26.2 miles for a reason

The back of Dave's Refuge for Women shirt.

The back of Dave’s Refuge for Women shirt.

He did it! On Sunday, October 12, my husband, Dave, ran his sixth marathon (second time in Chicago), this one for women rescued from sex trafficking. His “Run for a Reason” shirt arrived too late (and too small) for him to actually wear it during the run, but his efforts still raised money for a safe house here in the western suburbs. A big thanks to all you who supported Refuge for Women, and, for those of you who still might like to contribute, visit this post I wrote last month to read more about the organization, its partnership with local ministry New Name, and Dave’s reasons for running for this particular purpose.

DSC_0759It was an awesome day–especially for us spectators
who were not slogging out 26.2 miles! We enjoyed funny signs, were inspired by courageous people (like the blind runner–also on crutches–we saw at mile four, far behind the others), and loved, loved, loved seeing runners’ faces light up when we hollered out their names and reminded them that, yes, they really could do it.

All seven of us went down to cheer Dave on (plus Em’s friend Abby), and we DSC_0767were joined by my friend Beth (who just ran a marathon last week herself) and her two kids. They were cheering on husband/dad Geof, who was running his first marathon on
Sunday. Dave and Geof ran the whole thing together (well, they lost each other in the last two miles, but that’s close enough), and
DSC_0781we managed to see them at mile 11 and then again at 17. We tried to see them at 26, but the crowds of spectators were too packed. So we met them just after the finish, watched their drawn, sweat-crusted faces light up when they saw us, and told them we were very, very proud of them.

If you’re in the Chicago area, and you’ve DSC_0783never watched the marathon, DO IT! It’s a great day, filled with chances to cheer on strangers and talk to fellow spectators and walk down streets that are actually empty (Patrick absolutely loved this!). You get to spend the entire day wandering around downtown without a bit of pressure to shop (sorry to all my shopaholic friends).

Other highlights: the band at UIC, the crazy DSC_0787outfits worn by some runners (it wasn’t that hot, but still, the full-length character outfits had to be toasty), getting ice cream, playing in the park, congratulating exhausted finishers who hadn’t yet met up with friends or family, and, most of all, going home all together after a wonderful, wonderful day!

At  mile 17, the guys got hugs from the kids.

At mile 17, the guys got hugs from the kids.







Patrick giving out high fives.

Patrick giving out high fives.



Going home on the el--not sure which one looks more tired!

Going home on the el–not sure which one looks more tired!

Dave, running for a reason on October 12

In four weeks, on October 12, my husband, Dave, will run the Chicago Marathon as a Run for a Reason participant.

His reason? To raise funds for a Refuge for Women safe house to be opened in the western suburbs.

What’s that? Refuge for Women, based in Kentucky, is an after-care home for women rescued from the sex trade industry, and it works with New Name, a ministry right here in the western suburbs that reaches out to women—right here in the western suburbs—who are trapped in the sex trade. New Name sends teams of women into strip clubs, massage parlors, and adult bars to form relationships with the women working or trapped in them; it also has a call center that contacts women—and even pimps—and offers to pray for them; and it bathes everything in prayer with both weekly meetings and teams that pray during the visitation and call center hours.

How did Dave find out about Refuge for Women? This is a long story that actually starts with me. I could skip it and cut to the chase, but I am always amazed at how God interweaves our stories and connects us with others, and then we can look back and see His hand in all of it.

So I’m telling the long version.

Two years ago Moody Radio kept running a promo bit on The White Umbrella, a book about the booming sex trade industry in Atlanta, Georgia, and an after-care home there named Wellspring Living. I read the book and thought, “I have to do something, but what?” Everything in the book was focused on the problem in Atlanta, but when I researched the issue in Chicago, I found it was alive and rampant here as well. I contacted the publisher (Moody) and said, “What do I do?” An editor at Moody invited me to a symposium Moody was hosting on this topic, and I listened to the leader of the Salvation Army’s Promise program (Partnership to Rescue Our Minors from Sexual Exploitation) as he shared how bad the issue is in Chicago and what Promise is doing about it.

