Things I Experienced While Running Away

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“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”  ― Søren Kierkegaard

(Morning view where Liz and Marley like to run…okay, walk usually)

    It had to happen. I had to do it.

I’m talking about running. It’s been too long. You know when it’s time? When the earth’s gravitational force suddenly doubles.

You look in the mirror and see the pudge you’ve been avoiding. Tired eyes. A face that could use a lift.   An attitude that often hovers between exhaustion and who cares? Shabby clothes accessorized with a heavy dose of apathy.

I was just about to take a nap. After all, I’d earned it. Moments earlier I had daftly slid dinner out of a box and into the oven and had just plopped onto the couch after another repetitious day of exhaustion battling the minute by minute necessary chores and emergencies called life. You know what I’m talking about. You have those days too.

But instead, a rare divine moment of alchemy overtake me. That inner whisper that says, “GET UP (you sloth)!” That and the soft sadness of my dog’s whimpering. Oh, the not-so-subtle guilt of my lab’s droopy eyes and hopeful but pouty mouth.

     Fine then! I exerted a small amount of supernatural strength and laced up my running shoes. These suck. They hurt my feet and need replacing. Anyway.

Grab the poopy bags. In my case, it’s a minimum of a dozen; running with labs requires a bit of extra preparation.   Collar. Leash. Quick sips of water. Tunes. Keys. Lock door. Check. Slam door. Go!

Put something on with 4/4 beat and start pounding. It hurts. I don’t seem to have a regular rhythm or routine to running these days. It was the 2nd time in a week, but also in about six months as well.

So consistency is not my strong suit. What can I say? Keep going Liz I tell myself.

A few houses later I drift past my neighbor’s house. Her daughter will marry this weekend. Bless them I think. So busy I bet. Time to keep going. A few seconds later I float past another neighbor’s home with two dogs who speak in the language that only dogs know. They announce loudly, “HEY! IT’S MARLEY AND LIZ! DOES ANYONE IN THE HOUSE HEAR ME? IT’S MARLEY AND LIZ!”   I’m tempted to stop and go pet them. Better not. That’d be the end of tonight’s workout.

Huffing and puffing, I make it to the end of block one. YES! The next ten houses is straight down hill. I’m cruising to a little John Reuben singing Bobble Head.

     “Let me see your neck neck bobbing with the vertical fist. You put the two together and it goes like this.”

Christian rap. It’s the only kind I can tolerate. I feel kind of like a bada** listening to it.   When I was running, I knew I would have to write about it later. I knew right then and there I would at some point use the substitute word bada** because I don’t have the literary courage to say well…you know the real word.

I’ve now gone straight down the vertical hill bobbing with my horizontal fist pulling my dog who also doubles as my resistance trainer.  Ok, now I’m getting into it a tiny bit. Just keep going I tell myself. Like the wise Clownfish sage Dory who is forever embedded into our collective subconscience with her exuberant message:

     Just Keep Swimming

     Because that’s what I’m doing, metaphorically speaking. I’m swimming against the tides of life most days it seems.

Technology that overwhelms us with it’s incessant “reply ASAP” feeling. Or more frustratingly frequent: websites that give me the FREEZE OUT. Passwords that I know by heart suddenly don’t work. Pages don’t load.   Email I don’t have time for or read.  People I should but don’t reply to.  News doesn’t ring true. Trolls say mean things. Things disappear. And then fall apart.     Yeah, and that’s just my digital life.

So I keep going. Running. I’m playing a mental game I played in my early twenties when my first son had incredible colic. I used to run with a Walkman CD player on my hand like a pizza delivery man so it wouldn’t skip.

I’d run away. I’d run away from the noise.

I’d run from the responsibilities I didn’t think I could handle for one more day.

I’d run far, far away from the stress and go to the imaginary place in my head where everything is copacetic and cool. In this place in my head, people agree and life isn’t determined by income, time constraints, or other people’s desires. In fact there aren’t even voices, just faces. And music. And animals. And just this peacefulness.   I admit, it’s kind of a selfish utopia.   And though I always knew it didn’t really exist, it always felt so good to be running towards it, striving, endlessly striving to find it.

I’m about ¾ of a mile now. Not that far, but I’ve already thought more thoughts then steps travelled. This much I know is true.

I’m running away again. I’m running away from Hillary. I’m running away from Donald. I’m running away from ALL THAT because I’m so tired of hearing about it, thinking about it, and in shreds as what to do about it.

       I run thinking if I just run far enough and hard enough I might possibly be able to run out of this spare tire that is causing serious bladder inconvenience. I mean really. You throw a tire on a water balloon and see which object survives.

       I’m running away from my bullet-point two-page To Do List that I still haven’t gotten through from Monday. I’m running from all the responsibilities and future things I don’t know if I can handle. I’m trying not to run while amoritizing the remainder of my mortgage while simultaneously figuring out our emergency equity thanks to rising home values.   Still, worry thoughts creep in. I shoo these thoughts away with my hand while flying down hill again. My dog is so lucky. He thinks of none of this. He just breathes the cool air and keeps running.

A weird thing happens next. As I literally swat away my pesky thoughts, a small missile hits me in the forehead. At least that’s what it feels like. It’s a bug; who knows what kind? Clearly an armor-shelled kind like a beetle or something. I silently thank God for not allowing him to fly into my open mouth. That would’ve scarred me for life.

Still stepping out. Next stop. A teenage girl is melded into her boyfriend against a car under the street light in an intimate embrace. Oh yeah. I remember. I was young once. Slow down sweetheart I think.   It only gets harder from here. Then harder still. Enjoy. Don’t rush. You’ll be grown sooner than you think.

Soon, I’m by the house that always dries their clothes at night. My goodness! They use the best dryer sheets! It pours out of their dryer vent and perfumes at least three yards. It smells so clean and pure. At this moment I’m listening to U2’s “Lady With The Spinning Head” at top volume, an absolute running favorite of mine. I smell this and close my eyes and suddenly I’m six years old again. I’m running through sheets in a clothes line in a little dress with my wavy hair blowing and shoeless feet. I’m not really here I imagine. We are all just whispers in someone else’s dream. I’m breathing better. I feel the rope of anxiety releasing a bit from my neck.   It’s all going to be okay I think. At least I hope it will be.

