Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The bowed down blessing

It's been two months now of not standing on two steady legs.  Two months of days filled with hours of laying and sitting and resting and waiting.  I remember in the beginning, watching walkers and runners on the path from our home that winds through Mercer Island, with tears of sorrow streaming down my face.  For the first time in my life, I envied people on two good legs - two gifts I'd taken for granted more days than I could count.  And as a newlywed, I've wobbled starting marriage off on shaky legs, feeling unprepared for challenges to visit us in a steady stream.  I didn't bargain for any of this. 

I wanted to feel prepared.  And I wasn't.  Not for a debilitating injury, not for all that life would bring to our marriage fresh out of the shoot.  

I wasn't prepared for the stripping, down to bare skin and heart and weakness exposed.  And maybe that's exactly the gift I see emerging after these two months.

The stripping down, the stooping low, the baring of my soul, to see God.

The Lord opens the eyes of the blind;
The Lord raises those who are bowed down.
~ Psalm 146:8 (NKJV)

Often troubles drip with the grace and goodness of God, if we have eyes to see.  

But me, I don't often like to be bowed down.  I want to be standing tall on two strong legs.  I want to feel steady and firm, and when I don't, I think the entire ground beneath me is shifting like sands blown in the ocean wind.   But the wind that blows is not kicking up the sandy ground beneath my feet; it is knocking me to the ground where my eyes finally begin to see the rock that holds me up.  It's my legs that were unsteady all this time, not the ground.  

And it's here on my rear that this loving God begins to cut open my heart as the surgeons did my leg, to repair the tear and bind up the wound.  So it's here that I sit.  At first I don't know what to do; I only want to distract from the pain and flee the restlessness.  But I can only do that for so long before the emptiness catches up.  Turns out I can't go very far on a busted leg and a gas tank on empty.  

God waits patiently for me to stop fighting and start resting.  For in the resting, I find a different kind of strength.  The joy of the Lord is my strength.  

Keeping eyes fixed on Jesus is no easy task here in the U.S.  Here, where distractions accost the senses every moment, where so many things become crutches upon which I lean, trying to convince me I can stand just fine on my own two legs.  Here, love of Jesus can be so easily choked out, day by frenzied day, through stress and work and social life and technology and the pursuit of happiness and the American dream - and can I just slow down and lay down and find my contentedness in him alone?  

Can Jesus just be enough?

My mind drifts sometimes into daydream, and I imagine myself dancing in the living room or standing in the kitchen on two feet, swaying to the music and lifting my hands to praise God.  And I awake from the daydream with misty eyes and a grateful smile tilted up to heaven because I'm here.  Now.  Lying on the bed, my heart swaying to the music, lifting my voice to praise God.  

One way to a joy-filled life is in the transition from sitting to standing.  From bowed down to raised up. And the raising up comes after the broken resting, after the lying down and thanking, after the washing and the cleansing.  That when the two legs can stand once again, the trust is not in the strength of the legs or the steadiness of circumstances or the seduction of the things of this life but in the Christ who alone is the rock beneath my feet.

This breaking of my body leads me to the Christ, who bids me come in my weakness and find my delight in him once more.  The stripping bare lets me be clothed with Christ.  And it's not a strong and healthy body or a trouble-free marriage or a satisfying job or financial stability or a tropical vacation or the latest gadget or a book published or any other person or thing that is going to satisfy this hunger of my soul to be fed daily on the love of this Savior God, who stripped himself bare to give me life.  Full and abundant life.  

Life dripping with grace.

I'll stay bowed down as long as it takes to fill up with joy and wonder of him.  I hold out my hands, hungry - "More, please" - and watch him fill, and wait for him to raise me up.


Friday, June 22, 2012

Do not disturb? The question I need to ask

In the stillness of the bedroom, I hear a truck engine growl to life, the muffled roar of I-90 traffic almost like the ocean, the gentle whir of towels spinning circles in the dryer, the splatter of rain on the leaves outside the window, the songlike conversation of small birds.  And nearly the thudding of my heart against my chest.  I strain, I wait, to hear something audible in the caucaphony of thoughts.  I don't want to trample this moment.  God is here.

My eyes move to the open door.  The chalkboard sign hanging on satin ribbon: "Do not disturb."  A mixed message - open door and do not disturb - meaning nothing at present, after all, the sign is mere decoration.  But is this... could this be... how I've settled into life with God?  My door's open, but I don't want him to disturb my life, not too much?  Please be present, God, but leave most things in tact?  Isn't this the antithesis of how I've always wanted to live?  Of what falling in love with Jesus means?

