A Subtle Shift

Somewhere along the way, it happened. A subtle shift.

It must have been that gradual kind of subtle, because I don’t think I’d even have noticed it yesterday morning, if not for the dream.  A running dream.

Not the nightmare kind of running dream.  Lord knows, I have plenty of those that recur often enough.  Like the one that I couldn’t shake in 4th grade – we were on a field trip at a bizarre theme park, populated by famous trademark characters. For some reason, Little Sprout wanted to run away with us, which totally pissed off the Green Giant.  I would awaken in a cold sweat, having run as far and as fast as I could before being caught by the no-longer-Jolly giant.

Or the one that actually comes back once in a while during hurricane season, in which I am at a mall in a rainstorm. The lower floors begin to flood so badly that fish and other water creatures start swimming through the doors… including sharks.  Sharks that can shapeshift, grow legs, and run after you when you head up the stairs to escape.

The thing about these nightmares is that they always reflected the reality that I didn’t just dislike running, I loathed it. And always knew I was just awful at it.  In real life, I mean.

I was always the slowest.  Even when I was at my fittest, I was big and slow.  And it always felt like I was running through tar, or that my feet and legs were made of pliable lead.

This dream was different.

I met up with some friends who were at a park and we started jogging. And talking about life.  Running just happened to be the way we were moving through the world.  I was keeping up, but not sprinting magically ahead or taking half-mile strides (as happens in those crazy superhero dreams).  Running was somehow natural and nice.

And the weirdest part was that the next morning, after the usual awkward warm up part of my workout, I noticed that it wasn’t just in the dream.  Running was somehow natural and nice.  And it happened again day 2, post-dream.

Mind you, I am still slow. And still on the bigger side of average.  And I’m still liable to catch my toe on the edge of the sidewalk or dance awkwardly around the yappy dogs I encounter.

But there has been a subtle shift.

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She thought she might could…

It seems that if you run my social media posts through the standard marketing algorithms, you end up targeting a woman who supports other women, does road races, and is likely to consider items with snarky, pithy or motivational sayings.  Which means I get a lot of ads for t-shirts, wall art and jewelry with a particular saying:

She believed she could, so she did

 

I have several friends, in fact, who own the t-shirt.  And they hashtag all kinds of accomplishments, large and small, with #shebelieved.  Which is great, for them.

I just am not that woman. I mean, I don’t think I’ve ever actually done anything remotely hard because I actually believed I could.  Especially not at that “go-no go” moment when the  attempt is public and real and all the “holy shit, who thought this was a good idea” chemicals start raging.

Nope.  I want the  wall art or bracelet or t-shirt that says

She thought she might could, so she gave it a try.

I mean, I can’t be the only woman who would buy it. There have to be a lot more of us out there who hesitate than who just “believe,” right?  Women who question ourselves and our preparation.  Women who still go for it – all in – but are as ready to deal with the consequences of failure as we are to celebrate every success we are fighting like hell to achieve.

I thought I might could stand in a pulpit and make sense of the scriptures for a congregation, so I gave it a try.  Several hundred tries later, I am beginning to believe that the folks who affirmed that suspicion and have encouraged me to press on just might be right.

I thought I might could finish a half-marathon, so I gave it a try.  Fully prepared to get swept by the team that closes a course, I finished strong.  Smack in the middle of the pack. Turns out that yeah,  I could!

And then I thought, I might could do it faster…

And somewhere along the way, I thought I might could mix some running into the walking.  So I gave that a try.  I never imagined, much less believed that I would run 75% of my next half.  But the idea that I might could… that was enough to make me try.

Pretty sure this is what God sees in me, too.  There are so many ways I’ve had to wade into faith, especially when the “just because” of childhood beliefs got strolled away.  Trying out areas of trust, taking risks on mystery, making space for grace that would solidify, eventually.

I might could believe that love and grace are real
I might could believe that I am enough
I might could trust the people I love to your care

It’s a start, that seed of hope.
Not full-blown belief.
But enough to make me try.
Every morning.

