Life is a Marathon

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…”

We live in a world of quick fixes and step-by-step solutions. I’ve read so many articles in the last year about following a few simple steps to make myself better in some way. These articles always sound something kind of like this:

  • Do these 5 things, and you will lose 10 pounds in 2 weeks!
  • 7 steps to becoming a better girlfriend!
  • 4 steps to say goodbye to depression for good!
  • 5 tips for a great body without diet and exercise!

These examples might be a little exaggerated, but I think they say a lot about us as people: We want to be better, but we don’t want to do the work to get there. If our weight loss doesn’t happen fast enough, we quit. We want to complete the few steps to becoming better and then be done. I am so guilty of this. I want to fit each aspect of my life into a little box. I think we try to make our life situations like simple math problems. We identify the problem, figure out a solution path, solve the problem, and then move on to the next thing. We like happy endings. We like checking off the to-do list. But life isn’t like that at all! Life is messy and no matter how hard we try, we cannot stuff it in a box for us to control.

Something I have learned is that quick fixes DO NOT WORK. Yes, you might lose those ten pounds in two weeks. But as soon as you go back to your normal routine, the weight comes back. My process of becoming a better girlfriend/wife does not end with step 7. Any results that last will take hard work and patience, two things that do not come naturally to us in our society.

Life is a marathon. I have never run a full marathon, but I have run a half marathon. Something that I learned throughout the training process and the actual race is that there will always be highs and lows. During the highs, you have to pace yourself and during the lows, you just have to keep moving. One of those highs is the beginning of the race, when there is the temptation to start off sprinting. My natural tendency is to throw myself 100% into everything right at first, but then I do not have the strength or endurance to continue pressing onward in my endeavors. The hope that things WILL get better is what gets you through the lows. When it feels like you can’t breathe, like you are falling apart, like you’ll never reach the end, you reach for that hope. There is no clearcut transition, but after some time, you realize that you feel a little better. No matter what you are going through right now (depression, grief, failure, low self-esteem, etc.), your circumstance will get better. Will it get better exactly when you want it to with five easy steps? Probably not. Is it ever going to be perfect? Not in this world. But it will get better. Progress.

I used to strive for perfection and give up at the first instance of failure. If I did that in a marathon, I would probably have to quit at about mile 2. Now, I want to strive for progress – moving forward at a slow, steady pace. This isn’t meant to be another “how to fix your life in a small number of easy steps” blog post. I’m here to tell you that life is a marathon – it’s not easy. There will be many highs and lows along the way. We are not commanded to be the fastest runners in the race or the most perfect people in the world, but we are commanded to endure. So, keep moving forward…one step at a time.

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“When I wake in the morning…I want more than just okay”

“The moment when you first wake up in the morning is the most wonderful of the twenty-four hours. No matter how weary or dreary you may feel, you possess the certainty that, during the day that lies before you, absolutely anything may happen. And the fact that it practically always doesn’t, matters not a jot. The possibility is always there.” – Monica Baldwin

Mornings. I hate them, yet I love them.

At the moment my alarm goes off, I hate mornings. If only I could have five more minutes of sleep, I would feel so much better. So, I snooze. And snooze. And snooze. This lasts for fifteen minutes on a good day…over an hour on a bad day. I purposely set my alarm for about an hour before I have to get up, so I have time to snooze. I’m pretty sure this is illogical. 

After I’m out of bed with coffee in hand, I love mornings. There is just about nothing I love more than having a free morning where I can get up early and have time for unhurried reading and prayer, working out, and productivity. And did I mention coffee? Yum.

But there’s so much more to my love of mornings.

Mornings bring hope.

       Mornings bring expectancy.

                            Mornings bring joy. 

You see, last night was no good for me. After a long day of work, I found myself unhappy: unhappy with how I look, unhappy with being alone, unhappy with how I’m handling school, unhappy with my future financial situation. Often, I find that there is a total disconnect between what I know in my head and how I really feel. I know I am blessed. I know I am healthy and relatively fit. I know that I have friends and family to support me. I know I’m doing well in school. I know that I’m richer than the majority of the world. But no matter how much I know all of these things, sometimes my feelings overtake that knowledge. The voice inside me tells me something different. That I’m not good enough. Nights are often the hardest times of the day for me. I think it’s because I have had an entire day for these thoughts and feelings to build. 

