Marathon People


In the seven years that we have lived in Boston, we have rarely missed the Boston Marathon. The one exception was two years ago when we returned from Istanbul on marathon day only to find out that the tragic Boston Marathon bombing had occurred, changing the day from festive to fearful. The days that followed will not be forgotten and the marathon will be forever changed.

The other exception was this year. We were tired. We needed to remove ourselves from the urgent so that we could focus on the important. So Friday night we packed the car and headed to the Cottage and some time away. It’s early for us. Usually the Cottage is rented to others at this time of year, but this year things changed and so it was our weekend to reclaim this precious space.

And reclaim we did. From looking at the stars, to decorating and sorting, to having dear friends over for dinner and Dutch Blitz, we rested and reclaimed the gift of Rockport and the Cottage.

As we made our way back to the city, we saw some marathoners shaking slightly though covered in their silver warmth blankets. They had a proud, self-conscious look about them. They did it! They did this race and their silver coverings and marathon numbers still attached to their clothes are outward proof of this huge accomplishment.

These are the marathon people and I am in awe over what they have done. This is a world-famous race and people have worked and trained long, hard hours to be in this race. I am not an athlete, but I still know some of what it takes to train the body, to do things you never thought possible. And these marathon people? They have worked and willed their bodies and minds to achieve a goal.

Marathon people. If their coverings and numbers didn’t tell the story, their bodies would. No matter their age, they are fit, their bodies muscled and toned because of the discipline of training.

I realize as I look at them that I want to be a marathon person. I want to have goals and to do whatever it takes to meet those goals. I want to do whatever I’m doing with those thoughts in mind, with a discipline and tenacity that gets me through the difficult parts. I want to be a marathon person.

In the book of Hebrews in the Christian New Testament there is a chapter that is often referred to as the “Faith Hall of Famers.” It’s really a chapter about marathon people. Marathon people who kept on going, who didn’t give up, even when they didn’t get what they longed for, what they ran for. Their names were Abel and Enoch, Noah and Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, and so many more. The list is long and the stories are compelling. These were marathon people but they never took home a prize.

“All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.”

Their’s was a faith worth pursuing, a marathon worth running even if what was all around them seemed contrary to what they believed.

The stories of these Biblical marathon people make me think of a place in the Boston Marathon called Heartbreak Hill. Heartbreak Hill is famous in these parts. This is the last hill in the marathon. It rises a half mile and once you have come to the top, you can see some of the highest buildings in downtown Boston. You know that you have made it. It is considered the most difficult, absolute toughest part of the marathon course because runners reach this hill at mile 20 and 1/2 and they are so tired. But they have been trained and warned, and so they persevere, and at the top they know they’ve completed the most difficult part of the race.

In the Hebrews chapter I mentioned, all the people listed had many heartbreak hills, many points where there was no way they felt they could go on. Points where they questioned God and life. But they did it. They kept on going. Because they were marathon people. Some verses later in the chapter tell us that they were commended for being marathon people.

“These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.”

When it comes to life, I want to be known as a marathon person – someone who meets the difficult parts of life head on without fear and trembling, instead with determination and grit. I want to have at it with God’s grace and strength. I want my number and my silver blanket for warmth.  I want to be one of the marathon people. 

What about you? Have you run marathons? What does it take to be a marathon person? 

Verses from Hebrews 11, New International Version

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Thoughts on Pain, Justice, and the Tsarnaev Trial

Just blocks from the grey, nondescript government building where I work, three thousand jurors were called on to fulfill their civic duty. After filling out lengthy questionnaires they went through arduous questioning and cross-questioning. Ultimately those three thousand dwindled down to 12 with a couple of alternates. They were initially not known by name, instead they are Juror #1 all the way to Juror #12.

These men and women, under oath, will ultimately decide the fate of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev – the Boston Marathon bomber.

