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Walking by Faith Alone

Archive for March 2011

Running the Race

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In Alaska each year, thousands of athletes take the extreme challenge of running a marathon over mountainous terrain, in a stressful environment, against varying weather conditions. The runners will experience miles of isolated areas, rocky trails, and untraveled territory. It is not a race for just any athlete and the numbers from start to finish dwindle as the hours tick away.  The winner last year crossed the finish line in 4 hours, 1 minute, and 51 seconds. Few marathons can compare with this one.

My son Will loves to run. He probably gets his love of running from his Dad who enjoys the challenge of a good race. Recently, Will entered his first 1/2 marathon. As a Mom, with 18,000 participants involved, I was nervous considering he is only 13 years old. On the flip-side, I argued, he is 13 years old and will do fine. As you can imagine, it was a struggle for me. He started out in the dark of the morning to cheers of onlookers. Men and women of all different nationalities filled various starting corrals – from A to Z – waiting for the sound of the voice that initiates the race.

1 Corinthians 9:24 – “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize…”

The pounding of the feet against the asphalt echoed in my ears as I imagined the number of steps each would take to reach the end. At the seven mile mark, the race course splits. The half-marathoners run one way and the marathoners run the other. It is a difference of 13 miles as opposed to 26. “You are going to have to pay attention Will so that you don’t go the wrong way,” I heard myself repeating the instructions over and over to him, only to hear the typical 13-year-old response, “Mom! I know.”

 When I was thirteen years old, I had such a crush on this senior guy. He was handsome, funny, athletic, sweet, and he loved the Lord. Of course, to him, I was like a little sister. I entered a  6 mile race because I heard he was running and I envisioned the two of us stride to stride, breath to breath, mile after lonely mile…typical thirteen year old girl stuff. I still remember what he was wearing, gold Fighting Irish Football shorts and a white muscle shirt that said, “Hang in There, Baby.” Even though I was a great runner, at his pace, somewhere around the 4th mile I gave up on trying to keep up with him and frantically focused on trying to finish and not throw-up. To run and not complete the race without such an excuse as a loss of limb would be detrimental to my thirteen year old society ranking; however, to vomit would require my moving to an island off the coast of Cuba. By the time I crossed the finish line and witnessed congratulator hugs from his girlfriend to him, I decided there were other reasons to run besides him.

“Run in such a way as to get the prize.”

We waited for Will close to the finish line. My son Bo wanted to run the last mile with him and stood further down the course. The winner was a 28 year old, extremely fit male, who seemed to effortlessly round the corner toward the finish line. His goal, the announcer shouted from the loud speaker, had been 1 hour, 5 minutes and he came in just under that. Closely on his heels were others, rounding the curve, some faces grimmacing in agony, others panting, some joyful. I witnessed one lady lift the cross from around her neck up to her lips. Each person finding their way to endure, finish, and receive some form of reward – 1st female; 1st 65 year old and over; 1st non-adult. Two college age girls ran in fairy costumes with wings. One man ran in a spider man like body suit which covered his face. Another rounded the corner with a beer in his hand. Somehow, I missed my son. Bo ran the last mile with him. He crossed the finish line and while I stood nervously trying to spot his grey Nike running shirt, Will snuck up behind me, metal draped around his neck, with a smile from ear-to-ear – 1 hour 45 minutes and an interview with 11 Alive News.

“Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.”

Will later told us he knew God sent him encouragement. He explained that a man named Apollo took him under his wing around the 6th mile – Apollo had a son near Will’s age. The man had run in many marathons before, advising Will of his breathing and pace. Around mile 9, a female runner named Holly cheered Will on as they approached a hill, challenging him to the top.

How are you running this race? Maybe it is for the wrong reason, chasing after something that isn’t for you; maybe it is carefree, not interested in the outcome, just simply finishing; maybe it is without recognition or enduring obstacles or masked as someone else. Some of us have courses similar to the mountainous terrain of Alaska while others the paved streets of Atlanta with cheering onlookers. Whatever distance you are running, however steep or flat, whether alone or among friends, the victory that lasts is in how you run your race.

“Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”

1 Corinthians 9: 24 – 27

Written by Nora Hatchett Almazan

March 24, 2011 at 2:41 pm

Happy Feet

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I think of Mary Magdalene quite often. In a culture where women mattered so little, Christ, the King of kings and Lord of lords, sought her to deliver His good news – the news  He had arisen from the dead, just as He promised. “When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom He had driven seven demons” Mark 16:9. Realistically, if I were Him, I would have probably chosen John or to have a little fun with it, maybe the high priests or Pilot. But for some particular reason, He chose Mary. Maybe it was her loyalty or her ability to believe that allowed her to be chosen to deliver the news of His resurrection. In actuality, I imagine it was her heart and her passion for Him that brought Christ to her. When we have passion for something, we will stop at nothing to convince others. This amazing woman stood at the foot of the cross when all the others ran. She witnessed Jesus’ last breath. Why wouldn’t He reveal Himself to someone who fearlessly devoted herself to Him? Can you imagine how fast she ran to tell the others she had seen Him,  her feet pounding against the stone filled roads, rejoicing that her Lord was alive?

“How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news” Romans 10:15.

As a writer I contemplate the use of words. Words bring images to life. They are the photographs of the soul. It is unusual to me that Paul would use the term “feet” in this passage. Who has beautiful feet? Feet are ugly and sweaty; they smell; they are blistered and calloused. No, I would have chosen “eyes” – How bright are the eyes of those who bring good news. Or arms – How welcoming are the arms of those who bring good news. Even a tongue would make better sense – How melodious is the tongue that delivers good news. Maybe he was connecting Jesus’ washing of the disciplines feet with their carrying His word to others. Maybe Paul used feet because they work the hardest of all our body parts or because feet are not regarded as “beautiful” but actually something we tend to hide. Have you ever heard a man say, “I am so attracted to her. She has the most amazing feet” ?  The use of the word “feet” in this verse probably symbolizes our daily walk with Christ. Preaching the gospel is not just about a week of missions in the rainforests of Brazil and we’re finished, although that is important. Preaching the gospel is an everyday interaction and representation of our relationship with Christ.

My grandmother used to say, “Pretty is as pretty does.” She loved to sing the childhood song, “O be careful little eyes what you see…O be careful little ears what you hear…O be careful little feet where you go, for the Father up above is looking down with love, so be careful little feet where you go.” Our actions, our movements, our responses speak louder than any words could ever be heard about Christ. We could shout from the highest mountain our love for Christ but destroy that message by our acts of anger or our greed or our malice toward others.

I love to get pedicures. There is just something about the removal of dead skin from my feet that rejuvenates me. Picking a unique color for my toenails and maybe (if I have $5.00 extra) getting a floral design to go on top of the polish is a “pick me up.” I feel beautiful again – instantaneously. Is it possible we might all need a soul pedicure? Where are your feet taking you?

Today as you interact with others,  purposefully examine what message you bring. Is it beautiful? Does it represent Christ? Would He have chosen you to deliver His message that morning, the message He had arisen from the dead? One of my favorite church billboards states, “Always be a witness for Christ and if necessary speak.” 

How BEAUTIFUL will your feet be to others today?

Written by Nora Hatchett Almazan

March 8, 2011 at 11:58 am

The Grey Cat at My Window

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A grey cat came into our lives 4 years ago, independent and alone. Even after all the time she’s been with us, she refuses the affection we offer. Although I’ve tried, she rejects my open  acts of love which I extend to her daily. She tolerates my other cats as long as they eat from their own bowl not hers,  if they do not glance in her direction, or sleep in her bed. Life for my grey cat is on her terms, and her terms only. 

In the mornings she waits for me at  my kitchen window to  follow my footsteps as I feed the other animals – including her of course. Like a dog she is at my heels when I retrieve the mail at the end of the driveway or take the trash for collection,  and when our car pulls into the garage, she runs to greet us. Woe be unto any of us if we should kneel to pet her – we each claim a few scratches for such acts.

