I-35 Lesson #1

This past weekend included many firsts. Six of them were…

  • Flying Southwest out of Sarasota
  • Visiting Kansas City, St. Joseph, and Des Moines
  • Renting a Truck
  • Buying a Garmin watch
  • Touring the Glore Psychiatric Museum
  • Running a full marathon one day and running a half marathon the following day
  • Driving I-35

These firsts were part of attempting the I-35 Challenge: Run in Kansas City on Saturday then run in Des Moines on Sunday. Looking back on this trip, I have takeaways that I wasn’t even looking for, not expecting, didn’t know was coming. I’m calling these the 1-35 Lessons.

I-35 LESSON #1: Inspiration comes in many forms.

If you’ve never ran a race or had the chance to be a spectator, I encourage you to make it a goal. Whether it’s in person or virtually, you’ll see things that make you turn your head, raise your eyebrow, clap your hands, maybe even shed a tear. If you look long enough, pretty good chance you’ll find inspiration. For example…

In Des Moines, there was a team of runners who stood out because they were wearing red. But the real reason they stood out was because they were all pushing a wheelchair carrying a disabled person. That’s no joke. They are called My Team Triumph. Check out their mission from their website.

Then there’s this guy. I passed him during the race, but didn’t know his story until hearing him talk about his hobby of running when we happened to be on the same flight the next day. Take a guess how many marathons he’s ran. If you guessed 10…nope. 100…not even close. Try over 700.

These images and others will be in my mind for a long time. These runners showed up. They didn’t settle. And if they had supporters like mine following them virtually and freaking out from home, they didn’t disappoint.

Lesson: Inspiration is around us every day. Take time to reflect, acknowledge, and follow. It may lead you to many firsts of your own.

Crossing the start line in Des Moines…26.2 down, 13.1 to go

It Will Be

Today is World Mental Health Day. And unintentionally, this afternoon I finished a book on the subject of overcoming grief. As I reflected on the book, the intersection of those two moments didn’t go unnoticed.

Pastor Wright gifted his book to me about this time last year. It’s his personal story of moving through the grief journey after losing his 32-year-old son in an accident. Knowing that context, it’s not a book you just read for fun.

It sat on my desk for much of the year, waiting for the right time to read it. I can’t say what that trigger was, but it came. Sixty-five chapters later, I’m glad it came now. I could make a lengthy list of reasons why, but here are a few:

  • Just last week I sat with a couple who will soon be experiencing the second anniversary of their son’s passing. Listening to them, it feels like it was only last week. Pastor Wright’s book helped me help them. And now I’m passing the book on to them for their journey to hope.
  • Speaking of sitting and listening, although I knew this already, this book has shown me how much room I have to grow in being empathetic. It’s probably true we never arrive at showing empathy right all the time, but I’m not where I want to be either.
  • I may not be where I want to be in the empathy realm, but I can say that I am much better in the grieving realm. In the last year, I’ve engaged grief-some by force and some by choice. Embracing communal grief due to the pandemic and other happenings along with the loss of a friend to suicide has deepened my appreciation and desire to let grief do its work.
  • In June I blogged about Ungrieved Loss. As I read this book, I engaged my own ungrieved losses. Some as far back as childhood and some as fresh as 2021. Some I didn’t know needed grieving; some were top of mind.

What I believe with Pastor Wright is that those who mourn are comforted. The timing will be what it will be, but it will be. On this October 10, if you find yourself in the throes of grief, know that hope is possible. And I echo Pastor Wright’s prayer to end his book:

Dear God, it was only through the dark night that we came to find your light. Had we not stumbled through the cold dark, we would not have come to the warmth of your hearth with frozen hands and hearts. We are grateful for your comfort especially as we have experienced your love through those who have journeyed with us. May your grace and compassion fill us. May we sense your hand in ours. May your tears blend with ours. May we be willing to walk alongside others. Thank you for the promise that one day you will wipe away our tears and that death and mourning will be no more. Amen.

Groaning (Part 3)

In Parts 1 & 2, I shared that we are all born groaning and how that viewpoint can encourage grace giving to ourselves and to one another.

That grace choice isn’t always natural. In fact, it goes against our groaning nature. Left to our instincts, we reach for anything to ease our groaning without considering the impacts of that reaching. Grace isn’t natural.

So back to those four verses that started this series, when you finish reading the rest of that chapter, which I’ll include at the bottom of this post, you see how hope and grace are made possible. They are both made possible by a supernatural grace choice-a choice only explained by love.

God saw his creation groaning. He was there for the first groan. And in that moment, he offered grace. He made a plan. He made a choice-the only choice available to stop the groaning. He chose to enter the groaning, to embrace it in order to crush it.

Chilling. There isn’t a human groan God didn’t feel and now doesn’t remember. He saw them and chose to experience them in order to redeem them…forever.

As you read the rest of this chapter, pause after each verse. Consider a prayer of thanks between each verse. Voice a prayer of adoration, of worship, of awe, of victory because you do not groan alone.