Today is the anniversary of that bombing, and last week the verdict came out. Guilty on all 30 counts. The next step is for the jury to decide whether Tsarnaev will receive the death penalty. It’s ironic that in this state, a state where the death penalty was abolished in 1984, that so many on the streets want this and more for the bomber. The hatred of this young man is palpable.

Cambridge was home to Dzhokhar for years as he attended elementary, middle, and high school at public schools. A picture of him at prom Junior year shows him smiling beside my daughter, she a year older than he. It was the year she was elected prom queen.

How long its been since that day! Though only a few years, in events its been eons.

News cameras circle like hawks around the area, as they have done for weeks. And those who are victims of the attacks continue to live lives of emotional and physical pain.

Boston, indeed Massachusetts has had a taste of the collective tragedy that other cities and countries have experienced at a much more prolonged and larger scale. The grief has given way to anger, and has moved now to relief that a trial is actually almost over.  Most people would say they “just want it over”, want justice to be served.

What is justice when it comes to events like these? What outcome will ease the pain of the event? What am I to think as I observe the events from the sidelines? Many who have been wronged never receive justice from the people or countries that committed violent acts against them. And then there’s Dzhokhar himself, recently caught on film in prison orange, feet chained and escorted by two guards walking him quickly into a building. I read an old article from The Atlantic written soon after the bombing took place that warns against empathy for the bomber.

All these attempts to get inside Dzhokhar’s head and understand his mental processes have an unintended side-effect: empathy. Just as reading novels is proven to increase our empathy, reading dozens of articles hinting at different possible motivations increases our empathy for the main character of this story.

Let’s remember, though, that it might not be deserved, that it might even be grotesque and wrong. We still know very little. We have a responsibility to try to understand context and not to whip up misplaced hatred. But we should also be careful not to invent justifications for a heinous crime, and even more careful not to suggest that our own imagined justifications lessen the suspect’s moral culpability.

In the end it just doesn’t matter how sweet Dzhokhar’s classmates say he is if he’s guilty of all he’s alleged to have done. [from Enough Sympathy: Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Is Not a Victim]

Human justice can only take us so far, can only ease the pain of loss by small increments. Human justice can offer some comfort and solace, some recognition of heinous acts, but it falls short of providing real healing. And yet, it’s all we have.

Today on this anniversary I feel deeply sad. I feel sad, yet humbled and encouraged, by the victims, who continue to move ahead despite hundreds of doctors appointments, counseling sessions, and nightmares. I feel sad for the city, a city brought to its knees, a city so in control and proud that is suddenly out of control. And I also feel sad for a life wasted by a terrible choice to commit a crime that left so many injured, both in body and in soul.

But this I know: Evil did not win. Not that day. Not any day. It feels like it does, but it doesn’t. Evil will not, cannot win. While its effects are horrific, its lifespan is short, its days are numbered. Grace, Mercy, and Forgiveness will win. For their lifespan is eternal.

I’ll end with the words I wrote two years ago: “And so I pray the only words I know how: Lord have mercy. Hear our prayer. Free us from our pain.”

Martha Mullen Responds to Unwanted Bodies

At the same time Marilyn wrote the post on “Unwanted Bodies”, Robynn was writing one of her own: “Martha Mullen responds to Unwanted Bodies”. Such is the connection that develops between two people who want to communicate through words. 


I have a new hero. I first heard about her on the radio several weeks ago. I was driving my car mindlessly, half listening to All Things Considered on National Public Radio when a story piqued my interest.

It was a modern-day parable of grace and convictions; of faith and love. As I listened I started to cry.

The Parable of the Good Samaritan by Jan Wijna...

