52: A Better & Deeper Birthday

Got a call this morning asking if I felt wiser. Took me a moment, but I figured out that was their way of saying, “I know you had a birthday yesterday.”

I don’t know about wiser, but I can say yesterday (#52) was an illustration that I am certainly better at acknowledging my birthday as I age.

Last decade my “go to” celebration was traveling to run a race: ’11, Snickers Marathon; ’13, Tuscaloosa Half; ’17, Little Rock 10k; ’18, Mississippi 50k; ’19, Rhode Island Marathon. No race or traveling this year. Just let it flowed.

Instead of running elsewhere, I enjoyed a midday run sporting my birthday gift to myself: 


Roll Tide!

Other treats of the day involved free food: a chocolate cupcake that appeared on my desk, then a Firehouse sub and a Chick-fil-a shake courtesy of their mobile apps (you should get them if you don’t have them).

But the best gift given to me was from an unexpected source. Through sign language in a movie, God gave me clarity about a project that has been shelved for a couple of years. And it came out of nowhere. I wasn’t looking for it. But it was quite clear and brought peace. Makes sense that God gave me the best gift of the day.

If this is an indicator of what’s in store on birthdays the rest of this decade, I’m in. Better and Deeper! Let’s Go!

God of My 20’s: Mourning Replaced with Savoring

(Post #6 in a collaborative series)

Guest Blogger: Dawn Stark

Throughout my 20’s I worked for an international airline and traveled the world for almost nothing. But all I really wanted was a baby.  I mourned continually over my empty arms.  Nothing else would appease me: Hawaii, the Greek Islands, Europe, sailing down the Nile – a decade of beautiful places and experiences that I mainly viewed through the lens of pain. I didn’t understand God’s love language to me in the waiting season.  I missed so many amazing places of worship on the way to my arms being filled to overflowing.

The way I spent my 20’s shrouded in mourning is a life regret.

Today I am traveling again, for different reasons, but still very similar to the way I did so many years ago. I know without a doubt God has once again given me this season as a gift in a beautiful way of merging mission and passion. It’s a do-over of sorts. Life is full of long, complicated, and painful journeys; infertility was only one of many that I’ve endured. In my early 50’s now, with 5 miracle children in my life, there is sufficient evidence that I cannot fret or worry or mourn my way through this life.

Recently, work led me to Puerto Rico. A traveler to my core, I was so excited about this new adventure I couldn’t fall asleep the night before my flight.  I’ve been to the island years ago on two other occasions, but only in the San Juan area.  This trip required me to rent a car and travel to Mayaguez, on the western side of PR.  I padded my travel time on each side of work events to allow for moments of spontaneity: pulling over to enjoy look-out points, taking the temperature of the Caribbean water with a quick dip, snapping photos of interesting sites, and choosing local eats over convenient chain options.

Puerto Rico did not disappoint!  I so enjoyed spending time with ministry partners, learning about the heart-breaking impact of Hurricane Maria, and discovering the resilience of the people. I intently practiced present-moment mindfulness by not letting my thoughts creep back to other weighty matters and instead choosing to focus on the “great and small” of life happening right in front of me:

  • the vibrant colors saturating the Puerto Rican culture through nature and art.
  • the proud rooster walking down the sidewalk, crowing like he totally belonged in that human space.
  • the irony of eating St. Louis (my hometown) style rib from the BBQ joint I just happened to stop at for dinner.
  • the newlywed who coaxed me to jump into the rough shore break and enjoy the sunset with her family.
  • the experience of driving in San Juan’s rush hour traffic when 12 lanes of inbound cars merged into 4 without traffic lines or signals of any sort.

While travel is all a little harder on my body these days, I am intent on not missing the moments made for worshipping along the way this time.  I cannot reverse the way I lived my 20’s, doubting the goodness of God, but I can learn from that experience.  My trip to Puerto Rico reminded me – again – to savor the gifts I’ve been given. The song, Peace, written by Michael McDonald and recorded by Russ Taff, perfectly captures my thoughts:

I have come from so far away

Down the road of my own mistakes

In the hope you could hear me pray

Oh Lord, keep me in your reach.

