my search to understand the bigger picture

Monday, November 28, 2011

Sunday Conversations

So, yesterday at church, I fell into a conversation with a woman I've known for many years. She's my sister-in-law's mother. So, we've seen each other at family functions, and then at church since we began attending The Vineyard. She was volunteering at a Holiday Outreach table during the second service, and I was walking around getting a count of all those sitting in the cafe and in classrooms. I saw her and made my way over to say hello. And then she asked me about running.

If you really want me to get into a conversation very quickly, ask me about two things: Jesus and running. If I remember correctly, she asked something close to how I stay motivated to run. From there I just took off. Later, I thought it might be a good idea to shed some light on the subject as to why I run for the few that read this blog. Some of this I've shared before, directly and indirectly, but never before together like this.

So, the question is, why do I run?

First and foremost, I answer with this video:

I began running in 2002 or 2003, can't really remember. I worked at Youth for Christ at the time and we began to run the Indy Mini Marathon as a fundraiser for the work we were doing with youth in our city. Then, I think it was in 2008 that I ran my first ultra marathon, for Team World Vision. It was the Chicago Lakefront 50k, and I ran that before ever having run a marathon. In 2010, I went on the trip of my dreams to South Africa with Team World Vision after my best friend Michael Chitwood asked me to run Comrades Marathon (89k which is 56 miles) with 17 others to raise up child sponsorships for children there. Bottom line is, I run to help others.

Another reason why I run, is because it's one of the few times throughout the day that my brain is completely free to shut down. I try as best I can to run in the morning when my wife and children are asleep. If not, I'll run at night after the girls are in bed. But, my cell phone is not ringing, no emails to respond to, no work needing to be done, no kids crying or fighting, no chores to focus on around the house, just the open road or trail to enjoy. It's beautiful.

Third, running gives me something tangible to be excited about. I've dealt with depression for a number of years now. For a few of those years, I even went on Prozac to try to help. It did take the edge off, but it wasn't until I began to allow God to heal me that I began to see some progress made. And, while much ground has been retaken in regards to depression, Satan attacks me with it almost every day. For me, I think it has tended to be more of a spiritual attack than a chemical imbalance. I definitely think for some people it's exactly that. But for others, it's something Satan tries to use to distract. And I've found in my life it's much more spiritual than anything else. Like I said, while much ground has been taken back, that doesn't stop Satan from attacking. I believe God has given me running as something to focus on when nothing else seems worth celebrating. I believe He's given it to me as a gift to help pull me out of those times where all seems hopeless and lost.

Fourth, quite simply, running has changed my life. Literally. When I began running, I weighed upwards of 280 pounds, and had to start out by walking 1 mile every day. I had asthma. And I worked my way up from that, to becoming an ultra marathoner. I'm still a little on the heavy side, regularly tipping the scales between 2oo and 205, but the asthma is in a much more managed state, and my health is so much better. In addition, I'm not much of a risk taker. But for some reason, when it's come to running, I've been able to take a lot of risks, and have found out so much about myself in the process. This in turn, has helped me to begin to take some more risks in life, and my life has been the better for it.

Finally, I've gotten to meet some amazing people that I never would have if I hadn't begun running. I've met tons of amazing people around the world because of running, from well-known professional athletes like Josh Cox, to celebrities such as Andy Baldwin, to running icons such as Bart Yasso, to everyday people that inspire the mess out of me like Paul Martin, Rusty Funk, Paul Jansen Van Rensburg, Scott Olthoff, and people I've met through social media like David Murphy. A whole world of people has been opened up to me because of running, and for an introvert such as myself, that's been an invaluable resource. I've learned so much from other runner about a variety of things.

So, while something as simple as putting one foot in front of the other seems, it really has blessed my life in a very complex combination of ways. If I could leave you with one final thought, it would be this: make the world a better place. Use running to do just that. Whether you are a Christian or not, World Vision is one of THE most respected humanitarian organizations in the world. I've seen their work firsthand, and it is amazing. One way to change the life of a child, family, village, country, etc. is through sponsoring a child. For $35/month (probably what you might spend on coffee every month, or eating out every week) you can literally do just that. For more information, go to Want to be inspired? Check out this video.....

Slave to Stuff

Currently I'm spending time working my way through Donald Miller’s first book, Through Painted Deserts. Many thoughts have run through my head so far, and I wanted to blog about them. I've ready this book many times in the past, and really enjoyed it. This time around, reading the book has opened my eyes to some interesting insights.

