Thursday, June 11, 2015

I Don't Know All the Answers (and I'm okay with that)

My goal last spring and this summer was to write more.

Usually, these words are inspired by a specific moment of clarity. During the last four months of injury, I figured that an amazing story of how God used me would become clear. I found myself striving to be this man who was known as by others as, "the man who went through everything," and came back a hero.

This explains my long absence from writing as I struggled to find this "amazing story."

I wanted my thoughts to be perfectly summed, like my life was altogether.

I am here to tell you, that is most certainly not the case. Today, I want to share with you a bit of unfiltered thoughts.

I find myself often showing the good part of my life to the world, not letting anyone into the depths of my true life that is filled with both joy and pain.

Instead of exposing our messy realities to the world, we showcase the "highlight reel"version of life, filled with adventure, happiness, and satisfaction. I find myself frequently in this boat of showing only the "good" stuff. But my life hasn't been an adventure the last few months, which is why I want to be real and share what's going on in my life lately in a season far from contentment.

Throughout college I have struggled. Struggled with balancing my school life, running life and social life. I've struggled with overcommitting and how to say no to things. Struggled with injuries and maintaining friendships and relationships, and still often struggle with having a consistent walk with the Lord.

During this time I couldn't help but ask, "God where have you been in these years? I thought we were in this together! Why do I keep finding myself injured, broken, and alone?"

(Photo credit Alex Miller)
Injury had been so commonplace that it was hard to see anything beyond my narrow horizons. Becoming healthy consumed me, and still often does.

People tell me all the time, "Put your identity in Christ, and everything will be okay." However, I've come to a realization. God's definition of "okay" is drastically different than ours. We hear truths of God's promises and think that an identity in Christ is a means for everything to go our way. I often fall into this mentality that God will grant me health, friends and relationships that I desire if I seek him. But what God really means is "Never will I forsake you, I myself will help you." (Duet 31:8).

The trials aren't taken away when we are in Christ, pain will always exist on this earth, but Christ promises to be with us during these storms.

Jesus says, "In this world you will have tribulation, but take heart, for I have overcome the world." (John 16:33 ESV)

Hebrews 4:15-16 says, "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and grace to help in time of need."

We trust in a God who understands and has been in the same situations we have. A God who knows the inner workings of you, me, and every single person on this earth. A God who shaped you purposefully, who calls you by name. But so often, I forget that truth.

I strive to be excellent in all things. That's why I've tried and continue to try to be the best runner I can be throughout my running career. This desire to be excellent is great, but when I turn it into a drive for perfection, the desire is corrupted and not for God's glory. My attempts to get healthy or be a great runner sometimes go beyond where the Lord has called me; my performance and healthiness outweigh trusting in the Lord's plan for my life.

 I've tried and tried, and I keep failing in running. I've had many folks in my community who tell me to just give up… quit.

But failing to me is okay. If the Lord wants me to be in the running world, I am going to keep at it until I am directed otherwise.

 The Lord says, "Though a righteous man may fall seven times, he will get up again." (Psalms 24:16 ESV)

So bring on success or failure--I welcome it. The world might not see my career as a success, but if God is glorified, it's all worth it. Worth more than any of the running goals I pray, dream or hope for.

So here is the truth: I don't have all the answers, but I trust in a God who does. The Lord may never allow me to understand His great plan for my life, and that's okay with me. Why? Because time and time again the Lord has shown me his grace and mercy, and rescued me from disaster.

All I can do now is trust the Lord and be faithful, even if I don't know all the answers.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Dream

Everyone has a certain place that brings back the fondest of memories. Perhaps it was a lake, a playground, a bench. All of these places gave you a sense of warmth, a sense that everything was right in the world, or even that magic could happen.

As runners, I think we all have a special place (or even a few) to us that we cherish dearly. For me, that place was Norbuck Park in Dallas. A park filled with memories of trails, tears, and triumph. I can still hear the sound of the gun go off during my middle school years of cross-country. I still remember the old dusty 2-mile course like it was yesterday. The first big turn, the "massive hill" that used to haunt me, the wooded portion of the course, and the extraordinary finish through the tree tunnel.

Beautiful Norbuck Park… photo credited to bigredwill


Often when I am back in Dallas, I'll go run the course just for old-times sake. It was here that my love for running arguably began. Youngsters learned how to compete, how to fight off pain, and how to finish well.

My favourite part of the 2-mile dirt course was the last 300 meters. You would go up a massive hill, come flying down, then wind through a tree tunnel that would lead you to a 300 meter finish. This last section was always special to me. I remember dying in a race, coming down the tree tunnel, and then planting my foot on a root, which signified the final stretch. When I launched from the root, it was time to set ablaze and hammer towards the finish line.

During this moment, the final kick, life seemed to stop. The people around me cheering seemed to disappear, all I could hear was my beating heart ticking and runners next to me breathing deeply as we poured our souls into the finish line with nothing left. I'm thankful for these times that taught me truly how to compete and dig deep!

Lately, running has been quite rough. Injuries keep plaguing me in 2015, so I have spent a lot of time cross-training and Alter-G'ing. Being away from the team is the hardest part. You just want to get back…and soon. I would give anything to be crushing workouts with the guys!
Not everyday is a bad day… having a little fun on the Alter G!

Anyone with an injury understands that there is a sense of longing, sometimes, even sadness. I've gone through major bouts of depression being injured constantly throughout my career.

