Talks Like a Writer, Runs Like a Dancer

Elizabeth running the Tustin Hangar Half last weekend as a training run

She talks like a poet or writer and she runs like a dancer, and she definitely has a warm and encouraging and sensitive spirit. But, as is true of all of us, Elizabeth is more than meets the eye. We first met Elizabeth a year ago when she began training for her first half marathon with Up and Running Again. Currently she is training for her first full marathon, under the guidance of Coach Greg Clarke. She will be running the LA Marathon this Sunday.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves. We would love for you to get to know this person we have had the pleasure of becoming friends with. Let’s go back to the beginning, where Elizabeth started her recovery journey. Through her time at the Orange County Rescue Mission, she has reflected on her life and Christ’s work in her life. Here we share a glimpse into her soul as she includes an excerpt from an essay she wrote at OCRM.

“When I first arrived at the mission, I came in stoned and hungover from the night before. I was disheveled, unhappy, overweight, hopeless, lost, and worst of all, I was afraid. I was afraid of what I had become and afraid of whom I might never be able to be. I was afraid of me. I was cloaked in regret and self-pity for all the “what if’s, should haves, and the what could never be’s.” But thanks to God, somewhere in my desperation, the Lord had His way with me. He hinted to my heart and faintly whispered to my soul, patiently residing in the back of my mind, waiting for me to hear him in my train of thoughts. After a series of catastrophic events, it finally became clear that The Village of Hope [OC Rescue Mission] should be my home…at least for a little while. It was the Christian aspect of this place that kept me curious and so I came and my heart is glad for it.

I’ve learned so much and yet have barely scratched the surface of all the things to come. I know this is just the beginning but what a beautiful start to a life of value and godliness and goodness for the glory of God. I learned basic fundamentals to start. I have learned time management and orderliness. I’ve learned the value of rising early, being consistent, industrious, and disciplined. I have strengthened my determination to tap into my full potential. I have used the time gifted to me by taking better care of my body, feeding my mind, nourishing my heart and igniting my soul.

I originally walked through the gates with my eyes down as if walking through a prison yard keeping only to myself. I was 50lbs overweight on my body, 100 lbs. overweight on my mind and totally uninterested in everyone. I came here jaded, bitter, and feeling 500 years old. I am certain that had it not been for the unshakable inkling of God, I would still be that person.

I started running to lose weight but in the process I discovered all of these precious pieces of myself that I’d totally forgotten about. I tapped into the athletic inborn prism of my soul that I had left for dead after having my son. I learned the value of discipline and not being ruled nor fooled by my emotions simply by dedicating myself to showing up at the crack of dawn no matter what. Most of all, I learned to talk to the Lord and see His beautiful face and all His glory in the rising sun and in the crispy freshness of the air. I felt Him in my lungs and heard Him in the rhythm of my thumping heart. I also rediscovered the childhood splendor of a natural high fueled by the once depleted serotonin that now buzzes through my brain on a regular basis. I learned how having a baby doesn’t have to stop me from self-discovery or being me while being a mom simultaneously. And that’s just running. I meant to just lose weight and in the process, I dumped a bunch of useless baggage, which left me free with plenty of room to pick up some diamonds along the way. Thank you “Up and Running Again.”


In the end I found the Holy Spirit who is filling me up and breaking the chains that once bound me to a generational curse of drugs, alcohol, violence, and rebellion. That freedom I am happy to say I will be taking with me for the rest of my life and for all eternity God willing. My son will have a good future. He is and will be loved and raised in the way of the Lord. I am certain I would fall on my face otherwise. I was called to raise a human being. Yikes! Nothing has ever made me fear the Lord more. Thank you to OCRM for helping me pick up the pieces of my broken life and get it together just enough so that the Lord could do some work on me. Thank you for helping me to invite Him into my life. I was dead. I would’ve never come had it not been for my son. I also would’ve never been the mom I am now had it not been for this place.

Please take 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 to heart. “And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My Strength is made perfect in weakness’ Therefore most gladly I would rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” And that is what keeps me sober.

