Footpath toward Forgiveness

The Biblical book of Genesis outlines mankind’s beginnings on earth.  Starting with the accounts of the creation and the fall of man in the first few chapters, Genesis continues to chronicle the origins of God’s plan to redeem mankind from sin.  The final 13 chapters, from 37 through 50, are an account of the story of Joseph.  Joseph’s story is rich and compelling, and much more than merely inspiring a musical, Joseph’s story foreshadows God’s ultimate plan of redemption which was fulfilled in the life of Jesus.  If you haven’t read it, I encourage you to read it and then come back and finish reading this post.

I want to focus on one aspect of Joseph’s remarkable story, and that is forgiveness.  When Joseph forgave his brothers it inspired them to repent and then reconciliation was possible.  This made a way for the entire family to be preserved during the famine and ensured the survival of the nation of Israel and the continuation of God’s plan of redemption for all mankind.

First Step toward Forgiveness–Gratitude

It is worth noting that there was a process involved for Joseph to arrive at the place where he was able to forgive.  Considering the enormity of his brothers’ transgressions, it is amazing that he was able to feel anything but contempt and a desire for revenge for all the suffering they caused him.  At their first meeting I believe that he did feel contempt and a desire for revenge as all the painful memories of what they did to him flooded his mind.  The first time they came to Egypt to buy grain, Joseph recognized them instantly but pretended he did not know them, and he treated them harshly.  I am sure that his longing to know the welfare of his father and younger brother Benjamin kept him from fully enacting revenge, and hearing of their welfare filled his heart with gratitude.  And even though he was grateful to hear good news of his father and younger brother, he did accuse his older brothers of being spies and threw them in jail for three days.  Gratitude is the first step on the footpath toward forgiveness as gratitude reminds us that there is something good even in the midst of the bad.

Second Step toward Forgiveness–Compassion

The second step on this footpath is compassion–recognizing and seeking to relieve another’s suffering.  Joseph’s compassion for the suffering of his family back in Canaan was stronger than his desire for revenge, so he released his brothers to return home to feed them, but he kept Simeon in jail to guarantee that the brothers would come back with Benjamin.  The brothers believed that these troubles came upon them because of their past treatment of Joseph, and they expressed their guilt and regret over how they treated him.  They expressed regret but not remorse.  The felt regret in that they feared further punishment, but they did not feel remorse for the pain they caused Joseph.  Even so, their regretful expression touched Joseph’s heart and he began to weep, and his tears were a salve on his emotional wounds that began to soften the hardness of his heart toward them, and as his heart healed, he was able to take the third step on the footpath toward forgiveness.

Third Step toward Forgiveness–Acceptance and Meaning

The Bible does not record what was going on with Joseph between the time of his brothers’ departure home to Canaan and their return to Egypt with Benjamin.  Based on his declaration to his brothers when he revealed himself to them (Genesis 45:1-15), I think that during this time in between there were more tears shed and prayers prayed so that Joseph could gain understanding of God’s plan in all of this.

During this time as he gained understanding, Joseph was able to accept that there was a higher purpose for everything that happened to him.  Joseph was able to accept that these events, as negative as they were, were all a part of God’s plan to preserve the lives of his family.  Joseph was able to find meaning through this acceptance and thus was able to come to a place where he could finally forgive his brothers and let go of the hurts of his painful past.

It was Judah’s sincere expression of remorse for the pain they caused their father by the harm they inflicted on Joseph that was the breaking point for Joseph.  Judah demonstrated a true change of heart.  Joseph could no longer contain himself and declared his forgiveness for them and laid out the plans he had in place to provide for his family in Egypt now that he was in a position to do so.  Joseph already forgave them, and he designated the land of Goshen for them to settle long before they arrived with Benjamin.  When the brothers knew they were truly forgiven, they were able to move forward toward repentance and reconciliation.

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The Footpath toward Forgiveness is paved by:

Gratitude

Compassion

Acceptance

Meaning

Forgiveness

The Footpath toward Forgiveness is by no means a simple road to travel. The footpath is rugged and uneven.  It is unpredictable and full of unforeseen obstacles.  We must be aware of where we are placing our feet at all times lest we trip, slip, or fall.  We cannot rush.  It takes time to forgive and let go of the hurt with the intention of never taking hold of that hurt again.  We must accept the fact that throughout the process we will be hurt again and again by the same people, and with each new hurt we may need to start over with this process of finding a reason to be grateful in the moment, being reminded about the suffering of others and our need to be compassionate, accepting that there is a greater purpose and a deeper reason they hurt us, and to discover the meaning of it all.

kindness-quotes-77We also need to recognize that those who hurt us are themselves people who are in pain.  We must also accept that we may be the cause of their pain, and we must allow them all the time that they need to travel this footpath for themselves to find it in their hearts to forgive us.  If we can be humble enough to realize this, we can help those who hurt us in their journey by showing them kindness, which will in turn enable us to forgive and bring healing.  After all, being kind is much better and more rewarding than being right.

 

A Tree Grows in Adversity

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This quote sounds very empowering.  It has also been said that the choices we make control our destiny.  But I wonder how much control do we really have over the circumstances of our lives based on the choices we make?  The reality is that so much of what happens is happening to us beyond our control, and it is not our fault.

I did not choose for my father to die when I was twelve years old.  I did not choose for my mother to die five days after my wedding.  I did not choose to battle infertility for seven years and then have a special needs child.  These things happened beyond my ability to choose, and none of those events was my fault.  Likewise, many people do not have a choice in their life’s circumstance, and they have very little opportunity to change their lots in life.  I mean, can I honestly go to the slums of India and tell those living there that they just need to make better choices in order to have a better life?  As if it was their fault that they are there and as if they do not live in a system that traps them in poverty.  This insight is based on the fact that I saw the movie Slumdog Millionaire.  I have zero knowledge of the history or current events of India beyond that.

