Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Winding Down

When I looked at the calendar and saw that today's run is scheduled for only 6 miles I realized that the training is winding down and all that will be left are the races. Once again, the effort and actions of several months or preparation will be reduced to a few hours on a Saturday and a Sunday. I wonder if it will feel anti-climactic at the end? Or will I just be thankful to be finished? Either way, 11 days from now it will all be done--39.3 miles in two days.

The year is winding down as well and it definitely feels anti-climactic. Whoop dee doo, 2009 is over and a new year is starting. Most people I talk with will be glad to see 2009 in the rearview mirror. For many people it has not been the greatest year of all time, but that is where there is real hope for 2010 to be better.

I have never been big on New Year's resolutions. After all, if something is important enough to be the subject of an initiative in the coming year, it should have been important enough to pursue all along. But, if thinking about life as a fresh start works for you, then have at it. The trouble with fresh starts is that when you drop the ball every time you start over, at some point you realize that maybe you just can't catch. At the same time, the benefit of a fresh start--a true fresh start--is that what I did yesterday doesn't have to be what I do/who I am/how I think today. And the most freeing thing about mercy is that the fresh start is real, and not merely a front.

What would you do if you could wipe your late clean (whatever that means for you)? Would you do it? If someone gave me the option to go back in time and have a do-over with parts of my life I wonder if I would? Yes, perhaps I could get some things right that I feel I have gotten wrong over the years. But what would I lose? My conclusion is that the best course of action is to look at today and say, "Here I am, warts and all. Now what will I do today that will make tomorrow closer to what I think I want it to be." This allows me not to wallow in regret, but still to be accountable for today's decisions that will make or unmake tomorrow's happiness. In the grand scheme of things, my actions, and to a lesser extent my thoughts, are all that I can control. So I will strive to control what I can and let go of trying to control or fix everything else. We'll see what happens ...

Pressing On!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Dust Settles

Whew! The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of activity, events, and people--a rather long list of things that were planned for by the end of 2009. Now, all of those events are finished and today was the first chance to take a deep breath and begin to reflect. This has been a very different Christmas season for a lot of people I know. For some the different nature of this year resulted from economic calamity or challenge; for others there are empty chairs around the table due to death, broken relationships, or moving away; some friends just sound like they are tired and worn out. This Christmas season is not what they hoped for or intended.

Sometimes I wish that I had a magical cure for broken hearts and lives; but, alas, I do not. It occurs to me that a person's character is revealed more in how they respond to challenges than in how they live in the easy, downhill times. It also seems that more often than not life's difficulties take us by surprise. Someone once said that the time to develop character is before the storm strikes, because when the storm strikes, it is too late to develop the character that is required to survive the storm.

I can see how the days after Christmas can be difficult for some people. The excitement is over and now we have the long, dark days of winter to look forward to. Not to be disrespectful, but this morning I found myself wondering what Jesus thought of being human when He woke up for His second day in an infant body. Did He wonder what He had gotten into? Yet, no matter how He felt on the second day--and the following weeks, months, and years--all of His earthly existence was focused on one goal--accomplishing redemption. And it was all worth it in the end.

Christmas then is not so much an end in itself as a beginning. I believe that Christmas can offer hope. Not necessarily hope that everything will be "fixed" right away. But hope that in the end, everything will be good. The road from today until all is good may be twisted and difficult, or it may seem too long, too hard, or impossible. But every year Christmas reminds me afresh that there will be an end ot the journey--and that in the end, all will be good.

Press On!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Anticipation and Waiting

Anticipation and waiting are not the same. They may look the same to an outside observer, but there is a fundamental internal difference between the two. Waiting is imposed, and anticipation wells up from within. I must wait for the plane to board at a busy Reagan National airport last Friday night. I anticipate a meeting with an old friend or dinner with the girls on Christmas Eve. Waiting = dread. Anticipation = excitement. Waiting simply endures the passage of time until the event. Anticipation calls for hopeful preparation before the event. I think that Advent was designed to be anticipation, but has too often become waiting.

Young and old alike often are waiting for Christmas to finally come--and often for different reasons. The young count the days until "Santa's" arrival. The older we get the more we sometimes cannot wait to get through Christmas so that life can return to normal. Although as we get older we also look forward to special times with friends and family. (BTW--props to the greatest small group on the planet for going Christmas caroling last Sunday night--you made my Christmas season for this year!)

But where is the preparation of anticipation? At the first Advent, the nation of Israel had been waiting for a Messiah--without a new direct word from God--for nearly 400 years. Perhaps they had lost the edge of preparing for the Messiah. After all, 400 years is a long time to wait for most anything. Had they given up hope? Had they lost confidence that this amazing event would ever occur? Or had they simply lost sight of the fact that when the Messiah came, He would bring about a sea change in everything that mattered? Whatever the reason, they were surprised. (Although I still wonder why the angels went to the shepherds out in the fields and not the town square to make their grand announcement.)

