why i’m running a marathon

For as long as I live, I will never forget the experience I had when I lived in the Guatemalan jungle in the spring of 2013.

My team and I were serving in a small village in the mountains, located in the very center of the country. It was the early springtime in the jungle, which mostly meant it was perpetually chilly and the rain was unrelenting. The paths that swirled up the mountain were slippery and quite dangerous for the untrained foot. The altitude was surprisingly exhausting.

We served at a church that month, attending services several times a week and doing some minor construction work near the building. On other days we worked at the village school in the valley.

One of the classrooms at the village school

One of the classrooms at the village school

For drinking and cooking, our team collected rain water in big barrels by the roof and then used a water purifying system to clean it. Occasionally, we needed more water than the rain could supply so when the barrels emptied out, we’d have to hike down into the valleys where there were natural springs.

We’d carry 5-gallon jugs down the slick paths, balancing carefully on the wet rocks and pausing occasionally to catch our breath. When we reached the springs, we filled up two jugs with the fresh water and then started the hike back up to the church.

I remember lifting the jug between my arms, then hoisting it over my shoulder, trying to find the right balance. With five gallons of water in it, the jug must have weighed over forty pounds.

The hike back up the mountain probably took over an hour. I kept having to stop and readjust the cumbersome jug, which seemed to have no easy way of being carried. My lungs burned from the thin air, my legs seared under the strain of the climb, and my arms shook in exhaustion.

When I’d reached the final peak and I knew the church was within a few hundred yards, I set the jug down in the dirt and collapsed next to it. I was completely depleted.

The pastor's kids standing in front of the church building on a foggy morning - Photo by my teammate Jonathan Garner

Some of the pastor’s kids standing in front of the church building on a foggy morning – Photo by my teammate Jonathan Garner

I looked out at the valley to my left, thick with green, lush trees; glowing with a sort of mystery that only the jungle seems to have. I caught my breath. I looked back at the jug of water.

In my exhaustion and near defeat, I sighed and prayed, “Lord, don’t let me ever, ever forget this feeling.”

I lived in Guatemala for a month – that’s barely a drop in the ocean. But after I left that jungle, I continued on a journey to other countries where I continued to haul water from wells and bathe in rivers. More than once I became acquainted with that intense and distinct stomach pain that comes after drinking contaminated water. But again, my exposure to these things was so fleeting. A year of my life is nothing compared to those who live their whole lives hauling water.

Taken at the water well near our home in Kenya - Photo from Jonathan Garner

Taken at the water well near our home in Kenya – Photo from Jonathan Garner

But, ever since that month in the jungle, I don’t view water in the same way. When I flick on a faucet or stand in the shower or fill up my water bottle at the sink, I can’t help but feel the weight of that 5-gallon jug on my shoulders again. I can’t help but remember how laborious, how demanding, how complicated it was to acquire water for a few days worth of drinking and cooking.

And so when I came back to the States, a place where we collectively spend almost 12 billion dollars annually on bottled water, I knew that I needed to do something to advocate for a more universal access to clean water.

This spring, my friends and I raised $1,000 for Charity:Water. We helped fund a well in Uganda, which will be completed in the spring of 2017.

A few months after that project, I got word about another opportunity through a group called Team World Vision (TWV). World Vision is a giant organization that does a lot of things, one of which is providing more clean water globally than any other NGO. They use innovative, holistic approaches to alleviate poverty and address the root issues.

The basic premise of Team World Vision is: run a marathon, raise $50/mile, and bring clean water to communities in Africa for a lifetime.

Before I heard of TWV, I had no desire to run a marathon. I enjoyed running, but never that far. There was no compelling reason to complete a 26.2 mile run – until now.

The global water crisis is a really big deal. Thousands of kids are dying every single day because they drank dirty water. That is outrageous. And yet, we know a solution to the problem. Even crazier: we can be a part of that solution without ever even leaving our chair!

I pray that you will consider joining me in bringing the fullness of life to kids in Africa through the gift of clean water. Will you consider contributing $50 to change a kid’s life? Maybe you can’t give $50, but I assure you that every dollar matters and any amount you can give is so appreciated.

My goal is to raise (at least) $2,000 to give 40 people clean water. Will you partner with me?

Click here to make an online, tax-deductible donation.

love those who

43 “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. 44 But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! 45 In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. 46 If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. 47 If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. 48 But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.