As far as mistakes, I make them and pray to grow from them and do all I can to not repeat them. But perhaps I had to go through this to realize that I’ve been shortchanging myself. I discovered a tendency I have in me to low ball my potential. It is my hope that my relationship with Christ will build on that. I’d like to broaden my horizons farther than what I think I am capable of achieving. After all, I trust in the Lord and I know that I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”

And at Up and Running Again, we have literally watched as Elizabeth is broadening her horizons. God has given her the blessing and strength to begin a new job a couple weeks ago as a childcare provider at a Montessori School. The marathon training has definitely stretched her and we are so proud to walk along her on this journey!

Previous Participant Gives Back

“There’s a scripture that I love and it became alive while serving with Up and Running Again, ‘And I have been a constant example of how you can help those in need by working hard.  You should remember the words of the Lord Jesus: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ Acts 20:35.”  Maybe this is a verse you would think a resident at a rescue mission would cherish if they understand they are on the receiving end and are truly thankful.  However, this previous participant in our program (we’ll call her Jane), truly understood that Jesus was calling each person, even someone struggling financially, to give.

Through text messages, Jane told me she was going to donate several hundred dollars to us through a wiring service that Walmart offers.  She explained that she now graduated from the mission and is working, but hasn’t found a solid church where she wants to tithe. Gaining your wings after being at the mission can be hard and she has had her fair share of struggles with housing and jobs.  Despite all this, she told me, “I know that my responsibility is to trust God even when things go the opposite way. He has a plan for my life and I just need to be faithful.”

Her faithfulness in giving back money to God (through Up and Running Again) speaks loudly to me of a story in the Bible.  Does it trigger that story in your mind as well?  I’m brought to the poor widow in Mark 12.  Many rich people were tithing large amounts.  The poor widow only dropped in a few coins, worth only a few cents.  Yet Jesus in Mark 12: 43-44 said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.  They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything-all she had to live on.”

Jane truly has the heart of Christ.  She went through our half marathon training a couple of times as a resident, and then came back to help others achieve their goal.  She has told us, “Through you guys, Jesus showed me the beauty of serving.”  Having now moved away from the area, she is greatly missing being part of the team and encouraging others. However I can’t help but feel that she is the one that is the most missed.

Terrance Returns to Las Vegas Rescue Mission As A Volunteer

Terrance trained for his first half marathon 2 seasons ago at Las Vegas Rescue Mission.  Then he completed the program (at the mission) and moved home to Hawaii. He was certified as a personal trainer and began working at Orange Theory. He decided to transfer back to Las Vegas and help Orange Theory open a new location. He also wants to give back to Up and Running Again because of how it impacted his life.  He has been volunteering with the current group. He is great for teaching running technique and really has a strong faith.

Glendora Ridge Runners Give Back

Coach Greg and Eddie from the Orange County Rescue Mission.

Coach Greg and Eddie from the Orange County Rescue Mission.

Thank you Glendora Ridge Runners for your support of Up And Running Again and Leon Laub for hosting a wonderful Christmas party. Eddie from the Orange County Rescue Mission shared his testimony how God and running has changed his life, receiving applause from the crowd when he finished his story. We are so thankful for the care and concern the Glendora Ridge Runners have for our program to encourage runners like Eddie.  We are blessed by their generosity.  Merry Christmas to all!

Eddie working hard to open a Christmas gift at the party.

Eddie working hard to open a Christmas gift at the party.

San Diego Rescue Mission Returns!

sdrm-ladies-fall-2016After starting our program a year ago, The San Diego Rescue Mission has started its third season of Up And Running Again for the men’s program and second season for the women’s. In the past year the mission has seen 19 mission residents finish their first Half Marathon including a URA record finishing time of 1:27:13. Godspeed to all of this seasons runners!


10 Times As Hard

Below is blog entry written by Jeff from Orange County Rescue Mission.


When I first came to OCRM, I was at an all time spiritual low in life. I had turned my back to God and tried to embrace a life of sin for the better part of my adult life. After arriving here and laying around for a week God said get up and go see about this Up and Running Again program that my then roommate had told me about.The program had already been going a couple of weeks but I thought I would go out the next morning and see if I could join. I spoke with [Coach] Greg and he realized that running was a passion of mine and agreed to let me join.

