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My 71.5 Hour Workweek

Life is colored by stories, and stories are colored by weaknesses, by insults, by hardships, by persecutions, and also by difficulties.

Why?

Because these are all opportunities to overcome and be victorious.  Opportunities.  Not things to be avoided.

My 71.5 Hour Workweek

I wasn’t ready to expound on the greatest gift ever given to humanity until God put me through a test.  Quite recently God helped me understand the profundity of His life’s greatest work.  It was a work of facing weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and also difficulties.  God brought me this understanding that I will now be relaying to you, on Jesus’ last statement before his heart stopped beating, at least for three days, in a relevant way.

He caused me to expose myself to suffering and then he caused me to experience suffering.

You may instinctively reply, well why did He do that?  Isn’t God good.  How can a good God cause you to view suffering or cause you to suffer.  Doesn’t that, by default make him a bad God, or at least something that is not very loving.

The understanding of this ancillary point will lead you to an understanding of the significance of the life of Jesus and why his last statement was, “It is finished…,” at least according to me.

Chapter 1: A Deadly Destiny

But first, some background on a story that has divided one of the deadliest cities in America and how the spiritual healing that has been sparked in that city is so important and needs to be encouraged.

On New Years day Oscar Grant III was shot in the back by Johannes Mehserle while lying on the floor of the BART station face down.  Some accounts of those deadly moments have said that Oscar Grant was reaching for the officers gun and thereby, in addition to his resisting the arrest, provoked the police into further action besides limiting his movement to the station floor.  However, one news source said, “In court documents released by his lawyer, the former officer says he meant to reach for his taser instead of his firearm when the shooting happened” (http://www.kron.com/News/ArticleView/tabid/298/smid/1126/ArticleID/381/reftab/329/t/Former-BART-Police-Officer-Johannes-Mehserle-Now-Free-on-Bail/Default.aspx).  Riots took place and openned a long felt wound by the many in the community of Oakland.

Then, on March 21, 2009, Lovelle Mixon, who had a no bail warrant out for his arrest, first, shot 2 police officers with a hand gun and proceded to unload rounds into them once they were down, and second, unloaded an assault rifle on the Oakland Police department, managing to successfully kill 2 more officers before being shot down.  A member of the International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement was quoted during a rally on March 25th, which took place after the vigil on March 24th in honor of the four slain officers, stating that Lovelle Mixon symbolized the resistance of African people who are terrorized daily by the police force which are an occupying army in the African community…so we looked at Lovelle Mixon who was not political, who was not an activist, but who took the stance that we hope people take in terms of resistance to a very vicious and very brutal colonial system where the police are the first arm of the state and that the police does not represent anything good in the African community, that’s a historical fact…and that’s the reality that we deal with (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e6QKcARdl2w).

Wow.  I would put an exclamation point at the end of, “Wow,” and maybe even capitalize it, but it would still be an understatement.  I thought I was a bit controversial.

He’s a martyer?  Huh.  That’s interesting because he didn’t strike me as the martyer to die on the cross type?  No, it’s not because of the color of his skin and lack of long hair on his face and head, or the lack of sandels and a robe, and its definitely not the lack of healing of people and various miraculous signs and wonders.  Maybe its the guns that he was slinging that threw me off.

Here’s my version of what happened filtered through my safe little looking glass of life.

On Saturday March 21, 2009, 4 police officers were killed in the line of duty.  That following Friday at least 19,000 thousand people gathered in the Oracle Area.  In death, and through death, God has allowed the suffering of many Oaklanders, but He has also caused within them a deep desire to understand and to move forward with good things rather than more violence and more suffering, on more than one occasion.   Many gathered that day for an entirely undivided purpose – to honor those who have fought to protect the citizens of Oakland.  These are the moments when we, as humans, are most ready to shine and to move on to do better things if we will only acknowledge our creator and His good purposes for our lives.  I believe Oakland is ready for a miracle.

There is a new movement that I just found out about recently that echoes this feeling I have.  They call it the “7:14 Crusade.”  In Dr. George Cummings words, reverend at Imani Community Church (http://imanicc.org/home.html) at the edge of East Oakland, “the 714 Crusade is the commitment by the faith community to highlight the fact that fundamental to any hope in communities is the idea that we are to appeal to God for help.  714 comes from 2 Chronicles 7:14 which says essentially, if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways and then will I hear from heaven and heal their land.  And so the focus of it of is healing, peace, and reconciliation coming out of that verse.  Because we belive that fundamental to any action or any committment about bringing about change is the idea that faith and prayer proceed our work.  Now it is also important that we understand that faith must be connected to action” (http://www.kqed.org/epArchive/R903310900).

