Filling Up The Philippians 3:13 Trashcan

One of my favorite things to do in life is to look at where I am living in the past.  Whether it be some great victory or some crushing defeat I am learning to solidly put these behind me and continue to move forward.  My favorite mantra when I am doing a long run over 20 miles is simply “keep moving forward”.  It is probably my mantra for life.  I first came up with this on my 50th birthday as I was attempting to run 50 miles.  My mom and dad surprised me by having a reporter from our local media company track me down the day of my run and interview me for a feature that actually aired that night on television.  I didn’t see it because I was spending a lot of time recovering and eating with my family but somewhere out there is a tape of this.  Anyway, one of the things this reporter asked me at the top of a hill around mile 27 or so was why I was doing this.  I told her something about wanting to start the second half of my life strong and that I couldn’t think of something that would ingrain in my spirit strength like running 50 miles in the July heat.  She then asked me what my plan was to be able to do this and I simply replied “keep moving forward and don’t think of the miles already behind.”  I believe that this is what causes us to move into who we were designed to be, that spirit that says “no matter what has already happened, how many miles are under my feet I am just going to simply keep moving forward.”  Our forward movement is what gets us places in life but so many people I know are still dwelling in the past – either the positive past or the negative past or a combination of both – and all it is doing is bogging them down and keeping them from running this grand ultra marathon of life.

Paul said this so much better than me (as he does a lot of things) in Philippians 3:12-16 “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  Brothers, 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.  All of us who are mature should take such a view of things.  And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you.  Only let us live up to what we have already attained.”

I could leave it right there and let it soak in. All you are being asked to do in this ultra marathon of life is to forget what is behind you, it’s behind you and there’s nothing you can fix or do better.  There is no victory in the past that is going to equip you for the future unfolding in front of you.  Sure you can learn from everything but each and every single day you have on this earth is going to unfold in a different way with different challenges and stresses, different joys and reliefs, and the only way you can press on toward the goal to win the prize is to keep moving forward without the weight of what is past.  I have done this many different ways in my life but the most spectacular and clear way I ever did this was to just write down on a piece of paper all the things I had accomplished and all of my failures I was still holding onto.  And then I created my Philippians 3:13 trash can.  It was metal and all I did was take the paper that I had written down everything I could remember up to that point in life and I lit it on fire and dumped it in the trash can.  I watched my victories and defeats go up in flames and then I could confidently say quietly but assuredly “Okay God let’s keep moving forward.”

Living an ultra life means letting the past go where it belongs, the past.  An ultra life is best lived continually moving forward.

Strengthen Your Strengths

I once told somebody that I no longer focus on my weaknesses and they looked at me like I’m crazy.  We were out running a trail on a section that was pretty difficult in that there were no flat places to run for like six or seven miles.  Everything was either up or down, a winding path through the forest, a couple of stream crossings and just one of those trails where it didn’t take a major effort to run it but you had to keep your mind on the run, stay focused on the trail.  As we finished that stretch and he looked at me complimenting me on how well I had done it, I told him I could because I no longer focused on my weaknesses as a runner but was simply focusing on my strengths.  He looked at me like I was an alien and then said the thing that I know everybody is thinking now, “How are you ever going to be a better runner if you don’t concentrate on getting better at what you’re weak at?”  And that is when I looked at him and said “because my weaknesses are part of who I am, they are put in me because there are other people who are strong at my weaknesses.  It is my job to learn from those who are stronger at my weaknesses to improve them but it is not my job to try to strengthen them.  My job is to strengthen my strengths and let the abilities of others improve my weaknesses.”  I approach my job in the same way.  I know that I am a strong sales person, negotiator and relationship builder.  I also know I am not strong in daily operations, organization and details.  Therefore I don’t spend a lot of time trying to strengthen my weaknesses, but spend an inordinate amount of time studying how to become better at my strengths and then rely on the team that surrounds me to be strong in my weaknesses.  In a corporation this makes people uncomfortable because corporate structure assigns job titles and then expects that job title to do everything themselves.  This leaves little room for team building and often in a corporate environment leaves the corporation with really strong operations but weak sales.  This happens because it is easy to work on the operations side, it doesn’t require people skills or negotiating, it simply requires knowing how to count or manipulate a computer properly.  I find the same is true in running and many other walks of life.  We tend to gravitate towards trying to improve our weaknesses because it is easier to spend large amounts of time improving something we are not good at than it does to strengthen and improve areas we are already good at.  I really don’t know why this is but I believe if we all started assessing where we spend our time we would find this mostly true.

