Discern

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Recently, a middle-aged woman and I both studied the Bible at Starbucks, which led us to chat briefly. On her way out, she gave me a seemingly random book she had already read, saying, “I think the Holy Spirit is telling me to give you this.” I replied, “Thank you. God bless you,” but did not know what to make of the cartoonish cover and the author dressed in all white in the photo on the back of the book.

I came home and began reading with the introduction, which spoke of the writer’s calling from and encounter with God. Only Moses in the Bible interacted with God face-to-face, so here I wondered which figure of Him he saw exactly. I tried not to doubt and continued along, and the first couple chapters did seem to make sense with his frequent uses of biblical verses, although some parts still had question marks, and I felt entertained as if reading a fantasy novel more than anything. Then a third of the way through the story began becoming more and more absurd and nonsensical, as he elaborated on his being given a torch and a sword; supposedly the torch strengthened him and whatever he stabbed with the sword came back to life.

Around this chapter, I had trouble focusing and believing his experience to be genuine, prompting me to look him up on the Internet; I repeatedly inadvertently fell into short naps to finish about three sentences, which told me I should stop reading. I generally do not care much for “prophets” constantly coming on television shows and “prophesying” what is to come, as the vast majority of these individuals prophesy lies in His Name. This author on a show spoke of our living in the Last Days, connecting his theory to 2 Peter 3:8: “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day”; he spoke as if the term “a thousand years” meant literally 1,000 years, when this verse simply means God’s time and our time may not always match, as Heaven has no space or time. I then read in a YouTube video he made a bizarre statement he ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, which confirmed his being a heretic; the same video showed his church ministry gathering countless people dancing and shaking their bodies like the demon-possessed, which the organization called the “Holy Spirit,” at which point I tossed out this junk of a book. His certainly having led astray and continuously leading astray many souls bothered me the most.

I asked God, “Why did you make me read this piece of garbage?” and immediately felt in response I should be aware of heretics like this author who distort the Truth and claim to be “chosen torchbearers” and “new apostles.” I always knew people like this existed, but I never understood until this recent ordeal how smooth and biblical they could appear if the reader is not spiritually awake. I do not doubt the writer actually experienced some of the visions he speaks of, but Satan also imitates God and can give deceiving visions to create his own slaves, evident by this so-called “prophet.” Just read Ezekiel 13.

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Positive Ending, Positive Beginning

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Times Square!

With my green-card process, 16 years in the making, reaching the final stages, my lawyer and his assistant advised against my leaving the United States until my travel document is approved; therefore, I had to postpone my original plan to travel to Europe for a second consecutive December and closed out 2017 exploring New York City, New York, and Atlanta, Georgia, with family and friends. I find traveling an efficient way to free myself from the stresses of my lonely and unhealthy environment, living in the present of freedom. This decision also encouraged me to reflect on the past 365 days of roller-coaster rides.

Holiday markets

I try not to focus on the negative so that I do not blur out all the blessings I have been gifted with in 2017. Most memorably by a mile, I finally accomplished my ultimate athletic dream of covering the 100-mile distance, the pinnacle of ultrarunning, (plus two) in April. When I think about how long and consistently I and my close ones prayed for this former fantasy, the hundreds of dreams I had on competing and finishing, all the free time I sacrificed for training (even on business trips), and of course race days and what I had to endure to complete this ambitious goal, this once-in-a-lifetime accomplishment from over half a year ago still feels fresh and surreal.

The Starry Night at MoMA!

Central Park in the evening

One dishonest individual who made my life and the lives of my close colleagues miserable for years and really should have been imprisoned was finally removed from our workplace after bizarrely slow two years of investigation. I felt relieved, more than happy, to observe justice semi-served; however, now, I feel slightly embarrassed that I as a Christian never even attempted to go out of my way to love this enemy and severely disliked him as a person rather than hating Satan in him. “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?” (Matthew 5:46-47)

A few days prior to my end-of-the-year domestic vacation, I received joyful news my Employment Authorization Document for the green card was approved, implying I should receive my green card soon and will finally feel and be free in America, where I grew up since 2001.

How could I, mere mortal, comprehend the plans of my Creator? However, confident my Father watches over me and only provides me with the best for me, I cannot wait to experience what the Author of my life has in store for me in 2018.

Learning to Be Content

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For Thanksgiving 2017, I returned to Pickrell, Nebraska, for my second consecutive Wild Turkey Chase 13.1. As Nebraska rapidly reached freezing temperature in October, I assumed winter approached early this year and quickly registered for a half marathon to potentially conclude running for 2017. Nevertheless, when I felt the temperature gradually bounce back, I somehow put myself in position for back-to-back-to-back half marathons in just under four weeks.