The broadcast had one other element that must be presented before I go on.  Scott Schaffer posts this question to David Kiteley, associate pastor at Shiloh Church in East Oakland (http://www.shilohchurch.com/):

Scott Schaffer: “Reverend Kiteley do you think the events of the, not just of the last 10 days, but the pattern of violence that we have seen in Oakland, and in other cities, Richmond,  San Francisco from time to time as well.  Do you feel that fundamentally it emanates from a lack of faith, a lack of spirtuality?”

David Kiteley: “Definitely.  And certainly a lack of hope, that is on the people.  They sense the hopelessness, they sense the fact that they are not empowered and their not strengthened, and nobody really knows and nobody cares or connects to them.  So, I think we’ve got to, as a faith community, come and empower them, and cause them to understand that there are people out there that are connected and can bring resources to them, and put things in there hands that will be able to change their destiny.”

Wow, again.

Chapter 2: The street people know him as “The Preacherman”

On May 24, 2008  San Francisco Chronicle reporter Kevin Fagen published an article that stuns and amazes me even to this day.  The article is about a man who comes out every night after 10 p.m., to a bullet-riddled corner of the Fruitvale District in East Oakland to read from a Bible to up to 50 homeless people.

Listen to the Podcast at: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/blogs/chroncast/logout?blogid=5&entry_id=26757

During a portion of the podcast Kevin Fagen records Vincent Pannizzo as he is preaching on the street.  Vincent reads aloud James 2:14-2:17 and then says, “We prove our faith by the deeds, that’s how we demonstrate our faith to God.”  And then someone shouts to Vincent, “that’s what you are doing.”

Kevin Fagen’s published article further states that:

“Vincent Pannizzo has a BA from Rutgers and comes from East Coast middle-class comfort.

Yet he chooses to be homeless-like his flock.”

After he is done preaching he often hands out a few dollars apiece, some blankets and food, all of which he gets from the odd jobs he picks up in the city of Oakland.

Seems to me like there is at least one man out there who cares for those in Oakland and has been, for almost a year now, giving people something that can change their destiny.

I am not Vincent Pannizzo.  I do not have that much faith yet.  But I have my battles.  God makes sure of it.

Chapter 3: My Story

So if you have been brave enough to read this far you are probably wondering how this all leads back to my story and are, hopefully even more interested, in how this addresses Jesus’ last statement, “It is finished…”

When I started working in the law firm where I currently hold the position of case assistant, I was temping with Merrill Corporation (a outsourced company who ran copy services and much more for the law firm).  Several months later, due to a company take over, I found myself working as a permanent employee of Pitney Bowes (another outsourced firm who just happened to make the dollar signs just right for the management of the firm).  I ran the hospitality aspect of Pitney Bowes provided services to the law firm where I currently work.  This position, in my opinion, was, with the exception of maybe the janitors, one of the more degrading and most humbling of the services Pitney Bowes provided to the firm.  It paid well for someone who made coffee and cleaned up after special law firm employees only events, but the message was reinforced daily that I had no power and no autonomy.

Today, I am the lowest paid employee, at least by the hour, within the law firm that once considered me a glorified dishwasher.  I am also, although this is no surprise, the lowest ranking employee in the firm.  My wages, to those whom I have told, are by far greater than the average 24 year old, but this is just to provide context of who I am relative to those directly around me.

The case manager on my case walked into my newly settled office on March 24th at approximately 4:00p.m. with news that his dear wife was sick and that he saw no other choice but to go on Medical leave because he thought that he was going to lose her.  He told me that she stopped taking her medications and with no one to assist her with keeping track of the medicine she took for her inflamed thyroid; no one to keep track of the medicine she took to thin her blood, which she took because she has had a heart attack and because she currently has a pacemaker; and no one to keep track of the medicine she took because of the shunt that nested in the back of her neck, which she sometimes had to go into the hospital to have the fluid, that sometimes built up and caused life threatening danger to her spinal cord, drained.

