I Want a Do-Over…I Think…Maybe Not

(Originally posted 6/30/2014)

One of my daughters-in-law recently asked me what I thought was important to teach their kids, which surprised me because she knows I’ve made a LOT of parenting mistakes. It’s something that always comes to mind for me on Mother’s Day and other random days when I am particularly vulnerable to my darker side. That said, I suppose I would be an expert on what not to do! I often wish I could have a do-over. A chance to enact that age-old expression, “if I knew then what I know now”.

So, how would I parent differently if I had it to do over? First, it’s possible, but very difficult, to instill in your children what has not been instilled in you. “Don’t do as I do, do as I say” doesn’t work. Neither does my all-time favorite, “Because I said so.”

The reality that children learn by our example more than anything else sometimes catches us off-guard, often in uncomfortable places: in front of friends, the pastor, or a new neighbor. We blush with embarrassment and exclaim, “Johnny, where did you hear that?” Then, here it comes, “From you, mommy!”  We often fail miserably to live out the values we want to impart to our children, and you can be sure they’re watching and taking notes.

So, there are six values (in no particular order) and one HUGE command that come to mind for me, none of which, I might add, were modeled to me as a child.

Generosity:

If we were all honest, we would admit that we embrace some degree of selfishness. Like, I don’t know…

Hiding in the bathroom with the last piece of pie from last night’s dinner. Knowing full well it was your husband’s favorite pie. AND it was more like two pieces! AND you told him it was all gone!

Holding onto that favorite can’t-live-without-it sweater when packing up a box of clothes for the hurricane victims in Haiti – never mind that it doesn’t even fit you anymore. They really wouldn’t appreciate it anyway. And you’re giving them all this other stuff that’s clean and doesn’t have holes or stains. Okay, maybe it is your dear dead grandmother’s stuff from ten years ago, but it’s still usable.

Ignoring the bills in your wallet and digging in the bottom of your pocket for meager change to hand out the window of your moving car to the homeless guy on the corner, and feeling pretty good about it because the three people in front of you drove right past him. You may have even offered him a blessing as you drove away.

Is that the kind of “generosity” our kids see in us? Will they respond to the “least of these” (Matthew 25:40) in the same way? How giving and selfless do we want them to be? Like us – or like Jesus? I would hope you would say, “like Jesus”, which begs the question, am I like Jesus?

The challenge becomes: How generous are we willing to be the next time we are given the opportunity to give to or serve others? Enough that it hurts a little bit?

Here’s a recent experience I had:

I recently encountered this homeless man on the Katy Trail one morning. I greeted him kindly as I ran past him – because I’m a runner, not out of fear – okay, FINE – it was both.

When I was returning, I saw another man standing next to his bike talking to him. When I passed them, I couldn’t help but think about how I had avoided him, excusing it as a safety measure on my part. After all, the trail was secluded, and no one else was around at the time.

However, when I got home, I enlisted my husband to help me pack some food and water and take it to him. We found him trying to fish with a string and a hook and talked with him for a while before he went on his way. I’m pretty sure I did all that out of guilt and felt the Holy Spirit’s nudging when I tried to get past him on the trail that morning. (Look at the picture and how he didn’t want to get close to me. I can only guess why because I have no way of knowing, but I think about it every time I see it.)

The point is, as I am continually reminded, it isn’t enough to throw a few coins from the safety of your car. Your brother or sister needs touch. They need the love that says you care. They need to see and feel the tender love of Christ. Have you heard the expression, “You may be the only Christ a person meets”? Think about that.

Forgiveness:

This is probably the hardest one of all, especially if what you are teaching your children to forgive seems unforgivable to you. But how do they know? Have you taught them that? Did you tell them you don’t visit Uncle Jim because he did something awful to you, and you can’t stand him? Do you talk about the neighbor you hate or the friend you don’t see anymore because of some grievance you have against them? Then one day, your daughter comes home from school and tells you she hates her once best friend for whatever reason, and you tell her that it’s not nice to hate?

Countless times I said to my kids, “Hate’s a strong word. We don’t use that word”, while for years, I hated my mother and others who abused me. I am gradually learning to forgive those who hurt me deeply and to seek forgiveness from those I hurt in the past, and sometimes still do. We need to realize and teach them, that you can’t truly forgive without the grace of God.