Does a tree have a choice about where it is planted?  What tree would not choose to be planted in the richest soil with access to sunlight and rain?  The vast majority of the trees in the world are not even planted by human hands.  They are planted without a thought or a care.  Many trees sprout from a seed haphazardly dropped by a squirrel or a bird, or the seed was blown by the wind and landed when the wind ran out of air.  Trees have to withstand all kinds of weather and hardships—lightning storms, high winds, fires, humans who chop them down to use their wood, etc.  They do not have the opportunity or the ability to move out of harm’s way to a better spot in the forest.

What about us?  Just like trees, we continue to grow, but sometimes we get pruned.  The Biblical allusion to pruning is that a tree is pruned so that it can grow stronger and produce more fruit.  I sometimes feel that I get pruned so that I will stay small and mediocre.  It feels like every time I reach out a branch, someone is there with a chainsaw to cut it back.  No matter.  Just as a tree cannot help but continue to grow, I will continue to reach out, though perhaps in a direction away from the chainsaw.

mystical-angel-oak-tree-louis-dallaraWhat is it that determines the strength of a tree?  We can all agree that the tree’s true strength is not in its beautiful foliage or the interesting twists of its branches or even the sweetness of the fruit it produces.  The strength of a tree is determined by the depth of its root system and the quality of the soil in which it is planted.  Yet, while a tree does not have a choice about where it is planted, we do.  Most often we are able to grow our roots deeper in the soil in which our lives are planted and draw from the rich nutrients and water deep below.  Sadly, sometimes as we dig deeper into the soil beneath us we discover that it is barren.

While adversity is beyond my control, I am fortunate in that I do have a choice when faced with difficulties.  I have a choice to take a chance to uproot myself in order to find richer soil in which to plant myself so that I can change and grow and produce fruit.  Adversity unveils this choice.  Adversity causes me to consider the choices I can make to bring change to my circumstance.  I need to make a decision about whether I stay and tolerate a barren environment or whether I uproot myself and seek out richer soil.

There is much to consider when considering making a change.  I understand that I really cannot choose what I want in every situation, because my life is not my own.  My life is not about me.  I am connected to family, friends, coworkers, bosses—all of whom are affected by any choice I make for myself.  I need to consider the ramifications of my choices.  Is it worth uprooting myself, or should I just tolerate my current situation and hope that something will happen to bring the barren soil back to life?  I don’t have an answer, but I do have hope in knowing that

“…God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

Race Recap: Med City Half Marathon 2017

May 28, 2017—the date I finally achieved my goal of a sub-three hour half marathon. It doesn’t seem like a big achievement knowing that an average runner aims for a two hour finish time. However, if there’s one thing I’ve learned about distance running is that there is no reason to ever compare myself to another runner. The only person I’m competing against is me, and the only real comparison is my results from the last time I did this distance on this particular course. This was my seventh half marathon. Results from my previous half marathons ranged from 3:53 to 3:08.

So, based on this, a goal of a sub-three hour half marathon was reasonable for me, but I had a bigger goal in mind. In each of my previous half marathons I did great in the beginning and then fell apart at some point and suffered through to the end.

• Half marathon #1—I did okay the first half, but then fell apart physically and emotionally during the second half.

• Half marathon #2—I was on target for a sub-three hour finish when my left hamstring began to spasm and I had to hobble through the last two miles.

• Half marathon #3—this was the year after my full marathon. I was devastated that the finish line was torn down, so I needed to go back and experience the finish line. I had a severe case of plantar fasciitis, so I had to walk the course.

• Half marathon #4—I was doing well up until mile 9 when my right calf seized up, and did not let loose for the rest of the race. I limped through the last four miles.

• Half marathon #5—My training was going really well until the last few weeks before the race. I broke a toe, so I wasn’t able to run for two weeks while that healed up. Then the Monday before the race, I had to be taken to the ER due to a severe bout of vertigo. I should have pulled out, but I decided to do it anyway even though I was still experiencing dizziness. It was grueling.

• Half marathon #6—Another case of a hamstring spasm in the last few miles.

My bigger goal was to actually feel good and enjoy the entire race, and to be able to function afterwards. This was much more important to me, and I would have gladly slowed down and held back and accepted a finish time of greater than three hours to feel decent at the end. And, I am thrilled that in addition to a 2 hour 50 minute finish time for the 2017 Med City Half Marathon (28 minutes faster than the last time I did this distance on this exact course in 2015, and an 18 minute personal best overall); I can truly say that I have never enjoyed a race experience more. I felt good the whole way, and I was still able to spend time with my family the rest of the day with minimal pain.

Now is the time I assess how I did. Could I have done better? Honestly, no. I do not regret one thing about this race nor the training leading up to it. So, what did I do right? I think it boils down to three things:

1. Nutrition

2. Consistency with running

3. Heart-rate Training

Nutrition

I started using Isagenix products in August 2016. I use their protein shakes twice per day, take their vitamins, and used their performance fueling for my long runs. As a result, I lost more than 20 pounds during training, and the fueling (which consisted of a protein shake with Amped Power pre-race, a scoop of Amped Hydrate in each of my water bottles on my fuel belt, which I sipped on throughout the race, and two Amped Fuel gels, which I took at miles 4 and 8, and then a protein shake post-race). I have never felt healthier.

Consistency with Running

In past years, I began running in late February or early March and carried through until November when all of my races were finished for the year and the harsh winters of Minnesota were on the horizon. It was usually at that time of year when I developed some sort of injury that prohibited me from running—plantar fasciitis, a sprained toe, tendonitis, etc. I did strength training and spinning classes during the winter, but when I began running again, it was such a shock that everything I gained the previous year was gone and I had to start over from square one as if I’d never run a mile.

