As I sit here waiting to see how much more destruction Hurricane Irma is going to inflict upon humanity, I can't help but wonder what my role in just these past two week's storms (or lack there of in the PNW of the U.S. which has been impacted by major forest fires) has been...
“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment." –Jesus (Matthew 5: 21) “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery. But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”–Jesus (Matthew 5:27-28)
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” -Jesus (Matthew 5:38-42)
In the Book of Leviticus, God said, “When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19:9-10)
And again, “The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” –God (Leviticus 19:34)
Jesus, per the usual, went one step further than what had been passed down through the generations. He went to the hated foreigners, touched the outcasts, spoke life to those shunned by the community. And ultimately, Jesus literally laid His very life down so that all people could experience true life, free from sin, oppression, and death. And not just those of us who believe in Him now, but everyone bearing God’s image, everyone on this planet.
If we are to follow in Jesus’ footsteps (which is the very definition of a disciple of Christ…ahem, a Christian), we too are called to go and bring true freedom to oppressed people all over the world. And the reality is that we don’t even have to actually go anywhere because the foreigners, outcasts, shunned and oppressed are coming here. They’re called “refugees.” A refugee is a person who has been forced to flee their home country and cannot return because of a well-founded fear of persecution due to race, nationality, religion, or membership in a particular social group or political opinion. Reminds me a lot of the people Jesus intentionally sought out…
Refugees are people who are trying to escape the most oppressive regimes in the world, where women and children are raped as a war tactic, where young men don’t exist because they’ve all been murdered, where children are recruited to become soldiers, where people watch their husbands, wives, children murdered in front of their very eyes. Where, some would question if God could possibly even exist. And yet we know, somehow in the mystery of it, He does…We live in this already and not yet world where Jesus began ushering in the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth and then left us to continue on His work. And we’re to continue it until He comes again to complete the redemption of all the world. To not welcome the refugee is to effectively say, “we don’t care that you were born with all the potential in the world, in the image of God, it sucks to be you born in a country that devalues you of all dignity, opportunity to live out your destiny and fulfill your calling in life. I’m sorry you got the short end of the straw. I don’t know what to tell you.”
Jesus went the extra mile to ensure that everyone bearing the image of God would have full access to experiencing the fullness of life here on earth, as it is in heaven. The question is simple, do we follow Him and do the same?
**If you live in Minnesota and are inclined to help welcome and care for the refugees already living here and arriving constantly, Arrive Ministries is an amazing organization. They have worked with refugees landing at MSP for over 15 years. Arrive seeks to provide compassionate and holistic support to uprooted people in our communities in collaboration with churches and community members. Minnesota saw 4,000 refugees enter our borders in 2014 alone. May they no longer be left feeling as an outcast, oppressed and hopeless people.
Yesterday morning the words of my massage therapist struck me so much that I've been thinking about them ever since. (Before you get jealous, I will tell you that the massage was just so-so...yes it was relaxing, to the point that I may have woken myself up snoring a few times, yep that happened...but still, you didn't miss anything.) When the massage started she said something like "these next 80 minutes (I mean it, don't be jealous, you didn't miss a thing) are all yours. You can escape the world and all its trials and stress and just breathe in good energy," or something along those lines. Anyway, I couldn't get her words about "escaping the world" out of my mind. My gut reaction was that I don't actually want to escape the world, why would I?
Don't get me wrong, I know that there are a lot of awful things that happen to each and every one of us and the people we love and hold dear to ourselves (save all the other atrocities happening all over the globe at this very moment). I've seen my fair share of tragedy in my own life from diseases to addictions to fatal drunk driving accidents to the affects of mental health issues, burglaries, and we're just talking about my family and close friends. I get it. There are things that happen in this world and in our lives that literally SUCK. As I type this, one of my friend's moms is on hospice from a rare cancer that has spread all over her body.
However, the truth is that we weren't created for all this bad stuff. The intent was never that we would experience all this pain, heartache and struggle in our lives. Yes, the chaos and evil in this world that we live in is very real and we experience it firsthand. But despite all of this darkness that can feel overwhelming and paralyzing at times, and likely the sound of "escaping" (if we actually could) is appealing, it is possible to experience joy, contentment, peace, hope, the fullness of life.