It’s totally dark now. I always run at night since my first free moment from responsibility rarely falls before sunset. Anyway, I hit a dark patch for a while, and then I find myself under a tree arched over the sidewalk. A man with a jet black dog has suddenly appeared. I yank out my earphones as I realize he’s been talking to me for a while. I catch the end of his sentence: “We’ve been waiting for a while for you.”

I’m not alarmed. It’s not the way it sounds, but I had to quickly transition from the music-lined utopia in my head to absorb and comprehend what he meant.   Then I got it. His dog was as excited to meet my dog and I, as much as my dog was jazzed about meeting the two of them.

Anytime I come to a complete HALT after running hard, I sort of feel like my heart might explode, but mostly I was trying to just be cool as I didn’t want this neighbor I’ve not met yet to have to call 911 and deal with two rambunctious dogs.

We chat and laugh a bit over the crazy antics of excited dogs. Now I’m glad it’s nearly pitch dark. Like I said earlier, spare tire issues are seriously annoying me here! I need to get home to make the round-the-block bathroom trip again.

Home again and quick pit stop then it’s out the door to make another neighborhood orbit. It’s easier this time. Every house left behind is another step towards victory, another step in the right direction. I’m about to complete my second lap. I’m looking down focused on breathing mesmerized by my tall shadows under the streetlights. I’m skinnier when I’m fifteen feet tall. I like it like this and…..

     JESUS! I look up. Just standing there is a skeleton in a hoodie with a scythe in his hand. Seriously, I said JESUS when I saw this because that is the quickest best prayer you can ever pray when you have your wits scared out of you.

It was only a few feet from the sidewalk.   Out of the corner of one eye, I saw a glimpse of something as I was chasing after my own shadow. So I looked up. As I approached the darkened house with porch lights turned off, the dark shadowy figure seemed to come out of nowhere. Don’t panic! It’s just a skelly with a scythe–but it’s not real! The not real part took a nanosecond or two to click in. It was just a life-size Halloween decoration a few feet away from their front porch..a few days early.

See, Liz? I told you it was a good idea that you learn to run faster. Besides it was just a decoration. I did a double take. It hadn’t moved…. yet. But we live in a weird world these days. I double checked with my dog. He wasn’t alarmed. He was still pacing himself one dog’s length ahead of me, so it must be okay.

Life and death. Love and loss. Alone, yet not.  Cool breeze mixed with hot sweat.   Fear and hope and faith. Reality and dreamland.  Our only true constant we navigate by is change. Time passed and time still to go.   Miles still to run and words still to write, I press on. Ever onward.

 

 

 

A Day with MC Escher: A Lingering Love and Linear Logic

 

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“Drawing Hands” — MC Escher 1948

Last month I took my son and his young friend to see the MC Escher exhibit at the NC Museum of Art in Raleigh as part of our homeschool experience. First thing I noticed: THE ENTIRE PARKING LOT WAS PACKED! Hundred of parking spaces and not a single empty space. Wait, what? I’m at an art museum and having to drive around and around just to find a space? THIS IS AWESOME!!

We finally parked and purchased our tickets. I soon learned this was the largest exhibit ever in the world on display of MC Escher’s work in one place. It was certainly the biggest traveling museum exhibit I have ever attended. We spent hours looking, but I could’ve spent days. Easily.

In my photography club I’ve been learning about the Elements of Design (line, texture, shape, form, pattern, color). With Escher, he effortlessly expands on those elements and adds things like:

  • logic
  • precision
  • pattern
  • reflection
  • perpetual motion, still life, and sometimes a blending of the two

Perhaps what attracts so many people to his work is his unique gift of mathematically capturing concepts such as:

  • the finite and the infinite
  • the abstract and the obvious
  • symmetry
  • the proof of geometry

These are all awesome. But my favorite? Gravity Tricks!

Escher doesn’t create illusion, so much as bend converging realities. I keep studying how MCE defies gravity in his work. I study Drawing Hands where 3D and 2D overlap Hand or Circle Limit IV where the infinite is captured precisely by proportionately repeating patterns that grow ever smaller around the perimeter of a circle. MCE shows us in in Metamorphosis I how objects morph from collective to individual with no discernable delineation. Time seems fold in upon itself as large becomes small, then large, then small again. How do you even think like this, much less accurately draw it?

I look around. A beautiful deaf gentleman and his sweetheart are beside me. He is smiling, and tearing up and overcome with emotion. Their hands are fluttering in a beautiful synchronicity that speaks of a wisdom and secret language open in plain sight I don’t possess and am not privy to, though I wish I was. They never stop talking. In this beautiful space called silence, they are the loudest people I’ve ever seen! I mean, they just won’t shut up. They can’t. They have delved deeper into this than I even I get to go. It makes me want to cry.

My kids with me have finished up before I have. That’s okay. They are immersed in thoughts on a bench and are silently sketching their own thoughts–their own dreams and realities. Art is such a beautiful thing.   I keep perusing.

Seeing photos of Escher as a young man, a young husband, as well as his self-portraits in spheres and mirrors really moved me.  In this one, he kind of resembles Picasso I think. In this one, he kind of reminds me of Coldplay’s Chris Martin. No wait, I think I see some of me in there. Yeah, that’s me–if I were a man I think.

I look at his self-portrait in Hand with Reflecting Sphere which reflects both himself and the room he’s sitting in. But upon closer inspection, it reveals both reality and non-reality.

MCE Hand_with_Reflecting_Sphere

Hand with Reflecting Sphere” — MC Escher 1935

Those hands!! I look at mine. My goodness! Those are my hands! He has the same creases on the same life line. How is that possible?

 I look at the dates of his work.  I try to recall the history of that time. This one is dated 1924. I envision flappers dancing the night away and families gathered around their radio to hear President Coolidge speak.

Oceans away in Rome, Italy, a young Escher meets the love of his life, Jetta Umiker. While America was mass producing Model T’s, Escher was quietly drawing the beautiful towns and landscapes of Viterbo, Abruzi, Corsica, Calabria, Amalfi, and Sicili.  MCE loved Italy, but then Mussolini came to power. Escher found his fascist ideals deplorable, so he moved his family to Switzerland, and then Belgium and then ultimately settled in the Netherlands until 1941 when WWII broke out. He remained there until his death in 1970.