Instinctively, as if God had been preparing this moment from my birth, I said “Go, take care of her.”

Over that evening and night and the next three days I worked a total of 54.5 hours.  The entire block lasted from Sunday thru Friday, totaling 71.5 hours over 6 days.  From Wednesday morning until 7p.m. on Thursday evening I did not sleep in order to meet the deadline, even without the help of a second person.

On Thursday evening as I was finally nearing the close of the most painful of those many hours, my Paralegal Manager, another of my many bosses, walks in and hands me two emails that were only sent to him.

They used words like heroic and invaluable.

I repeat, I am the lowest ranking employee for the firm where I work.  I generate no clientele and I do not provide the work for the whole of the firm; however, the lawyers said that I was the heroic one.

Chapter 4: “It has begun…”

John 19:30 states:

“When he had received the drink, Jesus said, ‘It is finished.’  With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”

When Jesus said that “It is finished…” I believe that to be an indication of what has truly begun for you and I.  I believe Jesus’ statement to be an indication that something very great has begun today for even a place so riddled with violence like Oakland, or Richmond, or San Francisco.  I think a posture of giving up and simply acknowledging that, “Well, it is the end times,” is not good enough and doesn’t line up with scripture.

Suffering was the start for you and I dating back to Jesus’ death on the cross and I believe that choosing selflessness and trusting God among challenges that seem insurmountable is the only way that we will ever be content with our own lives.  Suffering was the start for me to do the good deed for my case manager and by extension, my entire office.

I believe that suffering is the start for us all because it creates opportunities to become a great story.  A story with many twists and turns, but triumphant in the end in the eyes of God, not in the eyes of men.  A story that might even last a couple thousand years.

Much love,

Brish

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Boast of Weakness…to be strong

When I first started training for the Chicago Marathon I was excited.  As the weeks of training turned into months of training my strength began to fail me and my excitement began to disappear.  This manifested physically and I nearly crushed my body.  My body was plagued with hurt during the process.  It bled, it stung, and it cried out for me to stop on more than one occasion.

But God is good.

When you call on the name of the LORD He will help you.  This is the testimony of my weakness, and God’s unfailing strength.

Tragedy is a hard thing to write well about–I get mixed up.  Let poetry linger throughout to sensitize the heart; sprinkle a bit of exaggeration to get sympathy toward the character in the story.  Maybe drag the audience through the mud, sort of raw and stiff, heightening the possibility of jabbing the heart to produce tears.  Tragedy is even harder to write about  when you, yourself, are the  main character.  Should I keep the audience in the dark about the truly pathetic moments, especially the ones that stir emotions of anger and annoyance with having to sit and read my mope infused drama that started because of my failure to stand up for myself.  Or perhaps reveal everything and burden the audience into complete numbness.  These are just some of the questions that I pondered before writing this entry.

So with that here we go.  The prequel to “My Christmas Story-The Face of Hope”.

When I first started training for the Chicago Marathon I was excited.  As the weeks turned into months my strength began to fail me drastically.  I developed runner’s diarrhea and would have to collapse for hours after most of my runs (no pun intended).  Sometimes it would take me all night and through the morning to recover.  I started to cut back on every food that aided the rapid digestion process occurring in my body.  No beans, no bran, no hot drinks of any kind, and no caffeine.  I love Mexican food, eat cereal everyday for breakfast, and love hot tea.  I was not happy.

However, I did my best to adhere to the changes in my diet as suggested by the medical advice I found on some obscure website.  It seemed to help and my body seemed to finally start adjusting to the long distances I was enduring.  Of course, even with my progress, the fear had set in.  I couldn’t even begin to imagine what it would be like to have my heart set on the completion of  a 15-miler and then halfway through in the middle of the most desolate parts of the city my body fails me.  The embarrassment.  This was frustrating and weakening and very difficult.

I opted to run on the treadmill at the gym just in case I couldn’t push through the acid build-up that always tended to happen after about 6 miles.  I told my running partner I liked the gym to cover me from follow up questions as to why I didn’t run outside more often like he did.

The problems with my stomach were not the only problems I encountered.  I pulled a groin muscle early on, which happened to run down the length of my left thigh and connected to my knee.  The injury allowed me to run, but after the run I couldn’t walk without being extremely ginger when I stepped.  To add to the embarrassment and pain I developed planter warts on my left foot, which made it painful to step down hard on my heal.  By the time the Compound W was starting its acidic process through the wart I stopped using it because it exposed the extremely sensitive parts of my skin on my heal making it impossible to even walk around, let alone run.

