yoke is easy to bear, and this burden is light. (Mt 11:28-30).

A yoke is that thing that is placed on the back of a work animal… it keeps it in line. Jesus’ yoke is that which guides us. One could say that his yoke is the law… and when we really think about the law it is concerned with how we treat one another… it calls us to love.

In times of tragedy we feel love toward our neighbor more acutely… why else do we shed tears for those we don’t know? In times of tragedy we might wonder, where God is in all of it? Don’t think that God condoned this… or wanted it to happen… don’t listen to those who say it is because God wanted those children… don’t listen to those who say it is because we don’t pray enough.

We live in a fallen world where tragedy happens… where evil happens. God did not create us as puppets and so we live in a world where we have freedom to choose our behavior and sometimes we use that freedom to do the most heinous things. The events of this week are a sad reminder of that.

We also have the freedom to love… to care for strangers… and to come together as a people and find ways to protect one another… to stand up for one another. Together, as God’s children we can be powerful in our love.

It is Advent… we await the coming of Jesus, to save us… to bring peace to the world. In this we are no different than those who came before us. We long for the day when violence and sickness and hunger and hardship will cease.

We long for that day knowing that today we are not alone… remembering the words of Paul…

I am sure that nothing can separate us from God’s love—not life or death, not angels or spirits, not the present or the future, and not powers above or powers below. Nothing in all creation can separate us from God’s love for us in Christ Jesus our Lord! (Romans 8:38-39) 

And it is for this reason that even in the midst of tragedy and with broken hearts we can sing of our joy that the Lord has come. May our Lord lead us to work together so that no more children need to die.

Amen