I wrote these words a few weeks ago, not realizing at the time that the sermon written for others would become what I needed to hear after a serious stress fracture transported me from a good and frenzied pace to a gurney and three screws in my right hip. I had been walking – or rather limping – on that hip for weeks. I had even danced on it at a wedding and played golf (operative word “play”) at a driving range with friends. The pain was searing, but I wasn’t letting it stop me.
And then it did.
The faint word “yes” is still on my thigh, scribbled there by a nurse like notes in the margin of a book. It- and the incision next to it – are now a reminder that this interruption has a place and a purpose. This morning, I shared these words in Guatemala (thanks to some wonderful friends who rallied around me to create video magic). Very soon, I’ll share them in Jamaica. But right now, in the quiet of this journey, I want to share them here – because I need to read them again. I don’t want to miss the purpose of the rocks, even as I find myself resting and tending and letting go of the good and frenzied.
I’ve been on this journey with God now for – what is it – 34 years? I literally ran to Him, down an aisle at a church, the day after my 21st birthday.
Now, I had been a good religious girl for a long time. My parents didn’t go to church, but I did. I would ask my friends if I could join them at their churches – and I attended every type of church, from Catholic to Baptist to Assembly of God.
I knew there was something there, even though I couldn’t quite put words to it.
But that day, September 28, 1980, the words came.
That day, I heard a preacher talk about the difference between being a spectator of Christianity and a participator in Christianity. And I knew at that moment that I wanted Jesus.
I even told my mother and father at my birthday lunch that afternoon, “I can only stay until 4:30, because tonight I am giving my life to Jesus Christ.”
And that night, I was there as soon as the church doors opened. I couldn’t wait until the sermon was over. I ran down that aisle, crying. I ran to redemption. Ran to new life. Ran to mercy, grace.
I ran to the rock of my salvation.
I realize now that Jesus was there waiting for me to reach out – that I didn’t have to run down that aisle to find Him. But I’m thankful for that moment. I ran toward Christ and grabbed His hands. They are so strong, you know. So very strong.
And here it is. 34 years later. I’m still running and running.
Now, running is not all bad. In fact, in the book of Philippians, Paul paints one of the most beautiful pictures of moving forward. He says
I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me.
Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.
Paul says three key things: I’m focused on God. I’m running. And I’m not turning back.
And there it is. The challenge to stay keep my eyes forward, to know my destination, and to remain diligent. And that’s where I get tripped up.
You see, I am a runner. In real life. I began running about three years ago – for exercise and to help my emotions. I’m not a competitive runner by any means, and my time on the roads or trails where I run is much more an opportunity to pray and listen to music and to hear God speak to me.
This summer, I was helping families dig through rubble in Oklahoma after tornadoes devastated entire communities.
The last morning, I decided to run. The city I was in was the home of my college alma mater. It was a very familiar neighborhood and a beautiful day, and I had an opportunity to reminisce about where I attended university. I ran and stopped to take pictures of the campus, ran more and stopped to remember great classes and dancing in the rain on the North Oval and hearing my name and degree as I walked the stage to receive my diploma.
It wasn’t until I left the campus that I realized I was on an unfamiliar street. And then I passed two men. They were sitting on the stoop of an abandoned building. Both looked at me – really looked at me.
And I got distracted. I focused on those men. Rather than keeping my eyes focused and my head lifted, I looked back.
Fear gripped me and I let it take control. And I didn’t see a shift in the road. I flew headlong into the concrete, the rocks tearing at my knees and hands, bruising my legs and ribs and jaw.
I was hurting. It was difficult to walk. It was difficult to breathe. I wanted to rewind time, so I could keep my eyes focused.
I was embarrassed. I knew better. Yet, I still fell.
But sometimes, even when my eyes are focused, things happen.
The rocks that could tear at my knees become the rocks that make the road uneven – even treacherous. I must proceed with great caution, slowing my pace to pay close attention to the jags and dips and ruts.
Or those rocks find their way into my shoe. I’m forced to stop. I’m forced to breathe. I’m forced to tend to myself so that I can keep running well.
Now, I could curse the rocks for being there in the first place. I could get frustrated that my desire to run is hindered by roads that are not perfect and smooth.
I could even get angry at the distractions that catch me off-guard and cause me to lose focus.
Or I could see the beauty in the rocks.
You see, you don’t have to physically put on a pair of tennis shoes to be a runner. You don’t have to get a rock in your shoe to know what it feels like to have to stop and tend. And you don’t have to be distracted by two unsavory-looking men to know what it feels like to fall headlong and feel bruised and battered and defeated.
