I just got home from vacation—a week in the Arizona sun. And once again I found myself seduced by the desert; mesmerized by the wide variety of cactus and other desert plants; and captivated by the landscape. But this time, I was challenged in ways I could never have predicted…
Each year, I find it fascinating how transitioning to warmth, sun, and palm trees is as effortless as breathing. But coming back home to cold, ice, and snow is strenuous—like jolting awake from a dream. Yet, this time, it was more like being jolted to refocus ON a dream…
Like many people on vacation, I unplug. I spend very little time on the internet and social media. Instead, I run, hike, and soak in as much vitamin D as my Minnesota-white body can absorb without looking like an overdone steak.
Though I brought writing to work on, I never picked it up. I never turned on my iPad and got to work. Instead, I read.
First I finished a book I started weeks ago—The Girl’s Still Got It (Take a Walk with Ruth and the God Who Rocked her World) by Liz Curtis Higgs. Then after I finished the last sentence and reluctantly closed this book, I opened another…
Unstoppable (Running The Race You Were Born To Win) by Christine Cane.
It’s a small book really. Short and unassuming. Innocuous looking. The picture on the front is of a blurred runner, all sparkly blue, caught mid-stride as he bursts forward. How I wish I looked like that when I ran—sleek and beautiful—and FAST! I’m more like the tortoise.
I found this book at Lifeway a few weeks before our trip. As Camron looked for a book and a new Bible study, I browsed the bargain bin not expecting to find anything. Not NEEDING to add to my ever-growing pile of books to read. But this book caught me. Pulled me in like a magnet. I felt a stirring in my heart like this one copy was put in the bin for me. When I tried to put it down, I wasn’t able to unclutch my hand. To put it back. Somehow, I knew I needed to read it—at some point.
So I brought it home, figuring it would collect dust for a while before I had time to get to it.
And then I was packing for Arizona. I looked at my dusty pile of books. I knew I would need to narrow it down by, well, a lot, and started sorting. As I picked up this book to place it in the “stay at home pile” I had the same strange experience I had at the bookstore—I couldn’t release it. I couldn’t put it down. I felt silly, but I said, “You are going to have to wait our turn, there are others who have been here for a long time, waiting to be read.” But I just couldn’t leave it at home.
So, in my bag it went.
As I picked up this book to read it, I thought, “176 pages. No problem. I should have this book read in about a day and a half, maybe two days depending on what activities we have planned.”
Just as God rocked Ruth’s world, Christine Cane rocked mine. Or should I say, God using Christine did?
The book opens with a beautiful recounting of the US women’s 4 x 100-meter relay teams from the 2000, 2004, and 2008 Olympic teams. Each team was poised for the gold. The favorite to win. The fastest in the world. But a botched handoff of the baton, being out of the exchange zone, and a dropped pass resulted in disaster—a bronze medal instead of the assumed gold, disqualification, and a devastating loss. As Christine lamented over each disappointing race, I remembered watching them on TV, equally shocked and saddened.
Then she recounted the 2012 Olympics. Four women. Four unbelievably fast women. Each with her own individual strengths and weaknesses. Each carefully placed in her position by their coach to maximize those strengths and minimize those weaknesses. Each responsible for her leg of the race. Each expected to give her all. To run with excellence. To pour it all out. And each accountable for the baton while it was in her possession. Each expected to use careful precision as she handed it off to the next runner. They trained. Practiced. And worked harder than ever for their shot at gold—not to mention the opportunity to redeem US women’s track.
Ah, the tension! I could feel my chest tighten as I read, anticipating the results (even though I already knew them).
I eagerly turned the page…
Then Christine jumped tracks. What?? Where are you going?? What about the outcome?
Despite this team’s stunning victory in the qualifying race. Christine pointed out that means nothing. Nor does the fastest runners, the fastest team, experience, or dedication. Yes, these are essential ingredients in the formula, but if the runners don’t safely pass the baton from one hand to the next, to the next, to the next, and then carry across the finish line—the race is LOST.
