I often don’t understand what God is doing, but recently I had one of those moments where He gave me a glimpse of the big picture.
I’m a former competitive bodybuilder and former CrossFitter. As a bodybuilder, I thought chasing my version of physical perfection would give me value. Once I realized how superficial and empty that pursuit was, I switched gears to CrossFit, which I thought to be the more meaningful in that it was about what I could do and not what I looked like. However, ultimately CrossFit overtook my identity, and I was treating something that was meant to be hobby as if it were a calling. So, after spending all of my life engaged in some kind of training/athletic pursuit, I quit cold turkey.
Exercise is essential for good health, strength, and longevity, so I am in not advocating that people avoid exercise completely. For me, for a finite period of time, it was necessary. I am very intense and competitive about almost everything I do, and the only way for me to completely recalibrate my priorities and internalize that my identity was not found in how I looked in a bikini or how much weight I could clean and jerk, I had to walk away from training completely for over a year.
And man was that hard. I did not realize how much of my identity and self-worth was tied up in being athletic and fit. Letting go of “athlete” as a primary identifier was devastating. I saw my muscles slowly atrophying, felt my mid-section (which was already an area of insecurity for me) growing softer, and I hated it.
But with that year off from training, I found the time and energy to fill my life with other things – volunteering every month with several organizations around Chicago, joining an anti-human trafficking cause group, going on my first mission trip, serving my church, and even moving to a new neighborhood to be part of a church plant. Slowly but surely, I gave up my athlete identity and embraced the calling that God had put on my life, which was not to become a professional bodybuilder or be a competitive CrossFitter, but to live more like Jesus did, a life of love and service and putting others before myself.
At the time I had some comprehension of what God was doing – stripping away the things I thought I was so I could see who He made me to be – but it’s only this year that I finally saw things come full circle.
I was somewhat familiar with Team World Vision prior to this year because I had several friends from church that had run for them in the past. But this year when they came to our church one Sunday and spent a few minutes talking about World Vision’s work in Africa to bring clean water to kids and their communities, it piqued my interest. I stayed after for the information session and just felt like God was asking me to run the marathon. Not for vanity’s sake, not for my ego, not for my appearance, but because I would finally be training for something that had nothing to do with me and everything to do with helping someone else.
I HATE running with a passion. I ran a half marathon in 2011 and swore I would never run anything over 5K ever again. So the prospect of running a full marathon was not only unappealing, it sounded downright miserable. But I believed that God wanted me to run the full marathon. I had already done a half marathon under my own power without His help. A full marathon would literally be impossible for me – even if not physically, then definitely mentally – and I would have to rely on God in order to see this one through to the end. And so I took the plunge in a big way. Not just signing up for the marathon, but also signing up to go to Africa for 2 weeks with World Vision so that I could see first-hand the work that World Vision is doing in Uganda and meet my sponsor child Christine face-to-face.
God knew what He was doing in his timing. When I signed up for the marathon in February, I was literally in the worst shape of my life after taking more than a year off from doing any kind of regular exercise. Even when I had been in great shape, I was a poor runner. God took that year to liberate me from my old obsessions and identity, and when I had been truly humbled and was in no position whatsoever to take on running a marathon, He called me to. “Kayla, you get to train again, but you’re doing it with Me and for Me, not for you.”
I have come home from runs and bawled my eyes out because it was so physically and mentally draining, utterly convinced I could never run a single mile further than I did that day. Every week, I am anxious about the long run on Saturday. But I have slowly and surely gone from being able to only run 1.5 miles to running 15 miles (the longest distance I have ever run to date).
The 15 mile run was miserable for me. When I finished, I genuinely wanted to walk away from the marathon. I was exhausted, I was in pain, and I just could not fathom running 26.2 miles in 8 more weeks. If I were doing this for my vanity or for my ego, I guarantee you that I would have given up by now and decided to maybe do the half marathon or a 10K instead – something more possible, more comfortable. But every single time I have wanted to throw in the towel (which is probably at least a dozen by now), I am reminded of why I signed up in the first place – to give kids like Christine and their communities clean water and better quality of life. God is asking me to run this race not for myself, but for them and for Him. Although running a marathon feels scary as hell and impossible to accomplish, I have faith in a God who can do the impossible.
Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. Isaiah 40:28-31
If you’d like to support my fundraising for Team World Vision ($50 brings clean water to one kid for a lifetime), my page is here: http://www.teamworldvision.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=donorDrive.participant&participantID=48918