One Word

A few nights ago, my wife and I looked at each other and said, “How do we handle this? Dear God, help!”

 We were trying to navigate a challenging parenting situation, one of the countless scenarios that inevitably arise on the parenting journey, and one that was relatively complex.

It was a reminder that being a parent is difficult and challenging work. It was also a reminder that we need God to be intimately involved in the process of helping us make parenting decisions.

We have made many missteps along the way, and there are a lot of things we haven’t done well. At the same time, there are a few things we’ve gotten right so far. (I am fully aware that we have a long way to go in this parenting adventure, which is one of the reasons we try to be intentional to learn from parents who have logged more miles than us.)

One of the things we’ve learned to do, and I believe it is extremely helpful, is to ask God at the beginning of the year for ONE WORD for each of our children. The word becomes a window to see how God is uniquely at work in their heart and mind, and it affords Ashley and I the opportunity to stay in alignment with what God is doing in them.

For example, last December as I prayed for Avery, our almost ten-year-old, I sensed the Spirit say “BOLD.” That one simple word said a lot about what God would be cultivating in her life this year. We then began to pray the word and speak it over her life along with looking for opportunities to encourage her in a spirit of boldness. It felt like a beautiful partnership between us, as her mom and dad, and her Heavenly Father.

So, as we enjoy this Christmas season and come barreling towards the New Year, may we carve out some time to slow down and listen. Let’s ask God to speak over each of our children, and then let’s write the word down and return to it often over the next several months.

While it’s not guaranteed to take away all of the “God, please HELP!” moments, it will be an anchor which reminds us God is at work Fathering His kids…who also happen to be our kids.

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You Are With Me, But…

The doctor’s words were frank and sobering, and left a rogue wave of fear in their wake.

Earlier this summer, I started feeling the effects of what I assumed was a fairly common flu. As one day after the next passed, and my condition continued to worsen, I started to wonder if it was something a bit more serious.

An initial trip to the ER confirmed that I didn’t have appendicitis, so I returned to my couch with the orders to rest and drink plenty of fluids. The illness tightened its grip over the next three days, and when it progressed to the point where I had a difficult time breathing, I decided to make a return trip to the hospital.

It was the middle of the night when I stumbled out of my vehicle and walked towards the ER doors. I met a sleepy security guard at the entrance, and responding to his mumbled question about how he can help, I started to offer a full report of the of the severe gastrointestinal issues I had experienced over the last seven days.

His dozing eyes snapped to attention, and he responded with a hint of laughter, “Dude, I’m just a security guard.”

The next moment had me being whisked away in a wheel chair, and I was quickly surrounded by a team of medical professionals who didn’t seem to be taking things lightly.

Observing their frenzy of activity, and trying to translate the medical talk, I picked up on a few key details. Apparently, my lips were quite blue and my oxygen levels were in the low 40’s. A healthy dose of oxygen helped as my color returned and my levels ascended back into a normal range. I was diagnosed with pneumonia and admitted early Wednesday morning.

Dawning the infamous breezy gown, I tossed and turned in the bed and wondered aloud how long the recovery process would take. I was slightly unnerved as my condition continued to worsen throughout the day.

It was mid-morning on Thursday when a different doctor, a pulmonologist, walked into the room, introduced himself, and cut right to the chase. “Your lungs are full and are significantly worse today than yesterday.”

He continued, “It’s not normal for this to happen after the treatment you have received, so this could be quite serious.”

His words seemed to feed a growing fear within me. What is happening? How serious is this? Is this going to end in death?

Ashley interrupted my train of thought, and gently asked the doctor what he thought was happening with my lungs.

He paused, as if to contemplate how honest he should be, and then explained that there can only be four possibilities regarding what they’re seeing on the x-rays. “The first one is that your heart is filling your lungs with blood. The second possible scenario is that you are experiencing pulmonary edema and your lungs are beginning to drown in fluid.” After another pause, he made his only editorial comment, “God forbid, we don’t want that.”

“The third possibility is that we are looking at cancerous cells.” The weight of his words were only getting heavier, and I thought to myself:

I choose option 4.

“And the fourth possibility is that it’s a worsening case of pneumonia.”

After assuring us that he would order all the right tests and find out what was happening, he turned and walked out.

Ashley and I each sat there in stunned silence, internally grasping for something that would help us make sense of what we had just heard.

The fear in my soul was palpable, and it was primarily due to the un-welcomed possibility of not being able to watch my three young children grow old.

