Arenas and Alabaster Jars

When I was dating Erin, we worked out at a cool rock climbing gym together from time to time. I enjoyed it so much that I got myself a membership. Remember the show, Fear Factor, where they made gutsy contestants face their fears? People ate African hissing spiders, jumped off cliffs, were submerged in fish tanks full of live snakes, and crawled through tarantula-lined tunnels. Who came up with these torments? They are sick, sick people. I, for one, could never be on this show. I would faint on national television or start cussing out the host if he tried to put me near a great height or bring any type of insect near me. My fight-or-flight reaction is mainly to freeze up, release a cuss word, and then start crying. I wouldn’t say I’ve got a strong defense to things that scare me.

One glorious evening at the gym, I was working out in a room of twenty treadmills. Along the front of the room on the ceiling were various big screen televisions, one of which was showing Fear Factor. The task the contestants were to accomplish involved two speedboats, moving in a parallel line. The speedboats would come in close enough to each other that the contestant would have a shot at jumping from the back of one boat to the other. If they timed it wrong, they would get an amazingly painful full-body slap as they somersaulted at a very high speed through the waves. There was one female contestant left in a group of guys. I had my eyes fixed on her. Come on girl, you can do it!!!

By this point I had been running at a good pace on the treadmill for over ten minutes and was in the zone, staring at this girl’s huge task. With the wind whipping her hair and the ocean spray nailing her in the face, she crouched down on the back of the speedboat, her eyes were fixed on the back of the boat—her ticket to the next round and a cash money prize. I started to crouch down a little lower as I was running. She watched as the boat came near her and she launched herself toward the other boat and she…

Sweaty and afraid, my heart was racing and I was completely mortified.

Well, I will never know if she made it because when she launched her body, I jumped with her, and to my horror, it didn’t fully compute what the heck my body was doing. I jumped in the air, feet landing on a fast-moving treadmill belt and I got spun around 180 degrees, fell on my butt, and got shot off the treadmill. However, my Adidas soccer shorts got stuck in between the treadmill belt and the outer casing of the treadmill. I looked down in disbelief as my shorts began to get shredded. Is this really happening? My Walkman (remember those?) had taken flight as well and had nearly nailed a fellow runner in the row behind me. Sweaty and afraid, my heart was racing and I was completely mortified. Thank you Fear Factor, you gave me a personal experience of what it’s like to be on your sick and twisted show and I gave the live “audience” in the gym an up close and personal experience with utter embarrassment.

I looked up and saw a nice bystander running up to my treadmill machine and turning it off. I had to literally grab the left side of my shorts and yank for all I was worth to tear myself free, and by now, the left side of my shorts were completely torn so  I had to hold the fabric together to cover myself. I muttered a thank you as I got to my feet and walked, with my eyes fixed on the floor, all the way to the locker room. I sat down on a bench. What in the hell just happened? I decided that if I just didn’t come back for a week or two, no one would remember this crazy event. No one would remember my terrified face, or how red it was, or how my left butt cheek had a burn mark on it from the treadmill belt tearing my shorts in two and rubbing my butt raw. Then I felt a great sense of dread as I remembered something… my awesome Walkman playing my beloved Tupac mixtape was lying somewhere in that room after it sailed off my head and out of my hands. I had to face that room of fitness conscious people who had witnessed one of the most embarrassing moments of my life. Nothing in me wanted to do it, but I did it. I stepped back into that arena, found it on the floor and then briskly walked out, not looking back.

I have had this famous and popular quote about arenas on my fridge for years, and I find these words utterly challenging:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.
— Theodore Roosevelt

God is currently bringing up the subject of arenas with me. What are mine? What does it look like to be in one in this life? I think about Mary anointing Jesus in John 12:3:

“Mary picked up an alabaster jar filled with nearly a liter of extremely rare and costly perfume—the purest extract of nard, and she anointed Jesus’ feet. Then she wiped them dry with her long hair. And the fragrance of the costly oil filled the house. But Judas…spoke up and said, “What a waste! We could have sold this perfume for a fortune and given the money to the poor!”…Jesus said to Judas, “Leave her alone! She has saved it for the time of my burial. You’ll always have the poor with you, but you won’t always have me.”

This was one of Mary’s arenas. Her chance to step into her greatness, to step into a task that was so honorably hers. A chance to step onto the stage with an audience present. The critics chimed in immediately. They questioned what she was doing, they tried to make her feel stupid and some chose not to say anything at all. Some just stared in silence rather than applauding or saying, “Wow, Mary! This is incredible what you’re doing for God. You are doing something so beautiful.” Then Jesus, sweet Jesus, ever aware and ever FOR her, speaks up and defends her. Come on!!!

Mary’s arena involved an alabaster jar. She had the creative mind to come up with something so jaw-dropping, so brave and beautiful. She made the choice to show up and love someone so thoughtfully, extravagantly, and in such a costly way. I want to be more like Mary. So I’ve been pondering, What are the arenas in my life? There are many, many that I know of, and many that I don’t know of, yet. The one that stands out lately has been a simple act of praying for a family member who was sharing her heart over the dinner table in front of our family members. It was a holy moment. I knew it was. I love this person dearly, and I marveled at her courage to share her heart. My heart was beating super fast, but I felt like God was telling me, It’s time Adge. It’s time to pray over her and it’s time to do it right now. In the middle of dinner. In the middle of this conversation.

Sometimes being the youngest in my family leans me towards being quiet and just being a listener, not an advice giver. Not today. I said out loud, “We need to pray.” My husband nodded and winked at me, like Jesus, ever on my side, rooting me on. My brother nodded and smiled. I watched as the other family members operated out of their unique natural tendencies—giving perspective, trying to give solutions, trying to offer what they felt like would encourage her. None of which was wrong or any less good compared to what I wanted to do. I just felt I had an important personal choice in this arena that was before me: stay quiet and keep listening in a passive way or stand up and take charge of my voice and aggressively fight for my beloved family member. I felt myself growing hot because I knew this risk was God’s offer to me and I knew it was time to speak out. So I said again, in a louder voice over my family as I stood up and moved behind her, placing my hands on her shoulders from behind. “We need to pray. So I’m going to pray, now.”

The world misses out when I don’t make a sound, when I don’t risk. There’s only one me. I need to learn to suit up, step out, and defend and fight for the things He has placed around me.

I did pray, and though it wasn’t a mind-blowing, eloquent prayer that brought about a miracle right then and there, I knew in my spirit that something very real, something I couldn’t see with my human eyes, was taking place. The risk of speaking out and stepping into who I’m supposed to be for my family was my way of pouring out my alabaster jar on her because I wanted her to know that I love her enough to speak up because God is able and willing to bring hope into the room and into a situation, when we invite Him into it. The risk of me doing it, even if it was perceived as too much or made someone uncomfortable, was worth it because really, if I’m not fully who I’m called to be in these situations, then the world suffers for it. The world misses out when I don’t make a sound, when I don’t risk. There’s only one me. I need to learn to suit up, step out, and defend and fight for the things He has placed around me.

Friends, what are your arenas that God is inviting you to step into and pour your alabaster jar out onto? Hint: They are often places you are hesitant to go since they involve risk on your part. Yep, you might end up a little beat up with a treadmill burn on your bum or might find yourself in vulnerable tears. Yep, like Mary, you might hear the critics, the nay-sayers, or simply non-supportive silence. But the reward? Stepping more into the real you! Holding the floor in a way only you can! Feeling God’s presence! Seeing your words speak possibility into a problem!

Look around you. Perhaps your home is your arena. Perhaps championing on your kid who is struggling in school is your arena. Arenas don’t always have to be coliseums with a huge audience. They can be in your bedroom, where you and your spouse need to finally talk about THAT. They can be around your kitchen counter as you chat with your daughter about middle school girl drama. I love that God says He is ever-present, we are NEVER alone. He gets in the arena with us, pats us on the back, helps us cinch our armor on (I think our armor is the giftedness He designed us to carry) and applauds us when we choose to let ourselves in our own beautiful way disturb the moment, the comfortableness, the atmosphere. Try it, even if it means failing and falling off a treadmill! I truly believe you’ll know when there is an arena planted before you that He has divinely set up for you to know the greatness that is YOU.

Colorado Springs, CO

Adge is an adventurer by heart, climbing 14ers (mountains over 14,000 ft high) and simply being in the wilderness refills her cup. She married a man who shares that passion with her, Erin, and together they have three children, Everleigh, Finnley, and Bodie. Adge has a huge heart for women. She works as a labor & delivery nurse, loves one-on-one conversations, and lattes with intricate foam designs!