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Weekly Thoughts

The intersection of work, life, sport and spirituality.

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Suffering

Headlamps in the Forest

Exhausted, tired and barely moving, I called again into the blackness of the night, “how much further do we have?

Somewhere in the darkness my pacer’s voice responded, “I don’t know. Another mile or two to the next aid station?

A deep sigh escaped from my mouth, a puff of steam rose into the cold atmosphere, reflecting off my headlamp’s illumination of the forest floor.

I had run for close to 15 hours and the sun had gone down over an hour ago. My legs had already climbed over 13,000 feet over mountain passes and valleys. In addition to the fire which took over where my quads used to be, the mental and physical exhaustion was getting the best of me.

Just get to the next aid station,” became my mantra.

What felt like a year later, we arrived at a small table set up in the middle of nowhere that was set up for a feast. Hot ramen soup, potatoes, watermelon, candy and soda were set out buffet style just for us. We hadn’t seen another runner for at least an hour and I was happy to see some new faces.

What can we get you? You’re doing great!” the aid station volunteers graciously said. “Just keep going, you are almost there!

Grabbing some warm potatoes, my pacer and I were off again with one more aid station between me and the 65-mile finish line.

These moments are the moments that define us.

I find it somewhat ironic that I will go out and punish myself in an ultramarathon or endurance event, but when life gets tough, I feel like quitting or taking an easier road down.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. One friend of mine told me that in life we don’t necessarily ‘choose’ to run a tough course the same way we do in a race. The difficulty often comes in the form of other people, a surprise situation, or things outside our control. Nevertheless, the difficulty inevitably comes and we must keep moving forward.

I pushed back a little on this idea that we don’t have any control over life. Just like racing, even though the pain is real, we can respond negatively and quit or we can focus on shorter goals and keep moving. The point here is that we have a choice in how we RESPOND and what we FOCUS ON.

I’m currently in a season of life where I feel like I’m just focused on the next aid station, but I’m embracing that idea. How can I grow through this segment of my life journey? How can I embrace both the beauty and the hardship around me and make some forward progress. While the night sky may be dark, headlamps in the trees create a whole new landscape that many never get to see. Fears can equally give birth to excitement and thrill. We need to decide where to spend our mental energy.

The one thing I’m sure of through all this is that I WILL make a positive impact in my community and give birth to positivity as often as possible. One aid station at a time I’ll move closer to that finish line.

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Killing the Cardboard Jacket

Do you ever sit back and wonder when life became so complicated? Like when you start to analyze the web that has become our lives and start to pull apart the strands only to realize that there are knots you can’t untie? Our jobs, our time, our spirituality, physical activity and our diets feel like a complicated mess that roll us up and weigh us down.

Life was so much simpler when we were younger. My 4 ½ year old can easily find “solutions” to the biggest messes. It was cold out, and he told my wife that they should just cut up some cardboard boxes and wear them as jackets to stay warm. “We have coats,” she replied. “I know mommy, but it would just be WAY easier for us to cut up some boxes.

The simplicity of streamlining ideas migrates into our early careers. Solving problems is as easy as taking that textbook answer on process we learned in college and applying it overnight in the company we just started working for. “What do you mean there are 5 decision makers I need to sell this idea on to change the current process? Can’t you see how good my idea is?!

2016 was another hard year on me. God spent a lot of time showing me how my simple ideas and youthful thinking didn’t always translate into reality. This applied to my relationships, my work, and my overall thoughts on life. My pride was put in check on a continuous basis as I tried things that had always worked in the past and I was greeted with failure.

I am learning to trust His path but it’s not all that simple. While life is incredibly complex, this year I am choosing to make an effort to let God’s will be done, AND stay content in that plan. Hopefully every now and then He’ll just smile when I want to cut up a cardboard box and put it on as a jacket.


Romans 6:1-4
What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life

The Pain of OK

It was a little over a year ago when I saw my first bald eagle. It soared high above our car in Ohio as we drove to the hospital for Micah’s birth. I don’t know why I am so enamored with those birds, but they are one of the most amazing things to gaze at. Powerful and beautiful birds.