Compassion:

God could have kept Jesus safely at home, sparing both Son and Father the agony they’d soon be suffering. But those who had been cast aside by society desperately needed Jesus up close and personal. The woman who came to the well after all the other women had shunned her. The leper who’d been sent into a lonely, humiliating exile. The adulterous woman, shamed and frightened, standing half-naked before a self-righteous crowd eager to stone her. All of them, and so many more, needed Jesus’ loving touch, which the world rejects because it’s beneath them.

As we grow into the people God created us to be, made in his likeness, we must accept the call to share that love with others – not as a burden, but as a blessing. Jesus said, “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart….” (Matthew 11:29).

We are all undeserving, yet we receive God’s compassion and mercy unconditionally. He calls us to reach out to others in the same way. The world would have us believe that it’s dangerous to reach out to others, especially strangers. But, as Mother Theresa says, “Do it anyway”.

Here’s an important question to reflect on: Could you or I have compassion for someone in need if no one was watching?

Of course, the Pope knows everyone is watching him, and this picture makes a lovely photo op. But, I think few people doubt Pope Francis’ empathy and compassion. It is truly genuine, and we know it.

Someone snapped a picture of Officer Larry DePrimo after he bought boots and thermal socks for a homeless man. He didn’t do it because someone was watching or because he would gain anything for himself. He did it because he cared. Plain and simple.

Acceptance:

Our kids are often more accepting of others than we are. I don’t know why it’s so difficult for us, but it is. We can’t accept the jerk next door that spews profanity at everything from his crabgrass to the mail carrier to his wife…and you, of course. I can find something wrong with everyone I know, myself included, if I’m honest, because the list of the things that make me the mess that I am is very long.

Think about the time your shitty old neighbor moved. You hope against hope the new ones will be different. They seem normal. Then they do something stupid by your standards, and suddenly, they become an instant ass; the honeymoon is over, and you want to take back that “Welcome to the neighborhood” plate of cookies.

If we could only grasp these profound words of Richard Rohr, “Once we have learned to discern the real and disguised nature of both good and evil, we recognize that everything is broken and fallen, weak and poor—while still being the dwelling place of God….That creates the freedom to love imperfect things! As Jesus told the rich young man, “God alone is good!” (Mark 10:18). In this, you may have been given the greatest recipe for happiness for the rest of your life.” 

Humility:

“Love does not get puffed up” (1 Corinthians 13:4) Puffed-up love, or pride, is always turned inward. I know all about pride because I once made an almost effortless transition from self-hatred to self-love. Not the self-love God refers to in Mark 12:31. The self-love I’m talking about hides within the ego and thrives on a superior self-image. That’s not what God had in mind when he modeled humility in the life and death of Jesus. He became “the least of these”.

Would I do this? Would my child?

Trust:

This has always been a huge one for me.

Are you trustworthy? Because if you are not, it stands to reason that you will not trust others and find yourself cynical of their motives. Do your children trust you?

I learned very early about trust. Once, I hid the key to our bathroom because I wanted a safe place to run to when my mother had one of her frequent angry fits. Soon after that, while my brother and I were playing, I cursed, and he ran home to tell our mother. I ran past him, flew into the house, and locked myself in my safe place. There was a pounding on the door.

“Linda, open the door.”

“No. You’ll hit me!”

“I said open the door!”

“Promise you won’t hit me.”

“Open the g@#*^ door, or I’ll climb in the window!”

“Promise you won’t hit me!”

“Okay, I promise. Now open the door!”

Trusting her – after all, she was my mother, right? – I opened the door. She beat me until I fell into the bathtub and continued beating me until she was convinced I had learned my lesson. Well, I did learn a lesson that day: don’t trust anyone. It was a lesson that would stay with me for many years. I instantly determined that no one would hurt me like that ever again.

Why is it that we’ll trust people who have no interest whatsoever in us or our well-being, yet we can’t seem to trust the One who died for us? How many of your four-hundred Facebook “friends” care about your salvation? Do you think they care that you struggle? Do you think for a moment they wonder how you’re doing? “Gee, that’s a shame about Linda’s brush with hell” – yawn.