And I'm unsettled, uncomfortable, not sure yet if it's true or just a profound thought.  But a thought it is.    And I haven't been here for awhile, haven't asked myself this tough question for awhile - perhaps, in itself, evidence of not wanting to be too disturbed.  

I've got enough going on, enough on my plate right now, God.  Please come again later.  

When was the last time I prayed the prayer - prayed into the fear - "God, you can do anything with me."  A sacred hush, a quivering heart, an adrenaline rush of faith.  Yes, anything.  "I open every door of my house to you, God.  You can throw a big party, bring in guests from the streets, use all my towels and eat all my food and leave all the dishes dirty on the counter and in the sink, and sleep in my bed.  Whatever you want, this house is yours and everything that's in it."  

My marriage is yours.

Whether or not we have kids, when those kids may come, where they come from - it's all yours.

The next paycheck is yours.

The waiting for work is yours.

My family is yours.

My health is yours.  

This apartment and all the stuff in it is yours.

All that food in the fridge that fills our bellies and nourishes our bodies is yours.

Our plans for the future, our dreams and hopes, those are yours, too.

These words I type in black font on white screen and publish for who even knows to read, the words I hope make me smaller and you bigger - they're yours.

Who am I to kid myself, to reach for something of my own to stash away, away from your grasp, when all is yours?  Who am I to think I can keep anything, anyone safe when my spirit knows the only safe place, unsafe as it may feel, is in your grip?

And what of now - when I'm no longer free and single, aspirations of living in an African slum, loving on orphans?  But that page turned a long time ago, and it's not like the game's over.  I don't often think of it, but the memory returns and lodges in a tender spot in my heart.  The love for orphaned children.  The yearning to mother little ones who have no one.  I felt it as a child, I felt it in college and after college and after the earthquake in Haiti, building in intensity.  Strange, for a woman who has never identified as a natural mother, never felt a strong urge to bear my own children.  A woman who has borne many secret doubts as to whether or not she'd make a good mother.  My friends and family know and seem to accept that I'm not one to dote on their children in a big way.  

But give me orphans, and something shifts deep in my heart.  

And why all this now, all these questions and confessions?  I stumbled upon another writer's blog.  A young woman from Tennessee, maybe twenty-four, who gave everything up at age nineteen to move to Uganda and love on orphans.  Since then, she's started a nonprofit organization, become the foster mom for fourteen little girls and published a book.  And she's completely in love with Jesus.  I'm sure she never thought to herself, "I'm up for all this" - and yet, she hasn't turned back, hasn't called it quits.  She just keeps opening her hands for God to fill and watching the miracle of his life inside of her do what she isn't equipped to do.  

And this stops me in my tracks this morning, and I want to weep, "What more do you want to do with my life, God?"

Am I willing for him to disturb my comfort?  I lean into the silence with a yes forming on my tongue.  

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A wedding to remember

Our wedding day.  All those things that people told me during our engagement - how much planning goes into this one day, how the day flies by in a blur, how important good pictures are for capturing these invaluable moments - are true.  Truer, still, for the bride on major pain killers for her wedding day!    I was a little worried that I wouldn't remember the day with great clarity.  I'm pleased to report, however, that I remember much of the day (yes, particularly saying "I do").  I remember standing for at least an hour for our wedding ceremony - a very symbolic, unique expression of us - brushing my veil from my face, shifting my weight uncomfortably on my one good leg, praying I could stand up the entire time without wincing or breaking into a sweat.  And while I wasn't as, shall we say, present in the moment as I would have hoped, I reveled in the beauty and delights of the day.  And more so, the beautiful gift of finally marrying my best friend and faithful love.  Here are more than a few of my favorite highlights from the day...

The day starts here:
 I know I'll look back on this day and laugh
that my most treasured accessory in
my "beauty bag" was Vicodin.

And my boots.
Both of them, one of a kind.

One of my oldest and dearest friends,
helping me into my dress.
I helped her into hers one year before
and it was such a privilege.

My faithful entourage, the faithful-est of friends...
This day would have been so different without each of them.
I am truly blessed.

Ok, so maybe one of my boots weren't one of a kind... 
but these were much more my type for bridesmaid's shoes
- and my own -
And they worked perfectly for an April wedding in Seattle.
 Ah, dear Naphtali.  
She has held my hand through thick and thin,
been by my side. 
Precious friend.
Nearly six years ago, she was the bride and I was her bridesmaid.
Now she's an even dearer friend than I could ask for.

