Faith in the Darkness: Fear in the Light

Most of you know I’ve been in training for the Hartford Half Marathon, coming up on October 10.  It’s a pretty big deal, since it’s my first athletic event, and I am by no means an athlete of any shape, form or kind.

I have to say, though, I am darned impressed with myself.  From the day I decided to do this thing, I started on a path, albeit a path I had no idea to where it led, and I have not stopped moving.  I can’t say I’ve been this motivated to do anything for me – ever.  With the exception of one week, where Mama Commitments limited me to one day of walking, I have been out there no less than 3 days per week, sometimes more, with miles on my sneakers (yes, that was plural!) and the sweat to prove it when I’m done.

I recently found this great wooded path not far from my house, and I decided I wanted to conquer it.  On my 1st visit, I wasn’t exactly prepared for what I found – an offering of several paths; a few short distance ‘loop trails’ and a long distance marsh trail – and I spent more time surveying and backtracking rather than conquering anything.

Prior to my 2nd visit, I spent time online studying where the marsh trail actually traveled throughout town, and purposely decided to start at the opposite end of where I’d started a few days earlier.  After finding the access footpath, complete with cobwebs from lack of visitors, I found the first orange arrow, a sign I was headed in the right direction.  About a mile into the marsh path, however, the signs became a bit more ambiguous, and I soon found myself in a neighboring town, clear across town from my car, as darkness was beginning to fall.  The only way out, as it were, was in…into the woods.

I’m not exactly sure when this marsh path was first established, but visually you can imagine a lush forest footpath, carpeted by roots and tree limbs.  As time wears away the soil, the roots become more prevalent, making each step increasingly important, especially in the darkness.  As I continued to look for the orange markings, ever aware of the decreasing light, I wasn’t afraid; just mindful of my steps and my purpose – to get back to my car.  I started singing along to my music streaming through my headphones, consciously choosing not to remove them as the distraction helped me focus on the task at hand.

I was also mindful of the battery-life left on my cellphone…very low.  And while I’d been tracking my walk, tracing my path and streaming my music, apparently my phone was in revolt.  Again I made the conscious decision to keep those apps running – they all served a purpose at that moment, and with them I felt certain I would get to where I needed to be.  As I reached this unmistakable boulder that marked the access footpath from the marsh path, I knew I had made it back alright.  The crisp moonlight and car headlamps lit my way along the grassy terrain to my lonely car in the commuter lot.

For my 3rd visit, I set off completely prepared; I’d studied the internet map yet again to see where I’d gone wrong; I brought a flashlight in the event I made another fatal directional error; I brought water and a protein packed snack –  just in case; and most importantly…my phone was fully charged.  Off I went, determined that I had it figured out this time.  While I didn’t get lost, I got overconfident once I got close to the exit, making a wrong turn that sent me back out toward the marsh instead of toward the parking lot, essentially adding another .6 mile to my walk.  My only shallow victory was that I did not need the flashlight I had brought, as I emerged from the brush with still some daylight overhead.

Today, I woke up determined.  This marsh path was not going to outwit me.  It was a beautiful first day of fall, and I was going to make the most of the daylight.  I gathered my normal walking paraphernalia (minus the flashlight) and headed to the marsh.  But today, I sat for a minute on one of the benches at the entrance.  I stretched out, which I haven’t been doing appropriately, and could possibly be why I have a slight pull in my right calf.  Lastly, today I decided to bring my iPod instead of using my phone for music.  This proved to be the most important decision I have made all week, probably in all of my training.

I started off strong, as I usually do.  Good typical pace for me.  Passed a few single people walking, a man and his son, other than that the path was isolate as I generally find the farther out I go.  Mile 1 flew by, and the grueling steep climb of mile 2 began.  But today, something was drastically different.  One reason I keep coming back to the marsh, besides the fact that I’m so stubborn, is that it is unmistakably beautiful.  Everywhere you look little touches of nature spring out and you know God has touched this place.  From wild growing cherries and grapes, to unique trees growing intertwined upon each other, to fern outstretched toward the light, to the man-built bridges and planks peering out from nowhere – you are inspired and pulled along step by breath-taking step.