Martha Mullen was also listening to NPR when she heard the report that the Tsarnaev family couldn’t find a place to bury their son, Tamerlan. Tamerlan Tsarnaev is the alleged bomber who died a month ago in Boston. He and his younger brother are accused of  plotting and  planning for the Boston Marathon bombings. These two brothers planted two pressure cooker bombs 210 yards apart at the finish line of the marathon. Three people were killed. 264 were injured. It was senseless. It was an evil act. But when Martha Mullen heard the story on the radio she thought somebody should do something. She decided she was that somebody. In the NPR interview she said, “It made me think of Jesus’ words: Love your enemies. I felt that, also, (Tamerlan) was being maligned probably because he was Muslim. And Jesus tells us to – in the parable of the Good Samaritan – to love your neighbor as yourself. And your neighbor is not just someone you belong with but someone who is alien to you. That was the biggest motivation, is that, you know, if I’m going to live my faith, then I’m going to do that which is uncomfortable and not necessarily that’s what comfortable”.

As I listened to the interview I was astounded by Martha’s simple faith. She took her faith to heart and she reached across the faith-divide, across the country, to a family who were grieving and who had no place to bury their son.

Like Peter Stefan, she chose to want the unwanted; to claim the unclaimed.

Martha Mullen is an ordinary woman. She’s married. She has a dog. She goes to a Methodist church. There’s not that much written about her. She really isn’t famous. Or she wasn’t. Until now. When she made the choice to get involved. Like the Good Samaritan in the parable, she crossed the street and ministered to a family that was hurting. She did more than think about or wear the ridiculous bracelet that wonders “What would Jesus Do?” –she did what he would do.

I want to be like Martha Mullen. I want to see those who are different from me as my true neighbour. I want to do the right thing. I want my faith to mean something.  True religion reaches out to the bereaved, to the widow, the orphan, the grieving. True faith says I choose to identify with those that Jesus identifies with–the marginalized, the foreigner, the displaced, the lost. The Unwanted.

It’s astonishing to me that there has been an angry backlash against Mullen. But she wasn’t surprised. Neither does she regret her choices. Psalm chapter 16 contains this delightful statement: “The godly in the land are my true heroes! I take pleasure in them”. I take pleasure in Martha Mullen. She is one of my new true heroes. As an Ambassador of Love she did the right thing. When the protesters are now silent and the grumpy are done showing their displeasure at her mercy, I want to say, “Thank you Martha for doing the right thing. Thank you for giving us an example of what it means to actively choose to identify with the Unwanted.” 

And Change Will Come…..

Today’s beautiful post comes from my nephew, Tim. I am honored that he penned these words and sent them to me, giving me permission to post them. And I also love that Tim affectionately calls me “Aunt M”. 

20130117-071604.jpgIt is late April, and I look out my window at giant snowflakes, floating down from above. The snow remains deep on the ground, and the air is frigid. The thermometer has not risen above 45 degrees in almost six months. I knew when I moved to Northern Wisconsin that the winters would be long, and the meteorologist on TV assures me that this winter is longer than usual. He says  that spring is just around the corner, with its flowers and tree blossoms and singing birds. But I have trouble believing it. The snow just keeps coming. The cold doesn’t seem to break.

I struggle to trust that change will ever come.

My spirits are also brought low by the events of the last few weeks. Bombs at the Boston Marathon. A doctor in Philadelphia is accused of murdering newborn babies. China is picking up the pieces and burying bodies after a severe earthquake. A fertilizer factory explodes in Texas. Tornadoes. Floods. Poison in the mail. Politicians unable to agree on how to keep weapons of war off of our streets and away from our schools. Nuclear apocalypse could hit East Asia at any moment.

The world I see resembles my local weather. It is gray, cold, and chaotic. It is not how it ought to be. And I see little evidence that change will ever come.

At moments like this I am thankful for wisdom greater than myself. For the meteorologist on television assures me that we will soon experience a change in the weather. There is a great pattern at work involving the movement of our planet and energy from the sun. This pattern all but guarantees a warming of the ground and the atmosphere. The snow will turn to rain, the soil will loosen up, and the trees will begin to feel something stir in their toes. Before I know it these woods that I love will again be green, bright, and fragrant. It is simply the way of things, and though my heart may doubt, it will come to pass. Change will come.