 

How I’ve longed through these wasted years

To outrun all my pain and fears

Turn to stone from own cried tears

And now its your grace I see

 

Love won’t compromise

It’s a gift, it’s a sacrifice

My soul renewed, and my heart released

In you I find my peace.

 

Wonderous child of whom the angels sing

Know my joy, feel my suffering

Shining star make this love you bring

So bring that I may believe

 

That my way will not be lost

From now on, ‘till that river’s crossed

My soul renewed, and my spirit free

In you I’ll find my peace

Dude…You’re on a Detour

(An “Own It” series for Dudes)

My last post had to do with my recent travels, with quite a bit of levity. This post also has to do with those travels, but with a more introspective tone. Balance.

My travels have taken me through 13 states. Guess what? They all have construction going on. Shocking. And guess what? Google maps is there for you, in the congestion and the isolation, ready to be silent or ready to give you an alternate route.

Another term for alternate route is detour. I literally took one detour that had me circle all four exit and entrance ramps at an interstate exchange to detour around a closed exit. That was a first. Pretty sweet, actually.

In my trek from Ohio to New York, I had a long time to think. One thing I was chewing on was a phrase I kept throwing at my Columbus friend, “You have options.” And as I passed a couple of detours and watched various driver’s reactions to the traffic flow changes, including my own, some interesting thoughts about detours and options in life came to mind. So here they are in randomness:

  • Some detours in life come at you with no warning-GPS lost the signal, the accident ahead just happened, the road seemed closed for no reasons. You don’t know what it’s about, how long it’s going to last, and maybe even uncertain if the new route really is taking you in the right direction. These life detours could be anything from financial to physical to vocational to relational. You really aren’t sure if you have options or not. This delay is full of uncertainty.
  • Other detours in life come with a few warning signs-“Road work 5 miles ahead. Left lanes closes in 1 mile. Detour ahead.” Reasons may be clearer because of better information, which may also give you options to consider for getting through the delay sooner. The delay is real but with less uncertainty, less stress on the traveler.
  • For a little bit of honesty, let’s acknowledge that we drivers actually bring some detours on ourselves. Maybe we failed to listen to the GPS, or arrogantly said, “She doesn’t know what she’s saying.” Maybe we purposefully chose to take a detour to see something that looked interesting that takes us off the planned course. And we are mostly okay with these detours. Some end well, some don’t. Regardless, we have to own the fact that we chose the detour.
  • The truth about most detours is this: they don’t ruin our lives. We may immediately start worrying about arriving in time or disappointing the in-laws or missing the meeting, but the end of most stories is we eventually get there and all is well.

So what’s a dude to do when approaching a detour or waking up to the reality he’s in one that he didn’t see coming?

  1. Consider your options
  2. Thank God you’re still on a road and not under it
  3. Take a breathe
  4. Look at the scenery that you wouldn’t otherwise have seen
  5. Adjust your speed, your expectations, your plans
  6. Realize that 15-30 minutes is about the same time it takes to get your hair cut. It won’t last forever.
  7. If the Spirit leads you to take a detour, listen and obey
  8. Ask God “what” questions rather than “why” questions
  9. Look for the purpose in the detour. You might find that it’s taking you to a better road.
  10. Turn up the music. Lower the windows. Enjoy the ride.

Dude…You’re in the Restroom…at the rest stop

(An “Own It” series for Dudes)

This month I’ve been doing quite a bit of driving. Trips have been anywhere from three to nine hours in length. Therefore, I’ve had reason to make a few pitstops. One such stop was memorable. It was a rest area in PA.

Frankly, PA has nothing to do with it. I’ve experienced the same scenario before, but in a different way. In the other scenarios I wasn’t actually in the room, so not the same experience. I’ll get back to that.