Smokey, as we call her, makes trips to the vet a glimpse of Armageddon. The kids and I have to start at least an hour in advance to entice her into the carrier and the noise she makes, one would think we were torturing her. Our vet gears up as if administering aide to a lion and affectionately calls her “the shark.”

But of  my cats, she is my favorite. There is a sweetness about her I cannot explain only to say it is there. I love to watch her wait under the bird feeder or balance on the porch railing in hopes of catching a squirrel off-guard.  She refuses to come in the house even during the cold spells.  I forced her in once which resulted in a pure panic attack, requiring me to set her free. She spends most of her day, perched in the window, watching us from the outside. 

Romans 8:38 “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Several years ago I worked with a group of people administering aide to children who live on the streets. A grueling life for these teenagers, most spend their nights working in prostitution or selling drugs as the ‘grunts’ for middle men, and their days underground trying to find a dry spot to sleep. If the night brings enough money to pay-off the pimps who control them, they like to jump on the freight train and ride across the countryside. One young man who once lived that life told me, “It is a momentary escape from hell.”

I was asked to help a girl around 15 who was sick from infections caused by cigar burns on her legs. My job was to clean her wounds and apply an antibiotic ointment – nothing too difficult – and yet when I saw that she was bruised from her knees to her hips, my heart was torn in half. She looked at me inquisitively. “They told me you were from the States,” she stated without emotion, “but you look Russian.”

I smiled at her, suddenly very embarrassed by my nice  clothing and showered appearance.  Before I ventured out with this group, I believed I understood the plight of these people but at that moment, I struggled understanding just where God’s love played a part in this young girl’s life.  The flash light I had asked her to hold for me caught the reflection of the cross that dangled around my neck. Against the underground cemented walls, it seemed larger than life. Her fingers reached up to stop the gold cross from swinging and she looked away. “How long before I can return to work?” she asked taking a deep draw on something I was told resembles glue.

“You know there is a place for you at the mission’s house. You’d be able to go to school and you’d be protected,” I began slowly, knowing my friends had tried for sometime to bring her in.

She gathered up her things and without another word, moved back to the cemented “cubbie” she called home. My interpretor helped me gather up my supplies. “She’s a tough one,” he whispered.

“…neither death nor life… neither height nor depth…”

Before we left I removed the chain and cross from my neck, a gift from a special friend when I graduated from high school, and took it to her. For what seemed minutes, she pondered whether to take the offering I extended to her, before quickly grabbing it from my hand and shoving it in her bag.

“…neither the present nor the future, nor any powers…”

No thing. No lifestyle. No hardship. No struggle. No sickness. No drug. No sin. No stubborness.

The leader of the group prayed for the teenagers and then offered his home, as he does each time he leaves, for them to come and be a part.  “We wait for you to join us.”

“…not anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God.”

My son asked me recently if I considered Smokey a part of our family. “Yes, I do,” I responded, “but we are waiting for her to join us.”

Written by Nora Hatchett Almazan

March 7, 2011 at 2:49 pm

Monday

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I once gave a writing assignment to a group of students instructing them to create an essay explaining which day of the week they would choose to be. Of course as you can imagine, Friday and Saturday were top picks – Sunday a very close second. No one wanted to be Monday. The outcome prompted me to assign yet another essay as to why no one wants to be Monday. The returns were quite interesting and thought-provoking. Realistically, depending on how you view your calendar, Monday is the start of a new week, a fresh chance to “get it right,” an avenue of hope and restoration; but, who in their right minds views Monday in that manner? Monday is daunting. It takes the fun out of the weekend. Monday starts problems that we work to resolve until Friday rolls around again. And that feeling of contentment from time spent with family and friends at church or ballparks or gardening is suddenly gone for returning to work or school and having to start it all over again.

Oh I wouldn’t want to be Monday – the bearer of bad news; the instigator of problems and issues; and the ultimate party-pooper. Last week I ran into a friend who was having a really bad Tuesday. She said to me, “I guess Tuesday is the new Monday, huh?” There is even argument as to which day should start the week – Sunday or Monday. Maybe people feel if Sunday starts the week, it takes a bit of pressure off Monday. I’m a Monday starts the week kind of girl just because I like to end the week on the Sabbath Day as I believe God did with rest. Whatever category you fall into, your Monday is just like anyone elses’ – despised, dreaded, and even feared.

