Live Life With Abandon

I was running a 50K race and had passed lots of people on a really steep uphill part of the trail.  I was feeling really good and was focused on getting to what I knew was one of my running nemesis, a highly technical downhill stretch on single path with lots and lots of cuts, leaping over roots and even some boggy areas.  I had practiced this section specifically a couple of times coming into the race knowing that my boat-like feet and quirky ankles really didn’t enjoy this section and since physically I knew I was going to be able, mentally I was still struggling a bit.  Sure enough as I got about half a mile down the trail I could hear the runners coming up behind.  A number of them were just whooping it up on the hill, as they ran past me when I moved off the trail they had great big smiles and looked like they couldn’t be happier.  One twelve-year-old shouted as he passed me “You’ll never see me again” as he bounced down the hill with nary a care in the world (I didn’t see him until the finish line by the way).  I would have hated to see my face because I was lacking that bounce, that live life with abandon surge down the hill.  I was concentrating so hard on not twisting my ankles and not tripping that I forgot a really big characteristic of not just trail ultra marathons but life in general.  That characteristic is simply this:  you’ve got one shot at life, live it with abandon and with unbridled joy.  As I watched nearly all the runners I had passed on the uphill go by me I resolved that no matter how hot it got and no matter what I was feeling like I was going to enjoy the rest of the run.  I was going to live this race like I want to live my life, with abandon and with a joy that doesn’t allow me to dwell on all the bad things that could happen.  Instead of being so focused on what bad could happen I decided right then and there to run the rest of this race not thinking about what disasters could trip me up but to focus on living life with abandon and thoroughly enjoying every aspect of the race.  And I did and it was a miserably hot day where many of the competitors had to drop because of the heat.  I had to pull off at an aid station and put ice on my head and chest to get my core temperature down but knew there was no thought of quitting with only a little more than seven miles to the finish line so did what I had to and enjoyed life.  I was able to finish up that race encouraging lots of other runners, helping some get to a shade spot or the closest water sprinkler or just dipping my buff in a stream and letting them wring it out over their head to try to cool down.  Living life with abandon doesn’t mean living recklessly but rather deciding that no matter what comes your way you are going to enjoy everything and you are going to make the best of what is going on around you.

1 Timothy 6:6 “But godliness with contentment is great gain.”  Philippians 4:11 “…..I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.”  This is how you live life with abandon and set aside the things of the past that have weighted you down and kept you from not only finishing the races of life but also enjoying them.  It is this little word content or contentment.  With it comes great meaning and understanding.  One of the definitions of this word is “ease of mind” and to me that is something I know has held me back from living life with abandon.  Ease of mind seems to me a state of freedom from worry or restlessness.  This is something I strongly desire to cultivate in my life, not because there is anything inherently wrong in worrying about things but because there isn’t anything inherently to be gained by worrying about things.  Matthew 6:27 “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?”  Being concerned about twisting an ankle or tripping over a root or a rock isn’t going to add a single hour to my life.  However, if I can go through these highly technical downhills with an abandon, a bounce to my step I may still trip over these hazards, I may even twist an ankle but I certainly am going to enjoy the run a lot more.  The same is true with all of our lives.  The more we can cast aside the worries and the weights holding us back the more the great future already planned for us can be enjoyed.

Living an ultra life means not dwelling on the twisted ankles and trips of the past but enjoying the present and enjoying being in the Presence of One who has already marked out for us the trails we are to take.  So stop carrying worry around like the heavy stone it is and lay it on the side of the trail and get on with this ultra marathon of life.

Darkness Can’t Hide Light

I have only attempted running at night with a headlamp a couple of times.  Quite frankly every time I go running with a headlamp I am even more amazed by the 100 milers that head out on trails, leaping over tree roots and winding their way through rocks with just a little patch of rock.  The last time I went for a run with a headlamp was my New Year’s Eve/New Year’s Day run where I start out about 11:30 PM and get about 3 miles in and then run for another 3-4 miles after the stroke of midnight.  As I was running along our pathway system in my hometown (where there are only a couple of lights, mainly when you go under the main streets) I was struck by just how much I could see once my eyes adjusted to the darkness and I learned to keep my head steady so my light would stay out in front of me.  Now I wasn’t running a trail so I know my head will bob up and down a lot more on that but after a couple of miles I really became used to the patch of light out in front of me and how it was just enough light to show me any hazards like ice or clumped up frozen snow patches that I needed to be careful on.  The darkness was still enormous and at times seemed overwhelming but that little patch of light provided just enough for me to carefully hammer out my miles.  As I ran I realized just how often I attempt to run through life in the darkness also.  It really struck me as I ran that there have been countless times that I have purposely chosen to leave my headlamp at home and attempt to go about the ultra marathon of life in darkness and how if I had chosen just a bit differently in those times maybe I wouldn’t have taken some of the awful tumbles that I have.  The more I ran and dwelt on this the more I realized that I was picking up a stone that I thought had been dropped on the side of the trail long ago.  See I was picking up the stone of “what if” and “if I had” and all this stone can do is plunge me back into darkness because by going back over these topics again and again I was forcing myself to live in darkness instead of letting the light shine in front of me as I moved forward.  You may be catching a theme in these mile markers, hopefully it is starting to shed some light on your trail forward.

