30 November 2009

The best dumb thing I've done in a while

After basically taking the holiday weekend off from running, I decided today was a must run day.  I took off this morning thinking I'd run my typical 3 to 4 miles.  My usual route is to just head north out of town on a gravel road until I get to the first intersection, then turn around and come back.  That first intersection north of town is almost exactly 2 miles from my house, so it's a nice easy way to tell how far I've run.  When I got to that intersection this morning, I was feeling good and thought, "It sure would be a waste to turn around now.  Let's see how much farther I can go."  So I kept running past my usual turn around spot...something I'd never done before. 

Figuring that, like in most flat, rural areas, these must be "section roads" laid out to form a grid of 1 square mile blocks, I thought maybe I'd just try to run to the next intersection.  As I kept running, though, the next intersection still wasn't on the horizon.  I just kept running, thinking there's no use in turning around when I'm sure it's just up ahead.  Finally, I found another intersection and turned around.  When I started running back, I realized I had gone a lot farther than I had meant to and my legs started screaming at me.  It wasn't until I got home and looked at a map that I realized that on that particular section, the grid is in 2 square mile blocks, so I ended up running an additional 4 miles!  I didn't set out to run 8 miles when I left this morning, but that's what I did!  Needless to say, I was beat when I got home, but it felt good to know that I can push myself farther than I thought possible.  It made me think that maybe I shouldn't get so hung up on how far I'm going to run, and just run the distance that feels right for that day. 

I learned a couple other things about my running, too.  When my legs were getting really tired, I could slow my pace and recover while still running.  I only walked for less than 5 minutes out of the whole run.  Toward the end, I also realized that I could keep going if I kept setting managable goals.  "Just run to the next sign."  "Just run to that house."  "Run to the railroad tracks." and so on until I made it home.  Somewhere along the way I'd learned that breaking a big task down into managable goals is a key to success, and maybe that's something I'm finally taking to heart through running, too.

25 November 2009

Thanksgiving Eve 2009

I probably won't post many of my sermons to this blog, but this sermon that I preached this evening for Thanksgiving Eve was one that came out of a lot of my own faith and life experiences related to my reasons for running again.  It seemed to have an impact on a lot of people in my congregation, so I hope you find something in it, too. 

Thanksgiving Eve 2009
Matthew 6:25-33

When I was growing up, my family had a tradition that perhaps many of yours share.  When we sat down at the table for our Thanksgiving dinner, my mom insisted that we go around the table and say at least one thing that we were thankful for.  When I was younger, I didn't always realize why that was so important, so I didn't put much thought into my answers.  That's the question, though, that sticks out in my mind when I think of Thanksgiving: What are you thankful for?

And we'll get to that in a minute, but as I read these words from Jesus in Matthew 6, I couldn't help but feel a little disconnect between that question and what Jesus is talking about: not worrying.  Do not worry!  Yeah, right, Jesus, have you seen my life lately?  Not worry?  No one can live a worry free life.  But as I thought more about it, I thought maybe I should ask myself a different question this Thanksgiving: What are you worried about?

To help us think about these questions, I'm going to ask you to participate in the sermon with me.  I know that might be tough for some of you.  Maybe some of you wouldn't have shown up tonight if you had known you were going to have to do this, but oh well, you're stuck now.  I'm going to hand out these sheets of paper that I want you to fill out.  It has two columns, one that says, "Things I'm Worried About" and another that says, "Things I'm Thankful For."

I want you to start first with the things you're worried about, and I want you to write real worries.  You can write things like "terrorism" or "the economy" I suppose, but I really want you to think about specific things that worry you.  What keeps you up at night?  What's really weighing heavy on your heart, soul, and mind?  (I read some of my answers while they filled theirs out.  When they seemed to be done, I asked for them to share a few from their lists.)

Then I want you to write the things you're thankful for.  Again, you can write general things like "family" or "faith," but I want you to also be as specific as possible.  What are the blessings in your life that you're truly thankful for?  What things are given to you daily by God? (Again, I shared some of my own as they thought and wrote, then asked them to share some of theirs.)

Now look at your two lists.  Here's what mine ended up looking like:

You'll notice I included Jesus because my Sunday School teachers would have a fit if they found out I didn't include Jesus as one of my answers.  But look at your lists.  Which list is longer?  Which one means more to you?  Which one contains the most important things in your life?  Which one do you think about more? 

When I first did this exercise for myself, I started out thinking that the lists probably weren't going to be very closely related.  I thought maybe there might be some connections, but nothing profound.  Then, as I looked at my completed lists, I realized that my worries suddenly looked a lot less daunting.  I found that what I was really stressed out over and what was really bothering me in my life were pretty insignificant compared to the immense blessings God gives me every day.

I realized that these things I'm thankful for, they're not just blessings to cover up or shield me from my worries.  They're not just given to me to make me happy.  Instead, when I saw them right next to all my worries, I realized that they're the things God has given me to deal with the challenges and struggles I face in my life.  Look at the things you're thankful for.  Those things are your allies, your tools, your armor, your treasure, your storehouse of riches that God has given you to share with others and to see you through whatever worries are threatening to consume your life.

When you look at everything God has blessed you with in that light, Jesus' words start to make more sense.  Do not worry?  At first it's, yeah right!  All I do is worry sometimes!  Jesus can't be serious!  But then I look at this list of things I'm thankful for and I realize that I have more than enough to face whatever life might throw at me.  And you do too!  All of those things God has blessed you with are there for a reason!  They're not just randomly dumped into your life haphazardly.  They are signs of God's promise to always be with you, to guide you and to care for you.