But. 

Then comes the morning. One of my favorite literary characters, Anne Shirley (from Anne of Green Gables) said, “Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?” Another of my favorite literary characters, Scarlett O’Hara said, “Tomorrow is another day.” This is how I feel in the morning. Hopeful. Yesterday might have been filled with mistakes, missed opportunities, pain, tragedy. But today. Today doesn’t have to be like that. Who knows what today will bring? That thought is so exciting to me! Of course, I know today will have its own mistakes. But today might also have its own triumphs. “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 30:5). Joy. I cannot tell you how many times I have gone to bed crying, thinking things are at their worst, that they will never be better. But joy comes with the morning. I wake up knowing things CAN be better. That I can choose joy today. 

So, to all of you people like me who struggle to take those first two steps out of bed in the morning, take a deep breath. Breathe in the hope and potential of this new morning, and breathe out the tragedy of yesterday. This morning is a gift. Today is a gift. What will you do with it?

 

 

 

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“I raise my voice to the dark horses…”

Today, what I want to say is much better said by someone else. Below is the link to a blog post that continues to change my life every time I read it. Please take the time to read these creative, honest, and hopeful words, and I can almost guarantee that you will be inspired. 

Here’s the link:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jon-foreman/the-dark-horse-joan-of-ar_b_558967.html 

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Love Alone is Worth the Fight

So, it’s no surprise to most people reading this that I love Switchfoot, but please hear me out on this one. The other night in Baton Rouge, a church from Mississippi came and protested Switchfoot outside their concert venue. They brought signs and megaphones. The lead preacher yelled over the intercom that people who listen to Switchfoot and go to their concerts are going to hell because “music that moves the body before the spirit is carnal and sinful.” They targeted specific fans and called them sinners and wouldn’t have a conversation with anyone who tried to talk to them. You’ve seen these types of people before.

So what was Switchfoot’s response? Well, I was amazed by Jon Foreman’s (lead singer) response on Twitter. He said he was stoked about the protesters and asked fans to show them love and respect. But his response didn’t end there. Jon walked out there to where these people were yelling, introduced himself, offered all of them bottles of water to drink, told them that he loved them, and attempted to have conversations with them. Now, how many famous music artists would actually do that? It’s one thing to say something like that on Twitter; it’s another to get out there and practice your message of love. If you’re curious about these protesters, watch a little of this video (Jon comes to talk to them at about 2:06): Protesting Switchfoot

The video I’m including at the end of this post is of Jon doing an acoustic aftershow after the concert (obviously). Please PLEASE watch it. He’s singing a song called “All of God’s Children,” which he is planning to release on a solo album/EP next year.

We can’t shout people to Christ with our arguments and condemnation. We’re all morons (as Jon puts it) who are loved by an extravagant God, and we are called to love people as God does. The Bible says they will know we are His disciples by our love. All of God’s Children – Jon Foreman

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Coffee Shop Musings: But Not Today

As I sit in various coffee shops to read, I like to observe the people around me. I am curious about them, and I would love to talk to them and get to know them, but I almost never do. Sometimes, I wish I wasn’t so shy. There is a boy sitting across from me reading Matterhorn. I knew I’d heard of it, so I looked it up. It’s about the Vietnam War. He ordered a large dark roast coffee, and he still has a flip phone. I imagine that he is glad to be on spring break and have time to read for pleasure. I am so interested in people. I want to know their situations, what they like, what motivates them. Is this normal? I don’t know. Sometimes I am overwhelmed by how different I am. Part of me relishes it, part of me hates it. I feel isolated because I have so much to share, and it feels like no one really gets it. But today, I want to be positive. Today, I feel some hope inside. Today, life is beautiful.

I wonder if the other people in here are like me, enjoying reading alone but not alone. There’s something about a coffee shop that makes you feel like you’re a part of something.

