Tonight I had the incredible opportunity to be the guest speaker at a volunteer recognition banquet for Stark County’s Pregnancy Support Center. What an incredible privilege and honor God gave me in allowing me to address them. God helped me walk through my fear of speaking publicly as friends prayed for me for the words to say and to be bold in His strength, thus the ‘red shoes’.
“Those on the committee choosing the one who would be sharing with you tonight took a gigantic leap of faith in choosing me. They know I can run – but as of right now – they can only merely hope that I can talk.
My hope is that tonight, when this evening, our run, is said and done, you will have found an honoring encouragement and a heartfelt thank you for all you do in carrying out God’s Kingdom work. Most of all, I hope that in some way, possibly through my sharing some of my stories, God’s Holy Spirit will fill you with renewed passion, strength, and energy for the job you do, in essence, the race you run, through your ministry to Him at the Pregnancy Support Center. I pray God’s Holy Spirit will affirm to you, individually and collectively, how important you are; how vital your individual role is in expanding Jesus’ Kingdom here on earth as you minister to women, children, and families. It’s not by chance that we are all here tonight. God has a plan for us and it is good.
Let’s just take a moment and ask our Lord Jesus to cause His Spirit to move in our minds and in our hearts. Pray with me, please.
’Jesus, I ask that you would take this moment in time to reveal to each of us the great depth of your love for us. Not only do you love us more than we can imagine, even in our wildest dreams, but you give us the blessing of gifts and ministry and callings. You have called us to be here tonight. We ask that you would take each and every gift and talent and ability that you have given each of us and that you would multiply it like you did the loaves of bread from the little boy’s basket and feed the people. Help us to see with your eyes and to ear with your ears and give us your heart for those who don’t yet know the way. We love you Jesus. Amen’
In spring of 2011, I began my very unusual journey as a collegiate runner at Malone University. I have been working on my undergraduate degree since 1993. I was old, by traditional college student standards even then. But, in fall of 2010, I began to get pretty serious about getting this college undergraduate degree finished up so I added more classes to become a full time student and thus I was on campus more often. Initially, my classmates weren’t sure whether I was the professor, someone’s mother, or I was just lost. At that time, I was having a very typical, non-traditional college student experience, but by being a part of athletics at Malone I was given a place to belong in this college world. Consequently, I now experience many aspects of typical college life – minus living in the dorm and eating daily in the cafeteria. My experience, as an athlete, has made me a non-traditional, non-traditional college student.
When I was asked to join Malone University’s Cross Country and Track and Field teams, I was very pleasantly surprised. Being a collegiate runner had not been on my radar, or in my dreams or even on my bucket list. My involvement with the team happened slowly and through a series of smaller decisions. The process was a bit lengthy to assure my eligibility, especially as Malone had been in the transition from the NAIA to Division II NCAA. It was determined I had 5 semesters of eligibility and this allows me to compete until I graduate this coming spring.
My relationship with my team members is very “normal”. I do the same workouts, same intensity, and I run 60-70 miles per week. We are each other’s biggest cheerleaders and we train and race with a team mentality. I don’t function as the team mother or in any way as a coach, but yet I receive great respect and a lot of compassion for what I have to juggle to make my involvement on the team, work. I can honestly say that any of the guys on the team would be the kind of young men you would want your daughters to marry; and, any of the ladies would be young women you would be proud to call your daughter in law. They are amazing young people! The remarkable coaching staff does not go easy on me – I’ve had to learn important concepts such as “we” not I. I learn those lessons in the same way my team members do. I’m blessed to run for one of the greatest coaches in the United States, and yes, Coach Hazen smiles that famous smile quite often – most of the time it’s after he’s played a huge practical joke on one of us!
Up until this past spring, my involvement on the team had not attracted any outside attention. In fact, it was only after our last meet of last spring’s track season, my involvement attracted a bit of media attention.
