Monday, September 16, 2013

Right between the eyes

I look like everybody else. I have what most everybody else has. Right between my eyes, halfway down my face, just above my lips, I have a nose.
Now, for some reason, my nose works very well. Not only does it help me breathe, but the olfactory function has been fine-tuned from childhood!
This has not always served to my advantage.
I can still smell the less-than-pleasant-to-my-8-year-old senses "aroma" of hot boiled brussels sprouts. I can still smell the butter that coated their somewhat bitter leaves, and I remember the smell fading as the heat left the sprouts which never did leave my plate, even after one hour of sitting at my seat.

This story, I am sure, would be different if my mother told it. The perspective of an elementary school student is often skewed and embellished. (p.s. it was fun to search "brussels sprouts child" images!)

Nevertheless, my nose is very sensitive to smells. This heightened after having children and has not left me. I enjoy very pleasant smells, including all baked goods which I am privileged to cook.
I am sensitive to how a person's house smells. I have childhood memories of visiting friends and thinking their house smelled strange, and as an adult, one of my hostessing fears is that my house will smell offensive to guests and they will not know how to tell me.

This weekend, there was an unpleasant smell in our kitchen. I supposed it was the garbage disposal or perhaps some of the dishes in the sink. After running the dishes through the dishwasher and cleaning the disposal, and even after changing the trash can, there was still a residual odor.

The smell was not pronounced, it was more of an afterthought. Was there truly a bad smell or was it my imagination? (my nose has an imagination! It will smell things that simply aren't there.)

With the flurry of events this weekend I didn't give this much thought until today when the dishes had again stacked up. (this is happening more often with our youngest having reached age 2. We used to have maybe two times a week of the dishwasher-now it's almost a guaranteed "every other day" chore)
As I tackled the stack and my sink and counters re-emerged, I also began rinsing out our plastic containers and empty tin cans for the recycling bin. That's when I discovered it.
One tiny can of "tomato puree" that hadn't been thoroughly rinsed had been closed with its lid on, waiting to be rinsed and recycled.
Sadly, a couple busy days of neglect and some semi-warm temperatures provided the perfect environment for organic growth.
I will not detail the contents, just that what was once red was now black, and no amount of rinsing would cleanse this can for the recycle bin.

This can also be true of our Christian life. Something can seem off or not-quite-right. We will address the obvious symptoms, whilst our well-intended efforts in a selfish direction sit like that can. Had we attended to it properly, taken care of it immediately, this could have resulted in good. Even our good deeds, when improperly motivated, can result in blackness within our hearts.

And? The Creator of all has a sense of smell even more vivid than my own. He can smell every thought and idea and I am more than guilty of those unpleasant thoughts than I care to dwell on.
Thankfully, He makes all things new!
Old King James was the version of 1 John 1:9 that I grew up with, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."

Just like that can of tomato puree, I want to be cleansed and used for good purposes. I may be able to hide that sin inside me for a while, but that smell will leak out a bit at a time until eventually all that darkness spills out and it's ugly and awful! All around me can be cleaned up and all those obvious things I deal with can be wiped out, but truly, our deceitful hearts need to be addressed as soon as possible. 

Had I a little more dedication to saving the world from my tin can in the trash, I could have used soap and a rubber glove (you wanted me to do this bare-handed?) and cleaned the can. My recycling efforts are a bit on the lazy side, and sadly, I did not follow through on the recycled effort.

God, on the other hand, is always willing to make the effort. Sometimes we need a little rinse, sometimes soap, sometimes we need scalding water and a little bleach to clean off the sin. To Him, all sin is the same, and as Christians I think we need that reminder. Our pride is just as ugly as the outward addictions that others struggle against-perhaps even more so. What good is our outward polish if our inside is rotten and moldy and smelly?

For now, we'll just remember to rinse our cans right away before setting them on the counter for recycling. And? I'll also remember to come to God right away, because I don't want to be a stinky can.


Monday, September 9, 2013

Run the race...

Somewhere I have a photograph. I am in the seventh grade, tall and skinny, my cheeks are hollow, and I am running the hardest I have ever run. It is the District Cross Country meet.
I did not want to be there. I'd begun the year as a member of the team, but had quit when our post-school runs exceeded one mile. I joined because my best friend loved running. I loved spending time with her, but my body wasn't built for distances.
The night before the race, I had received a phone call begging me to attend the race so the team would qualify for the event. I was just a necessary body.
When I began the race I sprinted with the pack, then quickly fell behind after a quarter mile and by the half mile point I was walking.
My less-than-stellar attitude led to much mumbling and a grumpy face as I intentionally walked the better half of that course.
As I neared the finish line, my friends began shouting, "Run, Tammy! Run! There's someone behind you!"
I looked back, and yes, there was a girl behind me. Suddenly, I had energy, I had strength, I had motivation, and I had cheerleaders. I sprinted those last hundred yards as if I were an Olympic athlete flying through the chute.