Though I kept God at arm’s length for a long time, gradually, he got through to my hardened heart. Gradually I began the process of turning loose of those things that – truth be told – I never had control of anyway. Finally, I was beginning to trust that he might just be wiser than me.

As I have grown closer to God, I have come to hear his voice more clearly, trust his guidance more readily, and wait a bit more patiently when he is silent. Yet, what is critical to understand in all of this is that I still fall short. Just when I believe I have overcome my defensive attitude, someone pushes my button and sets me off. And the insecure Linda I try to keep locked up is revealed. Busted!

So, there are the six virtues I wish I had learned as a child from loving, virtuous parents. They are the virtues I should have modeled to my own kids. They never saw it then; I hope and pray they and my grandkids do now.

 When we fail – and we do, as will our kids – discouragement will become our constant companion if we do not accept the fact that we will never be perfect, and neither will they. Because I could not believe that in the past, I felt I was continually failing God when I couldn’t control or discipline myself, my husband, my kids, or the dog. But, as shocking as it may seem, the greatest commandment is not, “Get your act together, stupid!”

And as for our children, sure, we want them to grow up with moral fortitude and integrity, but we also have to accept that it might not happen the way we envision it. There are no guarantees. That adorable baby you start off with could end up different than you had dreamed.

God has lent us our children. They don’t belong to us, they belong to him, and he wants them back in the same “condition” we received them. Of course, he knows we aren’t the only ones influencing their behavior. He does not hold us accountable for the possibility that others may lead them astray. I’m sure there were people in my earlier years (I’m thinking of some of my teachers) who wouldn’t have given me a snowball’s chance in hell of staying out of jail! Well….

The days of raising my children have long passed, and lest I forget, they’re quick to remind me of that fact. But if I did have it to do over, I would have first learned to love them unconditionally because of God’s unreserved love for me. I would have accepted them as the individuals they were created by God to be, faults and all because that is how God created and accepts me. And I would not have felt such a need to control the hell out of them!

That brings us to my final thought: that ONE HUGE COMMAND which Jesus left to his disciples and us.

The GREATEST of these…is…

Drum roll, please….

LOVE – “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you.” If the basis of all we do as parents, spouses, friends, and neighbors is to love as we are called to, our children will be just fine.

Waiting for Tomorrow Are Ya’?

(Originally posted 8/08/2012)

Some day you’re going to apologize to your neighbor (who hates you, by the way) for backing over his cat and blaming it on the mail carrier.

Some day your humdrum existence will magically transform into the fairy tale life you have always dreamed of.

Some day you will hit the lottery and buy your neighbor a new cat. Okay, you won’t do that because you’ll move to a deserted island where you won’t have any neighbors.

If you believe one morning you’ll wake up, and your butt will have fallen off as you slept – that’s right – you’re delusional. (You might want to lay off the chocolate darlin’)

Wanna know where I’m at as I write this and why my thoughts went where they did? I am sitting with a dying hospice patient. I’ll call him Fred. I can’t show you a picture of him for obvious reasons, but I can show you a picture of the wall I’m staring at in his room. It’s 2:30 am, and I have been staring at this wall for two hours.

Fred has little family, and no one visits him. He was in the final stages of Alzheimer’s disease when I first met him, so we were never able to communicate. I have no idea what he did for a living, but for now, he is my teacher, like all the patients I see.

I know what you’re thinking. How could someone who has lost the ability to respond to their environment or converse with anyone teach you anything? How could they impart words of wisdom like Mahatma Gandhi, shine a light on injustice like Martin Luther King, and inspire Jesus’ call to “serve the least of these” like Mother Theresa? Well, they can’t….

They can sometimes do more – at least for me – at this moment.

When I meet a new patient, I first look at the pictures in their room. Some, like my dear mother-in-law, have their walls and shelves cluttered with family pictures. They make for great conversation. But here’s my buddy Fred with four blank walls.

What am I supposed to do with that? I have discovered that that is the wrong question. The real question is – what is God wanting to teach me here?

