Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Daily Portion

My ladies’ Sunday school class just finished the Breathe Bible study by Priscilla Shirer.  The study focuses on, to quote the subtitle, “Making Room for Sabbath” and creating “margin” in all areas of life.  The concept is an excellent thing to ponder in our busy, distraction-filled lives.
In the interest of honesty, I have to confess that the skeptical side of me wanted to say that the study stretched the “Sabbath principle,” as opposed to actual Sabbath-keeping, to its absolute theological limit.  After all, the Bible has lots to say about the Sabbath, both in the Old and New Testaments- we really don’t have to read very much into it.  But, I took a step back and realized that Breathe, with its emphasis on turning our focus to the Lord, had a lot of wisdom, and I should probably try to quiet my skepticism and be a little more teachable. 

Through the course of the study, the Israelites and manna came up repeatedly, and I had a chance to see the story from a new perspective.  I’ve mentioned before the daily nature of God’s provision.  The story of Elijah and the widow at Zarephath has guided me through many tough spots in my life. 

The prophet came to a widow and asked for bread.  She told him that, due to the extreme drought, she had only enough oil and flour for that one day.  After that, she and her son would starve.  Elijah convinced her to share what she had.  “Do not fear…For thus says the Lord God of Israel: ‘The bin of flour shall not be used up nor shall the jar of oil run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the earth.’”  (1 Kings 17:7-16)  The interesting thing about this story, of course, is that the Lord didn’t send a stockpile of flour and oil.  The widow simply didn’t run out.  Each day, she got up, and what she needed was there.  Daily provision.  Daily trust.

I try to remember that as I go through my life.  Don’t worry.  God’s mercy is new every morning.  He doesn’t give us one big lump to portion out as we have need.  Tomorrow will require a new portion, and so will day after that, and the day after that.

And then there was the manna.  I had always seen that story as another example of that daily provision, and, in fact, it is.  But there is a crucial difference:  The Israelites had a choice.  The widow simply had to get up each day and use what was given to her.  The Israelites had options.  They could have chosen not to go out and gather the manna.  They could (and many did) choose to gather more than their daily allotment and hoard the excess. 

I realized, as I contemplated the story anew, that there are times when I also have a choice.  I can be disobedient and lazy (“Lord, I’m too tired to do that.”) and refuse to gather.  I can run around like crazy, worry about future days, and attempt to store up provision against shortages.  And for me, like the Israelites of old, it never ends well.  “Every man had gathered according to each one’s need…But some of them left part of it until morning, and it bred worms and stank.”  (Exodus 16:18, 20)

So in my life right now, I’m seeking the Lord’s guidance each day: What is His portion?  What does He desire for me to gather?  And I know, as I trust His leading, I’ll see His daily provision.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Tender Mercy

All the way my Savior leads me;
  What have I to ask beside?
Can I doubt His tender mercy,
  Who through life has been my Guide?
Heav’nly peace, divinest comfort,
  Here by faith in Him to dwell!”

The Savior leads with tender mercy.  How often I need that reminder!

I’ve been reading a book by Elisabeth Elliott, God’s Guidance: Finding His Will for Your Life.  In just the first two chapters, I’ve encountered so much to both challenge and encourage me. 

Lately, I’ve felt constantly behind.  Behind on my work.  Behind on my goals.  Behind on making progress toward the future.  I feel like I should be so much farther down the path.  And yet, so often, I’m tired.  I do my best, but the demands of the day often leave me with very little strength to do the extra things that I believe my life requires.

How can I possibly follow God’s path for me when each day rushes past, and I reach the end exhausted, but not discernibly closer to my goal?

When I make decisions, I pray about them.  I know He holds my future in His hands.  I have confidence that the Lord has given me guidance and direction.  But, even still, my progress is glacial.  My strength, it seems, is indeed small.  I want to obey.  I want to forge ahead with alacrity and will.  I want to take the path in leaps and bounds.

My spirit is willing, but my body (and more often, my mind) is weak.  I know what I should do, but I take only the smallest steps each week.  Am I disobeying?  Will my slow progress negate the Lord’s plan?

And then, the words of Elisabeth Elliott helped me hear the Lord’s counsel.  “Following God,” she says, quoting the words of her friend, Eleanor C. Vandevort, “is not like walking a tightrope.”  Mrs. Elliott pointed out, through scripture after scripture, that with God’s leading comes His compassion.

“He who has pity on them will lead them, and by springs of water will guide them.” (Is. 49:10)

“I will lead him and requite him with comfort.” (Is. 57:18)

“My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest.” (Ex. 33:14)

Then I realized that God is more in control than my anxious thoughts allow.  He plans, not just knowing the path, but knowing my weakness.  Must I obey?  Yes.  Do I have to do more than He gives me strength to do?  No.  His timetable is perfect, even when my execution of His will is not.  He’s powerful enough to use my frailty for His purpose, and as long as I keep heading in His direction, He’ll take care of the outcome.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Texas State Tri

Texas State Tri

It’s that time of year!  Triathlon season is underway, and I had a great time at the Texas State Tri a couple of weeks ago.
I was lucky enough to be able to catch a ride to San Marcos for this one.  My coach and his girlfriend were heading up, so I didn’t have to drive.  Yay!  (It’s the little things, folks.)

The day started early, as race days do, and I had packed everything the night before. (Packing for a tri is almost as complicated as packing for a week long trip.)  Regular readers will know that I expect disaster in the lead up to races, but I have to say that this time the prep went smoothly.  No car breakdowns, no injuries, no sick babysitters, no harrowing packet pickup.  It was very unnerving.

