Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Hardest Things First

Someone once said that if you look at your day and do the hardest things first, then the rest of the day will be a breeze. There may be something to that. After running a few miles outside in 12 degree darkness (but very clear and mostly still), nothing else that the day will bring should seem daunting in comparison. There is a sense of accomplishment that I feel from a run like this morning's that is greater than the accomplishment of simply covering the distance. I have never minded running in the cold--even extreme cold--so long as it is not slippery. The ice and I do not get along well. The paths around my town are snow covered, but not icy, and that is a joy.

Last night Abby and I were looking at pictures from the Afton Trail Run that we did together last July. It was the hardest thing that either of us had done (Yes, even harder that the Goofy Race and a Half Challenge) and it was great fun remembering the points on the race course where the pictures had been taken. From the very first hill the race was a challenge like none other, but at the end, and even last night, Abby said that it was her greatest running accomplishment so far in her life and she cannot wait to run it again this July.

This tells me something--those accomplishments that are most satisfying are not usually those that come easily or quickly. Even if achieving something is difficult, the challenge of the accomplishment seems to only enhance the satisfaction of making it to the finish. In other words, the greater the challenge, the deeper the satisfaction.

I suppose that is the place of choosing. Will I choose low-level, easily attainable goals and achieve them every time with a minimum of effort? Or will I choose daunting, seemingly impossible goals that may not be achievable even with maximum effort? That is one of the things that I love about running--I can always find the next seemingly impossible goal. My running proficiency is such that I do not need to do something like running across the United States to be seriously challenged.

Our faith journey is much the same way. I suppose that it is possible to choose a low-level path. Not much praying; just attend church when it is convenient; give from my spare change and spare time; pull out the Bible and read at Christmas and Easter. But what kind of faith journey is that? That would be like running to the end of the driveway and calling it a day. Certainly no lasting satisfaction there! And yet, if that was all I knew of running, I would not understand how enjoyable and invigorating it can be--how life-altering and deeply satisfying. I wonder if that is the same with faith?

How would my faith journey (or yours) be different if I consistently chose the uphill path that was less traveled as opposed to the downhill course that was well-trampled? What new vistas of God's power might I encounter? What satisfying challenges might I actually overcome? I have to believe that fully following God--heart, mind, soul, and strength--would be more satisfying than a spare change/spare time kind of faith. Radical, by David Platt, is a book that is challenging my approach to faith in the same way that running with Abby pushes me in my approach to running. It is worth a thoughtful reading. But only if you are prepared to have your comfortable life turned inside out.

Pressing On!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

An Open Letter

November 2, 2010

An Open Letter to the Newly-elected Congress

Dear Republicans:

Congratulations. You got most of what you wanted—numerical control of the House and substantial gains in the Senate. Savor the victory for a moment, but now comes the hard part. The American people have listened to your campaign ads and speeches for the past few months. Now we would like you to listen for a moment.

Now that you are in office, we are looking for results. Not more talk. Not excuses about an “obstructionist President” or the mess that you had handed to you. You, President Obama, and your Democratic colleagues must figure out ways to work with each other. We will have absolutely no patience if you and they merely choose to stand on opposite sides of the political aisle and shout “NO” at each other. At the very least, find some common ground that advances the good of the American people and start there. Regardless of whose party the idea came from. You must remember that the Democrats are not the enemy. And the Democrats must remember that the Republicans are not the enemy. The enemy is the circumstances and decisions—made by those from both parties—that have sapped America of our hope, civility, and economic vitality. If you and the President and the Democrats cannot find enough common ground to govern for the benefit of the American people, then maybe none of you belong in Washington.

We need you to get your work done—the work of representing the best interests of the American people. OUR interests, not your own. The position that you have been elected to (or re-elected to) is a public trust—power to be exercised for the common good. Your temporary power is not for your benefit, or to defeat the other party, but it is power that we have entrusted to you to exercise, within the constraints of the Constitution, for the highest and best good of the nation as a whole.

We all realize that we are in the midst of difficult and challenging times. Many of us have lost hope that this country will ever be great again. There is an undercurrent of feeling that yesterday’s election was nothing more than re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. What do you believe? Do you believe that American greatness is not merely a vestige of history, but that such greatness can be rediscovered for my children and grandchildren?

We Americans are a resilient people. We are willing to deal with difficulty and hardship. But we need someone in Washington to tell us what is real and what we need to hear—not just what your constituents want to hear. Be honest about how bad things may be, so that we can begin to build up from the bottom. And if the best economic minds in our country say that we have not yet hit bottom, then tell us that as well. Tell us that we will need to figure out new ways to take care of each other—because the government cannot be the backstop for everything that someone may think that they need. Remind us that we Americans can do amazing things when we get beyond our own self-interest and come alongside our neighbors to share the load.

Tell us that we need to tighten our belts and make sacrifices if that is what we need to hear. But don’t you dare tell us to tighten our belts if you are not willing to do the same. If that happens, we will have no mercy for you at the next election. If our households need to cut back, so does the White House—and the Congress. If we need to make do with less, then you had better do the same. (And by the way, a smaller-than-projected increase does not count as less spending.)

A strong moral fiber to our society is critical to regaining any semblance of American greatness. When America has risen to the challenge in the past, there has been a strong moral component. One of our other strengths as a nation is our cultural and religious diversity. Yet respecting our national diversity does not mean that we must sacrifice a common sense of morals. The answer to divergent co-existence is not to shut off moral discussion and conversations about right and wrong, but instead to foster those discussions with the aim of identifying the common moral bases upon which we can build a new and hopeful future.

Bottom line, we need you to tell us what is real—even if the news is bad. And then we need you to work with each other and listen to us for ideas about how to climb back to a place of American greatness. There are just over 500 of you and nearly 300 million of the rest of us. It may be hard for you to believe, but we may have some better ideas than you do—so please ask, and listen.

Finally, for once, we need all of you to be Americans first, and Republicans or Democrats a distant second.

Best regards,
Kenneth Prine
American Citizen (and lifelong Republican)
Monticello, Minnesota

P.S. Dear Democrats: Please do not believe for a moment that yesterday’s election results are a statement of approval for the Republicans’ perceived role as just saying “No” to everything. If you take that approach, and simply work to create gridlock, that approach will not be met with electoral favor in 2012.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Familiar Friend Returns ... a little bit

There is a lot to be said for the familiar--an old, broken in pair of shoes or an often-read copy of A Tale of Two Cities. New friends are interesting, but old friends with whom I have a lot of history feel secure and comfortable. There is much less of wondering "What are they thinking about me?" because if they didn't like me for who I am, then we wouldn't still be friends. Sometimes I tend to take familiar things, places, and people for granted. (And that is something that I do not like about me.) I want to be a person who appreciates the familiar as much, or more than, the new and novel.

For me, it takes being away from the familiar to remind me of its value. My travel schedule for the past couple of months, plus some other commitments we had made caused me to miss small group for a couple of weeks (and church for a couple more). Even though nothing had really changed when I reconnected, it felt particularly good to be back. These two environments are places where I do not need to impress anyone or be unduly concerned about how I am being perceived. They are familiar and comfortable places and people--in the best way.

Last week in Chicago I got to revisit another old friend whom I have really been missing--running. It has not been the schedule or travel that has kept me away, but instead it has been nagging injuries. Despite the small voices asking "Are you sure you should be doing this?", I turned in a couple of miles along the lakefront. Yes, there was some paying for it later, but it was worthwhile to revisit an old friend and to remember that, as soon as I can get past these momentary light afflictions, there is a promised return to a wonderful friendship.

After some time apart it seems easier to keep drifting. Getting reconnected takes a bit more work. Whether that is small group, or church, or running. But the work of reconnecting is well worth it for the benefits of being back together. The problem with reconnecting with "familiars" is that it is also easy to put it off. To say, I'll get to it next week (which too easily becomes next month, next year, or next decade). And the longer it goes, the more work there is to reconnect.

Sometimes I think that God is the same way. Because He is patiently available, I sometimes don't feel the urgency of keeping that relationship as close and vibrant as possible. And the longer we go without talking, the easier it is to go another day, or week, or ...

Who or what can you reconnect with today? What friendship, family relationship, or place do you need to revisit? Tomorrow at lunch I am meeting an old friend to reconnect and catch up on what has been going on in his life. You?

Pressing on!

Monday, October 11, 2010

How Much is Enough?

A frequent training question--especially for runners newer to a particular distance. Throughout his marathon training, my friend Jeff was wondering if he was training enough--long enough, fast enough, often enough. He was able to find some resources from others who had run many marathons who could assure him that his training was adequate. Then came the run and he found out, in his own experience, that his training had been enough. As I found this time around, there can be a fine line between enough and too much. More is not necessarily better.

The greatest small group in the world (GSGW) has been in a study of the church's response to poverty. I assume that the families in the GSGW are probably involved in significant ways in giving time and money to alleviate poverty by supporting different organizations such as Children's HopeChest, Compassion, World Vision, and World Relief. But one of our questions is "How much is enough?" Could we give more? Could we do more? Absolutely! But should we? That is a question that the GSGW is wrestling with.

