He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. Luke 22:41-44 NIV
This is not only my favorite part of the Easter story, but quite possibly my favorite moment in the entire Bible. We know Jesus is God in human form, but this is his most human moment. I imagine the prayer/conversation going something like this (paraphrasing, of course): “So, God/father, I know I have to be crucified and all, but I was just wondering if there might be a way to get around that whole part of this? Its going to suck pretty badly, so I thought it couldn’t hurt to ask if there was any other way to do this? I mean, at the end of the day, its your will, not mine. Just wanted to check.”
Who of us would not feel like that with such a task at hand? Overwhelmed, scared, full of dread. And yet, who of us would have the strength to surrender to God’s will with such an impending fate? I love that God sent an angel to strengthen him. It shows the ability of God to strengthen us in times of desperate struggle. For us, the angels may be literal or figurative, referring to people that He sends. Either way, He strengthens us. He sends help. He listens to our anguish. Jesus knew the reason he came. He knew this event was unavoidable and would feel unbearable, and yet he asked God for a way out. And yet, he ultimately surrendered to God’s will. He knew his mission and the purpose, and knowing how it would feel, he ultimately agreed to it… For us.
He knew the purpose it would serve was too great.
How many times have I begged God for a way out?
How many times have I pleaded for another way?
And did he listen? Always.
And did he strengthen me to get me through? Absolutely.
And did my anguish end up serving some greater purpose, either for myself or others? Every. Single. Time.
Did my ultimate surrender to God’s will help me accept the task at hand? You bet.
God is faithful when our fears distract us. God is present in our struggle. He will give us the strength to get through and accomplish great things. He is there. He is there because He knows our anguish. He has felt it for himself. He knows our desperation and fear. He’s been there. Even when we feel like He has forsaken us, still, He remains at our side.
Seven years ago today, I sat in church pews long after the congregation had left. Tormented about making a decision to follow Christ or go home and die. I had questions, tons of them. And fears and doubt and hesitation and anger. One thing I did not have was anything left to lose. And that’s how this all began…
My parents like to frequent the same restaurants. They find one they like and go there loyally from that moment on. There was a tea room in a nearby town they discovered, and fell in love with. Once they became regulars, they got to know the family who owned it. The family had lost a son to suicide some years back, and they got to talking about me. I’m not sure exactly what those conversations looked like, but obviously my having lived a suicidal life arose at some point. When I moved back to the area, I became a pet project for that family. No one in the family was more relentless in this pursuit than Kathryn. Kathryn was obnoxiously enthusiastic about Jesus. Like… she REALLY effin loved Jesus. Her spunk drove me insane. I was low energy, grumpy, and wanted to be left alone. I’m not sure how I responded when she started inviting me to church. In my head I imagine smiling, nodding, and shrugging it off. She did not stop asking. Eventually, I decided I’d just shut her up by obliging. “Then,” I thought, “She’ll leave me alone.”
So, that Saturday night, I went. I was planted in my chair through the entirety of the ordeal. My arms were crossed. I had a scowl on my face. I did not sing. I did not stand. I said nothing. “I’ll go, but I don’t have to enjoy it.” I guess I thought if I was enough of a jerk, it’d scare them away. Or maybe I just assumed I knew how church went, and I thought it was all a crock of shit, and all Christians were the same, predictable. As I heard the pastor preach, though, something in my heart started to open. I was certain he’d say something to piss me off, but he did not. Everything he said, I could get behind. It was hopeful, and beautiful, and inspiring, and yet, I was dead set on never going back after that. Kathryn, on the other hand, had different plans. Kathryn kept inviting me back. So, eventually, I surrendered and kept going.
I’d heard the “altar calls” many times, before the night of March 27th rolled around. I don’t know if it had crossed my mind. It probably had. But I’ve always been one to question authority. If this Jesus had so much hope and love and forgiveness, why were Christians often the worst of the jerks? Is God a man? Why is God a man? Men had never done any favors for me. If EVERYONE has access to the forgiveness of Jesus, then that means that the people who abused me when I was a small, helpless child had access to that forgiveness. “Some things,” I believed, “are simply unforgivable.” Where was God in all of that? The altar call came and went that night, and I wanted to go up there, but I wanted answers to all these questions and more, first. As ridiculously impulsive as I’ve been all my life, I wanted to be certain before I committed to this nonsense. I let the call pass, and after service, I started assaulting the pastor with questions. Eventually, he had to go. I sat in the pew, the church now empty except for Kathryn, her sister, and myself. I looked at the clock, then the door, and thought to myself, “If I go home tonight, I’m going to kill myself.” I figured, that this decision could not hurt, so I was going to try it.
With Kathryn and Bekah by my side, I bowed my head and prayed out loud.
Someone recently asked me what exactly it means to “accept Christ.” Here’s the thing, I didn’t really know at the time either. Truth is, its pretty simple. All it takes is a prayer, you’re own version of, “God, I’m tired of doing this alone. I need your help, your forgiveness, and your love. I believe that Jesus did all these awesome things to offer me that, and I am accepting that gift now, and accepting you into my heart.” Feel free to paraphrase as your heart guides. You could do it right this second, if you want.
God is not imposing. He waits for us. A lot of non-believers wonder where God is. God will not interfere in your life if you do not wish to have him there. He’s just waiting for an invitation. After you’ve offered that, he will take care of the rest.
I’d never doubted God’s existence. That belief came naturally to me, although the Jesus thing seemed weird. I didn’t get the death and resurrection concept. Seemed odd, zombie-like, and also there’s the cannibalistic symbolism of the last supper. It was pretty far out to me. I had been told numerous times in high school that I couldn’t be Christian if I didn’t do X, Y, and Z, and I thought “guess I’m not Christian, then.” So, for years I had left it at that. “Guess I don’t qualify.”
What Kathryn, and others in that church taught me, is all the hope that is found in Jesus. I had heard all the zillion things Christians are against, but not once heard about all the hope Jesus had to offer. Hope was something I could get behind. Hope was something I needed desperately. And who doesn’t need unconditional love?
After that night, things did not change instantaneously. It was a process, but it changed my life forever. I still had struggles, and sometimes still do. But the ball was set into motion. That was March 27th, 2011. In July, I had a near death experience that opened my eyes to spiritual truths I had previously been uncertain of, which led to my sobriety. By November, I was off to residential treatment, for all of my issues. Five months of treatment was covered 100% by my insurance. There, my meds got straight, I let go of my addictions, and my eating disorder. I had a chance to process a lifetime of trauma and grief. I moved to California on my own after that (somewhere I’d always dreamt of living), and started my life in recovery. I met a wonderful sponsor with whom I am still very close. I became strong in my recovery, and built a community. In the years since, every time I think things could not possibly get any better, they do. They get better to a new extent to which I had previously thought impossible. I have an incredible life. I have everything I need, do all the things I love, and have accomplished new goals, and set my sights on new heights. It is unimaginably awesome, and it only gets better. God certainly had way more in store for me than I could’ve ever dreamt for myself. I had previously believed I’d just be suicidal until I eventually succeeded in that, and that would be my life.
I am a different person, inside and out.
In the past two years, I’ve lost 130 lbs. Thursday, I’ll celebrate one year of running. April 15th, I’ll be doing a TEN mile race!!! I’ve written this blog, and shared my triumphs and struggles, and helped numerous people. I have several sponsees, and find myself being told over and over that I’ve inspired someone in some way, or helped people out of ruts. All without even realizing I was doing it. And honestly, I feel like the wealthiest person in the world as a result. Sometimes, I pity the people who think they have it all, when all they really have is material wealth.
Did I know ANY of this was possible on March 27th, 2011? No. I had no clue. All knew was I had an option to go home and die, or try something new that could possibly help in some way. So, I took a leap. And this is where I’ve landed. It was literally the best decision of my life.