Old friend

I can’t remember why
or even when
not exactly

It has been so very long now…

More years have passed
than I even imagined I would live

Now more old
than old friends
after half a lifetime
creating lives, growing up
chasing dreams, making do

Almost forgetting
just how tightly
laughter and music
the energy of shared joy
can bind the hearts
of the young at play.

Was it because I moved?
And then you moved?

It has been so very long now…

And all that time
Like a loose thread in my pocket
that I only notice when it gets caught between coins
you have been along for the ride

Just there enough
that I knew you
after all these years

Just there enough
that the laughter and singing
come easily
and joy
can’t help but follow
after all these years

I can’t remember why
or even when
Not that it matters, old friend.

Charley, Harvey, Irma and Me

Today, we are waiting for Irma.
We’ve been waiting and watching for the last few days.  And I’ll be honest, I have alternated between being ok and being scared shitless.

I am not, by nature, prone to worry or anxiety. And I’m pretty highly skilled at diverting nervous energy and/or ignoring any fears that are creeping in so that I can focus and work a plan.  But I have some physical manifestations of stress that let me know when I need to pay attention to that inner world a little more.

I want to sleep.  A lot.  And when it’s really bad, I get a rash on my ribs that is almost like shingles. That rash popped up yesterday. And so it was time to name what’s going on.

Back in the summer of 2004, we decided to sell our first Florida house and build a newer home that was big enough for Mom to move out from Texas and join us. We were scheduled to close mid-August and house-sit for a friend until the new house was finished around the first of October.  That meant packing for a move and an extended stay, making all the decisions that come with building a new home, and staying in communication with Mom about all of it from half a continent away. Stressful enough.

But then, the week that we closed and moved into our temporary summer home, Hurricane Charley ripped right across Central Florida.  Right over the house.  And while Charley was much smaller than many of the storms we have seen since, the rain and wind was intense and lasted most of the night.

It doesn’t take effort at all to remember exactly how I felt that night.
And how it felt to wonder when the power would come back on.
And how hard it was to keep our kiddo from freaking out when we experienced two more direct hits, moved into the new house, and started attending a new school (between storm breaks).

By the time Hurricane Season was over, I was a wreck- emotionally and physically. But we had to get back to work and keep moving forward.  It has been quiet here since, until last year when Matthew gave us a scare. But he wobbled out to sea enough that we were spared all but a couple of hours of wind and a few lost shingles.

So I didn’t really realize how much I had shoved aside and not dealt with until I started seeing my friends post about their experiences as Harvey rolled into Southeast Texas.  I literally couldn’t read about the sound of wind or the water coming in, or even how worried they were, without my own heart rate rising. I had to limit my engagement until the storm stopped and the (horrible) extent of the damage was clear.

And now, here we are, waiting for Irma. Right now, for as ginormous as she is, we’re in a pretty good place. We’ll have some serious winds and a fair amount of rain, but not for nearly as long as our neighbors in South Florida or on the gulf coast.

So…a year older and maybe slightly wiser, what am I going to do differently this time?

First, I’m doing something Brene Brown calls “embracing the suck”.  Actually feeling the feelings that I don’t want to feel, rather than running past them. When I sit with the feelings, I can untangle what they really are.  Then I can deal with the concerns and fears I can actually do something about, and I am aware of the (yes, totally reasonable) fears that will only go away once the storm is past.

Second, I went running. Not walking, but running.  Yesterday, I did my usual interval workout- a shorter walk interspersed with running. Today, I was just going to do a short walk, since it looked like rain was about to start.

At about half a mile, though, I felt like a little running, so I thought maybe I’d do another interval run. But as I ran the back half of that first mile, I knew that today was different.

I needed to keep running.
I needed to see how long I could sustain a pace that was faster than usual.
I needed to know that I could persevere, not just physically but mentally.
And so 1 mile became 2 miles.
And 2 miles became 3.
And three miles became 3.6.

I ran a full 3.1 miles (a 5K) after that half-mile walk.
Because I could.
Because I have transformed my body over the last 18 months.
Because I have transformed my mind over the last 18 months.

Yes, I am stronger and leaner and more fit than I have been in decades. My running intervals added up to just under half of the 10-mile race I completed last weekend. But the hardest part of getting stronger and leaner has been mental – taking on the habits and lies that used to keep me in bed or on the couch.

