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Be an Athlete- Part Two

Last week I posted about the identity we have as people and as Christians. The identity we embrace drives everything from the clothes we wear to the things we think about daily.

Sticking with the same theme I had from last week about being an athlete, I wanted to draw 10 parallels from being an athlete that help describe a successful Christian walk as I see it. I know this stuff sounds pretty basic, but I feel like I always have to go back to the basics.

  1. Know the goal. If you don’t know what you are training for, you are lost. You can’t have a plan. You won’t be able to define success. Do you have written/specified goals in your Christian walk? How do you know you are achieving them?
    [Philippians 3:14: I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.]
  2. Be disciplined about training. I know this is a hard one at times. There are days when I don’t feel like going on a run. Sometimes these days bleed into weeks of inactivity and complacent activity. I always tell myself that even a little bit of exercise beats nothing at all. Best cut the time short but still go out. This applies to devotional time, prayer and bible reading. What training have you done today?
    [1 Corinthians 9:25; Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.]
  3. Help others succeed. Even as competitive people, the sooner we realize that this life is not about us, the fuller our lives will become. There is nothing I enjoy more than watching a friend get hooked on a sport and succeed due to a seed I planted and nurtured.
    [1 Thessalonians 5:11; Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing]
  4. Eat. Nutrition is often considered the 4th leg of triathlon. The body needs food and water to keep going. What food and water are you taking in? If it’s been weeks since your last visit to church or in the fellowship of other Christians you are probably dehydrated and will likely bonk.
    [John 6:35; Jesus said to them, I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.]
  5. Sleep. When my sleep starts suffering, everything suffers. My work performance all the way down to my ability to run. It is great to keep pushing, but there are times we need to rest in Christ and recover. This may be as simple as waiting on the Lord.
    [Psalm 127:2; It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.]
  6. Celebrate the victories. Nothing is more awesome than a success at a race or a new milestone hit in training! Throw a party and testify about the great things God is doing in your life.
    [Psalm 150:1-6; Praise the Lord! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens! Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his excellent greatness! Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp! Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe! Praise him with sounding cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals!]
  7. Learn from the failures. We all stumble. It’s failure to learn from those mistakes that will destroy our strength. When we fall down and get back up, we will be stronger than we thought possible.
    [2 Corinthians 12:9-10; My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.]
  8. Read. By reading about others successes and failures, we can be stronger athletes and shortcut an otherwise long learning curve. The Bible is full of these stories and guidance for living. How much are you reading?
    [2 Peter 3:18; But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ…]
  9. Be humble. I find that the longer I participate in a sport, the more prideful I can become about my knowledge and experience. This can lead to being a person that can’t learn new things. The best athletes admit and work on their weaknesses and understand that they can  learn things– even from new athletes.
    [Psalm 25:9;l He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.]
  10. Don’t quit. Keep moving when the race gets so hard you want to quit. This is the hardest thing to do. There is rarely a race when I don’t feel like throwing up or quitting in the middle. There are highs and lows. This is so much like life. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other and focus on the goal line. You will finish, but you must keep moving.  [Hebrews 12:1-2; Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.]

Hoping this brings some good things to your week. Thanks for being my fellow athletes.

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Be an Athlete

This past weekend I traveled back up to Leadville for another race. The trail marathon at Leadville takes runners over 26 miles of some of the most beautiful and challenging terrain one can imagine. The old mining town based at 10,000 feet above sea level hosts some of the world’s best athletes each summer for their race series.

One thing I love about trail racing is the eclectic cast of runners at the races. You will see everything from the Boston-marathon looking runners in short shorts to the bearded Forest Gump-looking barefoot runners. It’s a great mix of people all there for one goal, and that is to hopefully cross the finish line. Close to 6,000 feet of vertical climbing and a trip up the 13,000 foot summit of Mosquito Pass makes it a daunting challenge.