I still felt helpless, but one of the messages I kept hearing at the symposium was that people needed to spread the word about this issue. I could blog on it, I thought.

So I did, enough that, a year later, when I joined the Redbud Writers Guild and met with Terri Kraus, one of its leaders, we talked about the topic of human trafficking as something I often wrote on.

“Well,” said Terri, “did you know that I’m one of the co-founders of the West Chicagoland Anti-Trafficking Coalition?”

I didn’t know such a thing even existed, but I began going to meetings and getting involved in a small way, and through the WCATC, I found out about New Name and got connected with Anne, its director.

When Dave wanted someone to speak to his Culture and Theology class last spring about sex trafficking in this area, I contacted Anne, and she agreed to come in.

She blew away any misconceptions the students may have had about women choosing to stay in the lifestyle of prostitution. “Almost all of these girls have horrific backgrounds,” she said, “with the kinds of sexual/physical/emotional abuse that makes you wonder how anyone even thought of it—really evil and horrific.”

One girl, Darcy*, was raped and then trafficked by her own mother. Another girl’s mother is a drug addict who began selling her daughter when she was young to pay for her drugs. Now the girl is trapped in the lifestyle. She doesn’t know any other.

New Name has connections with the Chicago FBI and calls the Bureau when a girl wants to leave the industry or simply is frightened. But the FBI doesn’t provide places for the girls following their rescue, so New Name partnered with Refuge for Women in Kentucky. Four girls rescued by New Name, including Darcy, have now gone to Refuge for Women and been involved in its 12-month, 24/7 program where sobriety, healing from trauma, rebuilding trust, and developing a relationship with Jesus are all essential elements.

Not long after Anne spoke in Dave’s class, I learned that Refuge for Women was raising funds for an after-care home here in the western suburbs, and then I learned it was part of the Run for a Reason program at the Chicago Marathon. When I told Dave, he signed up to be a Refuge runner.

So, my part was to do all the connecting.

Dave’s part is to run 26.2 miles (I like my part better).

Do you want to have a part?

Would you be willing to join us in this effort to bring healing to women?

First, please pray, for the ministries of New Name and Refuge for Women, for the fundraising for a local after-care home, and for Dave as he trains and runs the marathon on October 12.

Second, if you feel led to give to a Refuge for Women safe house in this area, you can do so in a couple of ways:

  1. You can donate online at refugeforwomen.org. Click on the “take action” button at the top of the home page and then choose “Donate-Chicago” at the bottom of the page that opens. When you review your donation, type “I am donating this in support of Team Refuge runner Dave Underwood” in the “add special instructions to the seller” box.
  1. You can write a check and send it to the address below. Please write “Dave Underwood” on the memo line of the check so they can keep track of his fundraising amount.

Refuge for Women

Attn: Run for a Reason

342 Waller Ave, Ste D

Lexington, KY 40504

Thanks so much for reading this. If you have any questions, please feel to leave a comment, and I’ll respond. I’ve also put lots of links in the post, so be sure to follow them to find out more about these ministries.


*I think Anne was already using a pseudonym, but I’m changing it again just to be completely safe.


Alphabet Praise

This morning I glanced through an old issue (May/June of ’07) of a Discipleship Journal (a fantastic NavPress magazine that ceased publication about six years ago) and read an article titled “The 20 Minute Worship Challenge” by Becky Harling. In it she describes how beginning each day with a concentrated time of praise transformed a difficult season in her life. Harling praised in different ways: singing along with music, “praising” through the alphabet, and reading praise Psalms aloud. Following her article was an inset titled “Praises from A to Z,” an excerpt from the book Pray with Purpose, Live with Passion by Debbie Williams (which, by the way, looks really good! Click on the title above to visit its Amazon page.)

