I used these verses from Romans as one of the scriptures at my ordination service in January. Much of what these verses say has rang true in my own life and also in my work as a therapist and pastor. We grow in times of suffering and trial. We may not like it and certainly this does not mean we are to seek it out, but when hard times hit, if we have some trusted others around us, it can be and will be growth producing
Little did I know what I was getting into when Ryan Sauder asked if I wanted to train for a Tough Mudder. I had never even heard of a Tough Mudder. I wondered how `tough’ and how `muddy’ would it be actually? When I reviewed the course online, 10-12 miles with 20-25 obstacles ranging from climbing over walls, crawling through mud and running through smoke and fire (Oh, and don’t forget about the electric shocks), I thought it would be best to decline. `Thanks, but no thanks.’ I will stick to my current little exercise regimen of running a couple of times a week and lifting at the Ephrata Rec.
But for some reason I didn’t say no and I signed up. Not only did I sign up for the race along with 12 guys from Blossom Hill and other friends; Ryan invited us to join a training team that would meet Saturday mornings to work out together. At 7 a.m. Really? Ugh. I sort of developed a `love/hate’ relationship with these Saturday training sessions. I was often anxious the night before and didn’t sleep so well. What kind of torture would our trainer, Angie, put us through? Could I do it? Would I look silly or weak? But the work-outs taught me and the others new exercises to improve our strength and endurance. I started pushing myself harder than I had in the past. Instead of settling for running a few miles, I started going on longer and longer runs. We commiserated on the days after the work-outs about which body parts were hurting the most. Lowell joked that he could barely `comb his hair’ (maybe he wasn’t joking) and I noted going up and down stairs was an adventure with sore quads and hamstrings. But gradually the soreness went away and I noted positive changes in my body, my strength and most importantly, my self-confidence.
The weather forecast for race day was not encouraging. The high would be in the upper 40s up in the Poconos and there was a chance of rain. So not only would we be dunked in cold, icy water, crawling through mud and running over 12 miles, it was going to be cold and maybe rainy! Was it too late to back out? But actually that wasn’t really an option and I found myself greatly anticipating the morning of the race. The sun was out and it was time to put all of the training and preparation into action. And something else was evident; I wasn’t alone. This motley crew of guys had formed into a team over the past few weeks. In addition to `no whining,’ an integral part of the “Tough Mudder Pledge” was that this is NOT a competition, but a challenge, which is best completed as a team. We were encouraged to look out for our teammates and fellow `Mudders’ on the course. We would not be enduring the challenges alone, but would have the constant support of the team. And even though we all ran at different paces, I greatly appreciated that Ryan, our fearless leader and motivator, stressed that we would face the obstacles as a team. That was reassuring to me as I approached a wall, crawled through muddy tubes or endured some electric shocks. My teammates were there to lead the way, pull me up and yell words of encouragement. Why else would I jump into a container of icy water? I couldn’t let them down. And if one of us slipped, fell, or dropped off the balance beam (into more water), there was always a hand there to pull you out and encourage you back onto the course.
The finish line, over 3 hours later, was part relief and more parts elation. I had done it! We had done it! I had never been in a race of more than 5 miles before this event and many of the guys on the team had not trained like this previously. Now we had just conquered 12 miles over hills, through the woods, always wet, but rarely cold. You see, when you are with others and you know they have your back, you don’t really feel the pain or the cold. That’s what friends are for. Come to think about it, shouldn’t that what the church is all about too?