After that sighting I called my parents to tell them how cool it was to see such an amazing bird. My mom then told me a story about her own bald eagle sighting, and how she felt it was God telling her everything in her life at that moment would be OK. See the blog here: http://wp.me/pNxG9-4T

This week has been a tough week for many people very close to me. I had a friend call me on Monday to tell me his daughter had passed away. My mother emailed me on Tuesday to let me know that the doctors would have to do more cancer testing and her blood work was alarming. On Wednesday I got news that a company I had previously worked  hard to build  was rashly sold and was falling apart at the seams. To top it all off, another friend of mine called Wednesday to let me know he was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and he asked me to pray.

My heart is breaking in two for the pain and suffering that is infecting those close to me.

So I pray.

photoOn a ride today at lunch I cruised towards the foothills that surround my office. With heaviness on my heart for the pain that I can’t take away I rolled up on a bald eagle. Standing stoically next to a lake the large bird just looked at me. “Somehow it will all be OK”

I don’t know how it will be OK. I don’t know if it will be in this life or the next, but it will be OK. That’s the promise God has given us. The one thing I have learned through this life is that being OK is not absent of pain. That’s a hard truth to come to terms with, but through the painful moments we appreciate the joyful moments that much more.

To all my friends in this life, whether you are in an easy or difficult place, know that God is there to support you. While he sometimes soars above us looking out, sometimes he lands next to the lake at our level to show us he cares and is still there. He is our bald eagle.

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Matthew 5:4

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

 

Brotherly Love

Many people don’t know that I have a brother. Living out in California, I am a long way from Colorado where I grew up and I am not surrounded with family. I feel that Julie and I live on our own little island at times full of palm trees, sand and surf. Our semi-annual trips back to the homeland are our only chances to interact in person with some of the people we love the most. The rest of the time, we send an occasional e-mail, talk on the phone, or use social media as our platform for feeling more connected to each other.

My brother falls in the category of immediate but distant family. He is younger than I am and lives back in Colorado where we grew up. We typically got along as children although we were very different as people. Our interests outside of watching the Star Wars Trilogy over and over again were almost never the same. Although we never really connected on the same level, I rarely remember fighting as children. I think in some ways, we distanced ourselves in an effort to define our own unique identities as brothers often do.

Time has passed and now that we have grown older, I feel a deep regret for not strengthening that relationship with by brother. We had a disagreement over e-mail recently that made me realize that the divide was much bigger than I ever knew. I realized for the first time that he did not respect me as an older brother. He had been hurt by things I had said in the past that I had long forgotten. He was bitter for a number of justified reasons and none of them were reasons I could reconcile. Here I was upset at a current situation, and I was in no position to give advice no matter how valid the concern.

Could I be so surprised? In 32 years of his life, I had not invested the time that it takes to build a true relationship. I had been a pacifist in both friendship and in accountability.

How many times to we do the same thing in our spiritual lives? We go through the motions but never really connect. We go to church on Sunday, and then expect God to be our best friend when we get in some sort of situation. We never really took the time to build the relationship, but we assumed that we were still pals with God.

I’ve been thinking this past week about my host of regret. What I should and should not have done growing up. I realize that every seed we plant in life eventually grows into something. Even sometimes the lack of seeds we plant. Words of encouragement grow into strength, while neglect and insult lead to death. This applies to every relationship on Earth as well as heaven.

While I can’t go back and change the past, I can look towards the future with this perspective. While I know I’m not going to get along with everyone, I do know that I can offer a word of encouragement to each person I come in contact with. It doesn’t always just ‘start’ with the little things, sometimes it ‘is’ the little things.

As I continue to grow older, my family and friends are all I have, and I need to make sure the people around me know this is what I value the most. I hope that someday, I will earn the respect of my brother, but for now I will settle knowing that I have learned a valuable lesson in life about planting the right seeds. Planting those seeds takes effort.

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1 John 3:16-18 (NIV)
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

 

The Twister

I recently read a blog from a friend of mine that took his son to the amusement park. His son was finally tall enough to ride on the roller coasters, and he could not wait to show his son the ‘roller coaster’ ropes. His anticipation as a father to watch his son’s reaction to the terrifying drops, fast twists and turns, and the thrill of the ride brought to life the memories of his own first roller coaster experience. Hopping on the first ride, his son gripped the cross-bar extra tight and clinched up in unknown expectations.