This past year, I joined the Chatty Chicks running group; and the promise of time with friends who also enjoy running and coffee kept me going even as the days grew colder, icier, and darker. I discovered that with a headlamp, ice cleats, and layers and layers of running tights and shirts and jackets and gloves and hats and face masks, I can keep going. It also helps that there was the option of an indoor track when conditions grew dangerously icy! I’m truly grateful to this group of ladies who welcomed me into their flock and enthusiastically cheered me on during this race.

Heart Rate Training

There were a couple of the Chatty Chicks who used heart rate training for the Twin Cities Marathon. I joined them for one of their training runs…okay I didn’t actually make it the whole distance. I escaped and did about 4 ½ miles; however, I actually ran the entire 4 ½ miles. I’ve never done that! I’ve always used a run/walk method. With heart rate training, you go low and slow: a slow pace to keep your heart rate low. I decided to give this method a try as I trained for the 2017 Med City Half Marathon, and it worked.

Another thing I did during training was I did not race during my training cycle. In the past I would do 5K’s, 10K’s, 15K’s in an effort to “build up” to the half marathon distance. I learned that I was working too hard and tearing my body down. That’s why I fell apart during my big races. This time I only allowed myself to do one 10K in support of a friend whose son was battling brain cancer. Other than that, I kept my focus on the training plan.

The Race: Med City Half Marathon 

The weather conditions were absolutely perfect on race day. Even with minimal sleep the night before, I felt great. Besides, does anyone sleep well the night before a race?

For miles 1-6, which are mostly hills, my strategy was to walk up the hills and run down in an effort to conserve my strength and energy. This worked beautifully.

For miles 7-10, I ran/walked with a 2:1 interval (2 minute run:1 minute walk). There were a few places I pushed myself to run further, and was pleasantly surprised that I was able to.

For miles 10-11.5, I walked the majority of this section as it is a bit of an incline, and I was getting tired.

For miles 11.5 through the Finish, I was familiar with the course so I planned out the sections I would run and the sections I would walk, and when I turned the final corner and saw the Finish line about a ½ mile away I burst into tears as I realized that I was having the race experience I wanted. I had no idea what my time was at that point. I didn’t allow myself to scroll to that information on my watch, and I’m glad I didn’t know because it was such a wonderful surprise to see the clock above the Finish Line was at my target time.


Throughout the race I daydreamed about texting my hubby “sub-three!” and it felt so good to do just that.

Now that this goal is accomplished I’m in that lull when I just don’t know what to do with my life. Oh yes I do. Rest and recover this week, and next week? Begin training for my fall half marathon, of course!

“…And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.” Hebrews 12:1

Guard Your Heart

I saw it.  Perhaps you saw it too.  In your Facebook News Feed and posted on various news sites, we saw this headline:

“Mother shares heartbreaking final moments of 4-year-old’s battle with cancer”

Along with this headline was a heart shattering photo of this little boy lying on a bathroom rug while his mother took a shower because he wanted to be near to her.  Did you click on it?  Were you able to handle reading the story?  I didn’t click on it.  I didn’t simply and honestly because I couldn’t bear the sorrow.  In fact, I won’t even link to the story here.  If you missed it and want to read it, you can do a simple Google search.  The story is still out there.  I purposed in my heart that I would not read it.  It was too much for me.   As I scrolled past this story, my heart cried out to this mother, “I’m so sorry this happened to you, but I can’t bear to read your words right now.  I’m too weak and full of my own sorrow to bear yours too.”  Though I couldn’t read the story, I did pray for her.  It was all I could do.

This mother posted her story on her Facebook page, and then through the power of social media it was shared and shared and shared to the masses.  Though I don’t know the full background of this story, I’d like to believe that she didn’t mean to expose the photo of her precious son to the world.  She just wanted to share her heart with those closest to her, but they shared it until the story went viral, and strangers like me have to grapple with how to respond.

We are told we need to show empathy, but is empathy a healthy response?  In an article on the Psychology Today website that explains the difference between sympathy and empathy, the author expounds on four terms:

  • pity: I acknowledge your suffering
  • sympathy: I care about your suffering
  • empathy: I feel your suffering
  • compassion: I want to relieve your suffering

It seems to me that in our culture, empathy is elevated as the ideal response to human suffering.  People who lack empathy are seen as villains.  I Googled, “is empathy healthy,” and found this article:  Five Reasons You Should Be Less Empathetic.  I especially appreciated the #4 and #5 reasons:

  • #4: Empathy is emotionally exhausting (but compassion is not)
  • #5: People in pain don’t want you to feel their pain; they want you to be there for them

Empathy is emotionally exhausting and overwhelming.  When I am exhausted and overwhelmed, I am not in a place where I can be with someone who is in pain.  It occurred to me that I cannot pull someone out of a pit by getting into the pit with them.  That would compound the problem.  In order to help someone, I need to be strong and healthy.  I need to have sure footing, a firm grasp, and patient persistence to hold onto them while they climb out themselves.  I personally think that empathy serves its purpose in alerting me to people’s needs, but sympathy and compassion allow for me to actively aid those in need and still protect my mental health.  People in professions who care for people who are facing their most difficult times: doctors, nurses, clergy, counselors, etc. are trained in how to work with people in crisis.  They learn that self-care and boundaries are vital and a priority so they can stay on higher ground while lifting people up.  I haven’t had that kind of training.

People in crisis don’t want you to fix them.  They want you to be there.  They want you to listen to them and acknowledge their pain.  They don’t need you to have the perfect thing to say.  In fact, saying nothing is usually the wisest thing to say.  I think about the Biblical account of Job.  Job suffered incredible pain and loss.  His three closest friends heard about his troubles and traveled a great distance to comfort and console Job.

“When three of Job’s friends heard of the tragedy he had suffered, they got together and traveled from their homes to comfort and console him…When they saw Job from a distance, they scarcely recognized him.  Wailing loudly, they tore their robes and threw dust into the air over their heads to show their grief.  Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and nights.  No one said a word to Job, for they saw that his suffering was too great for words.”  Job 3:11-13

Then someone talked, and things got messy.