A guy walked in with a Bible and a notepad, and of course, my first thought was that I hope he notices me. Why? When will my thoughts stop being consumed with finding my soulmate? There is a conflict within me: to hope or not to hope. I want to hope…I do. But at age 23, my hopes have been dashed so many times. At some point, I started telling myself to stop hoping. No hope means no disappointment, no pain. Except that’s not entirely true. The land of the hopeless is no good place to be. It’s full of constant harshness, constant bitterness. No hope really means bitterness and resentment. I dislike the person I am when I am absent of hope. To clarify, I always feel some hope because I know one day I will be in heaven, and all pain will be gone. But that’s not the only hope we should have. If I am trusting God with my future, I have hope in this life. I want to hope. Is it odd that I feel like hoping is taking a risk? Would I rather stay in my safe cage of bitterness than dare to keep traveling and searching for something more? Unfortunately, a lot of times, yes. But not today. Today, I am making a conscious choice: I choose to hope.

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Be the One Who Gives Hope

I am going to ask you to use your imagination for a moment.

Imagine you wake up from sleeping, and you can’t see anything because it is so dark. You don’t know where you are. You stand up and start to feel around to try to find something – anything – to help you figure out where you are or what to do. After stumbling around, you finally realize you are in an enclosed place, some sort of pit, and you are alone. You first instinct is to shout for help, but if anyone hears you, he or she is too consumed with his or her own life to stop and help you. You long for a lamp, a candle, a fire…anything to bring a glimmer of light to your dark pit, but none comes. You begin to wonder if you will forget what you look like; you are already starting to forget what your life was like before this darkness. After what seems like days, you hear footsteps somewhere distant. The person with the footsteps says, “Why don’t you just pull yourself out?” and walks away without a backward glance, but the voice remains, echoing in your head. You don’t WANT to live like this, but you see no way out. You wonder how long it will be before someone cares enough to find you. You can feel any hope you had slipping away with each passing moment. You try to sleep, in hopes that your despair won’t find you in your dreams, but you can’t. You wonder what you did to deserve this…why you are the one who’s alone in this darkness…why no one seems to care enough to help you. 

If you can imagine the scenario above, you now know what it’s like for people who have depression. Depression. This word has become so familiar to me that I almost forget about the stigma the rest of the world places on it. Still, it isn’t an easy word to define, especially to someone who has never experienced it. Depression is not something that someone can just decide not to have. So, if you know someone who struggles with depression, be the person who cares. Be the one who doesn’t seek to fix the “problem.” Be the one who listens. Be the one who gives hope.

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Whose Life is Better? The Sickness of Comparison

I have a sickness, and I think it’s a pretty common one. No matter where I am in life, I find myself comparing my life to the lives of everyone around me. Whether it’s my body or my love life (or lack thereof), I’m looking to see if my life measures up. I personally think this sickness of comparison may be one of the number one causes of unhappiness and discontentment among all people, but especially young people.

When we’re living in a constant state of comparison, we often decide that someone else has it better than we do. For example, I look at some super tiny girls who do not even try to look so skinny and great, but yet, they are. They eat tons of food and don’t exercise, but they still look like a model. Then, I look in the mirror and see the imperfection that is my body and think about how much worse it would look if I didn’t constantly monitor what I eat and how much I eat of it and if I didn’t run or work out at least 3 times a week. If I start thinking this way (and I REALLY struggle with this), my first thoughts are, “Well…THAT’S not fair. Why do I have to try so hard to look mediocre while they look perfect without trying?” There are so many more examples of this in my life: my dad dying, me being single with all my friends getting engaged/married, grades, friends, me not knowing what I am supposed to do with my life, etc. These thoughts have the potential to consume my life, and I hate to admit that some days, they do.

There is another side to the sickness of comparison: finding satisfaction in accomplishing more than others. Now, anyone who knows me knows that I am competitive. I love games, and I want to win. While this might be (pretty much) harmless in a game of Bananagrams or Settlers of Catan, it’s not so harmless when it comes to the important things in life. I usually fall in that first category of thinking everyone else has it better than me, but because of that, when I do accomplish something that others have not or feel like I’ve come out on top for once, I am proud. I pride myself on the little things such as being super disciplined or even being “spiritual.” I’m not saying we should never be proud of ourselves at all, but when that comes with feeling superior to others, it’s wrong. Anything and everything we have accomplished is only by the grace of God. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17). God has given us every good thing in our lives, so we should be grateful and not proud, for we’ve accomplished nothing on our own.