This is this awesome passage in Ephesians that by far describes the absence of light, or the misguided use of light so better than I ever will.  Ephesians 5:8-14 “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.  Lie as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord.  Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but expose them.  For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret.  But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for it is light that makes everything visible.”  I am a lighting guy in my professional career as an electrical distributor (I’ve also worked as a lighting manufacturer rep and a short spell for a manufacturer of natural daylight products) so I have studied light professionally a lot.  In fact I am quite passionate about light and the effect on the human body, how certain color spectrum of light are better for us from a health perspective than others, how you can change the mood in an office or classroom simply by choosing the correct color spectrum for your environment.  I am also a firm believer that more light doesn’t necessarily mean that you have better light.  Light has to be used efficiently in order for it to do what it is meant to do and that is simply this.  Light displaces darkness.  It doesn’t replace darkness which is what I think a lot of people think, but what it does is that it reveals the hiding places of darkness and exposes it to be illumined by the light.  And so it is with us and how we approach our ultra marathon of life in everything we do.  However, it is how we exercise light that will make the difference in our lives and in the lives around us.  I love the phrase “the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth” because this requires action on our part.  You do understand that fruit requires action, it requires tending to the fruit tress, pruning off dead branches, ensuring your fruit tree has enough hydration and that the soil surrounding it has the proper nutrients.  Running an ultra marathon requires these same characteristics also.  However, if you tend to the fruit trees of life properly but you cover your trees in darkness nothing will ever grow.  Just as fruit trees need the natural daylight to grow and become fruit bearing trees, so do you need the efficient use of the Light in your life to grow beyond who you are today.  To efficiently use the Light you are going to have to expose some of the dark areas of your life to the light.  For me this meant that I could no longer ask myself the “what if” and “if only I had” questions in life anymore.  If I truly wanted to move on from where I was to become the ultra runner I knew God was calling me to be I was going to have to expose those dark questions to the light and be willing to let light overwhelm the darkness so I could see the hazards on my trail.  Light will always displace darkness, it’ll never replace it as the darkness will still be there.  But if you use light efficiently and in the right measures it will shine the path forward.

Living an ultra life means that to see the path forward you can no longer afford to keep running in the darkness of the “what if” and “if only I had” questions.  To move forward and confidently stride to the finish of this ultra marathon of life means you will need to expose the darkness to a tiny square of life, one little patch at a time until the light fully displaces the darkness and your eyes adjust and you can see the hazards that used to trip you up.

Being Lost Enough to Get Found

Beautiful fall day during hunting season so I’m out running a trail in the Bighorn Mountains with an orange jacket on, orange buff on my head, my running pants with orange stripes and was just happily following this wonderful trail from Spring Marsh down to the Narrows where I was going to turn around and run back uphill.  Well, at least I thought that was what I was doing.  Instead I ended up on top of a mountain that I had never been to the top of before, and that I didn’t recognize, and my trail I had followed just sort of petered out into nothingness.  I broke out my compass and tried to remember which direction I was supposed to be running and realized that not only was I not running northeast that somehow I had gotten turned around and was running due north.  Where in the world was I?  I was already at about 6 miles so knew I should have been to the Narrows by then and somewhat remembered seeing Leaky Mountain off to my left or north at some point on the trail.  Suddenly I remembered where there were a bunch of fallen trees across the trail and taking the trail to the left probably about 3 miles before and I began wondering if I should try to find my way back even though now I couldn’t even really find the trail I had run on.  I decided to hoof it up a bit further so I could get to the top of the treeline hoping maybe I would spot a landmark or something that would help me find the best way back to my car, knowing that I was severely off the path and was going to do a ton more mileage than I had planned.  I wasn’t particularly worried but I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was lost, hopelessly lost and I needed to get found really quickly or it was going to be a long day.  Just as I topped out of the tree line I heard the most joyous sound I thought I could ever hear, a series of gun shots rang out, and even better because I was up so high I could tell where the shots came from.  Remember the beginning part of being all dressed in orange because it was elk hunting season?    I pulled my whistle out and started blowing as I ran down a sort of game trail down the hill and when I got to the bottom, all dressed in my beautiful orange, I saw the most awesome sight I could see right then.  Three hunters all decked out in their camouflage, high fiving and getting ready to jump on their horses and head deeper into the woods to where their elk had fallen.  Of course now they are really looking at me strange but I confidently and boldly strode up to them and said “I am unbelievably lost now.  Could you guys tell me how to get back to Spring Marsh from here?”  As they shared a laugh and joked about stupid runners getting lost they pulled out a map and showed me where I was and where I needed to get to.  They also pointed out the best paths to get where I needed to go and pointed out the forest road that would be the best point of where I was going.  They even offered to give me a ride on the back of one of their horses after they got done getting their kills sorted out.  I told them I would be cool and one of the guys handed me his map and told me to put it under the wiper blade of a blue Dodge pickup when I got back and we separated ways and I proceeded to run the 12 miles back to my car.

