Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Unexpected Detours

After returning from NYC, my training has taken an unexpected detour on the flu bypass. Just about everyone in the family is taking a turn on the detour and it has forced us to modify our Christmas plans. Usually we host extended family at our house, but this year things will be different--a quiet time with just our family. Our typical Christmas Eve dinner is being scaled back to items that we can all keep down. It will all be just a bit different.

It occurs to me that this whole season, for some of those who were originally involved, celebrates an unexpected detour. Mary did not anticipate the visit from the angel and Joseph did not expect a pregnancy announcement from his betrothed. For all of the emphasis that the church puts on this season, the Bible only devotes four chapters--Matthew 1 and 2, and Luke 1 and 2.

There are two approaches to a detour: (1) lament the inconvenience, or (2) embrace the difference (in some way). As with big waves in the Gulf, sometimes it is better to let it wash over you than to fight against the inevitable. Ever wonder what would have happened if Mary had said, "No thank you"? Or if Joseph had abandoned Mary in the face of her incredible announcement? Hard to imagine, isn't it? Perhaps the key to the outcome of a life detour is the attitude that we take in approaching the detour?

None of us is immune. Who among us predicted the economic conditions we now find ourselves in? Maybe business has not been as good as you had hoped or had been promised? Health that seemed so secure now is failing. All detours. Is it wrong to fight to make things "right?" I don't think so. But sometimes the fight is nothing more than beating your head against a rock.

Did Mary and Joseph ever wonder whether they had done the right thing? Did they ever wonder how their lives may have been different had they chosen differently? We will never know. What we do know is that they drive the detour all the way to the end.

Why is this hard for some people? Perhaps it has its roots in what we often tell our kids about their futures--you can do/be anything you want if you just put your mind to it. We are trying to be encouraging, but it simply isn't true. Each of us is constrained by limitations of time, money, size, education, opportunity, and we cannot be someone who we are not. No amount of "setting my mind to it" would have ever made me well-suited for an NBA career. I wonder if we would better serve our kids (and ourselves) by figuring out who God has made us to be--our talents, passions, skill set--and maximize that. Then maybe we will be better able to accept our limitations. Not giving up, but walking that fine line between dreams and reality.

Press On.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Change of Pace

After a few days of running in beautiful, sunny, warm Florida (did I say that it was beautiful?) this morning's run took me up and down the 18 floors of the emergency staircase of the Jolly Hotel in NYC multiple times. Not exactly a sunny run by the beach, but very challenging. Running stairs is different in at least two significant respects. First, you must pay attention all of the time because falling would be more painful than it ordinarily would be. Second, at least half of the time--going up--you cannot coast. Despite being a more intense workout, it was somewhat refreshing just because it was different. Now I am pretty sure that if I were to run the stairs for several days in a row it would get old, but it will only be a couple of days at most.

Every now and then I find that I need to break up the routine of my spiritual experience in order to inject some freshness and to keep from getting stale. I have not yet figured out if that is just part of the general human condition, or whether it is my own particular flavor of discontent. Sometime this winter I hope to take a daylong retreat at Pacem in Terris, a local retreat center. They have facilities for overnight or multi-day retreats, but I will plan to start with one full day. I feel like I could really use the time to focus and pray and worship in a new and fresh setting.

This morning's run is unlike any part of the upcoming Fargo marathon, but the effort of this morning will move me closer to the goal of being prepared to finish well in Fargo. A retreat is just that--something different that will move me further along the journey toward spiritual maturity and growth. It is not the journey itself, but a tool to make progress on the journey. For that, even if for no other reason, such indirect adventures are worthwhile.

Pressing on.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Happiness is ...

Do you ever find yourself with a song running through your head and wonder, "Now where did that come from?" During yesterday's half marathon, I found the old song, Happiness is, running through my head. You know the one--two kinds of ice cream, finding your skate key, telling the time. (That's it, everyone sing along now.) I have no idea where it came from. Certainly I was having a good time--the weather was beautiful, I really like the race course, I was feeling pretty good, and I was comfortably on a much faster pace than I had anticipated. But even so, I hadn't thought of that song for who knows how long.