Because in fact, we were created to experience heaven on earth today, and an abundant life, not by escaping this world, but actually while being present and living in it. We aren't just supposed to survive this life and somehow manage to get through it. We're supposed to thrive despite what may happen to us, and those we love deeply.
And what if, we're not just created to thrive in the midst of the darkness of this world, but what if we're also supposed to play a part in bringing heaven to earth? See, I actually believe that that is part of our calling as humanity: to make earth like heaven (where tragedy, pain, suffering, oppression, tears themselves are absent). So instead of escaping life, what if we ran headlong into it?
A year and a week ago to the day, I got up at 4AM to sign up for Madison Ironman 2015. That previous Saturday night, I was still wrestling with whether or not I should sign up, because, if I'm honest, I had never really committed to something I didn't know whether or not I'd be good at it, and, well, crush it! So, to sign up for an Ironman, when I'd only done one full sprint tri the summer before, and a few relay tris, seemed like kind of a dumb idea. I mean, I didn't know if I could do it, so why on earth would I sign up for it?! And that's when I knew, if I didn't sign up for it, I'd never push myself to try something beyond what I had already tried before. And did it ever push me. I ran my first half marathon this summer, completed my first half ironman, and learned to swim for OVER AN HOUR in a pool doing laps (if you've never tried it, I suggest you do and let me know how long you can go for...it has to be one of the most boring things on the PLANET to do because there is NOTHING to look at except your pretty little bubbles coming out of your nose and if you let yourself go down that rabbit hole too far, you start thinking about how bubbles look when people drown...). I learned how to just go out for a 2-3 hour run on a Saturday morning simply to put the time in. If you've never run that long just 'cause, first off, know that you actually CAN do it, and secondly know that it'll teach you how to pace yourself like few others things can. I started driving 40 minutes away from home just to bike hills before the sun came up on my days off. I started crying during training runs and rides that really pushed my endurance and figured out how to keep going even after shedding tears (let's be real, who wants to push themselves to tears while training?!).
Not only did it push me in ways I never imagined this past year, but I learned so many things about biking and running and swimming and rest and nutrition. I grew closer to my friends I trained with (and met my now boyfriend because of the Saturday morning run group I started going to when I needed to surround myself with better runners than myself). I learned how to live a lifestyle that would allow me to chase after a dream.
A 12-month journey of so many firsts brought me to Sunday's Ironman. One of the times I've wished I had a camera, and didn't, was when I was floating in the water, waiting for the start cannon to go off and looking out over the crowd of thousands of people waiting to watch 2,800 people swim 2.4 miles in a gorgeous sunrise in Lake Monona.
The swim went great. Well, not great exactly, I was bored out of my mind with another half mile to go, but I did come in just 3 minutes over my goal time. And then I set out on a 112 miles bike course, which included over 5,000 feet of climbing. The weather looked perfect for a fun century ride in the Verona hillside.
What I did not expect was my exercise-induced asthma to flare up about an hour into what I was hoping would be, at most, a 7-7.5 hour ride. Nor did I expect my back, which had been bothersome for the past year, but getting heaps better for the past 4 months, to cause me to get off my bike every 30 minutes to stretch it, with 50 miles to go. Last week, in the IM rulebook, I saw what the cut off times were on the bike course and thought, worse case scenario I could be close to them, but I never imagined heading into the half-way mark wondering if I would get there in time. I did though, and lap two began. At that point, I was biking more slowly than I ever have and between stopping to use my inhaler or stretch my back, getting to the marathon seemed to be slipping further and further out of view. I saw my family at mile 65 and asked them to meet me at mile 85. I figured I would just take the next 50 miles 20 at a time. It would be slower than I ever imagined, but still seemed doable.
When I passed the 80 mile marker, I was aware that my pace was getting progressively slower and I'd even gotten off my bike to walk it up what should've been a very easy hill for me to ride up (but I was still determined to just keep moving and put one foot in front of the other). A bike marshal passed me on a motorcycle, asked how I was doing and after I said, "fine," she told me, "okay, you need to keep moving." When she drove up to the next person to tell them the same thing, the tears started falling. The three biggest hills on the course were still in front of me and I had had to stop on two of them during the first loop simply because I couldn't keep my breathing under control to get up them. I knew at that moment that I wasn't going to make it to the run start in time without being pulled off the course.