So, basically, I’ve found another thing that I’m a slave to. I’ve known this for quite awhile, but maybe today reached a new level of clarity. I’m a slave to the thought that more worldly possessions will make me happy. In my heart, I know this is false, especially when I’m out in nature, and that is enough for me. Then I get back into the real world, and the lure of the enemy comes crashing back in with a vengeance. I have found it particularly difficult to be happy for others when they get things that I've been wanting for awhile. This has been bothering me, because I really hate to be that person. Jealousy in people is never fun to experience. It sucks the joy right out of you. I DO NOT WANT TO DO THAT TO OTHERS.

I've heard many stories lately from people in my life of fun things they've been able to get or experience, things I've wanted in the past. And I began to feel the jealousy rise up, almost uncontrollably. It was horrible to watch. I read some more out of the book, and was reminded again that no matter how strongly I feel the pull, I know that material possessions won’t make me happier. Sometimes I think this love language thought is such a crock. Complete bullcrap! Gifts won’t make me happy. I mean, I know it’s the process of it, gifts make me feel like someone was thinking about me, and wants to express their love for me. BUT, the gifts won’t make me happy. I don’t need them. It’s strange because I think what I most need is a simplistic lifestyle, minimalist lifestyle, but what I most crave is the exact opposite. I crave the accumulation of unnecessary material garbage. Things that won’t make a lick of difference. My life is not worse off because I don’t have a smart phone. It’s not incomplete because I don’t have a motorcycle. It’s not incomplete because I don’t have an iPad.

My life is incomplete because I search to fill the void in my life with things, and not with Jesus. Pure and simple. No way around that one. It’s the truth. It sucks. Because to be honest, right now, I want “stuff” more than I want Jesus. Just sayin. Trying to be honest here. The desire and pull inside of me is more for material crap than Jesus. If Emily told me I could spend $1,000 on ANYTHING right now, I’d probably scream and dance around the room. Instantly my mind would start making lists of stuff, prioritizing what to get. If I were told I could spend some good quality time with Jesus, hmmmmmm, thanks. Not a bad gift. That’s ok.

How does one address this problem? First and foremost, I must repent. This has such a stronghold over me. I need forgiveness, and I need it know. I also ask for a continual reminder that things will not bring me happiness. Jesus says we shall have no other master before him. That’s serious business. I give this over to Jesus, and trust that He knows how to help me overcome this. Because right now, I feel helpless. This feels too strong of an urge to resist. I’ve got to trust that Jesus will lead me through this process.

Is it wrong to have "stuff"? Absolutely not. Is it wrong to place anything before Jesus? YES! If most of our attention was given to Jesus instead of the accumulation of things, our lives, and our world would be a completely different place. I'm working towards a completely different life. Please pray for me, encourage me, and support me as I work to allow God to break through in this area in my life.

Friday, November 18, 2011


I've been reminded many times this week to go back and read Jesus' prayer in John 17. Over and over again, I've grown to love The Message paraphrasing of such passages. Read it for yourself.

Jesus' Prayer for His Followers
1-5 Jesus said these things. Then, raising his eyes in prayer, he said:
Father, it's time.
Display the bright splendor of your Son
So the Son in turn may show your bright splendor.
You put him in charge of everything human
So he might give real and eternal life to all in his charge.
And this is the real and eternal life:
That they know you,
The one and only true God,
And Jesus Christ, whom you sent.
I glorified you on earth
By completing down to the last detail
What you assigned me to do.
And now, Father, glorify me with your very own splendor,
The very splendor I had in your presence
Before there was a world.

6-12I spelled out your character in detail
To the men and women you gave me.
They were yours in the first place;
Then you gave them to me,
And they have now done what you said.
They know now, beyond the shadow of a doubt,
That everything you gave me is firsthand from you,
For the message you gave me, I gave them;
And they took it, and were convinced
That I came from you.
They believed that you sent me.
I pray for them.
I'm not praying for the God-rejecting world
But for those you gave me,
For they are yours by right.
Everything mine is yours, and yours mine,
And my life is on display in them.
For I'm no longer going to be visible in the world;
They'll continue in the world
While I return to you.
Holy Father, guard them as they pursue this life
That you conferred as a gift through me,
So they can be one heart and mind
As we are one heart and mind.
As long as I was with them, I guarded them
In the pursuit of the life you gave through me;
I even posted a night watch.
And not one of them got away,
Except for the rebel bent on destruction
(the exception that proved the rule of Scripture).

