Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Grace Like Rain

"I do not understand the mystery of grace, it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us." -Anne Lamott

When I first created this blog, I wanted the address to be "running for change" rather than "running to change." Unfortunately, the "for" was already being used by someone else, so I settled for the address that I thought what was less fitting for the endeavour that we were about to embark on. How humbled I have been and how wrong I was in thinking that our main purpose was to run for others, to change the lives of others.

It is true, we have been blessed by hearing stories of those who have stepped up and sponsored children, we have been surprised by the impact this decision has had on the lives of our friends and family. We are also so grateful that the lives of twenty children are being changed because of sponsorships, that there is a renewed hope in their lives.

However, we feel that what we were most surprised by was the way that God worked in our own hearts, the way that He changed our own perspectives and hearts through His grace. Ultimately, through our marathon training experience, God most definitely had a hand in changing the lives of others, but we were humbled to see that He used this experience to point out what needs to be changed in our own hearts and lives. I am truly in awe of the way that He works.

The marathon was awesome and terrible. I constantly found myself overcome with emotion- joy and pain, gladness and grief. I was overcome with joy by the crowds that cheered us on the entire way. We had written our names on our world vision shirts in permanent marker... the whole twenty-six miles consisted of strangers yelling, "Jeff... Natasha... keep going! You can do it!" I was overwhelmed by the way that strangers became the family that could physically be there to support us.

Although my injury came out in full force at mile ten, as expected, with Jeff's support and presence and with God's grace we were able to keep going. While we had to walk for a period of time, once we reached mile 15, the pain subsided and I was able to jog slowly the remaining ten miles! When we reached Central Park, the last two miles of our race, I was overcome with complete joy. It was a beautiful fall day, the sun was shining behind the tinted gold, red, orange and yellow leaves. I heard God's voice in that moment of complete beauty and joy saying, "I'm so proud of you, my daughter."

Once we crossed the finish line, we were completely spent but so grateful. If you look closely at the picture of us crossing the finish line, you can see how crazy we look. I was simply astounded that God had given us the strength to do it, and that we were both healthy and able to stand. Throughout this entire experience, these last four months, God has shown me how His grace works. He's started to change my heart, he is stripping away my pride, my desire to be self-sufficient, to control my circumstances and leaving me amazed by showing me how much better His plan for my life is. Jeff and I are learning how to let go of our own desires, and surrender our hopes for our lives to Him- this race was such a tangible example of what that truly means.

I read this quote in an e-mail that my supervisor sent me, it is a reading based on the advent season that is upon us. "This is often the way God loves us: with gifts we thought we didn't need, which transform us into people we don't necessarily want to be. With our advanced degrees, armies, material comforts, and self-fulfillment techniques, we assume that religion is about giving a little of our power in order to confirm to ourselves that we are indeed self-sufficient as we think we are.
Then this stranger comes, blesses us with a gift, and calls us to see ourselves as we truly are. Empty-handed recipients of a gracious God, who rather than leave us to our own devices, gave us a baby."

May God bless each of you during this season of Advent, this season of waiting for our Lord and Savior. May He work in your lives to prepare you for the gift of love and grace that He extends to each of us, every day, no matter where we are in life.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Last Week!

We are in our last week of training, we run the marathon one week from today. Jeff's taken some pictures throughout our training... it has been quite a journey. God has seen us through times of uncertainty and struggle, and through times of joy and assurance. We are so grateful to take part in this event, to see such tangible ways that God works in our lives everyday. Please prayerfully consider sponsoring a child who is need in this last week. We are six sponsorships away from our goal. While we are uncertain of how the race will go, we rest assured that God will be working in the lives of these children, in the lives of those who have sponsored children, and in our own lives.

Our hope and prayer for the race next week is for God to humble us and remind us that our running performance holds little value compared to what He has taught us over the past few months.

"For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value of all things, holding value for both the present life and the life to come." 1 Timothy 4:8

Sunday, October 23, 2011

A Setback... and very good news!

