As a writer, a wanna be writer, a wanna be book author, a blogger, a person living out many of the common human experiences, I think often of how there is nothing new under the sun. People are remembered for hundreds of years because they’ve done something different from the ordinary, and yet most everyone lives an ordinary life. I think of this with my writing, my grief, my children, my lack of ambition, my desires, my uncertainties. Where is it all going, how can I make the most of everything? When I was floundering between two options or two lines of thinking or two strident emotions, my dad would say, “What is the end goal? What is it that you want to accomplish?” These questions bring clarity. Asking these questions helps me to set aside temporary desires no matter how ardent I feel about them, and visualize the true desire, the end goal.
I went running this morning with my 25 lb two year old. It’s humid here now so running is becoming more miserable. But I have a goal to run a 30 minute 5K which is as fast as I’ve ever run a 5K in my life. Right now I’m running it around 35 minutes. This is dismally slow considering the run-walkers are killing my spirit because I can’t stay ahead of them, and they’re like undecided runners—“I want to run. Oh, I don’t want to run now. I want to run fast! Oh, no, I want to walk.” Being able to get far enough ahead of them that they can’t pass me and fall back, pass me and fall back, is motivation in itself.
I took off with my running app and my playlist on my phone. It’s the same six songs on repeat I downloaded about seven years ago, mostly tunes with a fast, bass beat with some random singing/ talking. I was overjoyed to find this on Pandora’s techno station, and wonder if was not made especially for runners. I don’t find it suitable for listening to any other time, but it’s perfect for an adrenaline rush.
Off the main boulevard of our little town, there’s a neighborhood with a tree-lined, story book street that dead ends at an imposing black gate, but just before reaching it another street takes you steeply downhill and then over a quaint bridge. Under the bridge the stagnant water of a pond is being gently persuaded to move because of the fountain to the left of the bridge. There’s another hill, up this time, and then you run down a street covered by tree branches and shored up by a wall covered in ivy. Setting aside the thought of the cockroach haven this could be, it’s a cool and inviting scene. I’ve run here probably a thousand times in the last decade or so, and it does get old, but it’s always beautiful.
My running app is set to tell me my pace and distance every quarter mile. This way I don’t get overly discouraged thinking I must’ve run a mile when it’s only been a 400 yards. Pushing baby in front of me in the jogging stroller, I was surprised to hear my app report a pace of “10 minutes and 58 seconds per mile.” This is by no means a stellar achievement in the running world, but it’s faster than I felt like I’d be today, especially with arm mobility lacking.
Each quarter mile ticked off bringing me closer to my goal of three miles, and my mental game was in high gear. Before taking up the road, I had made a loop on the track at our new park. That was about a third of a mile, and I had planned to stay there not needing to look for traffic or stray rocks on the way, but the track was crowded! A good thing for sure! Runners and walkers were spaced out on the track, and no one had any concept of keeping to the right, so I was dodging and slowing and calculating how to get through and decided it would be easier to leave the safety of the park altogether.
On any run, my enthusiasm picks up a bit near the last mile. By this time I can hardly wait to stop moving, drink cold water, and wash the sweat off. But when the last mile is in front of me, it becomes a matter of course. “Of course I can run a mile. Anyone, practically anyone, can run a mile. One mile.” Backtracking instead of taking the long, sun-soaked, asphalt stench stretch through the middle and more driven part of the neighborhood, I passed the ivy wall again and re-crossed the bridge. Here the steep downhill is an uphill and because I can’t swing my arms while pushing baby, I am tempted to flat foot it up the hill, maybe walk even.
But there they are, the clarity questions, “What is the end goal. What is it that you want to accomplish?”
“A 5K in 30 minutes. A 5K in 30 minutes.
Less than a mile to go.
Push, up on the toes, push up the hill.
Baby wants to feel the wind in his hair.
If you walk now when you have the chance to run, you will regret that you didn’t spend your energy trying harder.
When you’re sitting in your car, and the time allotted is over, you’ll wish you pushed a little harder.”
Freedom to run and stretch and work for as long as I want to is almost non-existent now. There are children who don’t run, who can’t run fast enough, and/or who can’t manage themselves or be left alone for long. There are baby-sitting fees, there are pressing needs on the eternal to do list. And there are snakes in the grass of our fields, literal legless creatures who might possibly be more frightened than I am, but it’s doubtful.
So when I can get out, I want to make the most of my time. I’m working on developing fearlessness so I can run wherever I want to and stop saying “there’s a lion without, I shall be slain in the street!” (Proverbs 22:13) This way no limbless muscle mouth or cowardly woman hunter will stand in my way whether I go to the fields or the back roads.
I finished my run by pressing on to 3 miles and a quarter more with my pace creeping near the 12 min per mile rate again. I was glad to push through on that bit of extra even if my pace is discouragingly slow.
But still, as I work on my running goals, as I blink and look away from the sky, again, I think, “There is nothing new under the sun, just like Solomon said. What am I doing? What is the end goal?” Most of the missionaries I know–because obviously the main goal is to carry the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth–have retired and come back to their home country. Most of the Christians I know, including myself, spend copious amounts of time and money on what the poorest of the poor would consider fathomless luxuries.
My end goal is to know God and glorify Him.