I didn’t read the inset piece because I was about to head out for a run, and I wanted to pray my own praise alphabet during the first part of it. I can’t now remember all the words I came up with, but a few stuck with me long enough to write them down. I’m leaving the ones I can’t recall blank in case you want to fill them in for yourself.

My Running ABCs of Praise 

A: Awe. I was just starting the run, and the heavy humidity hadn’t yet drenched me. The light was hazy through the treetops, and I was in awe that God had created the waving branches and that specific quality of light that would so bedazzle my eyes.

B: ______________

C: Care. “He careth for you(me).” That phrase from my King James Version-steeped childhood chimed in my head. He—GOD of the universe—CARES for itty-bitty me.

D: ________________

E: Excellent. He is excellent—in all facets. Full marks in everything. Enough said. Come to think of it, “enough” is good, too. He is—enough.

F: Fair. “Fairest Lord Jesus, Ruler of all nature/O Thou of God and man the Son/Thee will I cherish, Thee will I honor/Thou, my soul’s glory, joy and crown.” Old hymn—but still and always true.

G: Good. Wholly GOOD, no bad in Him at all. AT ALL. Good—to the core, to the very last drop, in all His beings/doings/imaginings. (Don’t know about you, but I can’t imagine being that good. Snotty thoughts of one kind or another pass through my mind on a very regular basis–sometimes most frequently when I’m trying to be most good!)

H: Healer. Oh, how I have experienced God’s work in my life as my healer, the great Physician who sees my brokenness and knows how to cure it.

I: Inimitable. Great word meaning “not able to be imitated.” Very true. Lucifer tried. Humanity tried. Both failed—with disastrous results. Only the inimitable God is completely uncorrupted by power.

J: ___________________

K: Kind. I tell my kids all the time I don’t want them to be merely “nice.” I want them to be KIND. Nice is a polite smile, an averted gaze, a penny in the bucket. Kind is a helping hand, a listening ear, a shared laugh–or cry, and a walking alongside. Kind can even be tough when it needs to be. Nice is focused on me; kind is focused on what is good for the other person.

L: Love. Basic but mind blowing. God is LOVE. Wow.

M: Mysterious. Not a tame lion, our Jesus, our God, but One Who must be true only to Himself. He doesn’t answer to me, the President, anybody. Just Himself, and He’s so big He’s unfathomable to us tiny-brained humans. That makes Him pretty mysterious.

M: Mine (I couldn’t resist a second one for “m” because, oh, my word, the mysterious God of the universe allows me to call Him “mine.”)

N: _______________

O: (Later I thought of “Omega,” but that felt like cheating. So I’m putting it here but also confessing.)

P: _________________

Q: Quintessence. Besides simply being a cool word, it’s a fantastic descriptor for God, and specifically for Christ. “The most perfect embodiment of something.” Christ is the ultimate quintessence of God.

R: Real. Not imaginary, not able to be disproved. He’s the realest of the real. He will exist though all else be stripped away. The scene in The Silver Chair when Puddleglum argues with the Witch about reality is a fantastic treatise on this idea.

S: Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. Wow—that word is in spellcheck! Thank you, Mary Poppins and P. L. Travers. If ever anyone deserves this most scrumptious and sing-able of multi-syllabic words, it’s God.

T: Tried and true. “True” as in “real”—see letter “r.” “Tried” as in “never failing” and willing to prove this to us time and again and again so we can know this through personal experience.

U: Ubiquitous. Honest, it really was the first word that came to mind (okay, maybe “unique” popped up first, but it was immediately rejected as being too blah). But then—more honesty—I thought, “You know, I’m not quite sure what ‘ubiquitous’ means.” Well, I looked it up later, and it means “existing or being everywhere; especially at the same time; omnipresent.” PERFECT!

V: Verity. Another word from the KJV. “The state or quality of being true; accordance with fact or reality.” Psalm 111:7 “The works of his hands are verity and judgment; all his commandments are sure.”