I truly have a penchant for getting lost, always have and probably always will.  I used to panic when I got lost and start to get really freaked out as soon as I realized I was going the wrong way.  However, something truly remarkable happened along the way as I began to put perspective into different ways to handle my reactions and some of the bad habits that weren’t allowing me to enjoy life as much as possible.  I examined why I freaked out so much when I got lost and decided that I didn’t trust that I could get found and I had a permanent sense of lost somewhere deep inside my heart.  Jeremiah described this another way “My people have been lost sheep; their shepherds have led them astray and caused them to roam on the mountains.  They wandered over mountain and hill and forgot their resting place.” Jeremiah 50:6  Being lost isn’t permanent, forgetting your resting place just might be.  If you have a sense of always being lost, it’s probably about time to get found.  The only way to get found is to remember where your resting place is.  I love prophecy simply because prophecy doesn’t fit into our neat little boxes that we tend to try to throw stuff into.  It’s just as easy to look at that verse above and blame being lost on the shepherd as it is blaming me being lost in the woods on my poor sense of direction.  It’s an obvious leap of faith but notice that the “they” referred to isn’t the shepherds but the sheep.  And it isn’t the wandering that Jeremiah is pointing out, it is the forgetfulness of where the resting place is.  When you forget where your resting place is located, you go through life anxious and afraid of everything around you.  There is no peace and there is no sense of direction or stability in your life.  Your resting place is that center of peace, the place where you know it’s just a matter of being aware of who you are and what you were created to do and then determining to find that place again.  Your resting place is your sure place, an inner peace that transcends any sense of being miss-placed or lost.  Finding this place is going to cause you to have to reach back into your bag of stones, the things of your past and to find the stone that best represents why you are feeling lost.  Then you are going to have to apply truth to being lost and get yourself found.  This means you are going to have to find the place of peace that got lost and has been lost for a really long time maybe even.  You are going to have to not get lost on purpose but you are going to have to get lost while out adventuring so you can get found because in this getting lost to your self and your own ambitions and plans for your life (just like I get lost sometimes on the trails I am running) this situation is going to cause you to not panic and over analyze and spin headlong into a bad habit that won’t do a thing to help you get found.  You’re going to have to find a place of peace, a place that is higher than where you presently are so you can look around for some landmarks and maybe if you’re lucky and time it just right hear a volley of shots that signal you to the fact that somebody with a map may be really close at hand and that even if they joke you some they are going to set you on a path back to your resting place.

Living an ultra life means you are going to have to acknowledge that sometimes you are lost and then drop the stone of being uncomfortable by the side of the trail and get back to your resting place, that place of peace.