So, what is the remedy for the sickness of comparison? I’m just learning myself, but here are some thoughts that might help:

1. Remember for whom you are living your life.

I don’t know about you, but I fall into the trap of trying to please everyone and meet the ever-so-high expectations of others. A lot of times, my unhappiness that is brought on by comparing myself to others is not due to not being who I want to be, but not being who everyone else wants me to be. Using the example from above, I look in the mirror and think I look all right, but then no one seems to notice me or give me any indication that I am attractive, so I start thinking, “Okay, no. Guys like her, so I need to be like her.” Then, I come to the conclusion that to be like her, I need to stop eating unhealthy food and start exercising. These practices become part of my everyday life, and they are not bad things, but who am I doing them for? Am I doing them for God? No, not really. Am I doing them for me? Maybe a little. Am I doing for some nonexistent, potential guy who might notice me? Yes. And that guy is NOT who I should be living my life for. When I’m fretting about what I am going to do with my life and what career I’m going to have, it is mostly because I worry that I will disappoint my mom and my family and that I won’t live up to my reputation. Basically, I want to be seen as successful by others. I want to be important, to be admired. But see, all of this points to living my life for others’ approval. The verse that has been used often to describe my dad applies here: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men” (Colossians 3:23). Yes, God wants us to work hard! BUT, it is for Him, not for anyone else.

2. Be thankful for what you have.

It is pretty darn easy to start feeling sorry for yourself when it seems everyone around you has more than you do. And I’m not just talking about material things. I’ve struggled so much with being alone. I was a bridesmaid in three weddings in 2013, and I played the piano at two (I think). Not only that, at least three more of my friends have gotten engaged within the last couple of months. Don’t get me wrong; I am SO happy for them. But it leaves me feeling sorry for myself and asking God why. Why have I always been alone? Let me give you and myself a reality check: we are blessed beyond measure, and we have so much. Now you might say, “Wait. You don’t know what my life is like.” That is true. But let me ask you this: Do you have access to clean water? Do you have access to medicine and doctors? Did you get the opportunity to go to school and graduate? I recently read that 780 million people in the world do not have access to clean water. Many of them walk for miles and miles each day just to find water that is contaminated with bacteria and animal feces. Friends, we are rich! I doubt that these people would be super worried about not finding the perfect guy/girl for them, as their families die around them from illnesses that our doctors could cure; as they spend their days working instead of going to school. Yes, it’s easy to feel sorry for ourselves when all we think about is ourselves. If you want to compare your life to someone else’s, try comparing it to someone in Haiti or Uganda, and I think you’ll find that you have a lot to be thankful for.

3. Know that everyone has their struggles.

I think one of the most damaging aspects of the sickness of comparison is thinking that you are alone in your situation. You look around and everyone seems happier than you and you think, “I’m the only one who feels like this.” After my dad died, all I could think about was that everyone else my age still has his or her father. I tried to go to a support group for loss of parents/siblings, but everyone there was way older than me, so I felt sorry for myself. I felt alone, like no one could understand how I was feeling. Ah, but that is so untrue. There are so many young people who have lost their parents in tragedy and some who never even knew their parents. And even if the people around me didn’t really understand how I felt, they were experiencing their own struggles, their own trials. No one’s life is perfect. No matter how much stuff a person has, how successful he or she is, or how happy he or she seems, I promise you that person is struggling with something. We are a broken people who form relationships with other broken people and try to live our lives in a broken world. We all experience pain. Keep in mind that even if someone’s pain seems less than yours, it might not be to them.

4. Find true contentment in Christ.

I know this might not seem like the most practical answer, but it is the most important. None of these things that I’ve mentioned is going to make you happy forever. As I mentioned before, you can have all the riches, beauty, earthly love, and success in the world, but in none of that will you find complete fulfillment and satisfaction. True contentment only comes through a growing relationship with Jesus, not from getting what someone else has or being more successful than someone else. Now, I’m not saying it’s easy because I surely have not arrived. But I can say this: the closer I am to Christ, the more focused I am on Him and not myself. We are here to serve and glorify God in all we do with the gifts that He has given us. Instead of focusing on what we can’t do, let’s focus on what God can do THROUGH us. God has a perfect plan, and we must submit ourselves to his sovereignty, throwing away how we think things should be. Until we do that, I’m convinced that we will be unhappy and discontent, stuck in our sickness of comparison.

I hope reading about my struggles with comparison helped you in some way. Thanks so much for reading…until next time!

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