I ran a full 3.1 miles (a 5K) after that half-mile walk.
Because I believed I could.

I know today that I am mentally strong enough to push toward big goals,
to believe that yesterday’s personal best doesn’t dictate today’s
to face challenges that have nothing to do with running, walking, biking or swimming.

I can do the hard things – like lead my congregation, face conflicts head on, make decisions I’d rather ignore.
And wait for Irma.
I will be ok this afternoon, tonight and tomorrow, when the worst of the storm is here.
I won’t like it (because who would???)
I’ll be scared.
But I will be ok.

A handful of things

It really stinks sometimes, being the kind of person who needs lots of words to find her way to the thing she wants to say.  I mean, most days, I don’t get around to that kind of writing because I’m busy getting announcements and sermons and newsletter articles and emails and other time-sensitive stuff out the door.

So, rather than wait for the “Now I can get that whole post out of my head” moment, here are some things I am thinking about, experiencing and… now… sharing.

I was alone on eclipse day, staring up at the sun with my safety glasses on, thrilled to be able to see even the 80-whatver percent coverage we got. I finally hunted someone down so that we could “wow!” at it together as we shared the specs.  A couple of days later, I was driving across town, listening to the RadioLab podcast that had audio recordings of people as totality occurred.  And I realized just how much we need events like this to connect us to one another in moments of awe.  I literally wept as these people I didn’t know described an event I couldn’t see… because they were so overcome by what they saw that you could hear it in their voices. Young and old, all over the country.  Awe is contagious and evocative.

 


 

Yesterday, I stopped to pick up some coffee on the way to work.  A group of people walked into the shop as I was leaving and the last guy stopped to hold the door and let me out.  I said thanks, to which he replied “No problem, have a great day.”

I smiled again, “You, too,” and I walked on toward my car.  Can I just tell you how much it made my day for him to call after me, “You look beautiful today”?  Not because I had dressed up (because I hadn’t).  Not because he’d ever seen me to make a distinction about yesterday’s level of beauty (he was a total stranger).   It was just a random kindness.  The world can use more of that, for sure.


Does anyone else ever have the problem of their ears folding over in their sleep?  Clearly a side-sleeper issue, the ear between my head and pillow sometimes gets tucked in on itself and the pain will actually wake me up.  Weird.


A couple of folks lately have described me as Type A, which sits kind of funny.  I’ve never seen myself as “driven” so much as determined. That’s a good thing, mostly, since it keeps me from giving up on hard stuff (or boring stuff). But it’s got me thinking I need to explore the way my overdeveloped sense of responsibility interacts with the athlete in me who learned you “leave everything on the court”.

 


 

I have other thoughts on Harvey, the Nashville statement, and big stuff in the world, but I’m fighting my allergies and have a church newsletter to get out the door. So… this will have to do for now.

Meanwhile, what kinds of things are you thinking about these days?

Life’s a Beach, especially when you Tri

The first 5K I completed last June was part of a series of events in New Smyrna Beach put on by the “Run for  a Cause” race organizers.  Since that’s an easy trek, I don’t mind being on their mailing list…

So, about 3 weeks ago now, one of their “Come out to play” emails landed in my inbox, describing the Life’s a Beach Triathlon.  Now, I have been swimming pretty regularly since late last fall to keep from killing my feet and legs while training for half-marathons. So, I will confess to having already mused a bit about maybe someday considering the possibility of a triathlon.  But the closest thing to riding a bike I’ve done since 1998 (at the latest) is riding my motorcycle.  So, pssshhhh…

But this Life’s a Beach thing was awfully intriguing.  Just 200 meters swimming, 5 miles on a bike and 2 miles run/walk.  And on the beach. With goofy obstacles.  And prizes for costumes. And last place finishers got awards – in every division!

So.. I sent the email to my enabler, I mean sister, who said,  DO IT!

I don’t have a bike

You can borrow P’s. It’s in my garage.  Do it!

I haven’t ridden a bike in at least 2 decades.

