Monday, November 3, 2014

Another year of masochism

It was Friday night. 9:57 p.m. The alarm on my phone reported "6 hours and 33 minutes until alarm." With that and a quick double check of my watch alarm, I tucked myself between the sheets in a spare bedroom of David and Nancy Horton. The plan was to sleep, rise at 4:30 a.m., meet Horton (who would already be up and out), and go run 50 + miles in the mountains. The goal: my 17th finish of the Mountain Masochist 50 Mile Trail Run.

I squeezed my eyes shut and waited for sleep to come. But it would not. My mind began making compounding lists of what needed to get done in the next two weeks. No matter how hard I tried to suppress those dart-like attacks into the synapses of my brain, the assault was relentless and overwhelming. In an odd way, I was sometimes amused at the randomness of what popped into my brain. But generally and not precluding what God can do despite my inadequacies, my brain registered only the potential demise of my newly-established (and beloved) ministry path should the events in the coming weeks fail.

I heard Horton get up at 3:15 a.m. and knew I had about an hour until my appointed time to face the day. When a whoozy-headed feeling finally came on shortly thereafter, my body fell into a light and short-lived sleep. "At least I've been horizontal for hours and nabbed 20 minutes of zzzz's. I can do this."

53ish miles is always a long way. But what can make it seem longer is starting the day in a cold rain. Though miserable weather was predicted, the 6:30 a.m. start was simply 30's and periodic drizzle. If you don't count the two calf-deep stream crossings in the early miles, I never felt wet.

I felt embraced by the dark as I became just one in a crowd of many. "No need to rush," I whispered to myself. Eavesdropping and amused by words of advice offered between runners (some of which was loony), I was content to slip through the forest in my own little world. Only briefly did I enjoy conversation with Sarah Quigg, one of the first runners I ever coached in my high school career. As the trail rose ahead, my young protege' pulled ahead as I yelled out to her, "Have a great day!"

I fell into a rhythm counting steps. 25 walk, 25 granny shuffle run. Repeat on all uphills. Run everything else. I felt it might be a safe approach. Training had been nearly non-existent since August. A tough coaching/work schedule with nearly every weekend occupied by cross country meets, I had managed but one mountain run of 17 miles, and two road runs of 18 and 15 miles. I hoped that the daily workouts I ran with my team added a little something to fitness.

The signs at each aid station told me I was gaining time on the 12-hour time limit. Continually catching people suggested my approach might actually be working. It was fun. Never before had I looked forward to "running" uphill. So with dark and drizzly turning to bright and sunny, the day held surprising promise.

Approaching the "halfway" point (26.9 miles, or so they say), the mountain we would climb was cloaked in dark clouds, sharp, stinging winds poised to pummel. Adjusting my 25 on/25 off approach due to uneven footing and the steep, 3-mile climb, I turned my focus to simply keep pace with fellow runners. My quads felt tired but forward motion was maintained. Hot broth at the aid station halfway up the mountain offered both warmth and needed salt.

About four miles later the infamous "Loop" needed to be conquered. The flat early miles flew by, but the rocky and steep incline slowed my pace. For the first time in a while I was the one being passed. Still, my spirit held strong and my legs allowed me to gain back precious ground on the downhills. Out of the loop and down the gravel road, I drew closer to my goal with every step.

Despite two tortuous climbs in the last eight miles, the section preceding the last aid station seemed shorter than normal. Perhaps it was the chance to chat with runners as we played hop-scotch along the wooded trail. But when that final station came into view, not even the welcoming tents and snap-crackling campfire held enough allure to dissuade me from running by. The silent tick-tock of my watch whispered I might be able to break eleven hours, something I felt impossible in recent years. The changed course and my creeping-up age made all my sub-9s and 10s of long ago seem far away in Fantasyland. But it was what it was and left nothing but down, down, down and off the last mountain.