The past few days have been, and I'm not being dramatic in saying this, heart wrenching. I never expected for this race to hold so much physical, but also emotional and spiritual investment.

Last Sunday, when Jeff and I were on our twenty mile run, I started experiencing pain just below my right knee cap. We stopped by mile 10 because it became very painful. I rested it, iced it, cross trained this past week and tried again yesterday. More pain. And worse pain. After 9 miles I couldn't run anymore. And I couldn't hold back my tears anymore, either. I spend the remaining two hours of what was supposed to be my run walking and told Jeff to keep going.

Over Saturday and Sunday, I had a hard time holding myself together. I feel like such a crazy person. Here I am, standing at church, explaining my injury to a concerned member of our community, and I can hardly keep my tears in check. When talking to Jeff about these emotions of disappointment, he reminded me of how much of ourselves- our time, energy, prayers, thoughts, hopes- we have put into this race over the past four months. This race is what carried me through my work visa crisis. This race is what kept me energized when I was feeling down and overwhelmed. This race is what God has used to teach me over the past four months.

So, why I am feeling so disappointed? I have become extremely emotionally and spiritually invested in this process to the point that the possibility of not being able to do this brings up immense physical pain and sadness in my very soul. To be completely honest, from the time I started feeling this pain, I've been angry with God. I know it sounds ridiculous but I can't help thinking, why me? why this? why now? God, haven't you taught me enough in the past few months?

Apparently not.

Last night, while scrubbing my apartment down in effort to find some sort of control over my circumstances, I guess, I stopped and perused facebook. A friend had posted these words from Paul in II Corinthians, "To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded for the Lord to take it away from me. He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness"... That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weakness, in insults, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong."

I suddenly felt convicted. Here I was, so hurt and angry because of an injured knee. Yet, just a few days, I FOUND OUT THAT MY WORK VISA WAS APPROVED! I get to go home for Thanksgiving! God has proved to me that he is faithful, time and time again. Reading these verses made me think about how, while it is hard to recognize, God works in my weaknesses. I know, for certain, that God is behind me in this race. Yes, if I have to walk, or even miss, part of this race, I will be disappointed. But I will accept the grace of those who are sponsoring me and the grace of God.

Even when we are disappointed, when we fail to accomplish all that we hope, we can rest in God's grace and provision. What is more, we can rest assured that God works through our weaknesses. I am going to see a Physical Therapist this week, I've been swimming and cross training, and I will pray fervently that this race will be a possibility. But, in the end, I know that God will be behind me, before me, and beside me. Even if I am let down and inhibited by this injury, I will do my best to finish this race, even if it means walking for 26 miles, and I know that I can count on learning something in the process.

We currently have 18 of our 26 children sponsored. Please prayerfully consider sponsoring a child in need through World Vision and help us reach our goal! Clink on the world vision link located on the top left of this page.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Desert.

We are so sore. Today, my students asked me why I was hobbling around like an 80 year old woman- but in nicer words, of course.

I informed them that yesterday, we accomplished our 18 mile run, finally, after being setback from a week of illness! I am not going to lie, for me, it was my most difficult run yet. There was one point- at around mile 13- when I was near tears and so frustrated by how I was feeling- dehydrated, uncomfortable, achy and stiff. Jeff and I quickly stopped for water, because it was so hot out, and he reminded me that we are capable of running these 18, this is what we have been training for. That although we're tired, with God's strength, we can keep going. So we did.

From miles 13-18, it felt to me as if I was in a desert that I could not get out of. The miles seemed endless and it was hard for me to picture ever being finished with this run. With perseverance, I was able to keep going, but when I was finished and sat down to write this blog, I had nothing to write. What did I learn from this run? I didn't know. I had no new revelation, just the feeling of being relieved that I had been able to finish.

Today, I started preparing my class for a celebration that we will be leading on Thursday. It's funny, this is the fifth time that I'm leading Sukkot, but today I was struck by the meaning of this celebration. Sukkot is a Jewish holiday, the word means "shelters". It refers to the temporary structures that Jews build and eat in on this holiday, it reminds us of the Israelites' travels in the deserts over forty years (it was forty years because of their lack of faith!) and how they were protected and fed by the goodness of God's gifts. These temporary structures are rather flimsy, but they remind us of the fact that our security cannot lie in the strong brick walls of our houses, but that our true security is only found by our faith in God.