 "Sisters, sisters, 
there were never such devoted sisters..."
Best friend and sister rolled into one beautiful package.

Ruthie, how you always make me smile -
my beautiful cohort in crime -
unbelievably generous and fiercely loyal.

Some of Ricardo's best and oldest friends 
joined us from Mexico... a truly precious and hilarious gift. 

 My Papa's wedding band on my bouquet,
Spanish "I love you,"
and our symbols of promise to each other.

My beautiful, beautiful Mom,
holding my arm down the aisle...
both in tears.

Mine, in Spanish.
His, in English.

Our wedding "lazo" -
symbol of unity,
God with us.

Family on both sides encircling us 
with arms of love and prayer.

Our first communion as husband and wife - 
cup full of mystery, sacrifice and love.

First kiss as Mr. and Mrs. Cadenas -
and not too short, I might add.

I knew going into this day
that I was marrying a man who could hold me up when
I'd have trouble standing...

Who would walk with me,
through anything...

And still possess a sense of humor,
reminding me to smile.
We gave many "bochito" (i.e., VW bug) kisses this day,
thanks to Laura's cousin who lent us her beloved car.

And we received lots of smiles and friendly honks 
en route to our reception! 

 I couldn't even imagine a more exquisite,
more perfect,
more special cake than this.
Hours and hours of love and time 
gifted to us from a precious friend.

I witnessed that my dream wasn't silly after all: 
rainboots really DO make amazing flower holders... 
And our cupcakes were to die for.

Not having my own Papa to dance with this day,
the dance with "Pa" Cadenas sure meant a lot to me.

And seeing my new husband 
holding my mom in a dance
brought tears of joy to my eyes.

Thankfully, I was able to dance, too -
boot and all.
(Ricardo took his turn with the crutches, for solidarity's sake)

They even named a one-legged dance after me -
creatively, doing "the Amber." 

I was hurting a little by the end of the reception,
but it was hard to leave such a lively party.  

So while the party continued,
a few loved ones came and bid us farewell. 

And boy, was it satisfying to pull into the prestigious
Fairmont Hotel, downtown Seattle,
in our vintage blue bochito.

Our faithful photographer followed us to the very end of our adventure... 

And no, I don't actually remember this moment...
but it doesn't surprise me. 
But our day ended very sweet,
with a final few photos 
shot albeit, awkwardly,
by our hilarious photographer.

Oh, happy day!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Good news

It's so simple, so grounding, anchoring my often unsteady feet to the only solid mass I know.  This remembrance that God is much stronger than me - that my weakness is actually a gateway to experiencing his steadfast, immeasurable strength - is good news, very good.  Today I feel like sharing someone else's words, in the form of a song, because I can tire quickly of my own words.  And it's therapeutically affirming to the soul to hear another soul sing of a similar journey.  Ladies and Gentlemen, I present Lindsay McCaul, with "Hold on to me": 

I am like a field blowing in the wind
Trying to stand tall, but I can't help but bend
All I'm standing on is all my good intent
As I get swept away time and time again
I know I need You now
To do what I can't somehow

So hold on to me
'Cause I'm not good at holding on, I'm weak
I guess that's how this is supposed to be
When I am barely holding on
You hold on to me

I'm a promise told with all the heart to keep
But as it all unfolds, I am found asleep
So sound the alarm of mercies untold
Wrap me in Your arms and never let me go

'Cause I know I need You now
To do what I can't somehow

So hold on to me
'Cause I'm not good at holding on, I'm weak
I guess that's how this is supposed to be
When I am barely holding on
You hold on

You're the ground that doesn't shake
You're the branch that doesn't break
You're the light that never fades
And You're holding on
There's never been a time
You've ever left my side
Your love never dies
And You're holding on

So hold on to me
'Cause I'm not good at holding on, I'm weak
I guess that's how this is supposed to be
When I am barely holding on
You hold on

Holding on
You hold on to me

Monday, June 11, 2012

The great unveiling

I swing into one of the stuffy rooms at the Orthopedics department on my crutches, faithful husband in tow with a walking boot that's been stashed in our closet since surgery five weeks ago.  The medical assistant follows us in, "You're ready for the boot, are you?  Did your daughter decorate that for you?"  