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I did not want to let any negative thoughts enter my head, tough task with my unhealthy work environment that affects me both mentally and physically. Being alone with no family or close friends anywhere near the Midwest makes this situation even more difficult to cope with. Each time an upsetting thought crept into my mind, I tried my best to empty my head and solely remain grateful for what I have rather than concentrating on what I lack.

Happy Thanksgiving!

The race temperature commenced in the upper 20s, and a female runner to my right called me crazy for wearing solely a T-shirt for the top; I replied to her, who had on three layers of clothes that included a thin jacket, “You are going to sweat a lot. You are crazy!” She after the finish thanked me for this warning, as she took off one layer and still experienced much sweating. I kept an easy pace halfway through, and many runners passed me. At the midpoint turnaround, my pace arbitrarily automatically picked up, and I landed three feet behind a runner who has completed an IRONMAN and became my inadvertent pacer for the majority of the second half. As I spotted his continuously looking down at his GPS watch and consistently running at a 9:05-per-mile pace, I figured I would safely collect a sub-2:00:00 finish as long as I stayed close to him. Multiple runners who had passed me in the first half began to slow down, and I passed about 20 of them in the second half. I did not look for my distance on my Garmin to avoid being caught up on “Am I there yet?” When the tall buildings towards the start became visible, I checked my GPS watch and was surprised to notice I had less than one mile to go. Because I knew based on the year before and the distance my Garmin gave me at the midpoint I would be running slightly over 13.1 miles, I to be certain to finish under two hours immediately substantially increased and maintained my speed, almost sprinting, for nearly a mile, shaving off five seconds per mile in the final stretch.

For the first time ever in a race, I hit an immense negative split the second half of the course. Crossing the finish line full of energy and not even remotely out of breath in 1:58:20, third place in Age Group 20-29 and my second official sub-2:00:00 half marathon, I wondered if I could potentially run much faster than I believe I am physically able if I pushed myself harder to the point I have nothing left at the end. As I always do, I spent the next half an hour chatting and making friends with fellow runners. I aimed to give every runner a thumbs-up throughout the race, and I may have succeeded in doing so; I truly enjoy the aspect of strangers cheering one another on to accomplish our respective goals. The Wild Turkey Chase 13.1 probably wrapped up my most active race year to date, with one 102-miler and seven half marathons in nine months. I still feel fresh and would not mind running another race soon, but no upcoming running events near me offer a far-enough distance I prefer, likely due to the anticipated cold.

Golden Corral

Following the event, I headed to Golden Corral in Lincoln for the Thanksgiving special buffet and celebrated the holiday alone. Words cannot describe the loneliness of where God has placed me to train me at the moment, but I also understand this adversity will soon pass and how abundantly He has blessed my life. As one of my church pastors said, “When we focus on what we lack, we lose perspective on what we have.” I can eat whatever I want whenever I want, while hundreds of millions of people around the world live in poverty. I drink clean water. I have a job and make a solid living. I rent my own apartment. I own a car. I have a laptop and a smartphone. I have health. I was blessed with a family who fears and passionately loves and serves Jesus. Most importantly, I have the privilege of calling the Creator of the universe my Father. I cannot count the amount of blessings I have been freely given by grace, and my every day should be Thanksgiving. “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

Hill Yes!

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Following the not-so-pleasant experience just over two weeks ago at the Hot Cider Hustle Half Marathon, where I was led astray multiple times, I immediately looked for another upcoming half marathon, as I refused to let the former be my last race of 2017. Nebraska compared to last year is becoming colder quite early this year, and because I am thinking of traveling over Thanksgiving, I signed up for the Beer & Bagel Off-Road Race Series ½-ish Marathon in Ashland, Nebraska, on November 11, 2017, only a few days prior to the race. (I did not know if I would be required to drink beer while running a half marathon, in which case I would not have participated, the main reason I waited until the last minute and I knew the answer to this to register.) The event website spoke of letting Mother Nature take care of building extreme obstacles rather than humanly building them. The course varies every year and is remained a mystery until running; nevertheless, in spite of people’s commenting on the typical brutal hilliness of the event, I who lived in Georgia for five years continued to think, “How hilly could Nebraska possibly get?”