Click-click-click…they ascended their first climb.

The post made me think back to my own experience as a child on my first roller coaster. The wooden coaster in Denver called The Twister was the one that initiated me into the roller coaster world. Hopping into the cart I scooted next to my father and braced myself for action. Click-click-click…..

I think I may have peed my pants that day. My dad was next to me laughing and yelling with both his hands in the air, and I was clinching the metal bar in front of me crying for dear life.  I was pretty sure this would be the one ride where the cart flew from the track and I’d be done for.

The cart twisted through tunnels, climbed to new heights, and meandered on the wooden tracks like a red rider wagon going downhill without brakes. We came around a bend and suddenly in front of us was the staging platform and the train came to a stop.

With a smile on his face, I was positive that my father had officially lost his marbles, along with the other 200 people waiting in line to ride this thing. After I peeled my hands from the metal railing, I stumbled toward the exit, more terrified than I had been to start with. These people were crazy.

Well, after some time, I grew to love roller coasters. I realized that sometimes to experience great things in life, you have to let go of your natural control mechanisms and have faith that we will survive the ordeal.

The last several weeks of my life have literally been a roller coaster. I have had the biggest ups and downs of my life so far and have questioned God’s purpose in taking me on the coaster to begin with. Just like I was as a kid on my first coaster ride, I have been terrified of the next bend but hopeful that everything will be OK and we will reach the staging platform in one piece.

My friend’s blog was so timely as I thought about my current situation. I am once again the child, and God is taking me down the track. I must have faith that the track is there, and that the experience will be one that I look back on and say ‘knowing what I know now, I’d do it again in a second’. I guess that’s the meaning of faith, and sometimes you just gotta throw up your hands and scream.
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Romans 8:28
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who[a] have been called according to his purpose.

Take off your shoes

Although I love to read, I don’t have the opportunity to read as many books as I would like. That probably leads to the excitement and enthusiasm I get every time I actually have the opportunity to sit down and read a book. For a good month or so after reading a new book, I am all excited to carry out ideas or things that I have learned or been inspired by.

A couple of months ago, I went through a book titled Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. It was a great book about a tribe of Indians living in the Copper Canyons of Mexico whose entire culture was built around running. For thousands of years they had run, sometimes ultra long 100-mile journeys between villages to socialize with other tribes. Christopher went down to the Copper Canyons to discover their secrets of running, and learn more about their culture. It was a fascinating book and one that I really enjoyed.

One component of the book discussed the mystery of how tribal members would run well into their 80’s with no major injuries to speak of. They would run across rough terrain in nothing but sandals or barefoot, and not suffer the typical knee and hip injuries that American runners face regularly. To make a long story short, Christopher makes a thesis that the majority of our running injuries are due to the running shoes we wear, and how they have promoted poor running form. He goes into considerable scientific research on how the cushioned shoes we wear have made our feet lazy, and casted our feet to hit the ground poorly.

Once again, I read a book and I was inspired. My wife listened to me and rolled her eyes as I told her I wanted to run an ultra 100-mile endurance run in barefeet through the Copper Canyons. 

Due to a heavy bike racing season, I had not run in over 8-months, and I was itching to get back out there and go for a run. I was the perfect test subject for this barefoot running thing. I didn’t have any running races to train for, I had no intention of pushing my pace, and I had the patience it would take to retrain my body to run barefoot. I went out and bought a pair of shoes that would do nothing more than protect my barefeet from glass on the road. I dusted off the running gear and decided to hit the road like the Copper Canyon Indians.

I went on a ‘short’ 4 mile run to try the new technique. “Just a short four miles,” I thought.

As I limped home, my calves felt a sore burn that would last for a week. Running barefoot taxes your calves as they act as your natural shock absorbers against the road. My shock absorbers were spent. This new running thing was going to take a lot more time than I thought.