So I began training for my first half marathon in early Feb 2016 (OC Marathon). Training was grueling at times and I didn’t think I was going to make it through. There was a three day period I had to stay off my feet and if I wasn’t able to run after those three days I was going to quit. I spent those days praying and being in the word. When those three days were up not only had this horrible knee pain gone but never returned. Finishing my first half marathon was a neat accomplishment but it took a backseat to the training that gave focus to my running for the first time in my life and the fellowship, mentoring, coaching and support I received from Greg and the Up and Running Again staff and volunteers was a true blessing.

Jeff (center) with part of his team from OCRM at the start of the OC Half Marathon.

Jeff (center) with part of his team from OCRM at the start of the OC Half Marathon.

I am ultra competitive so running a 2:07 time forty pounds over weight served to motivate me to take on a full marathon in Oct. 2016. I dumped 37 lbs of fat and added some muscle to my body and was able to complete the marathon in 3:54. The training wasn’t twice as hard as the half it was 10x as hard. Six day a week of hard long running for fourteen weeks.


Again Greg was instrumental in developing a training plan for me that worked and his expertise in endurance fitness is only surpassed by his spiritual mentoring and coaching. Twice he has been by my side as I limped my way across the finish line encouraging me right to the very end. In fact had Greg and my friend Ben not been there to encourage me I would have not finished the race when I did. I pulled a calf muscle right at the half way point, I was cruising to 1:50 first half and remembered thinking I can easily do better on the way in. Right then my calf popped. The only think I can liken it to is cracking your back it started in the middle of my calf and felt like it tore all the way down to my upper ankle. I thought if I stop I will never start again. I kept going but a hundred yards down the road or so , I had to stop the pain was too much. I prayed for God to please help me get through this and if it’s not meant to be let me let it go right away and move on. After massaging and praying I was able to start running again in moderate to pretty heavy pain at times until the 20 mile marker that is where the pain was to much to run continuously so it became a limp, run, walk for the last six miles.

Jeff (left) and Coach Greg (right) Visit:

Jeff (left) and Coach Greg (right)

To finish was bitter sweet. I missed my goal time by four minutes after hurting myself, which was still quite an accomplishment, but feel like I left a 3:40 or better time out there. It has been about eight days since the race and I feel good enough to try to run tomorrow. I’m going to start with 3 miles and see how it goes. I am going to do 8 weeks of leg strengthening in the gym and then start training for the LA marathon. I want to know what I am capable of. I hope one day to become part of the Up and Running Again team on a more permanent basis. What a great ministry.

Up and Running Again Half to an International Full Marathon

14466250_621439658016301_2029202175_oAfter spending 56 training days with participants and hearing their life stories and investing in their lives, we often wonder where they go and what happens in their life after finishing their half marathon. Sometimes the runners come back to do another training and race with us. Sometimes they relapse and leave the mission. Other times they go on to move out, get a home, get married and get a job.

Recently we caught up with one of our alumni, David Noriega. David has had quite a journey. He was first arrested when he was 21 years old and then was in and out of jail for the next 13 years. He has battled through alcohol and drug addictions since he was 13 along with heroin and cocaine overdoses.

David joined our Up and Running Again program while he was living at the Orange County Rescue Mission. He trained for and completed his first half marathon in Long Beach in October of 2014. Then just 7 months later he finished a second half with us, the Laguna Hills Half Marathon.

David is center right (with bandana), Justin is to his left. Before the start of the Long Beach Half Marathon in 2014

David is center right (with bandana), Justin is to his left. Before the start of the Long Beach Half Marathon in 2014

David is nearing the finish of the Laguna Hills Half Marathon in May, 2015.

David is nearing the finish of the Laguna Hills Half Marathon in May, 2015.