"Uh, no," I flash a private smirk to Ricardo, "My friends did."  She wouldn't get it, of course - the stickers of goats and hearts framed with "Ito y Ita," nicknames Ricardo and I use for each other - how they decorated it with their characteristic love and humor, just one day before the wedding.  If I had to go down the aisle in a robotic boot, it may as well be fun, they said.  Even in my drug-induced state, this elicited a grateful smile.

I swing my flaming orange cast up on the paper-covered table that patients sit on, awkwardly waiting.  It's not long before Eddy the Incredible Cast Man comes in wheeling a "Cast Vac" and pulls out a mini saw.  Another orthopedic doctor trails in behind, and I have a vague remembrance of him from surgery day.  Remarkably, I'm less nervous about this method of cast removal, much preferring it to the giant, dull scissors shoved down my post-op cast the last visit, the poor assistant sweating to crack it and free my leg from its crude imprisonment, instructing me to let her know if the scissors "got" me.  But I trust Eddy.  He wields the saw like a pro, splicing down both sides of the cast he constructed, gently peeling the top from the rest of the plaster.  I wait with a twinge of nervousness for the unveiling.

I see a swath of dark hair.  Everyone assumes because I'm blonde that my leg hair will be nice and fair, but it's unfortunately not true.  Ricardo chuckles and I jokingly apologize for the display to the two other men in the room.  The rest of my leg is as I imagined, though more unnerving in person than in my imagination.  All I can see of my "calf" is a hunk of flesh barely larger than the bone it covers.  The skin beneath all the hair is rough and dry, and halfway down my calf a red rash covers like a scaly sock.  The scar is black and still partially covered with surgical tape.  My toes are purple, my foot like a glass of wine.  At my touch, I leave a white fingerprint on the top. 

The leg is free, but I'm afraid to move my foot.  Not that it moves much on its own.  It still seems strangely disconnected from the rest of my body, more stiff and tender than anything else.  It feels vulnerable dangling there.  Part of me wants it back in the cast so it doesn't have to face the real world, and part of me is eager to advance to the hard work of building it back up.  And then, the doctor delivers the news I wasn't expecting, which has been typical of this journey thus far: I am not to bear any weight on this leg for another four weeks.  Here I am, thrilled to think I'm leaving my crutches at the office today, yet again, naive of this whole process.  Funny that I never once thought of my achilles tendon before rupturing it.  Oh, I'd had a few episodes of worrying I would one day tear my ACL, but the achilles wasn't on my radar - not until I couldn't walk.  

How little I knew.  How little I still know.

The doctor tells me little, unless I ask.  And even then, I somehow feel a little stupid for my questions, as if I'm insulting professional intelligence, though that may be my own insecurity, as he appears to be a competent and nice enough fellow.  I've read so many conflicting things about a time frame and recovery "protocol" for ruptured achilles.   Some say you can resume running six months after surgery. Most say it takes more like ten or twelve.  Some people begin physical therapy right out of the cast.  Others, like me, won't be referred to physical therapy until one month after the cast.  General consensus says it's a long, rough recovery, working hard with atrophied muscle and a shortened tendon, making progress one micro-movement at a time.  The good news is, most people make a full recovery without re-rupture, though it's always a possibility, even with a fiberoptic wire in my heel that's stronger than steel. 

He puts a double heel lift in my boot to keep my foot at an angle, tells me he'll see me again in four weeks.  I'm not to take the boot off, except to bathe, as even the involuntary leg twitches in my sleep could do enough damage to require another surgery.  I think about the four times I fell during the month I had the cast on, how the layers of plaster protected my leg from injury when I didn't manage to fall on my uninjured side.  I think of the time I stumbled forward and caught myself with the toes sticking out of my cast, how even that bending of the toes could have reinjured my heel and I laid in bed with my heart racing until the pain subsided.  How in the world will my leg survive in a boot on crutches?  Will I forget not to put pressure on it while it's resting on the ground, taunting me to stand on two legs?  

I'm quiet heading back in the elevator, down the hall, through the parking garage to our car.  This is not what I had in mind, and I have to readjust my expectations again.  I envisioned going home and setting to work on the pile of dishes in the kitchen - on two legs.  Instead, when we get home I go straight to bed.  I lay with my leg propped on a tower of pillows, dazed and spent.  When I get up the nerve to shower, I unwrap my leg from the boot and my sock, and I sit on the edge of the tub, staring at it like it's a foreign object.  And I feel a little ashamed of myself as warm tears fall on my leg while I continue staring, cradling it gingerly, aware of its fragility.  I don't have a terminal illness.  I will walk and run again.  One year and this will be a memory, so why spill tears over it now?  It feels so ungrateful, but I can't fight it today.  So I let them fall, then I turn on the faucet, swing on my one good leg into the shower and stand up.  My first shower without a cast.  That in itself is a milestone.