I dialed back my enthusiasm, did some more research, and started to run shorter distances until my legs built up the strength. Surprisingly enough, the typical running pain that I was used to in terms of sore knees, hips, groin and upper body was non-existent. My legs were getting stronger with every run. I loved how liberating it was to be more connected to the ground and the surface I was running on. Even the actual movement of running felt easier than before. I can’t say that I am a crazy disciple of the barefoot running movement yet, but through some trial, effort, and education, I am really enjoying the new element to my athletic life.

I was reflecting on this the other day, and thought how similar barefoot running is to our spiritual journey. God designed us a certain way. He designed us to love Him, to be connected to other believers, to love others and to live a disciplined life. We have done everything we can as people to ‘cushion’ our lives. We hide behind money, behind hobbies and activities, and come up with every excuse we can to avoid responsibility. “I don’t need to go to church because…, I don’t have time for the homeless because…, I am a good enough person and that’s enough because…” We put shoes on and go for our run through life and pray that it won’t hurt too much. In the process, we are often masking our inefficiency and weakness, and actually bringing pain to other areas of our lives.

What we really need is a little disciplined form work to strengthen our spirits, minds and bodies. Form work that requires us to step back, get back to the basics and spend the time to start doing it right. Sometimes the high road takes a little more effort and pain, but at the end of the day you will be much stronger, suffer less injury, and be much more connected to the world we are in. Take off your shoes…

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John 15:1-4
I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.  He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

Paying Attention

I hate being sick. If catching the seasonal head cold isn’t bad enough, having to stay at home all day curled up drinking green tea and watching daytime TV is enough to make anyone go mad. One thing for sure, I have plenty of motivation to get back to work after channel surfing for 18 hours.

Posting my self-loathing sickness status update on Facebook, I had a number of friends write comments back to me ranging from ‘get well soon’ to ‘hey, don’t forget Oprah comes on at 4’. Gotta love my friends.

Sitting there bored with nothing better to do, I thought I’d flip the channel to Oprah, take a photo with my phone of the TV and text it to my buddy to let him know his girlfriend was on. Everything went according to plan, except my plans to flip the channel back to the other less-than-engaging show I was watching. Oprah had me roped in.

Now I have never in my life watched an episode of Oprah all the way through, but there are firsts for everything. Oprah had a show on vegan diets, where our meat comes from, and the health benefits of eating vegan. It was fascinating to see the process that our food goes through before it gets to your table. Humans consume over 9 billion animals a year and seldom do we ask the questions where our food comes from or what we are putting in our bodies.

Now I was not shocked by the process of butchering cattle, nor was it inhumane enough for me to swear it off as evil, but it was eye-opening to observe it on camera. Cattle are raised like crops, harvested like crops and eventually they get to your table.

There was a lady on the show who had written a book about being a vegan that was the ‘expert’ on the topic. I thought it ironic that she was not a nutritionist, but a proclaimed ‘lover of animals’ wanting to live in harmony with all life forms (except plants of course). Various people on the show took a challenge to eat vegan for a week and most felt better physically after the week was done.

OK I’m a cynic.

As an athlete, I hear about every sort of diet you can imagine and how they are all good for you somehow. All natural, gluten-free, no meat, all meat, vegetarian, vegan, low-fat, high-fat, low sugar, etc. What I don’t think people often realize is that the one thing in common with all diets is that people are PAYING ATTENTION to what they are eating. When you are paying attention, you typically consume less bad stuff and more good stuff. You don’t eat as much and you feel better.

Oprah brought up the needed realization of where our food comes from. As believers, our food that we live on should come from a spiritual source. When we stop paying attention to the source of our food, we start living in the world, worrying with the world, and we get tangled up in the world’s drama. When we are living according to a higher purpose, we are getting our food, our advice, and our power to live from a place that allows us to rise above it all. The key to it all is once again PAYING ATTENTION to what we are eating.

Am I eating too much TV, talking too much gossip, and spending too much time listening to negative people? Or am I eating up the promises and love that God has given us through his word and relationships with others. Am I taking nutrition advice from human sources and not listening to God Himself?

I do know that when I am PAYING ATTENTION I feel better. And man, I love feeling better….

