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Archive for October, 2007

I attended a cross country meet this weekend, the first I’ve ever seen. I had some idea about what it would be like, but witnessed a lot more than I expected. Basically, my knowledge of cross country running was that it was “off road” … rough terrain, twists and turns, and lot’s of grit. I had no idea just how much grit.

The race was a regional Indiana State qualifier. The course wound its way around approximately 40 acres, weaving up and down hilly terrain. Twenty teams from in or around Indianapolis showed up with their top 7 runners for a 5K (3.1 mi) that would either qualify them for State or end their season.

I got to watch from the back of a souped-up golf cart which drove the course ahead of the pack of 140 runners. We had a digital clock mounted on the back of the cart to let the runners know their time from beginning to end. I was in awe as we passed the first mile marker at less than five and half minutes! That’s only about a minute and a half slower than the fastest mile ever run on a smooth indoor track … and these are cross-country highschool athletes!

The guys were “blood-n-guts” from start to finish, and the finish was stunning. The top finisher crossed the line at 15:31 (which, if you’re doing the math, means the last two miles were each faster than the first). That may be why I saw what I saw as the rest of the field finished the race. No one swaggered across the line … just about everyone staggered. Two thirds of the runners immediately fell to their knees or on to their backs in complete exhaustion. Plenty of them were hurling their pre-race meal.

While the competitors love the sport, they cannot hide the painful reality that comes with it. This clearly is a race where finishing well is excruciating. To compete in cross country is a willful decision to suffer. For some, that suffering is almost overwhelming. One such runner left a deep impression on me I hope I’ll never forget.

Forty yards from the finish line his legs turned to mush. He had run well all but the last 40 yards … the finish line was literally right in front of him. But as hard as he focused and struggled to continue forward, his legs wouldn’t budge. He soon fell to the ground like a sac of potatoes; still striving to move forward but without progress. Two times he attempted to re-gain his footing, and two times he went back to the ground. It really looked hopeless … pitiful … quitting made a lot more sense than floundering around … except to the boy on the ground.

He conceded that he would not finish the race on his feet, but there are no rules against crawling. With deep resolve, the boy struggled toward the finish line on all fours, collapsed flat on his face, then rolled to his back, flopping his shoe with the time chip attached across the line. The crowd went absolutely nuts as if the boy had won the race. Finishing, in that moment, was as venerable as winning. The victory was in not giving up.

I thought it was a profound picture of what following Christ is often like, but a picture we rarely advertise when communicating the gospel. We’ve all heard the subtle suggestions that living in relationship with Jesus will make all our problems evaporate. How disheartening it is when someone who has been given that gospel embraces Christ only to find that life is still painful.

Wouldn’t it be better to live in the reality of Paul’s words to the Christians of Corinth, “We’ve been surrounded and battered by troubles, but we’re not demoralized; we’re not sure what to do, but we know that God knows what to do; we’ve been spiritually terrorized, but God hasn’t left our side; we’ve been thrown down, but we haven’t broken. What they did to Jesus, they do to us—trial and torture, mockery and murder; what Jesus did among them, he does in us—he lives!” (2 Cor 4:8-10, The Message) We can’t control our circumstances. We can’t control what will happen to us. But we can by God’s grace keep striving toward the finish line in whatever shape we’re in.

If we’re honest, following Christ is temporally painful, but eternally priceless. Our motivation for running is tied to our confidence that the finish line of this world will usher in the beginning of a glorious new world … “a new heaven and a new earth … a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband … a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’”(Rev 21:1-4)

Life here is hard … Peter urged us not to be surprised (1 Peter). He tells us that trials of all kinds reveal the substance of our faith. God never promised us that following Him would be easy … He did promise to be with us (Heb 13:5), to make us more like Jesus (Rom 8:29), and to enable us in all He has called us to be and do until He brings us home (2 Pe 1:3). So we don’t quit; we crawl forward because the prize of running and finishing (even on our hands and knees) far outweighs the fleeting comfort of abandoning the race.

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The Gift of Story

Spent some time talking with folks recently about discovering and then sharing with others a personal “LifeStory.” I’m not talking about the typical autobiography that probably has more to do with image management than actually being known. We were exploring a process through which we could grow in our awareness of the story emerging from the experiences and relationships we’ve had over the course of our lives, and then be able to share what we’ve discovered in an authentic way.

I first experienced something like this 18 years ago with a friend in a coffee shop. He asked me to tell him a little about myself, my background, etc. He wanted to know the stuff I felt like he needed to know if he were to know me. I began to rattle off the general data – year & place of birth, siblings, pets, favorite color, etc. – and came to the fact of my parents divorce. He asked me a question, a simple question that exposed some deep needs I had (and still have) for awareness … “How do you think your parent’s divorce has impacted your life?” I immediately responded with a well-rehearsed explanation of how beautifully a broken home had shaped me. I talked about learning independence, resilience, and a “can do” spirit. I’m sure I sounded like a POW describing the benefits of solitude behind enemy lines.

Fortunately, my friend didn’t let me off the hook. He invited me to see that tragedy, not through the sanitized, rationalized lens of a young man who had spent his life trying to make sense of it, but through the eyes of an eight year old boy … a boy who couldn’t understand why the two people who brought him into the world had stopped loving each other, and a boy whose dad would never again live up close and personal with him. I was undone.

It took me back to the tidal wave of emotion I had felt the morning my mom broke the news to me and my sister, the same emotion I had spent most of my life trying to avoid. It was as fresh as it could be because I had never honestly faced the pain of that loss. I’ve sense learned, wounds that go unaddressed don’t heal properly and eventually become debilitating.

LifeStory has been a process of healing … a process of seeing my life with greater honesty. The more honest I’ve been, the more aware I become and the more my life moves in a redemptive current instead of one that is dysfunctional and destructive. When I’m asked today about my life, I have a precious, authentic gift to give away instead of something that resembles a PR statement from a celebrity spokesperson. I don’t have to “spin” my life, I can simply share it and trust God to use it as He pleases.

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