And Let Us Run with Endurance

Yesterday, I ran my first trail race.

I can describe the experience in two words: terribly wonderful.  “Terribly” because it was freezing and I could barely breathe the entire time.  “Wonderful” because of the adrenaline rush, the incredible views, and the satisfaction of finishing 5th out of 40 women.  

While I was striving and struggling to put one foot in front of the other (without tripping over rocks or getting lost), I had some revelations.  The first revelation was, “Dang, I definitely should not have tied my shoelaces this tight because I can’t feel my toes,” and the second revelation was, “Life is just like a long distance trail run.”

Throughout the race, God was reminding me of bible verses that perfectly correlated with what I was going through over these past few weeks.

Psalm 18:32-36 – God arms me with strength, and He makes my way perfect. He makes me as surefooted as a deer, enabling me to stand on mountain heights. He trains my hands for battle; he strengthens my arm to draw a bronze bow. You have given me Your shield of victory. Your right hand supports me; Your help has made me great. You have made a wide path for my feet to keep them from slipping.

The hardest parts of the trail run were the single tracks that weaved back and forth up the mountainside.  Only one person could travel up the path at a time because of it’s narrowness, and it was much harder to see where you were going because the path wasn’t straight.  When I ran on the single tracks, I couldn’t look up to enjoy the view of the vineyards because I was too scared that I would twist an ankle or take a wrong turn.  I ran with hesitation and I doubted my ability as a seasoned athlete.  But I was reminded that in the moments when I am weak, God is strong on my behalf.  When my feet falter and my legs grow tired, He carries me and establishes my steps.

As I pushed the branches out of my face and carefully eyed every step, I was also reminded of how important it is to focus on being “in the moment.”  Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”  If I spent too much time trying to find the next turn sign past the endless amounts of shrubbery, I probably would have fallen flat on my face or stubbed my toe on a rock.  I needed to be content with focusing on one thing at a time by making the most of my situation in that moment.  I have to laugh because I am such a planner (aka: control freak).  I love to think ahead and strategize about the future,  so this part of the race not only slowed me down… it convicted me as well.

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Proverbs 4:11-12 – I will teach you wisdom’s ways and lead you in straight paths. When you walk, you won’t be held back; when you run, you won’t stumble.

Just call me Samantha “Stumbling” Stokesberry.  Ask my mom, I am a klutz.  I broke my toe by tripping into a wall for goodness sake. How does that even happen?  Anyways, I probably rolled my ankle 4 or 5 times during this run.  The track was a dirt road that went through a vineyard and up a mountainside, so it was full of gravel, dips, and tree roots.  I honestly don’t know how I didn’t face plant.  I’m sure the woman running behind me wondered the same thing.  I somehow managed to “catch” myself before I twisted an ankle, and each time I would let out a nervous chuckle under my breath followed by a, “Whew, thank you Jesus that was a close one.”

There have been so many times in my life when I deliberately chose to take a wrong step in a very wrong direction, and the Lord was always there to meet me in those moments.  He has never met me with anger or judgement.  Instead, He continually rescues me with love and mercy.  I’ve lost count of how many “close ones” I have encountered overall, but I can say that I’ve grown and matured through all of them.  Every time I make a mistake, God is there to teach me wisdom and to set my wandering feet back on His straight path.  Sometimes, it takes multiple mistakes for His wisdom to sink into my thick skull, but eventually… it resonates.

My favorite parts of the run were the sections where the single tracks opened up into broad and smooth downhill roads.  I could run without holding back, I could pick up speed without difficulty, and I could look up to admire the beautiful landscape in front of me.  In those moments, I was reminded of God’s grace.  There will always be tough times in life when we are forced to trek up a steep and hazardous incline (uncertain of what we will face once we get to the top), but God is also gracious enough to give us the easy and exciting downhill portions to enjoy as well.  I believe both types of circumstances are meant to be savored and cherished, and we should praise Him for them all.  I mean, how can we ever really appreciate the good in life without having experienced the bad?