What precipitated that attention was that Malone was running their last scoring meet of the season, at the Ohio Independent Championship Track and Field Invitational hosted, on April 21st, by Walsh University. Five days prior to that, on April 16th, I had run the Boston Marathon. This was at the end of track season and my fitness was very good, and because of that I had intended to race Boston rather than my usual easy, run and enjoy the atmosphere kind of marathon. Unfortunately the weather reports, in the few days prior to the running of Boston, were indicating a forecast for an unseasonably warm Patriot’s Day in Boston. To have temperatures in the 80s on April 16th in Boston is normally a reason to celebrate, but for marathon organizers and the runners, this is a cause for alarm and has the potential to become dangerous for the runners.
This is what was sent to all registered participants of the Boston Marathon on April 14th, 2 days prior to the running of Boston:
Notice to all 2012 Boston Marathon participants:
We are looking closely at the current weather situation, which is projected to be quite warm. The B.A.A. is closely monitoring this situation for race day decisions. If the temperatures reach certain levels, running will put even the most fit athletes at risk for heat injury.
We are now making the recommendation that if you are not highly fit or if you have any underlying medical conditions you should NOT run this race.
- Inexperienced marathoners should not run.
- Those who have only trained in a cooler climate and who may not be acclimated to warm weather running conditions should also consider not running.
For those very fit athletes who decide to run, you should take significant precautions:
- Run at a slower pace and maintain hydration.
- You should frequently take breaks by walking instead of running.
- This will not be a day to run a personal best. If you choose to run, run safely above all-else. Speed can kill.
- Heat stroke is a serious issue and is related to intensity of running as well as the heat and humidity.
You get the idea of the warnings we were receiving and the admonishments to take care.
On that day, over 2000 of the 22,000 runners who started the race, required medical attention, with 120 of those requiring transportation to the hospital by ambulance. The organizers of the race said the numbers of those requiring medical attention was the highest percentage in the race’s history. Approximately one out of eleven runners, who began the race, required some form of medical attention. I was not one of those. While I did have to alter my plans to race with a new plan to just complete the marathon, I was able to finish. It was 87 degrees a little over four hours later when I crossed the finish line after I began running at 80 degrees at the start. All of us who finished were dehydrated, by varying degrees, but it was memorable to be apart of the running of Boston under these historic weather conditions. It was my slowest Boston, but it was my most well run Boston. I had received sound advice by Coach here back home and I monitored my heart rate the entire race and walked if it went too high. It was another one of those life lessons in which God reminds me, because I need to hear it often, that it is not always the end result that matters, rather, it’s the journey.
Along that 26.2 mile route, a half million spectators cheered the runners on! They lined the streets, sat on rooftops, and some passed out orange slices, pretzels, twizzlers, and little cups of water to the runners at their own expense. This year some private home-owners set up hoses to spray the runners and passed out little baggies of ice. The pavement was still blistering hot, we runners still became dehydrated, and there was no shade to be found – but the spectators were there – an earthly representation of a great cloud of witnesses.
Boston took place on Monday and on the following Saturday, I was to run in the 10,000 meters at the track invitational. It is certainly not ideal to run a marathon and then a 10,000-meter race 5 days later and due to the dehydration, my thigh muscles were significantly sore. When it came to race day on Saturday, I wasn’t entirely confident, I could run around the track once, let alone 25 times. I talked to Coach Hazen before the race and he told me I didn’t have to run, or if I began the race and dropped out, it would not be a problem, or if I just ran slow that would be fine as well. There was no pressure put on me – I was given unbelievable grace and freedom to make my own decision about this. I decided to give it a try. When all was said and done, I finished 5th of 7 runners and had a personal best in the 10,000 meters by a little over 2 minutes. My finish enabled me to score in the race and I experienced the incredible, crazy excitement of scoring as a collegiate athlete for my university! But more importantly, and this part I would like you to listen carefully to, because it applies to the race your run here in your ministry at PSC.