That afternoon brought many prayers, a few tears, silent moments, and a sweet visit from my kids.

thumbwar

I was still strong enough to win this fierce thumb-war match.

They seemed to be quite unified in their plea, “Daddy, come home!”

This was a brutal feeling, wanting desperately to go home and wrestle Owen and play American Girl dolls with Sophie and Avery, but ultimately being in a place where I felt powerless.

All I could do is pray, and that I did with great fervor.

I had many questions for God and wanted assurance that all would be well. He didn’t answer my questions, but the still small voice of God’s Spirit was clear, as He said:

I am with you, son.

His words were sweet to my soul, but in just a matter of moments, the fear was back and so were my questions.

“God, am I going to be alright?”

“God, what is going to happen?”

I am with you, son.

Yes, BUT, what about…

I am with you, son.

His words were deeply kind, but they seemed to me to be lacking answers. To God, they were more than enough.

At some level, I was dismissing the assurance of His faithful presence because I was seeking assurance in the form of answers to my questions. In essence, I was saying, “Just tell me I’ll be ok, and then I’ll have peace.” He didn’t cooperate.

He wanted me to prioritize His presence over the mystery and uncertainty of the future.

And such is the life of faith.

My questions were regarding my health, but I’ve spent enough time with people to realize we all have questions.

“God, how are we going to pay for this?”

“God, what is going to happen with this relationship?”

“God, what is going to happen with my job?”

“God, how is this all going to work out?”

We seek answers as we pursue a sense of security, but God seeks deeper relationship as He pursues us.

Asking God questions about our future is not a bad thing, but there often comes a time when God asks for the interrogation to stop and instead for us to embrace His incredible nearness.

This is what I started to do on Thursday afternoon, and I started to experience a real peace in the still foggy circumstances. I began to think more deeply about those five words:

I am with you, son.

Yes, God is with me. What a profound and wondrous reality. The same God who hovered over the waters at creation, carved the depths of the ocean, formed the mountaintops, and ultimately formed me, is with me.

And He is with you.

And He cares more than we can fathom.

There was something else of significance that happened on that roller-coaster-of-a-day. My good friend, Matthew, placed his hands on me and prayed. I’m still at a bit of a loss to explain all that happened during this time of prayer, but I could tell God was at work in a tangible way. My fever began to break almost immediately, and I started feeling better by the hour. I was up and moving later in the day, and I received good news the next morning that it was indeed option four—double viral pneumonia.

The healing in my body continued to accelerate on Friday, and the doctor gave the orders to release me on Saturday morning. As the nurse ushered me to the same doors I had stumbled through a few days prior, she said: “I’ve never seen someone recover so rapidly from what you had and the condition you were in on Thursday.”

I thanked her for the care, took Ashley’s hand, and walked out into the fresh air and sunshine. An ever-increasing smile started to grow, as I prayed:

“Thank you, God. Thank you for your presence.”

“It is enough.”

Re-Learning Play and Laughter

As soon as I spoke the words, I realized I couldn’t take them back. It was too late, and little did I know how much they would be used against me.

The words weren’t critical, cutting, or demeaning, but they were dangerous. Dangerous in a “disrupt my comfort zone and crush parental laziness” kind of way.

After observing the freedom in my seven-year-old-daughter’s soul to play and laugh, I looked into her deep blue eyes and said, “Avery, teach me to play like you play.”

What I was really saying was, Teach me to laugh. Teach me to carry the kind of joy you carry.

“Sure, daddy,” she said as a giant smile invaded the freckled landscape of her face, “Here’s your doll!”

She’s taken her new role as teacher quite serious over the last few months, and we’ve often had these kinds of exchanges:

“Dad, wanna jump on the tramp?”

“Not right now, honey…”

“Remember, you told me to teach you to play.”

“Check mate.”

tramp

We didn’t even have a chance to finish assembling the tramp before they wanted to play. 🙂

Avery isn’t the only one teaching me to play, but God is, too. It’s actually quite important to Him.

Ashley and I took the kids swimming recently, and they were completely submerged in a matter of seconds. As for me, I was perched on a poolside lounge chair and fighting the urge to be a lazy spectator.

I eventually went and stood in ankle deep water hoping that would qualify as swimming with my kids. They laughed, threatened to splash me, and repeatedly launched invitations my way to “come swim!”

I hesitated…and stalled…and made one excuse after the next. You would have thought I was trying to muster the courage to swim in the open ocean with Great White sharks.

They eventually gave up and went back to their own fun and games. I continued to stand there, until I heard the familiar whisper of God’s Spirit.