As I was lined up at the start line looking at all the other athletes, I kept coming back to the idea of ‘identity’. All the runners were unique, yet we were all runners.

I had the pleasure of attending a small group bible study last week that a friend of mine hosts at his office. The topic of the week was ‘identity’ and the identity we have in Christ. While we are all unique as believers, we have a new identity in Christ that binds us all together. The key is for us to start living out that identity and believing it.

For the longest time, I didn’t consider myself a true athlete even with all the races I did. Even though I trained, studied and put in the work, I didn’t think I was qualified to be called an ‘athlete’ because I was finishing races outside of the top 10, or because I didn’t train as hard as the pros. I was in the car several weeks ago, and I was talking to my wife about how I was more of a ‘hobbiest’ than an ‘athlete’ and she called me out. “You are one heck of an athlete, babe. You are pretty amazing at your sports. Don’t sell yourself short.”

Lining up at the start line in Leadville, I had the realization that I was indeed an athlete.  I also started to think about my identity as a Christian. I am hardly qualified half of the time to take on that identity, and I feel pretty imperfect most of the time. I don’t train as hard as I should, there are others faster and more knowledgeable than me, and I go through seasons of doubt. This is the amazing news though- Grace. It’s not about how hard I work, or how perfect or imperfect I am. All I have to do is just admit the fact that I can’t do it on my own and I need Him.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.“- Ephesians 2:8-9

As believers, we are all athletes in this race together. We all have all prepared for the race a little differently, but we are here to encourage each other, share some training tips and pick each other up when we fall down. Hopefully, we can all finish the race strong. It is time to embrace our identity and start living it.

 

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“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.” – 1 Corinthians 9:24

Mountain Waves

God is good. Even when things feel bad. It never ceases to amaze me what an ocean this life is. The rising tide feels like it is going to drown us at times and then the season changes and the sunset turns the water into liquid gold, showering us with warmth. My life has felt like a boat on the sea these past two years. I find myself internalizing things a bit more. Falling deep into my meditative void that stops making sense after a while.

The past couple of years have had me questioning God’s plan for us here in Colorado. I miss our life in San Diego. We had tons of friends. Between Julie and I, we made enough money to live comfortably and enjoy life. While God continues to provide for us here, it feels like we are barely scraping together enough to pay the bills at times. Our network of friends is gone and I feel like there are days when I pretend to be happy when inside I am growing increasingly bitter about our situation.

Then the tide changes. I wake up in the morning and see a sky full of fire lit clouds reflect their glory on the expansive mountains. I take a sip of my coffee, breathe in the clean crisp air, and stretch out my arms towards the sky. I look back on my house with 1,000 bikes in the garage and see my son waving goodbye to me so I can head into the office. My wife smiles. At lunch I put on my running shoes and head up into the unpopulated mountain trails for a run. I see a few deer eating grass as a cruise by. I am at peace and blessed.

Why is it so difficult to be happy at times and then wake up the next day totally at rest? God, why is it so hard to trust that You have a plan in all of this?

We recently found a church to attend that is helping me hit the reset button. Another group of messy people just like me. Doubts, imperfection and brokenness all made whole by the grace of Jesus. “We are a church that welcomes home prodigals,” the pastor says. “You are welcome here, and we are a place of love.”

This experience in Colorado has me believing that God does not wants his people to be comfortable. Being comfortable leads to being complacent. I see it in my past life in San Diego. When the weather is always perfect, the days run into months and run into years and it is harder to see the big picture in front of us. Seasons create a state of constant change, and force you to adapt—and move….

Faith.

God is working on me there. Looking back on my life, there is no reason to believe that God doesn’t know what He is doing in my life. I need to roll with it like a surfer sitting out past the breaks. I know my divine wave will come and I will paddle hard. I’ll connect with it, stand up and experience pure ecstasy as I ride towards shore –or- I’ll fall down and swallow some water and paddle back out. One thing I do know is that there is a plan, but for now I need to connect with this moment and KNOW that God is with me and have faith that right here and now is where He wants me to be.

