A prayer for Boston

Yesterday marked the one-year anniversary of the bombings during the Boston Marathon, and media coverage has taken over with stories positive, hard, sad, inspiring, uplifting. I’ve struggled to contain my emotions this week as story after story describe individuals’ lives a year after two terrorists decided not to wait any longer to launch an attack on the city and on my tribe, my family of runners.

On Monday, runners will line up again in Hopkinton, bibs pinned on, shoes laced up, ready to run toward the painted finish line on Boylston Street.

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The finish line last year. It got a new coat of paint for this year’s race.

I love that this year’s race is the day after Easter, when we celebrate Christ’s ultimate sacrifice and victory over death through His resurrection. In many ways, regardless of faith, those who participate in the Boston Marathon on Monday are Easter people, too, celebrating resurrection: of a city’s pride, of a running community that would not let evil overcome it, of the human spirit that would not cave to fear and tragedy.

I’d like to offer up a prayer for all those running Boston and for all those lining the streets to cheer them on or keep them safe:

Almighty God,

Please be with the runners at Boston this year, both those I know and those I’ll never meet. Give them strength of body and mind as they take on this challenging course. Please also be with the police and medical crews who will protect the runners. Give them patience, wisdom and discernment as they do their work. Please also be with the race organizers and volunteers. Give them the ability to provide the runners with a wonderful, renewing experience. Please also be with the spectators who will cheer for the runners as they speed by. Replace any misgivings or anger or fear with joy and unity and a sense of jubilation. And, God, please be with those who cannot be at the race but long for the courage or the speed or the healing that would enable them to attend.

Please send comfort to those who mourn a loss of life or limb and with those who are trying to navigate a “new” normal. Please heal both the physical and emotional wounds of those traumatized by last year’s events.

Please cover the entire course with Your protection, and turn away all who are intent on causing terror or spreading evil and chaos.

I especially lift up the Hoyts to You, as they make their final Boston Marathon run together. May it be an occasion of joy and blessing for them after so many years of showing what a father’s love can mean in the life of a disabled son. I also lift up Scott Menzies and the other family and friends running in memory of Scott’s wife Meg. Please let them sense Your healing presence as they race where she had hoped to run. Please let the memorial for her near the 1-mile mark remind all who pass by to treasure their time here, to delight in life and to be kind to one another (and maybe also not to drive drunk or distracted).

Please send a gentle breeze – and if it’s in Your will, please let it be a tailwind, however rare for this marathon – and a perfect temperature for running. Please energize tired legs and mend broken hearts even as runners climb Heartbreak Hill.

Please, most of all, let good triumph on Monday. It is in Your son Jesus’ name that I make this prayer. Amen.

If you have family or friends (runners or spectators) heading to Boston and would like for me to pray for them by name on Monday during the race, it would be my privilege to do that for you. Please feel free to leave names and prayer requests in the comment section below.

For now, I’ll leave you with this Boston Marathon story featuring the Hoyts, an inspiring father-and-son duo who will run their final Boston Marathon together on Monday.

A big push

I participate in a women’s contemplative prayer group that begins with a time of silence during which we are supposed to listen for God, followed by a short teaching. This week’s teaching has left me sitting with a particularly challenging/unsettling/exciting quote:

The familiar and the habitual are so falsely reassuring, and most of us make our homes there permanently. The new is always by definition unfamiliar and untested, so God, life, destiny, suffering have to give us a push – usually a big one – or we will not go. (Richard Rohr, Falling Upward)

So I’ve been thinking about big pushes, trying to think of times we ask others to give us a push. Most of those times come in childhood:

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Swinging always seemed more fun when there was a friend or parent standing behind to push.

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Slides also presented good “give me a push” opportunities in childhood.

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I avoided slides like these when I was little. Too scary, too little control, too little known about what waited at the bottom.

These childhood pushes may seem scary (like asking for a push on a sled to fly faster down a steep, icy hill), but we also trust that the push will make whatever we’re doing way more fun.

As adults, we don’t ask others to give us a push as often as we do when we’re children at play. Perhaps that’s why “God, life, destiny, suffering” have to step in occasionally to do the pushing. To get us out of a hidey hole. To make us step out into something uncomfortable but right for us and others around us. To change us in ways we wouldn’t choose for ourselves.