When he sketched, what was his work environment like? Did he hear music in his head? Did he sip some Italian vino as he drew? How does one so perfectly capture the essence of an ant or a beetle? How do you freeze in your mind the stillness of something so small as if the tiny creature had posed for a portrait? How many hours and days and weeks did he spend when he so meticulously captured the landscapes of Italy?

What must it be like to silently appreciate every detail in the vastness of a city by the sea like Atrani, Coast of Amalfi or smaller landscapes like Street in Scano to the intimate portraits of his father George. Even as his father lay dying, Escher’s portrait seems to capture every hair on his head, a visual reminder for himself and others to not forget the beauty of his father’s soul.

When he created, what did he hear? Did he tune out the world’s outer clatter and create in silence or did he immerse himself in the rhythms and melodies found in nature and find hidden symphonies that inspired him?

It’s obvious what inspired him: everything. Escher was not content to draw with flatness, but with depth and dimension. He tapped into his unique gift and learned how to draw in a way that expands and changes the way we look at things.

Escher draws us in to his work with optical tricks but quickly leads us to deeper truths. The longer you stare at his work, the more your mind continuously expands. You can’t help but be blown away when you contemplate the infinite when going around and around an endless staircase or the use of hyperbolic geometry and symmetry as you move from a large central image to an exponentially smaller one in a repeating pattern.   You can feel the deeper truth at work in your own heart the longer you look.

Perhaps it’s the tug of our own inner law of entropy at work: The uneasy awareness that settles in knowing over time, we all become small, then smaller–then gone.

When math marries imagination and memory, well–it’s a beautiful thing. As a person who is often rooted too much emotion and feeling, I feel myself breathe in utter relaxation and find a sense of calm as the linear logic of math and predictable patterns make sense.   Until it doesn’t again. Poof! Mind blown—again!

Like excellent music, I don’t think I could pinpoint a favorite MCE work; there are too many I love! But one that really touched my heart was Three Worlds. MCE explained his goal in this work was to incorporate and connect multiple realities.

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“Three Worlds” — MC Escher — December 1955

That struck a nerve. Because this is the world where Liz resides! It’s called:

Nothing is Coincidence

and

Everything is Connected

 As someone who enjoys creating, I am most inspired by the way Escher refused to live a life of frustration constipation. (Living life doing the things that don’t interest you or motivate you). He didn’t hold back his art, or deny time for it, he let it out!

Escher seems to understand that when we create art, we leave behind something that resonates in the soul of someone else. One’s work easily transcends the length of one’s life when it has the power to connect with others. Something created can make someone else smile, or cry, or think about people or the world differently. The silence of art brings us both revelation and understanding of both the artist and ourselves.

MC Escher was known for restoring order out of chaos, be it one’s external world, or one’s internal mind. He also was a gifted genius employing techniques of beautiful precision. He found a way to visually articulate the ways that art can be composed of both math and science. Science and logic can beautifully coexist with nature and creation. As a creator, his work to me implies an understanding that he too was created. Perhaps in that vast space that lies between love and logic, vision and creation, he too found proof of God.

Official Site of MC Escher to purchase his work can be found here:  http://www.mcescher.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Crave and The Fix

One of my dearest friends in the world sent me King and Country’s  CD recently called “The Crave.”  If every other song wasn’t spectacularly amazing, this one brought it home—

It broke me

        If you’ve ever struggled with addiction or loved someone who has, then listen to this I beg you.  You’ll get it.

See I’m a strong girl.   These are the things I used to CRAVE:

  • Control
  • Stability
  • A Plan (see Control)
  • Having “it” together (family, work, my house, appearance, finances….the list goes on)

And then The Beast came to our home.  To my heart—an uninvited stranger who moved in without warning or permission—and foreclosed on my heart, and mercilessly tried to wreck my life, and that of my family.

We’re still processing and mending.  But above all I’m still believing and I’m still loving.  I’m living through something that nearly took away someone I love so much more than my own life and who all I wanted to do was :

FIX

      Surely, if I craved fixing my addict just a bit more than this person craved a fix, I’d be able to:

  • Convince them
  • Change them
  • Fix them
  • Make it all better

But I failed.  Or at least I thought I did.  Because sometimes human love isn’t enough I was so busy taking on the roles of detective, nurse, lawyer, and defensive lineman often simultaneously,   that it took me a while for me to learn it isn’t all my fault.  And it isn’t all theirs.

Addiction is two things:  A genetic predisposition and a choice.  The choice is the first time.  The addiction is all the times that come after.

I know now it won’t be me that can fix this.  Because THE FIX may be my goal, but it’s not my role.  This is something only God can do as my loved one decides to get extremely intellectually honest or in street lingo: Keepin’ it real y’all! 

“The others”–the ones what have walked this journey of one day at a time for some time now,  through shared experience, accountability, and unconditional love, will have to help my loved one pick up the pieces that I could not.

      This is what it’s like for the addict and the family:  Excruciatingly painful.  Isolating.  Really scary.  Exhausting.  Sometimes you feel judged or are misunderstood by those who haven’t ever been exposed to this.

But the suffering is also something more.  It’s redemptive.  Beauty shines brighter thru wet tears.  Appreciation for now comes when you lose so much and almost lose—well, everything.   Every other problem becomes so small.

And now I know people, too many, that have lost this battle.  People that suffer silently.  And I won’t be doing that any more.  My battlefield is becoming my mission field.

For I am not ashamed of the one I love who is getting the help they need.  I will forever be their:

  • Advocate, but not their enabler.  I will speak the truth, but in love.
  • Cheerleader, because encouragement is the seed that can blossom into confidence.
  • Prayer warrior, because the biggest battles are won on our knees, and the biggest war is fought for our hearts and mind.  If you think you don’t have an enemy bent to destroy both or either, you deceive yourself.

So devil take warning:

  • I am unmoved by you.
  • I am undeterred.
  • Above all I am not defeated—not now, not ever.

Because I have the King of kings on my side.  You have already lost.  For I have tasted The Cure .  His name is Jesus.  He is not just our Saviour, He is also our Saver and Redeemer.  He really does save the lost.  He really does comfort those who mourn and are crushed in spirit.   He does this not only because we first believed, but more importantly because He first loved us. 

