Thursday, June 28, 2012

"Don't Make Me Drop this Sign"

"I wept and wept and wept that no one was found able..." Revelation 5:4 The Message

The race is over.

Another "first-timer" finished the Ironman competition in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. My son (and I) had many "moments" of discouragement and doubt during the 140.6 miles of endurance (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride and 26.2 miles to run). He finished the race set before him in 15 hours and 18 minutes. It was no record (the winner finished in 8 1/2 hours) but it certainly was a fete few can match or ever hope to achieve.

After the race as he was settling down, he expressed story after story of what kept him going during the long grueling hours of the day. He shared the poignant as well as the humorous (more updates to come) and how each had played a part in his ability to finish.

When we arrived in Coeur d'Alene we DROVE the bike course and the marathon course. He saw the hills and the challenges beforehand. He knew what he was in for. But in the end, he said, "nothing can prepare you for what it takes mentally to keep going."

When I commented on my surprise at how many women were competing (and finishing) and that they certainly were not all tiny, skinny, young athletic looking girls, he said, "Women can endure more pain, they can "dig deeper" in their minds better than men can."


He asked if I remembered a house at the bottom of the long, hard hill on the course. The front yard faced the lake and the Colonial architecture impressed us both.

*"I see from my house by the side of the road
By the side of the highway of life,
The men who press with the ardor of hope,
The men who are faint with strife,
But I turn not away from their smiles and tears,
Both parts of an infinite plan..."

He laughed as much as the pain in his ribs would let him as he spoke of the owner. "This guy was outside in probably just his underwear holding a sign (front and back) that read "Don't make me drop this sign." When he would see the runners struggling, he would approach them and just start saying, "you aren't going to make me drop this are you? People will scream. I'll probably get arrested. You can do this - just walk with me to the end of the block, and I'll keep the sign up."

If you're in Texas, naked with a poster board sounds pretty good in 106 degree heat, but race day in Coeur d'Alene never got above 68. That's a commitment to seeing people through; people you don't know, people who are not your friends, not your family, people you will in all likelihood never meet again.
I cried when I saw my son struggling knowing it was his race, knowing I couldn't be out there with him. I felt helpless not knowing where he was on the course. But by the end of the race, I was assured of my contribution to the day and to the lives of my children.

For the past 25 years of single parenthood, I have struggled with the lies of an enemy who condemns me for divorce. The accuser is always quick to point out my earthly "poverty" and inability to give my children the material things their father often won their affection with.

But on race day, when I could physically do NOTHING to ensure his success, or to take away the pain in his body hour after hour after hour, I knew, probably for the first time in my life what I could give.

I had a world of pray-ERS! I had access to the ear and heart of the Father, and many of His beloved who would make the need known. After I sent out a hasty "Thumbs Down" urgent prayer request, you started responding. You, in Africa, you in Israel, you in China, you in Mexico, you in India, you in Russia, and you in the good old US of A!

I know the competition was important to my son and the 2,421 athletes who participated. I know they were in it to finish and receive the coveted "IRONMAN" title and medal at the end of the course. I didn't take away a medal of any kind, but I walked away with an enlarged heart, a comforted spirit and a reassured soul.

When I am not "there," wherever "there" is, the Father's faithfulness to those who call upon His name goes into action. And when you're coming around the corner of a bad circumstance, when you don't have it in you to take another step - sometimes His love might just show up looking like a crazy undressed guy holding a sign saying,

"Don't make me drop this..."

*"Let me live in a house by the side of the road
Where the race of men go by-
They are good they are bad, they are weak, they are strong
Wise, foolish - so am I.
Then why should I sit in the scorner's seat,
Or hurl the cynic's ban?
Let me live in my house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man."

Holding up a sign
(Fully clothed and smiling)
For all those who need just a little encouragement to make it home,

*House By the Side of the Road - by Sam Walter Foss

Sunday, June 24, 2012

It Takes a Village

"Energize the limp hands, strengthen the rubbery knees. Tell fearful souls, "Courage! Take heart!" Isaiah 35:3-4 The Message

It's very quiet here in our Coeur d'Alene rental house. The anticipation is palpable, and even though its a cool 66 outside and the indoor air conditioner is blowing, I'm sweating.

I'm also praying.

I'm praying my 28-year old son who is across the hall behind a closed door is asleep. In too few hours, he will be awake, and in for a very very long long day. At some point before midnight Pacific Standard Time (2:00 am Central Standard Time) his name will be announced as he crosses the finish line, "Alec Johns, you are an IRONMAN."

It has been a tremendous blessing to be part of his "team." I've utilized a good portion of the qualities I don't get a paycheck for (my creativity, culinary, and organizational skills). I have felt great pride in seeing the determination and dedication to compete and complete the goal my son has his mind set on. I have been humbled by the Facebook posts from around the world sent to encourage him.

We drove the race course and I started praying harder and posting more! An Ironman event consists of the following (note these are Pacific Standard Times):

7:00 am - SWIM 2.4 miles
Approximately 1.5 hours (by his estimate)

9:00 am BIKE 112 miles
Approximately 6 hours

3:45 pm RUN 26.2 miles
Approximately he wouldn't say but he hopes for 5.5 hours

The entire town of Coeur d'Alene takes part in some way or another. The local news this morning was encouraging people to get out and cheer the athletes. One of my son's friends told him if he finishes before the midnight cutoff (athletes are then listed as DNF - Did Not Finish), to return to cheer the last people struggling to cross the line.