For many of us adults, the push doesn’t seem like it will result in anything way more fun.

What has struck me over and over about the quote is the challenge to look at where I’m stuck in the familiar and the habitual and truly examine whether there is any false security. I’m also trying to acknowledge the ways God is pushing me to choose paths I wouldn’t if left to my own choice.

I remember my longtime church organist explaining his difficult decision to leave our church for another one close by. He had struggled with the decision for many months (years?) but finally submitted to God telling him to go. He didn’t like the push, especially at a time that our church was having a spectacular new organ built, but he got to the point where he knew that to stay would be willful disobedience to God. He finally accepted the big push out of what had been familiar and reassuring. We miss him, but I know he is a blessing to his current church, and I hope they are a blessing to him, as well.

Obedience is hard when there’s a big, uncomfortable push. Adam and Eve didn’t skip out of the Garden of Eden. Moses made God angry with his excuses at the burning bush about why he didn’t want to return to Egypt. While he was still the Saul who persecuted early Christians, the man who would become Paul didn’t want to believe in Jesus.

God has plans for us but has also given us free will. Because that free will comes wrapped up in stubborn hearts and minds in bodies, sometimes a big push has to happen to make us live into our best selves.

Looking back on your life, what big pushes do you recognize? How did they change you and bring you to the life you’re living today? How have the big pushes helped you live a better, more meaningful, flourishing life?

Thirty years running

I thought about following up last week’s post about the shepherds in my nativity set with a post about wise men, but there’s a wise woman I want to introduce you to today. She has traveled the world to share Christ’s truth and love with others, and her running shoes always go with her. I hope you’ll enjoy hearing her story as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it.

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Barbara Latta was feeling restless on December 5, 1983. Her husband was away on an annual business trip that always took up the first two (!) weeks of December. She tried to talk her sons (a pre-teen and a teenager) into going for a walk with her. They declined, the older citing too much homework and the younger citing too much comfort to give up by going outside. So she went by herself and ran a mile and a half. It was the first step in a grand adventure.

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Barbara has many medals, ribbons and trophies, but this one for her first triathlon, completed earlier this year, is one of her favorites.

I grew up calling her Mrs. Latta. She had two sons, one of whom was my age, and we went to church together. Somewhere in my adulthood, Mrs. Latta transitioned to “Barbara” for me, as we studied the Bible together and also ran local races together.

Last Thursday, Barbara reached a major running milestone. She celebrated her 30th anniversary running streak, which means she has run every day for the past 30 years. Today marks 30 years and 7 days of running. Every single day.

“You should try running.”
As with many runners, she had a mentor, the principal at the school where she worked as the librarian. Her principal was a marathoner, and this was still in the early days of running before its popularity skyrocketed. He had been telling her for some time that she should try running and was happy to hear she had run that morning. Continue reading

A good aunt’s back-to-school advice

It’s back-to-school season, and I thought I’d put on my “good aunt” hat for a few moments and share some advice with you (most of it fitting whether you’re a child, a teenager, a young adult, a student, a parent, a teacher).

On starting college
Two summers ago, I wrote a blog post for two beloved young people in my life who were heading off to college. There’s a fresh batch of young people I know starting college this year. I know you’re busy finding where your classes are and trying to decide whether you like your roommate and figuring out how many times you can text your mom and still be cool. But I hope you’ll take time to read what I wrote. Everything in it is still true today.

On texting and driving
If you drive yourself or your children to school (or anywhere else), please take 35 minutes today to watch this film on texting and driving. Called From One Second to the Next, this film brings us the accounts of people whose lives were changed in a split second because of a driver’s decision to text while driving. For any of you with a driver’s license and a car, please watch this video. Commit to checking your text messages once you get to where you’re going. Commit to refusing to ride in a car with a driver who is texting. Commit to waiting to text a friend who is behind the wheel. No one should die because of an oh-so-important message: “LOL.” “Running late.” “Almost there.”