You’ll remember how. And I’ve even got a helmet. If I weren’t headed out of town that weekend, I’d totally go with you.  You have to do it.

I’d never even watched a triathlon.  I’ve never done two of those three activities back to back, much less all three (for obvious reasons).  But I needed to do this.  Why?

Because it scared me.
Because I need to do things before I’ve overprepared for them.
Because I need to be vulnerable and open to the idea of spectacular  failure and embarrassment.

And so I did.  I signed up, knowing I had exactly 2 weeks to get ready.

I needed to get the bike, have it checked out, see if I could actually stay upright on it, then see if my legs would pump the thing for five miles.

In that same 2 weeks, I needed to see if I could go from swimming to biking and from biking to walking.  If those combos worked, I was pretty sure I could manage all three.

I got 2 or 3 rides in before the day, including a couple of combo workout attempts.  The swim-bike test turned out to include a little walking as a cool down (because jeepers the bike does funny things to your backside muscles…)

How did it go??? 

Who knew my sister was so clever? She was totally right. I could do it.
And it was totally a blast.
And I learned a few things…

  1. Swimming in the ocean is very different from splashing around in the waves to cool off after sweating on the beach.
  2. An out & back ride on the beach includes a u-turn at the midpoint.  Turning left or right on neighborhood streets doesn’t actually prep you for a u-turn.
  3. Having a towel and plan for the transition point from swim to bike would have been helpful. Having a clue at that point would have been helpful.
  4. It’s not that painful to ask other competitors for help, especially at a not-super-competetive event, especially when they aren’t in professional-looking triathlon gear.  I’m sure those folks were friendly, too, but they were a bit intimidating…
  5. I have internalized a whole lot of fat/body-shaming BS in my lifetime… more than I even knew.  I can now believe that I am healthier and stronger than the imperfections and jiggly bits I couldn’t look past before.  No matter what anyone else sees, I can see the bad-ass muscles I’ve been building.

Here are a few pics of me on the day…

The swim portion… pretty sure I’m among the group coming back in here

Heading out of the transition area, looking as if I know how to ride…

About 90% done with the run/walk section, we had gone through some tubes and under a net.. now beneath the “sea wall”

Leaping over the beach chairs…

Limbo to the finish line? Are you kidding me?? Yeah… nope. Too tired.

This is what excited to be DONE looks like.

In case you’re curious about official race-type results:

They chip timed, but only start-finish, not splits or transitions (because it’s a beach bum thing, not a sanctioned event thing).   And the swim portion was not a precise distance because one of the buoys floated off during the second wave start and we had to guesstimate where to go.  But still… I found myself in the middle of the pack and happy to be there!

 

And so she did

This is me, standing in the finisher’s area after completing my first half-marathon.

That smile… it was absolutely fueled by adrenaline, pride, gratitude and all the “holy crap did that just happen?” that you might expect.

I have to say that the Historic Half was a great event in and of itself.  The community support was outstanding.  People were out in their yards and along the sidewalks.  One family made a BINGO (well… RUNGO) board and the kids were marking off athletes who carried flags or wore Marine Corps shirts or pushing strollers.

Other families offered watermelon and water between the official pit stops.  There were cowbells and signs and sidewalk chalk.  It was clear that they were there for the long haul, ready to support the fastest and the slowest and all of us between.

The route was challenging. I was as mentally prepared for the hills as I could be, since we drove the course on Saturday.  At least, I knew kind of what was coming. What I didn’t know was whether my legs were truly ready.  There’s only so much hill work on can do in the flat lands of Central Florida.

I blazed through the first 5K and thought, “well, I hope I didn’t just burn up my last 5K.”  When I got to the 10K mark (not quite halfway), I was still ahead of my expected pace, despite lots of rolling hills.  But I still felt really strong and was breathing well, so I figured I’d just keep adding to the cushion.

That’s pretty much the way things continued. I was paying attention to my legs and my lungs, pushed up the hills and relaxed down them, was able to chat a bit with spectators and other competitors… and then we were at the last 3.1 miles, 2 of which are mostly uphill.

