Running into Story

My drive to work is nothing special. It starts with a nondescript road, grey and industrial and mostly quiet except for the semi trucks that sometimes congregate at the stoplight. Only, if I remember to look down when crossing the river, down and to the right, I smile.

It’s my recurring phenomenon across the suburbs, across urban and residential areas, across the very heart of the city.

Certain intersections are dear to my heart, certain crosswalks and parks and even train stations. I once made meticulous plans to be at those intersections, to be at those crosswalks and parks and train stations, and when I find myself there again by accident, it feels like a secret and a surprise.

I should venture out of the city a little more. I should seek out longer stretches of dirt and fresher air and closer proximity to the mountains. Denver is big, but it’s not that big. It’s beautiful, but it’s not that beautiful.

But I love it. I love this way of discovering my town. I love making my own loops and dipping into tiny parks and looking in vain for a sign with my last name on it. I love involving public transit when I can, fiddling with my armful of gear in the mornings and keeping downwind from other people in the afternoons.

running selfie
My favorite selfies are the ones that bookend my runs.

More than anything, though, I love the stories that write themselves when I run — memories upon memories, tied to place: This is where I saw the deer, on that side of the snow-covered bridge in Cherry Creek State Park. This is where I almost cried listening to The Liturgists Podcast, these two laps around City Park on that hot March day. And the most common story: This is where I went the wrong way and got lost.

But I was always finding things too.

Some I found simply by going to certain places at certain times and paying attention. It’s the feel of the wind at night, warm and wild against my face, hours before the storm hits and the snow blankets everything. It’s the sight of the most beautiful sunrise I’ve ever seen on the morning of my first marathon, a beauty undiminished even though everything else went wrong that day. It’s a series of quacks and rustlings and big skies and horizons. It’s life at its zenith, in me and out there.

A sunrise so beautiful that even an iPhone photo does it justice.

I found within myself the usual things people find when they spend months training their bodies in strength and stamina, all the exhilarating and painful and confident and exhausting and stubborn things. I found a clarity that surprised me, an ease in decision-making while on the trail. I learned what I was capable of, and I learned when it was worth it … and when it wasn’t.

Not everything about running has been glorious or even good, but for many of the months I’ve lived in Colorado, it’s been one of the truest parts of my life. Even in the staggering and the struggling, the long middles and the early mornings, it was the X that marked the spot. So I look down and to the right, and I smile.

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Exploring Doubt, Part 2

While this blog is most immediately a follow-up to my last blog, Doubt, the Uneasy Visitor, it so happens that I wrote a blog about doubt two years ago as well, which complements both of these.

More than one hundred people were in Coventry, England, for a DTS Gathering that week in early spring. I was one of them. We worshiped together, listened to inspiring speakers, then stepped out into the city each day to bring the love of Jesus to people in all sorts of ways.

That’s when doubt hit me. I suppose it had been growing for awhile, but the stresses and challenges of this new, unfamiliar environment brought them to the forefront of my heart in a more isolating, painful way than ever before. One night, I found myself wracked with despair and swallowed sobs as I lay on my makeshift bed on the church floor. It was one of the darkest nights of the soul I have ever experienced.

I kept my struggle largely to myself for the rest of the week, but when I finally opened up with others on my team after we returned to our base, our home, well, it was the best thing I could’ve done. The prayers, the knowledge that I wasn’t alone in this, and the honest conversations brought clarity and comfort as we prepared to go on outreach. But that wasn’t the end of it.

As I shared my faith on outreach with individuals and groups, I found doubt creeping back into my life. “Do you really believe what you’re trying to get others to believe?” it asked in its hissing, accusatory way.

But there was a difference between the first attack and this second one. My relationship with God was stronger this time around. I had been learning what it meant to rely on God, to bring everything to Him. So I brought my doubts to Him, I talked with others sooner than later, and, all in all, I learned through experience the right way to deal with doubt.

Here’s some of what I learned:

  • Go on the offensive against doubt, starting with your strongest ally: God. Pray against the doubt and ask God for more of Him. Seek God even when the feelings aren’t there, even when you feel like you just don’t have enough faith. Because faith, like love, isn’t a feeling, but a choice.
  • Doubt can be a lonely battle, but it doesn’t have to be! Be real with other people (as well as God) about what you’re going through, and get their advice and prayers. Don’t just stay in your own mind, introspective and alone. Sometimes you can be your own worst enemy.
  • The worst thing you can do when you struggle with doubt and unbelief is to pretend that you aren’t struggling, that everything’s okay, because then you’ll really start going through the motions and feeling like a hypocrite. Eventually, it will build and build until it explodes in a crisis of faith. Recognize the signs and learn how to deal with it early on.
  • Remember what God has done in your life and in others’ lives in the past. Just because He doesn’t feel real now doesn’t nullify everything you’ve seen Him do.
  • If you grew up in a Christian home, recognize that it’s normal to wrestle with and question what you’ve always been told is true. That’s part of making your faith your own. Don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions, but don’t stop there. Struggle well.

It’s not about manufacturing feelings that feel like faith, but coming to God as you are, and seeking Him, and asking Him for more of Himself.

Jeremiah 29:13: “You will seek me [God] and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”

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