(Excerpt from the book I am writing, “What Pop Believes”)
‘We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.’ Romans 5:3-5
Character…wow, this is a loaded one. I am a firm believer in developing your character daily. If you look at the verse above, it will give you a snapshot of what you will face every day. You are either in one of those stages or in transition as you move to a different one. There will be days of great rejoicing, and you feel like you are on top of everything. You are hitting home runs, and everybody in your life is fine. Then, without much provocation, something changes, and an aspect of your life “springs a leak.” As our body does naturally, you begin to move resources (time, energy, money) to make things better. Sometimes it stops the leak, and you can ride on the wave again. Sometimes, it goes for a long time. When it does, you are going to find out a lot about yourself on the inside. You will find out if you really have what it takes to run a race. Anyone can sprint, but can you run for a long time? It is in that time of endurance you will find out what your character is. The good news is that character leads to hope and love. You have to make it through the perseverance and character part to get to the good stuff and get back on top of the wave.
In 2003, I decided that I wanted to run a marathon. To do this, I needed to get myself in the best physical shape. I decided that I would run the Disney Marathon in 2004. In getting ready, I got to know Ronn and Joyce Kelly. What a fantastic couple. At the time, their twins, Grant and Sydney, were three years old. Ronn passed away in January 2019 of colon cancer. I lost a great friend and brother…I miss him. He always started our conversations with “Dude.” Sydney and Grant are amazing, both recently married and doing great things. Joyce is a rock star ministering to ladies in the strip clubs and powerfully teaching the Bible. She is a great leader! It just goes to show how a small decision can lead to lifetime relationships.
We began training in May, and I found a strong program. In the end, I ran over 500 miles to prepare for the race. I followed a diet and rest program. By the time we arrived at the race, I was ready and gearing for a sub-four-hour marathon. The plan was to be at the corrals early at 4:00 am for a 6:00 am start time. Kristin would have all the kids meet us out on the course. It was 42 degrees when we got to the corrals, and it was cold. We spent the time resting, walking, stretching. Finally, we made it to the starting area. We started the race with 16,000 other runners, and it was mass chaos for the first three miles. I remember running, jogging, walking just to get around people and find some space. After that, it picked up, and by the time I hit the 13-mile mark, I was at 2 hours even, right on my target.
I remember watching the people who turned left to go to the finish line for the half marathon. It was one of the loneliest feelings I remember. You work so hard to get there, and then they get to finish, and you have to do it all over again. (We will come back to this.) I pressed into the next mile, and at mile 14, something happened that changed my whole race. I developed a cramp in my calf. Now, here is the crazy part. I never experienced one cramp in all of my training. Not once. I stopped, stretched, and ran on, and it got worse. I tried all the things I read about to relieve the cramp, and nothing changed. I would run a while and then have to walk to ease the pressure. After a few miles, the other calf began to cramp. I would never run without walking a distance for the rest of the race. I was mad, angry, discouraged, and worn out.
That is where I saw Kristin and the kids at mile 21. It was a pretty remote part of the course, so they were the only ones out there. I wanted to run as best I could to them, and by the time I got to her, I was done. The kids all hugged me, and she yelled, “You are doing great! Five miles to go!” I lost it. Tearing up, I said, “I can’t do this. My calves are all cramped up. I cannot run without walking.” This was a God moment. Kristin stepped back and looked at me. She stepped back in, and she yelled, “Don’t quit! Don’t quit! Don’t quit! You worked too hard to quit. You will never forgive yourself if you quit!” I looked at her and wanted to say, “You don’t know how bad it feels.” Yet, I didn’t. So, I gave everyone another hug and chugged off. It wasn’t lovely, but I finished.
When I got across the line, I got my stuff and was engulfed in a family hug. I was completely dehydrated and wracked in pain. My brother, Jon, helped me get in the van, and I went back to the hotel and slept in a hot bath. I paid the price, but I finished. I was a marathoner! I will not do another one in my life, but I did that one! (No one ever asks, but my time was 4:35…not too bad.)
Such a great story to unpack some truths about character. Here are my takeaways.
- Character comes from core beliefs and values. You have to know what is central to your life to develop character. My relationship with Christ is the foundation of my character. The principles of the Bible for a relationship with Him, others, wisdom, honor, and finances are the basis for my character. The question that you will have to answer is, “What do I want to be known for when people mention my name?” Let me state it clearly: Chris Bonham loves God, loves others, walks in wisdom, values others with honor, and is generous.” That is pretty basic, but that is the character that I want to personify every day.
- Character is developed, not given. You will have to work to build character. If you want your life to reflect those beliefs and values, then you will have to use those “muscles” to get stronger in them. Like lifting weights, you start with small weights then move to heavier. You will encounter life decisions that are “small.” Are you going to spend time with God, love others, cheat when you can, cut corners on projects, lie, or disrespect others? You may have done this when you were a child, but you can’t do this as an adult. The little decisions of childhood begin to show you your character for adulthood. You must choose your character and develop those traits daily. Choose wisely. It is a fight.
- You will want to quit. Remember the 13-mile mark of my marathon? It was lonely. Ironically, when I sat with Ronn in the hospital before he passed, we talked about mile 13. He did five marathons in his life, and he said something very powerful. He said, “You know, I never turned left and quit the marathon to finish the half. I always turned right and finished.” Character is hard. Remember the verse above. Character is the result of endurance. Endurance is long, hard, tiring, stressful, and appears unending. That is where character is forged. You will want to quit. You will feel like you are alone in your endeavor because others will take the easy route and give in. You will wonder if anyone will notice. You will ask yourself about “just this time.” I will be honest. I didn’t choose character every time. Those times I regret today. Yet, I got back in the race and chose it more times than I didn’t. Enough choices that the character became my foundation.
- Have the right people encouraging you. I will never forget the moment Kristin told me not to quit. I have many other people who have spoken into my life when it comes to moments of character. You cannot make it on your own. Invest in people who love you enough to challenge you when you are tempted to quit or take the easy way out. Surround yourself with people who will cheer you on when you do it right. Build a relationship with people who will help you see beneath the surface and who you truly are.
- Character leads to hope and love. I have never been the most talented person in any area. I am not the best speaker, strategist, athlete, administrator, husband, father, or pastor. There are always others who seem to be light years ahead of me. BUT…I am the best me I can be. My character reflects my life long journey (marathon) to be everything that God created me to be. My character leads me to hope in all situations that God has it under control and that I can love Him and others with no judgment or condemnation. I can’t do that without a foundation that is rooted in Him.
You got this…start today!