According to my Garmin

No, I did not place third. 😉

The course in Quarry Oaks (golf course) repeated the same loop three times, out, back, and back out. Continuously running up and down (and hardly ever running flat) on untrimmed grass and trails, I thought half-jokingly two miles in, “What the heck did I get myself into?” Before this experience, I had never walked in a half marathon, so I remained adamant in the first loop of roughly 4.5 miles to keep running. The unending immensely steep and long hills, so steep I had trouble seeing the peak running uphill and slowing down running downhill, forced me to start mixing in power-hiking (for the first time ever) and walking with running at the midpoint of the second loop; I thought this wise as most runners began walking long before I did. Understanding this would most likely be my worst half-marathon time ever by far, which should be the case considering the massive leap in technicality from all of my previous races, I stopped looking at my Garmin several miles in to avoid being demoralized. Cardio-wise, I felt as strong as ever, but I could not push my legs to go faster because I had not been training for hills, let alone hills to this extreme. If I had any anticipation about this course, I would have prepared more specifically and efficiently and for certain performed better, although Kearney does not offer an ideal ground to train for a terrain like this.

My average mile pace read significantly slower than that of any of my marathons, testifying to the difficulty and technicality of the race. For some reason, I thought “half-ish” meant slightly less and not more than 13.1 miles; one runner’s GPS gave the distance closer to 14 miles, while mine read 13.17 with an elevation gain of 1,916 feet and loss of 1,903 feet. I believe, to some runners, this particular Beer & Bagel Off-Road Race Series ½-ish Marathon would be more physically demanding than a flat marathon. I can confidently claim this course the toughest and hilliest I have ever run on without a close second, and my time of 2:37:58 accurately illustrates that. I still enjoyed this unique experience and eating a slice of humble pie.

“I Don’t Know”

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Due to the semi-severe cramping of muscles in the right shoulder and left hip, to err on the side of caution, I decided to run a half marathon at the Hot Cider Hustle in Omaha, Nebraska, on October 28, 2017, instead of a 50K in Ottawa, Kansas, that I had eyed for months. Although I did not officially register for any race until only several days prior to the Hot Cider Hustle, I consistently trained—running, swimming, and hitting the gym—because I knew I would run another race before the end of 2017.

Usually, I only allow in my head positive comments on races because running humbles me and I appreciate the humility and dedication of the running community, including event volunteers. I consider the Hot Cider Run, my twenty-sixth race, incomparably the most frustrating and poorly organized race I have ever participated in. The run was set to begin at 8:10 AM, at 24 degrees with the effective temperature of 18, so I remained in the car until twenty minutes to the race. All runners toed the line several minutes before the official race time, when we, shivering in our light clothes, heard for no clear reason we would not be starting for another twenty minutes.

Usually, a race this size (of supposedly 1,300) divides the starting times between different distances, but all half marathoners and 5K runners started simultaneously. I began the race as enthusiastically as usual until I saw the vast majority of participants who lined up at the very front walked or barely jogged, forcing me to squeeze through or run around them in the first minute and instinctively complain, “Come on!” I knew nothing about the course, so I was pleasantly surprised to run numerous rolling hills, as hills feel less redundant and thus more diverse and exciting than flat. My legs took a couple of miles to finally warm up to the freezing temperature.

New friends!

Half marathoners had to complete two separate loops, a 5K loop with 5K runners for the first and a lengthier loop to fill 13.1 miles for the second. About 2.5 miles in, I spotted two volunteers holding signs of “10 miles” and “5K,” and I asked as I approached five times, “Half that way? Which way do half marathoners go?” The volunteers paid no attention to me but rather chitchatted with one another, and then I was told to take a different route from 5K runners. I saw no clear direction and shouted once again, “Where the heck am I going?” when a fellow runner pointed up and said, “I think you go this way.” Several other half marathoners went the same route, and we discussed with each other, “Something doesn’t seem right,” as we continued to run into inaccurate mile signs. While some just turned around, one runner and I ran together all the way to the turnaround with two volunteers, to whom I asked, “Are we going the right way?” They answered, “I don’t know.” When I came back to the aid station I passed on the way to the turnaround and asked the same question to the volunteers, they again said, “I don’t know.” When I returned to the place where I was separated from 5K runners, a new face said, “There has been a miscommunication,” but I could not make out all he said because I was running. I turned left and took the trail I was supposed to take all along, where I had to run through or around hundreds of walkers in the 5K, and once I conquered an immense uphill, I saw two separate paths and shouted multiple times, running in place, “Which way do half marathoners go?” Here, I could no longer contain my frustration and screamed, “Fxxk this race!” about which I am still embarrassed. I decided to follow the 5K participants, and as they were turning left to finish, I shouted again to volunteers only telling 5K runners where to go, “Where do half marathoners go?” to which a girl said, “Right.” A couple hundred yards following, I saw two cones blocking the path, which usually means turn, although I was supposed to run straight; I thank the fellow runner who ran a few miles next to me for not letting me get lost again. For the remainder of the race, I only focused on escaping this bizarre maze and at one point thought, “Do I keep going when I have no idea if I am going the right way?” Around 12.5 miles for me (and 10 miles for slower half marathoners who were not led astray by volunteers), I landed where I, along with the lead-pack half marathoners, was told to take the wrong turn. The same volunteers who stood there remembered me and had me skip the extended trail because I had already completed that during the first loop.