Matthew 5:43-48 (NLT)

Sometimes I read this verse and I think, “But I wouldn’t consider anyone my enemy.” Then I think that what Jesus is saying here is not only “love your enemies”, but also:

love those who annoy you;
love those who are different from you;
love those who’ve hurt you;
love those who have a different political ideology than you;
love those whose skin color is different than yours;
love those who offend you;
love those who disappoint you;
love those to whom you are related;
love those whom you’ve never met;
love those who are Muslim;
love those who are from a different generation;
love those who are single, married, divorced, or separated;
love those who are gay, lesbian, straight, bi, or questioning;
love those whose body types are different than yours;
love those who are poor;
love those who are profoundly wealthy;
love those who broke your heart;
love those who are successful;
love those who have failed or fallen;
love those who are imprisoned;
love those who disagree with you;
love those who are immigrants;
love those with whom you have “nothing in common”;
love those who are in leadership and authority;
love those who are your “inferiors”;
love those who are racist;
love those who are sexist;
love those who have any kind of prejudice;
love those are easy to love;
love those who are difficult to love;
love those who ___________

And not only should we love them, but also pray for them.

Wow, can you imagine what the world would look like if Christians actually did just this one thing Jesus told us to do?

africa: i have not managed a full recovery

It took me about two weeks to devour this 500-page book and it’s still haunting me in a way I can’t seem to shake.

The Poisonwood Bible is a fictional story of an American missionary family that served in the Congo during the early 1960s, shortly after the end of Belgian colonialism. Though the characters and plot are fictitious, the story is framed within the context of completely historical things such as: European colonization, American political intervention in Africa (motivated, always, by money), and the monstrous mistakes of Western missionaries proselytizing in pre-and-post colonized kingdoms. I could talk about each of these topics for days.

Early in the pages of the book, one of the characters is writing retrospectively about her time in Africa. She says,

“…I was afflicted with Africa like a bout of a rare disease,
from which I have not managed a full recovery.”
(p. 9)

It sounds insulting, I’d imagine, to describe Africa as a disease that inflicts and never fully goes away. But if you’ve been there, if you’ve breathed in that distinct African air and walked down the red dirt roads and stood in the crowded African marketplace and listened to the drums of an African church service, you’d understand perfectly well that Africa won’t let you forget her.

Africa demands to be felt.

Perhaps it’s because she’s a kingdom full of extremes: extreme, unabating despair – so intense it’s disabling and disheartening and can ruin the person who’s not expecting it; but simultaneously she’s so full of extreme, unabating joy and color and triumph – relentlessly hopeful, doggedly determined to continue with courage, unmatched in beauty and grandeur.

Africa, bursting with pain and glory, demands to be felt.

After spending just three months in East Africa, I spent my final night on the continent in a quiet little hostel somewhere near Entebbe, Uganda. In my journal that night, I penned the words: “I’m leaving Africa tonight, but I guess Africa isn’t really leaving me. And I suppose I should’ve guessed that would happen.”  

To this day, I can very much still feel Africa taking her toll on me. When I least expect it, she comes rushing back. I catch a fleeting whiff of her smell, I find a smear of red African dirt on a page in my Bible, when I listen intently in the dead of the night I can hear the faint booms of African drums.

The Poisonwood Bible transported me straight back to the that continent of extremities. I suddenly, so vividly, remembered the village I served in in Kenya. I remembered the dirt-floored hut and the fire pit over which our meals were cooked and the long walks across bumpy red roads. I remembered hauling water on my head and playing soccer at the school and climbing trees to sit in and read.

I remembered the time I sat on a stool in the yard and cried, more deeply than I ever have in my life. I remembered sitting in homes with women who’d tell me they couldn’t feed their kids that night. I remembered  talking to teenagers whose parents had been massacred in the genocide.

I remembered the freedom I felt in church services as I jumped and clapped and danced on dirt floors to songs that still ring in my head. I remembered the profound humility of women who smiled bigger and worked harder and loved deeper than I ever thought possible. I remembered the joy and kindness of kids who giggled at my blonde hair and hugged me like I was a sister and made sure I never got lost when I went running through the village roads.