Overcoming Brokenness

I really shouldn’t be a runner, much less a trail runner.  I’ve always had knee pain and coming off knee surgery in 2006 I didn’t even bother to do any rehabilitation.  I just began eating more and walking even less.  My ankles turn and roll even when I’m walking across flat surfaces and I’ve even been told I’m a mouth breather (which when you let that roll out of your mouth sounds really bad even) so my lungs are not able to get all the oxygen they’re supposed to or something like that.  I’ve been told equally my stride is too long, too short and that my hips don’t fire when I run so my glutes have to work harder.  So really I shouldn’t even be running.  In fact I think I’ll go sit in my easy chair and embrace all my brokenness.  Or I can do something even more odd than anything else I have done so far in my life.  I could acknowledge my brokenness as a runner and run anyway.  By now you probably know which choice I am going to make.  I choose to acknowledge my brokenness and then find ways to overcome it.  See this is the way I was built and the circumstances I have brought about through my own choices in life.  I chose to not tell anybody in high school when my knees were killing me because I knew that I would never play in a game if I acknowledged I was hurting.  That was my choice.  I chose to overcome the ankle rolls and sprains that seemed to happen all the time because if I acknowledged that it hurt to put weight on my ankle then as one of the least athletic people I knew I would never play in the game.  So I learned to play with pain and learned to find ways to overcome the things that should have kept me off the field.  And in running I do the same things.  I have studied running and trail running, looked at different techniques and then modified what they were doing so it fit with how I can do the same things.  I know that because of my caution in running downhill so as not to twist my ankle I will never finish in the top 10 of a 50 miler but I know I will finish and live to battle the trails another day.

There are a couple of quotes from Roy Hession’s book “The Calvary Road” that I find really right for this topic and absolutely required if we are going to put the past in the past.  “Our brokenness and openness must be two-way, horizontal as well as vertical, with one another as with God.”  So many people are living lives of brokenness, whether it be because of things they said, things they didn’t say, things they did, things they didn’t do and every spectrum in between.  When life doesn’t work out like we wanted it to, we become broken and in this brokenness instead of seeing the opportunity to overcome and use the brokenness for good we allow the brokenness to take us into spirals of habits that don’t allow us to truly live an ultra life, a full life.  With that we break relationships with those closest to us but also the one relationship we can’t break, our relationship with our Creator.  What Mr. Hession is saying in the above quote is that we must combine our brokenness with openness and that with these two combine it with a horizontal outreach – our interaction with others, and a vertical outreach – our interactions with our Savior God.  In another section of the same book Mr. Hession writes “brokenness in daily experience is simply the response of humility to the conviction of God.”  How you choose to discuss brokenness will definitely decide how you move on in life.  If you choose to carry the stone of brokenness around with you as something holding you back, a weight that is considerable, you will not be able to fully embrace an ultra life.  You will always have limits on what you are able to do, who you are able to become and you will constantly fight battles that maybe you’re not supposed to be fighting.

Living an ultra life is going to require running with some brokenness but not allowing that brokenness to keep you in your easy chair.  There is going to be some pain involved but that pain is going to make you stronger as you realize that your brokenness is a perfect response of humility and that by responding with openness to your brokenness you will be able to run further and finish better and you will leave a very heavy stone by the side of the trail.

Embrace Imperfectness

I was sitting in church on a Sunday before Christmas just minding my business when my mind took off on a tangent I didn’t know how to get out of.  It all started with Isaiah 9:6-7 “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.  And he will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end.  He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.  The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.”  Now if you’re normal I guess your mind would go straight to Jesus and Christmas and the manger and donkeys and cows and stuff.  However, if you happen to be slightly abnormal maybe your mind goes where my mind went.  See I went to all my imperfections – as a Jesus follower, as a husband, as a manager, as a salesman, as a writer, as a runner and as a lover of life.  But not in your usual depressing “I’m a failure” type of imperfection where I guess normal people might go.  No, I went with how exciting it is that I am imperfect and how the world needs more imperfect leaders and people of influence, what a better world it would be.  I see so many leaders striving to be perfect – in appearance, in speech, in the written word and other places – and I began to think about what a difference it would make if we would embrace our imperfectness (is that even a word?  It has now officially become one).  Let me make me case for imperfection and imperfectness (which word is correct?) and why a struggling, dis-unified world is looking for leaders and potential leaders that can embrace their imperfections yet still be real enough to be a person of influence and why it is all about this one particular passage prophesying about a coming Savior who would place an imperfect world on His shoulders and establishing a world with justice and righteousness from that time forward forever and ever.  If we could all begin to embrace our imperfectness with an everlasting perfectness perhaps our world would be a better and different place.