The experience has to do with dudes and their phones. Before you go there, no dude’s phone got dunked…not this time. Water wasn’t involved. 

When I walked in, there was a dude in the first stall. While a couple others of us “rested,” the dude in the stall’s phone rang. And, you guessed it, he answered it. Not only answered it, but he was still carrying on the conversation when I walked out.

Dude, you’re in a stall…using the restroom…at the rest stop. Doing business while doing business isn’t something the rest of us need to hear, see, or filter through any of our senses. For us other dudes, please observe the following manly restroom and phone pointers:

  • If your phone is your business line, consider yourself out of the office for a few minutes when you enter this “not private” office. For that matter, for your customer’s sake go ahead and declare that for all restrooms.
  • If you know that the ringing of your phone is simply irresistible for you to ignore, leave the phone in your vehicle. Most likely, you’ll get finished faster as well as get back to your phone and the highway more timely.
  • If the restroom becomes somewhat of a man cave for reading or playing games on your phone at your actual office or home, keep it that way. Get in and out at the rest area. Here’s a suggestion: pretend you’re at the stadium and it’s halftime. There’s a reason why reading materials aren’t provided.
  • If you must carry your phone with you for reasons for which you probably need to see a counselor, let all calls go to voice mail. People really don’t expect you to answer 24/7. They get it. They most likely won’t get it when they hear flushing and other noises from the other business guys in the room.
  • And back to that other thing, don’t be that guy…the guy that has to answer, “In the restroom,” when asked by your caller, “Where are you?” Your caller doesn’t need that visual. Again, senses.
  • Finally and seriously, own your phone. Don’t let your phone own you.

Identity

Inspired by a few observations and conversations lately, I’ve been thinking about identity. By identity, I’m specifically thinking about how we find our worth, and also how we keep in mind who we are based on our understanding of who God is and how he sees us.

Today I flew home from a trip to Detroit. One observation I had on the plane today was of a man one row up from me. I’m guessing he was at least 75 years old. I was first drawn to him because I was trying to figure out where the smell of peanut M&Ms was coming from. Busted. But then I noticed something much more intriguing.

He was reading a book. The side of the book I could see was being held open by some type of clamp, something I hadn’t seen before. Being a reader, I thought it was maybe some type of gadget to help you keep your place. As I looked closer, the reality became clear. It was the end of a prosthetic.
As I watched this man, I saw further that his right hand appeared to be writhed by arthritis. This man had a lot going on. Yes, he was an amputee. But he was more than that. I saw that he was a reader, a lone traveler, a mobile device user, and a candy lover.

I wondered what his story was. How did he lose his limb? Was he a vet? Had he been a contractor who suffered a career-ending accident? Did he keep working regardless and now was enjoying retirement in Florida? Was he a survivor of a disease? Does he identify himself mostly as an amputee? Had it been so long ago that he’s lived longer with the prosthetic than without it? What was the basis of identity for this gentleman?

What should be the basis of anyone’s identity? 

  • What we do to make money? 
  • What we do to enjoy life? 
  • Who we know? 
  • What has happened in our life? 
  • What we hope to happen in our life?

I believe true identity is rooted in seeing ourselves as God sees us. He sees us as good creations, as males and females made in his image. Despite our choosing to reject him, he sees us as forgivable. Despite our replacing him with other gods, he sees us as worth waiting for when we return after those gods fail us. Bottom line: God sees us. He cares if we have a job or not, if we have all our limbs or not, if we love candy or not. Regardless, he sees us. Truly sees us. That’s all we really need to know in order to answer any questions about our identity.

Thank you, fellow traveler, for reminding me that we all have a story. We all have an identity. When seen as recipients of our Creator’s gift of life, we never truly have to wonder who we are. We can know that we are loved and forgiven, seen and known, observed and accepted. That’s a great identity.