God is good.

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James 1:6 ; But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.

But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.

Drivers

What are your divers?

Since I work in marketing, I am always working in a strategic mindset trying to determine ways for my firm to position to win more work. My job is to dig pass the issues or the surface level project at hand to uncover the real reason the client wants or needs to move their project forward. In other words, “what are the project drivers?” “Why are they doing what they are doing? The answer could be anything from aging infrastructure they are worried about; to new regulations they have to meet. 100% of the time, there is a REASON they are looking for a consultant to assist them with the project. My job is to find that reason, and help position my firm to be the best team to address that driver.

As I headed into the office this past week, I was thinking about one of these project pursuits and my brain shifted gears to think about my own personal drivers. Why do I do what I do? What drives me to want to work out all the time? What drives me to work long hours at times and sacrifice personal time? What drives me to buy a cup of coffee for the guy behind me in line at Starbucks? What drives me to want to spend quality time with my family?

It is not an easy answer or even a uniform answer for all of my actions, but there is always a driver. Sometimes it is a driver of selfish ambition or a competitive desire to just win, get ahead or climb on top. Other times, I am driven by love and just a pure selfless desire to help, serve and bless those around me. The one thing I recognize is the pure conflict within my soul to want to do good and to fulfill my own desires.

One of my Facebook friends posted this on her page this week:

An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life: “A fight is going on inside me.” he said. “It is a terrible fight between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, guilt, resentment, lies, false pride, and superiority. The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, generosity, and truth. The same fight is going on inside you – and every other person. ”The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?” The old chief replied, “The one you feed, Son.”

The apostle Paul in Romans talks of the same struggle: (Romans 7:24)

So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.

What are your drivers?

I’m not saying it is bad to be competitive or want to get ahead. I am saying however that it is bad if it is ‘driven’ from the wrong place. Are we using those passions to bless others? Are we humble in our ambitions?

As the holiday season is upon us and we reflect on the blessings we have been given, let’s take the time to examine our hearts. What drivers will you feed this season? Why are you doing what you are doing? Step outside yourself for a moment and feed the good wolf. The world will be a better place for it, and God’s love will shine through.

Like little children

The past few months have been some of the best months so far as a father. Watching my son discover the world one item at a time has been entertaining and I probably cry laughing at least once a day. Obviously, we cannot remember what it was like as an almost two-year-old, but nothing can compare to the but the innocent unveiling of the world and its creation to a toddler.

Imagine a world where everything is new. You open the door to a windy day and see a piece of paper carried along by the current and you stop to watch in wonder. The birds in the trees are singing their songs and you listen intently and marvel at their playfulness. The clouds in the sky form little shapes and you imagine the story being written in the heavens. Your interactions with others are sparked out of mystery, trust and joy.

I know God connects to each of us in different ways. He most often connects to me through nature, and I still get giddy inside every time I look up at the mountains or see a sunset. I will never grow tired of the outdoors and the sense of adventure that awaits in God’s creation. For others, it may be personal relationships that God uses the most to connect.  I think He looks down on us like we are toddlers in a new world, and gets just as much joy when we recognize the little things as I do as a father.

The hard part for us adults is slowing down and being aware enough to recognize His blessings. Romans 12:2 says “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…” I know many preachers and Christians will interpret this to say “don’t sin” or “don’t conform”, but what if the ‘pattern of this world’ is floating through life and not appreciating the blessings God gives? ‘Renewing your mind’ is critical to seeing the world anew every single second- just like my son.

Matthew 18:3 says “And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Like little children dependent on their parents, loving and trusting of strangers, immersed in the beautiful awe of creation- yet unique? Like little children too innocent to be overcome by fear, failure, rejection and hate? Like little children smiling up at the sky when a bird flies by and sings a song?

