This is it, my final entry of this blog series. In the first few blogs, I offered a sort of introduction, written in red, to explain how this blog series started and its objective. If you are new to the series, please take a moment to scroll down and read the brief introduction written in red.
Part 7: YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!
In the final two weeks leading up to IMFL, I finally allowed myself to imagine hearing those coveted words as I crossed the finish line, “Monica Warren, you are an Ironman!” I pondered how the race would look different for each athlete – the unique strengths and weaknesses each one would bring to the course, the different challenges each would face, the various strategies individuals would use to push through the entire 140.6 miles of swimming, biking, and running. However, despite all of the differences, in the end, the only way to have the title Ironman bestowed upon an athlete is for him to enter into the run chute and go through the arch at the finish line.
In tandem with the above contemplative thoughts, I began reflecting on life, specifically in terms of getting to the end of a life lived faithfully to Jesus, crossing that finish line into His presence and hearing the declaration, “Monica Warren, you are Mine!” Much the same way, I thought, as in an Ironman. Each person runs his own one-of-a-kind life-race – bringing to the course his strengths and weaknesses, facing different challenges, and employing various strategies to push through whatever obstacles come throughout his number of days. But, in the end, to have the title Belonging to Jesus bestowed on him, each must enter into the run chute and go through the arch (i.e. Jesus) at the finish line. After all, Jesus – who is available to ALL regardless of their past or present anything – is the door, the only way. (John 10:9, 14:6)
I wondered if those thoughts would turn into a blog.
Well, surely you know by now that I never got the opportunity to enter the run chute and go through the arch at the finish line. “Intestinal issues” that began at mile three on the run eventually took their toll at mile nineteen. Although the mind was willing, my body refused to take another step. Sometime around 9:00 PM, in the cold darkness, I was transported off the course and taken to medical.
I was devastated. But the strangest thing happened later that night.
At 11:07 PM, the announcer shouted out, “Monica Warren from Mobile, Alabama…Monica Warren…where’d she go?” You hear him chuckle, clearly a little confused, since there is NO ONE heading toward the arch at the finish line. But, regardless of what he saw before him, after a second, the announcer boldly continued, for everyone to hear, “Well, Monica, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!” (I have included a beautiful video my brother-in-law made for us as a record of that amazing day. You can see and hear that strange and glorious moment on the video.) Four of my friends who had just left me recovering in the condo heard it and began texting me. Best we can figure, as my sister-in-law was returning my timing chip, its signal was picked up by the computer, my name popped up on the screen, and thus, the announcer began, and completed, his grand proclamation.
Now, I have many thoughts about what Jesus might be saying to me through all of that, but there is only one I am going to share with you. But first, I want to summarize something Carl Medearis writes in his book, Speaking of Jesus*.
Too often, the church, Christians, sees itself and the world in terms of a circle. Christians stand inside the circle trying to get people, who are outside, to come in, “into God’s Kingdom.” But this circle-model doesn’t reflect what Jesus did or said. In fact, the aforementioned model looks more like the one propagated by the Jewish religious leaders, those who actively opposed Jesus and incited His anger.
So, what did Jesus say? How did He invite people into God’s Kingdom, giving the church a model to imitate? Jesus said, “Lift Me up, and I will draw people to Myself” (John 12:32).
So, what if, instead of a circle, Jesus is a dot in the center of a page sprinkled with other dots, representing people. Each dot has an arrow pointing to something, which designates that dot’s heart intention, what he or she is following. An arrow pointing to Jesus indicates a dot following, or trying to, follow Jesus. Every dot has an arrow. Every person is following something or someone.
Are you tracking with me? For many of us this might be a huge paradigm shift, from an “in” or “out” mentality of labels and control to a model that leaves the outcome to, and in, the hands of the only One who really knows the heart of a person.
So, back to my finish line.
Monday morning, two days after IMFL, I finally had a few quiet hours of solitude to really begin processing (and crying over) my race. During those hours, Jesus brought the whole run chute/finish line arch to mind. I wondered why? Then He spoke these words to my heart,
Monica, I was with you all day. I watched you faithfully wrestle down your fears in the face of the day’s high-wind weather report, get dressed, and head out to the beach for the swim start. I stood beside you as you chose to trust My best in the disappointment over the cancelled swim. I applauded and cheered you on as you battled the 20-30+ MPH winds for 112 miles for more than six-and-a-half hours. I helped you “make it” between those pink oasis, as you called them (i.e. the port-of-potties), sending community along the way to provide tangible encouragement.
In the end, My plans for your journey looked different than yours. You had a chute/arch finish in mind, where you overcame your body’s weakness, muscled through, did that which the world deems as heroic and successful. But I see things differently. The finishers jacket, the M-dot for your car, the medal to hang on your laundry room hook, they weren’t for you today. I have some different memorabilia for you this time.
BUT, the announcer spoke the TRUTH, even though human eyes could not see it. He declared MY TRUTH, MY ASSESSMENT of the race I had laid out for you today, the race you completed faithfully, in its entirety. You ARE an Ironman, but, more importantly, you are MINE.
So what does this have to do with circles and dots and arrows?
Perhaps, the church should erase the lines of the circle. Perhaps, we could just tell people of Jesus. And then keep talking about Him, pointing to Him. (After all, isn’t He beautiful enough? Isn’t He worthy?) And we let Jesus worry about where the arrows point, since He, alone, knows a person’s journey and person’s heart.
No doubt, we will see many IronSaints enter in through the run chute and under the arch at the finish line. However, my guess is, we’ll be surprised to find out that some IronSaints entered through the back of the medical tent. Either way, all will hear God, The Father, make His bold proclamation, “IronSaint, YOU ARE MINE!”
Thank you for taking this journey with me. I pray that your faith has been strengthened along the way. Most importantly, I hope that Jesus has been lifted up, and you have been drawn more closely to Him. After all, Jesus really is the One worthy pursuit of life.
Oh, and yes, there will be another Ironman journey for Team Warren, Ironman Florida 2015, because, as my sweet husband and training partner keeps saying, “Team Warren has some unfinished business.” Feel free to start praying now for my gastrointestinal system.
*Medearis, Carl (2011-07-01). Speaking of Jesus: The Art of Not-Evangelism (pp. 67-69). David C. Cook.
Hello. My name is Monica, and I’m addicted to endurance sporting events. Early in my life it became apparent that I was not the fastest kid on the block, but I possessed the desire, drive, and discipline to go further. I completed my first marathon in my late twenties, and with that came my first endurance-sport-training-object-lesson on following Jesus. Since then, I literally expect spiritual lessons to be birthed throughout whatever physical challenge I undertake. My current endeavor? An Ironman – a triathlon comprised of a 2.4 mile swim immediately followed by a 112 mile bike and then 26.2 mile run – to be completed within 17 hours on 11/1/14 in Panama City Beach, Florida. Training for Ironman Florida (IMFL) has literally been a yearlong process, and I have been journaling all along the way. As the final countdown to IMFL nears, I will be reflecting on the journey, turning some of my journal entries into blogs to share with you. My prayer is that what Jesus has lovingly taught and shown me through the highs and lows of this journey might become life-giving Truth to you, too.