LenBanks

a continuing story of trust, grace and community

Tag: desires of your heart

If only…

Today marks the anniversary of my last marathon, the marathon that did me in.  You can read about it in an earlier post.  The result of this marathon has been a year of the most incredible pain and huge measure of discouragement.  Not a day has gone by without some of the most intense pain.  Pain in my feet mostly, but my legs as well.  The doctors could not find any obvious problem with my feet.  X-rays revealed nothing.  But clearly there was some soft tissue damage in the foot bed, the arches, the heels, and more.  Most days I could barely walk, let alone run.  I would shuffle about, not having any ability to raise the heel and get into a fluid pace.  Cycling was virtually impossible as well as the pressure on the pedal also caused pain.   To this day the achilles pain has moments of intensity but the at least the feet seemed to have finally healed.  That endured until about October.

But without exercise or movement and the heaviness of discouragement, my weight has increased.  The added weight has now caused further pain, some sort of joint reaction in my elbows and arms.  I can barely grip things and shaking hands gives me intense pain.  I find myself caught in this vicious cycle that a lot of overweight people find themselves in.  One is heavy and needs to exercise but is too heavy to do so.  I know to many (most) this sounds like excuses, but it just isn’t.

When I was nearing my goal weight and doing the running, I felt a lightness and freedom in movement.  It motivated me to get out and move more.  But when one is heavy you feel anchored and every move is an exercise in frustration – not the type of exercise that motivates.  Much of the battle is mental and emotional, particularly when pain is in the mix, but there is a physical component as well.

As a result this has been a very discouraging year.  Constant pain, extreme weight gain, and loss of fitness have led me to wrestle with a lot of frustration and perhaps even a bit of depression.

As today approached I have been asking myself, “Do I regret running that last marathon?”.  Of course there is no practical reason to second guess – nothing can be done about that.  OF COURSE I would prefer to not have all the pain and weight gain this past year.  I think not having run the race would have made the year very different.  But I also completed a major goal.  I learned some incredible lessons during and from the run that have been valuable.  I understand empathy and the value of truthfully acknowledging one’s pain so much more.  So no, I do not “regret” doing the run.  I can not live by the “If only…” trap.  I have to stand by my choices, whatever comes.  But the choice to run, even with all the lessons learned, did have consequences.  As all choices do.

Ups and downs in my weight will always be my battle.  Fitness will be harder for me than most.  It is the genetic cards I was dealt.  The emotional and mental, and even physical, battle will face me everyday.  I hope I can find my way back.  I hope I receive the empathy I have learned to offer.  And as depressed and depressing as this last paragraph sounds, I do have hope.  I really do.

A Fitting End to an Incredible Journey

Well I did it! I ran my first marathon and on top of that I combined it with the run Disney’s “Dopey Challenge”, 48.6 miles in 4 separate runs in four days building up to the full marathon on the last day. Some people I suspect thought I couldn’t do it, I know some thought I shouldn’t. But I did. It was probably more than I should have tackled being new to running, but it kept me motivated and inspired to learn properly how to run and avoid injury. I worked real hard to be mindful to listen to my body and surround myself with people to help coach me. In the end, as I shared with my church in a message recently, A Story of Trust, Grace, and Community (you can listen here), I discovered so many lessons on community that have profoundly shaped me. It has been a wonderful experience.

But then came the weekend of the runs themselves. I got sick!

I suppose it is fairly normal as I have discovered. You train hard and kind of wear your body down a bit. In addition, these runs are during the cold/flu season, so chances are, one will get sick. I was so discouraged. I felt horrible, and in fact still do. Chest and nasal congestion, that out of body skin crawling achy feeling, weak. And I am supposed to run 48.6 miles. I considered canceling. I agonized over it. I had been adamant about listening to my body all along the way. Why stop now? And yet, I had invested so much time, and frankly money, to get here. So I did some reading from other runners about how to manage it. And most said they would run no matter what. They just had to reframe their expectations of the goals. Since my goals were never time and only finishing, that wasn’t too hard. So I just tried to stay hydrated, get as much rest as I could, and do my best without pressuring myself.

The journey wasn’t just physical here though. I had some significant God-moments. And why not? It has been my desire all along to not have this story be about me. I never wanted to become self-absorbed in this. I tired of hearing myself talk so much about running because I knew there were more important aspects of my life to be shared. But frankly, the fitness transformation has been a true God-transformation and so to share it was to share God’s story. Well here it comes, God showed up in pretty cool ways.

I had one of those nights where I woke up feeling absolutely horrible. I was half delusional in the middle of a NyQuil dose. I couldn’t sleep because my whole body was crawling and I had to keep moving to avoid the feelings. I couldn’t keep still. I was at the bottom mentally wondering why my journey was coming to an end with the goal unmet. I was desperately calling out to God to know why. As I tried to lay in bed to get rest to run the next morning, I felt a strong impression say to me, “Drink the coconut water”. (I use coconut water on long runs to hydrate and so had stocked some). I pulled myself out of bed to go get some and after drinking it, my body calmed down, the skin crawling stopped and I slept through. I determined later that despite trying to stay hydrated, with the races, cold medicine, and the extreme cold, I had thrown my electrolytes way off and was in need of hydration.