I started taking various electrolyte replacement drinks to help calm my stomach after about 2 months of training; but, they tended to make the “I-gotta-go-to-bathroom-quick-get-outta-my-way-now” sensations worse.  I saw a Chiropractor about my groin muscle and within 2 weeks I was running stronger than ever.  Shortly after this my stomach lurching and my after workout exhaustion subsided, even at higher mileage, and no doubt thanks to the very faithful prayers of a few friends of mine.  The pain that developed from the warts on my foot became less noticable too.

A month and a half before the race, disaster struck.  In the middle of trying to fund raise, ratchet up the distance of the runs, and balance a very demanding work schedule, my workload picked-up.  It was one of the weeks that you work 14 days in a row, with the longest days occurring on the weekends.  Saturday was my long run day because I rested on Sunday; but, this plan was shot down after I spent the whole day and night in the office.  I was too tired to bring myself to run that night and I let rest set in on Sunday, which caused me to miss a very important 20 mile run.  I kept saying I would make it up.  This momentary break from my very regimented routine, however, caused me to falter with running altogether.  Disjointed after a few days of rest I got back on the treadmill.  Then the pains came back-all of them at once.  This was not the first time I doubted I could pull off what I had told people God was going to do through me, but it scared me more deeply than ever before.  My victory lap was really on the line this time.  I began to doubt it was God’s will for me to run the Marathon altogether.  “All this stupid training, for what God, for what”, I cried out over and over and over and over again.  I tried to believe there was still hope, but I couldn’t throw off the feeling that I was just sucker-punched.  A month away and all I saw was an impossibility.

So I did the only thing I knew.  I got back on the treadmill.  When my body freaked out I just let it have its way; but I never stopped trying.  This relentless attitude pushed my body to the limit on one particular run and while the bathroom was minutes away I was left feeling more embarrassed than ever; but I never stopped trying.  A basketball induced injury in my right shoulder flared up in the last month of running as well; but I never stopped trying.  The plantar warts spread on the bottom of my left foot; but I never stopped trying.

It came down to a 20 mile run in the last 2 weeks before the race.  All my faith that God was going to pull this off, with me as the runner, was bent on this one run.  If I didn’t complete it I knew it was over.

I decided to run on the side of a road I must have traveled by car about a thousand times while growing up.  During all those trips back and forth I had never seen a single soul on the side of the road.  I set my mind to run between my hometown of Waterford, CA and the self proclaimed cowboy capital of the world, Oakdale, CA.

My mom was worried that I would be hit by the cars that usually zoomed by the deserted highway stretch that flowed through the farm land.  She made me promise that I would run by my eldest brother’s house just so that he might be able to report that I was still alive.

I made it all the way to my brothers house without any real problems, besides having to dodge some bramble weeds and thorny thickets.  I swooped passed my brothers house hoping to catch his face gawking at how soon I had arrived.  I didn’t see my brother as I ran passed so I trekked on completely oblivious to the pain developing in the lower part of my stomach.

I ignored the pain as it increased.  However, everything in body told me to stop.  I thought for a moment about banging on my brother’s door.  I checked my IPOD and the distance was right around 10 miles.  I veered around a big parking lot and headed back the way I had come, toward my brothers house.  As I contemplated giving in to my bodies urging I began to ask God for “mercy…mercy…mercy Father.”  I ran passed my brothers house at a defeated pace and then yelled at myself, “come on, come on, COME ON!”

And then something very interesting stirred inside of me and caused me to smile.  I can’t exactly explain what caused it; but all I know is that I couldn’t stop smiling.  The pain stayed with me, but I smiled on anyway.  The pain in my stomach subsided only when the pain in my legs increased.  I never stopped though.  The closer to home I got the more insane the thought of continuing to run was and became.  I couldn’t understand why I didn’t just stop.  And then I smiled again.  It didn’t have to make sense.  Not yet at least.