Watching my son grow up is such a wonderful thing. It is amazing how such a little person can challenge my own faith so deeply and hopefully help me live more purposeful and committed. I can only hope to become more thankful and see those blessings that I may have overlooked in the past.

Keep it new.  

This is life

I’ve had three months to reflect since my last Ironman. This one was particularly special to me. Training was super difficult due to my full-time job, Micah at home and the need to fit eating and sleeping in the mix. We moved to Colorado, so I really did not have anyone to train with. When I wanted to go for a ride or run with a new acquaintance the conversation would stop short when I mentioned the distance of the workout. Finding running partners for 16-18 mile Sunday runs was impossible, so I spent long hours each week training alone.

When you are alone for 15-20 hours a week, you have a lot of time to think. While I love the terrain in Colorado and being close to family, I miss my friends in San Diego tremendously. I spend time flipping back and forth between thoughts about how much I love my new home, and how much I miss my old one. In some ways, the chaos of training for my Ironman took my mind off the emotion that comes with trying to rebuild your life somewhere new.

After the race, I went into a small depressive state. In some ways, I am still there. After you cross a finish line that big and experience the release of hearing your name called on the PA system, it is easy to get lost. There is no point to your workouts any more. You step on the scale to a bigger number each morning. You have an extra beer at night to escape but the reality of finding purpose is hard to come to terms with.

I have spent time asking what is next. Is another big event the answer? Is this all there is to life? Go to a job during the day, watch my son play around for a couple of hours at night put him to bed and then fall asleep watching The Voice just to repeat it all the next day? I felt so alive when I was training and now I feel so numb.

I understand what it means to fight depression. It runs in my family and unless you have battled it personally, it is tough to comprehend. Even talking to family about it is tough. “Why would you ever be depressed? You have a wonderful job, an even more amazing family, and a son that fills your heart with so much joy you want to explode.” And yet some days I don’t feel like getting out of bed. I have just recently come to terms with the fact that I have fought this disease most of my life. I can remember times in High School when I did not feel like getting out of bed and facing the day. Even thinking back further in my past, I have struggled to stay happy and connected to every moment.

Two things have been tremendous in fighting the battle. My faith gives me confidence that there is a greater purpose here. I look at each day as an opportunity to serve, and love others. I try to die to myself and let God lead. The second thing that helps me is sport. While I’m not the best athlete in the world, cycling and running provide me an outlet to fight my demons head on. The longer and more challenging the workout, the better. Make it hurt. I have never felt so alive as I do after a workout so long and hard all I can do is lay on the floor in exhaustion. The drug of crossing the finish line at Ironman is one that will keep me coming back for more. However, sometimes I wonder if this is really an outlet, or if I am simply running away from my fears and reality.

I’m writing about my battle for the first time in hopes that this will be my first step in overcoming the disease. If I am ever left without sport as an option, I need to face the reality of life and quit running from it. I need to look at my beautiful family, thank God for the air He gives me to breathe and know that is enough. As we rebuild our lives here in Colorado, I know there will be the usual ups and downs. We will meet new friends, build new memories, run new races, and see the sun rise many times. This is life.

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1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Roots

This morning I left the gym in Golden to catch yet another breath-stopping sunrise to the east. The Colorado sky seems to light up like a campfire of brilliant color each morning here. I feel like an ant in the middle of a field so expansive I can’t help but get lost. On the ridgeline of South Table Mountain I saw a backlit grove of trees standing tall like soldiers. Alone and proud, they guard the mountain that sits in our backyard.

My mind drifted to the soldiers stories. Once part of a large forest, they departed home to grow roots on this mountain. Their youthful seeds of life carried by the wind to their new home. Settling down in this new land they only had each other. Alone in the new land they clung to each other and hoped that it would all work out.

Their roots grew as their branches reached towards the sky above. Looking across the valley, they knew that they would have visitors. New friends would come and become like family. It would take time.

Then one day they had an old friend come visit. The wise old owl from their old forest came and sat on their branches.