I wonder if that is how people feel who have a deeply personal relationship with God. Almost without even willing it to be so they find themselves thinking of Godly things, spiritual things. Out of the blue and without even trying. Sometimes I wonder what it would take to get to that point--where the ordinary course of living equals godliness. Certainly it seems as if it takes concentrated effort over a long duration, but I wonder what it would feel like to get there.

To get to the place in life where what arises from the depths is, Happiness is ...

Pressing on!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Training for Christmas

This morning at the pool--yes, you read that right and I'll explain later--I overhead this conversation:

-Are you training for something?
*Yes, Christmas.
(momentary quiet)
-You mean for the gluttony?
*I guess you could say that.

On the one hand, I had to appreciate that Mr. Gluttony at least was taking steps to limit the effects of his anticipated Christmas gastronomic excess. On the other hand, if fitness is the goal, why not just go easy on the cream puffs and spritz cookies? Don't get me wrong, I enjoy the food of the Christmas season as much as the next guy--and I have all too often been in the shoes of Mr. Gluttony (but usually not in advance of the eating). But keeping the big picture clearly in mind might make this a different conversation.

Someone once said, "It is easier to get forgiveness than permission." While I may agree to a large extent, if something is going to need forgiveness, just don't do it. I realize that this is much easier said than done, but I find that when I go ahead with those things for which it is easier to get forgiveness than permission, I always end up needing forgiveness.

Back in the days of doing student ministry it seemed that there were two types of youth ministries--those that specialized in helping broken kids find wholeness and those that did what they could to help kids not get broken in the first place. While realizing that pain and hurt seem to be unavoidable in this life, I always thought that it would be preferable to build a fence at the top of the cliff rather than just build a medical clinic at the base of the cliff. Granted, even if you build a fence, some will climb over and need the clinic. But without help to avoid harmful choices before they become reality, there will be more pain and hurt hat necessary.

About the pool. The last time that I was in the pool to swim laps was the spring of 1979 for my college lifesaving class. The main challenge there (other than having to constantly "rescue" our football team's fullback who floated like a rock) was the 1000-yard timed swim. I recall that it took several attempts before I finally made the time cut. In anticipation of the Fargo Marathon I decided that I needed to find some activity that would build muscle strength and also enhance aerobic capacity without the additional pounding that a treadmill or other indoor running would create. I haven't forgotten how to swim, but it is not any easier than I remembered. We have a nice pool at our Community Center and there are worse ways to start a below-zero morning than swimming between 1/4 and 1/2 mile in a warm pool. Plus I am collecting a rainbow of the wristbands that you get when you check into the Community Center. (Maybe I can put those next to my marathon finisher's medal when the time comes.)

Pressing on.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Dizzy or Cold?

93 is the number of laps around the Community Center indoor running track to make up 6.2 miles. That was yesterday. Today was 3.5 miles outdoors in the 2° snowiness. These will be the options on many days during the run up to Fargo. Each has its own challenges and each its own joys. For example, there is no feeling quite like taking your hat off at the end of a run and seeing the steam rise off of your head. At the same time, it is not easy running on the side of the road when the shoulders are covered in a couple of inches of snow. Yet whether outdoors or indoors, running is rather simple--right, left, right, left, ...

One phrase from my favorite backpacking trip video ( is "Just do the next right thing--over and over again." A great motto for living and an apt description of this early stage of training. Just do the next right thing--get out and run--over and over again--regardless of wind, snow, or cold. Figuring out the next right thing is simple. Doing the next right thing is where the challenge lies.