Gabe, what do you think best represents my nature in this moment? For you to stand there and watch…or for you to get in and enjoy playing with your kids?

Check mate.

I took the plunge and belly flopped next to my three-year-old son, Owen. He released a cackle of a laugh and quickly jumped on my back. I spent the next hour playing like I was a kid again, and it was awesome. I only regret that I’ve been a slow learner.

I may be a work in progress, but I’m confident I’m heading in the right direction. I’m re-learning the art of playing, and as a result, of laughing.

There’s a reason the Scripture calls laughter good medicine. It’s an essential aspect of our God-given design, but we have to intentionally cultivate a lifestyle of play and laughter.

The well-known poet, W.H. Auden, stated that we are losing two of our most precious qualities, the ability to laugh heartily and the ability to pray, and he advocated on behalf of a sane world for better prayer and better play.

It’s especially beautiful when prayer and play collide, or when play is a result of prayer. I sat with a man recently who had the courage to share his story, a story riddled with the pain of rejection from his father. The man continued to pursue relationship with him for years despite the lack of response, eventually inviting him to do something he knew his father loved—play golf.

His voice trembled as he recounted that his father rejected the offer. The man had quietly gone about learning the game of golf for quite some time with the hope that he would be able to play with his dad. The realization that it was all for nothing was settling on him, and I could see the ache in his soul expressed through a single teardrop that rolled down his cheek.

While continuing to listen to him, I simultaneously turned to prayer and asked God what He wanted to say.

The response was quick and as clear as I’ve ever heard:

I want to play golf with him. Tell him that I’ll meet him on the course!

When the time was right, I shared with him that I believed God wanted to play golf with him. He initially looked at me like I had three heads, but the more we processed the nature of God as a deeply engaged Father, the more it made sense to him.

The experience caused me to ask my own questions: “God, how are you inviting me to play? What do you want to do together for fun?” I sensed His pleasure that I would even ask.

He has surely answered in a variety of ways, and continues to answer.

In fact, recently, He simply said…

More belly flops.

Not So Funny Noises

I don’t like funny noises at my house.

I don’t want to hear funny noises coming from a vehicle, the washer or dryer, the sink, the AC, or anything else. I like it when things are humming and working just fine.

My wife approached me recently and said, “Honey, the garbage disposal is making funny noises.” This was shortly after she informed me that one of our vehicles was also making strange noises. I’ve learned over the years that funny noises equal big checks, so it’s never music to my ears.

I said, “I got this, babe”, and before long I was uncomfortably positioned on my back peering up into the dark intestines of our sink.

I’ll admit that I’m a work in progress when it comes to fixing things around the house. I’m committed to learning and growing, but I often wonder if I’ll just end up making things worse. Nevertheless, I act as if I have it under control and begin tinkering.

My diagnosis was that we needed a new disposal, so I went to Lowe’s. I was standing in the garbage disposal aisle when an employee approached to offer some guidance. He started talking about electrical wiring, plumbing, and other things that seemed over my head. I nodded and played it cool, pretending to know exactly what he was saying.

I picked up the new disposal and started to walk away when he said, “We’ll come and install it for you for $100.” I quickly squashed his offer and made it clear that I was fine.

I was still working on it five hours later. With the assistance of a few You Tube videos, I had the disposal installed in a matter of no time, but I couldn’t get it to stop leaking.

I tried everything I knew to do, but my attempts were futile. With every drip, I became angrier and more defeated. I felt powerless to be able to find the solution, but I didn’t want to ask for help. I felt stuck.

My wife could see my frustration mounting, and she gently said, “I think you should just take a break and come back to it later.”

“No way,” I retorted. “I have to fix this now!”

I continued to try different things, but to no avail.

I finally decided that I should call my neighbor, Steve. He is the type of guy who can fix about anything—blindfolded.

I started to dial his number, but then I put the phone down. Something in me was seriously resisting making the call. I can’t say that I was praying or feeling even remotely spiritual, but I sensed God speak a simple phrase to my heart:

Gabe, I want to Father you through this.

 God was reminding me that He wanted to be involved in the process, that I didn’t have to figure this out alone. This is who He is as a Father. His heart is to be deeply engaged in the details of our lives, and one of the ways that He practically engages is often through others who come alongside us.

Realizing the need for humility, I eventually called Steve. He showed up with a smile and a genuine passion to help. After a few minutes of working on the pipes, the leak was a thing of the past.