When I arrived home I walked crouched over across my parents lawn.  This lawn was the same lawn I remember loathing as a child.  I remembered the rough patches where the weeds clumped together forcing me to roll over again and again until the mower leveled the grass.  I remembered all the sweat I had poured out over it under the hot hot valley summers.  I arrived on this hardship ridden patch of grass loving it like I was a landless and land longing shipwrecked sailor.  I thought about bending down to bear hug it.  An intercepting thought of how worried my mother would be if she found me later that night still hugging that beautiful green grass caused me to continue on my trek to the front door.  I stumbled up the two porch steps.  Bent over, I knocked on the door.  My 21 year old sister opened the door and looked down at me.  “Moooooommmmm,” she said without moving from the doorway.  I could barely understand any of the sounds occurring in the house, everything seemed jarring and complicated.   I do remember what my mother said once she arrived to the door however.  “Oh my God, are you alive?”  I instinctively said, “No,” and I began to wobble as the words left my mouth.  “What have you done to yourself,” in her part shocked, part concerned, part “you’re a manic” tone.  My sister was still at the door.  “Why is he all sweaty,” she asked.  “And why does he look like he just got run over.”  “Just help your brother.”  My sister looked down at me again.  “How?”

I finally made my way inside after groaning and shouting unrecognizable phrases and words.  I attempt to dry myself off with a towel, because I am soaked from head to toe, but I stop short of drying my calves because my whole body starts shaking upon the use of my thighs and hamstrings.  I can’t even take off my soaking wet shoes.

I find a spot on the couch and fall backwards into it landing hard against the back of the couch.  I yell for water, in a “I’m swimming in sand” kind of yelping voice.  I see my youngest 15-year old sister walking out of her room.  She starts to laugh once she makes eye contact with me.  I yell at her to “please, please, pretty please, rub my legs, the lactic acid is killing me.”  She laughs some more and walks over.  “Ewww.  I am not touching your sweaty disgusting legs.”  “Please seriously, I am dying here, please, please, please just rub them…hurry, hurry, hurry.”  “Oh my gosh you owe me,” she utters.  “Yea, yea…anything you want.”

I arrived in Chicago after a few hang-ups with my luggage, but thankfully safe and intact.  I walked into my motel room to find black mold atop the shower head.  I remember seeing a Subway’s Sandwiches down the street, which was comfort to my “just-barely-hanging-on” stomach, so I took a stroll to remove the fungus image from my mind.

I had arrived on Friday night and the race was on Sunday.  Sleeping that night was hard.  I kept telling myself that I had made it.  “You’re finally here, you don’t have to worry anymore, you made it.”  I kept rehearsing Isaiah 41:10, “So do not fear, for I am with you, do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you.  I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”  I finally passed out after much tossing and turning.

After spending the entire day in downtown Chicago, picking up my race day package, getting lost on the trains during my various sightseeing tours, and after a dinner of Subway (once again), I came back to the motel.  As I walked in the Mariachi music hit me right in the face.  The motel seemed like the right motel.  I looked around.  Yep, dingy archaic red flower embroidered carpet.  Yep, weird staircase that made me think I was in a scary movie.  But yet, very loud Mariachi music.  I look perplexed over to the front desk.  I asked the attendant behind the desk how long the music blaring from the lobby conference room was going to last.  He said 11:00p.m. as if somehow that was a perfectly normal response.  I gotta wake up at 4:30a.m. I thought to myself.

I took a shower the morning of the race and tried my best not to breathe in the death spores that lingered above my head.  The water was cold and wouldn’t warm up no matter how far I twisted the shower handle.  I chewed on a couple pieces of bread in the lobby and ate some cereal without milk because the carton was empty when I picked it up to pour it on my full bowl of cereal.  When I tried to spread the butter on my bread that I had toasted, the bread mashed against my plate and began to disintegrate without smearing any butter onto the bread.  The dry bread went down as I gulped some water I got out of my bathroom sink.  I refilled the bottle with water from a drinking fountain I had just noticed in the lobby after I had conveniently just downed the full bottle of off-clear water from my rooms bathroom sink.

The peanut butter power bar was the best thing I had all breakfast.  I ate it on the train ride down to the race.  I sipped a weird new endurance driven, carbohydrate infused Gatorade that the Gatorade booth was peddling at the convention where I picked up my bib and race information.  I found my way down to the Charity Village where about a thousand other Team World Vision runners were gathered.  We all nervously prepped our gear and shoveled in bagels and granola bars and bottles and bottles of water.  I placed my red frame and red lens glasses around my ears I had just purchased at the race convention.  My World Vision jersey adorned the length of my chest and stomach.  Bandages were in place over all the right parts.  Petroleum Jelly coated my entire body.  Running shorts with 2 goo packets for energy hung around my waist.  Special quick dry running socks covered my feet and my Gel-Nimbus 9 running shoes around my socks.