13-19Now I'm returning to you.
I'm saying these things in the world's hearing
So my people can experience
My joy completed in them.
I gave them your word;
The godless world hated them because of it,
Because they didn't join the world's ways,
Just as I didn't join the world's ways.
I'm not asking that you take them out of the world
But that you guard them from the Evil One.
They are no more defined by the world
Than I am defined by the world.
Make them holy—consecrated—with the truth;
Your word is consecrating truth.
In the same way that you gave me a mission in the world,
I give them a mission in the world.
I'm consecrating myself for their sakes
So they'll be truth-consecrated in their mission.

20-23I'm praying not only for them
But also for those who will believe in me
Because of them and their witness about me.
The goal is for all of them to become one heart and mind—
Just as you, Father, are in me and I in you,
So they might be one heart and mind with us.
Then the world might believe that you, in fact, sent me.
The same glory you gave me, I gave them,
So they'll be as unified and together as we are—
I in them and you in me.
Then they'll be mature in this oneness,
And give the godless world evidence
That you've sent me and loved them
In the same way you've loved me.

24-26Father, I want those you gave me
To be with me, right where I am,
So they can see my glory, the splendor you gave me,
Having loved me
Long before there ever was a world.
Righteous Father, the world has never known you,
But I have known you, and these disciples know
That you sent me on this mission.
I have made your very being known to them—
Who you are and what you do—
And continue to make it known,
So that your love for me
Might be in them
Exactly as I am in them.

One could pull out many different themes from this prayer. But one thing I've always walked away with is that on numerous occasions Jesus mentions wanting his followers to be one heart and mind, to be unified as he is with the Father.

Unity, what an amazing concept. What a beautiful thought. The likes of which would rock the world. But then, there's always that one person. You know, that individual that seems to frustrate you no matter what. It seems their time, energy, focus, and existence is focused on being a pain in the neck towards you. Sometimes people clash for seemingly no reason at all. They just rub each other the wrong way.

I've struggled with that this week. I'm sure I piss off my fair share of people. In fact, I KNOW there have been times where people have made seemingly very unfair judgments about me. I am one of those that doesn't have a naturally pleasant demeanor. I'm not angry. I just don't smile naturally. My "natural" probably has been described as "leave me alone". Many times, I'm not feeling that way. I've tried to improve that over the years. Some people are smiley. I'm the opposite. Oh, I love to have fun, laugh, play, etc. But it doesn't always show.

This week I've really struggle with some folks. I tweeted earlier in the week how frustrating it is to have people proclaim something as a problem, and yet they seem to be the biggest contributor to that problem! I want to scream "Open your eyes!" I was really torn up about this. It was eating my lunch. And then, God began to soften my heart, and as He did, I became open to something He wanted to teach/remind me.

I have my own role to play in this.

My thoughts turned to Romans 12:18. "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone." (NIV) The more I allowed this passage to sink into my heart, the more compassion I felt towards the person I was struggling with. And I began to wonder if their proclamation of said problem was more of a cry for help than anything else.

I'm still working on how I can approach this person to discuss these issues, so it's something I'm not done working on. But the main thing I learned was to continue to try to read between the lines with people. Don't always take things at face value. It's what I would want done with myself. I don't want people to automatically assume I'm upset or angry, just because I'm not smiling. Sure, I've got responsibilities there. Open up a little. Work on my demeanor. But I want to be able to extend the same grace to others as I want them to extend to me. Pry back the surface. We are all onions, much like Shrek.

So, what does it take for Jesus' prayer in John 17 to come to pass? Well, the only things we can control are ourselves. So, it starts with me.........Romans 12:18.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

God and Running-only One Thing Remains

My last post had a video from Jesus Culture and their song "One Thing Remains". This song has been on my mind a lot lately. I still remember singing it in church a few months ago, and the first line just caught my attention. We had sung it many many times before, so I'm not exactly what triggered my taking special note of the first line. At any rate, something clicked. Here are the lyrics in their entirety.

Higher than the mountains that I face
Stronger than the power of the grave
Constant through the trial and the change
One thing remains
One thing remains

Your love never fails it never gives up it never runs out on me
[ Lyrics from: ]
On and one and on and on it goes
It overwhelms and satisfies my soul
And I never ever have to be afraid
One thing remains

In death and in life I'm confident and covered by the power of your great love
My debt is paid there's nothing that can separate my heart from your great love

The first line connected with me so powerfully. "Higher than the mountains that I face..." In an instant, trail running and God merged into one. Now, typically I don't see many mountains on the trails of East Central Illinois. But certainly, mountains can serve as a metaphor when running trails, especially in ultras (greater distance than the standard 26.2 mile marathon).