It is no coincidence that at this very time, I am reading a most profound book by Kathleen Dowling Singh, “The Grace in Dying”.

So, what am I finally learning at this late stage in my life? What I have grown to believe from Gandhi, King, and Mother Theresa, has been personified by Singh and Fred.

Singh’s book moves from words on a page to experience that reaches the depth of my heart as I sit here with a dying man. I have grown to appreciate that this is Holy Ground and that God is truly present here.

I sense that God is trying to tell me during these times to review my own life. He calls out to anyone with ears to hear, “You’re gonna die too. Maybe even today. So, get your act together!”

Because I have a warped brain (DUH! Surely you know that by now), I had to laugh because that reminder sent me to this cartoon.

At this stage in life, considering priorities is surely in order, don’t you think? Can we stop obsessing over things that don’t…actually, never did...matter? Stop dwelling on old hurts, lost opportunities, and someone else’s expectations? Stop striving for more and more of what someone else will trash before you’re cold in your grave? Stop trying to control everything? Stop shadowboxing? Donate those skinny jeans that will likely NEVER fit you again (geeezzzzz)?

Singh tells us, “When we are deeply aware of our own impermanence, every fleeting moment is recognized as precious. Our desire to be present in each moment amplifies. Meditating on death instantly calls us to question on the deepest of levels. What am I doing? What do I want? What does this all mean? Contemplating our own mortality…our precariously impermanent existence can call us to complete and thorough accountability. It can call us to instant reordering, a rearranging of our priorities and our intentions. It blocks off all of our habitual detours into denial.

The bare walls in Fred’s room don’t tell me anything about Fred, but they signify two realities for me: (1) To ask honestly if my life has been empty and void of significance. (2) God always offers us a clean slate – to begin again if I have failed to fulfill my purpose.

Thank you, Fred. In your dying, you are teaching me how to truly live while there is still breath in me.

Now, go in peace…I pray…into the hands of our loving and merciful God.

Linda, Listen to Me!

I know many people, and I’ll bet you do too, perhaps even you, who can’t believe God has a plan for them. Over the years, I have encountered people who don’t believe me when I tell them my story. “Oh, really?! God told you to do that, huh? Right!”  To be honest, I wouldn’t have believed it myself if he hadn’t gradually brought me to a place where I could trust him, even if I was fearful and had no idea what he was up to. Which, frankly, is still most of the time.

God has always longed to grow me into the person he meant me to be. It was me resisting; me not being present to him; me missing the mystery and majesty that surrounded me because I was just too busy to notice, or more likely, too afraid. So instead, I skipped along, trying to drown out his voice, “Lalalalalalalala, I can’t hear you!”

For years, there were little promptings that, in hindsight, proved to me he was on the job (Romans 8:28). Then bigger ones that required more trust and offered way more grace than I deserved. God opened my heart in ways I could not have imagined. Though I still mess up – and often – I know God’s response is out of love for me; his admonitions tell me that he loves me too much to let me stay stuck in my messiness.

We are so used to being in a world that is loud and demanding of our attention. We busy ourselves filling in uncomfortably quiet places. That’s how we miss God’s “still small voice” or “gentle whisper” (1 Kings 19:12). Sure, he’s good at those show-stopper whirlwinds and earthquakes and fire. Even what I have called 2×4 moments but they didn’t leave marks like the ones my mother inflicted. Because of her, I was always on guard for those “laying down the law” whacks that I expected from God too, when I messed up. But, I believe he more often speaks through Spirit’s whispers of pure grace.

We can be so enmeshed in and blinded by the things of this world we miss out on our whole purpose for being here. So if you are going through life day after unremarkable day, schlepping through the same routine to ad nauseum – STOP IT! Your life has a purpose that God depends on you to fulfill. You matter that much!

We are all called to holiness, called to use the gifts and talents already given us for God’s kingdom work right here – right now. It just takes awareness on our part. (I would highly recommend Anthony DeMello’s book by the same name, “Awareness”).

