Running for Today

Today, on the phone with my sister, I said,  “I ran four miles yesterday without stopping.” The older sister/younger sister relationship allows for much grace in the area of achievement, mainly because I’ve been telling my big sister my accomplishments for 28 years now. But this was not just another moment of bragging induced by adolescent nostalgia, this was a moment of me saying the truth out loud for myself. 

A brief history of my turmoiled relationship with running: I didn’t. I had a higher-than-average mile time as a seventh grader because I took off the second the gym teacher’s whistle shrieked so that I could get it over with. Years of dance only furthered my running form of bouncing fairy feet, and I consistently left any time spent running with a matching pair of shin splints. I loathed running. 

Living two blocks from the ocean has blacked out any possible excuse I could come up with as to why I’m not out and about more than I am curled up inside reading or re-watching Stranger Things. Let me be clear: I have already re-watched Stranger Things 1 & 2 in preparation for the Season 3 premier. I have also taken up running. Naturally, on the first day, I ran towards the ocean. I breathed in through my nose and out through my mouth letting my fairy feet relax into a heel-ball-toe rhythm that fought every ounce of dancer in me. I relaxed my hands like I’d heard my sister’s cross country coach tell her to do, and I ran. 

The first few days were pretty ugly. I stopped regularly, walked parts, and couldn’t figure out how to work my breath. But I loved the freedom running gave me; freedom to move, to explore my limits, and be out among the life happening down by the ocean. So I kept pushing and worked up to two miles, then three, now four. I don’t have a specific goal in mind and I’m not running for any specific purpose, but here’s why I’m obsessed with running: it forces you to be exactly where you are.  

When I set out on my first run, I had no idea what I was capable of. I quickly realized that running tested my body, but it more so tested my mind. My mind was the thing that encouraged my body into quitting or pushing on. The thoughts going on inside my head getting jarred by each stride have the strongest influence over what happens on each run. I learned quickly that if I focused on the end of the run, the finish line if you will, I struggled. If I thought about all the ground I’d already covered, I’d lose my momentum and eventually want to stop. But when I focus on the music in my ears and taking each and every step exactly when it comes, I last longer, I run faster, and I can push myself harder. 

I’ve been having countless conversations lately about daily bread. What I’m talking about is that moment in the Our Father where Jesus says, “give us today our daily bread...” The moment where he emphasizes that our Father’s grace is sufficient and we would do well to keep our focus on what His grace in our lives looks like today. Not tomorrow. Not next year. Not next week. Today. Running has been a physical representation of this for me. It forces me to be fully present where I am. It brings up the mantra: do what you can with what you have where you are. These have been the themes of my life lately as I re-entrust the desires of my heart to a God who’s promises are big enough for eternity, but dying to meet me right in this moment exactly where I am. He sees my needs as small in comparison to the need for surrendering to His ways. He still sees my needs and takes delight in showing me how we’ll get there together, but I have come to the place of daily humility in the full knowledge that anything I try to do for myself beyond today is outside of His call. I will still make plans and look forward to future events, but His heart is for the dailies: daily surrender, daily trust, daily reliance on our savior who promises to hem us in behind and before so that we can be fully alive to his promises today. 

 

Masterpiece

About the time I turned 23, my life started feeling like a catch 22. “You can get a degree in dance,” they said, “but you also need something else - something substantial.” So I chose to double major - dance and journalism. Two very useful degrees.

I visited my college advisor two days before graduation to finalize some paperwork and she told me I would need nine more classes to fulfill my journalism degree. A B.S. is what it was supposed to be, and that’s what I initially thought about what she said to me…

That couldn't be true. I hadn’t taken over 20 credits every semester for the past four years for her to tell me two days before graduation that I was 23 credits shy of a degree. But I was. And I cried.

I managed to hold the tears in until I got outside and I was so devastated that I just started walking. It was a little over four miles through downtown Pittsburgh from school to my apartment, and I walked them all with tears streaming down my face and the dust and grime kicked up by the passing city buses sticking to my sweating skin.

I couldn’t believe I had worked so hard for something only to have it snatched out from under me by a mathematical error. I think that feeds into my detest of math. I can appreciate it for what it is and the fact that it brings joy to some people who probably didn’t graduate with a degree in dance, but don’t ask me to do it.

Part of the reason losing this degree hit me so hard was because I let it define me. College is hard because we can minimize it to years stacked on top of one another of the hardest we've ever worked, only to have the the highest ranking board members of that school hand us a piece of paper with our name on it. How’s that for a recognition of effort?

But that’s just it; that degree, that title, it does not define who we are. It might add to our resumes and allow us to relate to others, but we pick up our true identity when God says, 

I have knit you together in your mother’s womb.

The picture we have of that is cells colliding and multiplying, but those are just logistics. What we don’t see is God hanging out in Heaven “knitting” us together. It’s like he’s sitting surrounded by all the possible traits and characteristics that could ever exist (and we learn in math class that combining all of these has a nearly infinite number of results) and he’s picking out this and that for your specific make up.

He’s adding spunk to this person and patience to someone else; to one he adds the ability to feel deeply and to another a passion for boating. Another still gets the ability to think through things logically. The bottom line is that he took the time and the care and the great love to create you just the way you are. I don’t know about you, but that blows my mind. He gives us causes to fight for, things to pursue passionately and unique senses of humor long before we can even think for ourselves.

This goes beyond the definition of special and into the realm of sacred. As stated by Ephesians 2:10, 

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so that we can do the good thing He planned for us long ago.

Talk about a divine purpose. The creator of the universe, master of all, molder of every whisker on a cat, builder of the mountains and oceans, architect of palm trees and pines, sculptor of micro-organisms, took time to create his greatest masterpiece of all, purely out of love, and set with you unique attributes and a divine purpose.

 

You are a masterpiece.