There are not very many track runners eager to run the 10,000 meters because it involves that pesky little problem of 25 laps around the track. For those of you not familiar with track, 25 laps is 6.2 miles. So three of us, represented Malone ladies that day. The rest of the Malone Ladies positioned themselves so they could encourage and cheer when the 3 of us passed at every lap. When I would come around each time to the place where they stood on the track I would hear things like, “You’ve got this! You’re doing great! You’re strong! You’re the toughest lady out here!” When I came around for the final lap, they had made their way to the finish to cheer us in. I crossed the finish line and was joined my two teammates, Sara and Allison, who had come in well ahead of me. There was much celebration and hugs, because all three of us, in our own unique way had raced so well.
A few days later, Coach Hazen called me to tell me the Canton Repository wanted to interview me and another teammate about my running at Malone at my age. The interview lasted less than 10 minutes and Coach was expecting a little blurb in the sports section. The next day, Coach called again and told me the Repository wanted to do a photo shoot. To be honest, that freaked me out, a lot! In a panic, I pleaded with Coach not to make me do this, and he was silent. I was doing the photo shoot. The photographer came the next day and photographed some of my teammates and me running. That was awkward. But more awkward than that was standing still with my hands on my hips, while the photographer took dozens of photos. When my smile began to fade, Coach started to telling me things like I had boogers on my face, trying to make me laugh while some of the girls were making weird faces and jokes. Coach was pleased because he thought it might have a bigger spot on the sport’s page and he is all for any publicity his amazing program can get.
We heard it was to appear on Friday, so on Friday morning, when I got out of bed, I decided to drive down to the local gas station to get the paper. Just to give you an idea of how unsuspecting I was, I had jumped out of bed, not brushed my hair and was still in comfy pajama pants with a sweatshirt. Now before any you of judge me on my fashion-what not to wear attire to go to the gas station at 7:00 am, keep in mind, I live in Malvern, and this would be somewhat ok. When I walked inside to where the papers were sold at the check out, there was my face on the front page of a stack of newspapers with the headline, “At 52, college student finds warm welcome on track and cross country teams.” The cat was definitely out of the bag! It’s a good thing I wasn’t trying to hide my age! The only thing I could think of was how embarrassing this is going to be and while my first inclination was to turn around and walk right back out, I now had to buy the paper or look like I stole something making a run for the door. So I bought the paper and thankfully the lady behind the counter didn’t make any connection between me in my pajama pants, and the picture in the paper. For a few weeks following that article, it was a bit hectic with some other publications and radio shows catching wind of it, but it has all since settled down and all is back to it’s very normal as far as my involvement on the team.
So, how does this all fit in with why I was invited here tonight, to be a part of encouraging and honoring you?
With only a brief check, I have found quite a few references regarding “running” in God’s Word. Psalm 119:32, says “I will run in the path of your commands for you have set my heart free.” Psalm 19:5, …like a champion rejoicing to run his course.” Isaiah 40:31,…they will run and not grow weary.” 1 Corinthians 9:24,…”Run in such a way to get the prize.” And the theme of tonight, “Hebrews 12:1…and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”
God used running because the people knew what it meant. They knew it meant hard training for the athletes, times of loneliness, times when it would be hard, times when others wouldn’t understand why the training and the hard work, times when aching and soreness were almost unbearable, and times of discouragement and a desire to quit. He knew they would know what that meant.
Isn’t it like God, just like God, to have thought up, way ahead of time, something that we could identify with?
“Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us…”
This was written over 2000 years ago and we get it – we get it today! We don’t even have to be runners to understand what God is saying to us in this passage.
I have come to understand that God’s love flows out of each of us uniquely, according to how He made us to be. For me, one of the ways God enables me to love on people for Him, is through running. How cool is that!? God takes an ability He gave me and uses it to reach people with His love! The good news is, is that everyone single one of us here this evening is a unique conduit for the pouring out of God’s love. You have found or are in the process of finding how God wants you to pour out His love, through you, on people. In this room tonight there are those at the Pregnancy Support Center who: serve on the board, answer the phone, make appointments, enter data, peer counsel, provide medical and nursing services, teach classes, advocate, clean, provide plumbing and electrical services, sort donations, provide legal services, provide post abortion support, and more. You are appreciated and the work that you do, the ministry you have, this race you run, not only matters, but makes a difference in the building of God’s kingdom here on earth.