We are all dealing with a level of imperfectness and we have all developed mechanisms to hide this imperfectness from others and sometimes like me we even think we are hiding our imperfectness from the very God we choose to worship.  But what if this didn’t have to be true?  What if I could be unfat and healthy again?  Where would I begin if I truly wanted my internal imperfect self to be healed and restored?  See I believed somewhere deep that there was an imperfect yet restored to the perfect One self somewhere deep inside of me and I was desperate to find that person because I knew that I could like and possibly even begin to love that person in his imperfectness.  Yet I knew that if I just kept on doing the things I had been taught to do and expect different results that I would never ever live to see that imperfect person be restored to a point where his imperfectness could be used by a Perfect God to bring glory to God and not to that person (that will make more sense soon).  So I began to deal with my imperfect self and began to bring my imperfections before God in a new and unique way for me.  For me this was in running as I had never (and I do mean NEVER) liked running.  I used to make fun of the faces I would see on the runners trudging along the roads I traveled.  So I determined that if I wanted to see my imperfections be made whole again and useful to God that I would deal with my imperfections on the road as I ran, sweating like a fat pig, jogging slowly along the roads of life.  As I went out each day and presented to God another bit of my imperfectness I noticed something…..I began to look forward to my time running because I knew it was my own little perfect sacrifice from an imperfect person to a perfect God (better than a pigeon or an ox in my mind) a little part of my imperfectness and I wasn’t asking God to heal the imperfectness but I was asking Him to do something different……I was asking Him to allow me to embrace my imperfectness and to allow that imperfectness to be used by Him.  Notice here that I am not advocating for embracing your sin, the lies and the habits that destroy both you and others around you.  No those need to be banned from your universe of thinking and they need to be dealt with at the altar of life and submitted as sin and they need a God sized forgiveness and a God sized healing so you can deal with the imperfectness that results or maybe even resulted in your imperfectness.  There’s another little verse before the verses that line out how to choose the outwardly perfect looking leaders to lead the imperfect church that really lays this out there bold and better than I could ever write.  1 Timothy 2:5-6 “For there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity – the man Christ Jesus.  He gave his life to buy freedom for everyone.  This is the message God gave to the world at just the right time.”  I am a sinful man and I have sinned against the glory of God but as I ran the fat away I began to believe this verse was written just for me.  Each time I would discern sin in my imperfectness I would bring it to God on my run and I would say “God here you go……here is a sin habit that I have of _______.  Now as I run I ask that your son Jesus be my go between and that he begin the process of settling or bringing about a compromise between you and me so that we can once again live together in peace.”  Now I know that all the theologians in the world will rip that prayer apart and quite frankly I hope they do because if anything it will show that I can only pray in my imperfect knowledge of a perfect God and what He desires for me and that is why going back to Isaiah 9:6-7 in a God government and peace and why I am willing to submit to His governance (I love the definition of governance on the UNESCO website – – under their education tab where they define governance as “…the structures and processes that are designed to ensure accountability, transparency, responsiveness, rule of law, stability, equity, and inclusiveness, empowerment and broad-based participation) over my life.  In other words when I accept God’s governance over my imperfectness I am allowing Him to build around me structures and processes (those are the people with whom I fellowship) that will allow my broad-based participation in ensuring that I live a life that does not allow for hidden things to remain hidden but to be brought to the surface and dealt with in a way that brings a stability and equity to my life and the life of those around me.  As I did this on my runs I found myself running further and further and I found myself really looking forward to the runs with an eagerness to practice shedding the weight of the world that had so ensnared me to bad habits and bad practices that weren’t drawing me closer to God and people but were acting as a way to draw me further into myself and what I wanted out of life creating in me a critical and contrite spirit of trying to prove to others why I was good and justified in my failures of morality and thought life.  See my imperfectness without God only created more imperfectness.  My imperfectness with God creates a way to be transparent before God and man in a way that striving for perfection could never have accomplished.

All my thoughts of imperfectness started with a prophecy about a Savior and to think that from the time these words were uttered by Isaiah to the time that they actually came true in the birth of a Savior was 700 years or so.  It shows me that what the world is desperately seeking, in all of our political turmoil and economic chaos and wars unending is some imperfect leaders who are willing to be imperfect in the midst of a perfect Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  What the world is seeking and they don’t even know how to put into words is a culture and a climate that accept their imperfectness and allow their imperfectness to not disqualify them from the game of life.  This is what we are all seeking and most of us don’t even realize it yet.  Many people approach the season of Christmas and before they will even allow themselves to choose the Christ in Christmas or even culturally put it back into play they will angrily dismiss any word of God because an imperfect church has imperfectly loved or accepted them and because that imperfect body imperfectly accepted and loved them they can’t express faith or belief in a perfect God.  So they will spend Christmas season drinking away or eating away or angering away their anger and bitterness and blame everything except the possibility that God’s plan all along may have been that He desired an imperfect body to show off his perfectness and that we as humans need to do a better job of accepting our imperfectness so the rest of the imperfect people around us can have a better shot at accepting a perfect gift of a relationship with a perfect God that loves our imperfectness.