For we are all runners. We are all, in the words of Paul, pressing on. Moving on. Wanting to move forward.
It doesn’t matter if we are a sweet grandmother or a teenager, it doesn’t matter if our vocation is doctor or homemaker. It doesn’t matter where we live or what language we speak.
We are all runners in this life. And the rocks? I believe they are there for a purpose.
I believe they are there to remind us that there is someone greater than us in control. And that we are to focus our attention to Him.
I believe they are there to point us to Jesus, the rock of our salvation.
I believe those rocks exist to remind us that God delights in us and wants to be the lifter of our heads.
Even when our journey is difficult and we need to walk slowly. Even when we need to stop and catch our breath. Even when we allow things like fear to catch our eye – and cause us to stumble headlong and get bruised.
David knew well. He was a shepherd turned king, he was called a man after God’s own heart – yet he knew all too well about the purpose of those rocks.
In Psalm 41, he says:
I said, “God, be gracious! Put me together again—my sins have torn me to pieces.”
My enemies are wishing the worst for me; they make bets on what day I will die. If someone comes to see me, he mouths empty platitudes, All the while gathering gossip about me to entertain the street-corner crowd.
God, give grace, get me up on my feet. I’ll show them a thing or two. Meanwhile, I’m sure you’re on my side—no victory shouts yet from the enemy camp!
You know me inside and out, you hold me together, you never fail to stand me tall in your presence so I can look you in the eye.
Did you see that? God is on our side. God holds us together. God never fails. And we can look Him in the eye.
Even when we stumble. Even when we fall. Even when we fail.
I’ve got a confession to make now. This is my prayer from last week. I journal – write down what I’m learning from God and my thoughts about life and my prayers to the Lord.
And right now in my life, things are busy. Very busy. All of the activities are good ones. But all the activities have caused me to be very weary, and made me wonder if I have somehow “missed God” and what He wants for me.
And this was how my heart was feeling…
“Father, I’ve cried out to you – crying out now in fact.
I feel as though I’ve stumbled into the darkest of places, caught up by my own planning or my own pride or my own deafness to what Your will is in the first place.
And I feel so very alone – there is no one to help move past this point. I hear the enemy already snickering. I hate that laugh. I’ve heard it so many times before.
‘This is the time where you fail everyone. This is the time where you make a mockery of God. This is the time where you finally break.’
But this I cling to – that I am Yours.
That even with my fumbling and failing and fainting and wanting to simply give up – that I am Yours. And my life today will not define my life tomororw. I am pressing in, moving forward, and I am never ever ever away from You.”
In your hand, picture a rock. I want you to look at it and ask yourself, “what is the rock in my life today?”
Is your rock a dark season in your life? Is your rock the thing that keeps you from running at all?
Is your rock the rough place you find yourself in because you got distracted, got tempted, got lazy, got comfortable?
Or maybe the rock is something you long for – a journey with true purpose and meaning.
Listen to these words from the book of Isaiah:
Why would you ever complain, O Jacob, or, whine, Israel, saying, “God has lost track of me. He doesn’t care what happens to me”?
Don’t you know anything? Haven’t you been listening? God doesn’t come and go. God lasts. He’s Creator of all you can see or imagine.
He doesn’t get tired out, doesn’t pause to catch his breath. And he knows everything, inside and out.
He energizes those who get tired, gives fresh strength to dropouts. For even young people tire and drop out, young folk in their prime stumble and fall.
But those who wait upon God get fresh strength. They spread their wings and soar like eagles, They run and don’t get tired, they walk and don’t lag behind.
Those words, written thousands of years ago, are fresh and new for you today.
For those with rocks of the difficult season, God says “I am not letting go. You are not alone. We’re walking together. And we will keep walking together. Look at me. I am strength.”
For those with rocks of the can’t go any further, God says, “You need rest. You need restoration. It is OK to stop. My arms are strong enough to hold you. Look at Me. I am love.”
For those with rocks of the rough place, the falling, God says, “I am right here. I have not moved. Together, we will rise. Together, we will run again. Look at me. I am healing.”
For those with rocks of the wish I could understand, God says, “Salvation is here. New life. Real purpose – found in the beautiful grace of Jesus Christ. Look at me. Jesus stands, arms open wide – ready for you to run.”
For each of you, God says, “I delight in you. I find my joy in you. I love you.”