Today, though, as my eyes were pressed onward, I found myself distracted by an abundance of sights, and not in a positive way.  Light crept in where usually it did not, causing need for my sunglasses more than usual – up, down, up, down – an irritating cadence erupting.  As I observed my steps, those holes in the dirt I’d assumed were from chipmunks were now filled with mud wasps, and I scurried around them careful not to disturb their meeting.  Wood planks laid on their side revealed steep drop-offs I’d not noticed until today, causing me to shrink close to trees opposite the drops.

And just about this moment I became acutely aware of my music, streaming loudly, the most perfect of songs for that very moment.  See, my iPod has two playlists – one with pop music and one with Contemporary Christian music.  My iPod was set to ‘shuffle’ and these lyrics rang through:


Giver of every breath I breathe
Author of all eternity
Giver of every perfect thing
To You be the glory
Maker of Heaven and of Earth
No one can comprehend Your worth
King over all the universe
To You be the glory

I continued walking, slowly, as these words sank into my soul.   I knew I was being touched by the Holy Spirit at that moment, I was just trying to grasp the full extent.

Early on I declared I was doing this walk because I can, in fact, walk.  Because I am healthy; because I am happy; because I am free.  But I never once stopped to give the glory to GOD for all that means to me.

Then I heard Him say to me very clearly “You have excellent faith in the darkness, and yet you fear in the light.”  How on point is that?  I find it so very easy to blindly trust what I know that I know, but things I have partial vision of, I need constant reaffirmation before I can believe.

This marsh path is just like my walk.  In the darkness, I had no fear when I more than likely should have.  But in the light of day, I wouldn’t trust what I could see.  I was fumbling and stumbling, and allowing fear to creep in, making vision an obstacle rather than a support.

It was at this point on the path a very distinct fork occurs, and you can easily become disoriented.  Your inclination is to go down, but that choice leads you deeper into the woods.  You must choose up to clear the trees.  You must choose up.  Let me tell you something else – today, I didn’t get lost, not one wrong turn, and I made it out before dark…best time yet.  No coincidence there.

What are you putting blind faith in where you shouldn’t be today?  And what areas are you questioning what you can see clearly, perhaps because you don’t like the answers you see?  Lastly, are you giving glory to the One who gave you everything?

Today is a new season, the perfect time for a fresh start.  I know I’m glad for the times I chose up.


Marathon: For My Health & For Her Life

Many of you know I’ve challenged myself to participate in the Hartford Half Marathon on October 10 this year.  I decided this after my 8th heart procedure, a thus far successful cardiac ablation of a recurrent atrial fibulation and tachycardia, both of which I am hypersensitive to.  This A-Fib and A-Tach are both just co-morbid symptoms of a larger heart condition I live with, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, that I was diagnosed with back in 1993, the same heart condition that killed my Mother at age 42, and her father at age 48, essentially without warning.

Notice I say I live with cardiomyopathy – it is not killing me.  Research, medications, and treatments have come a long way in the 25 years since my Mother’s death.  The awareness of my condition makes all the difference as well.  I also consciously decided I wanted to be here for my children, and knew to do that, I needed to lose weight.  In the last few years, I have lost a current total of 110 pounds, just 22 pounds shy of my goal weight.  This was certainly not an easy feat, but most definitely a life altering and worthwhile endeavor to undertake.  The pursuit of health usually is…no matter the cost.

Which brings me to my next revelation – we can never, ever take our health, and the health of our loved ones from granted.  Even the most physically fit individual cannot predict when or if something unprecedented will happen to them.  Life is unpredictable.  Only God knows the future, every breath we will take, every decision we will make.

So as I am preparing for this marathon, this ultimate challenge of my stamina and strength, it occurred to me that this is the perfect platform for more than just my personal victory.  This is the excellent opportunity to bring light to just how fortunate we are – the healthy – those whose families are whole.  And while my family, my children have their struggles, no one is fighting for their life each day.

