COEUR d'ALENE - As a pastor, Chris Lauri looks for life's challenges that translate well into Sunday morning sermons.
He found exactly that while training for Ironman Coeur d'Alene.
"I've probably had more sermon illustrations in regards to this training than anything else," he said. "For me, this has been just as much a spiritual journey as it has been for my health and physical being."
The 33-year-old will be taking his first try at the Ironman distance, a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and 26.2-mile run.
Like many, after watching others do it and then volunteering, he decided to go for it.
"It's one of those things on my bucket list, gotta do it," he said.
The youthful-looking Lauri has undergone a physical transformation of sorts since Nov. 1, the day he returned from a trip to Ethiopia.
It was then he committed to training 10-12 hours a week and changing his diet. He shaved 55 pounds off his 6-foot-2 frame, and will weigh in at 195 pounds at Sunday's starting line.
"I've been athletic in years past. I just kind of let myself go," he said.
Today, though, he feels "better than ever" thanks to workouts that included an 85-mile bike ride and 15-mile run. As a final tune-up, he recently completed a triathlon in Moses Lake.
"It's been revolutionary," he said. "I kind of dove right into it."
But the pastor of Anthem Church in Coeur d'Alene, which recently merged with Hayden Lake Friends Church, said the spiritual journey over the past seven months has been more significant.
"There are so many parallels between our faith and our walk with the Lord, and training for Ironman," Lauri said.
There are days, for instance, when it was windy, rainy and cold, and he didn't want to go for a scheduled bike ride.
He went anyway.
"By the time you're done with it, you feel so good," he said.
"Our walk with the Lord is like that. There are days you get up, you're having a rough day. You keep on trucking, you run the race."
Lauri, who is also founder of Boarders for Christ in Coeur d'Alene, an outreach to skate- and snowboarders, is a 1996 Coeur d'Alene High School graduate.
He attended North Idaho College for two years, then moved to Seattle, where he graduated from Bible college. He lived in San Diego for a time, before returning to North Idaho and settling in Hayden, where he lives with wife Heather and sons Judah, 7, and Jonah, 1.
Lauri said preparing for Ironman has been a sacrifice for his family, too. It will be worth it, he believes, when he crosses the finish line.
"Since day one it's been this mental image for me having my kids at the finish line," he said. "To me, it will all pay off at the end when I'm able to hold them and say dad finished what he started. I want to show them a good example, dad doesn't quit."
Lauri, who has a tattoo on his left arm that reads, "Amen," wants to motivate a younger generation to maintain their faith and trust in God.
"From a young age, I just felt like it's my duty to be obedient to the path He put me on and hope that can inspire kids that their age isn't a barrier to what God wants them to do," he said.
And, yes, Ironman training makes for good sermon subjects.
During a presentation from the pulpit. Lauri recently used the example of climbing hills on the bike.
A few weeks ago, he found himself dreading an upcoming, steep, long hill because he knew it was going to hurt. He knew he would have to push through the pain to make it, and he wasn't all that sure it would be worth it.
But by enduring and persevering during the toughest of times, people can gain the most strength, he said.
"When we actually get to the hill and try to climb them and put in the time training, that's when we actually see growth," he said.
Sometimes, what people most resist is the most beneficial - so they must find the courage to finish the task, Lauri said.
"As Christians, a lot of times we want to think our relationship is about God blessing us, him doing, doing, doing for us, all should be perfect and good and we have a prosperous life," Lauri said.
But that isn't the case, he said.
"There are many days we have to fight, we have to put on our armor, and we have to go to battle," he said.
That said, would he recommend others give Ironman a try and test their resolve?
"You'll have to ask me after Sunday."