Through the past few weeks I feel like I’ve been in a wrestling match with anger, bitterness, and sorrow.  It’s like they are heavy weights on a barbell that I am struggling to bench press off of my heart.  That’s why I made the conscious decision to bypass the article about the little boy.  I knew if I read it my heart would be crushed.  This is the Scripture I was meditating on:

“Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.”  Proverbs 4:23

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The word “guard” here does not mean to lock up your heart, but more of a sense of put a watchman on guard around your heart, and to be aware of what you allow in.  The next few verses in Proverbs give suggestions about how to guard/watch for anything corrupt that could damage your heart:

“Avoid all perverse talk; stay away from corrupt speech [be careful what you listen to], and fix your eyes on what lies before you [be careful what you look at/watch].  Mark out a straight path for your feet; and stay on the safe path.  Don’t get sidetracked; keep your feet from following evil [live your life, carry the burdens that are yours to carry, stay away from things that would tempt you to sin].  Proverbs 4:24-27 (brackets mine)

All of this comes down to the fact that if I am to be of any good to someone who is going through painful circumstances then I need to be in a healthy place where I can see and think and speak clearly.  Jesus addressed this in His Sermon on the Mount.

“Any why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own?  How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye?  Hypocrite!  First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.”  Matthew 7:3-5

Take care of yourself.  Set up healthy boundaries.  Know your limitations.   Be careful what you listen to.  Be careful what you say.  Be careful what you look at.  Remove the log.  Guard your heart.

To Tease or Not to Tease, That is The Question

Bullying has attracted a lot of attention, and it should.  People are much more aware of the damage that can be inflicted on a person’s psyche from any type of bullying; depression and suicide are the most imminent dangers.    The statistics about suicides related to bullying are downright scary:

Bully victims are between 2 to 9 times more likely to consider suicide than non-victims, according to studies by Yale University

Kids today are aware of the dangers of bullying, and my nine-year-old son sees it as his responsibility to protect his six-year-old sister from bullying.  This is his primary reason for taking karate, he says.  If she comes home from school with stories about someone treating her unkindly, he gets very angry and feels bad that he wasn’t there to protect her (he is home schooled due to the rigors of his therapy program to help him recover from autism).  Sweet?  I’m concerned that he may have taken this thought too far.

Lately, he is working through the concept of teasing.  Is teasing the same as bullying?  A few months ago, some boys in our church began teasing him about his aversion to sugar.  As part of his therapy he is on a special diet which eliminates sugar.  It’s not a big deal because fortunately, he loathes sugar.  Always has.  When he was a baby I gave him his first taste of ice cream and he gagged on it.  I gave him a bit of a chocolate chip cookie, and he spit it out.  For his first birthday, he looked at the cake, but was not in the least bit interested in it.  The fact that he does not like sugary foods is odd and funny to his peers, so a few of the boys taunted him about it.  I am 100% sure that none of these boys meant any harm and that their teasing fell into the realm of raillery which is good-natured ridicule and affectionate mocking.  However, my son didn’t interpret it this way.  Their taunts made him angry.  He even gets angry if one child teases another child.  It happened just this past Sunday when he was curled up and in tears over this and the fact that the child who did the teasing wouldn’t apologize to the person she teased.  She likely didn’t feel she did anything wrong.  I don’t think she did either, and the boy she teased didn’t seem phased.  My son does not recognize the affection and friendship at the foundation, and this is what I want to teach him.

Pro-social teasing is very beneficial in establishing and maintaining friendships, promoting bonding, and affectionate mocking aids in conflict resolution by teaching people to deal with interpersonal conflict in a safe manner with a person they consider a friend.  Good-natured teasing can actually even raise self esteem when it is done from a foundation of love and mutual understanding of each other’s intent.  But what happens when intent is misinterpreted and misunderstood?  There is a very good article that addresses that in Psychology Today, When Does Teasing Go Too Far?

There is a line in the sand.  Boundaries.  Each person has them, and each person’s boundary lines are different.  For those of us who are neuro-typical, who have an understanding of societal and cultural norms, it is our responsibility to recognize the signs when we cross those lines and to immediately back off and apologize when our banter violates a boundary.  We are also responsible to recognize whether there is benevolent or malevolent intent.  People like my son, who are learning to navigate our world, find this a challenge.  I need to teach my son how to interpret body language and facial expressions to know whether the teasing was okay or not.  This does not come easy or natural for him, but he’s getting much better.

This is not just about him toughening up and getting thicker skin.  It’s about him learning the rules of engagement in friendly society, and learning that not everyone is a threat.  Most people have good intentions and use teasing as a means to connect with him in friendship.  As confident as I am that those kids in our church did not intend any harm, I am confident that my son can navigate through this and learn how to be a kid in the group.

My son is a lot like Charlie Brown, often called a “block head” by Lucy who may or may not be labeled a bully.  Charlie Brown just wanted to be part of the gang, but knew he was different, as my son does.  He knew that things that were easy for some kids were difficult for him.  He was misunderstood and teased…some of the teasing good-natured; other teasing was malicious, but in the end the gang recognized that Charlie Brown is a good man and Charlie Brown knew he was accepted.  This is my hope for my son.

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Can I be a Christian and a Bada**?

Oh, I may have my church membership revoked for this.  Please let me stay, Pastor B!!  Members of foregone generations are rolling in their graves.  Former pastors and mentors are likely shaking their heads.  Friends who know me well are probably trying to pick their jaws off the ground at the audacity of the question I posed in the title of this post.  I’m sure my husband took one look at this title and thought, “What?!”  And I certainly would never ever want to hear such a word uttered from the mouths of my sweet children.

Words.  Vernacular.  Context.  Culture.