I think that the same is true about following Jesus. Figuring out what to do next is not too difficult--live out the Beatitudes, love God with heart, soul, mind, and strength. It is the doing that gets difficult. Yet it is only in the doing that we make progress. Toward what? Toward Christlikeness--becoming more and more like Jesus in thoughts, words, priorities, and deeds. That is the only race that is worth running here on earth. And the only way to run that race is to do the next right thing--over and over again.

Pressing On.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Here We Go Again

Crossing the Rubicon. Julius Caesar's crossing the Rubicon in violation of law inevitably brought the war he wanted. Break the woks and sink the boats. Xiang Yu's order at the Battle of Julu to ford the river and destroy all means of re-crossing it committed his army to a struggle to the end with the Qin--ultimately achieving victory. Two phrases from military history denoting a decision being made that dictates a particular course of action.

Last night I put in my registration for the Fargo Marathon on May 9, 2009 ( While it is still 21 weeks away, I learned last time that I needed every bit of the 18-week marathon training schedule. I am going to follow the same schedule this time around because it did what it was supposed to last time--it got me to the finish line. In case you are interested (or wish to marvel at my loss of my senses), you can find the schedule at One important difference this time around will be that my training will mostly happen during the winter. I can only imagine what it may be like to have a 12 mile run scheduled and have it be icy outside. That would mean 12 miles indoors at the Community Center at 15 laps per mile (I'm not sure that I can even count that high). Even so, I am rather excited about the prospect of working toward a sub-four hour finish time.

During today's chilly 4.3 I was wondering if I am taking this on because I feel like I have something to prove to someone. I don't think so, but I'll need to think about that one a bit more. After my other marathon experience I am not laboring under any illusions that it will be easy or glamorous. It is mostly solitary until the day of the race, and then it is mostly just long. (At least that is what I seem to remember.)

I am looking forward to the reflection time that I know will accompany the training. I want to bring my list of "things to think through", but I also want to be very open to listening for what God may have to say this time around. Also, I again want to use this blog as a means of sharing what I am thinking and learning through this process. If anyone reads the blog and finds encouragement or finds that their own thinking is stimulated, then so much the better. Mostly (and not to be selfish) it will be a method for me to process life.

Pressing on!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Essence of Training

Dallas Willard describes the spiritual disciplines as those activities within our power that we undertake that will enable us to do that which is beyond our power to do directly. In Willard's construct (and I agree with his assessment and am finding his writings to be both convicting and encouraging), being Christlike in our thoughts, words, and actions is impossible for us directly, but by exercise of the spiritual disciplines, we so train our bodies, minds, and spirits in such as way that Christlikeness is the result. We do what we can today--read the Bible, pray, meditate on truth, serve--and over time Christlikeness emerges. I believe that Willard would concur that the transformation is so incremental that we may only see it clearly upon reflection, but it is real nonetheless.

Further, without the training effect of the spiritual disciplines, we will not be prepared or able to do and be what we are called to do and be any more than most of us could jump off of the couch and make it to the finish line of a marathon.

I make my annual half marathon trek to Florida to run on the 14th. The Holiday Halfathon starts at Madeira Beach and is my second favorite race of all time. (First favorite race so far is the Mora Half Marathon. First favorite run is around Bayou Texar in Pensacola, Florida.) The weather has been good every year that I have run and the course is pretty and flat :-) It would be a bit ridiculous to simply show up at the start line and expect to finish the race, much less to finish well. 13.2 miles is simply too much to tackle right off the couch. But by training in advance, bit by bit, I will put myself in a position to be able to do that which I could not do without investing the time in the training.

The training effect is incremental. I cannot go from running one mile one day to being able to run a strong ten miles the next day. But by running a few miles each day, and slowly building that training base, before long I can move from the one mile to the ten without too much pain. I find that my capacity to do that which I want to do increases almost without my awareness. But I wonder how often people never get off the couch because they know that they cannot run a marathon. I wonder how often I have--consciously or subconsciously--not prayed for five minutes because I could not pray all night long; or not read a page of the Bible because I didn't have enough time to read enough or do it "right."