I finished the race in 2:01:27.43, 65th place out of 189 participants, which bothered me even more knowing I most likely would have broken two hours in the half marathon for a third time on this technical course had I not been led astray countlessly and wasted much energy shouting for directions and panicking about where to go. I never felt too tired physically, maybe because my mind was solely concentrated on the direction. To look on the bright side, I am thankful I completed the entire original course, although one part in reverse order, and did not have to run random places to fill the mileage and went all the way to the turnaround the first time around so I did not have to go back during the second loop and add an additional 2.5 miles to my race. I am still blown away, especially for an event this size, how not a single volunteer knew anything about the course. If 20 to 30 runners get lost this many times in just 13.1 miles, obviously the race has issues. Regardless, I still appreciate the volunteers who took time out of their weekend to help runners to a successful race. And, of course, thank You, God.

Share Your Gifts!

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Different people comprise different gifts. Some people are born with angelic singing voices, and some people display innate athleticism. Some people have a flood of money, and some people contain creative minds. Some people lead naturally, and some people easily inspire their neighbors. When God gives you a gift, you are expected to share the gift with others. If God blesses you financially, He expects you to use your wealth to advance His glory and Kingdom by helping others rather than for your own renown. If you are given the gift of serving and miracles often occur when you serve, you are asked to serve. As Jesus teaches in Luke 12:48, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”

As the Apostle Paul says to all in Rome in Romans 12:6-8, “We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.” In short, share your gifts and use them to serve others. No gift is superior to another for those who use their gifts in obedience to the Lord. Your gift is useless if used for yourself, for He does not gift you for your own humanly contentment. This is the reason Paul says to the church of God in Corinth in 1 Corinthians 14:5, “I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be edified.” God will not force you to make the right choice, however, as He respects your free will He has given you. Therefore, even He cannot make those who left Him come Home; only they themselves can, as illustrated in His Parable of the Lost Son in Luke 15:11-32.

Paul notes to the churches in Galatia in Galatians 5:13, “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.” Remember, even Jesus, the Creator of the universe and King of kings, “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). What gift has the Father given you to serve your neighbor?

Different Side of the World

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After recruiting students from Nepal and India for the University of Nebraska at Kearney for over a year, I finally traveled on business to these two destinations for the first time ever from August 22 to 25, 2017, before flying into Korea to wrap up my trip. A colleague who has explored India for a month almost a decade ago informed me on the economic and social difference between the country and the places to which I am accustomed, that I would experience an underdeveloped country. I had assumed Nepal would be similar to India due to the two countries’ physical proximity.

Waiting for my Uber by the Delhi Airport, I sweated profusely as if in the sauna due to the humidity level at what I assume to be nearly 100%. I had believed drivers in South Korea to be the absolute worst in every sense of the word until I heard honking every second and saw zero drivers sticking to their lanes and every driver impatiently cutting. The original Uber driver who was connected to me canceled after making me wait twenty minutes, and the replaced driver was immediately stopped by the police for “not wearing uniform,” or a formal attire; the latter driver was allowed to proceed after paying a fine of Indian rupee’s equivalent of just over $1. Line simply does not exist in India. As I waited to ask about my boarding ticket to Chandigarh at the Delhi Airport, one clumsy man cut me as if I had become invisible, and I asked, “Are you with these two?” pointing at the pair of men next to him. I then said, “I am in line,” at which the cutter looked confused and to which a tourist from a different country said, “That doesn’t exist here.” A couple more individuals cut me seconds following, and I had to almost push others away for my turn. As I presented my boarding pass to Kathmandu to a security officer and he examined it, a man behind me reached for the officer over my right arm with his own boarding pass. Each time I went through security, a group of Indians tried to cut and/or stayed so close to me I could feel their bodies touching me. However, just like honking, cutting is deeply ingrained and the norm in Indian culture that no resident considers that to be rude. I cannot even attempt to count how many times I instinctively said in frustration and disbelief, “Excuse me.”

In Kathmandu, I noticed drivers did not honk as much, as doing so “is illegal in Nepal”; nevertheless, their hazardously cutting and staying out of their lanes felt similar to India. Each time I opened my eyes and looked straight, they were struck by dust and I had trouble opening my eyes.