Yes, I’m in the older generation.  I guess I’m part of Gen-X…whatever that means; I’m not really sure.  I base my identity and my value system on my Christian faith which is rooted in the Bible and a personal relationship with Jesus.  Nonetheless, this term is difficult for me to say out-loud, though secretly, inwardly, I kind of like the word Bada**.

See, I can’t even type it out.  I have to disguise it with **’s.

So, why am I thinking about this term?  I joined a holiday running and fitness challenge through Train Like a Mother Club, and these #motherrunners refer to themselves as #BAMR’s (Bada** Mother Runners).  I am also planning on registering for their heart-rate training plan in preparation for my May half marathon, and I know I’ll be seeing even more of this #BAMR hashtag, and I need to decide how I really feel about joining this group and as a byproduct being considered a #BAMR myself.

I know there are those reading this who are shrugging your shoulders and wondering why I think this is a big deal.  Why would I struggle with such a cool phrase?  Allow me to explain.

As a Christian I understand that words are very powerful.

The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.  Proverbs 18:21

God created the world with His Words, “Let there be…”.  And the very first verse in the Book of John is referring to Jesus:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

God’s identity is rooted in His Word.  Because of this, I take words and their meaning very seriously.  Another term that is used a lot in today’s culture is sexy.  I don’t like it at all.  I think it’s cheap and degrading.  I do not feel good about myself if someone says, “You look sexy,” or “You look hot.”  In contrast, if someone says to me, “You’re beautiful,” or “You’re lovely,” my heart soars.

Let’s get back to the question at hand.  Can I be a Christian and a Bada**?  And why do I secretly like the term?  I did consider changing the meaning of #BAMR to something like Brave Audacious Mother Runner, but even though I like and am empowered by words like brave, and bold, and strong, and audacious, these words don’t carry the same weight as bada**.  In studying the Bible throughout the years, I see that there were many bada** women who broke the rules and changed history.  I wrote about this in a previous post Ferociously Feminine.  

Bada** refers to a troublemaker, a renegade, a rebel.  That’s what women needed to be throughout history in order for things to change…things we take for granted, like being able to vote, go to college, have a career, raise families, and believe it or not–being able to run.  There was a time in the not too distant past (within my lifetime) when it was frowned upon for women to run, and certainly mothers with small/young children have no business taking time away from their children to spend hours on the trail in training for a race.  I wrote a brief history of women’s running here, so I won’t belabor it.

For me, what does it mean to be Bada**?  It means that I am going against the tide of culture that says that women must lose their identities for the sake of their children.  Following after your own pursuits is selfish.  Women are supposed to forsake all for the sake of their children.  Baloney Sandwich (B.S. 🙂 ). For the sake of my children, I am doing something to take care of myself and stay healthy so I can be a better mother and a more supportive wife.  I am in awe of the women who make no excuses and make time and space in their busy days to exercise.  I love the stories about mothers who run short laps around their houses holding onto a baby monitor while their little ones nap.  I’ll never forget seeing a woman out running with no less than three children flocking around her on bikes.

I also think it’s important for Christians to come out of the four walls of the church and get involved in our communities and build genuine relationships with people who may not believe the way we do…without targeting them for evangelism…and not hiding our own faith.  We need to build honest relationships by getting to know people and allowing them to know us–warts and all.  It’s healthy to socialize with people who are different–Jesus did!

So, all that to say, I decided to embrace my identity as a #BAMR.  I am committed to taking care of myself, and that includes focusing on my nutrition and exercise, not so that I get skinny.  On the contrary…41gl0srkzl-_sx342_

BTW…I could never dream of being a #BAMR without the support of my dear hubby who takes charge of the kids and encourages me every step of the way.

God isn’t Odd!

That time of the day when everyone is safely tucked in bed, and I can lie down, relax, and exhale.  Then, from my son’s bedroom comes a blood curdling scream, “MOMMY!”  I jump up and run to his room.  He is shaking and crying, trembling in fear.  I just tucked him in, so he couldn’t have had time to fall asleep and have a bad dream.  He wasn’t sick or hurt.  The skies were perfectly calm.  No wind.  No storms.  What was he frightened of?  I asked him what was wrong.  After a while he was able to squeak out, “5 suns!”

I knew exactly what he was talking about, and I shot up a quick prayer, “God, give me wisdom!” and I sat on his bed.

“Five suns.  You’re talking about Odd Squad, right?”

He stopped crying, but was still upset, and said, “Yes.”

For the uninitiated, Odd Squad is a children’s program on PBS wherein child agents (all of whom have names that begin with the letter O) use math to investigate strange and odd goings on in their town.  I personally think it’s a really cute show and a creative and fun way to teach math concepts.  Just before going to bed, Aaron was watching an episode that had to do with things mysteriously splitting into fives.  There was a picture montage, and one of them showed five suns in the sky, and that picture was very disturbing to his autistic mind.  It wasn’t how things should be.  It was weird.  Strange, and quite unsettling.  Odd.

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God answered my prayer, and I suddenly knew exactly what to say.  I said, “Aaron, isn’t it wonderful that when things are as God made them to be it feels right and we feel safe?”  He sat up in bed and gave me his full attention.  I went onto explain, “When God was doing His work of creation, after each thing He created, He looked at it and proclaimed, ‘It is good!’  God liked the way He created things, and we like it too, don’t we?”  He nodded.

Then it occurred to me, “Sometimes humans try to imagine what things would be like if they were different.  They try to imagine different worlds, different kinds of creatures, and whenever we do that, whatever ideas we come up with always seem strange, odd, and scary.  But we can thank God that what He created is GOOD.”  He decided that he wasn’t going to watch Odd Squad anymore, and then went to sleep.

Does this mean that he doesn’t read books and watch movies that have to do with alternate worlds?  No.  Aaron loves The Wizard of Oz and The Chronicles of Narnia.  I do too.  But I have to admit that when the characters are in Oz or Narnia there is a sense of uneasiness, and I finally feel good when they are back where they belong.  When Dorothy wakes up from her “dream.”  When Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy tumble out of the wardrobe.  Things are as they should be.  It would have been strange if Dorothy was trapped in Oz, or the Pevensie children in Narnia without the means to return to their homes.