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Lastly,  I realized that “how I run my race” plays a significant role in how I finish.  I could have cheated and cut corners, I could have turned back around when things got difficult, or I could have pushed one of my competitors into the lake next to the trail so they wouldn’t beat me to the finish line (I may or my not have considered all three of those options by the time the race was over).  The “long distance trail run” of life is where we are meant to grow and develop.  It’s where our character is reveled, where the steadfastness of our spirit is tested, and where we face challenges and victories of all kinds.  It’s where we learn from what is behind us and look forward to what lies ahead.

So, my conclusion: Above all else, I want to be known as someone who ran her race well.  Someone who ran with integrity, passion, love, and grace.  Someone who finished strong and someone who helped others to do the same. Who’s with me?!

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Hebrews 12:1-2a  Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.  We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.

To Donate towards my mission in South Africa: http://ssmfi.org/missionary/samantha-stokesberry/

And They Will Know We Are Christians By Our … Slidetackling?

Sports will always play a significant roll in my life.  Whether it’s bonding with my family over some Publix subs before a Miami Dolphins football game, or being coached by my dad on the sidelines of a stressful soccer match

… sports will always have a special place in my heart.

I love it all; the competition, the passion, the hard work, the determination, the adrenaline, the teamwork, the winning, and the sacrifice.  When we were kids, my sister Melissa and I would turn anything and everything into a sport.  For example, when Mom wanted us to put the dirty laundry away, you can bet your bottom dollar that we would roll those clothes into tight balls and see how many hamper “shots” we could make by the time the buzzer went off.

However, sport can also bring out the worst in someone.  I’m sure one way or another, we’ve all experienced it.  I’ve heard plenty of football fans curse and condemn their home teams after a big loss (and too many beers), I’ve listened to parents and coaches fight with a referee because of a terrible call, and I’ve personally witnessed one of my teammates getting tackled by an ill-intentioned opponent during a soccer game (which led to her having a torn ACL).

Having said that, I am no saint either.  I’ve made quite a few “questionable plays” on the field, I’ve cursed at a ref (under my breath because I didn’t have the guts to do it to his face), and, yes, I’ve even cheated by pretending that my team didn’t kick the ball out of bounds when we totally did. Whoops.

So, as a Christian athlete … where does Jesus fit in?  How can I love like Christ and play a sport at the same time?  I think the key is examining the heart.  The Bible says that man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.  The heart is the “why” behind everything we do.  It’s where our motivations and intentions begin to take root and flourish.  So when I play soccer, why do I play?  Do I play to satisfy my own ego or do I play for a greater purpose?  Do I try to set an example in love and truth on the field or do I leave my values and integrity on the sidelines?

I’ll be honest with you guys.  I can’t sing or play guitar, but I can kick the heck out of a soccer ball.  I can’t dance or paint with watercolors, but I can surely sprint down a field as if my life depended on it.

I know that when I step out onto the field, Jesus steps out there with me.  He doesn’t get banned from the bleachers, He doesn’t get left in the car, and He doesn’t disapprove of my love for the game (unless it becomes greater than my love for Him).

So, when I go in for a 50/50 ball, you will never see me cringe in fear or apologize for using my body’s strength to fight for possession.  I will face my opponents head on, and I will play with passion, vigor, and intensity.  When a teammate messes up, I will show grace and mercy because no one is perfect and we all make mistakes.  When my teammates succeed, I will build them up and affirm them because I am called to be an encourager.  When an opponent fouls me, I will shake her hand with sincerity, and I will show her forgiveness because I am commanded to love those around me.

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My faith and my competitive spirit do not have to contradict each other.  God can be glorified in any setting if I simply invite Him into it.  It’s my choice whether or not I want to represent Him.  I can give in to the many pressures of the “mainstream sports culture,” or I can decide to stand firm in who God created me to be as His daughter. (His loud, energetic, aggressive, competitive, compassionate, silly, kind, faith filled, and athletic daughter.)

As a captain or as a bench warmer, I have purposed in my heart to love, to serve, and to play with the best of my ability.  Will I screw up? Definitely.  I’m bound to make a bad tackle and eventually lose my cool on the field.  I’m human, so that stuff will happen, but God is big enough to take even those messed up moments and turn them into something beautiful … and I love Him for that.

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The FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) has a Competitors Creed that sums up my thoughts in this blog post quite nicely, and I stand by it wholeheartedly.  Check it out by clicking this link:

http://fcaendurance.com/the-competitors-creed