We realize that if we use time, energy, and money in one place, then we cannot use the time, energy, and money for other things. Granted, some things are not worthy of our time, energy, and money, but there are many good, just, and noble causes. How do we choose where to invest ourselves?

For some reason I feel a certain urgency to get this right. Maybe it is looking at the reality that I am probably on the verge of moving into the last third of my life. I am reasonably content with the first two-thirds, but it is really important to me to get the last third right. (Sometimes I feel that if I can just not make the same mistakes any more--find some new ones--then I will be OK.) My biggest question right now is "In light of eternity, what is the best investment of my time, energy, and money?

A week or so ago a friend mentioned that he is needing to consider carefully what races he will run. He feels like he only has a few races left, then he will need to stop. I feel that way a bit myself right now. (Might be true and might just be time still recovering from injury.) Assuming that I have finite running resources, where do I want to invest those miles? Should I do something new? Or run some familiar races one more time that I like? Are there particular people I want to run with one more time?

Finite resources and almost infinite opportunities to use/invest those resources. How to use them best, that is the question.

Pressing On!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A Better Perspective

You may be familiar with the Serenity Prayer. It is a fairly common refuge of hope in the midst of difficult circumstances. But most people are not aware of the entire prayer--only the first few lines. The entire prayer, developed by Reinhold Niebuhr is below:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardship as a pathway to peace; taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is; not as I would have it; trusting that You will make all things right if I surrender to Your will; so that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with You forever in the next. Amen.

Food for thought,

Outside Looking In

Last Sunday I watched my first race. Really, it was the first time that I have been at a road race as a spectator. Having been at dozens of races as a participant, this felt strange.

But first, props to friends and all who ran--Jeff (no tortoise there), Michael, Paul, brave Hannah, Annie--you guys rock!

But the watching part felt weird. Part of me thought that I should be out there instead of on the side of the street. Part of me really wanted to be, yet the realist part of me knew that if I had been out there, I probably would not have finished and would have sidelined myself for months trying to recover from ignored injuries. The watching feelings were not necessarily bad, just very different.

Looking around at the other spectators I almost wished I could have seen thought bubbles to see how they read -- "Wish I was out there" or "Glad I am not out there" or "These people are nuts". People were watching (as opposed to running) for a variety of reasons. Everything from disinterest to inability of various forms. Yet we were all there cheering on people who have put in countless hours of training and energy over the past several months--as well as total strangers. Cheering for friends and family makes good sense. We know them. We love them. We have some idea of how important this is to them. But why cheer for total strangers?

I think that we could see the effort and we could applaud the effort involved, even though we may never see these people again. And I think that it makes a difference. Every now and then when someone knew they were being cheered for, you could see the glimmer of a smile or a nod of appreciation. It was a little boost for the next few steps. And perhaps it made a difference.

I wonder how many people could use that extra little boost for their faith journey. Maybe it isn't going along as they thought it would. It is taking more time or more effort than someone led them to believe--or than they expected themselves. Sometimes I think that it would be nice to see the thought bubbles. "I am doing fine, it just doesn't look like it right now" or "I think I want to quit" or "I don't want to give up, but i just need some help". Then we would know what to do. I believe that one big reason that we don't try to encourage or help people in their faith journey is that we don't know what they are thinking or where they are on the journey.

At the marathon it was easy. All of the spectators knew that the runners were trying to get to the finish line in St. Paul. We knew (or at least believed) that our encouragement would be beneficial. Yet we all knew that none of the runners was going to come over to the side of the road and ask us to carry them to St. Paul or to take their race number and finish the race for them. With faith journeys it seems a bit more daunting. We don't want to offend someone or feel uncomfortable ourselves.

Branded into my memory is a particular Sunday morning at our church when I was a kid in Indianapolis. I may have been in junior high or high school and I decided that I should make an effort to reach out to new people to try to make them feel more welcome. So I saw an older gentleman one Sunday in the commons area and thought, here goes. I said "Good morning. I haven't seen you here before, is this your first Sunday?" To which he replied, "No, I've been here every week for the past seven years." I cannot recall what came next, but it must have been something like, "Well, I'm glad to meet you", followed by a hasty exit. Was that man offended that a junior high kid hadn't known him? I doubt it. Was he encouraged that someone was trying to make the church a more welcoming place? I have no idea--I didn't stick around long enough to find out. From my current perspective as an "older" gentleman, I would guess that he was both amused and appreciative. If that happened to me next Sunday, I would be--mostly amused.

Point being, there is really no greater risk in cheering for strangers at the Twin Cities Marathon than there is in encouraging strangers (much less people we know) in their faith journey--other than in our own minds. Who knows, but it might give them the boost they need to take one more step on the journey.

As the Bible says, "Spur one another on to love and good deeds."

Consider yourself spurred.

Pressing On!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Deal With It Small

Injuries can be subtle, yet nefarious characters. If caught soon enough and properly tended to, then they can be dealt with and cause limited disruption to the regular training plan. If small injuries are ignored, or if they are actually more significant than they may first seem, then they often rise up and demand attention. The most frustrating aspect of being injured to me is that the injury takes away the ability to perform without taking away the desire. The "want to" remains, but the "able to" is gone--temporarily.

My friend Jim from church put this in perspective when he mentioned that several years ago he had run a long race through what he thought was a minor injury. He ended up losing an entire year of activity to recovery. So I feel a little better about not running this coming Sunday.

I think that the "deal with it small" principle applies in other areas of life as well. With interpersonal relationships, if we deal with issues while they remain small, then the friendship can most often be salvaged. If we wait until the issues become huge, then we may have sacrificed the friendship on the altar of "maybe it will get better on its own."


In the marketplace, if we deal with frustrations and problems while they are still small, then we give ourselves a way to improve the situation. If we wait until things get big, then we sometimes feel like our only option is to quit that job and look elsewhere. If we deal with the incipient coldness-of-heart toward God at the first touch of chill, then we can restore that relationship quickly to its intended closeness. If we wait for the full onset of hard-heartedness, then we often find ourselves far down a road that we really don't want to be walking on--and with a long way to get back to the warmth and light of home.

It may not feel fun to deal with the issues, but again, they will not get better on their own--if you just ignore them. A wise person once said, "Do the next right thing--again and again."

Pressing On!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Power of Symbols

If you were to see the Liberty Bell in the back of a pickup truck driving through your neighborhood, you might think nothing of it. (If you didn't notice the crack and know what bell it was.) The power of the Liberty Bell is more in what it represents, than in what it is. This shouldn't be surprising. Look at the other symbols around you. My wedding band has a limited value because of what it is made of, but that doesn't even begin to compare to the value of what it represents--26 years of making a home and a life with my best friend. Do you ever get a little choked up when the national anthem is played? Or when you see the flag standing out in a stiff breeze, do you feel a sense of pride welling up inside your chest? The value of a symbol is in what it reminds us of. And the more that something cost us to achieve, the greater the value of the symbol.

I have kept lots of running race shirts and medals. A couple are favorites because they are immensely comfortable, but the ones that I value the most are the ones that I worked hardest to get. My Goofy shirt and medal may be the most treasured. Not because they are inherently worth much of anything, but because of what they represent--39.3 miles of running over two days and months of training beforehand. My Afton Trail Run medal is another that I treasure, both because of the effort involved and because of running it with Abby (if by with you mean on the same day as). I value my starfish medals because they remind me of the semi-tradition of running the Holiday Halfathon each December and getting to see my family at the same time.

Sometimes these symbols also remind me of what I have been able to accomplish. Many days I do not feel like a very good runner. I am not very fast and it doesn't always feel like my body appreciates what my mind and will are telling it to do. Those are the times that I need to be reminded that there have been times that I have endured or overcome significant physical challenges. That reminder often serves as the encouragement that I need to start the next run.

Without symbols, we tend to forget. I think that is why God had the Israelites set up various reminders of what He had done to show His power and mercy on their behalf. Upon crossing into the Promised Land they were told to take stones from the middle of the Jordan River and create a monument on dry land. Why? So that in the future, when some little kid asked, "What are those rocks for?" the people could answer, "To remind us that God held back the river so that we could cross into this land." The strength and awe would not be in the rocks themselves, but in what the rocks represented.

What symbol can you set up to remind you of something significant that you might otherwise forget? To recall some way that God has been powerful for you? Some amazing time of family love and cohesiveness? A valued friendship? Claim a symbol--never forget.

Pressing On!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Freedom from ... Freedom for ...

Freedom seems to be a pervasive human ideal. Whether people are free, or remain yearning to be free, freedom is a rallying cry, a driver of heroic effort, and deemed worth extreme sacrifice to secure or preserve. The Liberty Bell serves as one of those reminders to us of our country's emphasis on freedom. The events of the past week have served to shine spotlights of different colors on our notions of freedom. At the core, I believe that there are two types of freedom--freedom from; and freedom for.

Our early patriots were seeking freedom from what they viewed as oppression from the tyranny of a distant king and empire. But they also had clear ideas of what they were seeking freedom for. They were not merely wanting to be free--like a zoo animal suddenly released from its cage. They wanted to do something with their freedom. The early patriots wanted to be free to pursue life, liberty, and happiness. Did they achieve what they set out for? Some may have, but many died in the effort to secure freedom for their children, neighbors, and friends.