Without faith, it’s not only impossible to understand this; I think it’s impossible to see the everyday miracles that God decides to bless us with.  Life is a mystery. It’s full of both joy and suffering, sometimes simultaneously.  Deserving neither, we experience both as a gift of opportunity to question everything until finally we reach the end of our limited human understanding.  That’s where we end, and God can finally begin.

       And to the families touched by addiction?  You are not alone.  You do not have to walk this journey alone.   May you find the courage to find a support group and attend meetings, find a supportive and empathetic church, and/or a close circle of true friends who get it, and may you come to believe and trust in a loving God who already has the power to heal all that ails you.    After all, we could all stand to take a hit of a drop of grace. 

Hope.  Love.   Believe.  And you shall live.

I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.  Philippians 4:13

Support possibilities for you or a loved one who suffers from addiction:

http://www.celebraterecovery.com/

http://al-anon.alateen.org/?gclid=CImZo7jw5LsCFa9lOgod2kcAkw

http://www.aa.org/

http://www.narconon.org/

http://www.helpguide.org/harvard/addiction_hijacks_brain.htm

 

       

Poison and Wine — The Power of The Words We Speak

POISON AND WINE – By the Civil Wars

This song simply says it best of all!  Such a talented duo!

      It happened again.  That thing that hurts me to the core.  And out of this raw place in my heart, my words came tumbling out.   Sometimes our words speak love and all that is good and lovely and pure and true because it comes from the fullest part of our heart that is content and knows what it means to be loved.  These words are a sweet wine, a pleasure to taste as they slip quietly into the ether landing in the soft pillows of your ears.  Like a chain reaction, your eyes light up and meet mine and for a moment in time, we are one.

      All too true, is that sometimes out of the darkest corners of our heart, the mouth speaks.  It’s a battle as old as time itself.  It’s the words that are born in a place where loss and fear of loss is never more than a whisper away.  It’s the trigger button that provides instant recall of something so painful or so scary that when the words come, they don’t self-edit or seek the brain’s permission:  Is this a good idea to say this now?

       This is the hardest part about being gifted with humanity.  We are more than our instincts.  We are instinct plus feelings.   We deceive ourselves and try to protect our tender hearts, as if hurting the heart of another soul will spare our own.  Except that it doesn’t.  We spew our poison because our anger, our rage, our fear, our sadness, our insecurities, and any and all of our other weaknesses overtakes us.   We get lost in the moment of what we need.  We try to take control of a situation or another person because we know at our core, we actually can’t.  Still we don’t want to go down without a fight.  The poison is out of the bottle.  And it spreads like a cancer.   Once we pour it out, we can’t pull it back in.

         You know.  If you’ve ever spilled words out of the poison bottle, you know.  It’s a bitterness whose purpose is to get even with another; it’s an ill-fated,  ineffective attempt to persuade somebody else that you are right.   But in the end, it is your cup to bear, and you drink it….alone.

          It’s hard to say words of love when we hurt.  When we are afraid.   When we’ve been misunderstood or wronged.   It’s hard to walk away if you always have to have the last word.  It’s hard to stay silent in the face of injustice, inequity, or danger.

       But sometimes, the battle is not ours to fight.  That’s called letting go.  Sometimes we can hold on in life best by intentionally letting go of the need to:

  • Say it
  • Solve it
  • Change it

Inner peace is never found in our external words, but our internal thoughts.  I forget this when I speak, but it becomes pretty crystal clear when I write, work on my photography, or spend silent moments with a loving God who created me.

Poison or wine.  Which words will you choose to speak today?

Just cause I said it
It doesn’t mean that I meant it
People say crazy things
Just cause I said it
Don’t mean that I mean it
Just cause you heard it… Adele – “Rumour Has It”

….For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.  Matthew 12:34

Barks at Choppers

soldier-and-dog-580x323Photo Credit:  Globalanimal.org

 

      I can’t help it.  I still miss Josh.  I loved that man like no other.  Josh was more than my master; he was my best friend. 

I must have flown more than a hundred missions with him.  I remember the first time he put me on a Chinook.  I was scared on the inside.  I was trembling.  Even though my training taught me not to fear the chook, chook, chook, of the blades, I still felt fear.  What would happen next?  Did Josh ever feel this inside?

Outside I am a pure eighty pounds of tan and beige hard fighting American glory.  With my titanium teeth and wicked sense of smell I can actually differentiate smells between a battery or the chemicals used as a charge in an IED.  Sometimes it’s more though.  Intuitively, I just know.  Josh is in trouble.  It’s what I don’t smell sometimes that I just know is lurking around the corner, behind a door or a wall.  That’s when I want to bark.  But I can’t.  It would get us both killed.  So I look at him and press against his thigh ever so slightly, in case it’s the last second on earth we ever spend together.  And then he knows.   I know the sound by heart what happens next.  Shelling.  Gunfire.  A spray of sound.  People fall.  Blood splatters.  We made it.  We’re safe again.  This time.

We completed mission after mission together.  I was tied to him by leash, but though he doesn’t even know it, it wasn’t really necessary.  See, he commanded my heart.  “Max, over here!” he’d order.   Josh and I fed off each other when it came to courage.  I’d set out before him, nose to the dusty barren ground,  looking for those damnable PIES (power supply, initiator, explosive, switch) sometimes made with the cheapest of materials, all meant to take us down.   We’d alternate saving each other like the rhythms of the ocean we once visited when he took me home to the States–a place the he and the soldiers always reminisced about.  Me, sniffing out IEDS, putting a paw in front of his foot, being careful not to bark, in case even a sound wave would set off the bomb, Josh pulling down his M16 and eliminating our common enemy.

Why were we here?  How did I get here?  I don’t remember my mother.  I don’t know if I had brothers or sisters.  All I ever remember is Josh.  At night with his ruck sack packed, ready for the next day and parked by his cot, I remember sleeping just a breath away from his canvas cot, his hand draped over and on my head.   We both would fall asleep exhausted like this night after night.  But still, my eyes may have been closed, but my brain didn’t sleep until I heard the quiet rumble of snore that tumbled out of Josh’s throat when he was finally deep in his gift of rest.