During his time training he often prayed. “By the time I ran my first marathon, it was a healing process for me.” But, as with others sometimes, he relapsed. “It was necessary though because now I’m able to truly appreciate and value my sobriety. I ended up homeless in the desert of Victorville where I had a near death experience. I almost froze to death. But feeling spiritually dead and my kids being embarrassed and ashamed of their own father is what drove me back into recovery.”

He ended up going for help to the Midnight Mission in Los Angeles. There he connected with a group of runners that is led by a judge who wanted to help and see people on a different and more personal level than in his job.

Noriega’s foundation with running with Up and Running Again paved the way for his involvement with this new running group. This running group trains for all distances of races, including a full marathon internationally each year. This summer, on August 6, 2016, David had the opportunity to run the DaNong International Marathon in Vietnam.

This was after a 5 mile morning run in Vietnam.

This was after a 5 mile morning run in Vietnam.

The experience of running in another country exposed David to the conditions that others live in. He realized that he has so much that he takes for granted. He also has had a tough relationship with his children. He said, “From this marathon, I got amends for my kids. I was able to earn their respect,” he said. He also has had opportunities to share his experience with others. He shared at the UCLA school of medicine. On October 6 he will be speaking at the Golden Heart Awards in Beverly Hills.

The highlight of the Vietnam trip was visiting an orphanage of 350 kids.

The highlight of the Vietnam trip was visiting an orphanage of 350 kids.

Currently Noriega is an Assistant Volunteer Coordinator at the Midnight Mission, scheduling volunteers to feed the homeless community on Skidrow. He is currently looking for a full time job. During David’s training with Up and Running Again, he trained with Justin, who was another resident at the mission. Justin has since graduated from the mission and has been praying for David for a long time, even supporting him in his marathon trip. David says, “God is amazing. He gets all the honor and glory. I never forget you guys [Up and Running Again], especially coach Steve and Justin.14445276_621436178016649_568398140_n


Michigan Group Gets Up and Running Again

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Grace Centers of Hope in Pontiac, Michigan began anew with Up and Running Again after taking a break for a couple years. There are approximately 25 residents participating along with 4 volunteers. They just finished up their first month of training.  10 more weeks to go!


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The enthusiasm of the residents is wonderful, and they’re determined to finish. For many, they are only 1 – 2 months in sobriety; and are faithfully showing up at 5:50am for the training. A few have children, so that means other residents are waking up to take care of the kids while their mom runs.  We are excited to see how their dedication changes their lives.

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Barnabas Award Winners from LBRM


From left to right: Chris (Week 2), Keyna (Week 3), Diana (Week 4), Chris Carlos (Week 5)

The Long Beach Rescue Mission gives quite the presentation when they give out the Barnabas awards.  The Barnabas award is given to a runner each week who is an encouragement to the group.  We have found that there are many ways to encourage each other and each person brings something different to the team!  Here’s a recap:

Week 2-Feb 6: Chris “Pinky Promise” used a “pinky promise and stamp” to encourage URA alumnus Michelle to run with us Thursday morning. During the run Michelle and Chris led the pack while singing “10,000 Reasons”!

Week 3-Feb 13: Keyna makes sure everyone gets up and gets to the run. She also is the driver for the whole group! They wouldn’t get to the runs without Keyna.

Week 4-Feb 20: Diana aka “Grandma” encourages with prayer and a great example. She’s almost 70 and has COPD. Who says you are too old to start running?

Week 5- Feb 27: Chris is very proud of his Italian – Cuban family. He brings that same feeling to Up and Running Again. He plays the role of the big brother who loves his brothers and sisters, joking with them, teasing, motivating and making sure everybody stays safe during our runs.

From left: Fawn (Week 6), Sergio (Week 7), Jorge (Week 8)

From left: Fawn (Week 6), Sergio (Week 7), Jorge (Week 8)

Week 6-Mar 5: Fawn was awarded the Barnabas of the Week for stopping to put a smile on Robert’s face. Robert lives in the neighborhood on the streets. Diana and Keyna helped out too.

Week 7- Mar 12: Sergio is one of three Long Beach Rescue Mission URA runners who has a perfect 28 of 28 attendance. On Wednesday, Sergio had surgery on his right hand. Today he did the 5 mile run and picked up his shoes!