God has healed my heart of so much hurt. I was so relentlessly bitter back then. I was angry at God. I thought he was punishing me. I wanted nothing to do with a male God. I blamed him for it all. In the years since, I’ve recognized God’s presence in even my darkest moments. He never gave up on me. And I see it now. Little things I was blind to before. Look, I know people have hurt you. Maybe the church has hurt you. Your pain is very valid, but God is neither those people nor the church. Every time you were hurt, it hurt God’s heart as well. He hurts where we hurt. It pains him to see us mistreated and abused. I have learned this to be true. God is not angry at us for our mistakes. He sees us as beautiful works of art, and loves every little quirk about us. No, God is not a man, so don’t get it twisted. God is beyond our earthly limitations. These very concepts are boxes God cannot fit into. Many languages default to the masculine when referring to something ambiguous in that way. Is it right? No, but its easy. If you have a different pronoun you’d prefer, go for it. God does not want to punish us. God just wants to love unconditionally, and help us in this process we call life. God is always there. He is faithful and reliable. Does everyone have access to this forgiveness? Absolutely, but you should know that many people will not choose to pursue it.
I am a kinder, more compassionate person these days. I make healthier decisions. I am a septillion times happier, seriously. I will always be a work in progress, but how far I’ve come is nothing short of miraculous. Anyone who knew me before will wholeheartedly attest to that.
I’ve had all of my questions answered. If ever I have new ones arise, God answers those as well. My heart has been healed. I can attest to God’s faithfulness. I celebrate this anniversary more than any other and always will. It is the longest I’ve committed to anything. There is no turning back, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
If you have questions, feel free to reach out. There is so much more to say, but this is just a blog, not my memoir. Stay tuned for that. I’m just happy to share this hope wherever I can. It is too wonderful to keep it to myself.
You say things to me
Without realizing it
When I feel your heartbeat
Sync with mine
Or the moment your face freezes
And I can feel your heart sink
And the squeak
Of endless turning wheels
Inside your head
And we cannot escape
This carnival ride
There is no way to leave
Until it has come to a complete stop
But there’s a good thing
About these rides
And it is
That they are over quickly
Before it is on to the next
So close your eyes
Feel the swish
Of wind against your face
That you’re holding onto for dear life
You are safe here.
The sensation of flying
We are not birds
We do not have wings
And this is the closest
That we will ever get
To tasting freedom
Running is hard. It requires endurance, and movement, and dedication. I naturally have an inclination for laziness, and depression often causes me to feel incredibly unmotivated. So, when I started running, I invited God in the process, because I knew I could not do it without Him. I’m notorious for being unable to maintain anything long term, however, my recovery and my relationship with God have shown me that it can be done. I have had both of these for nearly 7 years now.
When I started running, I immediately found myself having times when I wanted to quit. I felt like I couldn’t get through the discomfort, or I couldn’t find it in me to get out and do it at all. It was too hot, or too cold, or too hard, or I was too sleepy; but I did it. Three times a week, I woke up early, and got out there and ran. When I had moments that I felt I couldn’t finish because it was too excruciating, I prayed. Each time, I prayed that God would end it. I pray the ending was close. In the process, I quickly discovered that God didn’t want me to pray for it to end. He wanted to pray for His help to get through it, despite the discomfort or difficulty. That was when I realized my running was a metaphor for my life. Often, I’ve found myself praying for the pain to end. “Make this situation go away or stop” or “take me God, end my life, please!” I always begged for the finish line, but sometimes, finish lines are far away, and though God could pick it up and move it for you, you need to learn that you can get through it. There is an important lesson after a finish line. I can do it. It can be done. I can get through it. Even when things are hard, I will survive and I will overcome.
I did this every time I ran. I’ve learned to listen to my body now. If it gets excruciating, I can slow down. I can pace myself. If I am experiencing pain, it is okay to pause. And I’ve learned that when I feel like I’m having moments when I want to give up or quit because it is just too effin hard, I can ask God for the strength to get through it. And I realized, I can do this in life. Do I have moments when I ask for Him to end it sometimes? Yes. But I always, eventually remember to ask for strength instead. And while I make the mistake of begging for an end, I can always feel God waiting patiently for me to realize my error. And when I have asked for the strength, God ALWAYS answers the prayer. And As soon as I get through it, I praise God for answering it.
And again and again He answers it. Every time I run, God answers it. I pray for the strength to get out of bed. I pray for the strength to get through the hard moments, and I pray for strength to finish.
It is for this reason that I love to run my longest runs Sunday mornings, before church. Because I do this, I always come to church in a state of praise and worship for all that God has already accomplished in my day and in my life. And I revel in God’s faithfulness. Faithfulness in my running process and in my life.