I had weathered some of the most weakening moments to find myself at the starting line with 30,000 other crazy souls, and it felt damn good.  I finished the race in 3 hours 18 minutes and 33 seconds-a little under 8 minutes a mile on average over the 26.2 miles.

Paul says in 2 Corinthians 11:30, “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.”  Right before he says that he lists what he can boast about.  “Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one.  Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move.  I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger at sea; and in danger from fake brothers.  I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked”  (2 Corinthians 11:24-11:27).  Lastly he says in verse 12 line 10, “That is why for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

For when I am weak, then I am strong.  Good-night.  And God bless you all.

Much love,

Brish

P.S. – These songs sum it up pretty well.  Enjoy:

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Preface

Now, this story has nothing to do with Christmas per se. So if you are looking for a good reminder of the story of Jesus’ birth, there are better sources. However, this story has some of the elements, at least I think it does, that we can all love about the story of Jesus and his birth. See, while this story is not about a baby Jesus, it is about something very precious to me that was born. The story I am about to tell does have to with something very sad and yet very good at the same time, much like the story of Jesus (and who is not reminded of his languishing death upon the story of His birth). That is where the majority of the similarities end. Because the precious thing I describe did not die so that the world may be vanquished of its debt, it just died. I am not sure where this precious thing went, but I know it is not here on the earth any more, or at least, it is not alive in the same sense that you and I are alive. There is no breathing, moving, jumping, dancing, or playing left to be had. Ultimately though, this is my Christmas story because it involves a gift that I hope to give to you. I say I hope to give because I have no idea if I have the strength to wield the right words or the craft to express the truth well enough. Regardless, I must try.

My Christmas Story-The Face of Hope

It is March 3rd, 2008. I had just landed myself a job as a paralegal for a major Law Firm in the Silicon Valley. A few days before that I had taken the Law School Admissions Test. I had trained on and off for the test for at least a year. It felt good to have finally accomplished my goal. The thrill of cramming my brain full of logic this and logic that was quite gone. I focused my attention on learning my new profession. With my nights free again, I began to have thoughts of getting back in “shape” too. I missed feeling that good pain of strength building. I had neglected my body because of the late nights crouched over my desk, my eyes strained and weakened because of all the peering into my study materials. It is in this season that I became a runner again.

I pursued serious running for the first time while on a cross country team in high school. It lasted only three months. No long distance running followed subsequently until one fine day back in August of 2007. “That is the day,” I tell my friends, “I ran the entire canal bank” (I hope it will have more of wow effect on my children, if I ever have any). It was an uncertain distance and an uncertain challenge, but I couldn’t resist even if it took me all day. I remember sluggishly running home on the same side I had gone up right around the time the sun began to sink. While extremely sore I vowed to start running again. I missed that good strong pain.

I wanted to be the best runner I could be. In general I always want to be the best I can be with everything (which can be quite the flaw when you have multiple things drawing your attention). This is no surprise to those who know me. What many probably don’t know about me though, is that I cannot do anything well unless my heart is in it. A fundraising goal of $10,000, for a water project in Zambia, and a little girl named Sitina Argaw became my heart. My hope for a grand and more just future for those oppressed by HIV/AIDS throughout Africa rested on them (for better or for worse).

If my heart is not convinced then I am not convinced, and it shows, especially with running. I needed to make sure I was in this for the right reasons. I needed to make sure that if I was to be the best I could possibly be that I also had the best intentions. My central motivation could not be anything less than unselfishness. If benefits, like stronger muscles and greater stamina, were a central focus then I knew I would be done. I would not last three months of training let alone four or five or six. Once my heart is convinced, then I can be willed to do just about anything, even run a marathon. My heart is not easily convinced of anything. But I admit I have not always guarded it well.