Have I lost my edge of preparation this Advent? Have I given up hope that the Messiah can ultimately make a real and tangible difference? Have I lost sight of the sea change in life that the Messiah offers? I hope not. Yes, this Advent season has been busier than any that I can recall. Yes, I have been on the road more times in the past month than I can remember. Yes, a lot of life feel like it is in flux. But I can still capture a bit of the preparation--even if it is just in these last few days. Will I? Will you?

Speaking of anticipation. Over the past month or so I have watched as a personal milestone has drawn closer and closer. Up until this past week, the most miles that I had run in any previous year had been 840 ( in 2007). Recently I broke the 840 barrier an am currently up to 873 for the year. Not the most earth-shattering news, but 27 years ago, after my second knee operation in three months, I would not have bet on ever getting to this point. And certainly not when I was almost 50. Next month is the big test--Goofy's Race-and-a Half Challenge--but more on that later. Until then ...

Pressing On!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Oops ... What Was That?

The gradual downhill is one of the most enjoyable running experiences. Not so steep that it is hard on the quads, but just downhill enough to feel like gliding effortlessly. The gradual downhill is a stretch of the trail to be savored like the last few pages of a favorite novel, or the last bite of mincemeat pie, or the last chord of a stirring hymn that reverberates throughout the auditorium. So what happened this morning? All of a sudden I found myself on the back side of the downhill and making the turn that leads back uphill. I got distracted and forgot to enjoy those few minutes of gentle downhill.

I'm sure that I was thinking about "important" things. After all, would I actually miss the downhill for anything that wasn't worth while? True confession--I missed the downhill for no good reason. I can barely remember what I was thinking about. And this particular downhill is one of my special favorites. I just got distracted. I was about 3.5 miles into my 6 for the morning. I had warmed up enough to no longer wonder whether I would turn into a human runner-sicle. I have run this particular route many times, so I didn't need to pay attention to where I was going. But I ended up distracted and missed the best part--with no rewind option.

This year Advent feels like it is flying past. And Advent is my favorite time of year. The waiting, the anticipation, the hope of good news, all of this plays into my love of Advent. But this year I feel like I am so distracted that I have already missed out on a good part of the season. There are things to do, people to see, places to go. And not to be irresponsible about my work or other tasks, but just to take time to look around and live in this season--that is what I need. Riding the train to work has helped a little with that. Two hours each day that I can read and think and observe, rather than drive.

One thing is for sure; I don't want to get to January and realize that I missed that gentle downhill that I so enjoy. So here's to stopping to stand and look while the snow is falling. Here's to going for a walk at that inconvenient time of night when all of the Christmas lights are displaying their twinkling splendor. Here's to going out again after work to see the high school basketball game (even when there is higher quality play on ESPN). Here's to listening to my co-workers talk about how much their little kids are looking forward to Santa. Here's to taking time to pray for those who are still waiting for the good news. Here's to enjoying the gentle downhill this Advent.

Press on!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Live More Boldly

Ortberg's final key to avoiding regret is to live more boldly. He recognizes a fine line between pursuing some great adventure and going over the waterfall in a barrel, but he acknowledges, and I believe rightly, that most people stay too far away from the falls for going over to ever be an issue. And in staying so far back from the edge, we miss something dynamic and life-giving. More often you hear of people wishing that they had taken more risks when they were younger than lamenting that they took so many risks. And those who are lamenting often took "over the waterfall" risks with their health or substances or relationships.

I am no advocate of being foolhardy (I bet you just heard my kids laugh out loud), but there is a lot of territory to explore between safe and foolish. But what keeps us from taking steps into adventure? Of seeking only to hang on to what seems secure? We don't want to lose what we have--even if we think that there may be something more/better. But what do we really have after all? Really just our souls and our relationships. We won't take any of our stuff with us--investments, property, cars, games, titles, even our reputations are left behind and quickly forgotten. What we can take with us is a life well-lived with people who matter. At my funeral, I would be disappointed if people talked about what I may have accomplished by then. Instead, I would rather have people reminisce about how their lives have been enhanced by us sharing life together.

But in the day to day, how can we live more boldly? Without being foolish? It can start with small steps. I would like to think that my choice to play rugby last spring was living boldly (or maybe that was closer to foolish). Why just watch when I can try to play? When I started thinking earlier this year about something else to do that might be bold I thought about running another marathon. That did not seem like such a good idea because the first one was not really very much fun after all. But I also though that I have done that before, what is something new? Then I came across the Goofy Race and Half. It is a half marathon on Saturday followed by a full marathon on Sunday. Now THAT sounds bold and manly. (At least it did a few months ago. Now that the race is less than five weeks away, I wonder what was I thinking?) So in about five weeks, in Orlando at Disney World, I will tackle the Donald Duck half marathon on Saturday and the Mickey Mouse marathon on Sunday. (Does the event sound less manly because it is at Disney? With Cinderella's castle in the background?) This is my current push to continue to live boldly and to not give in and seek comfort in the safe and secure and easy.