Being able to move forward into being the you that you were created to be means that perhaps it is time to take the stone of being perfect out of the bag and leave it by the side of the trail.  This will be a significant mile marker for many because it will be the day that you embrace your imperfectness and realize that you will never have it all together enough to be able to accomplish the great things that have already been laid before you.

No Time To Critique

Temperature down around 10, blowing winds, snow on the ground……not exactly when most people think to go out for a run.  But there I was all bundled up against the elements out there doing my thing, getting some time away from the noise and the constant calls and requests that are part of a busy life in sales and management.  This is why I run, to get away, to have momentary times of escape where I can get away from a life that seems to be filled with critique.

We all receive them and sometimes it seems constant……the whole world seems to be in critique mode.  In sales it comes as “you’re off 0.03% of your sales budget”, “your margins are way too low”, “you need to get out and sell more at higher margins” and only on very rare occasions do you get a good critique, somebody telling you what a fine person you are and how good you are doing.  We turn on the TV and try to watch a football game and all we hear is how bad the quarterback is and why didn’t he do this and why doesn’t the coach do this.  It’s like one constant critique and let’s not even get into politics……..OMG!!!!

What if there were a better way to approach life?  What if we could discover a way to turn the critiques that will come our way into a message that fills us with wonder and a way to turn words that look and feel damning into something good?  As I ran on this cold and windy day, taking a break from work I began to wonder if our world was full of critics who were constantly critiquing everything that happened in life and if they knew how to give positive feedback which I feel is of much more benefit to humanity as a whole.  “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” John 15:11  It is kind of stunning to think that Jesus could deliver this verse in the middle of a section where he is talking about vines and branches and delivers earlier a message that a vine can’t bear fruit by itself because I deeply desire joy and even more importantly I would like my joy to be complete or as the original Greek word describes “be complete” that joy would fill me as a net full of fish.  In those times when the critiques of this world fill our every moment and sometimes cause us hurt and anger because people don’t see the sheer brilliance in what we are doing these are the times that we have to find that place that God has created for all of us to escape to, that place where once again we can be completely and overwhelmingly filled with joy, inescapable joy.

Living an ultra life is to overlook the critique as there is no time for critique to take the place of joy.

When we shift away from the constant critiquing that our society seems to wear like a badge of honor today we are able to begin to take stones out of our bag and leave them by the side of the trail.  Nothing speaks to leaving the past in the past like complete joy.  This joy comes in believing you are good and you were perfectly designed and that even if you’re not perfect in all you do that you are still pretty darn awesome.  Once you are able to do this then you are able to look at how you critique others and realize how narrow-minded you are when you can look at somebody else and think you are above them or better than them or more educated than them.  It is at this moment when the weight of the world begins to no longer affect you and joy becomes complete.  The added bonus is that you become lighter on your feet, able to dance around the rocks coming downhill through the scree and you trip over roots and rocks less often and have joyous runs with the One who created you.

Sometimes Song Birds Can’t Carry A Tune

The year I was turning 50 I decided that on my birthday, at the beginning of July that I would run 50 miles.  No reason and no I hadn’t ever run 50 miles in one day.  But that was what I decided to do and nothing any sane person could tell me was going to change my mind.  Oh sure, really intelligent people said “why not wait until fall when it is a little cooler, it’s not your birthday but it won’t be as miserably hot.”  That one did sound good but both my wife, who goes by the title of “forever girlfriend”, and I both knew I’m not really good at listening to others or doing the wise thing.  So my forever girlfriend and I began to plan for the big day and I put in lots of training miles while traveling around the country for my job.  From January to June I ran in 16 different states, more cities than I care to count and basically pushed myself immensely.  There was one thing I hadn’t planned for though and this is where my forever girlfriend comes in.  I hadn’t planned for the heat but she had.  She purchased a weed sprayer and made nice cold smoothies and planned to jump out of the car every couple of miles and squirt me down to get my core temperature down.  She was absolutely amazing.  However, around mile 41 she did something that just absolutely floored me.  I was struggling bad and was now at a slow shuffle walk and was beginning to question my sanity and whether I could finish this thing.  She had her sister let her out of the car and go park about a mile (it seemed like ten at the time) away and she began to walk with me and talk with me.  And then she did it.  She broke into the most amazing song, The Impossible Dream, with all the hand motions and full voice she could muster after serving me for the last 8 or so hours.  It must have been quite the song because as we reached the car which was parked under some trees right by a ranch on this country road, the rancher came out and asked “is everything okay?”  With that my forever girlfriend and I had quite the laugh because truth is she can’t carry a tune, at least not that day.  And it didn’t matter because for me something broke right there and then.  I began to see how much this incredible creäture meant to me and how much I appreciate her.  Our marriage hasn’t always been perfect but we’ve always gone through everything together.  We haven’t always sung in tune with each other, but we’ve sung anyway and that is when something really deep hit me and I had to pick up a stone from my bag and look at the truth in it and then toss it to the side.  I had carried this stone for quite some time and it was an awfully bitter stone to carry around, full of failures, full of regrets and full of shame.  See I had never been able to produce a child with my lovely forever girlfriend and in church and missions this isn’t an outward big deal but it is like a big deal that never gets talked about or addressed.  See you’ll never be an elder or a deacon or even the perfect missionary if you don’t have children.  That was the stone.  It was born out in a lot of verses, every time somebody uses the verse in 1 Timothy 3 about every person who desires to be an overseer (if you can’t manage your own family, how can he take care of God’s church) and lots and lots of other verses and examples.  Look at your church board, your deacons and elders.  See any without kids or grand-kids?  Most likely not, unless it is the single youth pastor.  And that was the stone I was carrying around and suddenly I had to put truth to it.  But where to find truth to apply to this stone in my life.