So it is with God. Though I doubt the capacity of this world to change, and though I despair at the suffering and evil that is manifest all around, I cannot doubt the character of my God. “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary.” (Isaiah 40:28). He is good, and His justice is assured. He will make this world right, as inevitably as winter turns to spring.

In the meantime, He wants us to help Him bring about the change. There are widows and orphans in need of help, trees to plant, and wounds to bind. And for today, there is at least some snow that still needs to be shoveled. But not for long. Not for long.

For Change Will Come. 


When My Anxious Thoughts Multiply Within…..

I woke with a headache. It started at the base of my neck and before long wound its way up to my temples. I was acutely aware that it was a headache born of anxiety.

“When my anxious thoughts multiply within….”

Policeman are out in full force here in the city. Army men parade the streets. All the surrounding towns have loaned their safety units to Boston. Random checks are occurring in the subway and people clutch their arms to their bodies a bit tighter.

It’s part of the terrorist process. For the bombs don’t just terrorize for the moment, although their worst physical impact is felt then. Bombs and attacks terrorize far longer than the actual event. It’s like dominoes. The terrorist domino effect – where one thing happens and pretty soon you have a world spinning to try to keep the dominoes from crashing down.

I work in state government and we have received email upon email giving us resources, recognizing that even those not directly involved feel the ripple effect of the sadness and terror that reigned on Monday. Articles on grief and post traumatic stress flood my inbox. And I am grateful for the attention that the Department of Public Health is finally giving to what people around are experiencing.

But for me it’s not enough. For there has to be a faith element that wraps around all these resources. A recognition that the God who sustains and heals will continue and work through and beyond man-made resources.

And I find the answer in an age-old Psalm, sung for generations, sung to those in captivity, those in exile, those in war, those fleeing their enemies.

“When my anxious thoughts multiply within me, Thy consolations delight my soul”.* This is the missing ingredient to all the other resources.

*Psalm 94:19 “A text of this kind shows us forcibly the power of Divine grace in the human heart: how much it can do to sustain and cheer the heart. The world may afflict a believer, and pain him; but if the grace which God has given him is in active exercise in his soul, the world cannot make him unhappy. It rather adds by its ill-treatment to his happiness; for it brings God and his soul nearer together — God the fountain of all happiness, the rest and satisfaction of his soul.”~Charles Bradley, 1845

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In the Midst of Tragedy – a Call to Pray

Less than 24 hours ago, we left from Istanbul’s International Airport for a long flight back to Boston by way of Munich.

We had come empty and we left full. We had come discouraged, and we left encouraged. We had come tired, and we left energized.

A city of mosques, vibrant colors, masses of people, human need, and history filled our days.

We returned to a city in shock, trying to make sense of a violent act causing grief and tragedy. The famous Boston Marathon hijacked by evil, a scene resembling a war zone in the middle of this safe city. We received the news by text as we waited on the tarmac, unsure of why we were not allowed to pull up to our gate. This minor inconvenience quickly gave way to shock and sadness. Bombs at a marathon? It all seemed unreal.

Every year since we’ve moved back to the area we have gone to the Marathon. It’s a ‘thing’. We wouldn’t miss it. The only reason we missed it this year was because of our trip.

Our neighbors had been two blocks from the scene and many of the injured were taken to the hospital where my husband works. I hear of more just around the corner, just up the way, others “supposed” to be there but something detained them…it’s all so close.

Days before I had the privilege of meeting just a couple of the millions of Syrian refugees who have come into Istanbul. With a shock I realized that this is the grief and loss that has assaulted them for months on months. Everyone of them has lost someone or more from their family. Everyone of them has lost most all they had, come with as much as they could carry.

As for yesterday, the news got worse throughout the evening — untold deaths in Iraq from a series of bombs that went off in cities across the country; an attack in Somalia claimed by al Shabab.

