Strength In Weakness

On every long run there is a point where you realize that physically you are done, your body just can’t possibly move forward and every ache and pain comes to the forefront.  This is where mental toughness comes into play and quite frankly this is where you better have faith in something more than what you can do.  For me this is exemplified in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “….My grace is all you need.  My power works best in weakness.”  There are many times where people tend to look at admitting weakness as something negative but I believe it is the complete opposite, this is a positive in my life.  Running loosens something in my life where I am able to not only see my weaknesses but allow the Holy Spirit to give me strength I know I don’t have.

Living an ultra life and moving forward relentlessly means realizing where you are weak and have need of a Savior is actually one of the strongest things you can do.

Happy Easter

The power of the Holy Spirit both amazes and scares me.  Growing up Catholic I always tend to think of the Holy Spirit as the shoulders of the Trinity.  You know what I mean…..touch your forehead – Father God; touch your heart – Jesus Messiah; touch your right and your left shoulder – and Holy Ghost.  The body of Christ to me has to be formed as a body is and so my body is a great place to start.  You don’t really realize how important your shoulders are until you injure one.  I remember I was playing softball after we got back from Kazakhstan and I slid into second base headfirst.  As I reached out for the base my chest sort of rose up slightly and instead of hitting the bag with my hand and gracefully wrapping my hand around it, my right shoulder slammed so hard into the base that I knocked it out of socket.  I was able to pop it back in but third base was now out of the question as I couldn’t throw the ball two feet away.  So many other things started feeling horrible after a shoulder injury and I constantly felt off.  So now bring my Catholic Holy Spirit analogy back into the picture.  What happens when we hurt the Holy Spirit?  Basically we throw the whole balance thing out of whack.

Ephesians 4 is an amazing chapter and if you start in verse 17 and then travel through the passage to the end you will travel through some great tips for Christian or Jesus following living.  There is this one really cool passage though.  Starting in verse 29, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may help those who listen.  And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.  Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.  Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”  It’s right there, did you see it?  We can injure, harm, but what does it really mean to “grieve the Holy Spirit of God”?  Some synonyms of grieve are “lament, weep, bewail, bemoan, suffer.  These words imply showing suffering caused by sorrow.  Grieve is the stronger word, implying deep mental suffering often endured alone and in silence but revealed by one’s aspect.” (Dictionary.com)  Take this passage a little deeper with the full meaning of grieve in there and suddenly I begin to know why I feel off balance sometimes and out of sorts.  When I let talk come out of my mouth that is criticizing or hurtful or anything that does not build others up grieves the Holy Spirit, literally causes the Holy Spirit to endure a deep mental suffering that is revealed by the Holy Spirit not being able to hold up the weight of what I am doing to others.  That kind of makes me think a little deeper about what comes out of my mouth.

I think of the words in the song “Holy of Holies” where it says “take the coal, cleanse my lips, here I am.”  Maybe this is why the Holy Spirit amazes and scares me.  I am amazed because I have literally in the past been glued to the floor by the Holy Spirit as God decided to heal wounds deep inside of me and the only way He could do it was to literally floor me with His power.  I have been in meetings where the presence of the Holy Spirit was so over powering that you couldn’t stand on your feet, you were either on your face in front, on your knees or laid flat-out.  And the Holy Spirit never once took advantage of me or people I knew that were experiencing the Holy Spirit in the same way I was.  There are many days where I want the clean, pure touch of the Holy Spirit to fall on me once again so I can be healed of the brokenness that keeps me from stepping into the glorious future I know my Father God has already set before me.  And this is where the Holy Spirit scares the crud out of me because see I know that the Holy Spirit is so powerful that He literally could fall upon me in a fresh way that has nothing to do with who I am or what I am doing, where I am running or what I am running from or to.  That scares me because there is literally no place on this amazing earth that I can hide from the Holy Spirit.  There isn’t a trail in the middle of a National Forest that can hide me from the Holy Spirit and I’m not really sure I want to hide from the Holy Spirit.

Endless Uphill

A couple of friends and I ran a hard uphill route the other day and around mile 5 my mind kept coming to a place where I was content with my effort and in a way I was excited because I knew I was halfway to the point where we would turn around and run back downhill.  My mantra on runs like this is Relentless Forward Movement.  When I hit the next burning glutes section I just begin repeating that knowing that it isn’t really going to make the uphill slog any better but it is conditioning my mind to overcome the pain and uncomfortable feelings running through my body.  We finally arrived at the turn around point and began the 10 mile run downhill which is ways is just as bad as the uphill but a lot more fun because you’re losing altitude and it’s at least easier to breathe.  Suddenly as I got around 18 miles in my mind started thinking about how much like life this run was.  Maybe it was the slight uphill or something but my mind was so set on how often in life we allow the ups and downs to affect the way we live our lives, the way we interact with family and friends, the way we work, the way we worship our Creator.  For the next two miles I thought mainly about what is my mantra to set my mind at peace over all the circumstances that are going to occur on a daily basis, how am I going to be of steadfast mind no matter what is going on around me.