I know that there are times when it feels like the cares of the world around you are winning, when your worries are going to swallow you whole, but that's just an illusion.  It's a trick to distract you from the truth of God's mercy, love, and grace in your life.  It's evil's way of isolating you in your own grave of worries.  It's the devil's way of burying you in loneliness.  But it's NOT the truth!  It's only a shadow of your true life.  These worries on this side of the page, they don't define you!  They don't control you!  They don't own you!  Do not worry!  These blessings here, these things you're thankful for, these things that God graciously sends into your life every day to sustain you, these blessings that you are to share with your neighbors, they point you back to your true self: a baptized, claimed, redeemed child of God.  They remind you that God has not and will never abandon you, but has sent Jesus Christ into this world to take those things that would defeat you onto himself and to carry you back to life.  THAT is what defeats all worry and fear!  THAT is the greatest gift and blessing of all.  THAT is something to be thankful for.

"A Fresh Start"

It may just be a small thing, but the prayer concern in the Christ in Our Home devotion (we use that every once in a while for family devotions) for today is "For those wanting a fresh start." I definitely feel like setting this goal and working to get there is my fresh start in a lot of ways. So I got out and ran two miles in the little bit of snow we have here in MN this morning. It was a bit slushy to wear my Converse shoes since all the tread is worn off the bottom, so I had to go back to my old running shoes. I can definitely tell the difference and I can't wait to get back in my "new" shoes. More about shoes when I have more time, though...

Here's to fresh snow and fresh starts!

A new start and a new goal

Obviously this blogging thing wasn't for me a few years ago. It may not be again now, but at least now I have something to write about: after thinking on it for a few weeks, I've decided to register for the half marathon in Fargo coming up in May 2010. There are at least two reasons why I'm doing this. One is about running. The other is personal.

Even though I'm 6'3" and 185 pounds and look like I should be able to run like a champ, I've never been real committed to running. I've always enjoyed occasionally running, but it wasn't until this fall, as I watched my wife coach a high school cross country team and I read Christopher MacDougall's book "Born to Run," that I was inspired to take it up more seriously. In that book, MacDougall basically takes the entire running shoe industry to task and makes the case that modern running shoes are really bad to run in. In fact, he says that they are to blame for most injuries associated with running today. He does all of this through a highly entertaining (and true!) story about a native tribe of distance runners in the Copper Canyon area of Mexico and a few American ultra-marathoners getting together to compete against each other.

I've never suffered from serious injuries from running (I'm still pretty young, I guess), but the story was so compelling that I just had to get out and run. I also felt inspired to try running in less supportive footwear. I ditched my New Balance cross trainers and began running in my almost three year old pair of Converse All-Star low-top shoes that have basically no support to them. My first time out in them, it was like I was running for the first time. I started running only a mile or two at first to get my body used to running in a new way (basically, you run more on the balls of your feet and not heel really kills your calves at first). As I kept doing it, I began to realize something...the little aches and pains that I usually had after running (most common for me are sore knees, sore back, and shin splints) were completely gone. My muscles were sore, but my joints and back weren't. I was even getting less out of breath while running and I was recovering faster.

After a few weeks of this, I was finally convinced that running without highly supportive shoes wasn't going to wreck my body or land me in the emergency room. So, this last Saturday I decided to push myself farther. I ended up running approximately 5 miles, 2 of them into about a 15-20 mph headwind. If I had tried this before, I would have been exhausted and hobbling around the house for a day or two. Instead, I came back feeling great, and I did it in under an hour. For the first time in a long time I had really pushed myself physically and I loved it. That's when I made up my mind to run this half marathon.

So that's the running side of it, but as usual with me, there's always another two or three or 50 sides to it...

After graduating seminary and starting life as a pastor, I realize that I really need discipline in my life. I probably don't tend to my own faith as much as I need to. There are weeks when I'm reading the Bible every day, but only to write a sermon or lead a Bible study, not specifically for me. There are some days when I pray a lot, but with and for other people, not by myself or for my own concerns. There are lots of times when I feel like I'm just moving from one task to the next without much sense of purpose or direction and I wonder if any of it is really making a difference. I know this isn't unique to me. I know there are a lot of (if not most) pastors who struggle with these things. On top of that, I'm really trying to be a better husband and father. I know I'm not the world's worst by any stretch of the imagination, but I know I could be better.

I know that there's one thing that has really been hindering me from being the best I can be at all of that, and that's a lack of discipline and structure in my personal life. Everything in my life seems so erratic sometimes. Part of that is the nature of my profession, but even the things I can control about my life, I usually choose not to. I stay up too late and don't get enough sleep (like tonight, again), my diet and nutrition fluctuates, my energy level for spending time with my family varies a lot, I exercise only sporadically, I start a blog and then don't post anything for 2 years, and the list could go on. So I'm trying to change, and I'm trying to do it through running. I hope it will teach me to set goals and achieve them by following a regimen and routine. I'm also incorporating my personal devotion/prayer/reflection time into my running, so my ultimate hope is that through all of this I will grow in my relationship with God and with those around me. To steal a phrase from one of my favorite shows, "I'm just trying to be a better person. My name is Bryant."