Leo Tolstoy’s novel, “The Death of Ivan Ilyich”,  considered a masterpiece, was written just after his own “profound spiritual awakening” and conversion experience. While lying on his deathbed, Ilyich ruminated about the reality that his entire life was superficial and self-serving, and he profoundly stated, “Maybe I didn’t live as I should have done?” In the end, he posited a question that Tolstoy must have pondered himself, “What if I really have been wrong in the way I’ve lived my whole life, my conscious life?” Oops, a little late, buddy!

It was too late for Ilyich, but not Tolstoy. He discovered his purpose and rejected his aristocratic life to follow Jesus’ teachings – particularly the Sermon on the Mount. Years later, his writings profoundly impacted Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and countless others.

Soooooo, what are you waiting for? You must still be breathing, or you wouldn’t be reading this. That’s a start. Incredibly, no matter how you lived your life to this point, it’s not too late to begin again. New beginnings are God’s specialty!

“To infinity and beyond!” God coined that phrase, you know. Don’t believe me? HUMPH! Check out Ephesians 3:20, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.” 

Alrighty then, you’re pumped and ready to go, right? You’ve packed your sandals, camel hair coat, and checked Google Maps – for what? A sign from God?

HTTP://ministry-to-childern, Carlos Bautista

Stop! Take a deep breath. Maybe start by sitting quietly with God and waiting.

Don’t look to anyone else to give you a formula or a checklist to send you on your way to your destiny. But I will tell you this: You cannot love and serve others (which is our greatest calling) until you can love yourself. And you can’t love yourself utilizing any of the myriads of self-help books on the market. You can only do that by growing in the knowledge that you are deeply and passionately loved first by the God who created you! And you can only do that by being in relationship with him, which requires your time and attention. You are his son/daughter with whom he is well-pleased (Matthew 17:5). Let that sink in. We are all deeply loved sinners. It’s high time we act like it, don’t you think?

Absolutely, go to church, take the time to read scripture, and pray, But mostly, LISTEN! Geeeezzzzz, we’re so bad at listening.

Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Choices

(Full disclosure – I stole this title from one of my favorite authors of kid’s books, Judith Viorst, because, well, stealing is a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad choice. I hope this confession redeems me.)

We’re not talking about regrettable tattoos, people. Although, if you trusted a tattoo guy who never got past the third grade– well – you’re a bonehead! Let’s move on.

We’re talking about serious, life-altering, fast-track-to-hell choices. If you can look me straight in the eye and deny you have ever made any decisions that tipped your halo sideways I will be the first to recommend you for canonization to sainthood. Oh, not Catholic? Then, sorry, you’ll just have to settle for hopes of an honorable mention (which comes with no monetary rewards).

Now, know that I am not talking about the likes of the Catholic baby, later confirmed, Hitler turned adult monster. There can’t be any doubt in most people’s minds that he did not pass GO and did not collect $200 on his way to hell. Right? Or at the very least still resides in Purgatory because his momma was the only one who may have wanted to pray him out of there but she died long before him. Never mind him. If you think for one minute that Purgatory will be your saving grace. Well, that’s a major attitude fail on your part and God will side-eye you every time you knowingly sin and make no corrections.

It seems the idea of Purgatory came to life in the late 1100s. Thomas Aquinas and the Church quickly latched onto the concept. Aquinas likely had a personal stake in it because he was a no-good, very bad boy in his early days and the Church quickly realized it was a money-maker for them. Pay to play. Cha-Ching. In my humble opinion though, Purgatory makes no sense. Let me tell you why I believe that.

Several years ago, I went through a year-long training to work with hospice patients. The most profound learning for me came from reading books written by nurses and doctors who worked for years with hospice patients. First off, they believed, as I do, that anyone who sits with someone taking their last breaths should remove their sandals because they are standing on holy ground.

During the time I sat with dying patients I only witnessed two deaths. Both experiences were intense for me and I came away with a much different belief about the idea of “cleansing” than what the Catholic Church teaches. I watched the process evolve to the final stage when they were given morphine. At that point, they seemed incapable of any type of movement or communication, let alone a deathbed confession.  

BTW, deathbed confessions raise all sorts of anger among the snobby self-righteous. Being certain that sinner is destined for hell secretly makes the rest of us happy knowing they didn’t get to live their whole life being a total ass and then received an eleventh–hour Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free card. NOT FAIR!  