I read this to my sixth graders today, "Sukkot is the holiday that remembers the place where most of us are most of the time- somewhere in the desert- in between, midway, sometimes moving, sometimes stuck, always heading- we hope- in the right direction. Sukkot reminds us that the way we get somewhere, what we do and learn along the way, where we detour and where we pause, whom we meet and whom we trabel with, are as essential to the journey as to the arrival...Sukkot reminds us that ultimate security is found not within the walls of our home, but in the presence of God and one another. Indeed, there is a midrash that says that sukkot are not buildings at all, but the glory of God. God hovers over us and is our only lasting shelter in the desert."

Yesterday, I felt like I was in the desert. It was so difficult to be in the middle of Liberty State Park, with five miles to go and no energy to keep going. As I was reading this to my sixth graders, I was overcome with the realization that God was teaching me something yesterday during that run. He was giving me a tangible example of what it means to be in the desert, with nothing to rely on but Him. My eyes filled with tears as I started thinking about these last months of my life. I have been in, and still am in a desert. I am still waiting to hear about my work visa officially and can't go home until I do. Jeff an I are still in the middle of getting this wedding planning off of the ground. I am still adjusting to having my family, particularly my older sister, so far away from here. I am still feeling as if I am in a transitional time, somewhere in between, hoping that I am heading in the right direction with my life.

Just as the 18 miles was difficult and frustrating, this time can also be. But again, today led me to realize how blessed I am to be in this journey. I am on this journey of training for a marathon, waiting for a work visa, planning a new chapter in life for a reason. And what I do with this time, where I pause, the decisions I make, the people I travel with are as essential to this journey as the arrival. I can see, that ultimately, my security must be found in Him alone. God is hovering, He is my lasting shelter, and I am grateful.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Tired... but filled with Joy.

I have now been back at school for one week. One week. And I'm exhausted. I am so thankful to be back and truly enjoying my students and this year so far, but at the end of the day I am beat. It's a challenge just to walk home after work, and I still have this regimented running schedule to follow. As I was walking to school today, shuffling my feet after our long run last night, I found myself starting to feel overwhelmed by all that is going on. I started wondering how I was going to continue training and teaching at the same time. I started feeling annoyed about the sticky sweat dripping down my neck and angry that my ipod wasn't working.

As I was nearing the school and saw the tip of the school 'steeple' all of those thoughts stopped. I was overcome with joy. Not joy in the happy and energetic sense. Joy in the, I am tired but filled with the feeling of being blessed. I remembered where I was a week before today and how God has carried me and answered my fervent prayers. So it's been one week since my work visa crisis had subsided and already I was starting to worry about other things, starting to feel overwhelmed by what lay ahead. How funny it is that, as soon as a "crisis" subsides, and all is well with our world, we forget what we have learned in the time of crisis. We find small, selfish reasons for feeling overwhelmed instead of basking in the blessings and hope that God has provided in our lives.

I am determined, in these weeks ahead, to thank God and find joy in my job when I am exhausted at the end of the day. To thank God and find joy in the capability to run when all I want to do is press the snooze button on my alarm. I read a part of Psalm 51 to my students today:

"Have mercy on me, Oh God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sins... Cleanse me with hyssop and I will be clean; wash me and I will be whiter than snow... Create in me a pure heart, Oh God and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me."

That last part spoke to me... restore to me the joy of your salvation... grant me a willing spirit to sustain me. I like the thought of constantly asking God to restore joy in my life. When I am down, when I am disillusioned... when I am distracted... restore to me that joy, that is my prayer.

Running Update:
There is a little over a month until we run the marathon! Jeff is going to start taking pictures on our long runs, since there are some amazing views that we get to enjoy! They will be posted soon. Please think/pray for us next Sunday... we are planning on running 18 miles. If you have not yet considered sponsoring a child, please do so! We are about 8 sponsorships away from our goal!

