Gift of Singleness?

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Since the Creation, God’s nature for humans has been to be “fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28). “The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.’ ” (Genesis 2:18). However, according to the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:25-40, remaining single in certain contexts could be a gift. Which of these two contrasting paths must I walk? I have been speaking to fellow Christians, watching sermons, and of course reading the Bible and praying in an attempt to answer this tricky question.

I often become upset that church messages so frequently revolve around couples, spouses, and children. At age 29, I have never been in a relationship or even been on a legitimate date. Up until several years ago, I had firmly believed God prepared for me a holy woman with whom to honor and glorify Him in marriage and patiently waited. Growing up, I have always had wise adults around me telling me not to seek a girlfriend for countless reasons, and, until my mid-20s, I obeyed them without questioning as obeying the message of God. Most girls I have ever had a crush on ended up entering a relationship immediately after I developed a crush, to the point I could not regard these events as a mere coincidence. The one time I did come semi-close to dating a girl I had to end following our first and only encounter, when she asked me if I am willing to die for her and even took my credit card off my hand. When God in 2015 sent me to Kearney, Nebraska, I deeply hoped, considering my age and having kept pure my entire life, finally He would reward me with a life partner, until I arrived in the city of 33,000 and noticed He had stationed me in the one place in this world where my finding a potential spouse could only be a fantasy, mainly because most Kearney residents are married by their late 10s and early 20s. I have even attempted online dating, which I do not plan to do ever again, so that people could no longer say I never tried; this unpleasant experience made me lose the little interest that I had left in a potential relationship.

Failure after failure and consistently misled for nineteen years, I no longer have a reason to believe another half of me awaits anywhere, which keeps me leaning towards the solo fate rather than the standard. Four years have passed since I started thinking this way. I can no longer even visualize being with a woman because I have accepted and become too comfortable living alone. What most people my age should be (physically) burning for, which unfortunately in many cases leads them to sin, has never tempted me. Most people desire marriage; I do not care much anymore. I have prayed over this matter for more than a decade. Every day that goes by, I am less and less attracted to women and less and less interested in dating. Do these signs mean God called me to singleness? Does He have plans for my life that requires me to be single? Only time will tell. Let His will be done.

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Same Race, Opposite Conditions

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From meeting one of my favorite runners, Molly Huddle, and listening to her speak to constantly being woken up early morning by my hotel neighbors’ dog and cat ceaselessly barking and meowing, I dealt with a myriad of emotions the final hours leading up to the Lincoln National Guard Half Marathon on May 6, 2018. I had run this exact race a couple of years previously and knew what to expect, except two years ago I endured cold and rain and this year I battled heat and humidity.

Suffering in the heat!

I don’t know why I look so fat here. :/

I had not run for quite some time in such a massive event flooded with so many runners I sometimes have no choice but to slow down as well as crowds cheering on from both my left and right from start to finish, as I have been participating in mostly trail races; I knew people’s energy would have an impact on my adrenaline. I wanted to break two hours again, but I knew I would have to push extra hard on this course that read 13.22 miles rather than 13.1 on my GPS my first experience in 2016. I maintained a comfortable pace, which still put me on track to smash my personal record (PR) of 1:56:55 for the first nine miles. Unfortunately but unsurprisingly, around ten miles in, I felt the sudden temperature rise to the 80s affect me and even salt pouring out of my body. With several rolling hills left to conquer, I drastically slowed down the last three miles that I knew finishing under two hours would not be a given either. I also understood every runner was suffering. “Pain is temporary,” I continued to remind myself and push without overanalyzing.

I completed the course in 1:59:08, unsure whether to be elated or disappointed; I accomplished my goal of securing another sub-2:00:00 half marathon under tough conditions but had to give up on a PR fairly close to the end of the race. (My actual time should have been closer to 1:58:20, as, again, my Garmin read a longer distance than 13.1.) I felt at one point around mile seven my right knee might give out, so overcoming the course without an injury already eliminated any room for me to complain. Furthermore, with the heat draining almost every ounce of my energy, I felt relieved to have finished strong, as many runners in front of me ended up walking towards the end. 1,784th place out of 7,682, I will take it!