Deep water running alone often feels like I am stuck in a prison with nowhere to go. 60 minutes can feel like eternity. I can relate to how Paul felt while he was in prison, yet Paul calls us to run the race well (1st Cor 9:24). While I'm in the pool, I like to imagine the story of Paul and Silas singing in prison, how crazy would that of looked like!

But it hasn't been all doom and gloom while I've been injured. The Lord continues to teach me incredible things, and I am thankful for that every single day. God is good, even when I am injured and don't understand. Frankly, I may never understand. But I can glorify God with an injury, that's why I sing, just like Paul and Silas did!

Recently, I've been having a reoccurring dream, back at Norbuck Park. I am racing the old dusty 2-mile course, only this time, in a Baylor jersey by myself. Everything is just like before, each turn I take brings back nostalgia and it is magical. A mile and a half in, however, I begin to feel the pain of racing take its toll. As I feel the pain and my body screams for mercy, I then make the narrow turn approaching the tree tunnel. I launch off the root towards the finish line and begin crafting my final move.

As I shift into my final gear, something incredible happens. The sun comes shining in through the tree tunnel and Jesus is right next to me, encouraging me and saying, "You can do it, trust me, I am with you!"

When I cross the finish line, Jesus embraces me and tells me that He has been with me, every step of the race.

My life verse, Isaiah 41:10, is a testimony to that promise which says,

"So do not fear for I am with you. Do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, and help you. I will uphold you with my righteous right hand." 

Even though I am injured, I trust in the Lord and know that He is with me, every single step of the way, just like my dream at Norbuck Park!

...Maybe we will get to race in heaven with healthy and new bodies!






Sunday, January 18, 2015

Why Do Runners Race? (and my New Year's Resolution..)

I love watching races because there more that meets the eye than one would expect. Imagine twenty men competing, pouring their soul into 4, 8, or 25 laps of grueling running. I truly believe that these races mean more than men competing. It takes a lot even just to get the privilege to wear a jersey, to be racing in collegiate track and field. There is a tremendous amount of work that goes into running just to simply be on the starting line. Lonely hours are spent on the roads, on the track, in the maintenance room, enduring cold, sweat, pain, or even tears. Perhaps runners who race were injured before, maybe they are struggling to pay their rent, maybe, they are battling addiction. We simply don't know what they have gone through to get to the exact moment in time where their feet, heart, and soul are on the line for the next 15 minutes of their lives.

Feeling the heat of racing during 2014 Texas Relays
Because of all this time, energy, and efforts spent in preparation, runners don't just show up to a race to simply run. There is so much more. A race is in essence an avenue built for men who want to experience something greater than the normalities of life. These runners are soul-searchers, putting everything on the line in the heat of racing.

Spending time spectating this weekend, I could see so many emotions in the competitor's faces. Sometimes it reveals the excitement of a PR, the pangs of a bad race, or simple disappointment or relief after the race ends. What is funny is that even if a guy is in 17th place, he still could have run the race of his life. This is what makes running so happy, seeing people overcome the battle within themselves.

What I have learned is that the physical results however, are insignificant compared to the lessons every runner learns or takes from a race. We go through pain, struggle, joy, and determination with each step we take. It is in these moments we feel the most alive, because every thought is magnified. We enter a world with ourselves, our competitor's, and God himself. A world unknown to most people.

And it is a beautiful thing to watch…

I like to sit in on races and think, what has that guy/girl gone through to get to this exact moment? Or why does he run? What's his purpose for running? What's he going through with every step?

I believe every runner races because he/she is searching for something. Maybe it's a time, an opportunity to better themselves physically. Perhaps a chance to compete, or feel the spirit of competition. Or possibly an opening to search for meaning beyond themselves, to feel something, maybe even God. All of these things seem so readily available when the body has nothing left, when we are broken to the point of exhaustion. We can see it in competitor's faces, the look when they are relying on pure guts or heart to finish a race. That's my favourite moment in the race, because it's a chance to see what someone really has in them, to see every fiber of their being and soul pushing towards the finish line.

In my opinion, the best runners have utilized this search by desiring both victory and meaning behind their races. They push their bodies to physical victory, but look for the meaning in every step, even if the race turns out poorly.

I thought a lot about a resolution for the year 2015. As I prayed and sat in my room, I came across a verse that embodies these thoughts on racing, as well as what I personally strive to accomplish in running.

(Note: I do not solely read the Message translation; however, I really like the way this passage is interpreted)

You've all been to the stadium and seen athletes race. Everyone runs; one wins. Run to win. All athletes train hard. They do it for a gold medal that tarnishes and fades. Your after the one that's gold eternally. I don't know about you, but I'm running hard for the finish line. I'm giving it everything I've got. No sloppy living for me! I'm staying alert and in top condition! I'm not going to get caught napping, telling everyone about it and missing out myself." 1st Corinthians 9:24-27 (MSG)

I want to run fast, but more importantly experience God through running, become closer to Him through it, and make His name more known through my running career.

So thats it. This verse is my resolution. To train, race, and live a life that goes for the gold in everything, to maximize the gifts God has given me. However, I pray that I would recognize that the medal I strive for won't be here on Earth, but when God says, "You have fought the fight, you have finished the race. You have kept the faith… Well done my good and faithful servant!"

And you know what?

I bet Jesus and I go for a run after!

Matt