What is it about freedom that makes it such a compelling ideal to pursue? Is it a God-given right? Is it the ability to chart our own course, determine our own path? Whatever it is about freedom that makes it worth pursuing, we seem to have forgotten that freedom carries with it responsibility. A piece in the New York Times got me thinking. (www.nytimes.com/2010/09/12/opinion/12friedman.html?_r=1&src=me&ref=homepage) Contemporary America seems to want freedom without responsibility. Lack of constraints without values. Freedom from anything that "holds me back," but not freedom for something of meaning or value.

What do you want to be free from? Debt? 25 extra pounds? A stifling job? A boring church? A suffocating spouse? Limited education? Why? What will that "freedom from" put you in a position to pursue? Before going after the freedom from, it may be a good idea to get a handle on the freedom for. And sometimes we need to get a good handle on the freedom for so that we can endure through the difficulties of getting freedom from.

The church of this generation has done a great disservice by preaching a gospel of freedom from without the concomitant freedom for. Freedom from condemnation is a fine thing--actually better than fine. But I do not believe that freedom from condemnation was ever God's stopping point. He has always wanted His people and His church to be about more than just freedom from.

We are set free to pursue a life of service and devotion. Of deep-seated joy and mission. Of living for someone and something bigger and greater than ourselves. And we are freed from condemnation so that we can be free to live in this new way. Why cheapen what God has done by just making it about not going to hell? Why not embrace the fullness of what God frees us for--a new way of living? Sure, it may not sound like so much fun. It may not be as "attractive." It may not get as many people to give as much time or money or want to join. But that really isn't the issue, is it? I certainly want as many people as possible to know that they can be free of condemnation, but even more so, I want those who are free from condemnation to know that they are also free to live a new kind of life. A life of service and self-sacrifice. A life of integrity and wholeness. A life that does not merely have a spiritual component, but where the spiritual is what brings all of life together and gives it holistic meaning.

Why settle for freedom from, when you can pursue freedom for as well?

BTW, this line of thought also relates to running, but that is for a different post.

Pressing On!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Iconic Run

There are very few iconic runs in American popular culture. In fact, just two come to mind--Forrest Gump's "Run Forrest, Run!" and Sylvester Stallone's Rocky run up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. This afternoon I ran Rocky's run, and then some. I don't remember having been to Philadelphia (in the city) as an adult. I have flown in and out of the airport many times, but this is the first time to be in the city. I am impressed. With so much of our nation's early history having been made here, I am hoping to see the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall after my meetings tomorrow.

I ran about 11 miles from downtown past the Museum of Art and then out the Fairmont Park trail (which apparently goes all the way to Valley Forge). Along the river it was beautiful--the lazy river and rowing teams out seemingly flying up and down the river. There are public sculpture and flower gardens all along the parkway and there were scads of people out running and biking and walking.

The only disappointing part of today's run was realizing that I will not be ready to run Twin Cities in three weeks. Too much missed training and too many nagging injuries that just are not going away (or even getting marginally better). I initially was going to run the race at Hannah's behest, but now that her new husband is running with her, I think that I will be OK with cheering her along at various points along the race course. It is a tough decision, but it is time to listen to what my body is telling me and to be grown up about it. It will be a different role, but I think that I will be OK with it in the end.

Go Hannah! Go Paul! Go Jeff!

Pressing On,

Friday, September 10, 2010

Trading "Not Fun" for Fun

I suppose that it is part of growing up--that moment when a person realizes that sometimes you need to do what is not fun in order to have fun later. This week of running has not been fun. Nagging injuries, adding soccer officiating to the workout schedule, unseasonably cold weather. But I find some consolation in the reality (I hope) that these not fun days will allow October 3rd to be more fun than the last time. These days much of life seems to be that way.

Frankly, my faith journey has often seemed much the same. In order to become who I truly desire to be--a growing, thriving child of God--I often need to do things that I do not feel like doing. I rarely feel like pursuing self-denial and a focus on others. I rarely feel like showing compassion when it is "costly" to me. I rarely feel like going out of my way to benefit someone else, especially when they cannot offer me something in return. But when did feeling like doing or not doing something become the ultimate measure? Shouldn't the end result be the ultimate measure? If feeling like it were the determiner of what gets done, how many of us would have ever been born? (From what I hear, pregnancy is no picnic, not to mention childbirth.)

If how I feel about something is not the measure, then what is? How about some objective truth? I have staked my life on the objective truth of the Bible--that what God says goes. When God says that seeking the benefit of others ahead of my own benefit is the way to live, then I will strive to make that my choice. When God says that being compassionate is His preference, then I will strive to become a more compassionate person. And who knows, maybe at some point God's preferences will also become my own?

And in the meantime, I believe that God gets to say. After all, it is His universe. And by the way, on October 3rd, I will not be able to stop running at mile 19 and call it a completed marathon. Whether I feel like going 26.2 will not matter. All that will matter is getting to the end of the course that has been measured by someone who gets to say.

Pressing On!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Turning Seasons

This morning's run was a bit of a shock--about 50 degrees, windy, and rainy. What happened to summer? We will almost certainly still get some hot weather, but the new season is upon us. In my town, today is the first day of school. Which seems a bit strange since it will be the first "first day" in nearly 20 years that we have not put someone on the bus for the start of a new adventure. A marker of the year no longer applies to my life. In years to come I will need to find other ways to mark the passing of summer into fall. No more trips to the store for pencils, folders, and notebooks. No more open house where we scramble to make it to every classroom to meet every teacher before the kids tire of the exercise. No more "first day" pictures on the front steps.

Out running this morning I was thinking that my "frontiers" of running in this new season will also need to change. My next running target will not likely be a longer distance, a faster pace, or a more challenging race. In some ways I will need to find satisfaction in doing the same or less, rather than always striving for faster and farther. I don't feel like this is settling for mediocrity. I feel like it is an inevitable fact of life. I should not need to stop running, but I am not 25 any more and, generally, I will not get faster or find it easier to run farther.

Can I move into a new season of how I measure and value my running? Is there some different aspect of the run that I can find challenging and satisfying? Do I need to look outside myself--to others--to find satisfaction in their running accomplishments? I am so proud of Hannah and my friend Jeff. Neither have really been runners, but they are well on their way to getting to the starting line, and then finishing the Twin Cities Marathon. A year ago Jeff would have laughed at the notion that he would run a 20-miler (last Saturday) and be walking around on Sunday just like nothing had happened. Be he is discovering joy in a place where he never expected it.

At some point, many people run into this dynamic in their faith. The quick growth has slowed to a more moderate pace. Does that mean that I am not growing? Has my faith lost its vitality? Am I growing cold-hearted toward the things of God? I am realizing more and more that the way to find an ongoing dynamic of faith is to build into the next spiritual generation. Simply doing more of what I have been doing will not ultimately be satisfying. The move from player, to player-coach, to coach will be what keeps things fresh. Now I just need to find some players who need some coaching.

Pressing On!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Like Falling Off a Bicycle

Went sailing yesterday afternoon for the first time in too long. It was a very windy day, but with two of us, we got the boat in the water just fine. The last time (before yesterday) that I went out it was also a very windy day, but I was by myself. I could not even get the boat launched because there was too much for one person to coordinate. (Can you coordinate with yourself?) The memory of not even getting off the beach probably kept me on shore for much of the summer, but not yesterday. There were a few dicey moments trying to launch in to the wind--and not being quite sure where the wind was coming from--but once we got out into the lake it was the bet sailing in years. Lots of wind. Lots of speed. Lots of spray. Lots of having the boat up on edge.

The key to yesterday being a positive sailing day was another person along to handle some of the load. Most of the time I run by myself. I love the solitude and the time to just let my mind go where it wants to go. But when the run is challenging, another person can make all the difference. On the brutal trail run in July, I don't know if I would have finished if I had been by myself. On the steep uphills, all of us on the climb would shout encouragement to other runners--whether we knew them or not. And that encouragement made the difference between running up a hill (such as it was) and walking--or stopping. When everything is smooth or relatively easy, solitary running is just fine. But when the circumstances get tough, others make the difference.

The other day I was reflecting on friends and how we make them and keep them. I have a few people with whom I am becoming friends (World's Greatest Small Group), but a small number of long term good friends--for whom I am thankful.

So thanks to Frank, and Jeff, and Robin, and Nancy, and Michael, and Dan, and Jay--and first and foremost Carmen. I couldn't do this without you!

Pressing On!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Fuel Gauges and Keeping the Tank Full

Several years ago I had a car with a broken fuel gauge. Most of the time it was not an issue. Fill up the tank from time to time. Reset the trip odometer each fill up to keep tabs on elapsed miles for that tank of gas. But every now and then I would either not get a full new tank, or I would forget to reset the trip odometer. Having lost track of my informal fuel measures, I was forced to either fill the tank and reset the measures or take my chances. The gas can in the back of the car would tell you that chance-taking was often my choice and sometimes not the most prudent option. (There are few things more automotively embarrassing than running out of gas while at the drive through window at the bank. "Sorry folks, I will be just a moment to run over to the gas station next door.")