“Hello old friends” he said. “I never told you this, but I am responsible for bringing you here.”

“We were wondering how we ended up here”, the soldiers responded

“I carried you here,” the wise owl said. “I planted you here. While the comforts of your old home were lush, now you have a perspective on the world that you never dreamt imaginable. You see every sunrise and sunset, you have a view that only the birds can see, and you have a purpose.”

“What’s our purpose?” The soldiers asked.

“To raise your branches towards heaven and worship. People will see you and notice your praise. They will then look inside and thank God they are alive.”

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Jeremiah 17:8 (NIV)
“They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”

Puzzle

I was in the airport today waiting for a flight. As I stood there watching the eclectic group of travelers, my gaze was drawn to a wall of color. The art display of giant puzzle pieces on the wall in front of me formed a collage of world landmarks and travel locations. Looking closer, I examined each piece. Each piece was so irregular but somehow fit together to paint a picture of beauty and cohesiveness.

2012 has been a year of puzzle pieces coming together for Julie and I. For the first couple of decades of life, Julie worked on one half of the puzzle as I worked on the other. Separately, we built out the edges one piece at a time. Those individual experiences/pieces that didn’t seem to make sense slowly came together as time progressed. When we met, the landscape of our lives developed into a further piece of art as the puzzle joined together. Together we have enjoyed 11 years of marriage and life experiences. While some pieces just seemed to fit, other times we wondered when we would find that missing piece or when that odd shaped piece would finally make sense and find a home.

This year, God has revealed to us more about the puzzle. The birth of our son this past march has filled in a huge missing section of the painting. Questions I have had about my career have culminated into a job that was custom scripted for me. Our experiences in Southern California have given us an active life that has led to a fulfilling world of adventure and travel.

The next big section of the puzzle awaits. The Lord has called us back to our home state of Colorado. Moving on to the next area of the mural of our lives we are stepping out in faith. While we have a whole table in front of us full of colorful odd-shaped pieces, we know that they fit together somehow. We must appreciate each piece and know that God has a plan – even though seemingly huge areas of white space still exist. All I need to do is look back on what has been created so far to appreciate the masterpiece of God’s plan.

Lord, may your blessings continue to fall as the pieces some together. Let me see the beauty in the pieces that lay before me, and may I trust your hand in my ultimate life painting.

20121203-164838.jpg

Learning to Smile

As all the veteran parents of the world crack a smile, I am finally writing again after a three-month break from the action. I can’t say there have been any breaks from the action however, as each waking moment of the day is a special gift that I treasure with my heart. My new little son Micah is the apple of my eye and has brought a joy to my life that I couldn’t have dreamed of. He is three-months-old now, and each day is better than the day before. He smiles and interacts in baby babble when he sees his daddy and discovers the world around him. It is the beginning of a beautiful journey.

Sitting on this side of parenthood, I finally understand how this little breathing life in front of you reorganizes everything. Like an Etch-a-Sketch shaken up after on old drawing, the sands of your own life settle down and new priorities craft a new piece of art. The things I thought would bug me about losing aspects of my own freedom do not bother me at all. Sure, flexibility and selfish spontaneity are great, but there is something that is pretty amazing about putting it aside to take care of your child. I get that now.

There are a million different things that being a parent has shown me even in such a short period. One of the best things is seeing the world through a fresh set of eyes. I think sometimes children see the world as it should be. A world of colors, smiles and appreciation for just being alive. It is a simple world. As a new parent I am seeing the simple world again. It makes me smile.

God has made each of us unique, and taking the time to celebrate that unique character is what makes life so beautiful.  Does the clutter that makes up our adult existence really corrupt those smiles that used to come so easily when we were young? If the answer is yes, then perhaps we need to dump the clutter.

I am so blessed by this new little life. I am so happy to have lost myself in the journey. I am smiling more now than I have in years.

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2 Corinthians 5:17
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!

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