Rather than stress out both my lungs and my back any further, which is what another 1,000+ feet of climbing would do, I found the next sheriff on the course and pulled myself off around mile 82. A few miles back on the course, I had asked God if it mattered if I didn't finish and I felt like God chuckled and said, "of course not." And then I just had to ask, "well why did I sign up for this thing then if You knew I wouldn't finish?!?" To which I got the response, "well, why not?!" And I realized then that just because we don't "finish" things the way we imagined we would, the way finish lines look in magazines, doesn't mean it wasn't worth it all. It's when things don't turn out the way we thought they would that the journey stands out much more than the destination (as it always should, but let's be real, usually when things go great we'd rather be proud of the medal/promotion/grade/new house/etc. than we would all that went into getting us there).
I'll admit that I got misty eyed being at the finish line cheering my friends in as they finished their races when I realized that I wouldn't get to hear over the loud speaker "Alicia, you are an Ironman."
But one sentence spoken aloud by a stranger doesn't even compare to all the texts and messages from countless friends and family who have supported me more than I could've ever imagined. To you all, thank you. I feel more loved and encouraged than I ever would've dreamed when I created my own finish line somewhere in Cross Plains, WI. I imagine this victory is even sweeter than if I had an IMWI finisher medal around my neck. It sure means more. I wouldn't trade it for the world.
A couple of months ago, I was simply trying to get the weekend off of work to go and support our friends. Once I knew I could go, I obviously wanted to volunteer at some point during the day. Over 4,000 volunteers were needed and I knew we couldn't watch our friends 100% of the time, so why not help out while we were there? Plus, let's just say I love cheering for people, a lot! So it was the best of both worlds.
Then somewhere between registering to volunteer and the weekend leading up to IMWI 2014, I started contemplating personally signing up for IMWI 2015. I literally can't remember when I started thinking about it. I mean, sure, I've done a short course triathlon and several relay tris, but I learned my lesson on this summer's bike tour not to underestimate the physical challenge of things I once looked at and said "anyone can do that." And there was that one day my boss and I were talking about the time it would take to "just finish" an Ironman. I did the math in my head and realized it was doable. Then I promptly started my evening 5K run and decided it was no longer doable and that I was literally crazy for having entertained the idea.
But by the time we set off in the car to Madtown, I was about 80% sure I was going to sign up. Part of my hold back was the cost (it's a financial investment in of itself!). And then it was my friend's girlfriend telling me her boyfriend told her not to sign up because he didn't want her doing an Ironman. And since he's MY friend too, I started thinking maybe he wouldn't want me to sign up either. But at the end of the day neither of those were the real reason I wasn't sure I could actually sign up. There was something else.
Before going to bed the night before the race, I had to take advantage of the fact that we were in Madison, and that there were two huge lakes nearby. There's just something about a big body of water. I always find God in it. Looking out over the moonlit water I realized my biggest hurdle to committing to the Ironman, and pretty much everything else in life: I don't like to commit to something I knew I couldn't be the best at. I didn't really realize it until that moment, but I guess I just never really committed to anything that hinted at me not being the best. I mean, why do it if I'm not going to be the best? I know, there are those of you who can think of a million reasons why you would do something even if you weren't the best. But honestly, I just don't. I don't even consider attaching my name to something that isn't the best. (We can go into all the reasons why this is, but let's just leave at this for now.) And I knew that if I signed up for the Ironman, there's no way I was going to be the best. Obviously. I mean, I can hardly even run a 5K at the moment, and this meant a full marathon AFTER a 2.4 mile swim and a 112 mile bike.
So, for the next 24 hours, I wrestled with what I knew was not only a hurdle to get over to sign up for this bloody thing, but probably (okay, definitely) a hurdle in every other area of my life as well. When it came down to it, I knew that if I didn't sign up for this race, I wouldn't have anything to really challenge me next year. Yes, I could get better at sprint tris, but I knew I could already do them, and that just wasn't challenge enough to actually push me this next year. There was only once real option.
After cheering for literally hours upon hours on Sunday and watching my friends, and thousands others finish one of the most challenging endurance races, my head hit the pillow a little after 11PM with my alarm set for 4:30AM. Monday morning, I waited in line for 2.5 hours and did what I never imagined I would do:
Here's to a year of training. Only 360 days to go. Ready or not, here I come Ironman.