I remembered the little girl in Rwanda who would sit on my lap in church: she smelled as if she’d never showered, her eyes were yellow with Malaria, and her little body was withering away with malnutrition. I remembered that everywhere I looked those days I saw so much pain and poverty, it wore me thin.

Oh, Africa. You affected me in a way I cannot escape. I have not, I will not, manage a full recovery.

I don’t know if I’ll ever make it back to that Continent of Extremities, and up until recently, I never really felt a consuming desire to do so.

But now, tonight at least, Africa is all around me. I owe her so much for teaching me how to pray and sing and dance and worship and trust the Lord deeply. And some day, I’d like to return to that red soil and tell her so.

“The power is in the balance:
we are our injuries, as much as we are our successes.”
(p. 496)

P.S. you really should read The Poisonwood Bible, especially if you’ve been to Africa and especially if you have not


At the beginning of the summer, some time in May, I left a coffee shop on the north side of town and drove to the river. I’d been sitting in the coffee shop for over three hours, hashing through my latest existential crisis with one of my mentors who listened patiently while I painfully over-analyzed every detail of my Decision. I told her to give me her opinion. She declined and helped me come to the choice on my own.

Mid-way through our conversation, a random man sitting next to us leaned over and said, “Sorry for interrupting, but you should take the job. Move to Georgia. You’re young. It’ll work out.” I just about cried when he said that. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because he was the umpteenth person to give that advice and yet, there I sat in my overwhelming uncertainty.

So I left the coffee shop and drove to the river. At first, I just started driving without any particular plan. I took the highway out of the city, a habitual route for me, but this time I kept driving until I found myself by the water’s edge at my favorite public access point. Out of the city, by the river, alone: my perfect place.

It was really rainy this spring, as in all-of-south-Texas-was-basically-under-water-for-weeks-because-of-record-setting-floods, and so the river was unusually full. The water was a murky brown color, and it was rushing along with intimidating speed.

I sat on the rocks at the swollen river’s edge. There was this sort of loud silence in the air.

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Congress Bridge in early August (not the river I sat at that day)

I’ve found myself in a moment like this so many times in the last four years. It’s true that I’m probably over-analytical and dramatically disillusioned about the weight of my decisions. I panic and convince myself that my choice will absolutely change the trajectory of my life and if I screw it up, I’ll be irreversibly doomed, forever. I’m sure my friends are getting sick of these quarterly crises of mine.

But this decision really did feel that heavy, I swear.

So I sat on the rocks by the loud river in the humid air and I asked God to tell me what I should decide.

He also declined to give me a straight answer. He seemed to say something like, “Choose whichever you want, I’ll bless both paths, blah blah blah.” I found myself frustrated at the freedom God was giving me.

Either option had God’s promise of blessing, though the blessings themselves weren’t the same. Perhaps this is what tangled my feet from moving forward with confidence.

The longer I sat by the river and listened to the rushing waters buzz, I began to hear the Spirit whisper to me one simple word: abundance.

I rolled that word over in my palms like a smooth stone. Abundance.

There at the edge of the water, the Lord told me that he would legitimately bless either choice I made. He offered the Georgia Option as a much-needed and often-asked-for Way Out and he would completely understand if that’s what I chose. But the other option, the unexpected and more ambiguous of the two, would also offer a blessing.

And the Spirit told me that if I took the Other Option, I would enter into a season of abundance.

What kind of abundance? What exactly does that look like? When will it start and how long will it last? How does it compare to the blessings of the Georgia Option?

The Lord would not say too much. He seemed to say only that if I chose the Other Option there would be, in some way, abundance. Its size and shape and length could not be disclosed because that wouldn’t require very much faith, now would it?

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Sunday morning sunrise

It was three months ago that I sat at the river. A lot has happened since then and yet, in many ways, so much is the same.

Last week I sat with that same mentor at a different coffee shop on a different side of town and I told her about the last three months – about the things that have changed a lot, and those that haven’t changed at all. I shared about how the last three months have been marked with color and joy and late nights and sunshine and mountaintops and travel and friendships and dance and freedom and peacefulness.

But I also admitted that I am hesitant to hope that this Abundance won’t expire soon. With the summer fading out and the fall blowing in, could this mean that the rushing waters are drying up?

She seemed to understand my hesitation and worry, but then she looked to me and said, “I see no sign of the abundance ending. I think seeds have been planted, but they’ve yet to produce all their fruit. More abundance is on its way.