I have this friend, Emily, who I had the fortune to meet through her work with autism.  She does not have first-hand experience with autism other than her education and work – she is a Behavior Analyst by trade, and a mother by the grace of God.  We met through volunteerism, which was an incredible gift to us both, and as Heaven would see fit, the night before the main event, she gave birth to her second child, Kiley – the most precious fair-skinned, red-haired beauty this side of Ireland.  Thanks to a last minute substitution by her mother, our event went off unscathed, and Kiley grew into a spunky sprite…until just prior to her 5th birthday, when an unusual limp and accompanying symptoms prompted Emily to bring her into CT Children’s Hospital.  The diagnosis, just days after her landmark birthday – Stage 4 Alveolar Rhabdomyosarcoma, an aggressive cancer of the soft connective that impacts only about 350 children in the US per year.

For the past 18 months, Kiley has been fighting to beat this cancer with warrior strength.  She’s undergone an extensive regime of radiation and chemotherapy all in an effort to “kick cancer’s butt!”  Kiley held her own fundraiser earlier this year and raised enough money for an incredible machine housed in the Children’s Cancer Therapy Development Institute in Ft. Collins, Colorado.  There Dr. Charles Keller, scientific director, works tirelessly to research therapies for childhood cancers, including ARMS, Kiley’s type of cancer.

Working to find why the cancer cells metastasize, or develop in new locations in the body, is paramount in advancing the outcome for kids like Kiley.  But all this research takes funding.  Currently the National Cancer Institute only allots 4% of funds raised for pediatric cancer research – 4%.  This is woefully inadequate, for Kiley, for other children like her, for anyone.

That is why I have decided to challenge you, my friends, to partner with me as I participate in this Marathon.  I KNOW how fortunate I am – every day I can walk and breathe is a gift from God.  My children – their health and well-being – yet another gift.  Our safety in a country that is free from violence; gift. Freedom to worship the god we choose (or not); gift.  A roof over our heads; gift.  Food, clothing; gift, gift.  I could go on and on, but I think you get my point.

So, add up you gifts right now – just a simple list – and think about how thankful you are for what you have.  Think about that 4% and how much more your children are worth to you.  Think about anyone you know who’s been touched by cancer, anyone at all.  Think of anyone you’ve lost – the pain, the grief…now imagine burying your small child.  What might you give to avoid that unimaginable agony?

I’ve started a donation fund in honor of #TeamKiley , where 100% of your donations will go directly to the cc-TDI lab in Colorado and directly benefit Dr. Keller’s work.  I believe in the power of prayer.  I also believe God is still in the business of miracles, even today.  Kiley has lost several friends in the 18 months since her diagnosis – this disease is very real and very deadly – children who will never graduate high school, enjoy their 1st real kiss, attend college, walk down the aisle with their lover, and blossom into their parents hopes and dreams.

There are 30 days left until the Marathon.  30 days to make a difference in the life of a Warrior Princess.  Look at this child:

Kiley1 Kiley as Anna Kiley n Kelly Kiley pre C Kiley 2

4% is insulting for this beautiful child – for any child.  Let’s send a message to the NCI – our children are worth 1000% – and if you are incapable, we’ll just show you how it’s done! Heck, I’ll walk to whole 26.2 miles if I have to until my voice is heard – you’re my people…you know I will do it!

Please, please tally your ‘gifts’ and make a donation today.  I’ve set a moderate goal for us to attain, but I have faith we’ll blow that right out of the water.  Thanking you all in advance!

Here’s the link:

“I Will Not Give What Costs Me Nothing”

‘But the king replied to Araunah, “No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.” So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen and paid fifty shekels of silver for them.’                        -2 Samuel 24:24

This has been an absolutely fantastic week for me.  Starting last Saturday I spent the better part of my day donating time to a Back to School event my church sponsored, partnering with a local Elementary school in need.  We as a group were able to provide backpacks & supplies, games, activities, lunch, and a tiny piece of Jesus – all in the 90+ degree temperatures that soared throughout the day.  I had done a table offering special education advocacy, and though I’ve been away from public advocacy for several years now, it felt just like home to offer up my gifts to those who might be in need.  Even though it was ridiculously hot and the work was long, I left there feeling blessed and rejuvenated.