There is a lady I know. If we could seriously classify people as days of the week, she would be a “Monday.” I cannot get, “How are you?” out of my mouth that she does not begin with all the woes of the world, her neighbors, her church, her own body, the list goes on and on. Her favorite line is “If Satan would just leave us alone…” Usually, when I have finished my conversation with her, my ice cream has melted and the entire line at the check-out counter of the grocery store is eyeing me so happy I got stuck talking to her and not them. So, what day of the week are you?

In my younger days I would categorize myself as a Saturday – full of fun, adventure, relaxed, easy-going; now I see myself as more of a Wednesday – an optimistic, encouraging, middle of the road, “we’re going to make it” kind of person. What about you?

I used to work for an attorney who would open the office doors on Monday mornings and with arms raised high would declare, “Mr. Monday…I’m gonna  kick your butt.” I’ve come to believe the initial manner in which we tackle our every day lives actually affects the outcome. If we look at our problems, like we look at Monday, we set the tone and often the prediction of failure. But if we can become Fridays, believers of good things to come; resonators declaring that the week has been tough but I survived and I’m moving forward; and an encourager of  hope that greater things are yet to come – oh, we could turn problems into solutions; despair into hope; and depression into joy.

Mondays do come in our lives and in the lives of those around us – sometimes they last long into Tuesday – but never doubt that God isn’t just as much a part of our Mondays as He is our Fridays. We just have to recognize His presence in every aspect of our lives.

2 Chronicles 20:17  “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the Lord will be with you.”

Choose to be an instrument of hope – not an obstacle of despair. Choose to be a Friday not a Monday to those around you.

Written by Nora Hatchett Almazan

March 6, 2011 at 1:02 am

The Waiting Game

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I learned I was pregnant with my sixth child 10 years after my first. We were all excited and filled with anticipation. My daughter Hart was around 2 to  2 1/2 and took great interest in the developing baby in my belly. “So Mommy, what’s the baby doing now?” “Mommy, is the baby hungry?” “When can I see the baby?” “Why cant the baby come out now?” I bought a children’s book to help her through the process but the questions just continued  daily. There were times I found them to be “cute” and other times quite “annoying;” needless to say, my inquisitive 2-year-old did not let up until the day our Dory was born and she could see for herself her new baby sister.

My children are all quite older now but I look back on that time and am reminded of something my daughter taught me. We all know that in pregnancy, we couldn’t go to our Obstetrician and demand for a c-section. “Doctor, I’m just tired of waiting and I know it’s only been 5 months but I want to be delivered today.” At 5 months the baby is not fully developed. The probability that it would live is very low at least without a great deal of artificial intervention. God’s plan for the creation of a baby is pretty definite – 40 weeks – and most people know and understand the process. We only get anxious toward the end when we know its time.

How often are we like my daughter Hart to God?  “God, I’ve been praying for two weeks and nothing has happened?” “God, when? When are you going to give this to me?” “Why can’t it just happen now?” Just as a developing baby is in the hands of our Creator, so are the days of our lives. God’s intricate details are perfect and the outcome is in line with His plan for our purpose.

Psalm 27:14 “Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.”

In a society of Fast Food restaurants and Instant Messaging, One Hour Dry Cleaning and Overnight Delivery, we have become people who struggle with such a term -“WAITING.” Mr. Rogers from PBS’s children’s show used to sing a song, “What can we do while we’re waiting?” For years when my children were young, I would carry around a bag filled with entertaining objects for the sole purpose of getting us through the “waiting” times at the Dr.’s Office or meetings. It has become a human flaw, this waiting game. We complain about long lines and if our oil and lube session takes more than 15 minutes, we become annoyed.

