#TellHisStory: When You Hope for The Best, and The Best Doesn’t Come

October 2, 2013 | 36 comments

I lace up my running shoes for a Sunday afternoon run around the little lake three miles north of home.

I haven’t run the paths underneath these trees since spring. Back then, the buds were just coming onto the branches. Each greenish pearl promised to explode with the cologne of perennial hope.

A few flips of the calendar, and — poof — it’s two seasons later.

Fall is whipping through my hair. A stiff autumn breeze shakes the shoulders of the tree I’m standing under. The yellowest leaves shudder and fall.

I confess publicly before God and humanity: this is the run I was day-dreaming about during church this morning.

I did wonder, for a long and painful second, if it’s a sin to wish for a run at church.

Now that I’m here, under the tree while fiddling with my iPod, I think I’m okay. I ask God if He was offended by my lack of focus. I can’t say for sure, but it felt like He patted me gently on top of the head, like a Dad would do, as if to say: “That’s okay, honey. I have something else to show you today. Wait for the sanctuary.”

Which makes me even more jazzed about this four-mile jog around the lake. It’s like He planned this all along.

My first steps are slow, as they usually are, but I gain speed after my muscles loosen up. I smile a smile that’s as wide as an Iowa cornfield — a smile I haven’t felt in a while. A cheesy, cheery Carpenters song, “Top of the World,” is stuck on repeat in my iPod, and I can’t change it. But I don’t care. At this point, the whole song makes me laugh the happiest laugh. Out loud.

But then? Everything changes.

The trail switches back to the west. I run into headwinds.  The tree canopy thins, and the unseasonably warm fall day wraps itself around me rigidly, like a straight-jacket. The Carpenters song will. not. stop.

A vast army of grasshoppers assaults me at every turn. I half-wonder if a new plague has befallen us. Maybe the lake will turn red next. Maybe I’ll be pelted by frogs.

To add insult to injury, the path takes a sharp incline.

My steps slow.  Soon, I’m walking. I want to throw Karen Carpenter and her song in the lake. I want to throw my cheesy grin beside her.

And then my mind rewinds to relive a hundred moments in my own life where my “dream run” fell apart in the headwinds of this life, just when I thought it was getting good, just when I thought I was on “Top of the World.” Maybe you know what I mean.

These are some of mine —

I’m the hopeful little girl, thinking I might get at least a white ribbon for my effort, but I’m always last to cross the finish line.

I’m the confident news reporter, but then … I’m quickly overlooked for the sought-after columnist job.

I’m the glass-half-full daughter who prays hard, believing the cancer is gone, yet finding herself holding her mother after finding out the cancer has actually spread.

I’m the wife, squeezing her husband’s hand at the edge of his father’s grave on a winter day.

I’m the mother — wanting to do this mama thing like a boss, but never living up to my own carefully written expectations.

In every case, I’ve believed for the best. I’ve believed it when I took my first step onto the asphalt tracks, the newsrooms, the doctor’s offices. I’ve believed the best when I wrote first paragraphs with passionate belief that I had something to say. I’ve been the mama committed to raising her girls with more love than their hearts could hold.

But often, I’ve turned the corner and found myself in the headwinds. Everything I believed at the beginning doesn’t look good anymore. My words sound stupid. My prayers seem weak. I feel Pollyanna and foolish.

Friend, I’ve lived in the hard run, the kind that burns your lungs and makes you believe that “uphill both ways” is an actual thing.

And I suppose that when that happens to us, we could decide to stop running altogether. That feels safer. To just disappear…

Yeah. I’ve wanted to give up.

Except for the fact that if I did that, I’d be stuck on the wrong side of a lake.

So on this day, I keep walking. And then I start running again. And it hurts a little. Mercifully, my iPod cooperates and Karen stops singing.

And then, it happens — The thing that — I now believe — God brought me out here for —

I turn a corner, and arrive at this little peninsula where, back in April when the cologne of hope enveloped the world, we stood right here. Here!

This is the place where my daughters and I threw a bunch of rocks in the water… These rocks bore the written burdens of women at the Jumping Tandem retreat in April.

I sat on the ground, and prayed. I cried again for every women who is stuck in the hard run, the long run, the uphill-both-ways-run, the I-dont-know-if-I-can-do-it-anymore-run.

Sitting there, I remembered how the girls and I had tossed rock-burdens in this water, when spring was so green and hopeful.

I remembered, too,  how we’d set up stones like an altar to remember what God can rescue us from, how the miracle is happening in us even when our run toward home feels excruciatingly uphill both ways.

I sat here and remembered this:



And I remembered you, sons and daughters who are in the hard run.

And I remembered me. And I remembered my past.

Because of stone altars, I am pretty sure we are gonna make it. And how we’ve got to keep on moving even when it hurts.

I can feel the pat on my head again just now. It’s a pat on my head that says, It’s okay. We’re going to be okay. I promise, you’re going to be okay.

I’m inclined to believe it.

So, what’s your Story? A #TellHisStory is any story that connects your story into the story of God.

For details on the #TellHisStory linkup, click here: https://jenniferdukeslee.com/tell-his-story/. Be sure to find someone (or two) in the link-up to encourage with a comment. Come back on Friday to visit our Featured #TellHisStory, in the sidebar.

Your words matter to God. They matter to people. And they matter to me!


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by | October 2, 2013 | 36 comments


    • dukeslee

      Thanks friend. Going to keep lacing up these shoes, until I cross that grand finish line.

  1. Nannette and The Sweetheart

    Love this! We are going to be okay….yes we are, yes we are!! Needed this today Jennifer, thank you friend. I have been in Riga, Latvia, Eastern Europe, for the last two weeks. Back with my “kids”, where my heart is…So hard yet so easy to be here. I lived here a year in 2011-2012, but medical issues took me home. God knows what is best but I miss them so. When I am here it is a whirlwind of emotions! You feel the same way I am sure when you go to Haiti…I just leave it all in His hands and enjoy the week I have left. Blessings friend! ♥

    • dukeslee

      Oh Nannette … Amazing! I do know what you mean about that whirlwind of emotions, and they keep on whirling after we get home, right? I’ll be checking in on you soon.

  2. Janet

    I’ve felt like this – on more than one occasion – the whole thing! The whole not-focusing-in-church-because-of-upcoming-plans, the whole loving-the-run-until-it-gets-really-hard, and even the whole surprised-by-joy-in-the-middle-of-it-all. We’ve been talking about those rocks that people carry around – in our church’s youth group. What a great idea – to write on actual rock and through them into a lake. This post is a kind of what-I-need-right-now – validating, AND encouraging. Thank you again, for sharing your thoughts – struggles included. Janet
    PS I shared a post “Well-Chosen Words” a couple of weeks ago – you know the person who wrote those words to me – small world, huh?

    • dukeslee

      Janet … I would love to read the posts, and I apologize if I already did but can’t recall right this moment. I’d love to read it. Can you drop me the link?

  3. Simply Beth

    Oh friend…I’m left speechless. All I know to say right now is THANK YOU! You are beautiful. Your heart is beautiful. I’m grateful for you. The video has me in tears…but good tears.

    • dukeslee

      (((Beth))) … Pass me back the Kleenex. I teared up watching it again last night before I posted.

  4. Lisa notes

    Your run sounds like my last several days. Good things–and things I’d looked forward to–but my energy had a leak and I felt totally spent. But God, in each thing, gave blessings.

    I loved watching this video–the song, your daughters, the rocks. Precious memories you made. And great ministry work you did.

    • dukeslee

      Hi Lisa … Praying now for God to stop the leak. Thanks for all you do, as you pour out on the church in your various ministries.

  5. Sheila SeilerLagrand (@SLagrand)

    Even when it hurts. I needed that reminder, Jennifer. Thank you. Bless you.

    And thank you for creating this community.

    • dukeslee

      Delighted to be in community with you, Sheila. I couldn’t take another step without good friends alongside.

  6. Shelly Miller

    A good run does this for me too, except it would be a brisk walk actually. I get so much clarity and his voice is clear with story and message. My heart is warmed by the way you tirelessly encourage and stay the course. Thank you Jennifer, what you give away matters to me, it does.

    • dukeslee

      I do a lot of brisk walking, too. And a lot of slow walking. 🙂 … Back in 2010, I started running seriously, training for two half-marathons. I stopped running after a foot injury, and have recently started running again, though I don’t know that I’ll ever attempt long distances like that again…. One thing that I really enjoyed about that season of intense running, were these long stretches of road where it was just me and God. We had a lot of good talks out on the open road. I often had to resist the urge to listen to my music, because I knew I could hear Him better if it was quiet in my head.

  7. Dolly@Soulstops

    What a great analogy…keep running, my friend…and #5 on my post this week tells about the role #TellHIsStory played in my decision to go to Guatemala next week…

    • dukeslee

      Oh Dolly! I can’t wait to read it. Praying for you as you head off to Guatemala. His Spirit goes with you, in abundance.

  8. Bomi

    Thank God for God:) Thank you for taking the time to share. God bless~

    • dukeslee

      Indeed, Bomi! I love the simple truth of that! Thanks for being here.