By Monday a wild idea began to circle through my brain.  I’ve been feeling really good, both physically and mentally lately.  I thought it might be time to raise the stakes and take on a new physical task, if my doctor approved, of course.  As luck would have it, I had an appointment that very day, and my check-up came back as glowing as I felt.  I asked permission to participate in the Hartford Marathon coming up in October, deciding that I just might be able to complete walking the Half Marathon in the allotted time.  Of course, I’m not looking to win any medals – I simply want to challenge myself to do more than I’ve done before.  I’d basically been walking a 5K every other day as it was, so this seemed like the next logical step.

Looking back over the last few years, I’ve lost 110 pounds and had 8 heart procedures.  The fact that I can walk at all and still breathe should bring God glory…and that’s my job.  My mother dropped dead with no warning of this same heart disease I have, 4 years younger than I am now.  My father struggled for every single gasp of breath as he died almost 4 years ago.  I know countless people who are obese and can barely move, who have COPD and can barely breathe; while I can, you better believe I am going to move.

So Monday night I hit the track, not exactly sure what my plan was.  I just knew I needed to get moving, farther and faster than I had been.  The race is 13.1 miles…my current average was 3.  Monday night I walked 6 miles, and I didn’t die.  Tuesday I woke up, not dead, and went back to the track, where I walked another 6 miles, this time faster.  I was breathing, I was singing, I was talking and I was laughing (maybe a little too much…some of those young chippies started to stare!)

Wednesday I took the night off, got dressed up and went out to laugh with a friend – a great night.

Thursday I pushed myself back to the track.  It was a little harder to get going, but once I was underway, I walked 7.5 miles.

As you can imagine, as I’m walking I have plenty of time to think – about all kinds of things.  I think about this decision I’ve made to try this Marathon.  I like saying the word ‘Marathon’ in conjunction with my name.  I am no athlete.  I was the little smart fat girl growing up.  Heck, that’s who I’ve been most of my life.  I’ve watched from the sidelines at my kids sporting events: soccer, football, basketball, baseball – mostly in amazement at the way they and the other athletes can move their bodies through space.

Several years ago I started taking karate with the kids, first in their ‘kid’ class with them, and then joining the ‘adult’ class, but even then I certainly was not athletic.  I could never find my center of gravity, my balance is awful, and my learning style is multifaceted, so merely watch-then-do does not work for me – I am currently a purple belt as my classmates have far surpassed my level long ago.

But like this Marathon, and much like my life, no one else runs MY race besides me.  I was given all the tools I ever needed to complete MY race.  Some days MY race will be slow, more of a shuffling pace, and I may not cover much ground.  Other days, MY race will look more like a sprint, and all you will see of me is a blur of curly red hair flailing in the wind.  I’ve learned with time and experience that I cannot phone it in.  Though my talents look different than others, that in no way diminishes my responsibility to use them.

That brings me to the title of this piece.  In May I was visiting my family in South Carolina, and heard a lyric from a song in church that resonated with me.  Tracking it down, I find it’s from Desperation Band’s latest album, a song called ‘Break Open.’  In the song, they’re speaking of offering empty sacrifices to God.  He knows what He’s gifted us with, and He knows what our best looks like – in all things.  He doesn’t ask for sacrifice because He needs it – He asks for sacrifice for obedience sake.  If we’re only willing to give God what we have left over, that’s a direct slap in the face to our Creator.  He wants our best, our first, our everything.

As I do my laps on the track, lost in my countless thoughts, calculating how many of the 13 miles I might actually complete in the 3 hours allotted before the medical support dissipates, I start to contemplate what my best effort would look like, instead of simply enough.  I realize I’ve been looking at this whole thing all wrong.  If I focus on doing my best, giving my best, and asking for strength to turn in my best, that is exactly what I will do.  Nowhere are we promised that getting there will be easy.  Anything worth having – better relationships, better health, lasting values – always costs us something.  If we are not willing to sacrifice, the ‘prize’ most likely is short-term.  I’m so much more into hitching my wagon onto things that are made to last.

I can’t wait to see what training next week brings…