The total distance of the race? 2 miles.
I vowed never to run again.

Fast forward to Winter 2011/12. My sweet husband informs me that he needs exercise, we're getting a treadmill, and we're entering a 5k so we'll use it.
Not excited.
At all.
List of excuses begins.
Still, I love him and he has my best interests at heart.
We purchased expensive running shoes with our tax returns (ouch!), began training, completed the race together, and once I'd had a taste of outdoor running, I began to enjoy how I felt after the runs.

Still, I did not love running. Not at all. It was simply the cheapest exercise option for a family of five on one income.

Fast forward to Summer 2013. I'd been running our 2 mile walking loop for exercise and it was pretty comfortable. Sometimes I would do our 5k loop (just over 3 miles) instead-a decent 30-35 minute workout.

A friend emailed me and another mom, asking if we'd train with her for a HALF-MARATHON.
Yes, I used all capitals.
For you non-runners, a marathon is the greatest endurance test out there. 26.2 miles.
So, a half-marathon is 13.11 miles. (21.0975km)
In comparison, my longest distance runs were 3.11 miles (5km)
That's a difference of Ten MILES. Over four times the amount of running I was accustomed to.

I laughed, I cried, I thought there was a joke in there somewhere.
This sweet, bubbly friend loves to run and has run her entire life. She is fast.
My 10 minute mile record in junior high has yet to be bested. (I am slow)
She graciously encouraged that if we began training on August 5th, we could use a "12 Week Training Plan" and it would conclude with the race on October 26th.

I would have dismissed it entirely, but the other mom friend was enthusiastic in her reply and said "yes".
I couldn't be the wet blanket, the party pooper, left out, etc.

Currently, I am on week 6 of training.

What is the point of this story?

Our life is not meant to be lived in seclusion. We need other people to challenge us, encourage us, motivate us and cheer us on.
Had you asked me in July if I would be able to run six miles without stopping, I would have said "no" and that would have ended the conversation.
Saturday morning, I ran those six miles in 71 minutes, 55 seconds.
Had I not found a training plan that took baby steps, I would have quit five weeks ago. Most of the plans asked you to run six miles on your first Saturday.

A friend ran with me yesterday even though she'd never run more than 3 miles straight. She's a sprinter and usually does 8-9 minute miles. She had to stop at 2.5 and walk for a while as I continued on to the 3 mile point then turned around to complete our race. She was there waiting for me and we ran the last 2.5 miles together. It challenged our bodies and we were really struggling to finish the last mile, but with a friend, you are less likely to quit. We encouraged each other to keep running and not give up.

Paul describes Christianity as a race.
I'm beginning to understand.
There are goals that somebody will present to me that are reachable if I'll simply try. They can see something in me I don't see for myself.
I may be intimidated because the experience is new or more difficult than I believe myself capable of achieving.
Still, once you take those small steps and receive encouragement, you start to flower and blossom.
You can see success and you start to tune out the negative thoughts.
"I could never do that" becomes "Maybe I could do that...if..."
"I'm not sure I could, but I'll try..."
"Hey, this is actually not so hard..."
"What? Would you believe that?!!"
"Yes! Oh, I never thought I could have done this but..."

So, if you feel God stretching you, taking you out of your comfort zone, remember that this is not a sprint. It's not about speed, it's about finishing. Some people may run faster than you and some people may walk. You may take some time to encourage somebody slower than you or you may receive encouragement from somebody who's been training for a long time and isn't struggling to complete that next mile that you think is going to kill you.
At the end, if I complete this half-marathon, I will get the same prize as everybody who finishes. A medal. (this is not the actual medal, just a similar Oregon medal for a half marathon)

At the end of this life, we will all receive the prize of eternal life if we "finish" and remain strong in our pursuit of righteousness and submission to God.

1 Thessalonians 5:11 "Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing."

Having run 6 miles, I have almost completed half the final distance. The training plan just asks me to push it a little more each following week. I keep getting stretched. I have to be disciplined. I have to get up early, run, shower/get ready for the day by 6:30am so my husband can go to work (and I have to get the kids ready for school).
God doesn't ask more of me than is reasonable. I love the feeling of completing something I perceived impossible. I love the elation of looking back at something difficult and realizing that it's over and it did not defeat me. My faith is refined through fire and it gives me the ability to strengthen and encourage others in similar fires.

Godspeed to each of you as we set our eyes on the prize.
Philippians 3:12-14 "Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus."