Why I’m Competing in a Half Ironman


Tomorrow my alarm will ring at 4:00 a.m. If all goes right me and nearly 3,000 other athletes will start our journey to finish 70.3 miles of activity in one day.

I’m racing in my first Half Ironman. And to many of you, I may sound a tad crazy.

You wouldn’t necessarily be wrong. I’ve questioned my sanity often, especially considering the 5 a.m. wake ups, 4-hour bike rides, 10+ mile runs, missed social events, and many dollars I’ve spent over the last four months. So what would compel me to sign up to spend hours exercising?

I can boil my response down to one word: worship.

Being active has always been a sanctuary for me. It’s where me and God meet without distraction. It’s where He’s walked with me through some of my greatest victories and defeats. It’s where He’s reminded me that my identity isn’t in what I do or accomplishment. It’s where He’s taught me that suffering is a part of life and possible to endure when my sights are set on the right thing. It’s where He’s taught me humility. It’s where He’s rewired me to be for people even if they’re against me.

And for the last four months, it’s been the place where I’ve experienced Him most as a Father.

Our training times have been a sacred space. Though in motion, it’s like I’m cozied up at His feet. We get to talk for hours. I like to move through life fast, but I’m learning that it’s at this slower pace that His grace and truth sinks in and sticks.

Training is our tent of meeting where I’m drawn to worship.

“So, what is a successful race on Sunday?”

My Mama Sue poses the perfect questions with impeccable timing. I guess that’s bound to happen when you’ve prayed for wisdom since your early twenties. I sat for a moment before I answered. Then it came to me.


And my start for tomorrow happened months ago.

It started with early bedtimes and early alarms.

It started with the anxious nights wishing I could already move my body for longer distances than ever before.

It started with figuring out how to clip and un-clip into my borrowed bike without falling over.

It started with learning how to drink and eat on a long ride without taking down the person next to me.

It started with whispers to be patient when I wanted to blast out the front door at an unsustainable pace to get a run done.

It started with not brushing off a swim because that’s the one sport where I have some confidence.

It started with long Saturdays training in cold, wind, rain and hail instead of sleeping in or going to brunch with friends.

It started with remembering to run my race, not the race of the person who just passed me.

It started with traveling with my gear and training before celebrating the weddings of some of my best friends.

It started with learning that sometimes rest is what I need more than checking off another day of hard work.

It started with a support system I don’t deserve—at home, at work, at church, at the gym.

It started with saying “I’m sorry” to these precious people when I gave in to my exhaustion and snapped.

Needless to say, this race started long before tomorrow morning.

A lot can go wrong in 70.3 miles.

A lot of people don’t cross the finish line. Cramps, flats, weather and dehydration can cause “DNF” to label the most well-prepared athletes. And I could be one of them. There are a lot of things you can’t control in endurance races.

But regardless of what happens tomorrow, I can say with confidence that I started. With worship as my “why” and starting as my measuring stick, this race is already won. There is great peace and victory in that.

I have nothing to prove, so tomorrow I’m going to worship. And together—me and Him—we’re going to do this thing.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” -Hebrews 12:1-3

Wilderness Wanderings

White Sands

Shimmering white sands for miles. Mountain silhouettes in the distance.

I was finally visiting the place I’d admired on Instagram and through internet searches. The glory and mystery of White Sands National Monument was a sight to see. And I was eager to explore it.

The Bard trio hit the sands, and I was at the head of the pack in search of the perfect place to sled the rolling dunes.

We followed the trail markers for less than a mile and all the warnings at the park entrance started to make sense. You could easily get lost out here. The charm of the white sands could lure you in and deceive you if you weren’t careful. A string of missteps and this playground could morph into a wilderness.

Fortunately, we didn’t get too far off-trail and had a blast. But I tell you this story to set the scene for a greater story—and one I think you and I can both identify with. A story about slavery and freedom and wandering and a good God in the midst of it all.

Today I invite you along the ancient path of Israel’s journey to the Promised Land. It’s here—in their wilderness—that I recognized I was in the middle of my own. It’s here in their wilderness that we can see the beauty of God in the wasteland.

In this desert, we moderns and the ancients can empathize regardless of time or space to see that God delivers, dwells, distinguishes, and directs His people in the wilderness.

God delivers His people through the wilderness. 

You’re probably familiar with this story. Years after a season of fruitfulness in Egypt, the people of God are despised. Just as God promised, they’ve grown more numerous than the stars and sands and they were now a threat—or so Pharaoh thought.

“The Israelites have become far too numerous for us. Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country […] But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread; so the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites…” -Exodus 1:9, 10, 12

Forced into backbreaking labor for the King of Egypt, Israel needed an escape from bondage. Ten plagues and a parted sea later, God delivered them from slavery and brought them into the wilderness.

Little did they know that the long, desert way was for their good. The journey through blazing heat by day and bone-chilling cold by night were God’s grace and kindness sparing them from other enemies until they were ready for battle (Exodus 13:17).

God dwells with His people in the wilderness.

As Matt Chandler would say, “God draws us out to draw us in.” It’s in the wilderness that God reveals His presence with His people.

It starts with a cloud by day and fire by night—both crafted to protect God’s people from the cruelty of the desert. The story continues with the building of the tabernacle, more commonly called the “tent of meeting” that is evidence of the “with us” nature of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

“Then I will dwell among the Israelites and be their God. They will know that I am the LORD their God, who brought them out of Egypt so that I might dwell among them. I am the LORD their God.” -Exodus 29:45-46

Exodus closes with Moses outside of the tent, but Leviticus opens with Israel’s leader entering the tent again. God is committed to walking among His people, and He was just warming up to reveal how He’d make that possible (Leviticus 26:12).

God distinguishes His people in the wilderness.

The descendants of Abraham would bless all people on earth (Genesis 12:3). As God declares “you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation,” He is echoing a promise made long before Egypt and long before their wilderness wanderings (Exodus 19:6).

They would be a kingdom full of priests mediating between man and God. They would be a holy nation reflecting the very nature of the one true God. Ten commandments, sacrifices, food and purity laws, festivals, all of it lined out in great detail, were marks of God’s people distinguishing them from the rest of the world. And they weren’t intended to condemn the latter but to deliver them too. To bring them into the dwelling presence of the Lord.

“You are to be holy to me because I, the LORD, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own.” -Leviticus 20:26

Israel’s story of deliverance was out. It was known that the all-powerful God was with them. And their set-apart culture left no question that they belonged to Him. Yahweh gave His people their identity in the middle of the wandering.

God directs His people in the wilderness.

The people wandered, but not aimlessly, even though they often questioned that last sentiment. They were headed to a land that was promised, but the road trip went wrong—or so they thought. A two-week trip took over 40 years as they imperfectly followed God’s lead through the wilderness of Sinai, Paran, and Moab.

“In all the travels of the Israelites, whenever the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle, they would set out; but if the cloud did not lift, they did not set out—until the day it lifted. So the cloud of the LORD was over the tabernacle by day, and fire was in the cloud by night, in the sight of all the Israelites during all of their travels.” -Exodus 40:36-38

If there’s one lesson that seemed to mostly stick with Israel in their wanderings, it’s that they weren’t willing to move unless God was at the lead.

They wanted to go back to bondage. They grumbled. They questioned God’s goodness. They worshipped idols. They disregarded His holiness. They tried to overthrow leadership.

But they didn’t move unless He led.

I tend to be a lot like them. I often want the comforts of shackles over the unknowns of freedom. I often complain. I often have a running list of “whys?”. I often love created things over the Creator. I often forget I need to be made clean. I often resist authority.

But I don’t want to go unless He’s leading me.

What if the wilderness is actually a road trip gone right?

If you’re still with me, I want to tell you a story of another Bard family adventure.

Mom and I were in route to a swim meet in Austin, Texas—only a two-hour trip from our hometown. This was before Garmin and Siri and Google Maps, so we were navigating with the old-fashioned help of MapQuest and an Atlas.

Aerosmith and Elvis blasted through the speakers and all was going well, until it wasn’t.

Five hours later we were curving through rolling hills instead of fighting the infamous I-35 traffic. I was certain we were lost. Mom was certain we were on an “adventure.” We slid into the pool parking lot just in time for me to get a quick dip in the water before race day.

Days later, I’d go on to swim some of the best races of my life. What started out as a road trip gone wrong turned out to be a road trip gone just right.

I think the same can be said for our wilderness days.

Maybe the wilderness isn’t really a road trip gone horribly wrong. Maybe it’s actually the scenic route God uses to remind us of His miraculous deliverance, dwelling presence, distinguishing marks, and perfect direction. Maybe it’s a hard journey filled with other travelers who are wrestling with some of the same things. Maybe our time in the wilderness is designed to give us greater delight in who God is and what it means to be one of His own.

Maybe He uses the wilderness to draw us in. Maybe He uses the wilderness to show us He makes life flow in the most unexpected places.

“Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her […] See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland” (Hosea 2:14, Isaiah 43:19).

The Promised Land came. The Promised Land is coming. Take courage, dear heart.

A Foe Turned Friend


Rain, you’re a familiar foe.