I would encourage the person who doesn't want to get off of the couch to start with a walk around the block. Who cares if you can't run a marathon today. I suppose that it would be prudent to take my own advice in other areas of life. Small steps are better than no steps.

Pressing On!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Inertia--a Dominant Force

How often do you find that you just never quite get to the things that you most want to do? As 2008 draws to a close, what good intentions have remained just good intentions? Inertia is "the property of matter by which it retains its state of rest or its velocity along a straight line so long as it is not acted upon by an external force." Good intentions may seem like the "external force," but they are actually more the idea of the external force. The actual external force is a very different matter.

Our church has just finished a series about compassion entitled, "Talk is Cheap." The basic premise of the series was that talk about compassion--good intentions--is cheap. Compassionate action is all that really matters. Good intentions alone really do not make a difference. No one ever was fed or warmed or comforted by mere good intentions. Only when good intentions are translated into action do we impact others with goodness and kindness and the love of Jesus.

The tension between good intentions and taking action carries over to all of life. Negative inertia would keep us in a state of good intentions, because good intentions do not cost us anything or require any effort or move us away from the status quo. More and more I am realizing that the status quo is nothing more than a slow death. As someone once said, only dead fish float downstream. I am also realizing that the battle against negative inertia is the most crucial of all. Winning this battle will have an impact across all of the areas of life that I look at and feel the need to make progress--spiritually, physically, morally, mentally, relationally.

For me, the easiest place to see progress is in the physical (and regress also shows up pretty clearly on the scale and clothes that no longer fit). This area may be where winning or losing is easiest to see. It may also be the area that will spark overcoming in other areas (it has been before). This blog started with reflections on training for he Twin Cities marathon. Within the next few days I will be making the decision whether to tackle another marathon (Fargo in May). This one is perhaps harder because now I know what will be involved: the long runs in very cold weather; the soreness; the isolation; the people who think that such an endeavor is just plain nuts. But I also know the sense of victory that comes by winning each day's battle against inertia--that alone may make it all worthwhile.

Stay tuned ...

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Longing for the Good Old Days

Do you ever find yourself thinking, "It sure was great back then." Toward the end of my 6.5 mile run this afternoon I found myself remembering that just a few months ago 6.5 miles seemed like nothing. Today, it seemed like more than nothing. Running one of my favorite routes along the Mississippi River, I could recall my runs on that same route last summer--when the road seemed to glide past underfoot and a cooling breeze was always at my back (or maybe I just put a rose-colored gloss on those runs). It may well be that my best running days are behind me. I am almost 48 and my knees have led a difficult and painful adult existence. But even if my best running days are past, that doesn't mean that my future running days are empty. I can still enjoy them, if I will so choose.

Sometimes I think back fondly to the years during and immediately following college as spiritual "best days." Those were times of deep spiritual passion and both a desire to change the world and a belief that I could actually do so--days before I had experienced many of the bumps and bruises of an adult existence. Many times I have tried to recreate the environment of those days in hopes of recapturing some of that earlier spiritual passion. But I have found that one truly cannot turn back the clock.

I don't know if my best days spiritually are behind me. I hope not. But even if they are, the future days can still have spiritual value and meaning. Perhaps if I can simply live each day with the thought that today may be my best day, then it will surprise me. Like those summer runs along the Mississippi when time stood still and the road flew by.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Hiatus No More

Several months of not blogging has brought me to the conclusion that maybe I should take it up again. Do I have something worthwhile to say to the world? Maybe. Certainly not on a daily basis, but as others have encouraged me to take up the blogger mantle once again, I will give it a shot. Probably not every day, but like before, when I feel like there is something worth communicating. If you find that this blog is encouraging or useful to you, please let me know. If not, then I suppose you could let me know that as well (or just stop reading the blog).

Pressing On.