Anyway, though I had not known anything about those two people prior to their deaths it was clear that something was happening within them that I was not privy to. There was restlessness – not a sense of peace – not until the end. In both of those situations, I had an opportunity to meet briefly with a family member before I left. In each case, they shared the struggles their loved one had during their life.

Do these encounters prove anything? No. But, I came to believe, as I still do, that if cleansing is an actual thing, it probably happens in those moments just before we die. Who knows? As for me, I decided long ago to hedge my bets and make course corrections in the moment I know I did or said something mean or unkind to someone. And if you’re still hanging out there waiting for an apology from 1985, call me and we’ll meet for lunch while I beg forgiveness.

When God says, “I love you and there’s nothing you can do about it” he means it. But that doesn’t mean he won’t roll his eyes or admonish us when we screw up. It means we can go to him trusting that he will forgive and forget our stupidity. Those we have hurt may not be so gracious, but that doesn’t change anything. I don’t know about you, but I really don’t want my indiscretions to cause God to do a head smack and question the wisdom of creating a doofus like me and then take some big ole God-sized eraser to my sorry self. Even if for a split second he thought about it. I mean, do I dare bring up the antics of Moses to take the pressure off myself? Sure. Why not?

I think Moses got a raw deal. If it was me, I would have bid those cranky Israelites adieu early on, “I’m done here. You guys are on your own. Good luck!”  Remember Moses tried to worm his way out of God’s calling to lead them (Exodus 3:1-12:42). Maybe he later agreed because of a bigger-than-life ego. “When I get these guys to the Promised Land they will surely erect a statue of me and bow to me profusely! It will be epic!”

But, toward the end of those forty long years, he totally lost it. It wasn’t what he expected and what with all the whining and complaining about everything and blaming it all on him, “no food – your fault! No water – you’re fault!” Their anger slammed up against his vision of them worshipping at his shrine. So, what does he do? What any self-righteous, self-serving guy would do. He begged God to “DO SOMETHING! I can’t deal with them anymore!” So God sent him back to wave a stick around in front of a rock, and then he (God – not Moses – a small detail Moses left out) would make water pour out from it.

Anywho, Moses thought that was a terrible idea. So, he devised a better plan when he remembered seeing this witch doctor work some magic on a Netflix special back in Egypt. Back when they had the Internet and modern conveniences and stuff!

 

Everyone thought he was to blame for all their problems. Fine. He would show them how powerful and mighty he was. The poor guy probably still had abandonment issues from that whole baby-in-the-basket-in-the-river incident, so this seemed like a great plan to bolster his sense of self. Surely they would bow down and worship him then.

So instead of waving the stick around in the air, he beat the crap out of the rock with it, and voila water poured out! The people went crazy! Yeah, it was all fun and games until God stepped in.

Personally, I think Moses possessed some HUGE nerve in his life. In a temporary lapse of judgment, he did some awful things, like, I don’t know, defying God and then getting all up in his business. And, lest we forget, in the end, his antics kept him from joining the Israelites in the Promised Land. That ship was sailing without him. (BTW, I don’t recommend you use this material in a Sunday School class. It’s all made up. You’ve been warned.)

So, now, put on your big boy/big girl pants folks and gird your loins cause it’s up to you how the rest of your life will play out and your journey will end. I have had regrets in my life and will probably have more because that’s the foolish me who can’t seem to learn the first, second, or zillionth time! But, God still forgives a zillion + one times, if that’s what it takes.

I would just recommend that you don’t stand before him with unfinished business and a shit-pile of complaints from those you didn’t treat right along the way. Because, again, no one knows what that encounter will be like and who wants to be handed a fireproof robe and a one-way ticket south, especially if your momma isn’t around to pray for you, you little schmuck? So clean up your mess and make better choices from now on! GEEEZO!

A Theology of Running

Yep, there is such a thing! Okay, I could have made it up, but just work with me here.

It has been ten years since I ran my last half-marathon, and I have decided it’s time to dust off my running shoes and get back in the game. God help me. This will probably kill me!

I began running thirty years ago when a friend dragged me to a high school track near us. We planned to run the St. Patrick’s Day 5K in St. Louis. It was three miles. Since I had never run a day in my life, it seemed reasonable. I could easily drive three miles without getting winded. So, why not?!