Looking back, I realize that my opposition to receiving help was actually a hindrance to what God wanted to do. By resisting help from others, I was actually resisting help from God. My openness to help was the exact door through which God showed up, and I’m so glad He did. After all, I could have gone another 12 rounds with the contraption and still ended up flat on my back.

A similar story often plays out in ministry and counseling settings. The most common statement a person will make in my office is: “It took me a loooong time to get here, because I tried for so long to fix the issue myself.” Whether it’s a problem in a person’s marriage, sexual life, finances, relationships, work, etc., the common denominator is that we humans are often very slow to ask for help.

I also have the privilege of walking with these same courageous people as they get some traction, get unstuck, and begin to make serious progress. God shows up in the process over and over again, but it starts with simply being open—open to God and open to others.

It’s too easy to try and go at it alone. Let’s be men and women who choose a better way. May we possess the humility and courage to receive the help that God is passionate about providing, which typically requires us to be vulnerable with others.

Speaking of feeling vulnerable, my wife was feeling quite vulnerable just yesterday. She was stranded in the Target parking lot. Our brand new vehicle was making funny noises and wouldn’t start.

After she called, I dropped everything to go and help. I arrived on the scene, smiled, and said:

“Don’t worry, babe. I got this.”

The Leadville 100 Trail Run

I was lying in bed wide-awake staring at the ceiling. It was August 21, 2014 and I had just let the cat out of the bag—I wrote a blog and publicly announced that I would attempt the Leadville 100 Trail Run the following year. (This is a 100-mile running race that begins at 10,200 ft., includes climbing 4 mountain passes, and must be completed in less than 30 hours.) It was a dream that had been in my heart for several months, but now I was actually committing to it. As soon as I pushed “Publish”, my hands became sweaty and my stomach turned to knots. I didn’t sleep well that night as my mind contemplated the monumental training effort that was in front of me.

Last Friday—August 21, 2015, one year to the day—I found myself lying in a different bed (in a Leadville hotel room) but still wide-awake and staring at the ceiling. My stomach turned and my legs were fidgety. I was filled to the brim with nervous energy. I had spent countless hours over the past year running in the mountains and training, and now I was less than 6 hours away from the 4am start of the infamous race. I rolled over and thanked Ashley for her unwavering love and support, and then tried desperately to catch a few evasive hours of sleep.

By 2:30am, I was trying to force myself to eat breakfast. I was anything but hungry, but I realized if I didn’t eat a substantial breakfast I would be in trouble on the course. One of my biggest concerns coming in was being able to sustain constant blood sugar levels throughout the duration of the run. I knew from past experience that when my blood sugar drops too low, it is very difficult to recover. My plan was to eat something small every twenty minutes to ensure a consistent intake of calories and fuel. This is very challenging to continue throughout a long run, but I knew I didn’t have a choice. Eating would have to be an act of the will.

We arrived at the start line shortly after 3am. I sat on a park bench and smiled as I looked at my faithful crew. Ashley, Laura, Matt, Travis, and Bobby were all there with me braving the cold mountain air and waiting for 4am to arrive. My nerves continued to build, but I was comforted by the presence of such dear friends.

Before the start

Matthew and Travis waiting with me for the official start.

I joined the herd of runners within the gates at the starting area and stretched as I watched the final minutes tick away. I stood next to a man in his 50’s who looked like he had been here before.

“You look like a veteran at this,” I said as I wondered about his running resume.

“Well, this will be my 7th try, but I’ve never made it past mile 50.” After a pause, he continued, “Last year, I showed up to pick up my shirt at the starting line, but then I went home and never returned.”

“That was an expensive shirt,” I quipped and we both laughed as the final countdown continued.

The loudspeakers roared as the man on the microphone shouted, “10, 9, 8, 7, 6…” I looked over and blew Ashley a kiss, turned on my headlamp, and ran through the starting line and into the darkness of the night.

The first mile was festive as spectators lined each side of the street, but things got very quiet by mile 2. We were now outside of Leadville and heading towards Turquoise Lake. The sound of running shoes on a dirt road was about all that could be heard. A long line of bobbing headlamps in front and behind me was all that could be seen.

It was during this stretch that I was particularly aware of God’s presence. I could sense His pleasure that I was taking on such a challenge, and the still small voice of the Lord spoke to my heart: I am with you, Gabe. I was reminded of what He spoke to me many months ago when this story started: I want to take this journey with you.