The verse quoted from Isaiah was sent to me this morning from a precious missionary friend of mine. She is in the US undergoing cancer treatment. She reports she is winning her battle. Unfortunately, her mother is not. She wrote, she read the passage to her mom and she was encouraged. It encouraged me as well.

For I know this one thing with all certainty, her mother has fought the good fight of faith, finishing the race - she will not be a DNF. Whenever she crosses "that" finish line it will be into the loving arms of her Savior. Her great cloud of witnesses will be holding up far more than posters with "congratulations."

But that realization also made me sad. I wondered out of all the 2800 extraordinarily dedicated athletes how many will make it to THE REAL finish line into the welcoming arms of a loving God. The One who, "for the glory set before Him, endured..."
And as astounding of a human feat it is to compete and complete an Ironman Triathalon race, it was more than amazing that the KING CREATOR would put HIS BODY through that physical torture (and death) for us; so we would NOT be disqualified, we would never have to worry about penalties and injuries that would keep us from finishing.

I remarked earlier about how complete strangers appreciate the encouragement. I know complete strangers will approach YOU one day on the other side of YOUR "finish line" and thank you for sharing the Word, your testimony, sending a missionary, feeding the poor, helping in the thousand ways you don't think anybody knows or cares about. It matters.

"This service you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord's people but it is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God... And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you." 2 Corinthians 9:12-14

One of the strangest rules about the Ironman competition is they do not allow what they deem "outside" help. No music, no hand-offs (food or water) from friends; no touching or running alongside an athlete. My son explained, "They want to break you. It all has to be ALL you."

Tomorrow it might look to the officials like my son is out there all alone, with no motivating music, no special food from his mama, and no running laps with his little brother. But we know "faith is the belief in things HOPED FOR, AS YET UNSEEN." And that, my village people, makes us all IRONMEN!

"They'll sing as they make their way home to Zion, unfading joy encircling their heads, welcomed home with gifts of joy and gladness as all sorrow and sighs scurry into the night." Isaiah 35:10 The Message

Knowing the mountains he will ride are moving!
Smiling in His service

Visit the Facebook Page and LIKE to see updates throughout the race

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Ancient History

"This is the only race worth running. I've run hard right to the finish, believed all the way." 2 Timothy 4:7 The Message

I'm making encouragement posters today. My goal is to hold them up around mile 22 (the breaking point in a marathon) of my oldest son's Ironman competition this weekend. It's my creative nature kicking in to come up with ways not only to say, "Hang in there" but also ways to say "I believe in you and above all I love you."

I started doing a bit of investigating of this whole competition he has signed up for (Ironman: Coeur d'Alene, Idaho June 24, 2012). It consists of a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike ride, and a marathon run (26.2 miles), raced in that order AND without a break.

The Apostle Paul, in writing to the Corinthians says, "You've all been to the stadium and seen athletes race. Everyone runs; one wins. Run to win. All good athletes train hard." 2 Corinthians 9:24 The Message

I checked out the notes on this passage. It seems Paul was referring to the Isthmian games run in Corinth. Wait a minute, Isma-what? I stopped, checked Wikipedia, and discovered they were part of the Greek Olympiad of games. And then I thought about THAT. People were watching athletic performances over 700 YEARS BEFORE Jesus was born! To see the trained ability of others has been, and continues to be entertaining.

When I left Israel two weeks ago, I parted with a feeling of history. History that changes and history that remains unchanging. In the comfort of my 21st century home, I have several different translations of the Bible, I can access the internet or listen to sermons from around the world to enhance my studies. But within that environment, as I read of the ancient Kings of Israel, of Jesus interacting with His followers, in my mind I am picturing a pasture not a metropolis. I still have that "Good Shepherd" painting in my head, of Jesus by the still waters and nothing else around. But after being surrounded by the ancient walls of the city He will reign over for a thousand years - I had to change that picture. Jerusalem, during the first century is estimated to have had roughly 600,000 people! Hardly a quiet and serene place.

Jesus knew about competition. Jesus came to earth to win the greatest battle! Jesus was and is the ultimate extreme athlete! He chose to enter the race.

"Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we're in. Study how He did it. Because He never lost sight of where He was headed - that exhilarating finish with God." Hebrews 12:2 The Message

The passage in Hebrews tells us we are SURROUNDED by a great cloud of witnesses. I think it is better translated today as cheerleaders. I know every day, they are busy making "signs" of encouragement to help us "finish the race" set before us. The Holy Spirit dwelling in the heart of every believer is prompting emails, phone calls, letters, Facebook posts, texts and Tweets, as well as a host of other ways we can be an encouragement to each other. Not to mention the hosts in the heavenly realms that watch over our days.

And while you may think YOUR small effort doesn't make THAT much difference, I can say after standing along the route of many races cheering on COMPLETE STRANGERS, they turn a sweating brow and say, "Thank you, I needed that."

We all need it.

"When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility He plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls! Hebrews 12:3 The Message

Send an email
Write a letter
Make a phone call
Facebook that friend
Make a poster

"...all that's left now is the shouting - God's applause! 2 Timothy 4:8 The Message

Pacing myself
In His service as a witness

PLEASE visit the Facebook Page and leave an encouraging message. Click LIKE (Race updates and photos will be posted throughout as well as a live feed during the competition)

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