This post is not a pain and tragedy comparison. Pain is pain and death is death. When it hits closer – we feel the pain more acutely, we know those involved, tragedy has a personal note. And we realize this is what many live with day upon day. There is no longer any safety in their cities or towns. All of life revolves around being in the right place at the right time and escaping death or injury.

The collective grief makes me want to scream, anything to release the sense of helpless fury in the midst of senseless, inane violence. The images make me feel guilt as I sit in comfort looking at gifts I have brought home from shopping in a place of color and life.

And then I remember the call to pray.

Five times a day a Call to Prayer rings out across the Muslim world. I am fully aware of the differences in belief systems between Christianity and Islam – yet five times a day for much of my life I have been reminded to lift my heart in prayer. And the five times stretches to many times in between until I realize I am slowly learning that I can’t make it through this life without prayer; that the exhortation to ‘pray without ceasing’ is life-giving. That in the midst of senseless acts of violence, in the midst of tragedy, I am called to pray. Called to pray to a God who hears and loves, a God who is present in tragedy and accepts our “why’s”, a God who knows no national boundaries or citizenship, a God who took on our human pain and suffering when he “willingly endured the cross”.

In the middle of my rambling words comes the voice of wisdom and grace through Carol who I said goodbye to only a short day ago at the shore of the Bosphorous Sea before we boarded a ferry. Carol – who has heard the news of Boston and reaches across the ocean to comfort and encourage.

“The call to prayer is ringing out now.”

“‘Come Lord Jesus’ is the cry of my heart! We live in a pained confused world! There is chaos that mars the landscape of God’s design. Yes we do experience His mercy and grace but the ache, the groan of pain is heard all around.”*

Church of the Holy Saviour at ChoraAnd so I pray the only words I know how: Lord have mercy. Hear our prayer. Free us from our pain.

*from Carol Brown

WWWP5k Failure on the Freedom Trail

I wanted to succeed. I really did. When Automattic announced that they would have a Worldwide WordPress 5K (WWWP5K) I was without excuse. While I have never pretended at athletic ability, all year I’ve had a disciplined marathoner colleague sitting at my lunch table eating “Marathon training food” (not even going to tell you what that means) to compete in the Boston Marathon. For the WWWP5K event all I would have to do was run speed walk 5K!  Not only that, I’m not great at building blogging community and this was one way and day I could stretch beyond my comfort zone. Also with people participating world-wide through WordPress it fit with my love for the world….I was so in.

And what better place to do this than the famous Freedom Trail in Boston? The red-brick trail that takes people through history by showing various sites significant to the founding of the United States. In this way I could show readers history and springtime in Boston all while getting exercise by participating in the WWWP5K. I would create a fancy sign that I could hold up at the end and have someone photograph me as a “Finisher”. I had it all planned. I even set the date for Saturday the 28th, the day before the official 5K.


I failed.


I’d like to blame it on hurting my ribs or on my cheap Payless sneakers or on my crazy schedule but I won’t do that. I will admit defeat. Admit that it seemed doable but I couldn’t complete the goal in the time I had. And it’s freeing to admit failure. Sometimes it just doesn’t work. Sometimes you can’t work full-time, parent, blog, spend time with the man behind the blog, and take part in a 5K.

So I failed to complete the speed walk. But I did succeed in capturing some pictures that will introduce those that have never been here to the Freedom Trail. I call it the “Failed 5K on the Freedom Trail Collectors Album” and hope it will convince you to book a trip to Boston this summer.

At what have you failed lately? Go on – tell us! You know you want to.

Emblem of the Freedom Trail
Old South Meeting House

Old City Hall
Better view of the Old City Hall

Brass Donkey Statue - symbol of the Democratic Party
Did you know the history of the Donkey and the Elephant - symbols of the two major political parties in the United States? Well .... now you do!
Granary Burying Ground - Resting place of the likes of John Hancock and Paul Revere
The sign challenges the "Youth of Today when they visit this old house be inspired by the patriotism of Paul Revere"