This is a book review I shared with my church family at Faith Reformed PCA, Erie PA. I thought some of my blog followers might also be interested. Ok,
FRC family, here’s another book review…
bought the book Undone: A Story of Making
Peace with an Unexpected Life by Michele Cushatt when it was first
published, on the recommendation of a friend of mine who was on the advance
team. When the package first arrived I opened it, immediately started reading
the book… and then got scared and put the book down for six months. The book touched a nerve in me that I was not
I finally got tired of living around it, moving it from coffee table to end
table to night stand to end table again and just plunged in. Nerves were still
zinged, but I was ready for it now.
Undone is a memoir of Cushatt’s life –
a divorce, remarriage, single-parenting, step-parenting, a cancer diagnosis,
foster children. She is open and honest about her life without getting in to
the gory details, respecting the privacy of those involved while still managing
to get across the emotional and spiritual messiness. That takes talent, wisdom,
and more importantly, love for those involved. I admire that.
a lifelong Christian, Cushatt knows how she should have reacted to the
“undone” details of her life. She
truthfully admits to what her reactionswere (crying on her closet floor being one of them), and she faithfully
proclaims how Jesus brought her through those times.
stories (and that’s what this book is, a collection of stories from her life)
are not so extreme so as for readers to not be able to relate. These are situations where many of us could
find ourselves. It is in these common events that Cushatt is able to
see the hand of God at work. In fact, she learns it is because of these
events she is able to see God, become more like Jesus and be able to love her
as “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our
weakness”, sharing in Christ’s suffering allowed her (and all of us) to demonstrate
grace and mercy to those we come in contact.
Cushatt is a nationally known speaker and this is her first book. Her writing
style is conversational, with many comical and self-deprecating asides. In other words, she writes like I speak…and
write. It is a quick read, and though it might be classified in the Woman’s
Section, it is not a “chick book”. Men
would enjoy it, as well.
you read it, let me know if you agree...or not.
I struggled against the fierce storm,
battling strong winds
which blew me off course.
The heat of passion
met the coolness of rejection
ran in to the drench of tears
to form the perfect storm;
a confluence of sadness and despair
which threatened to overpower me
and drag me away to the dark place.
But lightning struck
and lit my path
revealing where I was,
where I was heading,
and the path back
To Your refuge.
met to form
another perfect storm
where grace rained down
and drenched me in redemption.
So, I finished my half marathon. 13.1 miles completed in 3:11:24, well within my goal time of 3:30. As I was running my route around the beautiful environs of Schroon Lake, I thought about this final post in this series. I was going to review my training, the hours of running, the blisters, bone pain, mental challenges. Throughout those 3 hours, 11 minutes and 24 seconds I composed a most wonderful and inspiring post, peppered with some witty comments and hilarious dog stories ('cause, hey, I gotta be me). All that changed on the ride home at a rest stop on Interstate 90. While we were eating dinner, my sister/chauffeur/rehab trainer, Jean was checking her email when she let out a sad "Aww" and told me our friend Mike had died Sunday morning.
Mike had battled brain cancer for a couple of years. Some would say he lost his battle. Those that knew him and read his Facebook posts throughout his treatment would say he'd won, no doubt about it. Or as my pastor would term it, he died well. It seems to me that all Mike's life up to his cancer diagnosis was training for a long, difficult "race" through the trails and trials of treatment. He must have trained staunchly because he ran strong up until the very end, living faithfully for his Lord and Saviour. Though in his final days his ability to communicate was severely limited, he still proclaimed the power of the Gospel by his demeanor through such difficult times.
While he underwent hours and hours of treatments, Mike would pray for different friends and family members and post those prayers on Facebook. People I know who have had cancer are amazed when they hear this. They say if they did have any energy to pray, they prayed for themselves. Jean and I were once recipients of his prayers.To this day, I feel honored!
There were hundreds of people from all over the world praying for and cheering on Mike, most fervently his wife and two daughters. There were a lot of people cheering me on and praying for me, as well. My sister and my Aunt Joan who accompanied me the 400 miles to the race...and back again. Anna, whose performance in last year's marathon I witnessed, which inspired me to attempt this run. My brother who supported me...with teasing, and his wife who supported me by telling him to be nice! Brenda and the Barblings, Adiel, Mindy, Michelle and Joe, Fran, Ali and Dave. y coworker, Julie who knew my training schedule better than I did! Facebook "Likes" and lots of texts over the last few weeks. My Internet friend, Stacey who recommended The Runner's Devotionaland who's blog posts about her races - athletic, medical and spiritual - stirred up lots of thoughts in my brain and my soul. And I can't leave out Lucy who dragged me forward (usually after a squirrel) when my legs didn't feel like working anymore. Or Dora, who was so happy to walk with me during my cool downs, bright-eyed and waggy-tailed.
Both Mike and I have had lots of people (and dogs) in our corner. But there were still many long stretches we each had to travel on our own, many silent miles where there was no one shouting encouragement, many "dark nights of the soul". Still, it's said loneliness is a state of mind. "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?" (Jer 17:9) Our emotions quite often lie to us, giving us a dysmorphic view of reality.
"A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother." Prov 18:24 That would be Jesus, AKA Emmanuel, meaning God is with us. GOD with us - "...a very present help in trouble" (Ps 46:1) who promised to He would never leave nor forsake us (Josh 1:5). THIS is the reality the enemy works to make us forget.
After I heard about Mike death, I recalled a portion of the morning's race. At about Mile 2 I could hear loud cheers coming from across the lake. I smiled thinking about how they'd be cheering for me when I got to that point. That point was around Mile 4, where the race route crossed the campus of Word of Life Fellowship, a Christian ministry and camp. There were almost a hundred kids, counselors and leaders yelling and cheering for me. "Way to go #770 (my bib number)!" "Lookin' good!" There were even a few who yelled out "Keep going, Barbara!!" It was surprising and heartening to hear my name! Apparently, race officials hand out rosters of racers for that very reason (Note to self - if I ever do anything like this again, fill out the application as Barb). As I ran by, I joked to one of the leaders that I was "surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses" (Heb 12:1). Sitting at that roadside rest stop, I was struck by the thought that while I was hearing my "great cloud of witnesses" Mike was hearing the real thing, angels and saints elated to see him cross the finish line, yelling his name!
The other day, my dad called me to see how I was feeling (I was sore) and to tell me he was proud of me (I got teary-eyed). On Sunday morning, Mike's Father, Abba said the same thing to him. And that is why I continue to "run with endurance the race that is set before me" - to hear the words "well done, good and faithful servant".
When I first started training for the Adirondack Half Marathon, I found an App that seemed to suit my ability and my schedule. I downloaded it on to my phone and started running, The initial training sessions were short runs 1.5 miles, 2 miles, 3 miles. No big deal. Although it was often hot and muggy during my runs, the distances didn't really warrant carrying water. As long as I was hydrated throughout the day, I felt fine. The only thing I carried was my phone and, if a dog was accompanying me, a leash and a "waste" bag.
There are devices made, such as arm bands, so I wouldn't have to hold the phone, but I have never been able to find one that fit my arm. They were either too big or too tight. I've never been able to find one that was "just right" (dispense with the Goldilocks jokes, please) so I carried my phone, holding it in place under a rubber band wrapped loosely around my palm. The phone stayed in place while my circulation still circulated.
Still, on longer runs my palms got sweaty and the phone became an uncomfortable nuisance. Additionally, though I needed it to track my mileage, I often found myself checking the phone to see how far I'd come - or more honestly, checking to see how much further I had to go. I was not content to wait for the little App Coach to let me know my pace, split times and distance. I would impatiently check the screen, sometimes actually stopping running to read the stats because of the sun and sweat in my eyes.
As I mentioned in a previous post, on longer runs I found the need to carry food and water to sustain my energy. I have a water bottle that has a handle which wraps around my palm, but like the phone it made my hand sweaty so I started tucking the bottle in to the waistband of my shorts. It stayed in place...most of the time. But carrying food became a problem. My running shorts don't have pockets so I had to resort to a "fanny pack".
In the pockets of my fanny pack, which I wore turned towards my front not my fanny, I stowed my phone, food, Kleenex, and a plastic grocery bag (for the dog). I still had to keep my water bottle in the waistband of my shorts. I was now able to run with my hands free, unless I had a dog with me and then I only had to hold my end of the leash.
An aside here. Back in June I went camping with my friends Adiel and Mindy. During our hikes Mindy used a fanny pack to carry her keys, camera, water bottle, etc. Though Mindy's pack was of a sportier style than most, Adiel and I still made fun of her. Mindy, please forgive me!)
Some interesting things happened once I reorganized my paraphernalia and ran with empty hands. I got faster. (Note: I said faster not fast. I'm still slow.)
With the phone in my pack, the little App voice is often muffled or drowned out completely by the sound of street traffic. When I do hear the App Coach, I can't always discern what she is saying; I only hear a "still, small voice" indicating to me I've made some forward progress. I just have no idea of how much progress or how much further I have to go. But I love hearing that voice!
Hebrews 12:1 (NASB) says "...let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us". Other translations use the word "weight" instead of "encumbrance". During my training runs, I wasn't carrying less. In fact, counting the Swedish Fish and Animal Crackers in my pack, I was carrying more now. The only difference was my hands were free. I was no longer distracted by what I was holding. And I was no longer glancing at my phone, looking to check my stats.
I carry a lot of baggage in my daily life. I'm weighed down by my long "To Do" list, my worries and concerns. I'm distracted by the voices that tell me I'm behind, not good enough,I'll never catch up, I need to try harder. These are the encumbrances I need to shed. This is sin of disbelief and this is where grace enters the picture. Just like on my runs, I have to reorganize how I carry things.
Some things Jesus said:
"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." (Matt11:28)
"Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you." I Peter 5:6-7
"Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden light." (Matt 11:29-30)
Grace humbles me, not as an embarrassment or a crutch. Truth be told (sin confessed) my own pride is the crutch on which I lean...and run poorly. Grace is the very legs on which I stand and run the race set before me. Jesus wants me to finish this race and thus He provided the legs, He is there with me every stride, carrying my food and water, feeding me along the way, and telling me to press on.
So much of the training for my upcoming race happened on weeknights
after work. Because I'm a slow runner, some of those longer training
sessions could take upwards of two hours to complete; longer, if I was
accompanied by a dog.
So that I wasn't running in the dark of
night, most of the times when I got home from work I'd race through the door,
let the dogs out, fill their food dishes, change my clothes, and head out the
door for a run. About 10 to 15 minutes in to my runs I'd realize
that the last time I'd eaten had been lunch six hours prior. On a 3-mile
run that's uncomfortable but manageable. On longer runs, that can be
disastrous. During these sessions I'd become nauseous, shaky, and
noodle-legged, barely making it home. After a few times of"bonking"I learned my lesson and started
grabbing a quick snack (usually a banana) before my run. For long sessions, I'd
try to eat something more substantial - peanut butter toast and the always
reliable banana. I also started carrying food (animal crackers and Swedish
Fish) and water with me. These practices made a noticeable difference on my
Staying hydrated is also important for
runners. Dehydration not only affects a runner's performance but can be
deadly, as well. Lack of water makes your blood thicker and sludge-like and
makes your heart work harder.
I drink a lot throughout the day, but my preferred beverage is
diet soda or iced tea, not water. Since the bulk of my training was during the
high heat of July and August, I knew hydration was of particular importance so
I made it a point to substitute water for diet soda as my pre-run drink, though
a majority of my drinking during the day still consisted of the not-so-healthy
beverages. I did not become dehydrated
during these runs, as my sweat-soaked clothes indicated but I found my endurance
suffered. It was not until I started regularly drinking water
throughout my days that I found my strength lasted throughout my sessions. It
seems that unlike food, where a quick bite to eat will give me a jolt of
energy, hydration needs to be built up and sustained over time.
There are some definite spiritual parallels here. Jesus is called
the Bread of Life (John 6:35) He offered the woman at the well living water
(John 4:10-11). Our souls need to eat
and drink. David prayed to God in Psalm
“my soul thirsts for you, my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and
weary land where there is no water.”
If living the life of a disciple is a race, we “runners” must take
in nourishment. We must feed on the Word of God. We must drink of Jesus, the
“Your words were found, and I ate them,
and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart…” Jeremiah 15:16
“Man shall not live on bread alone, but by
every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Matt 4:4
“Jesus stood up and cried out, ‘If anyone
thirsts, let him come to me and drink.” John 7:37
“With joy you will draw water from the
wells of salvation.” Isaiah 12:3
For believers in Christ to finish the race set before us, we need
to practice good spiritual nutrition, taking in the food and drink God has set
before us. We do this through prayer
drinking in His Spirit, absorbing His very presence in to our own souls. We eat
of His Word, the Bible by reading, meditating on and hearing the Word preached.
“So faith comes from
hearing, and hearing through the word of
I learned the hard way through dizzy spells and painful leg cramps
that I need to eat and drink properly to run well if I intend on finishing this
half marathon. I’ve learned the hard way
that I cannot ignore my need for Jesus if I intend to finish the race He set
before me. That race is lifelong and requires more than an occasional healthy snack, but regular, intentional healthy practices in order to cross that finish line. A DNF in that race is deadly.