I found myself powering up Hospital Hill (the infamous part of the course), past other folks who were struggling, grabbing a water at the station and taking on the last hill over a bridge into the home stretch.  And yes, there were a few tears as I entered the last .1 of the 13.1, but I totally enjoyed the moment as strangers cheered me into the finishing chute.  My intrepid sister/cheering section was right there yelling my name and reminding me to smile for the camera this time.

Not that I really NEEDED reminding.  Endorphines are good for that!

Some FAQs:

How did you feel about the race, technically? I finished about 10-15 minutes faster than my “it could happen, but not likely” goal.  My splits were pretty even, and the 5K and 10K both beat my current bests times at those distances as standalone races.   All of which makes me happy as a newbie.

 

 

Are you going to do this again? Actually, yes.  Going in, I was hedging my bets that I’d like this distance as a walker.  But I honestly think I could have done another couple of miles, which makes me think I can break three hours…

In fact… the next half-marathon on my calendar is in October, at Niagara Falls (finishes at the falls in Canada!).

Couch to 13.1 in 12 months. Really?

I’ve been training so long, it’s hard to believe it’s coming up so quickly now! 

As of this moment, I am 3 days and 15 hours (and some minutes) from the start of my first half-marathon.  A year ago, that concept would have had me laughing.  Hard.  Like pee-your-pants hard.

But a funny thing happened on May 21, 2016.  I got out of the house and took a walk.  It was about 2 miles, wearing the kind of shoes that give you blisters, and really slow.

But it was a walk. On purpose.

That was the start of a year-long adventure in setting goals, finding community, making healthier choices, and pushing myself to do things that seemed a little crazy. Especially for a fat woman turning 50.

After a couple of 5Ks turned into a 10K, and the 10K walks turned into 8-10 milers, I set my sights on a 13.1 mile race.  I knew I needed time to get faster, so late spring felt possible. The interwebs offered up several choices… not all of which are friendly to walkers.

I chose the Marine Corps Marathon Historic Half.  Partly because I have heard amazing things about the MCM as an event.  And partly because I had hoped we could take our motorcycles up on the AutoTrain and ride home.  That hasn’t worked out for this round but adventures still await.

It wasn’t until after I registered that I realized the significance of the race date. I would be walking my first half-marathon on the anniversary of that first “get up off the couch” walk.

I don’t know what my time will look like… I’m hoping that I can manage the nerves and the hills well enough to average 14-15 minute miles, which would mean I’d finish under 3.5 hours.  My last couple of races, I’ve been well under 14, but that’s here in the flat swamplands of Central Florida.

Regardless, I will confess to more than a little pride in the fact that I’m going to start that race in roughly 3 days and 15 hours.

Because while I’m competitive enough to want an official time that is faster than my practice times.  I have accomplished so much more than walking a shit-ton of miles in a year.

  • I have lost almost a supermodel’s worth of weight, which is most visible part of this adventure.
  • I have gained a resting heart rate.  And normal blood pressure.
  • I have re-gained flexibility and strength that I was pretty sure were gone forever.
  • I have re-learned how to rest and sleep.
  • I have changed my relationship to food (for the better).
  • I have bought girl clothes. And I have worn them. In public.  Without irony.
  • I have learned how to make time for me sacred.  And by making space for the Spirit to join me there… I am experiencing daily times of Sabbath

Yeah… there’s a pretty good chance I’ll be weeping  3 days, 18 hours and however many minutes from now. There’s mix of pride, amazement and gratitude for the way the human body responds to challenges that comes at the end of every race, and more of that mix  has a way pushing out through the tear ducts as the distances have gotten longer.

Here’s To the difference a year can make.  Really!

Me in Spring 2016

Walking my @$$ off

Literally.
Now that I have lost about 25% of myself by weight, people are starting to notice and feel comfortable asking… how are you doing it?  

The answer is simple. I’ve been walking my ass off. Literally. I started out with about a mile a day and adding steps to my daily routine by parking farther out, taking the stairs, that kind of thing. Now I average 3 miles a day, with at least one long (6+ miles) walk each week. 

And because I am me- a recovering athlete with a competition problem- I’m not talking leisurely strolls… I have dropped my pace from 20min miles last May to an average of 15min.  