That’s when I would dream.  They say dogs only see in black and white, but in my dreams, oh man, was it living color.  I still remember when we went to the ocean together in the States.  He threw tennis balls into the water and I brought them back to him about a million times.  Good dog!  He’d say.  He was freer then.  We both were.  So much more than here.  

    A beautiful woman he called Claire was by his side on a blanket.  Oh, how I loved Claire and she loved me.  She would kiss my neck, and always had cold hot dogs wrapped in foil in a picnic basket for everyone, but she had a dedicated bag of them just for me.

Claire and Josh had three of the cutest kids I ever saw.  I’d lay down my life for those precious babies.   They’d roll all over me and I’d run and halt and fetch and chase and jump and cuddle with them.  That was the best love I’d ever known.  It’s all I think about when my eyes grow heavy at night.  I always thought we’d go back there together.

When were at this magical place known only as home, I rested like I’d never known.   I saw fire contained in a fire place, not being hurled back and forth between people.    I didn’t have to keep a bug in my ear to receive orders the enemy couldn’t hear from Master Josh.  And best of all, I didn’t have to wear that damnable pack on my midsection that kept my insides alive if the enemy fired at us.  And Josh wore something I never saw before too:  White t-shirts , plaid shorts, and flip flops!  No boots on this beach!   And the smells?  Pure heaven.  Salt and surf.  Hot dogs.  The smell of Claire.   I saw him kiss her once and then he saw me watching.  He stopped.  To pet me!  Can you believe that?   Here was the most beautiful woman we’d both ever seen and loved, but he picked me!

I spent three years by Josh’s side.  That’s a fourth of my entire life.  Sometimes I saw him cry.  It was when we went to those things called memorials where they hang a helmet on a rifle.  I figured it out over time.  It meant that friend wouldn’t be petting me anymore at dinner.  He wouldn’t be covering Josh’s and my back in a firefight.   One by one, sometimes our friends would simply vanish.

     And then it happened.  I wish I knew what the other soldiers were saying.  I had just woken up.  Why was my stomach bandaged?  Why were their small patches of fur on my face missing?  Why do I still smell something burning? 

My blood felt cold.  Where’s Josh It was my only thought.   So many hands patting me.  Their faces were all crying.  Why?  Where’s Josh?!?! 

But life’s not fair I learned.   I went through a series of men over the next few weeks.  I didn’t  go out in any more battles.  I heard words like “retirement” and “wouldn’t respond as well to another handler” and “it’s time.”  And finally the word of my dreams—home.   

It wasn’t long after that.  I was on a C-130 Hercules headed back to the States.  I sat bravely with all the other cargo.  Men in gear, ruck sacks, helmets, guns, water bottles, aviator glasses.  They were strong.  Brave.  Like me.

That’s when I knew.  I smelled him first.  There was a long box.  A box draped with a flag of red and white stripes and white stars embedded in dark blue.   Josh and I used to sit under the stars at night.  He’d say, “Max, when we get home, we’re going to have the best life ever!  You have no idea!”

       Since the first time I first accompanied him in that Chinook, I felt true fear.  I didn’t know what would happen next.  I put my head on my paws and whimpered.  Why don’t dogs have tears?  At this moment I just really needed to cry.

So many hours went by.  And then I saw her.  Claire!   Beautiful, kind, and tiny Claire. She was smaller now than I remembered her.  She was wearing black and hard a firm grasp on Josh Jr.  He was a mess.  All the kids were;  they were crying so hard.   But she smiled when she saw me.   She stooped down.  My intuition started acting up again.  It felt like I do when I had a flea I couldn’t eliminate simply by scratching.   Though I never had the gift of predicting the future entirely, I sensed  together we were going to mend our broken hearts together.  I bolted towards her like my life depended on it.  Because it did. 

I live with the Owens family now.  Josh Jr., Caitlyn and Madeline are my handlers.  My life is good.  But we all have a hole in our heart and not from a bullet hole.  Sometimes when I hear the familiar chook, chook, chook in the sky when a Chinook or a Black Hawk or an Apache hovers overhead, I bark uncontrollably.  I can’t help it.  I just want to see Josh again.  I hope and pray and bark that this is the chopper that’s finally going to bring him back to me, this flying metal savior who will finally bring my Master home. 

Finishing Well

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PROOF:  Good runners finish well!  My wonderful sister in law Bren crosses the finish line at Boston in 2012!

24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.  1 Corinthians 9:24-27

    Here we are again.  America is in mourning yet again after another terrorist attack.  We all watched in horror yesterday as the runners from the 2013 Boston Marathon were crossing or about to cross the finish line, only to suddenly realize a bomb, and then another, had detonated very closely to one another.

    Evil planned it this way.  Evil always plans it this way.  Destroy the innocent.  Destroy the maximum for maximum impact. 

But here’s the thing.  LOVE WINS!  I’ll say it again.  Love wins.

Just like the runners who trained by racing for months and months, the choice to love trains over the course of a life time.  See love is not easily entangled.  It does not falter.   It does not bail because it gets angry or doesn’t get its way.  It doesn’t boast.  It doesn’t quit.  And above all, it never fails.

The runner trains for months and years increasing their strength by going the distance each day.  Two miles today.  Two point four tomorrow.  Twenty six point two a year from now.  A runner increases his or her efficiency by perservering.  A four minute mile when starting out.  Then four point two.  And so on.  Until one is almost running with cheetahs and raking in times like a seven minute mile and beyond!  Runners are a special breed.  They run through pain.  They run through rain.  They run past the point where most people quit.  They run past the point they dropped of exhaustion only yesterday.

For a runner has one goal:  To finish well.  Though trophies and recognition is bestowed upon the one that crosses first, all know the real glory is to run with endurance and to finish well.  One must cross the finish line, and receive the real prize:  The honor and glory of a family who is so proud of you, a photo op of crossing the finish line, and the prize of satisfaction knowing you gave it your all, and you finished.   All your hard training has paid off.

My heart hurts so bad for all those who trained yesterday and never got to cross the finish line because someone or a group decided to ruin something beautiful with a moment of terror.  Here’s how it ends though.  The same way it always ends:

Good rushes in.  Good rushes in to assist the injured and comfort the dying.  Good tries to maintain order in sheer pandemonium.  Good has no fear.  Good seeks the security and comfort of others before one’s self.  Good always outnumbers evil.   Good happens because it first knows how to accept and give love.  And when someone knows that they are loved, it is easier to help or even sacrifice one’s own life to help another—even a perfect stranger.