You’ve ruined a lot of things for me … like my play and my plans.

I’ve never liked you much. Okay, maybe that’s not fully true. I’ve like you a little, especially on those lazy Sunday afternoons when golf is on the sports channel and I’m convinced God’s wired me for the couch.

Rain, I’ve got to let you know you’re growing on me a little.

You force me to hit pause when life is busy and I want to prioritize physical over spiritual training.

You are an instrument adding new sounds to creation’s song.

You refresh and revive weary and dry soil to bear life.

You relieve us Texans from the summer heat (can I get an “amen”).

You wash away earth’s dirt and grime, and you point me to the One who’s done the same for my soul.

Rain, you’re a foe turned friend.

“You heavens above, rain down my righteousness;
    let the clouds shower it down.
Let the earth open wide,
    let salvation spring up,
let righteousness flourish with it;
    I, the Lord, have created it.” -Isaiah 45:8

What I learned rock climbing


This week I went rock climbing.

Here are a few of my observations:

  • Rock climbing is for the long and light … a.k.a not me (but it was a blast!).
  • Scaling a wall is essentially a perpetual pull-up.
  • You either feel like a ninja, spider monkey, or fish out of water. I relate to the latter.
  • It’s a bit like golf … apparently you’re not supposed to loudly cheer on your fellow climbers. Whoops.
  • It builds trust. This seems like a “duh” because you’re responsible for making sure someone doesn’t plummet to the ground. I’ve decided it’s a great relationship building experience because of the teamwork it fosters. So dudes, take your ladies rock climbing. You’re welcome for the date night idea. 🙂
  • If you’re not use to rock climbing, it’s a giant leap out of your comfort zone … and that’s a good thing.

I want to camp out a bit on that last bullet.

Let’s be honest, we stick to our comfort zones too often. We fear failure, so we shy away from trying new things … but there’s a world waiting to be explored and an incredibly good God who holds it together (Hebrews 1:3, Colossians 1:17).

When we confine ourselves to a specific arena, we miss out on adventure and opportunities to experience God in new, exhilarating ways.

I think Peter gets this about our Maker. That’s why he was eager to walk on water.

“‘Lord, if it’s you,’ Peter replied, ‘tell me to come to you on the water.”Come,’ he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus.” -Matthew 14:28-29

Getting out of the boat was a bold move on Peter’s end and Jesus honored his action by allowing him to walk across the waters … until Peter lost sight of his Savior.

“But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord, save me!”Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. ‘You of little faith,’ he said, ‘why did you doubt?’” -Matthew 14:30-31

Peter failed the trust test in this moment, but Jesus still reached out in His abundant grace to save him from stormy waters.

Meanwhile, where the heck are the other disciples?! In the boat … watching … and missing out on the epic-ness of walking on water … lame. (Shout out to B. Yobo for this amazing point.)

Yes, Peter failed, but give the boy credit for trying.

I don’t know about you, but I take a lot of comfort in this story. It teaches me that we’re not meant to stay in the boat. We need to try something new, often … and sometimes it’ll end in failure.

That’s okay, too.

I need to be reminded of this daily. I’m not a fan of failure. As much as I want to be good at everything, I won’t be. But there’s grace in the trying.

When we fix our eyes on Jesus and courageously set out to try new things for His glory, His Hand is willing, able, and ready to reach out and save us.

So what will you do today to get out of the boat?

This journey with Jesus isn’t a spectator sport. Get out there and do something that’ll grow your trust in the One who commands the wind and the waves (Luke 8).

My (Re)birthday

Today I turn 24.

And as much fun as it is to celebrate birthdays with friends (I’m in San Fran!), I’ve concluded there’s a birthday more important than the one marking my first breath.

I like calling that day–May 3, 2015–my (re)birthday … the day I declared to the world that I am a follower of Jesus through baptism. Here’s the tale of that fateful day from the perspective of my sweet Momma Bard:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the

I’m incredibly humbled to share in this special day in my daughter’s life. Some may ask, “Wasn’t she already baptized?” Yes, Gary & I baptized her before God and our family in November 1991 when she was four months old. We vowed before God to raise her to know Jesus. Some may ask, “Wasn’t she confirmed?” Yes, in March 2005 I believed Meredith to be mature enough to understand the profession and commitment made in confirming her infant baptism and she was confirmed. But those decisions reflected my decisions.

On a glorious, sunny Sunday surrounded by friends and family who love and encourage her walk in faith, mentors and co-workers who teach her Biblical truth and stretch her God-given talents beyond the boundaries of her heart and mind, Meredith stepped into the baptismal waters and publicly professed her faith, giving her whole heart, her whole life, to God.