I have done a handful of 5Ks and a 10K, with several others on the calendar. But the big goal is completing a timed half marathon in May.  

In fact, I’ll be walking those 13.1 miles almost a year to the day after I decided it was time to get up off the couch and get healthy.  

So, yeah… All that walking has helped me reshape my body and rediscover muscles and confidence that had been buried for far too long.

After the exercise routine felt pretty well established, I started tracking what I eat. But not obsessively. And not because I am avoiding particular foods. Except tomatoes, flan and brussel sprouts… those are nasty. 

Really, I just wanted to get to a place where I was making decisions about food, being aware and intentional. And in the same way those first weeks of tracking steps let me see the reality of how sedentary my life was, a food log let me see how chaotic my relationship with food had become. 

So – I have a goal for what goes in relative to what goes out via exercise. Some days I am over, some days I am under, but every day I am thinking about how what goes in will fuel me.  
It’s not like I didn’t know… but like I tell my people at church, knowing and doing are two very different things.  

I have a ways to go yet, before I hit the number/range that would be a good weight to maintain as I wander deeper into my 50’s. I am hopeful that the habits I am building on the way are sustainable, because they are helping me re-learn the foundational habit of loving myself and believing I am worth keeping around for a good long time. 

Faith Built on Hope

Primary Scriptures:  Romans 5:1-11 and Luke 24:13-33

This time last week, I was on my way to Montreat for a conference for pastors in interim work. I am so very  thankful for your support and encouragement to continue learning and growing in my leadership.

While I was there, I met pastors from all over the country… mostly here in the southeast, since Montreat is close by. But there were a few from the west coast, even one Canadian

We spent time in seminars covering several helpful topics. We had opportunities to speak with the faculty members, many of whom have served several churches who find themselves between settled pastors. We also spent time in groups for peer coaching.

It was all great…

But you know the best part? Hearing all their stories. Stories of churches much like ours. Some smaller, some larger… some in cities, others in small towns or rural settings.  Each one unique, and yet it seems that we all find ourselves asking the same questions…
What comes next?
What is our place in the bigger picture…
What is our part in the Body of Christ?
What is our role in the larger community – the city that has grown and changed around us, the culture that has been shifting so rapidly in the last decade…

As you might imagine, many churches are on the road to closure. They are in the process of making really hard decisions about property and memorials and where their members will go to find care and fellowship. Those are very difficult conversations to enter into and even more difficult to stay in. These are oftentimes very sad stories. God-led and grace-filled, to be sure, but always hard for the members and those who are there to help the congregation finish well.

The good news is that many more of the folks that I met and talked with last week shared stories about walking alongside congregations in the midst of the work – the hard work –  of transformation. Transformation is always hard work. It’s hard to start, hard to finish, and even harder to maintain.

We come from a long lineage… a long heritage of folks who had to work hard at change.  Seriously, it goes way way back. In fact, next week, we’ll start the Lectionary year over again by heading back to the beginning of the great collection of our stories of faith, each in its own way a testament to the transforming nature of God.

And as we did last fall, we’ll travel through the Old Testament in the months leading into Christmas.  The thread running through the passages we’ll explore this year is Promise…
the promises God makes to our foremothers and forefathers.
the promises they make to God…
the promise of fresh starts…
the promise of new life…
the promise of a deliverer… the promised one… the messiah.

We’ll recall through these chapters in our great redemption story, the faithfulness of God.  The truth that even as humankind found myriad ways to go astray, God remained steadfast. God stayed with us.
God loved us.
The truth that God loves us still

And we’ll recall how, even as the prophets called the kings and people to repentance, speaking the truths that no one wanted to hear about sin and judgment and consequences…God also gave them a message of hope: If the people would turn to God, if they would change their focus, God would honor and bless them.  

The funny thing is, we read that as if God’s behavior is contingent upon the work of the leaders and the people under their care.

The truth is, God has been there, keeping all those promises all along.  It’s the people who lose sight of that truth as their focus shifts, as their gaze wanders.  Kind of like Jesus, walking along the road to Emmaus, having an incognito conversation with two disciples.