“In a relay, everything hinges on what happens in the exchange zone…And then it hit me…I was seeing a crystal-clear representation of how the church must work and what happens when it doesn’t.” We are all runners in the Divine Relay. “If the baton of faith passes fluidly from person to person, from generation to generation, we speed unstoppable toward the finish line. But if the exchange is fumbled, the whole team, the whole church suffers.”
This is the first moment of many the Spirit pulled me over. The first margin to be filled with my tear-filled prayer. (No other book has a journal of my prayers like this one does.)
See, I was running. Baton clutched in my hand. I was flying, as fast as a tortoise can, with my eye on the finish line. Then life happened. Illnesses invaded. Injuries occurred. Our septic backed up. Doctor appointments overtook my schedule. And I got further and further behind. I got more and more discouraged.
Clang. Clang. Clang.
My grip slipped. I fumbled my baton. It bounced noisily across the track, almost tripping the other runners.
I was disheartened. I lost my focus. Then I stumbled and fell face first in the middle of my lane; the other runners whooshing past me. I didn’t want to quit. I just wasn’t sure how to start again, all banged up and bloody.
Plus I figured the race was over. Done. What’s the point? My momentum was in the toilet. My muscles were sore. My legs were cramping up. Did I have any right to get up and start again? Will my readers still be there? Will they think I quit? Do I have any hope left?
No. My hope was gone. My motivation lost.
Then I heard that Still Small, yet Powerful, Voice…
“Get up! Now!”
“Seriously, I’ve blown it. What’s the use?”
“Get up! Start moving. Your race has not changed. Your calling has not altered. I Am still here. Here is your baton.” I felt it cold in my hand. Fingers wrapping around it. “Get up, Child! Get up and RUN!”
As I started to lift myself off the track, to find my feet, I turned the page. My legs felt wobbly. My head was lightheaded. My heart uncertain. Then I read:
“The divine relay is tough. The track is treacherous. There are so many ways to mangle the exchange zones, to overshoot, to be knocked off the track, to drop the baton, to stop running. The church needs champion runners who never give up, who persevere no matter what they encounter, who run to win—unstoppable, no matter the cost.” (emphasis mine)
Tears running down my face, I gripped the baton tighter. Then I scanned the crowd (the people on the pool deck) and realized there are too many who don’t know Jesus. Too many who would be left behind. Too many who don’t know what it means to follow Him. Passion flooded my heart again. Determination filled my soul. I put one foot out, unsteady in my stride. Then another. Then another. Soon the wind wiped the tears from my cheeks and breathed new life into my dream.
The 2012 4 x 100-meter relay team not only won the gold—they shattered the world record! They knew if they had clean baton passes they could win gold, maybe even break the Olympic record. But destroy the world record as they did? They had no idea, but they knew they had it in them.
Beloved. Do you have it in you? Do I? We each have our race to run. There are different lanes and exchange zones along the way. Each preparing us for the next and the next and the next. And when we stumble and fall, drop our baton, or get knocked off the track—our Coach helps us find our way back into our lane with our baton firmly placed in our hand.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Hebrews 12:1-2, NLT
This crowd of witnesses? Not the Church. This is God the Father, Jesus, and all the Heavenly Holst, cheering us on to victory. It makes sense doesn’t it. They have so much more invested in our flawless transitions in the exchange zones and our finishing the race well.
Those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? Romans 8:30-31, NIV
Can I get an AMEN?!?!
Please don’t misunderstand; my vacation was relaxing, revitalizing, and refreshing. The magic that is Arizona overtook me again. But more importantly, it was reinvigorating. It drove me to my knees, renewing my strength. It gave me a much-needed perspective.
Satan made me feel defeated. Labeled me a loser. A failure. Again.
But God whispered Truth. “Get up,” He said, “Get up! You’re not finished yet. Your call is the same. Get moving. The race is still on!”
Dear One, the same if for you too. Get up! Get moving! Run!
Man, it feels good to be back on my feet again. Doing what I love, running with God’s baton firmly in my grasp.
Are you running beside me? In your own lane? With your own baton?
Run, Beloved! RUN! Do you hear the heavenly Holst cheering you on? RUN!