W: Whirlwind. I know it’s a weird choice, but one of the things I most appreciate about God (after the fact, at least) is that He is willing to come into my life and heart at times with a gust-like force that disturbs me, that makes me take inventory, that makes me change.

X: Xylophone didn’t fit. If you come up with any, let me know.

Z: Zenith. “highest point or state; culmination.” A good descriptor for God and a proper ending for this list.

Note: I have also used the alphabet for intercessory prayer for others. I just pray for a person/situation/organization/place I know that begins with the letter A (or several) and then move on to the rest of the letters.


‘Tis more blessed…

If “‘Tis more blessed to give than to receive” is true–and I believe it is–then on Saturday night I was doubly blessed.

It seemed unfair to use the Christmas gift I gave him before he had a chance to even try it out…

But I did.

Up early and gone all day for one child’s wrestling meet, driving to and from the girls’ soccer practice in the late afternoon, I lost daylight time for my run with the dog.

So I strapped on the headlamp I’d given Dave so he could run in the early-morning dark…

and drove myself and Chai to the dog park so I could try it out in the late.

Snow glittered before me. I ran on fairy dust. In the light of the headlamp, the dog’s eyes glowed weirdly–orange from the side, green head-on, and red when she was close. Pleased with her first off-leash run since before Christmas day, Chai sprinted past me. For a moment, as snow fell in front of me, spotlit in the lamp’s circle, I thought the forecaster’s prediction of next-day flurries had come early and sudden. But when it stopped just as quickly and then happened again when Chai did another fly by, I realized she was kicking it up with her paws.

A siren wailed in the distance, and deep in the woods, the coyotes echoed. Ahead of me, Chai paused to listen. Then–they must have been too far away to awaken either concern or longing–she bent her head and chomped up some packed snow, the canine version of shaved ice, flavored with who-knows-what.

The trees’ tops were lost to the night, but in my peripheral vision, their trunks floated like gray stripes on a dark suit. Hit with the direct light of the headlamp, though, they appeared almost white, bleached of color.

I felt no fear, except that my rule-keeping mind expected a policeman any moment to remind me that the dog park closed at dusk, and it was well past.

When Dave got home from cleaning up after the wrestling meet, I told him I tried out his present. “Thank you,” I said.

“How did it work?” he asked.

“Great!” I told him how beautiful the run had been. “It worked wonderfully. You’ll love using it.”

“Well, then, thank you,” he told me.

‘Tis better to give than to receive.


But perhaps giving and receiving, when done wholeheartedly, are more connected than I’d realized.


Little woman with a Great Big God

More than 20 years ago, in our pre-kid days, Dave and I had a boxer dog named Barkley. Barkley was my running partner. At a park one day, stretching before I started my run, a woman walking by stopped to talk with me. “I’ve seen you before here,” she said. “I’ve always called you ‘the little woman with the big dog’ and thought I would finally learn your name.”

The little woman with the big dog. He was a good big dog. He made me feel safe and secure, even when we ran deserted trails at dusk. He was always looking out for me, and I knew he could sense danger that was completely unseen by me.

As he and I walked together on a sidewalk one day, a group of teenage boys came slouching toward us on the sidewalk. I didn’t sense any ill will on their part, but Barkley, generally a sweetheart of a dog, tensed up his back, pricked up his ears, and swelled his broad chest.

Still a few yards in front of us, the teenage boys stopped, eyed him cautiously, and then crossed to the other side of the street! As soon as they were past, Barkley visibly relaxed.

Needless to say, I never had any doubts that he would protect me. There was confidence in being a little woman with a big dog.

But even better is the truth that I am a “little woman with a great big GOD!”

Great Big!

But Loving and Tender!

Vast and Limitless!

But Personal and Intimate.

“I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples;
I will sing praises to you among the nations.