Cat Photo Bomb
I squeezed my bike into the transition area.  It was a little tight, but the athletes around me were friendly and accommodating.  This was going to be my first race in a wetsuit and I spent a good amount of time deciding when, exactly, I wanted to struggle into the thing.  Putting those rubbery devices on is really no joke.  Think trying to get compression socks up to your neck.  Fortunately, the heater at our city pool has been out, so I’ve been getting lots of wetsuit practice.

I lined up with all of the other similarly wetsuited people (a few were braving the water temperatures without) and listened to the instructions.  I was nervous, of course, and the instructions were lengthy.  They sounded something like, “Welcome to the…something…annual Texas State Tri…which….blah…blah…blah Turn right…blah…blah.  Stay left….blah… and up the gravel…blah…blah… NO DRAFTING…blah…blah Straight ahead… blah…blah… neighborhood….blah…blah… finish line.”

I laughed and commented to a random person standing next to me, “Good thing I can just follow the person in front of me.”  “Ha, ha, me too!” she replied.  This turned out to be very NOT funny later.

I held waaaaayyyyy back to start the swim.  I was nearly dead last.  I’m not sure why.  I didn’t plan to try to push my way to the front- I dislike getting run over in the water- but I had sort of thought a mid-packish start would be fine.  Didn’t happen.  I just went with it.  After all, when I start has nothing to do with where I place at the finish.

And into the water.  Oh.My.Goodness.  There was stuff in the water.  Freakish plants growing straight up from the bottom of the Aquarena Springs.  They looked like something that belonged on a Star Wars planet.  The water was really clear, and if open water swimming didn’t terrify me so much, I probably would have thought it was beautiful.  As it was, I just kept trying to dodge the plants.  That was a terrible plan, of course, because I had no idea if swimming to the right or the left would actually get me around the plants.  The dodging was just adding meters to my swim.  Around 300 meters in, I finally realized that swimming straight through no matter what made far more sense, and I finished the 500 meters about two minutes slower than my “pool swim” time.

And onto the bike.  I really wanted to give it my all on the bike for this race.  That’s been my weakest link in other races and I was determined to improve on that.  I figured I would go as hard as I could for the 12 miles and then just do what I could after that on the run.  And I passed people!  A good number of people, actually.  That, my dear friends, is a big deal for me.  We will conveniently overlook the fact that some of those people were 20 years older than I and some were 12 year old kids.  A pass is a pass.  My training has increased both my strength and my confidence.  I started to waver around the 9 mile point, but I pushed through and averaged 16.5 mph.  (No snickering.  That’s fast for me.)

And then the run.  There’s no way to sugarcoat it.  The run leg of a tri feels awful, especially at first.  Every muscle is saying, “Hey, wasn’t that the finish line you just left behind?  Let’s walk this.  Or go get coffee.  Yes, coffee!”  I pushed through and my pace was pretty good.  It was only a 5K and I’ve been running shorter distances faster, especially after all of that half marathon training I did over the winter.  I felt relatively strong and knew I could push myself.

And...for contrast...Here is what a REAL triathlete, in this case my coach, Travis, looks like leaving transition.

I passed a lot of walkers and slower runners.  (Side note: Yes, people walk in triathlon races.  There are all levels and types and athletes of different strengths.)  And then I headed off into the woods. 

Wait, woods?  I didn’t hear anything about woods.  Nice, though.  I like running in the woods. 

Was I on the right path?  I didn’t miss a turn, did I?  Oh, good, I’m coming up to Spiderman Jersey Guy.  I’ll just run with him.

Why did he quit running????  Spiderman should NOT walk.  Web through the trees, maybe, but not walk.  Okay, I’ll just keep going. 

Nobody.  There is nobody around here and now I can’t even see Spiderman behind me.  Shouldn’t I be hitting an aid station? 

And then I stopped.  I wandered around.  I was totally convinced I was lost.  How else had I gotten all by myself? 

By this time, although my muscles still had juice, my brain was getting a little fuzzy.  In a race, I pay very little attention to where I’m going because I figure there will be markers.  My mind was trying to convince me that I had probably missed a turn off.

I finally pulled myself together and just started running.  The sad thing was, I was actually on the right path the whole time!  All those minutes.  Precious minutes.  Sigh.

The woods opened up and I ended up in a neighborhood.  There was one fork in the road with a cone but no arrow, but I ended up managing to stay on the path, and I FINALLY started to see other runners.

Or limpers.  A guy was limping up a hill in front of me.  When I asked if he was okay, he said he had an injured hamstring.  I wished him luck and passed him.

I was running along and I heard someone coming up behind me.  Darn it!  Hamstring Guy is going to pass me.  I cannot let Hamstring Guy pass me.  I ran faster.  Finally, I couldn’t keep ahead anymore and the runner pulled up alongside me.  It wasn’t Hamstring Guy.  What a relief!  It was Dude in All Black- black jersey, black shorts.  

We ran together toward the finish line and he started to pull just a little ahead of me.  I let him go.  Guys hate to be chicked and it’s not like I needed to beat him.  Had I known at that moment that I was going to be beaten out of placing in my age group by FIVE SECONDS, I would have taken him down.  Live and learn.  This is how people become obnoxious.

It was a fun day.  Not my best effort overall (1 hr. 31 min...thank you, lack of directional confidence) but I could really see that my training is paying off.  (Thanks, Coach Travis!)  Looking forward to the next one!   

Oh, and did I mention Coach Travis won the race?  Minor detail.  He’s fast.  And also does not suffer from crazy hair after a race.  (Thanks, Katlyn, for the pictures and the ride.)