Understand this – God is not in a hurry. Through out the Bible, every account of greatness took “TIME.” And there is nothing that God does that isn’t GREAT. There is a phrase, “Time is on our side.” With God, it is because He knows exactly the right amount of time to develop that chunky, pink, miracle of a baby even when we ask, like my daughter, for Him to hurry up. He knows the right amount of time and training we need to move forward in a particular direction. It is only when we decide to jump before He has instructed that we get into trouble.

I’m a big fan of swimming. My son swims at a collegiate level and recently I watched a particular event in which a swimmer “false started.” A rope was dropped across the pool to stop the young men who were hard pressed in pursuit of victory and the “false starter” was disqualified. It must be difficult to stand on the blocks, the stillness of the water below, the breath of the other challengers in rhythm, waiting for the starter to give the signal. Many times we “false start” before God is ready for us to dive in and swim for the win.  As I watched the disqualified athlete walk back to the bench to collect his things, I thought of my own life and how often I’ve jumped too soon while the race continued for everyone else.

God’s “Time is on our side.”

Written by Nora Hatchett Almazan

March 4, 2011 at 2:26 pm

Upon the Waters

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As a home school Mom, I have the “joy” of re-learning all that I should have learned in the 6th grade but was too busy passing notes with my best friend, Jere Weaver,  at Trinity Christian School. Unknown or maybe known by our teacher, Mrs. Reese, we spent the day writing messages about her handsome husband and hoping to have the chance to babysit for her on the weekend. Somewhere in between our scheming, I missed out on  Ancient Egypt and life on the Nile. Consequently, my daughter’s lessons intrigue me.

When the Nile River swelled and overflowed its banks, most of the plant life around it perished, the soil disintegrated, and the people would throw their rice seeds into the water. Interestingly, the seeds would take root and later would be found growing in productive vigor. The image reminded me of the scripture in Ecclesiastes 11:1, “Cast your bread upon the waters for after many days you will find it again.”  An odd verse to say the least when you consider the words. I related the scripture to “soggy bread” and moved on; but, in actuality the words of the Teacher are quite profound, especially for today’s world.

I lived in Tampa Florida for a brief period of time. I categorize these four years as “…the best of times and the worst of times…” to steal a phrase from one of my favorite books The Tale of Two Cities. The route home from my place of work and the day care center brought images of homeless people, living under by-pass bridges with cardboard tents and shopping buggies. An elderly man in particular sparked my interest and one day I stopped to give him dinner I purchased at the nearby Publix. All properly packaged in a styrofoam container, plastic utensils included, I approached him with my offering. “Sir, I bought this for you. I thought it might help.”  He casually smiled at me, thanked me, and to my surprise said, “I’m not hungry now. Maybe you should take it home with you.” Perplexed by his statement, I turned on my heels and returned to my car confused. Months later I learned the man was a minister who devoted his life to caring for drug addicts and the mentally ill.

After six or so months of passing him daily, I mustered up all the courage possible, returned to the by-pass, approached the older gentleman and inquired how I could help him. “Awwww,” he said with a gentle gaze, “You learned.” Often we assume to know that which does not exist. Often we categorize people we know nothing about.

God does not need our opinions, He needs our obedience. In daily life we encounter all types of people, although we have no ability to know how our actions impact them; but, God does. Recently, God convicted my spirit when I passed a begger on the street corner of Atlanta. Pulling my daughter away from him, I quickened my step so that we would not be late for the ballet. “He will just spend the money on drugs,” I whispered to her, “It would be better to give him food.”

“Cast your bread upon the water for after many days you will find it again.”

I must admit, I could not enjoy Sleeping Beauty, thinking of what I had said, remembering the man in Tampa, and offering to God my opinion of someone HE loves. After the production I hurriedly returned to the corner where the man once stood. I missed my chance to help.

While we might assume by tossing our bread upon the water it will only result in a soggy mess, God knows differently. Like the rice seeds of ancient days, He can grow that which we toss, but we first have to obey His instruction to toss it. It is only when we give of our provisions, our time, and our service can God use our offering to benefit His kingdom; but, we first must respond to the instruction and act.

Written by Nora Hatchett Almazan

March 3, 2011 at 2:53 pm