 I spent the next several miles staring at the feet of the runner in front of me while also quietly praying and enjoying the Lord’s company. Many of my prayers were for my brother, who was embarking on his third attempt to finish the 100-mile course. He had trained hard over the past several months, but he injured his knee the weekend before and was limping around town the day before the race. He looked like he was in no condition to toe the starting line, but I knew he would still give it a valiant effort.

By 6am, the sun started to rise over the lake and the beauty of the course was exposed for the first time. I looked up to see high mountains on each side, and there was a glorious reflection coming off the water. The only view that was more enjoyable was when I caught the first glimpse of the aid station at mile 13.5. I was ahead of my anticipated time and feeling great. Ashley and Laura re-stocked my supplies, and I quickly left the aid station and made my way back to the trail.

A long line of runners soon fell into lock step as we started the approximate 1,200 ft. climb up Sugarloaf pass. After steep climbing, the trail spilled onto a dirt road before turning back onto single-track trail for more climbing. I started running along the dirt road before I felt the first squeeze of a calf cramp. I really hadn’t dealt with cramping on any of my previous training runs, so I was surprised by it. After getting back on top of my hydration, the cramps started to subside as I continued to climb the pass.

The forecast was calling for a beautiful day of sunshine, but this was not the case on the mountain. Clouds moved in, the wind picked up, and a light rain started to fall. I eventually made it to the top of the pass and prepared for a steep and intense run down the other side, the part of the trail named “Powerline.”

Powerline

A look at part of the section called “Powerline”

My legs were still feeling strong and I maintained a solid pace coming down the mountain. It was hard work but very enjoyable navigating the rocks and ruts on the mountain. Halfway down Powerline, a sharp pain shot through my right knee. It felt like somebody stabbed me, and it caused me to lift up out of my running posture and shift all of my weight to my left leg while shuffling to a stop. My first thought was, That’s not good, but I also knew coming in that I would experience pain. I was hoping that it was just momentary pain rather than an ongoing injury that would plague me for the rest of the race.

I had to slow down and change my stride for the remainder of the Powerline descent. I could still feel discomfort each time my right foot landed, but it was manageable. I was happy to get to the bottom and back on relatively flat terrain where there wasn’t as much pounding. I was 2 miles away from the Outward Bound aid station (mile 24), and I was excited to see that I was about 15 minutes ahead of my goal time.

My parents had joined Ashley and Laura at the aid station, and collectively they took good care of me. I was soon re-stocked and ready to get back on the trail. This is a good place to mention how blessed I was by my crew: Ashley, my parents, Laura, Amber, Matthew, Bobby, and Travis. Crewing involves little sleep, enduring the weather elements, carrying heavy supplies back and forth from the car to the aid station, changing the runners nasty socks and shoes, and waiting….and waiting….and waiting. Crewing is a selfless and heroic act.

I left the Outward Bound aid station feeling pretty confident. I had a good pace going and the next few miles were fairly flat. After plugging along on the hard pavement for thirty minutes, I was glad to see the sign pointing us back to a softer trail. The next couple miles included a long and gradual rise up to the next aid station at mile 31. I arrived at the aid station 10 minutes ahead of my goal.

I didn’t spend much time at this aid station and I got back to work on the trail. The course continued to climb for the next several miles, so I settled into a steady hike. I was tired but still feeling good about my pace.

Everything changed at mile 34. The long incline was behind me, and I started to encounter quite a few downhill sections. While I loved running downhill on training runs, today was a very different story. The knee pain came back with a vengeance, and by mile 37 I was hobbling and awkwardly shuffling down even the gradual hills. I had to continually move off the course to let other runners by, and I realized my dream of finishing was in serious trouble. In order for me to stay on pace and hit the checkpoint times (you get pulled from the course if you don’t arrive at a checkpoint by a certain time), I needed to be able to run downhill. I tried to run several more times, but it was tough sledding (or more literally… “sliding”).

The next three miles were extremely difficult. It was all downhill—an elevation loss of 1,400 ft.—and my knee was only getting worse. I lost my balance multiple times on narrow and rocky portions of the course, and only aggravated the injury more trying to re-stabilize myself. Steve Pugsley saw my condition and quickly disappeared into the woods in search of walking sticks. He eventually popped back up on the trail holding a couple of sticks that I used as makeshift trekking poles.

I eventually came around the corner and slowly worked my way down the steep hill that dumps a runner into the little town of Twin Lakes at mile 40. The previous section of the course had delivered one blow after the next, and it was clear I was against the ropes. The Twin Lakes aid station has one of the highest dropout rates because Hope Pass stands next in line, taunting an already beat up runner.