Trade-Off

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One year ago today, I achieved my ultimate running goal of reaching 100 miles, the pinnacle of ultrarunning, at the Jackalope Jam in Cat Spring, Texas. This purpose had consumed my life for a year and a half, and I consistently prayed until I believed I had God’s approval prior to registering for the 48-hour event. All but a few of my close ones strongly opposed, understanding my mind-set would not let me surrender unless I faint or even die; if they thought I would stop for any reason other than the aforementioned two, they would not have worried as much. Cross-training and frequently racing in preparation for this daunting objective took up a large portion of my life outside work, but I battled with my head 24/7. I dreamed about running a 100-miler and/or finishing the distance almost nightly, sometimes twice a night.

102 donut holes from my supervisor, except a colleague ate a few before I even arrived…

When I finally fulfilled what felt to be a fantasy for so long, completing 102 miles in 39:25:44 by the grace of Jesus and securing my first (and last) 100-mile buckle, I thought my life would become much easier; “I never have to run again if I choose not to,” thought I. I did not anticipate the impact this new immense void that used to be filled with this aim for nearly a couple of years could have on my mind, as my mild OCD consistently intensified and invited all sorts of disturbing intrusive thoughts and images; I read accomplishing something so great could be a cause of this. Though I was initially certain I would never run for the rest of 2017, to help keep my mind off this burden, I ended up lacing up my running shoes and hitting the streets after a break of barely over a month without even being fully recovered and participating in seven more races in the past year.

As my mother puts it best, “When you go for something so big, there is always a trade-off.” No, I never would have imagined what I would be dealing with mentally following arguably the happiest day of my life. Would I take this back? Never.

Read my blog post on the race here!

Why, Nebraska, Why?

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With Nebraska finally warming up, or so I thought, I sought the earliest available 13.1 miles and landed on the Sillassen Half Marathon, scheduled to take place on April 14, 2018, in Arthur, Nebraska. I committed to a six-hour drive to the land of nothing-to-do just so that I could enjoy the beautiful nature across the Sandhills. Semi-understanding the course’s inevitable hilliness, I focused training on steep rolling hills.

When I registered, the weather channel predicted race day in the 40s, my ideal temperature for long-distance running. Then, Nebraska was hit with a storm warning, which became a blizzard warning, in mid-April. Really? I took out my winter running gear for a race in the upper 10s. I had booked a hotel, completed training camp, tapered, packed, and mentally prepared, before I was notified, two days prior to go time, the event’s cancelation due to the possible blizzard, in mid-April.

I asked the race director if she could allow the registrants to run a virtual race, especially with the no-refund policy, and thankfully she agreed. Ten minutes after her official confirmation, I took off for the most spontaneous half marathon ever, slightly concerned about feeling nauseous running on a full stomach of Subway’s Cold Cut Combo meal. For the first eight or nine miles, I looked for significant hills to replicate the Sandhills, coincidentally while the race director was emailing the runners to “try to add some major hills.” Because GPS could sometimes be inaccurate, I ran 13.24 miles, rather than 13.1, in 2:12:31, horrendous time but okay considering the consistent hills, powerful headwinds, and my very last-minute decision to take on this challenge. I did not believe I would run another virtual race after early last year, but I cannot complain about the best alternative to the actual Sillassen Half Marathon.

2018, First of Many

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Not necessarily by choice but more so due to Nebraska’s lack of races from December to February, understandably so with the brutal cold and wind, I patiently recovered from the overwhelming race schedule of 2017 and waited for upcoming running events in 2018. Due to the inconsistency and unpredictability of the weather in Nebraska, I ran each day the temperature felt semi-bearable.

I decided to commence the new race year on March 10, 2018, with a brief Run for the Gold 10K in Springfield, Nebraska, with Freedom Running Company, with whom I set my half-marathon personal record (PR) last summer. I normally do not race a 10K, and my decision to participate had more to do with getting a breath of fresh air outside Kearney with the generally humble and friendly running community. Running into two familiar faces from a previous race excited me even more.

Familiar faces!

I did have in mind to try to break my 10K PR of 00:51:44 from two summers ago until I saw the brutally hilly course entirely on gravel. Adrenaline? Cool windy weather? Rolling hills? I do not know, but I kept my first mile mostly in the upper six-minute and lower seven-minute mile, which concerned me slightly because I hardly ever run at that pace. I remained fairly consistent until the final 1.2 miles of mostly steep uphill, where I, and probably every other runner, slowed down drastically.

This race did not utilize chip timing; my Garmin reads 00:54:51.97, so I could guess my race time by subtracting a couple of seconds. I do wonder where I placed, as I came in front of the majority of 10K runners and passed a few 5K runners towards the end, but I simply came here to have fun, which I did.

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.

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.