  9. Candace

    Wow! I always love your posts Jennifer, but this one, along with the video, blew me away! What an amazing experience to have with your precious daughters. Thanks for sharing!

  10. Dea

    Love the words, the video, the little girls who are leading. So God honoring and encouraging for those us who find ourselves running the incline, who have rock that needs to land rippling in that pond…

  11. Cindy Moore

    Thank you for these encouraging words, written so beautifully. Was sitting on our back porch just a bit ago. Pausing for a moment. Feeling weary. Was reminded of a fear that I often experience. Fear of lack of approval of others …the words “seal of approval” came to mind. You know there is a Good Housekeeping seal of approval, for products of excellence…but God reminded me that I have all the seal of approval that I’ll ever need..His very own seal of approval…and thus I don’t have to look for it anywhere else, for He has given it to me and it is a forever seal. Found John 6:27 ..Jesus speaks of the Father’s “seal of approval”!! And 2 Corinthians 1:22 “Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.”
    We have all the “seal of approval” that we will EVER need. And yet some days I go looking elsewhere. I believe that God would say…you are a product of excellence. Made by Him and loved eternally by Him and sealed with our Father’s seal of approval.

  12. Karmen

    I was laughing at the thought of the grasshoppers pelting you while listening to The Carpenters! Then you make me misty-eyed with the love of our Father in all He has to show us and for you to be so willing to eloquently share them here. Thank you!

  13. Kris Camealy

    your encouragement always blesses me, Jennifer. And you’re right, if we stop, if we give up, we are usually on the wrong side of where we need to be. Learning to persevere with you… 😉

  14. lynndmorrissey

    THose precious girls of yours are such an inspiration to me, Jennifer, and so are you. To think that you lugged all those rocks back to your farm from the JT retreat is a living example of bearing one another’s burdens. My rock was among them. And I’ve been feeling a sense of failure lately–as if *I* am the rock sinking to the bottom of life’s lake. But I need to remember that I am not my sin, and that God forgives. And He Himself has hurled those sins to the bottom on the ocean, never to be dredged up again. What I’d like to do, though, is take a stone of remembrance for this post and virtually place it on my desk, along with other such stones, where moments of signifcance are memorialized. Everything you write is signficant and hope-filled. Thank you for the encouragement to persevere! You do it so well.
    Love to Lydia and Anna too!

  15. Sheila at Longings End

    And we’ll all just keep believing it…believing the best as we focus on the excellent and lovely and pure. With all our hearts…Thanks for the blessing of your words…PS LOVED the heart rock!

  16. Simply Darlene

    I am
    just plain
    simple. If
    me otherwise
    it’d be
    a devil-tainted

  17. Alene Snodgrass

    This is beautiful. I always find such encouragement for my soul here friend. Awe inspiring truth here. Thanks!

  18. Alicia Bruxvoort

    Oh, yes, keep running, friend. So glad you keep putting on your shoes day after day. Blessed that you persevere through the hard- and invite us to do the same.

  19. Rebekah

    Jennifer, I needed to read this tonight. I set myself up with so many expectations too and fall so short. You may not remember, but I threw a stone that weekend too at a different conference (in RL with Ann Voskamp) and I have to keep going back to remember that I did that, cause I really want to give up on some of the things that I needed to go forward with. It’s hard, it is up-hill, but with Christ it’s possible. Because of that weekend I am exploring my identity in Christ and writing about it for 31 Days. Even that with all the other way better bloggers, I feel like I’ll never measure up, but really, it doesn’t matter as long as I increasingly live out my identity in Christ and become more and more like Him for the praise of His glory.
    Thanks for pressing on and sharing your beautiful heart.

  20. Sbrobst

    Yes. This. How often I’ve wanted to stop running! Yet my Savior bids me to come…

    This really touched my heart. Thank you.

  21. Elizabeth Stewart

    Thank you for throwing my fear into the depths of that lake, friend!

  22. Leah Adams (@PointMinistries)

    You have no idea how this touched me…and how much a I needed it. I don’t always comment, Jennifer, but I do always read. Consistently I find fresh manna here at your table. Thank you!

  23. joanneviola

    Oh my gosh…I have always loved the song but to see the faces of those precious girls, praying over those stones….POWERFUL! Thank you so much for sharing this!

  24. Lisa @ FSL

    Ah, the up hill both ways run. I kind of feel like I’ve been stuck on the run for quite a while now… but this reminded me of hope.

  25. Karmen M.

    I laughed at the carpenters and the grasshoppers and even had to read sections of it to my husband. I love love the video of your girls and the rocks. Is there going to be another jumping tandem conference anytime soon? I would love to be able to go to one.



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