Monday, September 19, 2011


"Life had taught me undeniably that surrender, in its place, was as honorable as resistance, especially if one had no choice."
~Maya Angelou~

It seems to be quite easy to isolate oneself living in this urban area, despite the fact that we are always surrounded by people. I often think about how crazy it is that I can spend a day on subways and walking through crowded streets without saying a word to or even making eye contact with someone. There is a general understanding that we are all self sufficient and we don't need or want to take time from our valuable day to muster up the energy to send a smile or a good morning our neighbors way before heading off to work.

As self sufficient individuals, we have developed ideas of what we want our lives to be, and we work tirelessly to control our circumstances to try to stuff our lives into the molds that we have created. We can spend so much time thinking about our goals, what we want our relationships to look like and how we want to live that we forget to engage and find meaning in each day and interaction that is given to us. It is only when things are not going the way we want them to, when a sudden change or challenge is brought into our lives that we realize this is not the way we are called to live, that we can't at all do this on our own.

I had the opportunity to hear Rick Warren speak about Jeremiah 29 this past Sunday. He mentioned the fact that often, God brings us into times of waiting and transition to teach us about trusting in Him and to learn what it truly means to have faith in His promises. He spoke about tangible and significant ways we can respond to these times and find hope for the the days ahead (http://lowermanhattanchurch.com/media.php?pageID=5).

I can see that God has brought me into this time of waiting for my work visa to show me that the way I have been living my life needs to change. He is teaching me that only through having faith that He WILL provide can I find peace. I am beginning to see that surrendering my hopes, goals and future to Him is the only way to live as a child of God. While reflecting on all of this last night (during our 16 mile run, which went very well!) and today, I received the news that I can return to work tomorrow! While we are still waiting for the final documents to be processed, I am permitted to to begin teaching sixth grade again. Just in time to pay October rent. God is good.

I hope and pray that I can take what God has taught me during this time of waiting and continue to surrender all to Him. Rick spoke at the end of his message about the fact that, as Christians, God has promised that goodness and mercy will follow us all of the days of our lives. Even though I will continue to make mistakes, and I will continue to have times that I fall away from God, His grace covers me and His goodness follows me. My prayer is that God will continue to work in my life, continue to break those molds and expectations that I set for myself and others and cover me with His grace and goodness.

Jeremiah 29:11-13
11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart."

Monday, September 12, 2011


"Patience, he thought. So much of this was patience - waiting, and thinking and doing things right. So much of all this, so much of all living was patience and thinking."
— Gary Paulsen (Hatchet)

Gary Paulsen is one of the young adult authors that I admire most. I most deeply admire the way the he is able to speak to both young adults and adults. He speaks to us on completely different levels through the stories that he weaves. When I read this quote from his novel, Hatchet, it resonated with me to the core.

I am not a person who enjoys being still for more than an hour or so. There is nothing that I find more interesting or satisfying that a full day of meaningful work. And yet here I find myself with a significant amount of time as I am still waiting to hear the final go ahead on my work visa. God is teaching me what it truly means to be still. To wait. To trust that in His time, He will be faithful.

Running has been tangible way for me to trust in God's strength. We've been getting into an intense amount of distance each week. While daunting, I can see that through perseverance, diligence and prayer, we can do this. Last night, as we finished our 15 mile run, we ended with sprinting. Jeff commented on the amount of energy I had throughout the run. (Which was very different from our last long run.) He said that as we were finishing up, he looked over at me and couldn't stop smiling. He said that he thought, God must be carrying Natasha right now.

This comment made me realize, yes, God was carrying me. And He still is, throughout this whole work visa uncertainty, our engagement, and this marathon training. I am continuing to see the way that God is working in these weeks and I am so thankful to be learning what it means to wait, to be patient, to let God carry me throughout all of these changes and challenges.

"God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging...
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts. The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress...He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress." Psalm 46, select verses.