For your steadfast love is great to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the clouds.” Psalm 57:9-10

I may be small, just one little person in a huge, overwhelming world…

but I’ve got a GREAT BIG GOD!

Marathon Meanderings

First sight of him at mile 17.

First sight of him at mile 17.

He did it.

My husband, Dave, along with 45,000 others, ran the Chicago Marathon Sunday. He finished somewhere in the middle of the pack, well behind the speedy wheelchair racers and the first-placing Kenyan runner—who broke the Chicago Marathon record and nearly broke the world one—and well ahead of those persevering souls who finished after marathon officials took down the barricades along the roads and picked up the timing mats at the finish line. (To read about the final finisher, Maickel Melamed, who took 17 hours to complete the course, follow this link: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/ct-met-final-marathon-finish-20131015,0,3488441.story.)

And here's when Em saw him!

And here’s when Em saw him!

The kids and I, along with some friends, took the blue line down to mile 17 on the course and camped out at the spot where I’d told Dave we would be. We were ahead of schedule, but that didn’t keep us from scanning the crowd for his orange-and-white World Vision jersey. We cheered for every other World Vision runner we saw as well as those who ran for Ronald McDonald and A Cure for Cancer and Leukemia and Autism Awareness and…

Our boys got tired of holding the “Go Dad” and “Go Undy” signs we’d made, so I told them to stand on the curb and hold out their hands. As soon as they did, runners began veering by them to slap their palms.

And he was off again.

And he was off again.

PJ turned to me. “Why do they do that?” he asked.

“For one second they know they will be thinking about the joy of connecting with a little boy—of putting a smile on your face—and in that moment, they won’t be thinking about their feet or their legs or all the other parts of them that hurt.”

“I can do that for them?”

“Yes, you can.”

When we saw runners who’d printed their names on their shirts, we personalized our cheering. “Nice work, Carlos!” If they wore anything distinctive, we referenced that as well. “You rock, Superman!” “You can do this, Lady with a Tiara!”

People smiled, gave thumbs-up, got a little perk in their step, made it round the corner a little easier.

It was fun.

But the entire time, we were looking for Dave.

And here he is after the finish.

And here he is after the finish.

Somehow I missed him until he was almost upon us. I had the camera perched on my left palm and was scanning the crowd to the right, wondering if he hadn’t received the text that told him which side of the road we would be on. Then, suddenly, he was there, just a couple steps in front of me. I jerked my camera up and fired off a couple fuzzy shots, but I failed to capture the brilliant smile that jumped onto his face when he first caught sight of us.

He came around the barrier and joined us for a minute, telling us he was feeling “good, just sore in one calf.” We gave him a hard candy to suck on and handed him the roller massage tool to work on his calf, and then he was off to finish the final nine miles.

We waited for a break in the flow of runners, hopscotched our way across the street, and cut straight across to the finish line. We stopped for ice cream, knowing that several blocks south of us, runners were slogging it out, and we still made it in time to find a shady waiting spot beneath a tree at the reunite area.

I got a text from the Chicago Marathon telling me that Dave’s microchip had crossed the finish line (presumably with him attached to it), and then another shiny smile when he came down the steps (oh, the cruelty of having marathon finishers walk DOWN steps) and saw us.

So many great memories from the day! Emily, our 13-year-old, gave me one when she said, “Mom, it’s really cool watching people push themselves to accomplish something really hard. It’s inspiring.”

One man, running for cancer research, gave me another when I looked at his back and saw he’d pinned a couple dozen ribbons on his back, each one in memory of a person.

But I have to say the best ones have to do with my husband. The moments of seeing him at mile 17 and just after the finish are memories that sparkle.

Great job, Babe! You did it!

You can still donate to World Vision on Dave’s personal page. Proceeds fund clean water initiatives. Here’s the link: http://team.worldvision.org/site/TR/TeamWorldVision/TeamWorldVision?px=1375760&pg=personal&fr_id=2120

Thanks for reading!