The first morning we ran once around the track – a quarter mile. OMG, I thought I would die! But I didn’t. So, I went back for more; again and again, until it got easier, and I decided I could do it. Not just that, but I was actually beginning to love it and the challenge that came with each turn around the track. Initially, my ambitions didn’t go beyond the 5K and the free beer at the end!

It wasn’t long before I was hooked as I grew to love the challenge of discovering my ability to go beyond anything I had imagined. Let’s see whatcha got, Linda! Though I have run several half-marathons over the years since then, it has always been that initial 5K that developed my theology of running.

I started off slowly, but pushing myself to run faster became a passion for me, especially when we moved to a rural area where I would run country roads at 5:00 in the morning. I was often told I was getting too old to run. That I should slow down because it wasn’t good for my joints (jealous couch potatoes, every last one of them!). I had no desire to slow down. Every time I decided to walk instead of run, it didn’t last long. It wasn’t the same. I didn’t feel the joy and fulfillment I experienced when I ran.

I discovered that I am most fully alive when I am running, especially in nature. I enjoyed it even more when we moved further into the country. I could run right out my front door and be in the woods. It was so peaceful and serene. In the early morning, the sunrise was breathtaking.

There was something else I noticed: God was there. My connection with God was most vibrant in those moments, and my prayers seemed most profound. That never happened for me sitting in a pew in church (I don’t need forgiveness, father…that ain’t a sin!)

St. Irenaeus said, “The glory of God is man fully alive.”  Being fully alive is the quintessential manifestation of Divine Love. That magical, mysterious Love is most revealed to me in the moments when I am in the midst of and know I am fully a part of his creation.

One of the beauties of running is its simplicity. You need only a good pair of shoes. Actually, shoes aren’t even necessary, as Ethiopian Abebe Bikila proved. He set a world record in the Rome Olympics barefoot! 

For sure, there is a stark difference between the simple needs I have as a runner and the “perceived needs” of those in many sports. How does that relate to what we understand as “church”? Is church the magnificent cathedrals built centuries ago? Is it mega-churches today that entertain like a new rendition of Jesus Christ Super Star?! Not according to Jesus. The “ideal” church he modeled was about action: humble service, love, unity, hope, and mission – all easily accomplished barefoot – or, at the most, wearing sandals.

When training for a race, specific practices can be incorporated. One such practice is called “fartlek”. It’s a Swedish word for “speed play,” and it’s simply short bursts of acceleration at various times during a run. Here again, fartleking could have a spiritual meaning. Well, it could! Okay, the name might have to be changed to something a bit less like a bodily function, but it could work nicely when considering the process of growing spiritually, and, yes, it is a process.

I believe there is a misunderstanding for so many of us about just how important it is to “train” if we are to grow in faith, and that may be what discourages new Christians. I don’t believe faith just “happens” with a dunk in a bucket of water, even if there is some sort of “ritual” to prepare new converts for acceptance into a particular faith. There’s just more to it than that. It’s not an event; it’s a life-long journey. What about babies that are baptized in some faiths? Does that baby jump right out of the Priest’s arms and start serving in a soup kitchen? No.

You start out testing the waters with things that aren’t too risky, like smiling instead of flipping someone off in traffic. Then, maybe you graduate to a bumper sticker…or two…or six. Don’t do that. That’s not right.

Anyway, we are taught that in baptism, we are to put on Christ. But what does that really mean? We are called to live and move and have our being as followers of Christ, who teaches self-giving love by his example. And how does that happen? We learn from him to be less self-centered and more other-centered. For most of us, none of that growth happens at the moment of our baptism. Instead, we will struggle in life, have setbacks, and often lose our way. We have fits and starts trying to believe we indeed are God’s beloved and our life has purpose. 

As we journey through life, hopefully, we will grow in the fullness of that baptismal call to be an instrument of God’s love for the good of the world we live in. This realization can indeed be likened to a “runner’s high”! When we finally become conscious of who and whose we are, we respond through works of love, justice, forgiveness, and mercy. Call it a “Jesus high”! You just can’t get enough.