And so, with courage  and hope (and admittedly a slight sense of reluctance), that’s the cadence I’m marching to as I walk forward into the few months:

More abundance is on its way.

the tonic of the wilderness

Every now and then, I come down with this sort of unabating desire to recluse into the wilderness and not come out until my soul is rested and my mind is cleared.

As Thoreau so perfectly put it: “We need the tonic of the wilderness.”

The calming silence of the forest, the solitude of the mountains, the freshness of the natural colors, the camaraderie of the animals who pass by quietly on the path: these are the things that make my spirit feel strong again. These are the things that allow me to absorb my human experience, instead of just trudging along and letting it happen to me.

I’m blessed by friends who also crave the tonic of the wilderness and who will explore it with me.

the return

I just discovered this blog that never got published. It was originally written on June 23rd, just days before I flew to Haiti.


I’m leading this trip to Haiti on Friday. I’ve been up to my neck in planning a thousand little details, hundreds of which are so fragile that they’ll surely unravel the moment we step off the plane into the Haitian humidity. Still I find myself driving down the road or laying down to sleep or standing at the sink and suddenly I’ll think, What’s my plan if someone gets injured? What do we do if luggage gets lost? What’s the address of the American Embassy again? 

I want to be over-prepared. And yet, I know better. I’ve traveled before, I’ve seen how this works. I know, at the end of the day, that preparation is good but often comically futile.

All of my obsessive preparation has sort of allowed me to block out the fact that I’ll actually be in Haiti on Saturday. I seemed to have missed the step in the preparation process where one gets Butterflies.

I can’t pinpoint why exactly I don’t feel joyfully overwhelmed about returning. If, however, I had to guess, I’d say it’s probably because I never expected that Haiti would be my first Return Trip.

I’ve been to a few different countries but believe it or not, I’ve never been to the same place twice. People often ask me though where I’d Return if given the opportunity. The Amazon, India, Turkey, China, Romania. Maybe Kenya, maybe the Philippines. It depends on my mood. It depends on a lot of things.

There are a handful of countries that I’ve had a sort of emotional connection with that one can’t fully comprehend unless one’s experienced a similar connection. It’s almost like I took a piece of my heart and buried it in the dirt and said I’ll be back someday. I promise. 

If I could be blunt for a moment, I’d have to admit that I’m a little bummed that Haiti is taking the place of my first Return Trip.

Don’t get me wrong. Haiti will always hold a very unique place in the maps of my memories. It was the first country I pioneered. Haiti was the first time I led an international team completely solo. It was the first country I visited after returning from the Race (which is a special thing that maybe only a former Racer could fully understand). So it’s not that I don’t have a love and a passion for Haiti. In fact, I’ve spent more time researching and reading about Haiti than any other country in the last year and I’d consider myself passionate about organizing and supporting on-going efforts for God’s Kingdom there.

But still.

I have this strange sense of jealousy. Is it jealousy? It could be bitterness. If I’d been given the choice to Return somewhere, I honestly never would have picked Haiti.

Nevertheless, on Saturday morning just a few hours after sunrise, our plane will (inshallah) sweep over the Caribbean Ocean and make the descent into the valley of Port-Au-Prince. There will be a tap-tap or two waiting for my team and I’ll know who to look for because I obsessively memorized those details. We’ll be swept away into the chaos of the city and I can promise you that as soon as I smell that familiar scent of the Developing World, my heart will be in a comfortable, easy place once again.

these sensations of summer

I like that feeling you get when you open your car door in the summer and a rush of heat swarms you and if you sit in it for too long your lungs begin to compress and the back of your neck gets sticky and you start to think it’s hard to breathe but some how you feel oddly comfortable in the torridness, almost relaxed. And then you remember for some reason what it was like in the barrenness of winter when such heat was unimaginable and you grin a little bit because That seems so far away.

I also love the sound of the early evening in summertime. When the locusts are so loud that you have to talk louder and the air is warm in this sweet sort of way and the light between the trees is some how more remarkable than you ever remembered it to be.

And these sensations of summer – the heat, the light, the smells, the sweat, the colors – conjure up a conglomeration of memories that don’t all fit together and yet are all notes in the same song. It’s a song that is most comfortable for me to sing, easy and familiar and smooth.