I’ve read and heard several interpretations of this encounter.  Some say that this episode tells us that our resurrection bodies – the ones we get when we are finally in God’s presence after this life is over  – that those bodies are somehow different, that we will be ourselves but not so completely ourselves that we are instantly recognizable.

Others say that it was the work of the Holy Spirit, clouding their vision so that Jesus could hear what they were saying without worry that they would stop telling their story.

Luke uses the verb “recognize” both at the beginning and at the end of the passage –when their eyes are closed and then opened to his identity. They saw him from the start, but they didn’t actually recognize him until the end, when he was breaking the bread.

This is an interesting echo of  the  wording used when Adam and Eve first opened their eyes and recognized that they were naked. And that there was something to shameful in their being so thoroughly revealed.

You see, Luke wants us to understand that this is a moment of deep recognition.  That “oooohhhh” moment when you see someone after not quite seeing them for who they really and truly are.

Jesus had walked a good way with them, teaching them and reminding them of all the ways that the prophets had been preparing the Hebrew people for his coming.  They had covered a lot of ground, literally and theologically,  before he took the bread and broke it. And they saw him for who he was…  

Seeing him, recognizing him, changed the conversation completely.  It awoke in them a passion they hadn’t felt.  It cleared the confusion and doubt away.

Seeing him, recognizing him again made space for faith.  Because he had made space for hope… Hope that the world didn’t have to be as it had been. That exile and oppression weren’t God’s plan That the empire didn’t always win.   

Seeing him, recognizing him again, set them off on an adventure that would change their lives and ultimately transform much of the world.  Even this part of the world. We trace our own faith to those first followers of Jesus.  The ones who literally sat at table with him, sharing the meal we will remember together today…

Paul never sat at table with Jesus. Never saw him face to face in a physical sense. Not during his earthly life, anyway.  But Paul recognized the transformative power of the resurrection at least as well as any of those who spent time with Jesus before and after. Paul understood the role of faith in our coming to truly know – to recognize – the saving grace Jesus offered.

In his letter to the Romans, Paul reminds us of our inability as humans to meet all the expectations of the law.  of the fallibility that would keep all of us from ever knowing God’s great love for us and for the world.

Paul writes of the reconciling work of Jesus- the life, death and resurrection of which the disciples were talking on the road to Emmaus – the revealing of the power of God’s love to redeem all of our messiness and sin.  And he says – not one whit of it is ours to claim…Except to claim faith in the truth that God did all that for us.

God is still doing all that for us. God continues to pour out the Holy Spirit, that we might grow deeper in our understanding – not of the law, not of the minutiae of doctrine – but so that we might fall deeper in love with God, and develop even greater compassion for the neighbors around us.

Paul prescribes in Romans and throughout the epistles, a protocol for strengthening our hearts. It generally starts with suffering, which we are to endure. Not on our own strength of course, but empowered by the Spirit. Paul continues, saying that endurance produces character – which, in turn, allows us to have hope.

Many of you know that I’ve spent time this summer walking and doing some work in the gym. I started out taking short walks around the block. As the summer progressed, I started setting some goals for myself. Go a little farther, then a little faster.  

Then I registered for the conference at Montreat.

I remembered how hard it was for me to walk around up there last year. I didn’t go exploring as far as I wanted because I couldn’t catch my breath going up all the stairs and hills, and I didn’t trust that my legs and knees were strong enough to handle terrain off the sidewalks.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I find changing my personal habits are hard. Even when I know what needs to be done, getting started is hard. Keeping at it is hard, too. It much easier to fall back into the old, comfortable and known way of being.

Until the pain of staying the same outweighs the pain you anticipate will come during or as a result of the change process, the status quo will do just fine.

But status quo wasn’t going to get me up any of those hills.  So I set some new goals and got to work

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If you could hear this picture, it would include my catching my breath between “wows”. The vistas were lovely.

I am happy to say that 400 miles – even on the flat sidewalks of Central Florida  – paid off. I went wandering all around the conference center, up and down some of the steepest hills. I even managed to get to the top of Mount Mitchell.  

It was there that I was feeling a little cocky and decided to do a ¾-mile hike on the nature trail. The sign said it was “easy” and I’d been walking some of the nature trails around Montreat.