I started financially sponsoring Sitina Argaw, a young child from Ethiopia, a month before the big race in Chicago. My own personal contributions to the water project fund were a bit over one hundred dollars and I felt obligated to do more. In her picture she had beads around her neck. There was a genuine warmth in her smile, although it was not very broad. Once I saw her picture there was no way for me to send the picture back to World Vision, the Christian Humanitarian organization from which it originated. It was a clever plan on their part. A bit of a heart tug for those already running on behalf of the benefactors from the water project. I didn’t care if I was being jerked a little. Sitina looked sweet and I loved her. Some might say that expression is a bit strong for someone I never met in person. Love is something that must built over time, right? C.S. Lewis said that “When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him [or her].” Love your neighbor is a present command from Jesus to his followers. I take this interpretation of love when I use it here. Afterall, who doesn’t love the face of hope.

I can tell you the exact day and time that I became the best runner I could possibly be. The date was October 12th, 2008. The time approximately 8:05 a.m. I both started the best race of my life and became the best runner I could possibly be on that date and at that time. Immediately you might say, “but how do you know? Your life is not finished. With more dedication and time and practice, you could have done better.” I am not convinced of that. I am actually only convinced of two things, the second of which I will address later. The first, is that Jesus was running right next to me. Odd I guess to think of Jesus in short shorts, maybe a long robe hanging next to his sandals, but that is more of the imagination getting the best of point. You see, the best runner is not the fastest runner in my mind, although he does win the race and the prize money. But, the way that I look at life, and this particular feat, is that I was not running to win that race. I was running to win a different race. I think the best runner runs with his heart open wide and for the right reasons. Therefore, I can say with a fair amount of confidence, that I ran the best race of my life.

Some may say, “what a waste of talent. You could have been so much greater than the guy who finished 1,112th place out of the 30,000 pack. You could have been a star even.” To this I laugh. My body is fragile, although I tried not to show it. Is stardom worth not being able to bend my knees to pick up my brothers, sisters, and friends children (or my own someday). The answer comes easy to some. The thrill of being next to Jesus and feeling alive is the best that I can be, regardless of the task at hand.

This connection or closeness to Jesus came, in my mind, because the entire effort was God.  I ran to seek justice and to seek God and what I got was Jesus next to me.  This is not such a complicated thought when you realize that Jesus is justice and hope to the people of the world (of course if you don’t see this, then I guess it becomes a very complicated matter).  Justice and hope are inextricably intertwined when you dare to love another.  God was daring enough to show that He loved the entire world.  A symbolic representation of this was shaved into the back of my head prior to the race.  It said J-U-S-T-I-C-E in big bold letters from ear to ear.  The “T” was larger than the other letters and looked like a cross (all of this thanks to a friend of mine).

“If the God of the Universe, more powerful than any force that He created on Earth is running next to you, or in you, or whatever you are saying, then why didn’t you win the race ? Why didn’t you charge ahead of the pack in the full force of God’s blinding light and take the prize for yourself?” If you have read anything that I have written you would already know the answer. That prize, of being the best compared to everyone else around me that day, is a sham. It is not worth anything. Can you carry gold in your heart? Yes, of course you can. It will not buy you anything on Earth though.

On race day back in October, there was someone else who was next to me besides Jesus. This is the second thing that I am absolutely convinced. This person was not a runner. In fact, this person did not run the Chicago Marathon at all. No one cheered for this person on at the very end as the street began to ascend. This person did not wave to the rows of packed people during the final stretch. This person did not extend their arms out like they were flying, hands flat and upright. This persons head was not held up high, facing nothing but that blue blue sky. This person did not get their picture taken at the end like I did. Nor did this person get a Chicago Marathon medal for completing the race. And yet, just like Jesus, this person was very close to me the entire time. Both this person and Jesus felt my pain at mile 22.  And both told me not to give up at mile 23.

At 11:51 a.m. on Monday, December 8th I received a phone call from a woman named Debbie (she did not provide her last name nor did I ask).

In a very sweet motherly voice Debbie said, “Hi, Brish.”  She almost whispered my name (she pronounced it right though which I was impressed by).  I was at work.  I was in the middle of the culmination of one the busiest periods in my 10 months as a paralegal at the law firm.  We were filing Motions, which was typically a very time consuming process.  This time we were filing 19 of them.  I had already put in 79 hours last week (and if you include the lunch breaks I did not take, I put the total at more like 83.5 hours).  I was in no mood to chit chat.