Then I saw her. Sarah. I was surprised after watching her slip away in the darkness of the first hour. My emotions flipped between joy in catching her and the college runner's disappointment that I did. As the orange-painted "1 mile to go" mark passed beneath our feet, we were side by side. "Hi, Sarah."

"Oh, Coach T," she uttered with a wistful quiver in her voice.

"Come on, Sarah. Let's finish this together."

"Okay."

But it didn't happen. I glanced at my watch. I had time to sneak in under 11 hours if I continued the assault. I pulled away, feeling strong and cajoling her to catch up. It wasn't in the cards. We would not cross the line together. Her dad was standing along side the road. I glanced back to see the pair amble along. The only thing left for me was to make the mental decision to persist all the way to the line. 10:57. Sarah crossed a minute later. The coach and athlete. Together again but never really apart.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Three principles to live by

I thought long and hard all summer but it didn't seem to help. I wanted to be able to challenge my cross country team with something profound, something they could ponder and use to muster up strength and courage when they needed it most. Personally, I thrive on motivational and inspiration"stuff." I'm the one who cuts apart motivational calenders, posting quotes all over my office. It makes me yearn and dream and strive to accomplish the impossible. I wanted the same for my kids but kept coming up short on anything that might have that effect.

But as so often the case, God came through with the right thought for the right minute. Our church began reading our way through 1 Thessalonians. Fortunately, I didn't have to read very far. In the first chapter there it was. Let me set the stage.

Team t-shirts
Paul and his sidekicks, Silas and Timothy, wrote a letter to the church in Thessolinica. The way they begin their letter might be likened to the way a coach addresses his team or a parent setting up the kids for a frank discussion. In other words, start out with the good stuff. Encourage. Don't discourage.

So what did they say? For starters, they said this:  "We thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers. We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Thes. 1:2, 3). A few verses later, it gets even better. The writers let the church know that "you have become a model to all the believers" (vs 7) and the "your faith in God has become known everywhere" (vs 8).

Stop the presses! That's amazing. What a way for a group to be known: work produced by faith, labor prompted by love, and endurance inspired by hope. If the same could be said of me and my team, we'll be doing okay. But let's take a closer look.

Work produced by faith. If a skydiver had no faith that the meticulous packing of his shoot was going to do him any good, he might as well take a flying leap without his parachute and hope the clouds will become his trampoline. But that would be stupid, right? Right. As Christians, the faith we have in the grace of God and his saving power urges us on to work hard and carefully advance the Kingdom. The faith we are given urges us be just as meticulous as the "I don't want to die. I wanna live" skydiver in our daily work.

Labor prompted by love. What's the greatest deterrent to getting an employee to give the job all he's got or an athlete to bust a gut in practice? Lack of love. Yep. If you hate what you're doing, chances are you'll quit sooner than later. Of all people, our love for God should be enough to keep us motivated to selflessly reach out, meet people where they are, serve one another, and so become a
Team sweatshirt
testimony to the indwelling Christ.

Endurance inspired by hope. Picture this. A runner is 56 miles into a 100-mile race. The area is remote, he's puking, feet are ravaged from hours of being wet, and it feels like he is carrying a 150 pound pack. Every step is torture as he makes his way into a check point. He sits in a chair, shivering from dehydration and exhaustion. In front of him looms a huge climb up the next mountain and 44 more tortuous miles. Now, if he abandons any hope of  earning the finisher's buckle, do you think there's much chance of him getting out of that chair and proceeding on. No way! The only thing that would drive him forward is a real hope of making it to the end despite the circumstances. Believer, we can carry on because our hope in Jesus Christ is well-placed! We can--and must--endure.

My team and I are in the final weeks of our cross country season. So, what will be our legacy? What will we be remembered for? Will we be known for work produced by faith, labor prompted by love, and endurance inspired by hope? I trust that will be the case.





