Tuesday, June 22, 2010

In the shadow of Your wings

...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... Isaiah 40:31

There are those moments in life you will never forget...moments you return to when you are doubting, hurting, or afraid....those times when it is undeniable that God is speaking to you in a way that goes beyond rational explanation. I write the below as a reminder, so that when I am in a dry place someday, feeling far removed from God, I can remember that HE IS. It may not seem miraculous or special to anyone else, but I truly believe that if we seek Him, God will oftentimes meet us where we are, speaking to us in a way that allows us to see and believe.

Saturday morning I woke up at my parents' home in Port Orchard. My plan was to go for a run that day, but nothing in me wanted to go. Nothing. I got up and dressed in my workout clothes, and extended my breakfast as long as possible. I complained to Jason that my knees already hurt and I had no energy. It was chilly and drizzling outside. Finally, I determined that if I didn't leave soon, my window of opportunity would pass.

Up until this past December, 6 short months ago, I would have claimed that I had never run more than 2 miles in my entire life....and that was back in high school. I would get knee pain, shin splints, and feel like my chest was going to explode. I'm sure these are normal things for people who don't run, but to me the thought of running was torture. After Anna Ruth was born, however, I found that getting my daily 3 mile walk in with the three children was next to impossible. My entire exercise plan was undone. A friend suggested we train for a 5K run, and I laughed. However, several other friends were doing it, so I decided I had to give it a try. I quickly found that, though it wasn't my favorite activity, I soon pushed past the 2 mile mark to run 3, 4 and 5 miles. One time in late March, I ran 7.2 miles on flat ground. However, my legs felt ready to collapse and I had fairly severe IT band pain and overuse syndrome after this. I had to stop running for a while then start over at 2 miles and slowly build back up. Even now, after 6 months of running, I often loathe the first 3-4 miles. To put it plainly, it's not a sport I choose to do because I love it. I run because it is the most expedient and effective way for me to keep in physical and cardiovascular shape.

I had been struggling for a few days, being in a place of mental turmoil....feeling hurt, lonely and broken. I wanted desperately to feel God's presense, to be comforted. But, this seemed a remote and unattainable goal. It didn't seem possible. Yet, I put on my Hymns playlist. (I typically don't do this while running, as it would have me going slower than a snail.)

About 20 minutes into my run, the song "Lay em Down" started to play. I felt like God was beginning to speak to me in the way He always does for me. For me, it's never an audible voice, but the strongest sense that overtakes me....almost like a pressure on my chest. Sometimes I hear words in my head...sometimes I don't. However, I'm beginning to recognize a pattern in how He communicates with me. I heard Him tell me to listen to the words of this song. I started the song again.....and again......and again.....and again. Each time I would start it, my mind would almost instantly wander away. It was crazy! I kept hearing Him tell me to LISTEN.....So - that is how we rolled - He told me to listen, I restarted the song.....my mind wandered - He told me to listen, I restarted the song...my mind wandered...over and over and over again. Finally (this must have been a miracle in and of itself) I was able to get through the entire song entirely focused on each word. Here they are:

Come down to the river
Come and let yourself in
Make good on a promise
To never hurt again
If you're lost and lonely
You're Broken down
Bring all of your troubles
come lay 'em down

All you sinners
And the weak at heart
All you helpless
On the boulevards
Wherever you are now
Whatever evil you've found
Bring all of your troubles
And come lay 'em down

We're all tied to the same old failings
Finding shelter in things we know
We're all dirty like corrupted small towns
We'll bring our troubles
We'll bring our troubles lay 'em down

All you rich men
And the high above
All those with
And without love
All you burdened
Broken down
Bring all of your troubles
Come lay 'em down

The playlist kept on rolling, and I began to notice something. I was about 30 minutes into my run and wasn't the least bit tired and had no aches at all. As I headed back to the end of the road I had planned to take, I decided to take a different route and go a little farther. Then the song "Your love, oh Lord" by Third Day came on, from Psalm 36.

Your love, oh Lord
Reaches to the heavens
Your faithfulness stretches to the sky
Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains
Your justice flows like the ocean's tide

I will lift my voice
To worship You, my King
I will find my strength
In the shadow of your wings

I began to have an energy I could not explain. I felt as if a balm was being poured over my soul. I kept running. As I ran on, my senses became accutely aware of my surroundings, and I became more and more aware of how abnormal this run was. By this point, I was running hills - up and down I went, and my pulse didn't seem any more than if I were sitting in a chair at home. My knee didn't hurt, I didn't feel like I was sweating, my chest wasn't burning, I wasn't thirsty or weak. At one point, I remember literally looking down at my body to make sure I was running and not walking. It just didn't make sense. I ran on. As the words of the song coursed through my veins, I felt God speaking them to me and I experienced an indescribable peace.