There were so many verses that coursed through my head about steadfastness.  Isaiah 26:3 “You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.”  Psalm 51:10 “Create in me a pure heart, O god, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”  Psalm 112:7 “They will have no fear of bad news; their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord.”  The definition of steadfast is “resolutely or dutifully firm and unwavering”.  The Holman Bible Dictionary has this remarkable explanation of steadfast.  “A word meaning to endure patiently.  A steadfast person is one who is reliable, faithful and true to the end.  Paul said Jesus was a person of steadfastness (Romans 15:3-4).  The NAS translates steadfastness with “perseverance” (2 Thessalonians 1:4).  James said that trials that test our faith produce steadfastness (2 Thessalonians 1:3 KJV “patience”, NAS “endurance”, NIV “perseverance”).

Maybe those definitions are why my mind was so settled on steadfastness those last 2 miles.  The secret to running long amounts of miles for long amounts of time is simply the ability to get your mind into a better place so that you can overcome whatever the route is going to throw away.  It means that no matter how many twisted ankles, rolling hills, long uphills, rocks, stumps and roots that are trying to trip you up, no matter what your stomach is feeling like, no matter how hot or cold you are.  None of these things matter because you are going to get your mind in the right place.  For me this means that on a daily, almost minutely, basis I have to get my mind centered on thoughts that are going to bring about the desired result I am looking for.  Maybe others are stronger and don’t need to re-center their thoughts on a constant basis but that is where I am and it works for me.

But what about most people?  How many people who aren’t ultra runners struggle with the same thought life that doesn’t allow them to be steadfast in knowing that no matter what life throws at them are still going to endure to the end because there is this great big God who has us in the palm of His hands?  Do you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that no matter what you’re going through that there is a way to keep your mind steadfast?  There is a way to keep your mind steadfast on the Creator God and His ability to keep you from harm and there is nothing He longs to do more than to renew your mind so you can shove out the negative thoughts about not making it up the hills of life and that He is there to deliver you to a better place.  That’s what steadfast thinking is all about and why the mantra Relentless Forward Movement is so important to us no matter what we are pursuing.  When I am making forward movement there is no place for the negative thoughts to enter into my thinking and I am able to stay steadfast in my thoughts dwelling on my Creator God delivering me once again to a place where my feet fall on flat surfaces and He draws me into His presence.

That is what living an ultra life is about.  When we live our lives to the full, to the extent where we feel like we’re bursting with joy and contentment we are all about living an ultra life.  And it all starts with our hearts and our minds.

Against The Wind

I was out running at lunch time today and when I got back my peeps asked me how my run was and I said it was definitely a Bob Seger run.  I work with some really young people because two of them said “who’s that and what’s that mean?”  I then had to explain that there used to be a day when music was played on instruments instead of computers and there was this genre called rock n’ roll and Bob Seger was one of the best and a Bob Seger run is a run “Against the Wind”.  Of course they know how to keep me humble so they just said “why didn’t you just say it was a windy run”.  Unimaginative cretins!  Just kidding, they may actually one day read something I wrote.  As I was out running against the wind I kept thinking about how we all seem to be running against the wind.  And it doesn’t make life very joyful when we are constantly (or is it just me?) running against the wind.

“Let me explain.  No there is too much.  Let me sum up” (50 points if you can guess the movie reference).  So anyway I’m out running against the wind and I can’t get this concept of the Holy Spirit out of my head,  “Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.”  Acts 2:2 The wind blows like that in Wyoming some days (okay in certain towns that start with a C that is pretty much every day) and when I’m out running in the wind I can picture the looks on the faces of the men and women packed into this room patiently (well probably not since Peter was there) for what Jesus had told them was coming.  Suddenly a sound like a mighty rushing wind comes rushing into the room and the Holy Spirit falls in power on these early Jesus followers.  They stumble out of the room speaking in the tongues of people from every nation that are gathered in Jerusalem and these people have never spoken this language before.  So now I want you to picture running against that kind of powerful wind.  This will do more than bend you straight up and make you feel like you’re running in quick sand.  The power of the Holy Spirit is so strong that if you try to run against It you are going to be flat on your fanny in a Jiffy Lube moment.

Yeah but I’m sure I’m the only person that ever runs against the Holy Spirit, right?  I’m sure that nobody else ever speaks ill of somebody else or mutters about their spouse and their weird habits that just pester and annoy you, right?  I’m sure I’m the only one that when you know you’re supposed to be doing something productive that could change lives (like writing) you turn the TV on to some worthless program because you just need to veg, right?  I mean I know I’m the only one that knows I could either eat healthy or I can eat that candy bar and drink that Coke, right?  Hey, what’s one beer or glass of wine or another or another or another………yeah I’m the only one who’s ever been there, I know.  Or you blow your top because your computer isn’t doing what you want it to do, stupid machine that can’t read my mind instead of the fat fingers that are trying to type in the right thing.  Yeah I know, I’m the only dude that has ever done things like this.  Did you know that these are all examples of running against the wind?  “Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.”  Scared yet?  Dang I’m scared because I know that there are so many times I fall short of the glory of God and there I am running against the wind again.  But then that’s probably just me.

I do know that as I turned around and ran back to my office my pace quickened and it was a much more enjoyable run (not that there is such a thing as a run that isn’t enjoyable) and it made me think about what it is like to run with Holy Spirit through life.  I want to run through this life living a Stephen type of life.  You know this guy right?  “When the Sanhedrin heard this (Stephen’s testimony), they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him.  But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.”  The guy is about to be stoned to death and he is testifying about heaven opening and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.  That takes a special kind of peace and contentment that can only be found when you are running with the wind, not against it.

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.