My first time in India and Nepal, I felt I was observing the Republic of Korea of 50 years ago. The majority of buildings in Chandigarh remained under construction to the point I wonder where the city will be in two or three years. I could see why entrepreneurial-minded individuals say India, especially with its immense population of 1.345 billion, offers many business opportunities. Rather than complaining about the discomfort as I might sound like I am in this post, I was humbled and realized how much God has blessed Korea, the United States, and virtually every nation in which I had ever set foot.

Beat the Heat with a PR

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Having run four races in sum of roughly 142 miles already this year, I registered for a fifth at the Beat the Heat Half Marathon, with Freedom Running Company that supports wounded warriors’ families, in Bellevue, Nebraska, on August 12, 2017. Minor soreness in my left hip and right wing for weeks leading up to the event told me my body is finally asking me for some rest, but, aside from God, nothing distracts me from loneliness more effectively than running.

I did not put too much thought into my finish time, unless well past the two-hour mark, because I knew nothing about the course other than being on a trail. However, when the race commenced and I began my mile pace in the six-minute range and maintained the seven-minute for a while, I shifted my focus to securing the first official (and second technical) sub-2:00:00 half marathon. (Something about race day always makes me overperform drastically compared to training.) I sprinkled my throat with Powerade from my hydration pack every three to four miles to stay hydrated and “beat the heat.” I tried not to look at my Garmin for distance, as thinking about how much farther I have to cover drains my mentality and somewhat defeats the purpose of running; I should be running because I enjoy running rather than simply to finish. I did consistently check my mile pace, and I knew around mile 9, as long as I did not bonk substantially, I would finally break two hours in the half marathon.

My body abruptly felt the overwhelming pace and slowed down significantly with 1.5 miles to go, around when the finish line became visible. Half a mile left, in my 25th race, I finally experienced what “hitting the wall” meant. My entire body went numb, and I had to pour every ounce of my energy to keep running. Quoting Anna Rohrer, one of my favorite college runners, although I kept telling my mind to push, “my body wouldn’t let my legs go faster.” I completed the 13.1 miles in 1:56:55, 8:55 per mile, and I consider this my most impressive running performance to date in terms of time. Speaking to the race community after, I arbitrarily and repeatedly had trouble inhaling and talking, but, hilariously, I found this amusing rather than being intimidated by this unprecedented reaction. With a nearly four-week business trip to India, Nepal, and Korea coming up, I will finally have an excuse to give running a break, but will I? Honestly, I don’t know.

Freedom Run

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Running 102 miles just over two months ago, I had firmly decided to take a mandatory 102-day break, one day per mile covered, to safely and properly recover. Perhaps because I fulfilled a dream that took up much of my life for a couple of years, I felt a few days following an immense void in my life, which invited back longer and more powerfully than ever before many disturbing intrusive thoughts, one symptom of my obsessive-compulsive disorder. An innate suburbanite extrovert, I have been constantly forced to fight loneliness of a minute city of 33,000, exacerbated by the not-so-healthy work environment. “Maybe running has been working as my therapy and I just didn’t know it,” thought I, triggering me to jump back into running only a month after the ultramarathon in Texas. The resumption of habitual running brought back my desire to race, and I spontaneously registered for a half marathon at the 2017 Brownville Freedom Run, hosted in the historic Brownville, Nebraska, to celebrate the Fourth of July.

I love talking to people in races! Happy Fourth!

I hoped to embrace again the feeling of running with dedicated, disciplined, and humble strangers and befriend some of them. I simply wanted to have fun and did not care too much about my performance or finish time, as I understood my body still needs time to fully recover. Furthermore, I began experiencing stomach pain a week and diarrhea for two days prior to the event (because I unknowingly drank a brutal amount of laxative tea for days). I relied on prayers and medication and made sure to consume much of sports drinks to replenish electrolytes and water. The hours of fireworks outside my motel in Rock Port, Missouri, allowed me only two hours of sleep, but I trusted my body that could move without sleep for nearly 40 hours in my most recent race could manage 13.1 miles. Indeed and thankfully, I held up without any issues, although blistering heat and nearly 100% humidity did affect me both physically and mentally—along with most other participants—the final 3 miles of the concrete-gravel course. I do not recall sweating nearly as profusely as I did in any of my previous 23 races. All of these obstacles considered, I am semi-content with my 2:05:40, 37th place out of 86 runners. After all, I traveled 3.5 hours, the farthest I have driven for a half marathon, to merely have fun and feel free, which I did.