Week 8-Mar 19: Congrats to Jorge!  This week Jorge went to face the judge in court to clear up a matter. Jorge went on his own. That’s what I call leadership by example.

It’s the Little Things

Do you ever have a new experience where you come away and your head is swimming with all the different conversations, observations, and situations? Where it makes you see life from another angle? Where you feel like you can jump in someone else’s skin for a bit, walk around, and see how life might have taken you down a different road?

IMG_9537Friday evening I boarded a plane to Las Vegas which arrived around 9 pm. Knowing that in just 9 hours I would be meeting up with the runners at the Las Vegas Rescue Mission to run with them, I had asked the coach ahead if there was a bed to sleep at the mission. In my mind, it didn’t make sense to book a hotel room for such a short period, just to sleep, and then have to figure out early Saturday morning getting a taxi to the mission.

So my journey began. When I asked the cab driver at the airport to take me to the Las Vegas Rescue Mission, he just gave me a confused look, and then asked “Where?” again. With him having no idea where it was, I looked up directions on my phone and handed it to him. Must not be an everyday occurrence for him!

Arriving at the mission, there was dialog back and forth on a walkie talkie until the front gate let the taxi through. Apprehensive if this was a good move to stay at the mission, I get out of the car. My hesitation gave way as I spotted out front one of our previous Up and Running Again participants who was one of the first people I befriended at the mission last year. With a guitar hanging around her neck, she gives me a big warm hug. One of the case workers who was standing near her also greeted me. I was beginning to get the excitement of an adventure in a new territory.

Walking inside the women’s hall, I was met by a gal that would show me to the room. But wait! They needed to give me a breathalyzer first. What?! I had never experienced that before. I’m sure afterwards they were laughing about the novice who they had to say, “blow a little harder” into the device. Sure, I get why they do it, just caught a bit off guard.

IMG_9577A woman helped carry a suitcase for me up the stairs and showed me to a small room right at the top of the stairs. Wow, I wasn’t expecting my own room. Not sure what I thought, but I think maybe I had anticipated dorm style sleeping, like some hostels I had stayed at in Europe. I quickly changed into my running clothes to sleep in and lay in the metal bed.   They had made the bed up nicely with double pillows and an extra quilt at the base that said, “Jesus loves you.” The bed squeaked if I moved much, so I lay still. The window was open and the sounds of the freeway and city with the cool breeze lulled me off to sleep.IMG_9538

Having set my alarm for 6:15, I was awakened much earlier by a woman pounding on each door at 5:30 am. And shortly after I hear voices of women starting about their day. I get up to use the restroom and I find a girl already wiping down the sinks. I make a comment about how I don’t know too many people that clean bathrooms at 5:30 on Saturday morning. Not hesitating in her cleaning, she tells me, “I’m a runner, so I have to get my job done before heading out to run.” Well…nice to meet you! Most people have a tough time just making it up early to run, let alone clean a bathroom at 5:30 before going. Talk about dedication and hard work!

After getting ready and meeting the group, we read the devotional and head out on the run. This time we are running an out and back route from the mission. Not super scenic, but it sure is convenient. The weather is beautiful and we run through the city with the hotel skyline one direction and the snow topped mountains the other direction.

IMG_9546For a ways, most runners stayed together, but eventually they spread. I jog a bit between the groups, taking photos. One of the runners quietly asks me not to take photos of him. I try to gingerly ask him about that and between his accent and heavy breathing from running, I get pieces of his life history. He doesn’t want old colleagues to recognize him. He seems ashamed of them knowing him, so I wonder if he was in a gang or something. Don’t we always jump to conclusions? I ask what his job was and he tells me how he worked for a major newspaper for over 15 years as a writer. As it turns out, he is embarrassed for them to see what has become of him. I ask if he misses the writing. If he continues writing. Not completely understanding all of his response, I gather that he does do some writing. I offer him the opportunity to sometime do any writing about the Up and Running Again experience and send it to me.