Saturday, August 16, 2014

Pre-season football and watermelon

On Friday, Aug 15, a few FCA staffers and volunteers had the privilege to challenge the young men of the Rustburg and Northside High Schools and serve them refreshing watermelon. WSET, the local ABC affiliate, was there to capture the action on and off the field.

Watch the news story here!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Transparent musings

I didn't think it would be this hard. 300 people at $25.00 a month is all it would take. Surely, folks can appreciate that ministry takes money. That's less than buying one cup of cheap (super cheap) coffee a day, one over-sized candy bar in the check- out line of Wal-mart fifteen times a month, or a $5.00 meal Dairy Queen meal special just a little over once a week. Seems to me many of us (including me), if we're not careful, can mindlessly blow twenty-five dollar bills pretty easily--and never really miss it. So theoretically, if it requires just 300 people to promise a relatively modest commitment per month, why is my upcoming FCA ministry not yet funded?

Now, please don't get me wrong. I am not complaining nor am I trying to have a pity-party, woe is
me session. Sixty-five individuals, families, or businesses have joined this team that is scheduled to take on the challenge of ministry to women coaches and their teams. Some of those sixty-five have given selflessly and sacrificially, being in ministry themselves. Every amount given, large or small, is accepted with humility and a pledge to use the funds with all integrity. I fully understand that of the countless worthy fund-needing ministries out there, my FCA ministry is but another.

I am absolutely convinced that God has led me to this point. And, if God is really in this, then He has already made it possible. At the moment, I just can't fathom how. I suppose it's like playing a huge scavenger hunt game with my Father, doing what I can to find the chosen ones who are temporarily holding onto the ministry-appointed funds for safe-keeping.

But it's hard. It's not natural for me to ask people to support my work as a missionary atop a sports-platform. I've studied the biblical examples and find support of missionaries a viable means to an end. I understood this reality even as a little girl. I gladly gave part of my own baby-sitting tithe to missionaries that spent time with our family while traveling on furlough. I still give. I'm comfortable with that. I like doing that. I've just never had to ask others to do this for me.

I fear that in the asking, people will see me ask for my needs before they clearly identify the needs of the coaches and athletes I wish to help. I'm afraid I will inadvertently make the message about me rather than God's work. I don't want that to happen. The goal of ministry is "to present to athletes and coaches, and all whom they influence, the challenge and adventure of receiving Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, serving him in their relationships and in the fellowship of the church."  The values taught are integrity, serving, teamwork, and excellence. All great stuff and worthy of funding.

My simple desire is to be the hands and feet of those busy doing something else God-appointed. But this is the deal: Long ago God wired me to be passionate about athletics and the lessons begging to be learned. He gave me a heart for coaches and the influence they can be to their teams. He installed in me a deep desire to challenge, motivate, and inspire women, young and old, athlete and not, toward a mature faith walk. I must pursue this.

I'll be transparent. I'm a bit discouraged. $40,000 stands between now and the level that allows me freedom to begin focused ministry. I feel like I'm running out of friends and acquaintances to ask to join with me (although I am enjoying the widening ripples of meeting friends of friends of friends). In some cases, folks who said they would help have gone silent. I hesitate to make too many follow-up calls, not wanting to be pest-like or squashed outright like a bug. I wish I was independently wealthy. Having unlimited funds would allow me to jump right into the work of ministry. But wait. Maybe that self-reliance would be more of the problem than a solution.

Over lunch a friend matter-of-factly stated, "I'm glad you have to raise support. It keeps you on
your knees." I guess she's right. To leave salary behind and look to ministry ahead is a faith-leap right off the proverbial cliff. Once over the edge, there is nothing I can do to avoid hitting the rocks below. I don't like free-fall and the deafening roar created by the wind whizzing by my ears. Nevertheless, I know God can (and will) make the catch and plunk me back on solid ground. It's just a matter of His timing, not the deadline I set for August 1.

Bottom line? I need courage to believe, faith to continue, trust to experience God's faithfulness. Dare I think the next person with whom I share the vision could be the miracle I've been praying for? Or will I need to wait and see an army of teammates step to the line? Only God's timing will tell.