As I look back, I certainly regret some of the "bold" decisions that I have made. Knowing what I know now, there are some things that I would have decided differently. BUT, my greatest personal regrets to this point in life are those times where I chose the easy or safe or secure option--those are the ones that hurt, and in most cases the ones where there is no second chance to try again. I believe that it is possible to be both responsible and bold. But I am not sure that I can be both safe and bold. There is some truth in the cliches: Nothing ventured, nothing gained; and better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. A bold life will bring more pain, but the pain may just be the price of greater joy and excitement.

Pressing On!!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Give More Generously

This is the season that thoughts turn more naturally to giving. After all, Christmas is just around the corner and there are bells and red kettles everywhere to present us with ample opportunities to give. Don't get me wrong, I am all in favor of philanthropy in many forms, I am just opposed to merely seasonal giving.

A lawyer colleague of mine once asked how my church paid for its operations. Apparently at his synagogue, the members would be invoiced for their portion of the operating expenses and everyone (or most I would assume) would simply pay the invoice. At the time, I though that sounded like an interesting approach, but not so much any more. For giving to have a benefit for the giver, I believe that it must be purely voluntary. The times that I have given--whether a little or a lot--that I have felt compelled by some outside human force have left me feeling sullied by the experience. But when I have given out of inward desire to bless someone else, that has been freeing and deeply satisfying.

Certainly giving involves financial resources, but I also believe that just limiting consideration of giving to money shortchanges the concept. Giving should involve time, attention, and energy
as well as money. And perhaps those most in need of my giving in these other areas live right in my own house. Sometimes I wonder whether my family sees how much time and energy I give outside the house and questions where I place more value. I hope not, but better to ask the question and find out that everything is fine, than to not ask the question and only find out later that there was a gap in perception.

Attention is the main area where I need to strengthen my giving. There are so many things going on that I want to multi-task all of the time. Yet, I know that I hate the feeling when someone else is multi-tasking around me. It happens with God all of the time. I start praying or reading, then something else comes to mind and I break off "just for a minute" to take care of the more pressing matter. Meanwhile I can just imagine God waiting patiently on the other line for my return. If I do not like the feeling of being treated that way, why should I think that it is OK for me to act that way toward anyone else? That is just ridiculous!

So today I will try to be fully there in whatever conversation I am part of--fully engaged in every encounter. And I wonder how it will feel to give more generously?

Pressing On!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Laugh More Often

Sometimes life just seems so serious. Bills to pay; classes to succeed in; people depending on you to get things done or take care of them; planning for college; planning for weddings; planning for the rest of life. But must these things define our attitude? I am not saying that there are parts of life that are not serious--very serious. But must all of life be dour and humorless in order to be "grown up"? As Ortberg suggests, when has anyone ever said at the end of life, "I wish that I had laughed less."

I would agree that there is value in laughter--even beyond just the good feelings. The ability to laugh at myself helps to remind me that I do not carry the weight of the world on my shoulders--ultimately I am not responsible for everyone and everything. The ability to laugh at circumstances and with others reminds me that we are all goofy at times. I suppose that the key is to take seriously that which is serious and not that which is not. The trick is to know the difference.

I certainly think that Jesus got it right (pretty safe thing to say). Sometimes we read the gospels as if Jesus was that sour-faced, cheerless elementary school teacher whom we discovered probably didn't like kids too much. For many years I read the gospels that way. After all, saving the world is pretty serious business. But take another look.

Can't you just see Jesus struggling to hold back a smile when His disciples tell Him that there is no food and He knows that He is about to turn some little kid's sack lunch into a feast for the masses? Can't you see Him snickering at Peter's reluctance to get out of the boat when Jesus knows that Peter is about to experience the greatest outdoor adventure ever? Or how about an outright belly laugh when Jesus tells the fishermen to put out their nets after a long nights' unproductive fishing and they bring in a record catch?

Certainly there were times of great seriousness. Casting out demons; healing the sick and raising the dead; hanging on the cross and bearing the sin of all mankind. Yet, if the God of the universe could laugh and enjoy His friends--if He saw that as valuable--who am I to devalue that experience?

At the same time, laughing more often is unlike loving more. It is not just a choice. (In fact, if I just bust out laughing for no reason people will wonder whether the wheels have come off of the cart.) BUT, I can look out for things that are humorous. Today I will try being serious when I need to, but also be looking for the fun and the funny. This may not be my nature, so I am curious to see what happens.

Pressing On!