I haven’t mentioned till now that an arctic cold blast came down into Florida and so while we are standing for an hour or more waiting for the race to start, we are doing so in mid 30’s and 40’s. As I was sick, I was taking my body to more and more extremes.

So the coconut water got me through that race and then I became even more diligent to monitor that. I began to feel at least stronger in terms of that. But of course I was still sick. I got through the half marathon fairly well. Of course my times were way off their normal. But I succeeded. I tried as best I could to enjoy it, running down main street in the Magic Kingdom, coming through the castle, but honestly, I just wasn’t present enough to care. It was just get through it. runDisney’s tagline is “Where every mile is magic” and I assure you, there were no magic miles for me that day. So going into the full marathon on Sunday had me very concerned.

Thankfully the weather improved and it wasn’t nearly as cold. And I was starting to feel a bet stronger, however, still sick. I felt pretty good getting ready that morning, but the burst of energy plummeted as I got closer to the race time. As I left that morning Diane prayed with me and in her prayer asked for wisdom for me as I approached Medical tents. To pay attention and balance the goal with health. She had been a great encouragement to not give up after working so hard for so long, but of course she didn’t want me to harm myself either.

The first mile I felt awful. Seriously, I really thought I would not make it. But then all of a sudden I felt strength come. I ran virtually all the next 8 miles and even enjoyed the experience going down main IMG_6602street and through the castle. And as I ran I began to pray and wonder what lessons I was learning through this. I mean, a personal goal of completing a marathon, while lofty and impressive, won’t last for eternity. In the grand scheme, it’s not what I am about, what I have given my life to. Now I am not suggesting we don’t have such goals or that God frowns on them. Of course not, but nobody would go to heaven because I ran a marathon. My heart’s desire had all along been that God get the credit for what was being done and as I have said, He did. I don’t think He zapped me with illness to play with me. But I do think that it caused me to push on relying more on Him. If I was going to do this, I know it was because of His strength and not mine alone. And so in sharing my marathon story, I am again sharing a God-story. A story of His transformational power, the power of community and trust and grace. And maybe someone will come to know and love my God the way I do as a result. Or perhaps risk trusting Him more where they had been holding back.

Miles 9-17 were physically hard. I stiffened up and ran even slower. Had to walk more than I wanted. And it was in miles 15-17 that I hit an emotional bottom. I actually don’t remember much of it. I zoned out and just lost will to really keep going. I kept telling myself, “Just keep running”. At one point I saw the medical tent and thought, “Is it the time to give up?”. I just felt horrible! But I found myself repeating in my head, “Fight for this Len”. And it was literally in a moment that a cloud lifted. I was emotionally light and clear headed. And I began running again as if it was a new race altogether. I don’t know what it was, but I believe it was likely prayer. I saw later that people had posted they were praying for me that morning and I think it was around the same time.

Well the rest of the run I was in a good head space, now I just needed to keep going. I was concerned that I was not keeping up the time limits needed to complete the challenge. I knew I would finish the race, but thought I might be DQ’d from the bonus challenges for being too slow. So that rattled in my head a lot and got me moving. We went through Hollywood Studios, the boardwalk area and then on into EPCOT. As we ran around the world showcase, the soundtrack music had epic swells and was inspiring. The crowds were cheering and I knew I would be finishing soon. And then it happened. The fitting end!

All throughout Disney races, they have bands and entertainment venues to make it all fun. Well at the last .2 of a mile they had a gospel choir all decked out in gold robes. As I rounded the corner, I heard beautiful voices lifting high praise to God, singing,
IMG_6606
“We Worship You, Hallelujah, Hallelujah!
We Worship You, for who you are.
You are God!”

(I will post a link to the full song)

I began to raise my arms in celebration and started crying because I knew exactly that was the case. It was God who started me on the journey and it was going to end with Him being praised for His goodness. Along the way I got to do some pretty incredible things, accomplish some lofty goals, but I will never lose sight that those are all just little extras that in God’s grace I was able to experience. The real story, the real accomplishment, is that God revealed Himself once again to me, and hopefully to others, just how strong and powerful He is. He is GOOD!

Running on Grace

This morning I left the house feeling GREAT! I had just done an hour of speed work interval training for the first time with a local running club and I am wearing new jeans in a size that I haven’t worn since probably I was 25. I was walking out the path just filled with self-satisfaction that quickly moved to a gratefulness toward God. And not a false-humility, oops-I-feel-guilty-for-taking-any-credit, kind of gratefulness. I think there is a place that God allows for us to feel a joy for our part of the relationship we have with Him. But that said, I am quite mindful of just how insignificant my role is in all the changes I have gone through in the last few years.