If you are interested in learning more about the journey that brought me to full-time ministry with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, feel free to read more: For such a time as this, Run the straights. Appreciate the curves The clock is ticking.. Linked by two X's Let go!

If you would like to be one big miracle or one of many soldiers, it's easy to set up automatic giving by going to this link or sending in a blank, voided check along with your request to Central & Southwest VA FCA ● PO Box 662 ● Forest, VA 24551. (While payment by credit card is welcomed, a bank draw is financially more prudent as no fees are taken against the payment amount.)




Thank you for your commitments to this ministry.



I pledge to you my earnest service and integrity in ministry for the glory of God.  

Monday, July 14, 2014

Birthday mishap revisited

Years ago but on this day we were sitting in our lawn chairs at “church.” At the time, our start-up fellowship was meeting in a three-car garage, worshiping without the trappings of a formal sanctuary. Our church had just suffered a split and I was preoccupied with a bad work situation. I didn’t have it together.

Sitting in that hot garage, I glanced over at Seth. To my surprise, tears streamed down his face. To coin a phrase, “Oh dear, what could the matter be?” The matter was this: we had forgotten Seth’s eleventh birthday. The young boy was distraught. He could not be consoled regardless of heart-felt apologies. No “Happy Birthday” upon rising, no special breakfast, no unique gifts. It was just a lot of nothing.

Seth eventually got over his disappointment and to this day, it is one of our long-standing family jokes. So, as the sun set last night, I made sure to get in the first birthday greeting in anticipation of today. I certainly did not want him to think I could forget his birthday. . .again! On the way home from work, I made a stop to pick up some plaid shorts as a gift. I was relieved he liked them; he can be pretty picky. Whew. Another birthday without incident.

Kids are wonderful. Each has their unique personality, sense of humor, strengths and weaknesses. Seth has been “busy” since conception. In utero, he made like a chicken trying to peck his way out. As an infant he refused to sleep longer than twenty minutes at a time and was a front-runner to be a poster child for colic.

After him, no more kids for me. Maybe Leah thought the same thing after Judah’s birth. Perhaps he was difficult as well. “She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said, ‘This time I will praise the LORD’. . . Then she stopped having children” (Genesis 29:35).

At four, Seth rode his motorcycle through the woods as fast as he could, standing on the seat like a pipsqueak Evil Kinevil. In school, he was the center of attention. And now, as a young man of seventeen, he is an outgoing, know-no-stranger kind of guy, full of wanderlust and enthusiasm. His camera is a constant companion.

I thank God for Seth. He’s a special kind of kid.

“and she gave birth to a son and named him Seth, saying, "God has granted me another child.” (Genesis 4:25)


Daily challenge: Little kids are like kittens: cute and easy to love. But don’t be blind to the beauty in your big kids.


Postscript: Today Seth turns 23. I did not forget his birthday.

Adapted from the July 14th selection in "Pace Yourself: 366 Devotions from the Daily Grind"

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Let go!

Let go! Throw your head back and lift with your legs at the top of the arc.”


Hannah, spry and fearless, did as instructed when launched from the tiny perch cut into the nearly vertical cliff. Secure in her climbing harness and hooked onto the rope, she flipped upside down, soaring over the jungled canyon one hundred feet below. She was gleeful despite the fact she held onto nothing. Legs extended, arms outstretched, peering at the ground as it rushed beneath her, she flew falcon-like through the air. Her teammates watched from the steep hillside, amazed at her prowess, agility, and strength. When Hannah dismounted, it was with bubbling-over joy.

And then came JoAnna. This was not her first trip along the zip line course. However, when it came to the swing in the dense Costa Rican jungle, she denied herself the experience on each of her prior adventures. Only now, surrounded by a team of young women urging her on, did she relent. She survived her fright and flight, though not with the unfettered style and grace of Hannah. JoAnna held on tight, knuckles white and fingers cramping. When JoAnna dismounted, it was only with great relief.

