Wednesday, May 19, 2010

An Experience I'll Probably Never Forget

Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.
1 Corinthians 9:24
For an hour or so leading up to my final relay leg that would take me through the Santa Cruz mountains on Highway 9, I studied my map for one specific reason. I wasn’t afraid of taking a wrong turn and getting lost (like I had done in my previous two legs =( ) since this leg had no turns. The reason I was studying my map so diligently was because I wanted to identify the points in my leg where I would be able to look forward to coasting a little bit. Thinking about climbing 1,000 feet over the course of three miles was overwhelming and I wanted to at least encourage myself with the points I could look forward to where the leg would flatten out and I would be able to rest. That would make the leg seem more manageable for me. As Sushma would put it, I was trying to mentally prepare myself =). I found two such points on my map. So as the time came near for me to begin my final leg, the task felt less daunting.

Even though my leg was a continual incline for the first ten minutes, I wasn’t in any way overwhelmed because I knew that it would soon flatten out. So I maintained a steady pace. But with each bend I rounded as I scaled this winding mountain, instead of it flattening out, it was only becoming steeper and steeper. I was beginning to get a little worried because I knew that I probably wasn’t even half way done. I even took out my map at one point to try to gauge how far I had gone but had no way of identifying where I was so I quickly put it back in my pocket. I didn’t bother trying to look at it again. And I just began to pray, “Father, please grant me reprieve. I just need a little break…”

Soon after this my team van pulled up beside me to offer me water. What a blessing! My throat really needed that. After taking a small swig and running next to the van for a couple of feet, I gave it back to them and they drove on. Shortly after that I passed by another team van waiting for their runner to reach that point so they could give her water. As I passed by them, they cheered me on and told me that I was doing a great job. “You’re half way done!” they said. “Half way!??!! That’s it??!?” I thought to myself. “I can’t keep running for that much longer!” All I could say to them as I went by was, “This is sooo hard…”

It was around this time that I realized that there probably weren’t going to be any flat points in this leg. And yet I kept on praying, “Father, please grant me reprieve. I really need reprieve.” I can’t count how many times I said that. I wanted to stop running and start walking, and yet I refused to let myself.

As I continued to struggle on, I noticed my team van was waiting for me up ahead to give me water again! What a great team! But this time, my teammate Jesús (farthest to the right in the picture above) hopped out of the van to come run by my side. After I took another swig of water, the van took off and left the two of us running with more than a mile left to go. My crazy teammate—who had just run the previous leg before me which was identical to mine, climbing 1,000 feet over the course of three miles—actually got out of the van to run with me! All I could do at that time was tell him he was insane! I would later tell him that I loved him.

As we ran together, I kept thinking to myself, “If Jesús has gas in the tank to keep on running after just finishing one of these, now there’s no way I can start walking!” So, in a good way, his presence challenged me to keep on running. But his presence didn’t just challenge me. His presence also tremendously encouraged me. He pointed out to me that I was going at a pretty fast pace and suggested that I slow down. I didn’t think about it for a long time before I was happy to take his advice.

We slowed down a bit as we continued to scale the mountain. It just kept going up. No reprieve. At one point a couple hours earlier before our final leg, we had started talking about Bible verses related to running. As we ran, Jesús asked me which verse I had mentioned earlier. I recited it (huffing and puffing):
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
Hebrews 12:1-2
That gave me renewed focus. As we continued to run, I meditated on that verse and thought of the verses that come soon after those two. I then recited those (huffing and puffing):
You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.
Hebrews 12:4
One of my shins was beginning to hurt. But now there was no way I was stopping. There was no way I was walking. And, somehow, I actually sped up. Somehow, I got a little burst of energy.

But I don’t think that lasted very long and I soon slowed down again. Our team van was just ahead and as we approached it, Jesús asked me something to the effect of if I wanted him to keep running with me or not. I told him to get back in the van. He seemed to agree and the only words I can remember coming out of his mouth at that point are, “It’s just you and the Lord the rest of the way.” “That’s right,” I thought to myself. The team offered me water but this time I didn’t want any. And as I ran past the van, Jesús didn’t get in. He just continued to run with me. I can’t say how much that meant to me.

At this point, I had no clue how much of the leg was left. All I knew was that I was just going to keep running, no matter how far it was. To be honest, I don’t think I expected the end to come anytime soon.

As we approached the next bend, there was a pedestrian road sign. For a moment I had a glimmer of hope that this might be the end but I quickly prepared for another long incline that would stretch before us, like all the other previous bends. But as we began to round this bend, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I saw two orange cones (the checkpoint markers indicating the end of the leg)! I can’t even begin to describe the joy that flooded into my soul. This is the end of the leg! I can stop now! Jesús told me to finish strong. So with the last burst of energy and strength I had, I kicked it up a couple of gears as I took off my wristband and, after a last few strides, gladly handed it off to Liz to complete my last leg as I watched her begin hers.