Ashley was the first person I saw in Twin Lakes. She came running towards me with tears in her eyes. I was 30 minutes behind my goal time, so she had been worrying about my health. I then spotted the smiling faces of the rest of my crew, and they ushered me into a heavenly experience—which just meant I sat down in a chair.

Twin Lakes

Ashley greeting me in Twin Lakes

Matthew prayed over my knee, and then proceeded to take off my shoe and sock to rub Vaseline on my foot in order to prevent blisters. Ashley worked on the other foot while the rest of the crew restocked my food and water supplies. Lastly, Bobby used some athletic tape to help provide some additional support for my knee, and before long I was up and moving again.

I was committed to continuing until I was pulled from the course, so I left Twin Lakes and started across the field and through the river that’s near the base of Hope Pass. This section of the course garners the most attention and respect from runners. Essentially, it’s a 3,400 ft. climb to an elevation of 12,600 ft. before a 5-mile drop back down into the ghost town of Winfield at mile 50.

The race rules state that a runner must pass through the Hopeless aid station (near the top of Hope Pass) by 4:15 and through Winfield by 6pm if they are allowed to continue. I was confident I could make it to the top of the pass in time, but I knew the descent into Winfield would be very hard with the condition of my knee.

My climb up the pass was simply one foot in front of the other. I could feel the pain, but it was nothing compared to what it felt like descending. I arrived at the Hopeless aid station around 3:50 (mile 45), so I was allowed to continue over the rest of the pass. The volunteers at the top of the mountain were outstanding, and I was surprised by how much food was available at the aid station. Because of the nature of the trail, the volunteers must use llamas (as opposed to motorized vehicles) to get supplies to the Hopeless aid station. They are a dedicated bunch.

I left the aid station and moved above tree line as I continued to make my way to the top of the pass. I was on the switchbacks near the top when I realized my vision started to get blurry, the first sign of low blood glucose. This was my biggest concern coming in, and it was happening at the worst possible time. I experienced a few of these episodes on training runs, and they caused what felt like an absolute crash to my system.

I sucked down a few gel shots and continued to hike up the pass. From past episodes, I knew the worst of it (blurry vision) usually lasted about 20 minutes, and the aftershock (headache, nausea, etc.) usually lasted a few hours. I made it to the top of Hope Pass 15 minutes later, but had little time to rest at the top. It was 4:30pm, which meant I only had an hour and a half to get down.

After the first few switchbacks on the descent, I came face-to-face with the reality that I would not be able to make it to Winfield by 6pm. The backside of Hope Pass is steep, rocky, and treacherous in places. My knee could not support my weight any longer, so I was limited to using my trekking poles as a form of crutches. At the same time, my blurry vision continued to get worse.

I started to get concerned after about 45 minutes with blurry vision. The gel shots and food I was eating didn’t seem to be helping much, and I was running out of food quickly. I didn’t have a choice but to keep working my way slowly down the mountain.

I had been descending for what felt like an eternity when I asked fellow runners (who were coming back up) how much further I had until Winfield. They said it was about 4.5 more miles, which meant at my hobbled pace it would still take a few hours to navigate the rugged terrain.

The strength and confidence that surged earlier in the race was a distant memory. I now felt vulnerable and exposed, still fairly high up on the mountain. I prayed for the Lord’s help and continued to take one step after the next.

The next ninety minutes were brutal. I would take a few steps, step off the trail to let runners going up pass, and then take a few more. I knew the pain in my knee wouldn’t kill me, but I wasn’t sure why my eyes were getting worse rather than better.

With my chances of making the cut-off time long gone, my new goal was to simply make it to the dirt road at the bottom of the mountain. I wanted a good challenge with the Leadville 100, and I was getting my money’s worth. In fact, there were a few occasions when I started thinking about my family and praying that I would be able to see them again. That may seem a bit dramatic looking back, but at the time I wasn’t exactly coherent and was very unsure what was happening with my health.

It took a substantial amount of time, but I finally made it to the trailhead at the bottom of the mountain. It was nearly 50 miles from the cameras and cheering crowds that accompanied the official finish line of this crazy race, but it would serve as my finish line. It was well past the 6pm cut-off time, so I knew my race was over. My knee was still throbbing and my vision was at an all time low. I ran over to some campers and explained my state and a man graciously gave me a ride for the final mile to Winfield where I met my dad who took me directly to the medical team.