Both these women started the challenge with the same tools: secured, quadruple-checked harnesses. Both these women had the same outcome: survival with no injury. But what about their perception of experience? Hannah relished leaving the cliff. She embraced letting go. She sought the exhilaration tumbling through the air brought her. JoAnna, on the other hand, let the fear deprive her of flightful fancy. She chose not to trust the safety measures and allow herself complete joy.

God sometimes asks us to take a flying leap. Though He promises His control, and despite the assurance of safety, we refuse to let go. Like JoAnna, we needlessly clutch our own insecurities, missing the joy of the journey.

God, give me the courage to let go, trusting you completely. Let me feel safe in your love and grant me joy.

“You will be secure, because there is hope; you will look about you and take your rest in safety.”
Proverbs 11:18 (NIV)

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Linked by Two Xs

There she was, dressed in her team warm-ups and seated in the middle of the well-appointed hotel lobby. But something was wrong. Terribly wrong. With the phone pressed to her ear, tears flowed in rivulets down her checks and onto her lap. She was not crying. No, she sobbed with heart-wrenching emotion. What was the matter?

About that time, the local FCA director joined me in the lobby. As the player continued to sob, we slipped around the corner to lessen the awkwardness. We briefly chatted with the team's coach as the members of his basketball team assembled together in a meeting room. The team had requested an FCA chapel service before taking on the local university in what would be a showdown of athletic powers. After a brief introduction, it took but a few seconds to make my way to the front of the small room, turning to face my equally small audience. But what was not small was their attention.

Every eye was glued to me, some of the athletes sitting forward in their chairs as if to capture every word escaping my lips. Was it because I was a powerful speaker, replete with flowing phrases and descriptive wording? I doubt it. Their attention was captured because we all shared something in common: two X chromosomes. Woman to woman, athlete to athlete. There was plenty of common ground. And when I spoke of burdens, God's purposes, His faithfulness to deliver, and His promise to provide strength, each young woman nodded in agreement. And the sobbing one? Shoulders, rigid from the earlier stress and emotional turmoil, relaxed. With the final "amen" of my prayer, her eyes seemed filled with hope rather than tears. They left the room as a team united, climbing aboard the awaiting bus that would deliver them to the arena. I left the room convinced of my calling.

These last few months have been interesting, to say the least. To leave the security of a steady paycheck, howbeit modest, for the uncertainty of a ministry position was a leap of faith. But more than ever, my passion for coaching, a life-time of athletic pursuits, and a desire to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ and encourage believers in their practical walk supersedes the automatic deposits into our bank account. 

Now that the school year is complete, I turn my focus on finding those who will allow me to be their hands and feet on school campuses. I am seeking those who will fund this ministry that enables coaches, especially female ones, to be supported in their efforts to pour into the lives of their athletes. And as I spend several weeks this summer working in FCA sports camps, I do so as an extension of like-minded supporters. 

As the only female FCA staffer in Central Virginia, the opportunities are limitless. In the fourteen years of local FCA ministry, only twice have female teams been specifically served; not because of lack of desire, but due to the lack of a woman to serve. But while the needs are great, I am willing, and God is able to do more than we dare to dream.

Will you come along and allow me to be a servant? Ministry requires funding as much as it does desire and passion. I am looking for faithful partners that will commit their support and allow me to begin full-time ministry by August 1, unfettered by the need for additional fund-raising. It is easy to set up automatic giving by going to this link or sending in a blank, voided check along with your request to Central & Southwest VA FCA ● PO Box 662 ● Forest, VA 24551.(While payment by credit card is welcomed, a bank draw is financially more prudent as no fees are taken against the payment amount.)

Thanks in advance for your love and practical support. If I can come speak to your group or organization, it would be my pleasure to bring a message of hope, motivation, and ministry.