On appreciating your teachers and other school staff
Did you hear yesterday’s story of a school clerk who talked a gunman into putting down his weapons and letting police arrest him before he killed anyone? The photo at the top of the story shows a good aunt reaching out for the hand of her nephew, one of the precious children the school clerk helped save yesterday. The clerk, Antoinette Tuff, said, “I’m not the hero. I was terrified.”

I don’t agree with Tuff. Nelson Mandela said, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” Tuff is a hero. She overcame her terror and put her own life on the line to save the others in her school and community.

Appreciate your teachers, even if you don’t enjoy their class or teaching style. They may be the single thread that protects your life in a moment of terror.

On working hard
“School is hard.” This profound bit of truth comes from an eighth grader I know.

For some of you – I’m thinking especially of the high school seniors and college freshmen among you – there may be a temptation to play a little too hard. Just remember why you’re in school. First and foremost, you’re there to learn and to work hard. Learning how to add in the rest (the fun parts) is the first step toward becoming a well-rounded adult while also discovering the parts of life that fuel your passions.

On finding joy
While some of you parents out there – and even some of you students, too – may be overjoyed at the prospect of a new school year, others of you will have to work a little harder to find joy in school. But it’s worth the effort to find something you love about school. Try a new activity or class, or try out for a team or the school play. These extras give you an opportunity to learn more about yourself and forge strong bonds with friends new and old. School may be hard (see previous category), but it doesn’t have to be miserable.

On keeping the faith
Whether it was Vacation Bible School, a youth mission trip or just fun, relaxed summertime visits at church, you may have experienced some great “mountaintop” moments in your faith while school was out. Look for ways to carry those moments with you into the school year, and if you’re a college student, I encourage you to get tapped into a faith community near your college – even if you really, really loved your home church youth group and think you’ll come home every weekend to see your familiar friends there.

When I was in college, my faith was sometimes the only thread that held me together while it seemed like everything else was falling apart around me. Give yourself a gift of a community of faith wherever you are. Keep looking if the first place you land doesn’t quite fit. Faith and a community of believers will strengthen you in ways nothing else can.

For those of you past your own school years, do you have any advice for these young ones going back to school?

For those of you going back to school, do you have any advice you’d like to get from my readers?

If so, I hope you’ll add it to the comments below.

The fragility we’d like to ignore

Newtown, Boston and now Moore force us to confront issues we often prefer to ignore. But seeing the devastation of the tornado that swept through Oklahoma on Monday and trying to explain that level of loss to ourselves and our children make us face the fact that life is fragile.

We’d like to ignore this inconvenient fact, this fragility of life. Some ignore it by sky-diving or bungee jumping or participating in other extreme sports. “Hah! See. I have cheated death.” Others fight this fact by diving into medical research to find cures for incurable diseases. Others by trying to create stronger safe rooms that can withstand the fury of an EF-5 tornado.

I think on some level, we all try to deny this fragility of life by simply getting out of bed each day and going about our normal activities.

But how do we respond when the evil in humankind (Newtown and Boston) or the power of nature force us to stop and look head on at how quickly life can change? Some travel to the site to help physically. Some donate money. Some read news stories looking for nuggets of hope, such as the news of a lower death toll than originally reported in the tornado’s aftermath and videos like this interview with a woman who is reunited with her dog during a news interview.

Those of us who are believers pray. We turn to God for answers even where we know there are no easy answers. We trust that though life is fragile here in this earthly place, there is a heaven where life endures, where cancer doesn’t grow and kill, where murder never happens, where tornados never tear communities apart.

I’m not Catholic, but there are times that I deeply appreciate the Catholic church’s rosaries and candles and other physical reminders of God calling us to prayer. After all, in prayer, God can strengthen us. In prayer, we acknowledge our fragile lives. In prayer, we remember that nothing can separate us from God.

I leave you today with images from San Jose Mission in San Antonio, Texas. This beautiful place brought me peace on a hot, baking day this past weekend, and I hope the pictures will be for you an invitation to prayer.

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Notice the sign: Please do not climb on this tree. It is fragile.

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An angel watches over passersby, detail on the exterior of the mission

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A much more ornate altar than I expected to find in this place

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A small statue of Mary tucked away in a corner

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Candles of prayer and petition

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On the grounds of Mission San Jose