What about "devices" that have no gauge? How can we tell our fuel levels? What about physical energy? A friendship? A marriage? The heart? The soul? These things have no fuel gauge, yet keeping the tank full enough is far more important than with a car. All too often I think that I only notice that these other tanks are nearing empty when the engine starts sputtering. Then I just hope that I can get some fuel in the tank before things grind to a halt.

I also notice some crossover effect. If my physical energy tank is almost empty, then I have less reserve for the other tanks. And vice versa. The other day I was out for what should have been a pretty easy run. Not too far and not too fast. But for some reason about five miles in I started feeling like I was running in mud. My legs were heavy and my breathing labored. I was at a loss for this sudden performance decline. After all, it was a regular run that I have done dozens of times before with no problems. And all I was doing in the rest of life was preaching at my church, starting a new business, taking my youngest off to college, and only sleeping about 70% of what I usually need. It was a light bulb moment.

It seems like we cannot manage our fuel outflow nearly as much as we think we can (or maybe it is just me). But the thing that I can manage is my fuel intake. Am I doing the things that are restorative? Refreshing? Re-energizing? Not becoming a recluse or dropping other responsibilities, but being mindful to keep the tank full.

With my car I often did not want to take the time to stop and fill the tank. But in the long run it would have taken less time to stop for gas every now and then than to try to find an open--and close by--gas station when I finally ran it dry. Thanks for the lesson Capri!

Pressing On,

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Cantilevers and Such

Do you ever find yourself feeling something, but not being quite able to know it clearly enough to name it? That was a part of my recent experience until yesterday. A friend of mine is an exquisite blogger who wrote about the engineering concept of a cantilever. A definition related to the building trades is, "any rigid construction extending horizontally well beyond its vertical support, used as a structural element of a bridge (cantilever bridge), building foundation, etc." The nub of it is that a cantilevered structure has one end anchored and the other end apparently hangs in mid air. Cantilevers are stunning architectural elements, but the engineering behind them must carefully balance the load, the amount of the structure that is extended beyond the support, and the extent to which the cantilevered element is anchored at the non-extended end.

A cantilevered structure can appear to be weightlessly suspended above the ground, but if the engineering was not quite right, it can all come crashing down. To a non-engineer, it appears that there are three aspects of a cantilevered element that can be managed: the load that the elements bears; the strength of the anchoring into something solid and stable; and the amount of the element that is extended beyond a support.

Needless to say, life has been a bit of a zoo this summer. One wedding, a graduation open house, then a graduation, then another wedding, then the reception for the first wedding, and finally taking one off to college. (A Dad almost feels like he could use a nap.) Oh, and in the midst of all of this, leaving a large and established company to launch a new law firm. I feel a bit like the beam that is cantilevered about to its limit. I cannot do anything about the amount of life that feels like it is hanging out beyond any meaningful support. And I really cannot do anything about the load that comes along with life. But I can (and must) make sure that I am remaining firmly grounded in the things that give life substance and support. For me, those things are solitude, faith, and running. And fortunately running and solitude often go together.

Running puts me in a bubble of re-energizing solitude and reflection. Some people recharge by being with other people, but not me. I recharge by being by myself. I like people, but interaction is a net energy outflow in my world. The tension comes when the cantilevered aspects of life conspire to try to fill my solitude with constant activity--like all of the things listed above. Lately I feel my moorings getting mushy and the result is not pretty. Not outward, and not inward.

But at least now I can identify what has been going on (thanks Robin) and can try to figure out how to get my cantilever engineering back in shape. I do know that the place where I need to begin is my moorings--by setting aside time to run enough (but not too much) and to nurture my faith. Keeping those parts of life in balance should allow my cantilevers to soar above the ground in a dynamic and dramatic adventure.

Pressing On!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Midway Mirror

Apart from the Bearded Lady, the oddest sight on the typical State Fair or circus midway are the distorting mirrors. The tall appear short and the lean appear rotund. Depending on how close you stand your head becomes enormous or shrinks to the apparent size of a grapefruit. But the truth is that the viewer has not changed--only the reflection has changed.

I have a mirror like that at my house, but the mirror's message was shattered last weekend. More than 20% off this year's incoming freshman class at DePauw has an alumni connection. Part of what that means is that some of my classmates were among those parents who were dropping off incoming freshmen. As I looked around I must confess to thinking that some of the "Class of '82" name tags must have gotten on the wrong generation of people. When did my peers get to be so old? And I started to wonder if my mirror has been lying to me. It has--or maybe it is not the mirror's fault.

The book of James talks about the foolishness of the person who looks in the mirror and forgets what they look like when they turn away. After this weekend, I realized that I not only forget what I looked like, but I can look right at the face in the mirror and see a person from years gone by. I must have this idea of what I used to look like and my mind goes back 15 or 20 years. So on Sunday I took a long, hard look. Whew! While it may make me feel better at the moment, self-deception is rarely the answer to anything.

John Bingham once said that a light bulb came on for him when he realized that if he was to become a runner, he would have to run with the body he had. That goes double for me. As I consider my running today--from training to pace to results--I cannot view my current experience as if I were ten years younger. Because I am not. And nothing good will come of trying to run as if I were ten years younger.

Not only that, but if I view myself at a stage of life that does not reflect my current reality, then how can I grow and develop? Either I will have too high of a view, or too low of a view. Too high of a view may make me complacent or arrogant (not wonderful traits) and too low of a view may cause me to be unduly discouraged. But an accurate self-assessment is tough. And that is where a good mirror comes in.

A good mirror will not distort the image to suit what I want to see, nor to reflect something other than what is. If I am willing to look intently and thoughtfully into a good mirror, I should see what is, as opposed to what I want to see. Sometimes that mirror will be a trusted friend. Sometimes that mirror will be God's truth. Sometimes that mirror will be the scale or a tightening waistband (How did these pants shrink going through the wash?). No matter the mirror, I must bring to the process a willingness to see what is real, and go on from there.

Pressing On!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Same, But Different

Dropped off my youngest at college yesterday--at my alma mater of all places. I have not been back to campus to walk around for nearly 30 years, and the mind does interesting things. Some places looked just like they did in the spring of 1982 when I last walked through campus. But so much has changed. The dorm where I was an RA for my last two years no longer exists. The dorm at the top of the freshman quad (next to where I lived and RA'd for the first two years) burned and has been replaced by several dorm-lets. The Ultimate Frisbee filed has a volleyball pit and net right in the middle! The snow football field is now a parking lot.

Yet, the new science building will be a place where Abby will find much "joy of mathematics." The new biological sciences building will be a huge step up from Harrison Hall's cramped lecture rooms and labs.

Much looked the same. Some looks different. But what about the things that really matter? I have two good friends from that chapter of life and those friendships have little to do with buildings or classes. Those friendships grew from long discussions of things that were important; doing things together; and the serendipity of having been in that place at the same time.

For Abby I wish for lasting friendships that sprout at DePauw, but that will continue to flourish and grow over the decades. I wish for her a greater self-awareness than I had--to appreciate that this a rare time in her life when she can think new thoughts; try new things that she thinks she might enjoy, but never really had the chance to try in our little town; and further develop and discover what she believes and will invest her life in. She cannot yet know, and will have to discover for herself, but she is in the best possible place for her right now. A challenging academic environment where she will have to work hard to do well, and a place where she is surrounded by (and is one herself) young men and women who are idealistic, energetic, and hopeful. They still believe that they can change the world--and maybe she will.

If my parents experienced similar thoughts and feelings to what I have felt this past week, then thank you for helping me set a course that included four years at DePauw. I am a better man for the friends I made and for what I learned there--both in and out of the classroom (mostly out). I can only hope that three decades from now, Abby will make a trip back to campus and be struck by the joy that no matter what looks new, much will not have changed. That she will look back and be thankful for the friends, the learning, and the opportunities to make a better life--and a better world.

Pressing On!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Fresh Starts are Soooo Good

When I set out to run early in the morning, my shoes never mock me for how slow they think I was the day before. The road doesn't seem to remember the places where I was thinking that walking would be preferable. My GPS keeps track of each workout--but never adds its own commentary. Every morning, in many ways, is a fresh start. Yesterday's run (or not run) no longer matters. It is just about today. And I find that to be refreshing.

Granted, the runs that preceded today's run have some influence on whether today's run is easier or harder than the day before. But even what went before doesn't determine whether I enjoy today's run. Enjoying today's run is a matter of how this run is. It is not about yesterday's or tomorrow's runs.

The Bible tells me that God's mercies are new every morning. I always wondered how an all-knowing God could not hold yesterday against me--until my kids became teenagers. Then, suddenly, I became selectively forgetful. No need to hold against them the mistakes of yesterday. The lapses of judgment. The ill-considered words. No, I just don't remember that. How does that fresh start feel?

Today was also the first day of the new adventure that is Redgrave LLP--an information law firm where I am a partner and founder. All of us joining the firm have learned a lot over the past few years. Some of the lessons hard, and others just helpful. I enjoyed my CPA Global colleagues, but the chance to return to the practice of law, with some people whom I really like and respect, was impossible to pass up. You can check us out at www.redgravellp.com and see what our new information law practice is all about. And give me a call if we can be of assistance to you.

The fresh start feels really good. Not because what came before was bad, but because it is a new chance to build something dynamic and exciting with some friends with whom I want to share the journey.