Now that the “number”, the amount of weight I have lost, is public (currently now at nearly 210lbs), I am getting all sorts of positive comments from people. I have been getting the ‘you look good’, and ‘how are you doing it?’ sort of statements, to which I appreciate. I am human, and compliments and acknowledgement does feel good. But it has now ramped up to a level of how inspiring I am and how I have motivated people to make changes and that I represent hope. And of course I know these are nothing but well intended and I accept them as nothing but pure compliments. But I still get a bit uncomfortable with them nonetheless as the changes REALLY are not about me.

Yes, I have had to follow-through with good behavior and choices on eating and exercise. But if you have heard or read my story you know that before there was any weight loss, there was a year or more of counseling and prayer and “dot-connecting” as to why I had developed reactionary and self-sabotaging habits. God had clearly begun a deep work of heart and I have come to realize just how much I failed to trust God’s plan to deal with stress and pain and chose my plan to self-soothe with food.

And that is ALL God! I am so immensely grateful that He loves me enough to continue to reveal in me just how much I need to continue to grow and trust. The work of “forming Christ in me” is a long and beautiful process. It isn’t easy and frankly is so difficult to discern when you are trusting in Him vs self. I really was shocked when I had those numerous AHA-moments that wasn’t really fully trusting Him. But once I saw it, I knew nothing but good was coming. Such a huge weight lifted, that was greater than any amount of fat on my body.

This new stage and passion of running may not last (although I hope it does), but what will last is the ever-growing reliance on Him. When I run, it is on a “path” of grace. “Eat less, move more” is the simple lifestyle change strategy I share, but the REAL change is found in trusting God’s plan and not your own.

Again, I don’t mind the compliments (keep ’em coming), I know they come from nothing but a great place of love and encouragement. But please know there is a BIG God behind what has happened in my life. And I would love for you to join me on that run!

Following God’s Leading or Forcing Our Plan?

I come from a faith tradition that celebrates the big steps of faith, the power and leading of the Holy Spirit, the denial of self and the exaltation of God. I suppose that should be the approach of all faith traditions, but the pentecostal “brand” takes it to a different degree.  I am not criticizing this in any way, just offering context for what I am about to say.  My nature, however, is to be a bit cautious and measured in my steps.  So the dance of discerning what is God’s leading and what is my plan that I am forcing God into is a hard one.  I suppose this to some degree is the age-old question, “What is the will of God?”  Each of us have those moments when we desire to honor and follow God’s leading, but are unclear if it really is His will or just our good intentions and plans.

When seeking God’s will I have generally relied on one passage that David wrote in Psalm 37:4, 5

Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act.

Major emphasis is on the delight in the Lord part and not on the desires of my heart.  I am of the belief that when I delight in Him, my desires conform and are transformed to His desires.

But there are those times when specific plans come into play. Big life decisions.  BHAGs (Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals).  In those moments, are they God-lead or just my crazy plans that I step out in and expect God to show up?

I am in the middle of one of those right now.  We have decided to sell our home, which in and of itself is not a big deal.  People do that all the time.  But human wisdom says, don’t count your chickens before they hatch, which in this context means, don’t sign a lease on your next home until you sell your last one.  Which of course we have done.  So come the first of the month we will have a mortgage AND a rent due.  I knew from the moment I agreed to this it was crazy and unwise in my thinking.  But I also “knew” it was God’s leading.

I have been sensing a growing intensity to shed stuff, to downsize, to let go of the weights that hold me down.  Instead I have a growing desire to also be more generous with God’s provision, to fund projects which grow His kingdom, to be a blessing to others.  This is clearly a God-honoring posture to take.   Where we live the rental market is very tight and there was only one location we would even consider that would make it worthwhile to sell our home.  These locations rarely open up and when they do the competition to get it is fierce.  So when one opened up and it “happened” that the owner was a parent of a church member and they felt a confidence to choose us, we felt this was clearly of God’s arrangement.  So sign we did and quickly moved to put our house on the market.  All of our actions were also strongly affirmed by our growth group, pastor, and other people we trust – people who I would have expected to say, “Len, you are crazy putting yourself in a position to pay a rent and mortgage.”  Instead everyone has said your home will sell, you are not pricing it too high, this is a good decision.

Now I am only a week and half into this, so we will see.  But the storm clouds are out there.  The first of the month is not too far away.  And my “faith” is having moments of concern.  Am I forcing God to “show up” or did God say to me, “Step out and watch what I can do”?

I feel a little bit like the disciple Peter who stepped out of the boat and then sank.  But the guy got out of the boat!   He took faith steps and I think that is good.  I have no doubt that my/our heart and intentions have been nothing but pure in this.  I am certain that I felt the prompting of God.  And even if I crash and burn, even if I sink and drown, I will believe that we did this in all sincerity.

I heard recently something to the effect, “God showed me that if I take responsibility for the failures, I will take credit for the success”.  (Not sure if that was Andy Stanley or Craig Groeschel, but am sure it was said at a Catalyst Conference).   I want to see God in action, I have no desire to say that my wisdom led me here and in any way take credit should this turn out great.  But if it doesn’t, I don’t want to get in a place where I blame God for the results of forcing Him to rescue me from poor wisdom either.  I hope I don’t have to wrestle with that one.

Until then, my posture is this; “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.” Mark 9:24

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