After eating, drinking, and resting, my vision became clear again. The medical personnel at Winfield recommended I go back to Twin Lakes and see the race doctors. After being evaluated at Twin Lakes, a decision was made to take me to the hospital for further evaluation. I spent several hours at the hospital in Leadville and after a battery of tests, I was treated with breathing treatments, antibiotics, IV fluids, etc. and eventually released.

Meanwhile, my brother was still pressing on deeper into the course. He cleared the 50 and 60 mile checkpoints before falling behind pace and being pulled from the race near mile 73. He battled tough, and I’m very proud of him.

I’m currently still in the process of recovering physically. I’ve had my knee evaluated and will most likely follow up with a MRI. Everything else seems to be healing nicely. Ashley has been very helpful as she’s been a phenomenal nurse over the last few days. She has loved me well throughout this entire journey.

I still have much to process through this experience. I don’t have all the answers, but I’m confident that the God who walked with me each step of the way will help me gain clarity and understanding in time.

It’s difficult to swallow the results when they don’t align with expectations, but I guess that’s what makes a challenge interesting. Stories are the most compelling when you don’t know the outcome, when there are no guarantees. This is exactly why it takes courage to step into these kinds of stories.

The Leadville journey has been a story that’s been unfolding in my heart for a few years. It’s been compelling because I truly didn’t know how it would end. It was full of adventure, joy, fear, fun, friendships, pain, and uncertainty. In all of my conversations with the Lord, He never promised I would finish. He told me it would be extremely difficult, but He said He would be with me every step of the way.

And I guess in the end, that’s what it’s about. Where I seek results and accomplishments, the Lord seeks intimacy and friendship. While outcomes can’t always be predicted, the presence and faithfulness of God can be trusted.

Moving forward, I hope to continue to take on big challenges that test me at a deep level. I want to continue to live in a story where I don’t always know the outcome, a story where I have to lean into the Lord and trust Him in such a real way.

Does that mean I’ll sign up for the Leadville 100 in 2016?

Not a chance.

The Stare-Off

My kids are 6, 4, and 2 years old, so there’s rarely a dull moment around our house. Between princess dolls, footballs, bikes and scooters, or trips through the sprinklers, they’re always doing something.

As a father, in addition to joining them in whatever full throttle activity they are engaged in, I really enjoy the moments where they slow down and offer me their undivided attention. I delight in looking deep into their wondrous blue eyes or counting the freckles on Avery’s nose. Quality face-to-face time is good for this dad’s heart.

These moments don’t just happen, so I’ve had to get creative. That’s why one of the new games around our house is a simple stare-off.

stare off

Owen and I engaged in a fiercely competitive stare-off.

They always responds to a challenge or competition, so I tell them the first one to smile or blink loses. It’s always good for at least five seconds of heaven on earth.

The joy in my heart wells up every time their little eyes peer into mine. I can’t help but think it’s just a taste of the joy our Heavenly Father experiences when he’s afforded quality time with us—His children. If words can’t adequately describe my love for Avery, Sophie, and Owen, and yet God’s love for me is infinitely greater, then how great is our Father’s love towards us? Just how passionate is He about spending time with us? We’re often busy and running at a similar pace as my young kids; meanwhile, God invites us to slow down and enjoy face-to-face time with Him.

I’m convinced that God wants to be engaged in this authentic and genuine manner. This is why Jesus endured the brutality of Roman crucifixion, to offer us the gift of true intimacy with God. He wants us to open our spiritual eyes and behold His beauty. He wants us to seek His face.

“One thing I ask from the Lord,
this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
and to seek him in his temple.” (Psalm 27:4)

“When You said, ‘Seek My face,’ my heart said to You,
‘Your face, O Lord, I shall seek.'”(Psalm 27:8)

A.W. Tozer labeled this the “gaze of the soul.” He writes, “When we lift our inward eyes to gaze upon God we are sure to meet friendly eyes gazing back at us, for it is written that the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout all the earth. The sweet language of experience is ‘Thou God seest me’ (Genesis 16:13). When the eyes of the soul looking out meet the eyes of God looking in, heaven has begun right here on this earth.” (The Pursuit of God, p. 85-86)

This is exactly what we are invited to do on a daily basis. Beholding God with our inward eyes isn’t something that is exclusively reserved for morning devotions or Sunday morning services. We can fix the gaze of our soul upon Him at any moment of any day. He is always near and ready to meet our eyes with His.