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PSALM 121:1-2
I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
   where does my help come from?
My help comes from the LORD,
   the Maker of heaven and earth.

Broken

You are my rock.

Lately I have felt like I am swimming upstream in the river of life. I have been searching for something stable to reach out to. I see the rock and reach out and grab it. Water is gushing on all sides and through the splash I am able to hold on to the only stable thing that keeps me from drowning.

You are my rock.

I am getting eaten alive with responsibility and chaos. The forces of evil are attacking my mind with a fever. I feel like retreating into a cave of isolation to try and get a grip on things. I see the rock and it is standing stoically as an anchor of hope. I try to rise out of the chaos that plagues my thoughts.

You are my rock.

Why do I have such a hard time with all of this? Why do I subject myself to this world of misdirection and hurt? Why can’t I just swim out of this river and sit on the rock above it all? Shouldn’t that be easy? Can’t I just be a good Christian and not worry about it all? Why do I sit here and judge others and engage in the gossip? Why am I so broken?

You are my rock.

I am broken and only You can help. I know that. Yet I choose a life of chaos. I am never home long enough to close my eyes and think of You. I fill my schedule with things that will never be remembered once I leave this world. What can I do to bring meaning? I hope I bring joy into this world, but sometimes I don’t know. Am I self-absorbed? Broken.

You are my rock.

I sincerely hope I can put it all aside Lord, and find rest in You. I am swimming in a sea of carnality. I am holding onto you, but letting the world toss me around. Pull me out God. Help me see the truth in all of this.

Pull me onto the rock.

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2 Samuel 22:3
My God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation. He is my stronghold, my refuge and my savior–from violent men you save me

Focus…

This past weekend marked the sixth year in a row my wife and I have participated in the BikeMS Chairity bike ride. The benefit ride takes place over two days where participants cover 100-150 miles and help raise money to fund MS research.

This year, we elected to do the 150 mile option which consisted of a 107 mile ride on Saturday and a 43 mile ride on Sunday. This is the third time we have completed this particular course, so we somewhat knew what to expect going in to the event. Our training had not been as consistent as we would have liked, but we did feel that our riding base was sufficient enough to tackle the challenge.

Many people ask me what the most important aspects of training are before an event like this. I generally tell them, apart from spending time on your bicycle, the second most important aspect is nutrition/hydration. Without proper fueling at the beginning of the ride, you will most likely hit a wall and be unable to take in the calories you need to catch up later in the ride. Following up on last week’s post about consistency, the principles of eating and drinking regularly apply here as well.

Things were going pretty well for the majority of the ride on day one. Despite the inevitable muscle fatigue, I felt pretty well and was eating/drinking to stay fueled. We had made the turn onto the coast to finish the last several miles and I worked my way towards the front to take a pull and help the pack down the home stretch.

Into a head wind…

My legs started to die. I had no more strength after about 15 minutes on the front of the group and I dropped back in the pack to try and get a draft and recover. This is when I saw another one of our teammates struggling worse than I was. Tears were running out from underneath her sunglasses, a sign that she was in agony, just trying to finish.

My wife looked at me and we both took charge to help our teammate. Julie got in front of her to shelter the wind from the front, and I rode beside her to shelter her from the side wind. We made it our mission to help her finish.

A funny thing happens when you switch your focus from the pain you are feeling to help others that are in pain. While the aches are still there, you tend to not feel them as much. For the last five miles of the ride, I didn’t think about my own struggles but instead I worked hard to support my hurting teammate and help her reach the finish line.

Afterwards my wife and I talked about how much pain we were in before taking on the task of helping out our friend. We both agreed that perhaps the third most important aspect to finishing a ride like that is friendship. Without the support of those around you, the pain may just get the better of you.

What in your life hurts right now? Are you fueling up with God’s Word when the miles seem easy? Are you training your body and mind to be more Christlike? Are you connected to a body of believers that will get you to the finish line? Are you so focused on your own pain that you fail to see the pain in the people around you?

Where is your focus?

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1 Timothy 4:7-13
…train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.

This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance (and for this we labor and strive), that we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe.

Command and teach these things. Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching.

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