I notice a girl starting to lag behind and looking like she’s struggling, so I head back to run with her. We talk a lot. I find out that she went to fire training as part of her stint in jail. She got out of jail about 6 months ago. However, she tells me that formerly she was in jail in California, but it was close to her home, so she was too comfortable knowing everyone in jail. When she got locked up in Las Vegas, it pushed her to want to change. I ask if she has any children. She tells me she had one that she adopted. I make some comment about how cool it is that she adopted a baby. Foot in mouth. She means that she had a baby that she adopted out to someone else. Of course, that makes more sense…my mind just jumps to what is in my sphere of people I talk to (and they talk about adopting). Seeing that she is very comfortable being open with me, I ask her if it was really hard to adopt her baby away. She says no, because she knew the baby would have a better life. That child is now 6 she says, same age as my daughter. I can’t imagine never knowing who my daughter was, and yet she said she has not seen her child. I make a comment about how that is true love of a mother, giving up her child to give them a better life. Her comment in reply left me heartbroken and struggling for a response. She said, “Not really…I chose my addiction over my baby.” What do you say to that? I need space and time to process how to respond. I’m not sure what we talked about after that, but the conversation moved on.

We finish the run and give out shoes. One of the runners asked what brand of shoe it was. When I said, “Lalo” shoes and tell them that they donated all the shoes to them, he tells me how timely these shoes were that he got. He needed running shoes really badly. Overjoyed at these shoes and how they fit he told me he would forever buy Lalo shoes.

IMG_9580Having come back from the run past 7:30, the runners missed the breakfast time. One of the runners got special permission from someone in the kitchen to come in and have breakfast. She asked me if I wanted to join her. We wait as one of the other runners comes in and puts a hairnet on. His job for the day is in the kitchen. He fixes us up an egg sandwich and we sit alone in the large cafeteria to eat together.

We head back to the womens dorm and I wait for an opportunity to take a shower in the communal bathroom. I go in and start to get ready to take on a runner from our first Up and Running Again group comes in and I can tell she is dismayed. She has to get ready to head to work. No problem, I’m not in a hurry. I let her go first and hang out in the room a bit longer. Later after showering, I’m in the bathroom getting ready and a girl next to me is putting makeup on. I ask if I can borrow her hairdryer. That starts us talking. She tells me how she has 2 kids that she hasn’t been able to see in 3 months since being here. She misses them, but they told her they wanted her to do the program and get clean. Today she would finally get to see them. Her mom, who volunteers at the mission, was driving to pick her up. As it turns out, she offers to take me to the airport because she says it is on the way. I don’t want to eat into her free time away and with her family, but she insists. Yay! One less taxi ride for me!

As I’m continuing to get ready, the girl who is heading off for work comes in and shares with me how she isn’t where she wanted to be in life. She had hoped to graduate out of the mission faster. Get a job outside of the mission. Move on. Things hadn’t worked out that way, but she was still happy where she was. She was able to be a leader on this Up and Running team and encourage other girls. She was able to lead a Bible study. “God cares about the little things,” she tells me. To God the things that seem little to her are important in God’s eyes. “It’s about the little thing” she repeats repeatedly in our conversation. So much wisdom and reflection coming through her. When was the last time I’ve thought so deeply about things?

Before long I head off sitting in the back seat of the car with the two children of the woman who is driving me to the airport. We talk about life. Her mother, who already volunteers at the mission, decides she wants to volunteer and run a half marathon with the next running group. She’s always wanted to learn to run.  I’ve been struck by the kindness and generosity everyone at the mission has shown me.

As I’m dropped off at the airport, I realize that in less than 24 hours, I’ve been touched. I’ve learned about transparency. I’ve learned how hard these people work and how many obstacles they overcome just to make it out to run.   I learned that I go through life with so much more than I really need, and sometimes when it is stripped away, you are left to reflect more.

I wait on the curb to be picked up and am shocked by the lack of traffic. I must be in the wrong spot. This must not be the passenger pick up. And then I realized that I was at the Orange County airport, not LAX as many of my other trips were. And I was thankful. It’s the little things.