Pressing On!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Environmental Slowdown

I cannot control the weather. No surprise to anyone I know--nor to me. The thermometer was pushing 95 during today's run at Noon. (Let's not discuss why I wasn't running at 5:30 in the morning when it was cooler--perhaps tomorrow.) I like running in the heat and I like running in the cold. But the environmental conditions, which I cannot control, have an impact on how I run. Typically, I run about a minute per mile slower at 90 than at 70--and that is with the same perceived effort. I feel like I am exerting the same energy, but I am simply moving more slowly.

On hot days I have several choices--to run or not to run; short sleeves or no sleeves; carry water or look for sprinklers; complain about the heat or hit the road. What I do not get to choose is whether it is hot or not. Even if I decided to get upset about it being hot, that would not change the temperature. So why bother?

Sometimes life feels like a very hot day. I want things to be a certain way, but factors beyond my control turn "my way" into "no way." What then? Do I lament the things that I cannot change? Or do I make the best of the immutable circumstances? What can I change? What must I accept? But sometimes I feel like if I complain, or play the "if only" game, or work hard to change that which cannot be changed, then I cannot be held responsible for the unpleasant, immutable circumstance.

But I am the only one who holds me responsible for those things in the first place. I often find my self apologizing if it is too hot to do something outside that I had planned to do with others (or if it is too rainy). Do I really think that it was my fault?

When I was a kid my Dad taught me how to play tennis. In those early days there was not so much tennis playing and a lot of walking up to the net or to a far court to retrieve an errant shot. When I made a bad shot I would say, "I'm sorry." My Dad finally told me that I didn't need to say I was sorry unless I did it wrong on purpose. Wise words from a wise man.

I don't need to apologize to myself when it is hot outside and I run slower than I did a week ago--or five years ago. It might even feel freeing. Who knows? Sounds like it may be worth a try.

Pressing On!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Joy in the Familiar

This morning's 4 miler was along one of my old familiar routes in Alexandria, Va, just outside of Washington, D.C. It doesn't get light as early in D.C. as it does in Minnesota this time of year, so it was good to be on familiar terrain. I knew what to expect and how far I needed to go to get to 4 miles total. There is something that feels good about being in familiar surroundings, even when far from home. I suppose that one danger would be if I started to think of this "different" place as home--if it became too familiar.

Many days it is an effort to remind myself that this life, this existence, this world is not my home--that my true home is elsewhere and elsewhen. (Yes, elsewhen. It means a different time.) This life is temporal; it only lasts for a short time. My true life is everlasting; which is a long time. This life is very present, but my true life is hidden with Christ in God. (Not quite sure what that means, but it is not in Monticello or D.C.) It is so easy to forget my real home in the midst of all that I see and experience. But I can live life best when I remember that I am but a tourist and a visitor to this present life--my home is elsewhere and elsewhen.

Pressing on!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Not Fun at All

Today's 12 mile run was not very much fun at all.  It was hot.  My legs felt like lead.  Parts of me were hurting that I had forgotten about.  And I found myself asking, "Why am I doing this?  It doesn't even feel very good.  And I am not happy right now!"

Then I remembered.  The reason that I was doing 12 miserable miles this morning was to be able to run the Twin Cities marathon in October to raise money for hunger relief in Africa through World Vision.  I was doing something that I disliked to day in order to be able to do something that I want to do later.  And without days like today, Twin Cities will not happen for me.

If I had acted on how I felt, I would have turned around at mile 2 and gone home.  But in general, if I acted primarily on how I felt, I would not get much done.  I think that the key is to do the right thing, whether or not I feel like it.  This may sound elementary, but how often do we/I/you violate that simple principle?  And in retrospect, my life has  not been enriched by using my feelings as my guide for life.

I need to base my life and decisions on something greater than what I feel.  For me, that means to base my life on the guidance of my Creator.  It means working toward goals and objectives that are worthy of the investment of my time and effort.  It means not being tossed about by the winds of short-term gratification or doing what I feel like at the moment.  It means being guided by ideals and principles that are bigger than just me and my little world.  Ultimately, it means trusting the Creator rather than trying to take to role of the Creator.

Pressing on!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Trail Markers and God's Will

I did not get lost last Saturday during the trail run.  There were plenty of opportunities to do so, but I never wondered whether I was on the right path.  Lots of trails crossed the one we were to run on.  Some looked challenging and some looked inviting.  But the correct path was clear.  The marked trail was more than a general direction (run NE for .8 miles), but less than predetermining where each footstep should go.  The other notable thing was that the trail markers were not consistently spaced--they were only as close together as they needed to be.

A few years ago (like 25 or so) a number of my friends became interested in God's will.  Not just whether God had a will, or what God's desires may be, but the contours of how individual Christ followers could discern God's desires for them--as individuals.  At times the mental gymnastics were stunning.  Trying to see the hand of God in every little aspect of life.  What does it mean that I get a red light at this intersection, at this time.  In my dream someone was speaking Italian.  Is God calling me to go to Italy?

I am not mocking, but it makes me grin inside sometimes.  Granted, I could be entirely wrong and God may care deeply about the minutiae of our lives.  But I am not so sure.  It is certainly not a matter of capacity.  God the Creator has the ability to be involved with the most intimate details of every human life if He so chooses.  I'm just not sure that He so chooses.  Undoubtedly there have been times, places, and people down through history where God has had a very direct concern that His direction be followed in exquisite detail.  But that doesn't appear to usually be the case.  Please let me be clear.  I am not saying that I believe that God is disinterested--just that He may not have a preference.  Does God care whether you have green beans or yellow for supper tonight?  Probably not.  I do believe that God takes pleasure when we enjoy eating what we have grown in our gardens (and that He has created). 

When it comes to discerning God's will, I believe that He wants us to follow His direction even more than we want to.  A logical corollary is that if it is important to God, then He will let us know what He wants.  I do not believe that God takes pleasure in playing "hide and go seek" with His desires.  Sometimes I just think that He has no preference and takes pleasure in letting us make some of our own choices.

On the trail run, when the race director wanted to make sure that we didn't miss a turn, or get off course, the orange flags marking the course were very close together.  That way all we had to do was pay attention and we would stay on course.  When there was really only one path to follow (single track through the woods), the marker flags were more spaced out.  Along those sections a runner could have gotten off the course, but it would have been intentional.  If I had spent a lot of time looking for the marker flags where there were none, I would have finished even later than I did.  But along those stretches where there were not many flags, all I needed to do was to continue in the same direction until I was shown to go a different way.  I wonder if it is the same with following God's direction?

Pressing On!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Well-marked Trail

The instructions for last Saturday's trail run were simple--"keep the orange markers on your left.  If the orange marker is on your right, you are going the wrong way."  That is really all we had to remember.  It was clear and the only way to have trouble was to forget which side is the left.  Of course, that we the easy part.  The rest of the run involved keeping going over 15.5 miles of hilly terrain.  The course elevation map looked like an EKG.  Nevertheless, at the end both Abby and I determined to be back next year for another go at this one.

As followers of this blog would know, I love to run.  I am not very good at it.  I am not very fast (or at all fast).  I don't look like an ad for a running magazine.  In fact, I may look more like an ad for someone who needs to get out and run.  But I just love to run.  I also love the outdoors.  Hiking, backpacking, just being outside in the woods.  But Saturday was really the first time to put these two passions together.  And it was wonderful.  (Plus, this morning the hills I ran around home felt like nothing.)

The disorienting thing about Saturday's run was not really knowing how much of the race remained.  I have run a lot of routes around town, so I know exactly how long those runs are.  I also have a pretty good idea of how fast I run on the roads, so can gauge how far I have gone pretty accurately.  But for most of Saturday I didn't really know how much of the race was left.  Ordinarily that would not be a problem, but I needed to make sure that I had enough gas left in the tank to make it to the end.  Next year I will know.  This year I did not.  I had seen a map of the course and could see where the run would go, but seeing a line on a flat piece of paper bore little resemblance to the reality of Afton State Park.

The point is that my main job on Saturday was to keep following the marked path.  It was not my responsibility to determine where the orange markers went--but just to follow them.  My task was not to consider whether I might have set out a different race course, but to follow the course that the race director had marked out for us.  This was a trail run, not an orienteering event.  In fact, I would have been disqualified if I had set off on a course of my own choosing.

One thing that I believe is that I have been made by a Creator who has marked out a course.  Sometimes the markers are close together and sometimes they are farther apart.  But someone else has marked out the course.  My task in this life is not to chart my own course or to determine what is the "best" way to get from point A to point B.  My life will primarily be assessed on how well I followed the marked path, and secondarily on the effort and determination that I bring to that following.

The writer of Hebrews said it this way: 

Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.

Pressing On!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Just Being There

There was nothing remarkable about this morning's run.  Not very long.  Not very fast.  An often-run course.  Nothing to set it apart from dozens of the same run over the past few years.  And maybe that is the point.  Looking back over my training logs you would find that most of my runs are unremarkable.  There have been a few that are on a different or particularly interesting or challenging course.  A few that are of a notable distance of pace.  But mostly just regular, ordinary, unremarkable runs.  But without the ordinary runs, there would be no foundation for the extra-ordinary.  If I expected every run to be a new mountaintop experience, then I would be quickly and deeply disappointed.  Yet all too often, I tend to devalue the ordinary in my pursuit of the spectacular, stunning, or remarkable.