But, the whole being greater than the sum of its parts notwithstanding, I am so many characteristics that can never achieve that goal. And furthermore, I am in the trenches of grief. Am I hindered more, or set more free to accomplish my goal? Only God can know, so when my dearly beloved friend advised me to focus on the happiness of my dad in heaven, and I almost retched in the trash can…I gathered myself and thought, “Try a little harder to focus. On now. Today. This minute. Not that–dad and heaven and Dad occupying that foreign place. Okay, okay now focus on getting in the car because people need to be picked up and lunch, and dinner, and laundry, and keep moving, do the next thing. Go!”
I’m slow at it, running that is. And at being an amazing Christian I think I should be, singing praises and being still and knowing. I stall on the praises part except to whisper, “Thank you God he didn’t suffer too long… Oh God. Oh God but for all he didn’t suffer too long, now he’s d—!” “Thank you God that they were mostly good to him, and that I got to sit with him for so long. But…..only three weeks and we were praying for 20 more years…”
Countless times in my job I have had the humbling privilege of helping families make end of life decisions for their mom or dad or aunt or son or daughter or friend. I have grown in my understanding of how people handle this. They either step up to the plate and decide or back down from it and, by default, also decide. In the last couple of months, I’ve talked with a few families. Their hearts are anxious, their eyes are sometimes blinking with tears or with dryness. In one or two instances I said, “I get it, I know what you are going through because I just did it.” But more often I say nothing of my own experience. This is their stage, and I am the stage hand smoothing the way as much as possible so they can play their roles. It’s surreal now though, not just humbling, to explain that Do Not Resuscitate doesn’t mean Do Not Treat or that as long as someone is a Full Code, they have a slim chance of slipping peacefully to sleep never to wake up again. Once you enter the hospital as a patient, you must be proactive and make yourself a DNR if you want to die quietly in your sleep. Otherwise, if you are Full Code, we as providers must pummel you in an attempt to keep you from your next life. They listen. Often they understand. And some don’t understand at all. Looking at them, “I think I know, I know. I’m a nurse and I could barely take it in when it was my dad and these were our conversations.”
Still, there is nothing new under the sun.
A new opportunity opened today. It was presented by my nurse recruiter, and my ears opened like a draw bridge over the Mississippi. A scenario I had set aside came back to the forefront. I had done some work on it earlier in the winter and spring, and finding nothing I had let it lie there, like a novel I couldn’t get in to but that might be worth attempting again next month. And now, after this phone call, I’ve done a little more work. I’ve talked to my husband and we’ve said, “Well, God here is this door, this hallway, this uncertainty. You know about it. You know how impossible it is, and You know what You’re doing. I’m walking forward.”
When I was young, a teenager, I wanted to do something great for God and myself and humanity. I wanted to be different; I wanted my life work to be worthy. I wanted to do it with silky hair. By the time I was fifteen I realized that no matter what I did, silky hair was not likely to be a factor. However, vanity aside, I wanted to help many, all the hurting ones. But as I grew up I realized, I was the hurting one. I tried to be brave, but really I was scared and scarred and ridiculous. I was the girl who was stuck for an answer when you said, “Hi.” I could have conversations and make friends, until I had to open my mouth and make the conversations come out. I learned who the shy ones were every time we moved. “That one, she will be my friend,” I knew.
Little by little and step by step and question by stubborn question, I found my way though. Until, this about my Dad.
The door to truly climbing out of the box and living freely shut with his last heartbeat.
“Oh, but no,” He says, “the door is not shut. Walk with Me.”
But God! I can’t look at the sky because he’s up there somewhere, and I can’t think about Heaven, and it doesn’t seem true. And I’m still ridiculously afraid, and yes, there’s my writing, but there’s Nothing. New. Under the sun! What can I possibly say? And now I’ve been struck with grief. He was just my Dad! How many millions have buried their dad sooner than I did and younger and under worse circumstances and, and, and…..it’s all been said before! But still I’m struggling because it was my Dad.
“But Walk with Me. I know where we are going,” the silent impression of the Holy Spirit.
I was thinking about Peter today. How bold, how passionate, how brash, how foolish! I’m not usually bold, but I can relate to the rest—How lovely then to see Jesus take Peter up on his challenge! Jesus! God of the Universe, Creator, the Only Begotten Son..took Peter up on his challenge. That is amazing. Peter who had denied and wept bitterly. Oh the fiercely devastating sword of regret slicing up our hearts, and rending our nervous systems through and through until our flesh tremors on our bones!
Out onto the water he leaps! To get to Jesus, the One, the Only One who can fill his soul!
And two thousand years and more, here I am like Peter. Not wanting exactly to challenge God Almighty, but to reach Him, with my questions, my desires, my impetuous leaping out on the water.
No, there’s nothing new under the sun.
But every woman who carries a child is unique unto herself and her child and her family. Every daughter who buries her father is unique unto herself. Every new widow despising the label is unique in her searching. Every runner fast or slow, easy of gait or gimpy, large and lithe or skinny and floppy, is unique unto himself. Every soul stubbornly seeking to fill himself with understanding, is unique unto himself. And to God.
With these thoughts playing through my mind, I ask myself, “What is my end goal? What is it I want to accomplish? I am so tired, it’s so surreal, I want to cry, crumple, quit. What if something worse happens?” And when I’m done here on Earth, when I look back, will I say, “The time was so short. I could’ve tried a little harder, could’ve pushed up the hill a little harder. There was only one mile left to go!”
He’s not here, and this to me is unfathomable so I have a tinge of denial most of the time.
But God is here, seeing His creation in all her terrible weaknesses, and I have no plans to quit, crumple, cry forever.
I’ll keep forging ahead, unique unto myself in my grief, hands open for the task at hand, whatever task He may bring.
Walk with me.