As much as we like to imagine it, no one really wants to be immortal, have superpowers, or travel through time with a Time Lord in a Tardis (yes, I like watching Doctor Who).  Most of us just want to live a quiet life, and to do good and enjoy the time we have on the Earth.

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My greatest longing and desire is to live the best life possible, and that is accomplished by completely surrendering myself to God’s plans and purposes and seeking to live the life that He intended.  That is my pursuit, and in so pursing I have experienced a very rich and fulfilling life.  God’s ways are never odd.  They may be challenging.  He may ask of me things I don’t think I can do, but when I trust Him and step out and try, He always empowers me with His grace to see it through.  God’s ways may put me at odds with the rest of the world, and often do.  However, I have no regrets.  The choices I’ve made have brought me here, and I am very blessed.  Life is good.  God’s ways are good.

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Unleash the SHE: 2016 Race Recap and a Brief History of Women’s Running

There are things that we take for granted that women of the past had to fight for.  I have a full time job.  I can vote.  I can run for office.  I can drive a car.  And I can run.  In the not so distant past, women who ran were frowned upon.  Women who participated in any kind of sport were considered masculine.  Femininity and strength were not synonymous.  We’ve come a long way baby!

In the summer of 1984 I remember watching events of the Los Angeles Olympics.  There were two athletes whose achievements inspired me.  Mary Lou Retton, only one year older than me, won the gold medal for the women’s all-around in gymnastics.  Her bubbly joy was a pleasure to watch.  The second event that captured my heart was watching the finish of the women’s marathon, which was won by Joan Benoit Samuelson.  I vividly remember watching Joan enter the stadium and cross the finish line earning her gold medal, and I was flabbergasted that she just kept running around the track draped in an American flag.

Fast forward to October 2012, and I was at the expo for the Mankato Marathon, and the keynote speaker just happened to be the legendary Joan Benoit Samuelson.  Just before she spoke, they showed a video montage of her 1984 Olympic Marathon finish, then as she approached the podium, someone behind me whispered, “She’s really here?!”  She really was.  It was pretty cool to hear her tell her story and the encouragement she gave to all of us.  One fact that she brought to light really surprised me though.  Until that moment I did not realize that the women’s Olympic marathon event made its debut in 1984…the event I watched as a 14 year old all those years ago was the first time women competed in the marathon at the Olympic games, and the story of how the women’s marathon was finally added to the Olympics is epic.  The person who was instrumental in making that happen was another legendary woman, Kathrine Switzer, who is credited as being the first woman to run the Boston Marathon in 1967.  If you are interested in learning the full story, I highly recommend Kathrine Switzer’s book Marathon Woman.

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Me in full fan-girl mode meeting Kathrine Switzer

Knowing this incredible history of women’s running is the reason I was excited to run the Unleash the SHE 10K this past weekend.  This race is for women only, and there is a 5K and a 10K event open to 1,200 runners, which sold out this year.  There is also a co-ed 5K walk that the men can participate in.  Unleash the SHE raises funds for MOCA (Minnesota Ovarian Cancer Alliance) in supporting women and their families who are battling this disease and advocating for research for early detection, and they have of the prettiest SWAG—a shirt that I actually wear and the most beautiful butterfly medal.  I love the design of the wings as the soles of running shoes.  Kudos to the clever designer!

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It was rather chilly at the start line.  We 10K runners lined up at 8:45 am, and the Moms on the Run group led all of us in a warm-up, then the gun went off at 9:00.  The 5K started at 9:30.  The course led out of RCTC onto Bear Creek trail and then there was a small loop around the river near the Mayo Civic Center and then back to RCTC for the finish.  My running strategy was merely to enjoy the experience.  I ran/walked the course and had a great time.  I especially enjoyed the comradery of friends who were cheering each other on.  There was an aid station at the 2 mile mark, which was also the 4 mile mark after the river loop, and then there was one more aid station just prior to the 5 mile mark, which was really for the 5K racers, so I skipped that one because at that point I was ready to be done and I headed onto the finish.

I did this race last year too, and my most vivid memory was the point when the 10K route joined with the 5K route, and there was one runner who was considerably overweight doing the 5K.  She was giving it her all…shuffling a bit, then walking, then shuffling…continuous forward motion.  It was wonderful to see her out there along with the rest of us women with different abilities and body shapes and with various reasons why we run.

I’m grateful that in this day and age we run because we can.  Because of the courage of women like Joan Benoit Samuelson and Kathrine Switzer, we can!  We can unleash our SHE, knowing that femininity is strong, and as women, our strength is our femininity.

Ramblings about Prophecy

God is alive and well and actively involved in our lives.  One way He demonstrates His involvement is through the operation of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit at work in and through people who have surrendered their lives to Him.  I have no intention of getting into an intellectual, theological discussion.  I do not have a seminary degree nor do I hold a leadership position in any church that would give me the authority to do so.  Please just allow me to express some of the things I’ve been thinking about…which is the purpose for my entire blog—a place for me to unload my brain.

There is a difference between the Gift of Prophecy and the Office of a Prophet.  The Gift is something that all believers in Jesus have the potential to experience and walk in; however, that does not make each person a Prophet who has a specific calling from God and a particular jurisdiction in which to operate—some locally, some globally, and yes, there are true Prophets in the earth today, and we should pay attention when they speak.  Much more to say on this subject, but I wanted to focus on the Gift of Prophecy for this writing and share some of my personal experiences.