For example, I am much more willing to talk about the Goofy Race and Half Challenge (half marathon one day followed by full marathon the next) that I ran last January than the dozens of 3-5 mile runs since then.  Why?  Because anyone can run the ordinary runs, but I don't know anyone else who has done the Goofy.  I think that I look for, and value, that which is unusual or unique above the regular.  But I believe that there may be a greater benefit to holding the regular in just as high a regard as the unique.

But there is certainly not a lot of support for that view in our culture.  There is no award for the "Most Ordinary" and Mr. Regular doesn't get headlines.  Yet the foundation for extraordinary achievements--whether in one person or collectively--is ordinary, day after day, consistency.

Think about relationships.  When a good friend is going through a difficult time, what I have heard most often is that what was valued was not the witty words of wisdom, but just being there.  Not the "solution", but a willingness to walk together through the darkness until the break of dawn.  Just being there.

I wonder how often we are looking for God to do something spectacular and stunning, and yet He offers to just be there.  Day in and day out.  When things are good and when life is challenging.  He never promised that He would always appear with craches of thunder and bright flashes of lightning.  But he does promise:

Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The ultimate "just being there."

Press On!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Just the Facts Ma'am

No matter a person's penchant or ability for self-deception, the watch and the scale do not lie.  They are impartial and objective sentinels of data, of raw information.  How to interpret that information is for someone else.  The watch and the scale are the Joe Friday's of life--just the facts.  Feelings and impressions are the anti-Friday's.  Not impartial and certainly not objective.  Take today for instance.

Finally back at home after a few days of travel and working from home--a great day for a Noon run.  I was thinking gazelle.  Bounding along the road.  Up and down hills.  Effortless.  Graceful.  Then came that house's picture window and I could have sworn that I saw a water buffalo lumbering toward the muddy water hole.  Maybe the glass was goofy--like the carnival midway.  Then I looked at my watch.  No interpretation.  No thought to what numbers I might want to see.  Just the facts--elapsed time and average pace.  Definitely NOT gazelle.  The stark color crayon of reality drew a stick figure on the Rembrandt in my mind.

For a moment I was mad at the watch.  Probably needs to be recharged or needs a new battery, right?  It must be set to some different time zone--like that would make a difference.  No.  Sadly, the problem was not with my watch, but with my perception and my wishes.  I have often said, "wishing doesn't make it so" and this was a chance to take heed to my own words.

Where does this enormous capacity for self-deception come from?  Is it just me?  And what can I do about it?  After all, the best way of thinking about my running is to have an accurate gauge of my fitness and ability.  Otherwise I am going to break off more than I can handle and end up getting hurt, or embarrassed, or both.

Without diving into the deep end of where the inclination for self-deception comes from, how can I deal with it?  In running, with a watch and an accurate measurement of the distances that I am running.  That way I can track my progress and see if I am making improvements by either increasing distance or decreasing pace.  Those numbers are not subject to self-deception and they do not lie.  In other words, I need an impartial observer who will not be swayed by what I want to hear.

So too in  my journey of faith.  Without some objectivity, it is so easy to think that I am in a much better position than I really may be.  While there are no "spiritual life watches," I can keep track of my progress with practicing spiritual disciplines that I know will lead to, and be indicators of, a vibrant spiritual life--prayer, Bible reading, service, solitude, confession.  I think that I would also benefit from a person who knows me, but who is impartial enough to call a water buffalo a water buffalo--even when I want my name tag to read gazelle.  (And really, who am I trying to kid.  Even on my best and fastest days I never made anyone think of a gazelle.  Maybe a really active Saint Bernard, but never a gazelle.)

I believe that the farther along the spiritual journey a person is, the harder it is to find that impartial, clear voice.  And more necessary.  At a certain point we get accustomed to people looking to us for guidance and encouragement and straight talking.  And the pool of people who are at our same point in the journey, or who are beyond us, grows smaller.  A good friend has been tapping into the wisdom of those long-dead saints for his impartial voice.  (Through their writings, not what you just thought.)  Maybe that could be a place to look?  I have resources on the bookshelf right in front of me that others who are way smarter than me in this area have put together.  It is worth a look.  I would hate to get to heaven thinking I was a gazelle only to be greeted as Mr. Water Buffalo.

Pressing on!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Man Up and Shake Hands

People will remember who you are longer than they will remember what you do.  This is bad news for France's World Cup team and coach.  A year from now most people may not remember that the team was knocked out of the tournament in the first round.  More people will remember that the team revolted against the coach and walked off of the practice field and that the coach refused to shake the hand of his opposite number for South Africa after the final game.  Really?  Wouldn't even shake hands?  Wouldn't even congratulate the host country's coach on a game well-played?  I wonder if he will get fired before or after he gets back to France.

Adversity is a better reflection of our soul's condition than prosperity.  Prosperity masks the defects in our character.  Adversity shines a bright light on our weaknesses.  In prosperity we can keep our defects hidden.  In adversity, our weaknesses rise to the surface where they cannot be kept from view.  If we are in the game of managing our image, then keeping our weaknesses and defects hidden becomes our primary endeavor.  The greatest challenge to managing our image is that we have very little control over whether we are living in prosperity or adversity.  To manage our image, we either need to make sure that we are living most of th time in prosperity, or else we have to deal with our shortcomings.  Most of us will try to manage our circumstances rather than to develop healthy souls.

So if we cannot generally control our circumstances, how do we develop healthy souls?  This post is not long enough for a thorough answer in one sitting.  Nor am I silly enough to believe that I have THE answer to that issue.  But I have given this a lot of thought and attention and have some ideas.  One thing I know is that soul health does not happen overnight.  Instead, like long running, it requires focused attention over a long period of time.  As Eugene Peterson put it, a healthy soul requires "a long obedience in the same direction."  While it is not easy, it is pretty simple.  Mostly it just takes time and persistence--things in short supply in our contemporary American culture.  But, it is worth the effort if you want to be remembered for the right thing--who you are.

Pressing on!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The 50-Day Evaluation

United States Presidents are often first evaluated on their conduct in office over the first 100 days of their tenure.  I have not been thinking so much of the past 100 days as the past 50--more or less.  My two oldest daughters were married within 50 days of each other.  My youngest daughter graduated from high school in between.  I spent a week in (old) Jersey and two weeks doing some teaching and training in India.  It has been quite the whirlwind, but that is not the point of this entry.  The point is that my life is now fundamentally different and it will require a different approach to making everything work.

Or has it changed at the core?  Sure, I now have two sons-in-law, with whom I want to develop a strong and respectful friendship.  I have entrusted two of my daughters to someone else's care and provision.  (I have two open rooms at the house with which to generate some revenue?)  But isn't life still about fulfilling the mission that I have been called to?  Isn't life still about building sustaining and revitalizing friendships?  Isn't life still about finding satisfaction and meaning in faith and family?  Isn't life still about finding meaningful work to put my hands to?  Those fundamentals have not changed--and never should.  The outward expression of those fundamentals may change, but not the fundamentals themselves.

I am looking forward to the next 50 days.  They may set the tone for all that follows.  I am eager to learn how to be a supportive and valued father-in-law to Nathan and Paul.  I am curious to see how Kelsey and Hannah transfer their loyalties to their new husbands and how they build their own homes.  I am interested to see the development of that fine line between being involved and letting them all learn from experience.  I am also happy for Abby to be going off to school and finding new challenges, friends, and life experiences.  Should be a great ride.

Pressing on!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The End is in sight ... or maybe the Beginning

Later this afternoon I will entrust my second daughter to the man of her dreams.  When I pass her hand from mine to his, it will mark yet another sea change in this summer of transitions.  Yet again, it marks the end of one era and the beginning of another.  As Hannah moves from my home to build a home of her own with Paul, things change.  But this change is good.  Very good.

Paul and Hannah will be great for each other--and with each other.  They share enough in common to have a basis for building a life together, but are different enough to find each other interesting.  They each have a deep devotion to Christ and to service.  They each bring strengths from their families of origin to build on--and challenges to avoid.  All in all, the prognosis is very good.

But I confess to a certain sadness.  Hannah is my "connector."  More than the other girls she will call just to say hello and will chat most any time.  She is rarely too busy to get together for a cup of coffee or some Chipotle (especially when I am picking up the tab--probably some things will never change).  I just don't know how that will all change now that she is making her own home with Paul.  It will probably change some, but she will still be Hannah.

Sweet, compassionate, moody, chatty, interested, and not pleased with bugs--those things about her will never change.  What will be different is that her family loyalty is shifting from my household to her own.  What will be different is that in the past 50 days I will have taken on two new sons-in-law.  And after 25 years of all girls, what do I do with that?

My brother is doing most of the  ceremony, so I should be able to keep my composure in check.  Today is going to be a great day!