Luke 6:34 “But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back.  Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.”  Strange place granted to find truth but here is where the stone has to be dropped off.  Even though life has not gone the way my forever girlfriend and I planned it.  We wanted children, felt like failures for not being able to have children.  But there is a greater truth behind even this pain in life.  We may not have children ourselves but we are children of the Most High.  If we keep carrying stones that weigh us down from discovering who we really are then we are never going to come into the place that the King of Kings, the Most High Creator God has already erected for us.  In order for me to lay that stone down that I had been carrying around for far too long I needed to step into the truth of who I am in God, not who I am in the church hierarchy or structure.  I am an elder in His church, the truth is I may never be an elder or deacon of an organized religious church, and the universal church that is pastored by the Great High God accepts me just as I am.  There are no other qualifications needed for this place of leadership.  1 John 3:16 “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.”

My forever girlfriend taught me something that hot day around mile 41.  She taught me that she was willing to lay down her priorities, her methods and her opinion just to walk with me and serenade me with a song while I was attempting to do something that she knew very well was instrumental in me becoming the man God created me to be.  My song bird may not be able to carry a tune, but she can carry her man across a finish line with laughs and songs like nobody you’ve ever heard before.

So here’s the part of living an ultra life for you.  In the midst of your pain, are you willing to serenade somebody else with a song that is slightly out of tune?  Are you willing to be serenaded with a song that is out of tune by somebody who deeply cares for your well-being?  If you’re not then you’re never going to be able to lay down that stone and begin running your race with perseverance.  If you are then you can look at the heaviest stone in your bag, put truth to it, decide to lay down your life for others and lay that stone right there on the side of the road.  For such a heavy stone you’ll probably have to do this drill more than once but I have faith in you.  After all you’re an ultra marathoner, the fittest in the bunch and you have all the strength and training already behind you to be able to live an ultra life of continually laying down your life for your brothers and sisters.  In this little act of love you will find that your heaviest stone just can’t walk with you any longer.

Putting the Past in the Past

When I ran my first marathon in October 2011 I weighed in at a svelte 232 pounds, about 22 pounds heavier than I would have liked to.  The reason this is significant is simply this.  Can you imagine what it is like to carry a bag slung over your shoulder with about 20 odd pounds of stones that you’ve picked up along the way?  Probably as uncomfortable as running a marathon with about 20 odd pounds too much weight.  It’s going to slow you down along the way and it’s most likely going to color your experiences in a way where you won’t enjoy them as much as possible.

If you let your experiences be colored by the weight you’re carrying around.

But what if you didn’t have to carry that bag with all those stones around?  Would you feel a little lighter, have a little more spring in your step?  Most likely, just the same as my not noticing that I carried around an extra 20 pounds through Washington DC that day.  On the contrary, I thoroughly enjoyed every single mile, so much that about mile 21 I ran backwards more than a mile to check on some friends and make sure they were doing okay.  I crossed that finish line and it was all such a blur, maybe through the tears, or maybe because the sights and sounds were all just so overwhelming.  I did something that a year earlier I never would have thought possible.  I finished a marathon, plus an extra couple miles, and the joy of crossing that line marked a tremendous period in my life.  In fact, I have not been the same since.  Who I am as a husband, follower of Jesus, business person, runner and friend is so much different from before I ran that first marathon.