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The purpose of prophecy is to make known the secrets of God.  The apostle Paul expresses his desire that all in the church would be able to move in this gift—that means everyone.  He desired that all believers would walk in such intimacy and unity with the LORD that He would lay bare the secrets of His heart to them and that they would give expression to the things He reveals for each of them to draw closer to God and to one another…to be enabled to encourage and challenge one another toward a deeper life with God.  Most if not all believers desire to hear the voice of God, and they want everyone to know/think they’ve heard from God, when sometimes all they’ve heard is the desire of their own hearts for what they would like to see God do.

I’ve had a number of people tell me that God was going to give me a singing ministry; however, I can’t carry a tune, and if I hear one more person declare that I am royalty and will stand before kings, I’m going to throw up.  I’ve had a number of people prophesy things that they would like to see God do in my life, but they were just that, good wishes.  How do I know the difference when a person is speaking from their own imagination or when they are truly inspired by the Holy Spirit?  I have my own relationship with God; I am a sheep who knows my Shepherd’s voice.  I also have a bit of a process I follow when someone prophesies to me…I actively forget about it.  This is not to say that I reject it, rather I put their words on a shelf, so to speak.  More often than not, I don’t give those words another thought and their memory fades away.  Sometimes I can’t shake it.  Those words keep replaying in my mind.  That’s when I pay attention and act on them, mostly by praying about it or grabbing my Bible to study deeper.  Another time I pay attention is if someone speaks something that enhances or gives further insight to what God spoke to my heart previously.

For the first seven years of our marriage, my husband and I were childless and wanted to become parents.  At the end of a church service, one of the elders of our church came up to me and whispered in my ear.  His wife was horrified when I told her what he whispered, and all I could think at the time was, “Wow!  You’re brave to say that to me.”  What did he say?  He said, “God told me that you are pregnant.”  Not “you will be,” but “you are.”  I put those words on the shelf.  A little while later, during the same service, another elder, who had no idea about what was whispered in my ear, was praying for me and my husband.  He was about to say something, but stopped.  He was hesitant to speak.  We dragged it out of him, “I just keep seeing a baby.”  A week later I took a pregnancy test and saw a faint line.  I wanted to be sure, so I requested a blood test from my doctor, and she called me a few hours later with the news, “You’re going to be a mommy!”  Wow!  It happened.  We were thrilled.  Then we went to my first OB/GYN appointment, and there was no heartbeat.  Wait, what?!  That baby was prophetically announced!  How could there be no heartbeat?  There wasn’t.  A miscarriage.  Devastating and overwhelming sadness.  How did I respond to that?  I lifted my hands before the LORD and worshiped singing, “Blessed be the Name of the LORD.  He gives and takes away.”  I still don’t understand why this happened, but it did, and God is still good.

Well-meaning people said that they knew I would conceive again soon.  I didn’t.  Each month was met with renewed disappointment and sadness which culminated when we reached the month when the miscarried baby should have been born.  We decided to pursue adoption, but then God surprised us with another positive pregnancy test.  This time there was a heartbeat!  Just after that first OB/GYN appointment when we knew everything was going to be fine, I attended a women’s retreat.  The main speaker was a woman who was known for a strong gift of prophecy.  During one of the meetings she was encouraging the mothers in the room to teach their children to spend time with the LORD and to recognize God’s voice.  Suddenly, she pointed her finger at me and declared, “You have a prophet in you.  He is called to be a prophet of God.  He was prepared in Heaven for this time, and God specifically chose you and your husband to be his parents.”  I felt like a lightning bolt shot through me.  I was only ten weeks along, so there was no way of knowing if my baby was a boy or a girl at that time, but 8 weeks later it was confirmed through ultrasound—a boy!  Months later, at my baby shower, there were several prophesies from well-meaning people about the baby in my womb, most of which I forgot, but one I didn’t…the prophesy was that there was something very remarkable about my son.

We have yet to see if my son will become a prophet.  He is 8 years old and very remarkable.  He is not like most boys his age, in fact, he is autistic.  Wait, what?  The prophetic words were that he was called to be a prophet, prepared in heaven for this time, remarkable.  We were not prepared for him to have a special need that prevents him from attending school and making friends and functioning in public normally.  Nonetheless, my son sees things from a different and insightful perspective that is truly remarkable.  Time will tell.

An example of a time when a person prophesied something the LORD previously spoke to me was when God was calling my husband and I to transition to a different church.  During prayer I saw myself standing on the banks of a river and a barge floated by heading east; however, I felt an urge to go west.  I felt the LORD say, “If you get on board you will be taken far away from where I want you to go.”  I understood that the barge represented the church we were going to at that time.  I am not at all saying that the church was heading in a wrong direction, just not the direction my husband and I were supposed to go.  We knew we were supposed to leave the church; however, we didn’t know where to go, and we didn’t want to jeopardize valuable friendships.  We held this vision in our hearts.  About two years later, a prophet came to minister at this church.  He asked me to stand, and he declared, “God is taking you out of one river and putting you into another.”  Yes!  That word brought me back to the vision of the barge.  We were released from the church.  We shared this with the pastors who were sorry to see us go, but completely understood.  We left with a blessing and in blessing them.  All friendships are still intact.

Of course there are many more stories I could tell about how God has involved Himself, intervened, interacted, and initiated things in my life.  It humbles me to know how interested He is in my life…who am I that the Creator of the Universe would take such notice of me?  I am His workmanship.  I was created for His purposes in the earth, even my small part.  In the same way, He is interested and takes notice of you.  Cool, huh?

Opening the Curtains

Before becoming a mother whenever I heard the term “high-functioning autism,” I used to think, “Oh that just means that there really isn’t anything wrong with the person.”  Now I am the mother of a child diagnosed with high-functioning autism, and I know how wrong I was.  I understand that high-functioning means that my son can speak, he can feed himself, brush his teeth, use the toilet, bathe himself, dress himself, etc.  However, he doesn’t function like a typical 8 year-old boy.  On my Facebook page I celebrate the highlights of my children’s accomplishments.  I determined that I would not use that platform to complain or to draw sympathy or to in any way talk about the struggles we have with our children.  However, here on my blog, I have the freedom to share some of the gritty details of what our life is like with an autistic boy in the family.  Not to draw sympathy nor to complain, but to open the curtains so people can see more of what really goes on and perhaps gain understanding and insight so they might have compassion when they see a child acting out in a peculiar way.