Like me, I’m certain you must have times when you get tired, or lonely, or you work and train – giving up other aspects of your life to do so. Maybe you get discouraged, and your heart gets achey and sore, and maybe just maybe, there are times when you want to quit? You don’t want to finish the race any more. If we were to be honest – sometimes it’s really hard to keep your eyes on the prize. If we were to be really honest, it’s often times costly to let Jesus’ love flow out of you.
Like my teammates, who stood on the track and cheered me on 25 laps –who were an earthly representation of a “great cloud of witnesses”, there are those who stand on the side of your race and cheer you on, perhaps with those little words of encouragement from another volunteer, the staff, and through this evening planned so thoughtfully for you tonight. More importantly are the thank yous from a family, a child, or a mother whose life is different, is better, because you cared.
All of this, tonight, was prepared for you, to thank you, and to let you know that your service to God matters, not just in heaven, but here on earth. Not only are you appreciated by those in leadership of the ministry of PSC, but you are appreciated by me as well and I thank you. What you do matters to me and my family and your work is important in expressing our belief in how much God loves the family and His desire to see families whole and living in a right relationship with Him.
Before my time with you is finished, I’d like to share a story with you.
In late fall of 1986, a 15 year old high school sophomore revealed to her parents that she had hidden her pregnancy from them for the past 6 months.
After the initial shock, the three of them made the decision to terminate, end, the pregnancy. In the process of making arrangements for the abortion, they discovered that a late-term abortion could not be done in Ohio at that time. They also were informed that there is a significantly greater health risk to the pregnant woman having a late term abortion – especially for a 15 year old.
This young woman was their only child and they were very fearful for her well-being. They were also very protective of her privacy and they did not want anyone, not even the extended family, know that she was pregnant. They decided the risks of a late-term abortion were too great and they came to believe that adoption would be the best option to protect their daughter’s health.
Because of their desire to keep the pregnancy private, they did not want to go through the county’s family services. It was their hope they could surrender the baby through a private adoption.
The mother of the pregnant teen sought the help and advice of her employer. Her employer was a close friend to a couple who just so happened to be seeking to adopt. He had very recently written a letter of reference for this couple’s respective county family services.
He mentioned this to her and she asked him to contact this couple to see if they might be willing to get involved in their family’s circumstances. The boss contacted the couple and they agreed.
The couple and the parent’s of the girl met and worked out the arrangements. The couple agreed to cover court costs, legal fees, and any balance not covered by insurance for the cost of the hospital delivery and care of the baby.
The young woman’s pregnancy progressed normally. She turned 16 years old one week before her due date of January 21st. In the evening of February 3rd, the couple received a phone call from the young woman’s mother that their daughter was in labor and at the hospital. Late that night, the couple received the call that they now had a baby girl.
Because of the detailed planning that had taken place in the last months of the young woman’s pregnancy, the couple was able to arrive at the hospital the next morning and assume custody of the newborn baby girl.
When they arrived at the hospital, they were guided to a small room adjoining the newborn nursery. It was there that the nurse brought the tiny bundle wrapped in pink, and laid her in my arms. My first response was, “shouldn’t I have a gown on?” The nurse smiled at me and said, “no gown is needed, you’re her momma.”
I have chosen to close with this story because I not only want to honor my daughter’s birthmother, I want to honor you with it’s telling. What you do is valuable – it matters way beyond what we could ever imagine. I also want you to know that you are in the business of partnering with God in redemption.
I’d like you to meet my daughter, Abbey, one of my best friends. Her story began a little over 25 years ago and I am grateful to God every day that He wrote me into her story. She and her husband, Nate, have given John and me two incredible grandsons. Abbey is a true light and is an amazing example of Jesus Christ in our family and in our community.
Thank you for the privilege and the honor of sharing with you tonight. May you realize every blessing God has in store for you as you run your race for Him. ”