Now I am at the place where I need to tell on myself and share a couple of final important AHA moments in my running and faith journey. The first experience goes back to the beginning when my friend and I started training for that 5K. When we got to the day of the race, we both felt unprepared, especially since, just a few days before, her husband, an avid runner, told us that the race’s route was very hilly! Wait…what? Hilly?! As in mountainous hilly? As in, crap, we didn’t train on hills…hilly?! But, after that initial shock, we decided to do it anyway, even if we had to walk – or crawl – or call an Uber.

But we were going and we were getting that beer at the end. Period. So, off we went. When we got to the start line, we immediately saw the “hill” staring down at us, laughing hysterically! Undeterred, we went for it. It was hard, but we both endured and walked when we had to. AND THEN, we turned a corner and saw the finish line! I got so excited I took off running with all I had in me (it was downhill this time which helped). As I got to the end, gasping for air, my friend caught up with me. She was visibly upset, “Why did you take off like that? We spent all this time training together, and we were supposed to finish together! Why did you do that?” I felt so bad for leaving her behind. I was only thinking of myself, and that was just wrong. Sadly, I suppose I believed that everything revolved around me.

NO. IT. DOESN’T. DUMBASS.

Our faith journey is also not meant to be about us alone. If we are merely growing in a personal faith that does not embrace others on their journey, if we are so self-centered that we sprint toward life’s finish line knocking others aside, I’m pretty sure God will be waiting with those chilling words, “You came alone? Where’s your friend?”

Okay, that experience wasn’t funny, but this one is. A few years ago, another friend and I signed up for a 10K. She wasn’t concerned about training because she planned to walk. I think she just wanted to be sure I survived because, well, by then, I was old. So, off we went agreeing to meet at…that’s right…the beer truck at the end.

There were a lot of turns, so volunteers stood at designated intersections to point the way. At one intersection, I was confused and alone to choose. So I turned right and kept running. After a mile on that road with no one in sight, it became clear to me that I had gone the wrong way. So, I turned around and ran another mile back to where I should have been. I was tired but knew the end was near. And there, around the last corner, I saw it! The finish line! WOOT WOOT…

Suddenly I realized the race was over and they were deflating the blow-up finish line! I panicked and ran faster, but I was too late. By then, most everyone had left. No one is cheering. No one telling me I was almost there and to not poop myself (they tell you that. It’s not funny. Neither is the lie that “You’re almost done” when you’re not. It’s not right). Anyway, I was devastated, and my friend was in a panic! When I finally did see someone carrying some medals, I insisted I deserved a first-place medal for being the only person who ran eight miles instead of six! So, I reasoned I came in first in the unofficial eight-mile race. That logic didn’t fly. I was handed a “Yep, you did finish even though you screwed up” medal. FINE. WHATEVER. “Where’s the free beer?”

There were still a few drops of beer left for my friend and me to cheer each other. I did survive, so it wasn’t all in vain. And the lesson? On this journey of faith, we will also make wrong turns, but God is always at the finish line with a cold beer (don’t tell me there ain’t no beer in heaven!) and a “well done, my good and faithful servant” cheer! But, no medal.

You’ll have to decide for yourself if there’s beer at the finish line of life or if that’s really why you want to run that race – to get some reward. As for me, I fully trust that a life of faith is all about the journey, not the finish line. That will take care of itself.

Choices Have Consequences

(This may be my shortest post ever!)

I saw this sign while walking one day and, of course, my uncontrollable mind latched onto the “INC” at the end of the name. Now, understand, I know nothing about this particular church. The “INC” simply captivated my imagination.

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I have no idea why a church would incorporate. There’s probably a very practical reason. How about this for a theory though: If any of their followers ended up in hell they couldn’t come back and sue the church. “You gave me all those dictates and dogmas, rules and decrees. I followed them to the letter and ended up in hell!

This is all your fault!

It’s extremely HOT here!

I am so suing you!!”

Nope. It doesn’t work that way.

Sorry folks, when you take your last breath, pack your bags, get your bus ticket, but you don’t end up where you expected because of poor choices you made in life, you can’t come back and sue your church, your Sunday School teacher, God, or your mother!

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