God began to show me that it was Him sustaining me through this run. This was not me. He will help me to do many incredible and mighty things, but there is no room for pride or boasting, because my purpose is to glorify Him. There is unlimited potential to what He can do through me, but I must give Him the glory so that through me others may find Him.

As for me, may I never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of that cross, my interest in this world has been crucified, and the world's interest in me has also died. Galatians 6:14

I asked God to keep speaking to me. I ran past the spot where shortly after I turned 16, I drove off the road going about 100mph and landed in the only patch of blackberries in a road entirely lined with trees. Once again, I felt humbled that my life had been spared, despite my foolish actions.

I ran past the former home of a dear Christian woman, Nancy, who now lives in Heaven. She is the mother of one of my dearest friends. I felt her cheering me on, and nostalgia swept over me. My eyes were full of tears.

As I neared the bottom of Harper Hill, I decided to turn left and run to the Harper Dock. I ran out to the end of the dock. It was amazing to be out there - surrounded by water on both sides. I lifted my arms to Heaven and looked out at the beauty around me. My eyes were drawn to movement in the water nearby, and I thought I might be about to see a whale or sea lion. I asked God to show me what beautiful creation He had for me to see. I continued jogging in place and had decided to move on when I felt God telling me to wait. This happened twice. I excitedly awaited seeing the creature up close. Surely it would be amazing if God had wanted me to see it. The bubbles came closer. Finally, I saw it......two scuba divers passed beneath me. "This is my most beautiful and precious creation," God said to me. I can't really describe the awe I felt in this moment. It was definitely what some might call a moment of truth.

I ran on, now an hour into my run....still not tired, hurting, or thirsty...full of energy. I ran around the waterfront, up and down hills. I turned off my iPod so I could hear oncoming cars on the narrow winding road, and I began to feel God's presense a little less closely. I began to wonder how far I had run. I began to plan the rest of my run, capitalizing on this amazing situation. I would run down to the ferry dock, then up to the top of Southworth via a long steep hill, up a few sideroads, then back home. I was starting to think how awesome it was that I had been running for so long and so far without even breathing hard or hurting at all. I remembered Jason telling me only a small percentage of the population could run for more than an hour.

I was 3/4 the way up the steep part of the big hill when I heard God's voice again....telling me to stop and turn around. WHAT? This defied every aspect of my personality.....I don't start up any big hill I have planned to conquer and stop, not in this or any area of life...especially if there is nothing wrong. Surely He didn't really mean to stop and turn around...not when I've been going for so long....when I haven't had any pains?! I had come this far! Surely this wasn't God's voice I was hearing. Besides, would it really matter if I went the rest of the way? I was almost there! This was crazy! I stopped to stretch, fully intending to keep going. I did. I rounded the corner and continued to progress toward the top. Certainly it wouldn't really matter, right? I mean, why would He carry me on this long journey just to have me stop right before the pinacle...the very top of the biggest hill? (I guess in my heart, I probably knew the answer to this question.)

There He was again....complete with the pressure on my chest...."Turn around now.....Turn around now....Turn around now.....It's time to go home" I heard. Ok, God. Yes, I'll obey......I turned around and headed back. He began to show me my need to listen closely to discern His voice and then to obey it, even when it seems to go against everything in me....when it's not convenient to my nature. A muscle in my leg started to hurt. I've never had pain there before, so I dubbed it my "disobedience muscle".

I'm still amazed that despite God having just given me such a beautiful gift, one that I was even still in the midst of experiencing, I still wanted to rebel....my own nature wanted to triumph and receive even the small glory of setting my route and goal....even though I knew the entire run I was riding on the wings of eagles. I just couldn't obey when I first heard His voice.

Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak!" Matthew 26:41

I arrived home 1hr and 41 minutes after I left....not tired, not weak, not thirsty or hungry, a normal pulse - my sore "disobedience muscle" my only indication I had been running for so long. I think I could have run for hours on end. I'm sure I could have had God willed it.

I drank a glass of water, fed my baby girl, and took a shower. A few hours later as it neared dinner, I realized I had forgotten to eat lunch. All of these things are very abnormal for me, for I typically need to drink and eat very soon after running much shorter distances. It's as if God was telling me, "I am sufficient. I will sustain you."

In the two days since the big run, I have been reminded of how very miraculous that day was. Tonight, I was at the gym and chose to do the stationary bicycle in order to give my body a rest. 15 minutes into my workout, I was sweating and my heart was pounding. I was reminded that it is like this but worse most every time I run.

I wish I could say that that 1 hr and 41 minutes took hold of my heart and mind, never to return to my former struggles. I think part of human nature simply prevents that. However, I do have that experience to remind me that I can do everything through him who gives me strength...Phillipians 4:13

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