Romans 8:26-39

26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

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. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;
    we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”[b]

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[c] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Photo by Pinakeen Bhatt on Unsplash

500, working on 1,000

Yesterday morning I had a minor fall while running, so I’m sidelined for a short time. In my world, that means it’s time to hit the pool.

My pool routine is pretty basic-30 minutes of laps in the community pool where I live. Usually no one is there, so I have it to myself.

About 5 minutes into my lap routine, I see a neighbor, who I guess to be around 80 years old, heading up the parking lot to the pool entrance. She casually enters the pool area, but she appears to also have a routine. Like me, she’s here to get to work, not socialize. We’ve never met, but we greet one another and go about our routine.

At the time, I didn’t know what hers was. She did her thing while I did mine, opposite sides of the pool. Twenty minutes later, she was done and heading to the gate to leave.

She wished me a pleasant swim to which I replied, “Five more minutes.”

“I do 500 strokes. I’m working on getting to 1,000, but I’m not there yet,” she expressed peacefully but with a little excitement. Then off she went.

I smiled as she walked away. Several thoughts rushed through my mind. “How sharp…Good for you…Did you really just count to and swim 500 strokes…So that’s your secret.”

Thanks for the life lesson, neighbor.

Have a plan. Have a goal. Be happy where you are. Strive to improve.

Photo by Thomas Park on Unsplash

Groaning (Part 2)

This morning in his message my pastor shared a story about some friends who have a young daughter. Around the age of two, she was diagnosed with multiple food allergies. As they were dealing with that reality, other diagnoses came taking them down a very uncertain and unpredictable path. His purpose for sharing their story was to illustrate that their shared journey through uncertainty brought them closer to each other and to God.

Theirs is a story of groaning. As parents, they groan. As children of God, they groan. As spouses, they groan. When they choose to groan together, recognize each other’s groaning, they are actively choosing to draw closer together.

Sounds perfectly natural for a couple to do. But you and I both know, that’s not what all couples do. Not all relationships survive such trials. And when you examine similar challenges that a larger group is facing together, the possible response scenarios are multiplied.

  • How might responses be chosen if the challenges were seen as “the whole creation groaning”? (See Part 1)
  • How might we listen to one another if we viewed other’s words as groaning prayers?
  • What if we shared groanings without trying to win?
  • What rewards would be received if at least once we chose to listen to another’s groans without demanding they hear ours?

Most likely, all the answers to these questions have a common thread-choosing grace. Grace says, “I hear you. I see you. I’m willing to listen to you. Your groans matter. You are allowed to groan however you want, how loud you want, about whatever you want.”

We are all born groaners. We all have the opportunity to become gracious groaners.

Who is a gracious groaner?

  • That person that you know is in pain, but they refuse to suck the life out of the room.
  • That person that shares their groans along with the lessons they are learning, the questions they are asking, and the hope they have anchored.
  • That person that understands everyone around them also groans and offers the grace they desire to receive.

How did that person nurture such grace? Most likely, they admired someone else with it. Or even better, they grew from being gifted undeserved grace in return for their lack of grace. They received the benefit of shared grace.

More about that in Part 3.

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Groaning (Part 1)

22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

These verses precede one of the most quoted verses from the New Testament. Back to that later.

Recently I’ve been meditating on this passage, particularly focusing on the groaning references. In the past I’ve always focused on two elements of this teaching by Paul (hint to where these verses are found).

  1. Creation is groaning. So the challenges of our physical world-storms, fires, droughts, etc.-illustrate this.
  2. The next two verses that follow (familiar verses about prayer) mention wordless groans through which the Holy Spirit intercedes for us. Praying is groaning.

I’ve taken a third focus lately that has brought further peace and clarity to a believer’s identity. And the focus follows this thought pattern:

All of Creation is Groaning

>Humans are part of Creation

>Humans are Groaning

Strange as it may sound, I find freedom in that truth. Not necessarily comfort or satisfaction. But this different view of our status brings deeper understanding. I’ll put it in three points:

  1. We’re all born groaning
  2. Shared groaning births grace
  3. God chose to enter our groaning

Growing up in the church, I’ve heard “we’re all born sinners” all my life. I’ve never heard anyone say, “We’re all born groaners.” All of my being is groaning. My spirit groans. My mind groans. My body groans. I was born this way. And there’s nothing I can do about that.

Although that’s true, I can do at least two things according to these two verses. First, I can wait eagerly for the groaning to end. In other words, rather than sulk over my status I can look forward to what’s ahead in eternity. Second, I can foster hope. Yes, my groaning spirit and mind and body produce stuff I don’t like; but I have the option to choose to humble all of myself to the Holy Spirit who gives me hope by being with me in that groaning.

I was born groaning and continue. It explains much. But there’s more. Stay tuned for Part 2 & 3.

Photo by Felipe Palacio on Unsplash

Parent, You Are Chosen!