Paul had this same problem.  He had a weakness, something so debilitating that asked God three times to take it away from him.  2 Corinthians 12:7-10 “To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.  Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.  But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in weakness.’  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.”  There is a subtle little switch in the language there and it may be hard to pick up.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.  I know this may seem to contradict my suggestion that concentrating on my strengths is more important than concentrating on my weaknesses, but please notice one thing.  Paul is delighting in weaknesses and in hardships and difficulties.  He acknowledges these are all there and he acknowledges that this is where God’s grace is made perfect.  God’s power is made perfect not in my strengths but in my weakness.  That is why I could concentrate on my weaknesses (and they are legion) all I want to, every single moment of every single day of my life and it is not going to make one iota of difference.  My weaknesses are made perfect in God’s strength but I would never know that if I didn’t strive to do things that would show my weaknesses.  If all I ever did were things that are right in my wheelhouse, that fit into my strengths I will never know what my weaknesses are.  This is why I love the ultra distances in running because at some point you are going to run past your strengths and you are going to have to discover where you are weak.  I am a weak downhiller and technical trail runner.  It doesn’t mean I avoid them like the plague, rather that I accept them and work on my strengths.  I am a good uphiller and I have learned and continue to learn new techniques and strength building exercises to get better at the uphill.  With every uphill I carry out though I know that I am going to have to tap into a strength I don’t possess to get through the downhill.  However, I still go out and hit those trails simply because I know the One who can get me through my weaknesses.  I may hurt, I may have to slide down on my butt sometimes, exhibiting no grace whatsoever but I will get through it and hit the next uphill strong and confidently knowing I am working on this strength.  I know that I can run longer than anybody else, not faster because the fast gene passed me by, but I can go longer than most because I am working on my endurance with gladness knowing that my weakness, the lacking fast gene, is already covered by the grace and power of God.

So what are your strengths?  What are your weaknesses?  Acknowledge your weaknesses and find ways to get involved in the areas you are weak so you can see the strength and power of God at work in your life.  Then get out and live an ultra life by working on your strengths to make them stronger and letting your weaknesses be picked up by somebody else’s strength.

Grace Isn’t Just For Ballerinas

There’s a local trail runner that I both love seeing and hate seeing when I am out running trails.  I love seeing him because he really is an incredible athlete and he always has something positive and encouraging to say out on the trails.  I hate seeing him because he runs like a gazelle or an antelope or a mountain goat.  Nothing like the furry ape I feel like most of the time as I am lumbering up and down the trails.  I love watching him from afar because he looks so fluid, as if every appendage and muscle are working in concert with each other.  It reminds me a lot of when I was young and my mom took me to see The Nutcracker.  I was amazed at the body control the ballerinas and ballerina dudes (what are they called?) had and how they made each move look so effortless.  That is what this guy runs like and what the elites of my chosen sport look like when you watch Youtube videos of them running.  It could be a 16% grade uphill and they are just loping up making it look so effortless.  I hit a 16% grade uphill and I gulp and go “okay, here we go” and then plod up the hill.  I want to look graceful but really don’t think I do look graceful at all.  Or at least I used to……..until one day I realized that whereas I don’t run with the grace of the top runners and the athletes I so desire to be like I do run with a different kind of grace.  I run with a grace that can appreciate the effort I’m putting into the run and where I can enjoy the efforts of the other runners around me.  This is a grace that I have had to cultivate and that quite frankly came from shedding some stones in my life.  See when you are overweight you begin to get really conscious of what your body looks like.  I notice even today the tiny bulges and extra flesh I have in places that perhaps other people don’t have.  I seldom run without a shirt not because I am scared of the sun but because I still have some jiggly portions of my body and I keep saying that one day I’ll run without a shirt on and show off my six pack abs also.  But perhaps I won’t because I learned something else.  Nobody cares what I look like on the outside (or maybe not nobody but nobody that matters in the grand scheme of life) but what the people around me care about is how I carry myself.  I may not look like a ballerina trotting down the trails of life, making it look effortless but I do carry with me a certain grace that only comes from not looking at myself and setting what I look like or how I perform to be able to see the special me inside of me and what I have to offer to the people I am blessed to meet.

 

Grace is one of those words that you will find an abundance of in the Bible.  Depending on which version you are reading it is a high of 131 times in the New Testament and a low of 118 times.  One of my favorite is found in Ephesians 4:7 “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”  Paul in chapter 3 talked about how even though he was the least of all God’s people he had been given a grace to “preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:7-8) and how this special endowment had brought with it a responsibility for service.  I can’t set aside the stone of inadequacy I feel when I see great runners run past me but I can believe that I have been given enough grace to be able to encourage the other runners of life around me.  I don’t believe I am the wisest around me but I do believe I am been given wisdom to share with those around me.  I don’t believe I am the best at what I do but I do believe that I have been given a special endowment to understand how to do business profitably and that I am supposed to share that grace with those around me.  There is like a fine razor’s edge between too cocky and being not confident enough in your abilities to be able to do the things you are called to do.  That’s where grace comes in.  To believe that you have been granted an unmerited favor, a special endowment means that you can’t just use that to enrich yourself or make life more comfortable for yourself.  No grace is something to be shared and to be able to share it you are going to have to lay down the stone of inadequacy on the side of the trail and accept the grace you have been apportioned and then begin to use that grace to encourage other people.

 

Living an ultra life means laying aside the stone of inadequacy (the grace of the loping furry ape in my case) and accepting the grace that has already been given to you.  Then use that grace to encourage others around you.  It’s really difficult to move forward if you keep looking back at what you can’t do.

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 – www.unesco.org – 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.