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If you look closely, you can see the description of the trail.

I knew it was going to drop a good 200-250 feet in elevation as the trail meandered down to the parking lot, but it sounded way less steep than going back down the 300 yard path that went directly from the lot to the observation tower.

So off I went.

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Seriously – how hard can it be? The rabbit looks like he’s enjoying the trail.

Now, I can stroll a full mile in about 20 minutes, even on hilly terrain. So I was guessing maybe 30 minutes down the hill. Maybe a little longer with stops to read or take photos.

Yeah- at about 20 minutes in, I was maybe half-way through the trail loop.  I had already crawled up and over tree roots and boulders, hopped across puddles and begun to mutter to the unknown author of the trail description about our definitions of “Easy” not quite being aligned.

And then the trail made yet another hairpin turn. Once again, I found myself looking uphill for the white triangle blaze.  And there wasn’t really a trail any more. It was like a staircase made of big rocks and fallen trees with lincoln log notches cut out and a maybe a few grassy spots between puddles. Oh, and every step was a different height…

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No really, this is the trail. I wasn’t lost.

My knees were tired.
My lungs were getting a little chatty.
I could hear my heart thumping in my ears.  NOT my resting heart rate, in case you wondered.

And then I laughed.

I laughed because I had a choice to make. Sit down, go back to the start, or go on. None of them seemed good. It all seemed too hard.

A voice in my head was reminding me that people who hike alone are much more likely to be eaten by bears….

But there was another voice…It was saying, “You got this. You can do it. You’ve walked way farther and in way worse heat and humidity than this. You’re strong enough to keep going.”  

I remembered working through the pain of those first walks and sore muscles, the endurance I had been building on sidewalks and treadmills, on bikes and in the pool. Looking back on where I’d been allowed me to have confidence- faith – in my ability to get up that stretch of the trail…

I was neither helpless, nor hopeless, in the face of an unexpected challenge.   

I’m not sure what the chipmunks thought of this human huffing and puffing her way past the ferns and lichen-covered stumps. I suspect that the crazy flapping of my arms as I balanced on slippery stones and logs scared off more than a couple of birds. But I was able to press on, and I realized that in addition to quieting the voice that was worried about bears, I was really enjoying myself.

Finishing the loop was no longer about surviving or successfully achieving a goal. It was about experiencing the joy that overtakes me in those all-too-rare opportunities to drink deeply of nature’s beauty

A friend of mine is a physical therapist. She works with all kinds of people, from young athletes to octogenarians. And she told me once that the most amazing thing about our bodies is the way they respond to the challenges we put in front of them. We are made to adapt and gain strength from the effort of overcoming.

Yes, the challenges need to be the RIGHT challenges. That’s why I needed to start walking earlier in the summer to be able to get up those hills this week.  But physical challenges reveal our character, our capacity for hope and transformation.

And that crazy little hike filled me with hope and faith for us in the days to come…

You see we, together, are a body, just as surely as each of us have bodies.  We, together, make up the body of Christ. And together, we can adapt and rise up to the challenges that come before us, overcoming all kinds of barriers in the power of the Holy Spirit.

I have a faith built on hope for us as we pray and work as a body here in this time and place.
That we can discern together the challenge God has for us to pursue.
That we can start small and learn how to use our faith muscles in new and different ways.
That we can work together, moving a little farther away from our comfort zone with every step, even as we  draw on lessons from the past.

I have hope that our eyes will be opened and that we will recognize Jesus in one another, in our neighbors, and in the people God brings to our table.

I have hope that as we keep God – Father, Son, and Spirit – at the center of our gaze, we’ll be able to follow the trail, no matter how rocky and hilly it gets.

I have hope that when we do this work in a way that honors our past and present, this congregation will have a future, and that future will be filled with joy and laughter.

I have faith, built on the hope and love that abide in Christ, and abide in all of us as we abide in Christ.  

My prayer is that the God who is able to do abundantly far more than we could ever ask or imagine, would grant us the wisdom, courage, love, faith, hope and joy we need for this and every day of our lives together.

Amen.