Our loving Father had set up residence in Meredith’s heart many years ago. Privately, she had given her heart to Him a number of years ago as she experienced the fullness of His grace, His loving mercies, the overwhelming depth of His love as a 6th grader attending her first FCA Camp. On this glorious Sabbath, as a mature young adult, fully capable and cognizant of her decision, she gave her heart to Him publicly.

As I stood in line waiting to enter those baptismal waters with her, I was honored to be a part of this day as I fully understood the supreme importance of this moment in Meredith’s life, her earnest commitment to live her life fully walking with God. When she arose from the waters, a smile erupted on her face radiating the deepest joy of her heart…she is a beloved, redeemed child of God. I was humbled, grateful, and thankful to witness and share this moment.  

Sometimes it’s a challenge to parent a child like Meredith (and I’ve regularly prayed for the strength to be the parent she needs!), so for a number of years now, I’ve often admitted I have no idea where God will lead Meredith, but I have the full assurance that He’s got His protective arms wrapped around her…

and I trust that.

Have you publicly identified with Jesus through baptism? I’d love to hear about your experience getting “dunked” in the comment section below!

3 Reasons Why I Love Leviticus

Processed with VSCOcam with b1 presetAlright … I love Leviticus.

Bet you weren’t expecting that first line in a blog post from this cup-is-always-half-full girl.

Maybe I’m just a glutton for punishment, or maybe—more than ever before—God’s living and active word is making what used to be the most unappetizing pieces of Scripture vibrant and life giving. I’m going to camp out on the latter.

It’s true. I love Leviticus. And here are three reasons why.

It teaches me about God’s holiness

I have no idea how many times I underlined the words “holy,” “unblemished,” “fine,” and “pure” in the last few months … but I can guarantee you it was a ton (and I’m sure there’s some sweet seminary-savvy technology that can tell you just how many times you can find these words in the 27 chapters of this book).

The point is that God is perfectly holy, and nothing but holiness can be in His presence. Take it from Aaron’s sons who learned this the hard way.

Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, contrary to his command. So fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. Moses then said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord spoke of when he said: “‘Among those who approach me, I will be proved holy; in the sight of all the people I will be honored.’” –Leviticus 10:1-3

It teaches me about God’s right rule

Although I’m not smart enough to understand or remember the historical significance of the sacrifices and commands in Leviticus, these texts certainly tuned me to a greater understand of God’s right rule.

The things He asks of us are meant to give life, not burden.

When we follow God’s right rule, it goes well with us.

“For I am commanding you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commands, statutes, and ordinances, so that you may live and multiply, and the Lord your God may bless you in the land you are entering to possess.” –Deuteronomy 30:16

And throughout Leviticus, God reminds the Israelites of His goodness when He gives them a command. We can trust Him because of His spotless resume.

“Do not make idols for yourselves, set up a carved image or sacred pillar for yourselves, or place a sculpted stone in your land to bow down to it, for I am Yahweh your God. You must keep My Sabbaths and revere My sanctuary; I am Yahweh. If you follow My statutes and faithfully observe My commands […] I will turn to you, make you fruitful and multiply you, and confirm My covenant with you. You will eat the old grain of the previous year and will clear out the old to make room for the new. I will place My residence among you, and I will not reject you. I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be My people. I am Yahweh your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, so that you would no longer be their slaves. I broke the bars of your yoke and enabled you to live in freedom.” –Leviticus 26:1-3, 9-13

It teaches me about God’s mercy

I think this one is my favorite.

Right after God declares the incredible benefits of walking in His ways, He warns the Israelites of the outcome of disobedience. And y’all, it’s pretty gnarly.

Then God plants a great big but in the middle of the chapter.

But if they will confess their sin and the sin of their fathers—their unfaithfulness that they practiced against Me, and how they acted with hostility toward Me, and I acted with hostility toward them and brought them into the land of their enemies—and if their uncircumcised hearts will be humbled, and if they will pay the penalty for their sin, then I will remember My covenant with Jacob. I will also remember My covenant with Isaac and My covenant with Abraham […] I will not reject or abhor them so as to destroy them and break My covenant with them, since I am Yahweh their God. For their sake I will remember the covenant with their fathers, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations to be their God; I am Yahweh.” –Leviticus 26:40-42, 44-46

Man, the Israelites certainly don’t deserve this measure of mercy. And neither do I … but God keeps His promises. In His goodness He grants each of us mercy despite our failures when we humbly confess our disobedience.

Here’s what Leviticus—and the entire Bible—is pointing to: Jesus.

