A friend made an interesting comment the other day as a trio of us prepared to start a morning run.
I love running with this group of women. Talented and funny, strong and vulnerable, they form the backbone of a loosely defined support team. They are the peeps, the ones in whose company snot-rockets and mad dashes to the woods to pee are not only tolerated but cheered. For whom GNO is wine on the couch and kicked-off shoes and a healthy dose of gentle sarcasm.
For runs, tradition dictates that a group text summons us to meet at a given time in the center of their neighborhood – I must first drive over from my own – then we walk to the edge of the block, shivering and chatting, preparing our aging (sorry, gals – speaking for myself here) bodies to pound out a “beehive 6” or a “luxury 11.”
Between the 7 of us and our crazy schedules, and the few tested loops whose sparse traffic permits running in a cluster, there are endless permutations for fellowship and distance, but one thing is standard on every run: unequivocal honesty.
There is something about movement and sweat and feminine solidarity that opens the door to sharing life at its most elemental level.
Whether it is mild grousing about a husband mis-shelving a jar of pickles, tearful maternal confessions of perceived inadequacy (child backtalks at dinner; child suspended from school; child shows up in the local police report), or the joyful unity of hearing about a college acceptance, a new company car, or an empty dishwasher, running with these women has a way of lifting up the rocks of our lives and exposing both the dark ugly and the vast rich.
These are women who stop at the house of a man whose wife passed from cancer, harness his husky to a sturdy leash, and allow her to pull them up the street for miles because that is what kind neighbors do. These are women who offer to drag a pile of downed tree limbs from the yard of another because prospective buyers are on their way in a matter of hours. These are women who will say “no, thank you” to said offer, knowing the lives of her sisters are as harried and hectic as her own.
One morning a few weeks back, a casual comment uttered by one of us – I can’t even recall who (it was awfully early) – stuck with me, sticks with me still.
It was this: “I don’t know what to do with 40 degrees.”
Of course, we all understood at once what our sister was saying literally. A run on a 30–degree morning requires tights, gloves, a fleece hat. Layers. At 50 degrees, ditch the hat and gloves and don the capris – or even shorts, should a later start time portend a rise in temperature as the miles are checked off. 60 degrees and above in New England, you’d be hard-pressed to find any of us (except maybe you, PA – bless!) in anything but shorts and a Tee.
But 40 degrees?
It’s a troubling temp, the in-between-ness of it precipitating multiple pre-run excursions to the front steps to test the air, multiple looks at the weather app, multiple gear changes right up to time of the actual neighborhood meet-up: or sometimes even after, as we live in a town where depositing a balled-up half-zip in a friend’s mailbox while cruising by is the epitome of normal.
Metaphorically, however – how that 40 degrees comment has resonated.
I feel that the last 3-plus years of my life have been spent in a sort of holding pattern, a 40-degree vortex, where I was not permitted to go back, and all attempts to move forward were blocked.
Efforts at marital reconciliation failed, bills piled up and my house grew unmanageable (both in debt and upkeep), and I limped along on an endless course of subbing gigs while the job rejections piled up quicker than I could recycle them.
Until, until, until!
Until last week. In the space of three days, my house sold even though it wasn’t even on the market, and a dream-job fell into my lap with no effort at all on my part.
I’m starting to sense the rhythms of God, even as I strugglestrugglestruggle to accept them as His good and perfect will.
It’s the in-between times, the hours and weeks and months and years, where we wait and hope and hope and watch and watch and pray, that God uses to chip away at our stone-stubborn resistance with His chisel of truth and his rasp of grace.
Waiting refines us, reshapes us, repositions us to be better equipped to handle the blessings we desperately seek Him for in our life on this dirt sphere.
And in the seeking, a strange and beautiful thing happens.
Joy enters our hearts; bitterness leaves.
Forgiveness comes; anger goes.
Love in; strife out.
In the 40-degree climate of the Big Wait, we learn to rest – not in our own strength, our own strivings, our own logic or understanding – but in His.
When Jesus was preparing His disciples for their Big Wait, He didn’t tell them that He was going to take all of their troubles away. Jesus knew that things were going to get nasty. He knew that He was going to be murdered in the next 24 hours, that the wrath of Rome and the religious rigidity of the Pharisees would soon test His most beloved brothers to the absolute breaking point, that the road to following Him would lead to isolation and persecution and martyrdom.
In fact, in the upper room, after He had revealed He would be going away – some day, one day to return – He tells them, “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33).
I for one am glad we have a Savior that is brutally honest with us, who tells us in advance that in this sin-stained world, we cannot expect that we will always get our way. It is all but assured that, most of the time, we will not.
So how, in light of this reality, does Jesus comfort us?
With something that is totally alien to this earthly station, but is the marker of His invisible, eternal kingdom: peace.
Peace in the midst of strife, not in the absence of it, peace in the not-knowing-what-lies-ahead because of the One-Who-Does-Know, peace that is not an emotion or a feeling or a circumstance, but a Person.
Jesus gave many instructions while He walked among us, but the one thing He said more than any other was “Fear not.” He knew that when our faith is placed in Him and not in our own crazy, we can have peace.
He explained this puzzling tension to His disciples in this way:
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid…I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 14:27; 16:33).
I am starting to accept the Big Wait rather than fight it, to allow God to un-trouble my heart, to believe that, in His timing, as I watch and hope, good things will come. Sometimes all at once, in a startling suddenness that leaves me breathless.
What are you waiting for?
Is your thermometer stuck at 40 degrees? Does it leave you feeling that the diagnosis is terminal, that foolishness will never leave the heart of your child, that your prodigal will never come home?
As we wait for these things to be fulfilled, these desires of our hearts, we can rest in knowing that the Artist is never finished with us. He continues to sculpt our flinty souls, rough cut after rough cut, filing and sanding and buffing, until slowly, slowly, slowly, we begin to resemble His precious and perfect Son.
His strong hand knows every intimate swell and curve of our heart, and He is never closer to us as when He is at His exacting work.
Daughters we are, and sons of the King!
Our waiting is not a stressful striving, but an expectant eagerness that floods the soul with He will, He will, He will.
Some day. One day.
And until then…