Last Sunday, God showed up in an incredible way. When I reflected on the run, I realized there was a poignant message there that I must share.
I’ve gotten more used to my Sunday runs, and I am excited to accomplish them and see God show up, so getting out of bed has become easier. When I got out there Sunday, I was wearing shorts and a short sleeve shirt, with a jacket over it. I didn’t pay the forecast of rain much mind as I usually find that to be wrong, or the rain to be light. All I knew is that it was going to be 55 degrees in February, and I was excited for shorts running weather. When the run started, I was feeling good. The previous week, I had been so exhausted that I kicked my own ankles the entire time. My ankles were bruised and had open wounds from the constant kicking. It definitely hurt. I was throwing around the massive cuss words, ALL OF THEM, by the end. This Sunday, I was better equipped. I had gone to bed earlier and had my coffee. I was doing well. Around two miles, my friend noticed it get darker and mentioned “uh oh, its about to rain.” I was feeling so good, I hadn’t even noticed. When we turned the corner, I could see a downpour up ahead pretty quickly. That’s when my “uh oh” moment happened. I am used to light rain while running, but I don’t have a lot of experience with rains like that. I got nervous. I knew I was going to be cold. As soon as we crossed the street, we were hit with a wall of rain. The winds became violent as well. When the first gust came through, it was so strong, it made a whistling sound that made me very nervous. I come from North Carolina and have been through my share of tornadoes, and they often start with winds like that. We were also close to Lake Erie, and there is a small chance that water spouts can come onto land. I was certain either was about to happen. I looked for ditches to lie in and there were none and I thought “omg we’re screwed.” As we crossed an open wind, the sideways walls of rain assaulted us. The winds blew so hard at us, that I was reminded of the winds suffocating me when I skydived. I struggled to breathe. At points, I had to close my eyes, for fear my contacts would either get too soaked to see through or blow right out of my eyes completely. I was freezing, and my fingers and toes were going numb. My friend offered an extra shirt to stay warm. At that same moment, we hit a hill to run up. Looking back, I find that hilarious. It was so much like obstacles in life, it had literally taken on the the phrase, “when it rains, it pours.” That was epitome of a moment that I had to ask for the strength to get through.
Once we passed through the storm, I felt more relieved that I have ever felt during a run for getting through a challenge. I thanked God for the strength. As I tried to catch my breath, my friend informed me there was another open area up ahead where winds might be difficult. I began to mentally prepare for a repeat of that experience. I became increasingly nervous as we neared that area. Once we got to that, I was surprised and delighted to find that these were entirely different circumstances. The ran was nice and light. The wind was strong, but this time, it had become a tailwind. I found the wind propelled me. It basically picked me up and pushed me further. I loved it! It made running so easy! I wanted it to last forever! Haha That too, I found poignant. Sometimes when we expect challenges, we find ourselves finding benefits instead. Sometimes challenges turn out to help us in incredible ways. They carry us farther, faster than we are able to do on our own. Once that moment passed, again I found myself praising God for giving me the wings.
These experiences were so beautiful, I found myself smiling for the rest of the morning. I also found myself so grateful for the lesson there, because it was so clear to me. Once I was nearing the finish line, again the tailwinds picked up, launching me forward!
God is so cool, y’all. He is faithful, and wonderful. God is shows up to help every time, and all you have to do for the assistance is ask. Jesus said we have not because we ask not. And it is true. God is eager to help you get through anything. He is waiting for your call. God is excited to hear from you. The truth is, finish lines can’t be moved, but God can get you through any race. Any obstacle you face, God is willing to give you the strength. If you are going through ANYTHING that you feel like you cannot withstand, God wants to help you overcome that, and come out the other side. I have seen this to be true. Again and again, I have seen this. I have experienced this. God will show up every time you ask. Even if you don’t believe, or think you aren’t a good person. Even if you doubt. You feel like God is angry or vengeful, or or wants to punish you? These misconceptions are not true. God wants you desperately to ask, but God has boundaries, and will not come into any situation without being invited. God is not one to impose. But if you ask, like clockwork, He will show up. I promise. With everything I have, I promise you that.