Another thought came to mind soon after that. A quote I had heard only days prior by John Muir. "I would rather be in the mountains thinking about God than in church thinking about the mountains." Now, I'm not sure I agree 100% with this, but I think I can sense the intention behind it. My thoughts (daydreams) generally flow to one of two places, God and running. Honestly, I'd say it's about even. When I'm running, I don't try to force myself to think about God. I just try to relax, and allow my mind to be open, and if God wants to speak, then great. If He just wants to be with me without saying anything, I'm fine with that too. When I'm in church, I try really hard NOT to think about running. Again, I'll be honest, it's very difficult. I love Jesus. I love to run. What I don't want is for running to become an idol. So I try very hard to keep it from taking over 1st place in my life.

But that day, I felt such joy and peace. Because God and running had almost morphed into one. I was in church praising God, and yet felt He was bringing different thoughts concerning running to mind. Now, I could go on and on about loose connections, lessons to be learned between the two. I'll spare you that for now.

I have decided to take this week off from running. My body has gotten to the point where it is in dire need of some rest. While I've had an up and down week, I have been able to spend more time with God and thinking about God, and that's been great. I already feel as if I've grown some this week, allowing the Holy Spirit to walk me through some frustrations. If I had continued running this week, I'm not sure I would have taken the time or energy to address some of these issues. It's been a tough decision to stick to, no running for a week. But God has helped. I love that it's actually good for me to have a break from running, but it's NEVER good to get a break from God. That thought alone helps keep these two in perspective for me.

I suppose you could say I'm fasting from running this week. You could say I am taking a break. Who really cares. I never want a break from Jesus! When all is said and done, I want one thing to be true in my life. One thing remains..............that's my love for Him.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

It's Not Always Easy

Yesterday I posted about how I stay motivated with running. I'm diligent in reading up on runners and watching videos of their exploits. This is done on a very regular basis in order to keep that fire burning.

More importantly, how do I keep that fire burning for Jesus? I mean, running is great. But at the end of the day, it doesn't do much more than keep me in shape. Sure, I do feel better after running. But what if I have a bad run? What if I get injured and can no longer run? Then what?

My identity has to come from my relationship with Jesus. He's the ONLY constant in my life. He's the same yesterday, today, and forever. Someone I can ALWAYS count on. The Holy Spirit is there to help me understand His ways, and help me go about my day in a way that pleases Him, and is best for me and all those around me.

But to be honest, I need help. If it was simply up to me, I would do a horrible job following him. I need inspiration on a regular basis from others to continue striving to follow Jesus as best I can. Where do I find that?

First and foremost, I find it amongst those I spend time with. My wife. My co-workers at church. Those involved in small group at our church. My friends. My family. These people inspire beyond anything I can see in running. I see things they do, words they speak, attitudes they exhibit, and how can I not be inspired. How can I not see that there's more for me to learn in my walk with Jesus by being around these people?

One final though. Something else that moves me is music. Music makes me want to be more like Jesus that many other things. Here's a sneak peak, one of the songs I've come to love the most.

How do you do it? How are you inspired to follow Jesus more closely?

Friday, November 4, 2011

Couple new videos

One of the things I've been reminded of lately, is how to keep myself motivated. With regards to running, which I'll focus on today, reading stories and reports from professional ultra trail runners and watching videos really seems to get my juices flowing. To read about or see someone else doing something I love makes me want to head out right away and just run. I ran 13+ miles this morning on the roads, but even just by posting these two videos above, a huge part of me wants to head out the door right now and hit up some trails.

But then, I listen to the message in these videos. Kilian Jornet is by far one of THE best trail/mountain ultra runners EVER. The guy is just a complete stud. And from what everyone says about him, is among the humblest of professional athletes you'll ever meet. But even he has a breaking point, and reached that earlier this year (even at the tender age of 24). It seems the best athletes know that success (in performing well but also fulfillment) lies in a healthy balance. You must push your body hard, but also play hard. Rest well. This balance is KEY to performing at your top level over and over and over again. When you really love to do something, it can be very difficult to say no, and over time you find that you can become indifferent to what you once loved. ABSENCE MAKES THE HEART GROW FONDER.

Sometimes, absence is not what is needed, but simply the removal of pressure. Instead of running the next race, Kilian found all he needed was just to have fun again. So, he joined a few friends and just spent a friendly day together in their company.

This has been key for me to remember. There are always greater levels to reach in running. I can always shed more weight, do that extra speed workout, begin strength training, etc. But, sometimes the best thing for me is just go step out the door and go for a fun run. Where I'm not worried about time, pace, distance, quality of workout. I'm just focused on having fun again. Sounds like a good theme for my run tomorrow.