The sacrifices and extreme demands of righteousness before the Father can only be fulfilled by One who remains untarnished by the world. And that’s Jesus.

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

Paid in Full


It’s been two months since we moved, but my roommate and I just got a bill from our old apartment for utilities.

And for a few minutes we were pretty frustrated … especially since it was due on February 1. Yep, it’s definitely April 6.

Short story short, Roomz called the complex today and got good news.

Our debt is paid in full.

I can’t help but think of my sins, her sins, and the sins of the world that were paid in full on a dreadful morning long ago.

Because of Jesus neither one of us will receive a “sin bill” (those would be some ridiculously large packages). Instead, our accounts are marked “PAID IN FULL” and we’re cloaked in the robes of Jesus.

It’s Monday and the tomb is still empty. Amen!

“The resurrection is God’s way of stamping PAID IN FULL right across history so that nobody could miss it.” –Tim Keller

What I’ve learned from Crossfit

So … I joined a Crossfit box.

Honestly it kind of pains me to admit that because I was once radically opposed to partaking in voluntary torture.

But a little over a month into membership I’m humbled by my lack of strength and endurance, and have been repeatedly reminded that this life is much more about progress than perfection.

There’s always going to be someone stronger, faster, and fitter than me. There’s always going to be more weight or reps to add to a personal record.

Crossfit reminds me a lot of the one degree of sanctification Paul talks about in 2 Corinthians.

“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another…” -2 Corinthians 3:18

Today I have to admit I actually like going to the box for a WOD—aka workout of the day. By the way, Crossfitters are all about their acronyms.

I’ve come to realize the seemingly endless burpees and failed attempts at pull ups are for my ultimate good despite the pain and shortness of breathe that accompanies them.

And I’ve learned a lot about Jesus and how God has wired us.

It’s Maundy Thursday – the day we remember the Last Supper and Jesus’ prayer … Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done (Luke 22:42).

His life wasn’t taken; Jesus chose to lay it down knowing that ultimate good would come from His perfect sacrifice (John 10:18).

I think God has designed each of us with a similar mindset.

We are His image bearers, so we imperfectly mirror the fullness of God manifested in Christ (Genesis 1:27, Colossians 1:15). Which means to some degree we are hardwired to lay ourselves down for things that are good.

At Crossfit, I’m willing to subject myself to a challenging workout knowing that the end result is a healthy body and lifestyle. I know that’s an incredibly selfish and small illustration, but through it I’m learning more about Christ’s heart and willingness to go through pain to show the world God’s infinite goodness … because if He hadn’t taken the agony of the cross we wouldn’t be able to say we stand in His grace (Romans 5:1-2).

And that little bit of insight into the passion of Jesus makes the WOD worth it.

Just in case you’re wondering if I’m “all in” with the whole Crossfit/paleo combo…I’m not. And here’s a picture of my In-N-Out Burger outside the box as proof. Oops.

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[Reflection] A lot like Heaven

I think Heaven is going to be a lot like putting on these glasses.

Suddenly the Caribbean blues, sunset oranges, sunflower yellows, and Spring greens will pale in comparison to Heaven’s glorious vibrancy … and that’s not even the best part.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” -Revelation 21:3-5

Happy Tuesday!

[Reflection] That they may know Jesus

A few weeks ago, I sat in on a creative breakout session with Greg Garrett, an author, professor, and pastor. Mr./Dr./Pr. Garrett closed his presentation with the following statement: IMG_0893 I write for a living. And if I’m honest, there are days the writing is hard and I lack inspiration. This short, yet profound closing statement has reinvigorated the way I craft sentences and has pointed me back to the scriptures I held dear during my stint as an athlete.

“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” –Colossians 3:23-24

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” -1 Corinthians 10:31

Since braving—more like being forced into—the realm of adulthood, I’ve struggled to connect the mundane to God’s glory.

For some reason, it seemed easier and more significant to illuminate Him during rehab, practice, and games. Maybe it was the fleetingness of the moment that made it sexier to be faithful in the little things (yep, just said sexy in a blog about the Lord). Working life seems so permanent in comparison to the foreseen expiration date of college athletics.

Despite my failed attempts at justifying my moments of laziness and lack of zeal, I am called to higher … and so are you.

So here’s my encouragement for today:

   (fill in the blank)    for the world, that they may know Jesus.

The purpose of the breath filling your lungs this instant is solely for His glory. Don’t waste the gift.

P.S. Do you like the art piece photographed above? My incredibly talented roommate handcrafted it for me! Email jleighb2@yahoo.com for custom calligraphy and watercolor designs. You can check out more of her work here.