As she was going through her introduction, “Hi, this is Debbie from World Vision and I am calling on behalf of Sitina…”  I cut her off curtly and said “Yea, What’s Up,” trying not to hurry her but getting across the point that I didn’t have a lot of free time.  I figured this was one of those calls that World Vision puts out to thank the sponsors for supporting needy children etc.  It wasn’t that I didn’t like the call.  I wanted to support kids in need.   A thank-you call however, was nice, but not necessary.  I expected her next line to be, “Well, I just wanted to follow-up with you just to make sure you received the package with Sitina’s picture and the CD describing the wonderful things your sponsorship means to her and her community.  However, the “thank-you” line never came.

Instead Debbie said, “Is this a good time.”  The way she said “is this a good time”, caused me to pause.  There was a certain sadness in her voice.  I slowly said, “Yea, what’s going on?”  She sighed like she had bad news or something.  “I am sorry to have to tell you this Brish, but Sitina, while she was picking up fire wood in a field outside of her village, she collapsed suddenly…”  There was a certain foreboding in the way she spoke like she already told me everything I needed to hear but just hadn’t shoved the words through the phone.  “Brish, I am so sorry to tell have to tell you this, but while they were trying to rush her to the hospital she died.”  The word “Wow” came out of my mouth before the thought hit me.  Then nothing.

I didn’t cry.  I didn’t speak.  I didn’t think.

“Brish, they don’t know what happened.  It was just so sudden.  I’m sorry.”

Dear Sitina,

I am sorry I didn’t write to you sooner. I have been very busy lately. And by the way, thank-you for your letter. It was very kind of you to write to me. I am doing very well, thank-you for asking.

Here is a little information about me:

I live very near a city called San Jose. It is a busy city of about a million people. Most people here travel by personal cars, but some travel by trains and buses. I travel around the city by car.

I live in an apartment complex. The room I rent is referred to as a studio. It is essentially one room on the second floor of a much bigger building with other rooms that people live in. It has a kitchen, a bathroom, and a small deck that overlooks a parking lot and wonderful Redwood trees. The studio I live in is a little different than your house, but your house sounds like a good strong house to live in. I wish there were more rivers here. Most of our rivers are surrounded by concrete, which we call canals. I bet where you live the rivers are very beautiful.

I live alone. I moved out of my parents house when I was 17 years old to go to the University. I am now graduated from the University. I went to work for a Law Firm once I graduated. I hope to become a lawyer some day. I am what they call a paralegal. I work with computers and manage documents to help the lawyers find what they need. I like my job, but it is a very demanding job. I spend many hours a week at work.

I have two older brothers and two younger sisters. We do not always get along, but we all love each other very much. I hope that your sister Alemi and your brother Adisu treat you well. Family is very important to me. I visit my parents and my brothers and sisters during the holidays and whenever else I can. I will be taking a vacation over the Christmas holiday and I cannot wait to see them all.  Cherish your family Sitina. Try to listen to your parents. Let them know that you and your family are all in my prayers.

I think you are very lovely too.

God bless you Sitina and Merry Christmas.

Love,

Brish

* * *

Sitina wrote to me immediately after I became her sponsor.  She said that she lived in a small village called Baw Shimbirsa, which was in the South West of Ethiopia and about 550 km from Addis Ababa.  She used a blue pen and wrote in a combination of  cursive and freestyle print.  She said that her family lived in a house made of mud and wood, with its roof covered with grass.  She said there were many rivers and at least one mountain called Necha.  Her last words sting the most.  She said, “Dear Sponsor, I hope that you will send me a letter that introduces yourself with a post card.  You are very lovely.”

I did not take the opportunities I had to write her before she died. You see, I am in some respects the Scrooge of my own Christmas story; too busy to write a simple letter; too consumed with my own issues to put the pen to the paper.  And now I have missed the chance. This is something I regret a great deal.

What I don’t regret however, is that I dared to love as Jesus commanded me.  I made mistakes along the way, but because I accepted the challenge to love, along with my many sponsors of the water project, the town of Musele will now have running water for the foreseeable future.  The contaminated water that they used to drink, that lead to waterborne illnesses, will no longer be a source of consumption.

I could not save Sitina.  No matter how hard I tried she was still going to die when she did.  But even when we lose hope, that is no excuse to stop loving those that still walk the earth.

Merry Christmas to you all.

Love,

Brish

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