I keep telling myself this is training my character.  The same painstaking process as physical rehabilitation refines the character and restores the soul to a state of dependency on God.  I'm not in control and I don't have this down.  I'm like a little baby, learning to walk, reaching out to take Daddy's hands.  It's humbling, an affront to my adultness, my independence, my sense of security - and right where I need to be.  I may have dreams in the night of running and dancing and biking; I may whisper prayers in the day of trusting God more deeply, growing in patience, enduring through pain.  But all of these come through discipline, with time and persistence and faith.   No, these things cannot be rushed. 

And so I search for words to say thank you, here in these moments.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

A reform-ing vegetarian

As a vegetarian the past year and a half, I never realized how I take in the blood of animals with my diet of fruits and vegetables, soy and grains.  I thought the matter was almost as deceptively simple as eating meat vs. not eating meat.  Respecting and caring for the livelihood of animals vs. treating them as mere objects.  Flesh to be consumed, instead of living beings that deserved to exist apart from my self-interest.   Turns out, as with much of life, it's just not that simple.

In yet another book I coincidentally picked up, The mindful carnivore (Tovar Cerulli), my eyes are pried open a bit wider, my conscience again challenged.  This time, not to think so dichotomously.  I read things that take me past the brink of no return, that sense of responsibility that comes with the gaining of knowledge.  Ignorance is bliss, indeed, but if I'm no longer ignorant, what will I do with what I now know?  

Which brings me back to the subject of deer.  These beautiful, elegant creatures love most of the foods I consume regularly and feast on most everything a farmer can grow.  In agricultural parts of the state and country, deer can cause from tens of thousands to tens of millions of dollars in damage to farmers' crops.  The farmers then have to make a decision between bankruptcy and killing, feeding deer or feeding their families.  When I sit down to a bowl of stir fried organic veggies and tofu, there's more involved than I thought with my vegetarian meal.  Richard Nelson, author of Heart and blood: Living with deer in America, offers this jarring summary:

     Whenever any of us sit down for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or a snack, it's likely that deer were killed to protect some of the food we eat and the beverages we drink... Everyone in modern North America who lives each day on agricultural foods belongs to an ecological network that necessarily involves deer hunting... In this sense, the blood of deer runs through our veins as surely as we take bread and wine at our table.

Here I thought I wasn't a hunter.  Turns out, I'm one of the many farming out the dirty work to organic Farmer Joe down the road or across the state.

This information stops me in my tracks.  Instead of disgusting me, I feel something else.  Something sobering and more grown-up.  This issue is much bigger than I thought, with few clear answers.

At the time, I honestly felt becoming a vegetarian was the only appropriate response for me with the knowledge I gained of factory farms and their destructive impact on the environment, the well-being of animals, and in the long run, the health and well-being of humans.  While still holding a respect for meat-eaters, I think I secretly also held the belief that, if everyone was really mindful of - if they really cared about - the severity of the situation, they would rethink eating most meat.  And eating meat is done mindlessly by the masses, without any connection to the life or death of the animal that is on the plate.  There is a sense of not wanting to know, of wanting to be sheltered from the gory details and the mess of it all.  Hence, the clean plastic packaging at the grocery stores, the marketing of meat removed from the life of the animal.  We - and I'm talking me, first - don't want to be reminded of the cost, the life, that is behind every package of "meat" we purchase or consume.  And perhaps that's one other, previously subconscious reason, I became a vegetarian.  I didn't want to deal with the gory reality; I couldn't reconcile it in my head or in my conscience, so I removed myself from the quandary altogether.

Well, almost.

So I arrive at another crossroad: What now?  I recently thought the ideal solution would be to start my own garden, grow my own food, raise my own chickens and the like.  I still hope to do this one day, but not as the "solution" to this problem.  Because, inevitably, I would be faced with the same dilemma as every other grower of food: how far will I go to protect my food from insects or animals?  If I won't use chemicals to combat insects, what will I do if beetles consume much of my leafy greens?  What about little rodents and birds and critters that help themselves to the feast?  Maybe my problem would fall on the smaller end of the scale in the farming world, but the dilemma remains the same.  Would I kill a raccoon to protect my chickens?  How far am I willing to go with this living-in-harmony-with-all-living-things and how realistic are my ideals?