Relief rushed over me. I was done. “Thank You, Lord Jesus” was soon followed by “That was the hardest run I’ve ever done in my life.”

I walked over to my van to get my Powerade and all of a sudden a wave of emotion overwhelmed me. I grabbed my Powerade and walked off to a wooded area where in isolation I began to weep. Like, I was literally bawling as I found myself overwhelmed by the goodness of God. And as I reflected in that moment on what was happening in my soul, the reason it was such an intense moment is because I realized that running that leg was one of the best living illustrations of the life of following Jesus. Several Bible verses began to flood my mind and heart.
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint,
and to him who has no might he increases strength.
Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted;
but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.
Isaiah 40:28-31 (emphasis added)
I can’t count how many times I wanted to stop running during that leg. But somehow, my legs kept on moving. I know that the main reason I kept running was because God mounted me up with wings like eagles at the moments when I was most weary and exhausted. Life is hard and following Jesus is hard. There are times when I want to quit because I grow weary. But it is especially in those moments that God promises to renew my strength and mount me up with wings like eagles.
Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
2 Corinthians 12:8-10
More than three times I pleaded with God to grant me reprieve. I was desperate for some temporary relief. But, in love, He never gave it to me. Instead He let me keep running straight up hill because He wanted to give me something better. He wanted to give me His grace and power to be made perfect in my weakness. God doesn’t always give me the relief I seek in life. No matter how much I ask for it. But He promises to always give me the grace and power that I need for each day.
Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! 11 Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone?
Ecclesiastes 4:10-11
This was precious beyond words. If I had fallen down, Jesús would have been there to help me up. But one of the reasons I didn’t fall is because he was there. I didn’t stop running because he was there. Two were better than one. I’m convinced that one of the ways God answered my prayer for reprieve was to bring Jesús to run with me at my side. That was grace. That was strength. As we approached the team van that last time before we would finish the leg, Jesús said to me, “It’s just you and the Lord the rest of the way.” I now know that the way God wanted to make sure that I knew He was with me was through the tangible presence of my dear brother. In a very real sense, it was just me and the Lord.
I will never leave you nor forsake you.
Hebrews 13:5
One of the most precious ways that God makes His presence known to me in life is through the brothers and sisters He gives me to walk with me through my trials.

Again and again in my life, I find myself struggling wanting to be in control, wanting to know how things are going to turn out, wanting to feel like I can manage. Remember how I said at the beginning of this that I studied my map to know where the flat parts were? Remember why I said I did that? Because I believed that it would make the leg more manageable for me.

But wanting to make my life manageable, wanting to be in control, and wanting to know how things are going to turn out are all just different ways that I try to be God instead of letting God be who He has always been, long before I was old enough to have the nerve to try to take His place and long before I even existed. God is the one who’s supposed to manage everything. God is the one who’s supposed to be in control. God is the one who knows how everything is going to turn out. Not me. And He wants me to be content with that.

God stripped me of all these things as I ran my last leg of the relay. The leg felt anything but manageable to me. I had no clue where the easy points would be. I had no clue when the struggle was going to end.
For we walk by faith, not by sight.
2 Corinthians 5:7
As a follower of Jesus, I’m called to live by faith. Living by faith means that I’m OK not having control or not knowing how things are going to turn out because I trust that God is in control, that He knows what He’s doing, that He knows much better than I do, and that He’s good and loves me beyond measure. I didn’t choose to run the steepest hill in the relay (even though I could have chosen out). But, for some reason, in His perfect love and wisdom, God gave me the steepest hill to run.

Even though a lot of things may not make sense now as I am in the middle of this race called life, one day this race called life will be over. And if I trust in God now, when that day comes I’ll be able to look back on this life and make sense of it all then. And overwhelmed with even more joy than I had at the top of that mountain, I’ll be thankful that God didn’t do things my way because I’ll agree that His way was best.

I know this much now: I wouldn’t have had my last leg of the relay any other way.
A man of many companions may come to ruin,
but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.
Proverbs 18:24
Thank you, Jesús Carrera, for reminding me that there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. I love you brother.

Thank You, Jesus Christ, for being the friend who sticks closer than a brother. I love You Lord.


Jessica said...

you did it! thank you for your reflection.

travellinghaj said...

thanks so much for this

Anonymous said...

Amen and amen, brother!

Esther said...

Amen! thanks a lot for this it has really encouraged me.GOD BLESS.