Tozer explains, “At first this may be difficult, but it becomes easier as we look steadily at His wondrous person, quietly and without strain. Distractions may hinder, but once the heart is committed to Him, after each brief excursion away from Him, the attention will return again and rest upon Him like a wandering bird coming back to its window.” (The Pursuit of God, p. 84)

We’ll never fully escape the distractions of this age, but it’s true that the more we fix our eyes on Him, the more we’ll desire to behold Him. His presence will captivate and fascinate, leaving us to see the “glamorous” things of the world for what they truly are.

We can begin to move in this direction today. There’s nothing stopping us from shifting our gaze upon Him today—in this very moment. Lock eyes with Him and seek His face, then move even closer and experience His embrace.

Which is precisely what Owen did in the middle of our stare-off.

Heaven on earth.

embrace

Leadville 100 Pt. 6: Coming Alongside

I’m currently training for the Leadville 100 Trail Run, which is set for August 22-23 of this year. The course begins and ends in the highest city in North America, Leadville, and the other 99 miles include 15,600 feet of elevation gain/loss as the trail winds through extreme Rocky Mountain terrain. I’ll have 30 hours to complete the course, and fewer than half the participants finish. Why on earth would I attempt this? Well, get caught up on the story here:

Leadville 100 Pt. 1: A Friend Like Humpty
Leadville 100 Pt. 2; Leadville Fever
Leadville 100 Pt. 3: The Scariest Click;
Leadville 100 Pt. 4: Good News or Bad News?
Leadville 100 Pt. 5: Running For My Life

bobby and matt

Two of my three pacers–Matt and Bobby–logging mountain miles with me.

The first forty miles of the course are considered warm up miles. (That’s what I thought, too…Forty miles…A warm up?) Some Leadville 100 veterans say the real race starts at mile 40, which happens to be where you begin a 3,400 ft. climb that takes a runner well above tree line and over an oxygen deprived Hope Pass.

Once a runner navigates the five quad thrashing miles coming down the backside of the pass, they have officially reached the halfway point—mile 50. Most runners are utterly exhausted at this point, and the reality of turning around and doing it all again is too much for some to handle. This is the point when a number of runners gracefully bow out.

If a runner can peel himself out of the chair at the 50-mile medical checkpoint, they are rewarded by being allowed pacers for the remaining 50 miles. A pacer is a saint-of-a-soul who is willing to forfeit a night of sleep, run through the dark of the night in the middle of nowhere, endure below freezing temperatures, and tolerate a grouchy, and at times, incoherent runner.

I couldn’t be more excited about the dear friends (some may call them “suckers”) who have agreed to pace me. They are the type of men I want by my side when things get hairy. They’ll alternate sections running next to me, help me stay on course, carry much needed food and water, and keep me going when I don’t feel like taking another step. Apart from my amazing wife, they are the real heroes in all of this.

One of my three pacers is Matt Ayers (in addition to Bobby Mikulas and Travis Hearne). Matt beat the odds last year by finishing the Leadville 100 in his first attempt! He’s a salt-of-the-earth guy who has been a real ally for me throughout this journey.

matt and gabe running

Matt faithfully running alongside me on a long training run…

Matt is also the executive director for the Dream Centers of Colorado Springs (DCCS). This is a phenomenal ministry that is committed to coming alongside some of the most vulnerable people in Colorado Springs.

I can’t think of a better pacer than Matthew, and I can’t think of a better organization to partner with than DCCS. I’m excited to announce that I’ll be raising money for DCCS through the Leadville 100.

The mission of the Dream Centers of Colorado Springs is to provide health and hope for people working to rebuild their dreams. There are currently three core programs that operate under DCCS: the Women’s Clinic (free, holistic, state-of-the-art medical care for uninsured or underinsured women), Mary’s Home (transformational housing program for homeless single moms and their children), and Adopt-a-Block (community development program). Much more information is available at www.dreamcenterscos.org.

I can personally testify to the fruit of this ministry because I spent two years counseling women at the Dream Centers Women’s Clinic. I spent hundreds of hours sitting with women at the Clinic, listening to their heartbreaking stories, and watching God bring healing and restoration in powerful ways. These women were provided with medical care and counseling free of charge, and I watched as one woman after the next received hope and healing. It was absolutely beautiful, which is why I’m so passionate about supporting the work of DCCS.

I want to invite you to consider pledging towards my Leadville 100 run. This is a great opportunity to support a ministry that is committed to coming alongside the broken, vulnerable, and hurting….

Which is probably how I’ll feel when I see Matt’s smiling face at mile 60.

Thank God for people—and ministries—who come alongside others.

Donate Here: https://donatenow.networkforgood.org/DreamCentersCORPS