And I owe it all to one thing and one thing only.  I actually believed a Bible verse and decided to start living as if I really did believe it.  Philippians 3:12-14 “Not that I have already obtained all this (see verses 1-11), or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.  But one thing I do:  Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”  Let’s just concentrate for a second on one little sentence that just sneaks in there but begs us to take hold of it because in this ultra marathon of life if we don’t we are going to miss out on an awful lot of enjoyment and peace.  “But one thing I do:  Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,……..”  The day I began training for my first marathon I was carrying around a lot more than physical weight, I was carrying around a virtual duffel bag of past regrets, past failures, past should have’s, past what if’s, past second thoughts and even some past victories.  I carried this weight around because I didn’t know what to do with them quite frankly.  I believed the Bible (well most of it), I tried my best to live the Word of God, but I was carrying around so much baggage and not letting go of things that I was weighted down and I didn’t even know it.  I knew what to do with the physical weight, eat right and exercise, rinse and repeat.  Try as I might though and even though this verse is one of my life verses and I can repeat it to you verbatim in the middle of the night if shaken awake, I could not find a training plan to get rid of the past and I just kept carrying it.

Until one day something in my brain and my heart clicked all at once.  Out on a run, why not since all good things happen to me on a run, I was out running around the lake near our house on a very early morning and suddenly it just hit me like a ton of bricks. It hit so hard I had to stop on the path and walk down by the water to make sure I got it mentally sorted out.  See when my wife and I were met at the airport in Norfolk VA after flaming out so abruptly from our time in Kazakhstan, our pastor, mentor and friend met us there.  He didn’t try to soften the blow or come up with great answers but he said one thing that it took me almost three years to process correctly.  He said “feel the feelings, but seek the truth.”  In other words we were going to feel a lot of things and none of the feelings were false, they were all real.  But in feeling the feelings, the rawness of failure and disappointment this incredible man wanted us to look deeper, way past the surface greetings of “how you doing?” because nobody really wanted to hear how crappy I felt that day, it was just a greeting.  There is truth beneath the pain, beneath the disappointment and beneath the past.  However, if you never allow yourself to get to the past, you’ll never discover the trails that have already been developed for you.  That little simple truth began an incredible journey of recovery for me.  I began looking for truth in each and every stone I was carrying in my duffel bag of my past.  Once I took each stone out and began to look for truth in each one I discovered that I didn’t have to put the stone back in my duffel bag of the past anymore.  I could move on from that past and I could strive for the future that was already out there for me.

The following series of posts are intentional ways to begin to see the future of what is out there for you.  By the end of these next ten posts (one every other day) you are going to be taking stones out of your bag and dropping them off.  You are going to find truth in the pain and truth in the failures and truth in the baggage you’re carrying and your load is going to be lightened.  This is not an ending, it is the beginning of your glorious future and I cannot wait to see your future unfold.

Ordinary is Average, You’re Anything But Average

There is another series coming up as I get closer to launching my book in another couple of months.  Just to wet everybody’s appetites I thought I would post this short blog about why I do the things I do, what motivates me.  The whole thought starts with the belief that I’ve never met an average person and perhaps this thought below can help you to know a little more about what I’m reaching for.

A chapter of my book is about a couple of people I’ve met along my ultra marathon of life and I can’t wait for you to meet them and learn from them.  These are just a few of the people who have inspired me greatly over the years, there are so many that it would take chapters to tell all of their stories.  One of the things I would most like to point out is simply another little ingredient that I believe we could strive for a bit more.  I can only sum this up one way and that is simply I have allowed myself to be inspired.  I watch people get a degree or get a raise or a bonus and they think they have arrived, that nobody could be greater or smarter than them.  And I feel saddened when I see this in other people simply because I realize they are missing out on some of the most incredible people they could ever be around.  See, I want to, really deeply want to, be inspired by people.  That is why I urge people to tell me their stories, tell me the things they are doing, even if they think they’re just waking up, going to work, coming home and doing it all again the next day.  See somewhere in every person I meet I believe there is something inspiring in them that can make me a better person if I’m just willing to learn from them.  I believe that every person I meet is capable of great things and even if they don’t see those things in themselves then I am going to try to open a window so they can look into themselves and see the greatness inside.  I don’t honestly know where this came from but I do know it takes a constant deciding to not believe that I have arrived, have learned everything I need to know or even to think I am an expert in my field.  I want to be a life long learner, constantly looking to be inspired by your story and that is why I want to get to know so many people.  To me ordinary is average and I’ve never met an average person.  I am constantly meeting people who are anything but average and I deeply wish that this is something that you would begin also.  Living an ultra life is seeing the anything but average in every single person you are blessed to meet and then deciding you can be inspired by them.