So many runners trained so hard for yesterday.  They did not get to cross the finish line.  Instead they were learned through shock and surprise to exit the race and to run to shelter. The chance to cross the finish line was stolen.

But the chance to finish well is something no act of terror or thought of evil can claim.  In that respect, all the runners triumphed.  As did the families and friends who awaited with cheer and anticipation and joy to congratulate their loved one.

And the ones who perished?  God is in control.  I can’t claim to make sense of it.  I only know this.  God is just and God is in control.  Always.

I pray for each of these runners the opportunity to renew their strength and nourish their hurting hearts.  I pray each of us can learn to pass by the circumstances and destructive emotions that entangle us and seek a higher power that allow each of us the opportunity to finish well.   For then we gain the good life here and the perfect life for eternity.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.  Hebrews 12:1-3

Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
31 but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.  Isaiah 40:30-31

 

What We Draw Near

Cojoined Tree CIMG3853

     We have a new dog.  So I’ve been taking a lot more walks in nature.  So now it’s me, the dog, my son, and sometimes if I can manage one more thing in addition to a pocket full of treats, water bottles, poop bags, cell phone, and car keys, I bring my camera too.

       I’m finding that dog-walking is actually God-walking.  I’m walking with God as I enjoy all the good things God has blessed me with.

We walk together, my dog, my son, and I– sometimes talking, sometimes quiet, all the while finding amazing things to sniff, pick up, explore, and take pictures of.  I feel joyfulness in nature’s solitude and joy in fellowship with those that I love.  And it feels as if there is someone else with us too.  I can’t see or hear Him.  But it’s more than a feeling or intuition.  It’s just a knowing.   

     On one of our walks I saw this amazing tree.  I was immediately drawn to the tree.  For it is a co-joined tree.  Or at least that’s the term I gave it.  Is it one tree or is it two?  Have you seen one like this?  The base spreads out and out pops another tree, but they share the same roots, the same source of nourishment.  I looked up.  Oh my!  Look son, this tree is holding hands with that one!  Or at least that’s how it appeared.  They are not connected at the branches, but they certainly look like it.

The tree was at a concrete reminder of what I’m learning in my current bible study.

     Right now I’m elbows deep in another amazing Beth Moore bible study where we are studying the book of James.  James was the brother of Jesus (actually half-brother if you count the fact that God was Jesus father and Joseph was the father of Jesus, his three brothers and unspecified number of sisters).

The entire book of James is the one of my favorites because it is hard-hitting and puts the gears in motion to the words of our faith.  James teaches us about:

  • Not just enduring trials, but rejoicing in the process of the trial because of the way it refines us.
  • Being doers of our faith, not merely hearers of the word.
  • How our tongue is a source of both blessings and cursings and it is the rudder that guides our ship (tell me about it!)
  • How we are to eliminate all prejudice in our life and be active in works of mercy, especially regarding the poor.
  • How we are to yield, not show partiality, do good deeds, and to sow seeds of peace and goodness.
  • There are warnings about judging others, warnings about arrogance, and putting too much stock in “our plans” for our lives.
  • There are also warnings about riches and money.  If we lose our humility, then what good is our money anyway?
  • There is great wisdom about being patient while we suffer.  Oh yeah, who doesn’t want some of that?  It’s okay God, just take your time on this one, I’ve got all LIFE!  Seriously though, like we have a choice during our trials?
  • He concludes his six-pack of wisdom by talking about the power of prayer and how we are to help others who wonder away from the truth.
  • The whole book, all seven pages of it (in my bible anyway) is easy to read, but takes a life time to fully grasp.   But my favorite part might simply be this small nugget of truth:

“Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.”  James 4:8

     In this same chapter we learn how we don’t get what we most want in life because we don’t ask God, who created not only the whole universe, but also our tiny little self.  We spend our entire lives as if we want to be remembered like Frank Sinatra’s song:  I did it……”My Way!”  Or we ask God for something, but we ask with wrong motives.   Oh come on, who among us hasn’t chuckled as we identify with the little kitten on Facebook who woefully prays, “Lord if you can’t make me skinny, can you at least make my friends fat?”   Do we not sometimes pray for God to exact our rendition of fairness and justice?

So what to do about all in life that ails us? Inequities?  Relationships that go sour, or worse–end in abandonment?  Sickness?   Lack?  Trials of every kind?   Stress?  People who can’t seem to get it together, understand us, or do what we want them to do in order to get along?    Are we supposed to just totally surrender all?

Well, I read James and the answer is one I don’t like sometimes:  Yep!

But that means the other guy wins, I don’t get my way, I won’t be understood, it will hurt, or I can’t fix this.  Right.  Now you are where you need to be. 

Believe me I can write this better than I always live it out in my own life, but it really is true.  We waste so much valuable time we could be living, doing what we really love or at least finding out what that is, by trying to either manipulate or persuade people or situations to our liking to make life more tolerable.

It just doesn’t work like this.  In an odd sort of way James is a structured way to a sort of Zen-like happiness.  When you can truly rejoice in your trials because you know God’s in it, when you can let go of outcome because you know God will work it to the good (even if not here on earth or in your lifetime)  then you can truly be at peace.  You can be at peace and find joy as you suffer.  That’s what it means to share in Christ’s suffering.    This is how we become “strong in character and ready for everything!”  (James 1:3)

We ultimately have to make peace with our own demise.   I believe God teaches us (by giving us plenty of opportunities) to let go of everything else first.   Control really should be a synonym for futility.

I always say:  We are all just renters here.  At the end of the day, we own nothing, for tomorrow is not assured.

It’s good to lean on true friends and family sometimes.  But some things only God can fix—in His own way, and His timing.  Lean not on your own understanding, we are taught.  We can take it a step further—we can lean into the one who made us and loves us as if we are the love of His life.  That’s because we are.