A few months ago a friend of mine posted a meme on Facebook:

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I cringed because I know people have made that accusation about my son as well as making other accusations about my poor parenting skills.  I had to respond to my friend that sometimes that bratty behavior really is a disorder, and I asked the question, “How would you know?”  Most often, you wouldn’t know the difference because what you are witnessing is a brief snapshot of a moment in time.  In that moment you may be seeing a child in the midst of an uncontrollable raging meltdown and the parent staring glassy-eyed into space and ignoring her child.  You may think, “Why isn’t she doing something?”  The simple answer is that there is nothing she can do at that moment except try to keep calm and wait for the storm to pass.

When an autistic child is in melt-down mode, their limbic brain takes over.  This is the area of the brain that is responsible for emotional and social responses.  In melt-down mode they are completely irrational.  They can’t simply calm down.  Any word spoken to them is like a sword piercing their ears.  Any touch is like fire on their skin.  It is typical for a child like this to have up to ten melt downs per day lasting 20 minutes on average.  That’s 200 minutes.  That’s 3 hours and 20 minutes of screaming.  Every. Day.  That glassy-eyed parent is merely trying to cope.

Hyper-sensitivity to sounds

My son is hyper-sensitive to sounds, so going out in public can be difficult for him.  Imagine being in a restaurant.  What are the different sounds you hear?  People talking.  Dishes clinking.  Music.  Babies crying.  To us, some sounds are loud or soft, and we have the ability to filter sounds so we can pay attention to the conversation at our table.  For my son, everything is loud, and the most irritating sound to him is any noise a baby makes.  My son squirms, complains, and can be down-right rude in his comments about the baby.  He has no filter.  He is being brutally honest about how he is feeling.  The only thing that helps is having him wear sound-protection ear muffs to block the sounds.

To give another example of his hyper-sensitivity to sounds, we were staying at a hotel and he really liked to watch various elevators.  There was a glass elevator in the lobby and regular elevators other places.  He studied them.  When I could finally get him to move on, I was surprised to hear him comment about how the elevator in the lobby had a higher tone than the elevator that was close to our room.  Who pays attention to that?  My son.

Rigidity in routine

My son schedules every moment of everyday, and everything must happen exactly at the time he schedules it or the entire day is shot.  An exaggeration?  Nope.  If he schedules something at 9:00 a.m. he will stare at the clock and wait for it to be 9:00 before he starts his scheduled activity.  If his mind drifts off for a moment and he looks at the clock and it says 9:01 he goes into a melt-down because he missed the time and he doesn’t know how to do what he scheduled at a different time.  He becomes so distraught that he will say things like, “I don’t want to be on the earth,” which is scary to hear.

Oblivious to social cues and manners

We were at a concert at church a few weeks ago.  Before the concert started, the woman behind us introduced herself, and my son introduced himself, “Hello, I’m Aaron, and I’m a human duck.”  The woman was understandably puzzled and didn’t know how to respond to that.  Yes, my son has convinced himself that he is a human duck.  This is due to a cartoon character named Quack from the show Peep and The Big Wide World.  He even takes it so far as to walk like a duck, and quack in the middle of talking.  He thinks he is being cute and funny and has no idea that he comes off as weird and strange.  It’s heartbreaking knowing how much he longs for friends, but this strange behavior repels people who are meeting him for the first time.

This past summer there was a neighborhood night out event.  This is a new neighborhood for us, and my husband went to meet our new neighbors.  He was talking to someone who had children close to our children’s ages.  When he mentioned that our son is autistic, the person became uncomfortable and distanced herself.  It was clear to me that these people don’t want to deal with an autistic boy being friends with their kids.

Aaron has difficulty with group games, especially games that involve physical activity like running or throwing a ball.  He’s awkward and slow.  He has issues with his gait and with balance, so he doesn’t run as fast as other boys his age.  Due to issues with under-developed depth perception, he doesn’t throw and catch as well as his peers.  Team sports don’t work for him because he doesn’t pick up on social cues about what is happening in the game and each person’s role on the team.

His strange behavior also affects our daughter.  One day at church, after service, he decided he wanted to be a baby and started crawling around the sanctuary.  Our daughter burst into tears and exclaimed, “I don’t like when he acts that way.  I just want him to be normal.”  So do I, Sweetie, so do I.

Conclusion

All this to say that when you see a child acting out in a peculiar way, don’t assume that you know what is going on.  The best thing you can do is to give that parent the benefit of the doubt that they are doing the best they can.  Offer to help them with their bags while they wrestle their child into their car seat.  Whisper in their ear, “You’re doing a great job Mom/Dad.”  If you know this family, invite them to your home.  Spend time with them.  Get to know them.  Dare to allow your kids to play with them.

I grew up with a boy who has cerebral palsy.  I was horrified to hear the story his mother tells about taking him to a playground and other mothers scooping up their children to get away from him…like his condition was contagious.  This was the early 1970’s, and I would like to think that we’re more open and accepting of people with visible disabilities now.  Knowing this story, when I was with my daughter at a playground over the summer, there was another little girl there, who had cerebral palsy, with her mother.  She looked to be about the same age as my daughter.  The mother was holding her up and helping her play on the different equipment.  My daughter noticed this little girl, and I whispered to her, “Would you like to play with her?”  My daughter agreed, so we joined her.  The little girl’s face lit up when my daughter started playing with her, and my daughter talked about this experience for weeks afterward.

Aaron likes to write stories.  His stories follow a theme which reveals his greatest desire, which is to make friends and have adventures.  My prayer for him is that he would experience that.