Because the truth is not harmonious.  The nitty gritty reality is that nature doesn't give a hoot for my vegetarian ideals and life and death in the natural world goes on around me each day in a web of struggle and conflict.

I will sit with these questions until I think I can live with the answers.  Inside me grows a deeper, reverent respect for animals - in their living and in their dying to give life (sustenance) to others - the conviction that they deserve to be treated well in life and owed a swift, compassionate death if food is their end.  In respect, don't we owe that to them?  Philosopher Jeremy Bentham once articulated, "The question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?" And, as one professor and farmer, George Wallace, soberly reflects, "If elk would scream, the woods would have fewer hunters." Animals can indeed suffer.  That doesn't mean we shouldn't kill for food; but it does necessitate respect, careful calculation and compassion in the taking of their lives.   

And now, more palpable than the question of what I eat (carnivore vs. vegetarian) is the question of how the food gets to my plate.  Tovar Cerulli writes in his book of this shift in his thinking, from  devoted vegan to mindful carnivore: "The question now wasn't whether my eating inflicted harm, but what kind of harm."  A part of me feels that, if I cannot look an animal in the eyes and kill it myself, I don't deserve to eat meat.  The reality is, I couldn't stomach it.  Not the killing, but more so, not the gutting or the cleaning.  What I aim for, then, is a mindfulness if I choose to eat the flesh of animals and a thankfulness for that life, which informs my purchases and choices of food and where my money lends support.

Eating, it turns out, is no simple affair.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Lessons in racing

I'm seventeen, curled up in a blue vinyl bus seat with a walkman, headphones and a bowling ball of nerves sitting in my stomach.   The track, "I Believe I Can Fly,"saturates my ears and the song's almost cheesy in these late 90s days but perfect for a pre-cross country meet visualization.  This is before the word yoga has ever reached my ears.  I breathe long and deep in.  Hold.  Breathe out slow.  I pray.  The bowling ball shrinks, bit by bit, to a tennis ball.   The bus pulls into the stadium.

I love to race, and I dread it with all the nerves in my body.  It's not until the gun fires and there's nothing more but me and a pack of pumping arms and speedy legs, the occasional elbow flying, that I cease to dread and the chase begins.  Three point one miles of chase.  At this stage, I can do nothing about my level of training; it is what it is.  The real battle is in my mind, a more grueling fight than my lungs or legs face.  I cannot doubt I can do this race, come near-debilitating side ache, legs heavy as boulders, a slip and fall in the mud, or opponent breathing down my neck.  No more walkman, the soundtrack of my mind plays a continuous loop of one prayer: I can do all things through Christ, who infuses inner strength into me.  

It's often not until halfway through that I fall into a relaxed rhythm around six and a half minute miles, after I've lost sight of my two friends, the top female runners on our team, and I'm on my own.  My eyes fix on the next girl, I pray for strength, and my body dials up a notch, if it can, or I hold steady.  I can do all things through Christ, who infuses inner strength into me.  I gain ground, pull closer to the body in front of me, until I hear her breaths strong and sense her eyes straining to look over her shoulder and pretend I'm not there at the same time.  These are vital moments, when me or her will inevitably weaken because side-by-side is too mentally taxing to maintain, and I ask myself, do I dare push a little harder?  The blow to the mind is great when attempting to pass someone and failing, and so I push.  She fights back, for a few seconds, and then, concedes.  I'm off to the next. 

I'm approaching mile three, and ready or not, it's time to gear up for the final push.  The one hundred sixty-one meter sprint where eyes hone in on final bodies to pass, but my mind is my final opponent.  Coaches and parents scream and cheer with stop watches racing, and all I strain to hear, one last time, is I can do all things through Christ, who infuses inner strength into me.  

Arms pump hard, legs pound the grass, lungs strain, and I nearly collapse across the finish line.  Exhaustion and instant relief ensue.  A few minutes pass, and I'm smiling again.  The same race that, moments before felt like it completely siphoned my energy, now finished, fills me with strength and builds my confidence.  

And who knows, at seventeen, that this physical training is really preparation for life?  For those weeks and months, at thirty-one, when running isn't possible and muscles atrophy, but the race is still on and this time it's the heart straining not to grow weary.  When I'd remember the prayer through gritted teeth and know in my heart that the toughest opponent looming today is not a person or even a set of circumstances, but my own thoughts.  And what will I feed my mind today, if not a steady diet of trust and thankfulness?  

Don't. Give. Up.  I can do all things through Christ, who infuses inner strength into me (Philippians 4:13).