Pressing on,

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

For Yetbarek, and So Many Others

You heard about Yetbarek.  An idea that is percolating is to do something that I enjoy that can also honor Yetbarek's memory and assist other kids in the situation where he lived and died--a benefit run for Children's HopeChest.  What if we had a 5k on New Years Day (a run I have made as often as reasonably possible) where the bulk of the registration goes to support Children's HopeChest.  We can give out coffee mugs instead of shirts for the participants--a tactile reminder of why they ran--and people who agree to sponsor a kid for a year also will receive a fleece with the kid's name and HopeChest logo embroidered on the front.

An event like this could build awareness (as Karen Wistrom, the local sponsor coordinator is doing such a great job of--see family-from-afar.blogspot.com), as well as raise a bit of cash right away.  I believe that awareness and a concrete ability to respond are crucial.  Most people, when brought face-to-face with a need such as Children's HopeChest represents in Ehtiopia, will be inclined to do something to help.  If we can then give them a readily available outlet for their compassion, it serves everyone well.

Never having staged a race--or anything bigger than a couple of friends getting together to run at the same time, this may take some doing.  So I had better get on it.

Pressing on!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

How Far Do I Need to See?

This morning's 4.2 was in a misty, drippy, light rain. That kind of "environment" feels very good because of no risk of overheating, but it is not the best for glasses. About three miles in it just made more sense to take off the glasses and deal with the near-sightedness. I have worn glasses since the Fifth Grade--and not just because they look so stylish. Without my glasses, I cannot see very well. But how well do I need to see? It depends on what I am doing and what is at stake.

Running in the early morning? Not too much need to see clearly. I don't need to read street signs or anything else. On my morning run all I needed to do was to be able to stay on the path/road and to see cars. At work I need to see much better. Knowing what my email actually says, as well as what I am actually writing as a response is pretty important. Reading a book at night is somewhere in between. Without my glasses, I just need to hold it closer to my face--I can make it work just fine. The problem is, I always want to see clearly, even when it really doesn't matter.

I would like to know what life will look like 3 to 5 to 15 years down the road. I want to know what to expect. I want to know how today's possible decisions will play out into tomorrow's realities. Is this what I need to know? Most of the time not, but I still want to know.

For most things it is probably sufficient to be able to stay on the road and not run into any cars. But I frustrate myself with not feeling like I can tell when I must see clearly and when I will be fine with seeing mostly clearly. How much do I need to know? How much do I need to trust? (Do you sense a little over-thinking going on here?)

For today I will keep my glasses as clear as possible, but this is one that I would like to figure out some day.

Pressing on!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A Guide for the Journey

Today's run around Princeton, New Jersey, reminded me of the value of expert advice. The first half of the 5.4 miles was along the D&R Canal towpath. It was delightful to run along a strip of land between the canal and the river under the canopy of trees in a light rain. After the turnaround (and not wanting to simply retrace my steps) I headed up the hill and though that I would catch the road back to the hotel. Started out as a good idea, but pretty soon the road turned into a curving, twisting, narrow ribbon of asphalt. The narrow lane would have been fine if it was just me, but I had to share the road with the cars and trucks. I looked at a map before I went out, but it would have been good to have been running with someone who knew the course and could alert us to the best course to follow.

Sometimes I think it would have been a great idea to have someone walk along with me during my early journey of faith (and later on for that matter). Someone who had been on the journey and who could have alerted me to better paths to take. Nothing beats experience or having walked the journey. It is also a really good experience to be the veteran.

When we ran and biked the Apple Duathlon a couple of weekends ago it was good to be able to let the others know what to expect at a couple of places on the course. It has been good on my Superior Hiking Trail trips to be the seasoned backpacker. Hopefully I have helped our trips to run more smoothly. At the very least, it has felt good to feel like I had some expertise that could make it a better trip for everyone.

I am afraid that most churches drop the ball when it comes to this process. We know that the essence of what we are describing has usually been called discipleship. But what is that? At the core, it is an apprenticeship in faith. Has a quaint sound to it, doesn't it--apprenticeship. Conjures up images of a young kid at the blacksmith shop or learning some trade at the side of an experienced journeyman. Even that term is pregnant with meaning. A journeyman. One who is further along on the journey to be able to show someone else, usually younger, how to get the job done.

There is a lot we can learn from those who have gone before--or who are further along on the journey than we are. But all too often the apprentice waits for someone else to take the initiative to start the conversation. If you are an "apprentice" looking for a journeyman, go ahead and ask. Who knows, your respected journeyman may say yes. From the journeyman perspective it feels really good to be asked.

My friend Dan once asked me if we could get together on a regular basis to explore our faith journey. That relationship has grown to a deeply valued friendship. If he had not asked, we never would have gotten to where we are today.

So go ahead and ask. It will be good for both of you.

Pressing on!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

A Little Boy Died

Just got word that a little Ethiopian boy that we had sponsored through Kind Hearts (www.hopechest.org) died from a leg infection. A leg infection! He got a cut on his leg and his family thought that he would just get better. A few days later he died en route to the hospital because he had not gotten better and they were finally taking him in. A little boy dead from something that we would just put some antibiotic cream and a Bandaid on and never think twice about.

It would be easy to blame the family for not taking better care--but I do not. It would be easy to blame a government that tolerates living conditions for its people where little boys die of simple cuts--but I do not. It would be easy to blame a God who provides food and shelter for the sparrow, but not for Yetbarek--but I do not. It would be easy to blame someone else--but I cannot. Until I have done everything that I can with what I give and how I invest my time, I cannot blame anyone else. How many kids in Yetbarek's place go without adequate food, shelter, education, or medical care because I want another book or the latest gadget? How many kids go without opportunity or real hope because I am so self-absorbed with making a "good life" for my family and me? How many kids will never know the slightest comfort because of my discontent? How long will I let this continue?

I have long since lost the notion that I can change the world. That used to motivate me, but no longer. I am not strong enough, smart enough, or diligent enough to change the world. But like the guy on the beach throwing the starfish back out into the water, perhaps I can make a difference for one or two. Rather than throw up my arms and blame all of the people and institutions that failed Yetbarek, I will redouble my efforts to do what I can for whomever I can. For me, that will start with finding another kid from Hope Chest. Then we'll see where that leads.

Pressing on--a bit heavy-hearted today,

Monday, May 31, 2010

Home Again

Saturday morning I ran (and biked) the Apple Duathlon with Abby, Hannah, and Paul. It is a familiar race (3.1 run, 21 bike, 3.1 run), but it was an unfamiliar experience. I cannot ever remember my quads cramping--at the same time--and I am certain that I will not willingly repeat the experience. It is the closest that I have come to quitting a race. But I had to remind myself that DLF>DNF>DNS (dead last finisher is greater than did not finish is greater that did not start). And for those who may be wondering, I was not quite DLF.

It was first race in my new age group and I had hoped for better. Lesson learned--don't fly home from India on Friday and try to race on Saturday morning.

What did strike me was how I felt at the singing of the National Anthem before the race. Generally I am a pretty patriotic guy. I actually do sing the National Anthem at events. But there was something about singing on Saturday after having been out of the country for a couple of weeks. I was reminded afresh that despite the challenges we face as the U.S.A., we do live in the greatest country on the planet. The opportunities that most Americans have far outreach what any other country can offer to most of their residents. Education, work, clean air and water, hope ... these are the things that we have in abundance. I know that it is easy to look around sometimes and lament our economic situation or challenges with finding work or getting into the school you want. But we do not have to look long beyond our borders to see a lot of countries who would love to have what we see as problems.

So too with Saturday's run. On Sunday I was feeling all disappointed and sheepish about my result. But the people I talked with at church and at a gathering in the afternoon didn't care about the "miserable" race, they just thought it was amazing that a guy like me could still do such a thing. So much, I suppose, is a matter of perspective.

Pressing On!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Tombs and Remembering

This morning I went with some of my work colleagues to see some sights around Delhi. Qutb Minar and Humayun's Tomb were the focus of our morning. The Qutb Minar complex is a World Heritage site that includes a couple of Qutbs (towers) and a number of tombs. The Humayan's Tomb complex is dominated by, ... well, the tomb of Humayan. All of the tombs were impressive structures built in and around the 1500's. Their upkeep and restoration over time must have taken an extraordinary amount of people, time, and money. And for what?

Frequent readers of this blog will find this theme familiar--why do we, as humans, feel this need to leave a legacy or be remembered by generations that follow? And perhaps the more important question--are my life and legacy worth remembering? I am becoming more convinced than ever that every person builds a "kingdom." We either build our own kingdom, another person's kingdom, or God's kingdom. Parents often build their childrens' kingdoms. Spouses often build each others' kingdoms. And, of course, we most often build our own kingdom. The person who truly builds God's kingdom is rare--mostly because such a kingdom-building focus is contrary to every cultural message.

Some cultural philosophies, such as consumerism, promote building our own kingdom. Many other philosophies urge self-sacrifice and unselfishness, which leads to build the kingdoms of other people, like our children. It is only a faith-based philosophy that call us to build God's kingdom first and foremost. Now this does not mean that we do not care for our children and parents and friends--or that we do not take care of ourselves--but it means that our priorities, efforts, interests, and mindset should reflect God's desires.

The question, "what would Jesus do?" almost became trite from overuse, biut it is still a valuable question to ask. In a given circumstance, what would Jesus do? With a certain decision, how would Jesus approach the choice In a particular conversation, what would Jesus say? Living by these answers will result in building God's kingdom. And a life spent building God's kingdom will be a life worth remembering.