We are all on a journey in life, trying to navigate through trials, learn a few lessons along the way, experience blessings, and hopefully be one to others too.  Like the trees in the forest, we are each unique with our own family branches and occasional nuts (but that’s another blog) and fruits.  Some of us are in full-bloom and some of us are watching the last of our leaves blow away   But as we each draw near to God, not only does He draw near to us, he draws us closer to one another too.  Like co-joined trees, maybe where we each of us ends, is the place where God begins.  God, our home base—He is at the core of our roots that nourish us and grow us, and when the storms come, though we sway, He helps us to still stand tall.

Princess of Grace

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PHOTO CREDIT:  KAROLINA KOTKIEWICZ

So maybe I wasn’t born into the Royal Family and beseeched with adoring Brits and Royal watchers the world over tracking my every hiccup, pimple, gaff, dress of the day, pound gained or lost, and event attended by infinite mobs of paparazzi with camera lenses the length of yardsticks.  I’ve never had women faint or men swoon and lay down their coat for my dry clean feet to tread, simply because of my existence.

I’ve never been deserving of security detail, a personal hairdresser, chef, or secretary to manage my job of social engagements and charitable work, though I would love to have the latter three just for kicks!

When I was pregnant with each of my own brood of three children, the world didn’t stop spinning if I woke up hugging the royal porcelain throne.  I certainly wasn’t given a diagnosis with as many syllables as Princess Kate has been given.  No, I was simply told, “It’s normal; now go eat a cracker.”

Yes, it’s not always easy being a mere serf to servitude and simplicity, complex array of daily chaos.   It’s challenging indeed.  There are no minions to blame.  There is no staff to assist.   There is only my individual blood, sweat, tears, and frequent sleeplessness that accompanies the challenge of trying to do it all: work a day job, raise kids, assist parents, volunteer at church and school, clean house, laundry, attend and reply to endless paperwork, pay bills, feed pets, chauffer children to school and activities, help with homework, find time to play, oh and breathe!

The real challenge is trying to find the essential time known as “Liz Time.”  Yes, these are the precious hours necessary to rejuvenate my own soul: writing, photography, my beloved bible study group, or trying to catch up with good friends.

Living life outside the palace is messy.  We sorely lack a protocol of propriety.  It’s not always structured and it’s rarely consistent.  Yes, high drama occasionally exists outside the drawbridge but doesn’t make the press (thankfully)!  There is no portcullis at our home’s entrance to shield us from the dangers of the outside world.  We have no moat to slow down the uninvited guest or Royal Guard to interrogate and arrest the annoying solicitors who all come at inopportune times.  Ready or not, our house is always open.

But before you grab a monogrammed hanky and cry for me Argentina, hold your horses.  I am grateful for my commoner status.  Above all, I am grateful that I don’t live inside a fishbowl where perfection is the water one must constantly swim in.  For I know this much is true:  I would drown.  Quickly.

See I have evolved over the years.  I have reframed my thinking.  I am not a slave to my family or even to forces outside my control.  I am indeed a princess of three things:

     A Princess of Procrastination:   Ask any accomplished, or worse, struggling (aka “wannabe”) artist, writer, painter, visionary (okay…I’ll stop there) and they will tell you this:  You sometimes must procrastinate regarding your duties of life in order to nurture your high calling, even if at this moment it is perceived only by you.   For who knows the plans God has for you?   Perhaps, you were born for such a time as time as this.  Translation: To respond to intuition and to occasionally shirk what others perceive as duty.  Wisdom whispers quietly sometimes.

     A Princess of Prognostication:  Yes, because the winds of perpetual change often blow in and out of our home, it sometimes feels as if our so-called fortunes can only be predetermined by the accuracy of my prognostications.  That is to say, if I freak out better and more efficiently, you will get off your butt and see the urgency this particular situation requires and quickly get on board!  Indeed! A prophet in her own household is rarely met with honor.  So be it.   My predictions, assessments, and royal decrees march onward, until even I am reminded of a simple truth:   Submit.  Pray.   You are not in charge.  Even though you sometimes act as if you are. 

     A Princess of Peripatetic ProportionsNothing lasts forever.  This too shall pass.  Wanderlust.   The world is so beautiful.

These thoughts comfortably coexist in my brain.   Life is sometimes challenging on the home front, but it’s equally good as challenges not only make us stronger; they reveal who we truly are.

In the midst of trial, I’ve been known to contemplate what life is like outside my kingdom.  What is happening at this moment under the Eiffel Tower?  Does the Taj Mahal have a five o’clock shadow?  Is a child crying for her mother in Halong Bay?  Will the Asteroid belt continue holding up around us?  Who is hurting near me?  Can I help?

I realize life is indeed good.  Blessed, in fact.  This is not of my making, but of God’s.  He has given me life, health, and a family to be grateful for and good things too numerous to count.  He has given me tears to assist with trials and a trust to deal with life on life’s terms:  a temporary assignment.    Because I don’t have to be entirely responsible for generating my own strength or controlling outcome, I am immensely grateful.

I am a princess indeed.  A princess of grace.  Thank you.  Thank you very much!

Park At Your Own Risk

Change is our only constant that we are called to navigate by – Liz Gray

      Sometimes you just have to risk it!  That’s what happened the other day when I got a craving for a Four Cheese Soufflé and a Black Cherry Low Cal Smoothie from Panera Bread.  I could walk the 15 yards or so from the parking lot, if there happened to be a space, or I could park on the side of the building where your car is mere inches from the entrance to the shopping center, but at risk for being demolished by cars entering shopping center.   In third world countries, it would be deemed a thoroughfare, but in my hometown, it’s just called a parking lot.

Yes, this forty-something mom took the dare!  She parked on the dangerous side.    After all, my car already has a few dings, what’s the harm if my car gets one more?

Not only did I park, I completely geekified myself by stopping long enough to take a picture of what was surely a divine sign of prophetic wisdom:

PARK AT YOUR OWN RISK

     Businessmen late for their Skype conference calls passed me by.  So did moms with toddlers, kids, and baby-on-board bellies.    Go ahead; get your latte and your bear claw.  I’m going to take a moment and pontificate this profound wisdom.

There are a few universal truths I have come to understand lately.  They are:

  • There are no coincidences
  • You make your own luck
  • You are not in control
  • Park at your own risk

Wait, don’t two of these contradict?  How can you be out of control and make your own luck?  What does that have to do with parking and risking?  I’ll tell you.  You make your own luck every time you wake up and say to yourself I’m going to keep going.  I’m going to try and do the hard thing I’m not sure I can do.  It could be a more challenging job, a new fitness routine, or a habit or addiction you decide today is the day you break it.  It could be the broken relationship you decide today is the day you to pick up the phone and try and repair it.

