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Just Keep Running

Every time I see a grassy school soccer field, my side hurts. The mere sight takes me back to being that freckle-faced girl blowing her sweaty bangs out of her eyes with fierce frustration. Once a year (at least) we had to run a mile. One thing little Emily had going for her was confidence in those early years and I always just knew I was going to kill that race. I'd sprint at the sound of the whistle and grin as I left the boys in my dust. Every time, every single time, I'd be met with stabbing pains in my side and the worst thirst I was sure anyone had ever experienced. Suddenly, I'd go from being determined to win, to being determined to just live.  Never mind that stopwatch. I just wanted to know how many more laps I had to go before I could breathe again.

I am still not a runner. I lack just about everything the devotion and patience required to be a successful athlete. The idea of waking before dawn alone repulses me. Add to that the idea of sweating or doing anything to inflict physical pain on myself and I'm out. Fully aware I am getting no younger or thinner this way, I'm not ready to commit to such shenanigans just yet.

And yet, I have this race to run.  

Today. Now. Yesterday.

The goal our coach set for us in those elementary days was never one of absolute defeat. He never expected every single one of us to win that race. Only one would. His goal for us was merely to beat our own time. He was interested in our progress. He'd show us last year's time, then either pat us on the back for surpassing it or lift our chins and remind us of the potential we held to reach the goals set uniquely for us. 

That imagery helps me make sense of this course the Lord has set before me. Others surround me, but my race is no more about them than theirs is about me. It's all about Him and the plans He has for each one of us. He knows who will finish first. He sees who has put in the work to run their races well. Before we ever grab our sides, He knows how bad it's going to hurt when we place expectations on ourselves that will only cause us pain and frustration. He knows last year's time and has given us every opportunity, all the instruction and resources we need to beat it this year. We get to decide the outcome. 

One thing I had going for me as a young wife and mother was confidence. I just knew I was going to kill it in those roles. I remember full well walking down the steps at church, quietly (ahem - naively) confessing to a friend's mother that I knew my sweet bundled newborn would inevitably make mistakes eventually, but that I was quite confident she was absolutely perfect. (Cut me some slack - that first child is usually pretty darn close.) We were embarking on happily ever after and I was leaving my peers in the dust.

It didn't take long for those stabbing pains to come. The goal changed - on a dime, it seemed - from winning to surviving. I was in my early twenties when the pain became so great I started wondering just how long I had to stay on this ride. It was a darker time than anyone knew. I just wanted to know when I might breathe again. Standing way over here on this side of the mountain, where I can plainly see the glory that was on the other side of that near impossible climb, I still hesitate to confess what a struggle it was.

The enemy is just like that. He'll shame us into never sharing our struggles if we aren't wise to his schemes. Meanwhile, someone within ear shot is almost always longing to hear a victory song, to glimpse a light that could lead them out of their own darkness. I know because I've been that girl. Now, I'm learning to let His light shine through my cracks.

We have a house full of children and we've been at this for a lot of years now, but I still feel like I am flying by the seat of my pants most days. From those very first days with that seemingly perfect newborn, the Lord has been so faithful to lead us just like He promised He would. When we seek Him - and we don't always do that like we should - He is faithful to give us every opportunity and all the instruction and resources we need to run this race well. It is when we demand our own way that become raging, blubbering messes who cannot see the light of day.

One of my little ones is a lot like me. I found her crying this evening after her actions had led to discipline once again. She's promised so many times to behave. She wants to be good. She just cannot help but demand her own way, too. It never ends well, but she hasn't seemed to catch onto that just yet. Bless her heart, I heard her crying out to God begging Him to help her be good. And this wasn't the first time.

As I stood in her doorway, I calmly told her the same truths again.  This time, they echoed in my ears. (Don't you love it when that happens? How God applies the words you're speaking to a child right to you, His child? It gets me every time.)

"Baby, you don't have to beg Him. He loves you. He's already here. He's already helping you. There is nothing you could ever do that would change that. Every day, though, you get to choose. Your choices determine your day. Things will happen that you cannot control, but you can always control your choices. And you are only ever responsible for your choices. We want you to have good days, to be happy, and to get to do fun things, but it's really up to you. God, Daddy, and I will never stop loving you, but only you get to decide how your days are going to go. That will always be true."

Her gasping stopped, her little curls were sticking to her tear-stained face, and her eyes were locked on mine. We talked about how much easier it is to breathe when we calm down and realize what it is true instead of getting so caught up in what we feel that we're gasping for air. The opportunity to go and play like she had hoped to had still passed her by. The consequences remained. But the love, the embrace, and the grace gave her courage to believe she was actually okay and tomorrow really will be a new day with new mercies and chances to try again.

Whatever your race, whatever your fight, keep the faith, friend. You do you. Go at your own pace. Just keep running. Compare your time only to your time before. Be better today than you were then. Learn from the pains that came and do what it takes to keep breathing when they come again. He is faithful to guide you. He's given you all you need to make it. Don't look to your right or to your left. Die to competition or you'll lose every time. Remember who you are and remember whose you are. Wherever you are, whatever you have done, let His love, His embrace, and His grace give you courage to believe you are actually okay and tomorrow really will be a new day with new mercies and chances to try again.

"I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also all who have loved his appearing."
2 Timothy 4:6-8

Lord, let this be our anthem. Help us keep the faith, fight the fight, finish our races well. Most of all, O God, let us love your appearing. We long to see more of You.


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