That much is the easy part. Now comes figuring out what it means in 21st century life to build God's kingdom. Food for thought.

Press On!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Just Because You Can ...

This trip has been my first experience with the electronic book--the Amazon Kindle. For this trip, it has been great. I cannot imagine how much my suitcase would weigh if I had to bring enough books to last for a three week trip to the other side of the world. But the booksellers association need not fear that I will completely abandon them. The Kindle is convenient and space-smart and "gadget cool," but it will never fully replace paper for me. Don't get me wrong, the Kindle was a gift on my recent birthday and I am grateful. It will just not be my only source of reading material in the future.

I am not among those who see devices like the Kindle as the end of books, magazines, and newspapers. If the internet did not kill all of these "old" media, then an electronic book will not either. There will always be enough people who will remember the hefty weight of a classic; who will never want to fall asleep under War and Peace; who enjoy the tactile experience of turning pages.

Certainly there are attractions to electronic media, but just because we could go the route of making all media electronic in form, doesn't mean that we should. Sometimes we tend to feel like any advance--technological or otherwise--is a good advance that should be pursued. But I wonder whether we would be better off putting some advances on hold. I read a story recently about a family who would eat supper each night by candlelight. Not for ambiance, but in order to force a slowing down of life.

Here in India there is certainly plenty of hustle and bustle. With more than a billion people in your country, it goes without saying. I am surrounded by all of this activity, but it is such a relief to go back to the hotel room and sit in the peace and quiet--and just sit still. I cannot help but wonder whether I can bring some of that peace back to daily life at home. In the midst of the hustle and bustle of graduation and wedding and off-to-college, I feel like I must find some time to slow down.

I think that it will come down to a choice--just because I can have a life filled with hustle and bustle, do I need to choose to live that way? Or is there a better way?

Pressing On!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Like, yet not like

Yesterday's travels took me over Germany, Poland, Ukraine, Russia, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and finally into India. From 33,000 feet, most of those countries look like flying over Kansas or Nebraska (until the desert parts--which sort of looked like the Nebraska sand hills). And once it became dark, Lahore, Pakistan looked like any mid-sized American city. This morning I attended the Delhi International Christian Fellowship with a colleague from work. I met people from many different countries, but we were all able to worship the same God at the same time in the same room--with a BGC lead pastor who is from Minneapolis.

At the same time, the differences are so easy to see. I walked around a bit this afternoon in a mall close to where I am staying and I understood very little of what was being said around me. Some of the products in the stores I recognized, but most of the names were unfamiliar. And the traffic. Reminds me of the Philippines with all sorts of vehicles operating in a seeming disorderly hodgepodge of cylinders. Yet most of the time everyone gets where they are going without incident.

I wonder how much of getting along with people is a matter of choosing to see more of the similarities than the differences? I am not so naive as to think that this is the answer to all of the world's problems, but if we were to make more consistent and deeper attempts to see life through the eyes of the other, I wonder if we would see ourselves as more alike after all.

Pressing On!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The High Ground

Here in the Bailiwick of Jersey (an island in the English Channel) I am looking out my hotel window at Fort Regent--a Napoleonic fort located on what looks to be the highest point of the island. So, of course, I wanted to run up to the fort. Jersey is roughly rectangular in shape (9 miles long and 5 high) and St. Helier, the town where I am staying, is in the lower right hand corner of Jersey.

Today's run, after a long day of meetings, took me up the center of the island about halfway, then out to the eastern coast. Running down the east coast brought me to the foot of South Hill, which is where Fort Regent is located. I am reminded that we really do not have hills in Minnesota. The climb up South Hill was steep and even had several sets of stairs. But the view from the top--WOW!

From the gun emplacement I found, a commander could control the entire eastern and southern approaches to the island. Not only that, but I could see France on the horizon. The view of the harbor and two major bays was spectacular. A person could drive close to the top, but by running, I felt that I earned the eye candy.

The run along the waterfront here the other day was magnificent, but there is something even better about being on the heights and looking out over the entire area--but it is not without a cost. Running along the waterfront was relatively easy--no real ups or downs. But running to the top of South Hill was all ups and downs.

Ascending the heights--whether physical or spiritual--requires an extra investment of energy. We may do "okay" with the regular amount of attention and energy, but "exceptional" requires that extra effort. And why settle for okay when exceptional is within reach for those who will expend the effort? Why not pursue the view from the fort? Is it hard work? Yes. Is it more tiring than running along the beach? Yes. Is the view utterly amazing? YES!

If we may be able to accomplish extraordinary things for God, why settle for the regular and ordinary? At the same time, it would be unreasonable to expect God to do amazing things through us if we are only willing to put in "regular" effort and time. Which will it be, the beach or the heights?

Pressing On!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Negative Splits

When you run the second half of a race or a run faster than the first half, we call that "negative splits." I generally run negative splits because it takes a while to get warmed up or because when I finish the first half of the run, I know that I have the juice to speed up the rest of the way. Today's trail run was no exception.

Since it was my birthday, I wanted to do something that I wanted to do--so I went out to our local state park, Lake Maria, to run the trails. 5.5 miles on the road is nothing like 5.5 miles on the trails--except that it is 5.5 miles. On the road I really don't have to pay too much attention. On the trails, if I am not attentive I will be eating dirt. On the road I rarely have to consider which way to go. On the Lake Maria trail network, I have to think about which trail ends up where or I could be out there all night. On the road the ups and downs are gradual. On the trails I am reminded that not all of central Minnesota is flat.

While I was running I spent some time reflecting on life. Turning 50 is supposed to be some kind of milestone, so I did not want to let the day pass without some serious contemplation. This thought process is not complete, but the start has been intriguing. I figure that I have now lived 30 more-or-less adult years. Also, absent some crisis, another 30 adult years may not be an unreasonable planning horizon. What I hear from people who have gone before me is that life is lived in negative splits--the second half goes more quickly than the first. If so, in order to maximize the effect and value of the second half will require a much more focused approach.

I think that a place to begin is to answer the question, "What have I accomplished in the first half?" I should tackle this from several perspectives--family, faith, work, mental, physical, friendships--and be thorough. Usually I tend to shortchange what I have accomplished, but this is not the time for false modesty. It is time to assess carefully what I have done and become. Only then can I chart a course for the next 30 years that will fill in the gaps or focus on the things that are emerging as more crucial. Mentoring, for example.

I may have taught a lot of classes and preached a lot of sermons, but my personal investment in the faith and leadership development of individuals in the next generation is something that I would see as a deficiency. This is not something that I can afford to be "too busy" to do. I am not sure what I have to offer, or who might be interested, but maybe I can find someone who will be willing to jump off the cliff with me (into the clear, refreshing pool of water under the Sugar Creek bridge).

One thing that I have learned when running negative splits is that the second half of the run requires more attention than the first. To run the second half faster than the first means that I need to pay attention and run a steady, but increasing pace. There is no room for wasted motion or charging up hills like a banshee. It may not look impressive to the spectators, but I know what it takes to make the second half faster.

If indeed the second half of my adult life does go faster than the first, I will need to be every bit as attentive to keeping a steady pace and not wasting time or energy. The pull to slow down and coast is ever present, but that pull must be fought and defeated.

What will it take to run the next 30 years better than the last 30? I am not sure what the answers will be. But I know that the second half needs to begin with asking the searching questions of mission, focus, and life purpose. Bring 'em on!

Pressing On,

P.S. The wedding was beautiful and I have never seen the bride happier in her entire life--a good start!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Economic Realities

This week some of our friends and neighbors lost their house. It came as a surprise to me when they came over on Monday to tell me that they had moved out over the weekend. We have been neighbors for 12 years and my kids babysat their kids. We shared many a chat over the backyards and have shoveled more neighborhood driveways together than I would care to count. And now their house stands as a silent sentinel to dashed hopes and dreams, as well as the current economic realities.

More than the shock that the foreclosure crisis has reared its ugly head on the street where I live--and with good, solid, hard-working people--is the shock that I knew nothing of their distress. I don't know what I could have done, but I feel like there must have been something. Even if it would have been to let our friends know that they did not need to face this crisis alone.

Now it makes me wonder how many other people I know who look just fine on the outside, but are experiencing gut-wrenching hardships beneath the surface. I fully understand the whole, "I will take care of it myself" mindset. In part because I would probably be my neighbor--no one would know about the difficulty until it was a done deal. Self-disclosure, particularly of things that smack of failure to me, just doesn't happen. Some would say that I am missing the opportunity for support from those who care. I do not disagree, but I suppose that I am not yet convinced that it is worth the personal price.

Something makes me think that the early church would not have been caught unawares. Not that they were perfect, but that they were invested and involved with each other that a world-shaking crisis would not pass under the collective radar. I both want and need that kind of friendship. My current small group (the best in the universe) may be the environment for that kind of friendship. It sure feels like it has more promise than I have ever felt before. We seem to be able to be open and candid with each other about things that matter--the good and the difficult. The group is a breath of fresh air and I will miss them while I am in foreign lands the next few weeks.

I should let my group know how important they are becoming to me--and perhaps that will be another step toward real community.

Pressing On!