There is no guarantee of outcome, only possibility.  There are factors beyond our control.    We wake up, make our beds, step into reality and make our choices.  But much of what happens is circumstances.  At that point, our control resides only in our perspective.  How do we see what is happening?  Each circumstance can be seen as a tool for good.  For me, faith in God (a higher power) gives me continuous opportunity to trust in something bigger than me and a continuous learning opportunity to accept all that I can’t control.

This brings me to my final point.  Whatever happens in life, by all means, keep going.  Rejected?  Move on!  Or else, park at your own risk.  Got fired?  Fire up your resume and try again, or else park at your own risk.  Got fat?  (Fingers are pointing accusingly at self-belly here!)  Fix it.  Work out more, eat less, go to bed on time and get enough rest.

The thing is, in most of circumstances, we already know what we need to do.  We just have to step over the “fear hurdle”.  Sometimes we’ll pause and not decide.  We’ll try and wait out the hard thing that is unavoidable anyway.  We’ll avoid the person we most need to confront.

JUST STOP!

Stop taking the easy way out.  Commit to doing one thing today that you’ve been procrastinating about or avoiding.  Doing this on a daily basis is good practice.   Then you’ll be prepared when the really hard moments come.  By learning to face the moments and people that we’d prefer to avoid, you’ll toughen your mettle until one day you’ll have a fairly firm understanding that other people and circumstances were never what or who defined you anyway.  You do!

There are no coincidences.  Each moment really can be a divine appointment if we choose to see it as so.  The people we encounter and the challenges we face, may indeed be part of a “bigger picture” then we can see right now.  The key is to keep going, not quit, and find meaning in each moment so you can enjoy the journey.

It’s fine to park yourself now and then—everyone needs rest and relaxation.   The key is to not get a sign with your name on it.  Take risks in life, but don’t take the one that comes by staying in PARK.  Now go!

Run For Your Life!! (Portrait of a Winner’s Heart)

Photo by:  Bob Stuart

It’s been said a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.  Nobody knows this more than my sister-in-law Bren.  She always extends kindness and encouragement as a mom, wife, sister, daughter, and friend to many.  She works.  She trains herself and she trains others.  She’s climbed and reached the summit at Africa’s Mt. Kilamanjaro, has a 3rd degree black belt in Karate, and above all has the fierce courage of a lion.  She’s no doubt run a million steps, and every one of them was fueled by a desire to win and backed by her strong faith.

Every day she fearlessly and joyfully runs miles and miles.  I run a little, here and there, mostly indoors at an air-conditioned gym on a level surface that usually has a motor that keeps the ground as well as my speed—well, level.

She runs the way I wish to write. That is, she runs with endurance. 

She runs for her life!

You can’t help but notice a few things about her if you meet her, train with her, or just love her.  She bubbles over with encouragement and enthusiasm.  I want to run with endurance in the challenges I face, because God knows, the longer we live, the steeper our challenges.    Knowing her and watching her has taught me some things I need and want to do, in order to be who I think God has called me to be.

Be aware of your surroundings:    Internally:  What do you fill your head with?  Do you dream big?  Do you even have a dream?  No?  Then spend the very next first day you have free and write your own “bucket list.”  Commit to start exploring one item before this month is over.  Do not let another month go by, without attempting.  Externally:  Who do you fill your life with?  People that build you up, or tear you down?  Find people that support your dream,  not people that don’t think you can, or they wish to determine the scope and timetable of your dream.  Remember, it’s YOUR dream.  You set the pace and goals.   Surround yourself with the encouragers and leave the discouragers behind.

Seek correct approval.  For me, ultimately, I stand before God.  So I seek God’s approval and have to make my decisions according to what I know and believe about my faith.  At the end of the day, I also have to live with myself.  My own approval matters too.  I am learning that the voice in my head that sometimes says, “You can’t do that.   Who do you think you are?  You’re not talented, capable, deserving, or (fill in the blank),” is NOT the voice of God, or the better part of who I am.  We first must extinguish the negative voices inside and outside our head, in order to win.

.Run for Your LifeRun because you were born to do this!   Run because this keeps you alive.  This is your epicenter of what makes you beautiful, healthy, happy, and complete.  Keep going!

Discipline.  The daily habit of doing what you love is hard when you first get started because you have to “make time” for it.   Stay with it.   I’ve heard it takes executing a new behavior 30 days to become a habit.  That’s about right.  If life happens and you miss a day, get over it quickly, forgive yourself, and pick up where you left off the next day.  Repeat:  Keep going!!

Capture the journey.  Be aware and feel the sensations as you run.  Feel the way your heart beats and the magnificence of your own body’s complex machinery when it’s in motion.   Connect with the ground beneath your feet.  How do you respond when the pain comes?  Maybe you need to slow a little, but don’t stop entirely.  Keep going!

Run for joy. Run because it gives you joy.   Let this joy spill over into your relationships, and your daily tasks.  Enjoy the mundane tasks of life because you now frame those as training for the Real Thing. 

Persistance Pays!  Never Give Up.  Keep Going.  Did I mention this yet?  Daily discipline and a mental attitude that internally repeats I will not quit, I will not quit is key!

Run to Win Live “as if” This may be the hardest step of all, but it’s not insurmountable.   Basically, live “as if” you can already see yourself crossing the finish line and receiving the medal.  You have to believe in the possibility of the prize, before you’ll ever be ready to receive it.  Training, discipline, and persistence are all required if you desire to run to win.  Run and live “as if” you expect to win!

Run with Faith.  Run with endurance the race set before you.    Run to the best of your ability and leave the results with God.  Don’t skip any of the above steps.  Repeat at least 10,000 times.  Run until you know, at the core of your soul, you’ve got what it takes to win.  You may get a medal; you may not.  It’s not about the gold; it’s about the silver—who do you see staring back at you in the mirror?

Run until you see the person who says:

I can.

I will.

I do.

I love.

I am.

It’s all good.  Now run.  Run for your life!

 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Hebrews 12:1-2