Read Judges 13 this morning and a question came to me. What would it have been like to be Samson’s parents?

Manoah and his wife display such a teachable, humble, surrendered, and reverent spirit. Neither of them give a vibe of bitterness, doubt, or frustration at their lack of having a family yet. Neither of them display disgust at being told that with the promise of a child came a restrictive vow. Nope. Instead they reply with awe and an outlook of being blessed.

No wonder God chose them to be Samson’s parents. Unbeknownst to them, Samson would make some irreverent choices. He would not follow in their steps of humility. His surrender came by force.

Does this mean Manoah and his wife failed as parents? No. There’s where my judgment has gone in the past when reading their story. But it doesn’t seem to be the best view.

Rather than view them through their son’s actions, it seems better to view them through the eyes of the angel of the Lord who interacts with them in this chapter. They appear to be chosen. They definitely were heard. Without question, they experienced blessing through a promise personally delivered by “I Am” and its fulfillment.

God chose them. Just like all uncapable-of-controlling-the-future parents, they were chosen. God saw something in them and said, “You are the right couple to birth the last judge of my chosen people. You have the spirit to stay with me when your son chooses otherwise. I choose you.”

Father, you were chosen to father your children. God knew what he was doing. You can trust him, surrender to him, allow him to teach you.

Mother, you were chosen to mother your children. God saw your spirit. You can trust him, follow him, lean on him to sustain you.

Photo by Julian Hochgesang on Unsplash

Pick Them Up

When a baby is distressed, they’re distressed because they are sleepy, hungry, uncomfortable, cold. And the way we respond to newborns is we pick them up…We are helping them begin to learn that when you are in distress you express your distress and someone comes to comfort you.

Curt Thompson, MD

Several takeaways from this statement in Episode 7, Season 1 of Being Known.

  • It’s normal to express distress. We were born doing it.
  • It’s normal to comfort someone who is expressing their distress. The majority of us have been comforted and can reciprocate it.
  • Comforting someone is picking them up. We pick each other up when we respond to distress cries with comfort.
  • The ultimate picker-upper is God. We express our distress through prayer. He comforts. He picks us up.

Are you in distress? Who are you sharing it with? Where can you trust to go for comfort? Have you expressed your distress to God?

Do you know someone in distress? How can you pick them up today? Have you prayed for God to pick them up?

Psalm 113:1-9 (The Message)

113 1-3 Hallelujah!
You who serve God, praise God!
    Just to speak his name is praise!
Just to remember God is a blessing—
    now and tomorrow and always.
From east to west, from dawn to dusk,
    keep lifting all your praises to God!

4-9 God is higher than anything and anyone,
    outshining everything you can see in the skies.
Who can compare with God, our God,
    so majestically enthroned,
Surveying his magnificent
    heavens and earth?
He picks up the poor from out of the dirt,
    rescues the forgotten who’ve been thrown out with the trash,
Seats them among the honored guests,
    a place of honor among the brightest and best.
He gives childless couples a family,
    gives them joy as the parents of children.
Hallelujah!

Photo by Heike Mintel on Unsplash

Courage Musts

Since he had turned his back upon the fight his fears had been wondrously magnified. Death about to thrust him between the shoulder blades was far more dreadful than death about to smite him between the eyes. When he thought of it later, he conceived the impression that it is better to view the appalling than to be merely within hearing. The noises of the battle were like stones; he believed himself liable to be crushed.

The Red Badge of Courage, chapter 6

To experience victory, hard must be faced.

To defeat fears, eyes must gaze forward.

To minimize dread, fight must be embraced.

To remain steadfast, battle must be accepted.

To resist surrender, better must be pursued.

To foster courage, will must be resolved.

Photo by Kat J on Unsplash

Regulating

We don’t control things; we regulate things. Human beings actually don’t control anything. We have agency, and we can regulate things; but we don’t absolutely, like dictators, control anything. I can’t control my heartrate absolutely. I ultimately can’t even control my breathing rate. I can regulate it-I can move it up and move it down-but there are going to be certain perimeters within which, you know, I can only hold my breath for so long and then I got to start breathing again.

Curt Thompson, MD

First I came across this graphic posted on social media. Within hours, I heard Dr. Thompson’s quote on his podcast, Being Known.

Our extremely accessible world tempts us to focus on the wrong things, to believe we can-or must-control more than is possible. When accepted, these temptations lead to overwhelming emotions that take us down roads we weren’t designed to travel.

This graphic states a helpful principle: focus on the things that matter that you can control. Everything else requires faith. Faith that all things matter to God. Faith that he controls all things. When I misplace that faith, I’ve given into another temptation-playing God.

These temptations need regulating. Working on regulating is less overwhelming than working on controlling. That I can work on. That makes me think of some of the Beatitudes-Jesus’ teaching on what blessing looks like.

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.

“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

“You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.

“You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.

“You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

“You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.

Matthew 5:3-9, The Message

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash