Thursday, August 27, 2015

Getting Ready

We are about to head out on our annual family vacation and I don't think we could be any more excited about the trip. This is a time of refreshing that we look forward to all year long with special traditions along the way. It's our time to completely decompress while eating good food, reading a pile of books, and being (mostly) lazy.

The thing about vacations is that you can't just throw your swimsuit in a car and go though (although some might disagree.) It actually takes some planning, cleaning, and shopping to get ready. The stress level leading up to the trip can often be quite high especially in the last hours of preparation. It's the pressure of preparing to leave that gets to you.

You would think we would manage this a bit better since it seems as if we are always preparing for something. We are constantly getting ready for a new phase of life, a big event on our horizon, personal growth, and changing seasons. The truth is that all of life is based on preparation for what is next. I would hope that my recognition of this would make the process a bit less stressful, but apparently that isn't always true. I've actually got to take the time to stop and enjoy parts of the journey (like a well-timed vacation) to see how preparation makes a difference.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Taking Advantage

This morning brought cooler than expected temperatures to middle Georgia as we woke to readings in the low 60's. With the incredibly hot summer we've already had this was a very pleasant break even if it was only for a day. When we first noticed these predicted morning temps, my wife and I both planned an early morning run. We've been dodging the heat for so long we didn't want to miss this opportunity. I'll admit my body could have used the rest, but I wasn't willing to forfeit this chance at fall-like conditions.

Sometimes we have to push ourselves a little harder when an opportunity presents itself. It may not come at the most convenient time, but if we don't take advantage of this chance it may be a while before another one rolls around. Seizing the moment in front of you means you have to be paying attention and be ready to jump when it arrives.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

To the Finish

Sports teaches so many valuable lessons that can often be difficult to learn. That was painfully clear this Monday to American runner Molly Huddle. She was competing in Beijing in the World Athletics Championships in the 10,000 meter race. She had put herself in position to win the bronze medal, but slowed slightly at the end to celebrate and was barely passed by a fellow competitor. Instead of being on the podium she was bumped to fourth place and received no medal for her efforts. It's not difficult to see she would have finished in the top three if she had held off her celebration until after crossing the finish line. I feel confident in saying Molly will never finish a race again without running completely through the finish line.

Finishing well is not necessarily something that comes naturally. Sometimes we're guilty of celebrating progress too early and not following all the way through to completion. If we take our eyes off the goal too soon, we might not finish as strongly as we hoped. This dedication to finishing strong is part of our relationships, personal goals, finances, parenting, and professional desires. This doesn't mean we can't stop to celebrate milestones and victories, but that we need to do it at the right time so we don't miss out on big moments.

I don't want to be disappointed in myself because I let up two steps too soon.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Good Fuel

My wife has reminded me lately that I’m going to have to adjust my eating habits as we continue to train and improve our health. I can’t expect to see great gains and improvements unless I’m eating more calories and better sources of dense nutrients. My eating habits have been very disciplined and focused for almost the past year, but I have to take it to another level to see the results I’m hoping for. I’ll admit I’ve fallen into some fairly predictable fueling patterns and need to change things up.

I need to give more careful consideration to what I use to fuel all of my body—mind, spirit, and relational too. If we don’t vary what we take in we’ll end up with very predictable results that don’t allow us to grow beyond our current state. This isn’t a free license to take in whatever I want to because some things are just not healthy for me. It is a challenge to vary what I read, who I listen to, and the things I allow to influence my thoughts to give me a chance to stretch myself in new directions.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Defining the Competition

Yesterday I wrote about the significance of understanding that I am in competition with my own expectations. Recognizing that truth is key, but I also have to clearly define it so I know what I am up against.

When I’m striving to be a better man, the biggest threats come mostly from inside of me. While outside factors obviously influence me, I react differently based on how I am succeeding in my internal fight. My success in the competition with myself will determine how well I navigate the challenges in front of me.

Often it’s the battle of the weight of my past decisions that hinders my growth. Sometimes it’s the frequent reminders of my own shortcomings and weaknesses that I can’t escape. Frequently it’s the internal conversations that can spin into negativity instead of being positively centered. When I am winning this competition I feel as if I can overcome any obstacle. When I am losing this battle even little things can knock me off course.

To become the man I want to be I have to be aware of this competition and fight diligently to overcome the wrong type of thinking. These are battles I have to win if I’m going to get further down the road.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Always Competing

I was running early this morning to beat the heat and came up the block to find three runners down the street in front of me. Immediately, I thought about the need to pass them and leave them behind me. We weren’t in a race and there were no medals being awarded, but I still felt the urge to run faster than them. As I closed the distance between us I told myself that I wasn’t actually in competition with them, but I was really competing with myself.

Even in a road race I know I’m competing against my abilities and best time. While my objective may be to finish in front of someone I’m not racing against their personal record and pace, but my own. This helps me avoid the trap of comparison as I don’t have to live up to their standards, but only my own. There is freedom in this mentality that affects other areas of my life as well. I don’t have to be a better man, husband, father, pastor, or friend than anyone else. I just need to be better than I was yesterday. I’m not stuck trying to live up to anyone’s version of what I should be, but simply letting God work in me daily as I follow this path He’s given me.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Good Words

This week I had a few people compliment me on my continuing physical transformation as I approach a year of lifestyle change. Even though this is now a regular part of my life the encouraging comments from others helps me stay focused. It was part of my motivation today for not taking a day off, but doing some form of exercise to maintain my progress. It's amazing how even small, positive statements can help us stay on track.

There is great power in being encouraged and appreciated. Our self esteem increases when we are affirmed and are made to feel valued. When our efforts are noticed it builds confidence and helps create a sharper focus on beneficial behaviors. I like to think that I am intrinsically motivated, but I also understand how extrinsic affirmation motivates me as well. I need a blending of both to keep moving and I think most people do too. My own appreciation for these comments should spur me to provide the same encouragement to people around me. 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

No Guarantees

None of us is promised tomorrow. That's a somewhat cliche, albeit true statement that isn't necessarily pleasant to ponder. The darkness of the thought doesn't stop it from being accurate however. Lately there have been far too many reminders of the brevity of life. I’ve watched as unexpected grief has crashed down over families and friends. I’ve even been knocked off my own rhythm by the surprise of death.

There are no easy answers to the grief we endure or the unanswered questions we will have. No matter how we might try to prepare we won’t be completely ready for death when it impacts us. We can make the most of the opportunities in front of us however. We can choose to care deeply for people in our lives and let them know it regularly. Without a guarantee of tomorrow we have to live today the best way we know how.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Guiding Prayer

I came across this moving prayer in a book I recently read. It is a powerful reminder of the attitude God is calling the church to have as we leave our buildings and head out into the world.

God, go with us. 
Help us to be an honor to the church. 
Give us the grace to follow Christ’s word,
to be clear in our task and careful in our speech. 

Give us open hands and joyful hearts. 
Let Christ be on our lips. 
May our lives reflect a love of truth and compassion.
Let no one come to us and go away sad. 

May we offer hope to the poor, and solace to the disheartened. 
Let us so walk before God’s people, that those who follow us might come into his kingdom. 
Let us sow living seeds, words that are quick with life, that faith may be the harvest in people’s hearts. 

In word and in example let your light shine in the dark like the morning star. 
Do not allow the wealth of the world or its enchantment flatter us into silence as to your truth. 
Do not permit the powerful, or judges, or our dearest friends to keep us from professing what is right.

*Borrowed from Searching for Sunday, by Rachel Held Evans

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Slowly Drifting

I love the ocean. I grew up in Daytona/Ormond Beach and going to the beach was a big part of my life. We didn’t have a lot of extras when we were kids, but the beach was always there for free entertainment. As I grew older it became a hangout place as a teen, a romantic place to walk at night on dates, and a family fun day after we had kids. There is beauty in the ocean and also swift moving power. You could float for hours as you bobbed over the waves, but if you didn’t pay attention you would end up far from where you began. The current would pull you (sometimes quickly) away from your spot on the shore. When our kids would play in the water we would constantly have to call them back from where they had drifted. It was easy to forget where you were and find yourself much farther down the shoreline than you anticipated.

It’s easy to drift in other areas of our life too. We enter into the current of busy schedules and have desires, ambitions, and standards we want to live by. When we forget to stop and refocus, we move farther away from them than we ever intended. It’s not that we willingly abandon our principles and goals as much as we slowly drift away from them. If we want to stay in line with what matters, we’ve got to make a habit of reevaluating where we are based on where we want to go and the person we want to become. We won’t slowly drift into better decisions, but will have to fight to stay on track. If we choose not to do this we’ll end up far from where we thought we would be.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Spoken Together

We are called as Christ-followers to speak the truth in love. The question is whether we are more concerned with voicing what is true or acting in love. I think we can be so eager to share truth and correct people that we forget our motive should always be to model grace.

I’m not devaluing the power of truth. Learning to see God’s true path is essential for all of us. Without the gift of love however, we are offering hollow philosophy—one that seems like a lecture instead of invested community. A deep desire to speak truth without the undercurrent of compassion is focused on being right instead of making a lasting difference.

Do everything with a motivation of love and we’ll be able to genuinely care for people where they are on their spiritual journey.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Target Practice

We have two choices when thinking about our future. We can carefully choose our goal(s) and work diligently towards them or decide that wherever we end up is good enough. This is the difference in aiming at a target you have drawn on the wall or drawing the target around your shot after it has landed. One method will push you forward for growth while the other settles for whatever happens.

Intentionally aiming is harder work, but brings greater satisfaction when your goal is reached.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Running Together

My wife and I both took advantage of surprisingly cooler temps this morning and went running. We didn't run together (my longer legs make that difficult), but we gained great satisfaction from our separate miles. Afterwards, we were walking back up to the house when my wife said, "You realize we are one of those couples, don't you? Now we exercise and go to the gym together." Her statement was focused more on the changes in our lifestyles and our shared desire to improve our fitness than anything else.

I love that I have made changes to my life, but I gain greater satisfaction in sharing them with my wife. Neither one of us is okay with accepting "the norm" and want to push each other to grow as we pursue God's pathway for us. We get to help each other persevere through adversity, ask & answer tough questions, and contemplate the potential possibilities as we live a life of faith. We aren't the same couple we were even just a year ago and that's because of God's work in both of us.

There is no one I would rather share this journey with than her.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Today's the Day

We spent the day with our girls out of town on my weekly day off. It's a trip we had talked about a couple of months ago and intentionally scheduled for today . We went tubing down a river, had a picnic lunch, walked around a town while window shopping, took photo booth pictures, and listened to music while playing car games on the way home. It was a perfectly timed day spent with the four most important ladies in my life and one I desperately needed.

Time with family is essential to my health and while I value the small daily and weekly interactions, these trips are very important as well. I've just got to make sure to plan them out so they happen more frequently for all of us to enjoy. I wouldn't have traded anything for today and the reminders of what matters most. Even the small memories we make have tremendous value.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

An Act of Control

I ran 5 miles today. I hesitate to share since it feels like boasting. It's simply a statement of what I did at the end of my day. I planned this run earlier in the week knowing I would need it. In fact, I looked forward to it all day long.

There are many, many things I cannot control. Even with detailed planning, intentional goals, careful thought, and dedicated prayers there will be unpredictable events. This really isn't new information for me, but there are some seasons in life where it seems more evident than others. I don't have any easy answers to this dilemma but to schedule some things I can control, like a run.

We won't always know what we are going to encounter and or be able to change everything we will deal with. We can find some balance by doing some intentional things that help us stay grounded even if it's only in something small.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015


There are times when I am unsure how to communicate. My emotions and thoughts become a tangled web and it is increasingly difficult to express them clearly. There isn't one specific cause for this confusion, but a combination of daily pressures, unforeseen circumstances, difficult obstacles, and even tragedy add to this dilemma. They create a muddled mess of unsure thoughts and feelings that can't be sorted out by thinking or trying harder. In these times what I need most is peace. Creating time to calm my anxious thoughts, regain my equilibrium, and be at rest is vital. After a time of peace I can sort through these messages and reestablish my footing.

It's an unexpected twist to discover the key to regaining my ability to clearly communicate is found in being quiet first.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Learn to Share

This week we had some issues with our van and weren't quite sure how we were going to get everyone to all the places they needed to be while having it worked on at the same time. Fortunately, one of our close friends was able to let us borrow their car for a couple of days until we could get things sorted out. After returning their vehicle and thanking them for their kindness, my friend responded that they were glad they were able to help us out. My quick response back to him was, "So were we!"

There is a verse of wisdom in the book of Proverbs which says, "Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act." It speaks to our need to make a difference when we have the ability to help. This could be any number of things: financial help, mowing a lawn, delivering dinner, helping someone move, loaning out our car, or simply listening. This is a powerful part of active, caring community when we are willing to help each other with what is within our power to share.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Mile Markers

I like to travel and be in exciting places, but the actual journey isn’t always the most thrilling. This is especially true when you are stuck in slow moving traffic. The most frustrating times are when things slow down for no apparent reason. You may inch along the interstate for 30 minutes and then suddenly everything is back up to speed without any visible cause. This doesn’t even begin to address my frustration with slow drivers (I know—I have issues) and the way they impede my forward progress. Even with smooth moving traffic, I get bored on a long trip if the scenery doesn’t change. It seems as if I won’t ever arrive at my destination, even though mile markers along the way let me know I am getting closer to where I want to go.

I need to make sure there are some of these mile markers in my life as well. The journey of growth and progress I’m on don’t always move forward at the pace I want. Sometimes it feels as if my progress is impeded and I can’t always see the cause. In other times the routine of travel becomes a bit ordinary and makes the journey feel even longer. Perhaps the key is to keep those mile markers close by—short term goals and ways to measure progress that let me know I’m moving forward. I’ve got to set these for each area of my life if I want to be encouraged on the journey. These small markers help me to realize I am making progress even when the destination seems far away.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Digging Deep

I helped to remove a palm tree from my grandfather’s house many years ago. The tree had been cut down, but the root was still there. It kept sprouting and my grandparents wanted it removed. I didn’t think it would take too long since it only had 4-5 inches of green growth above ground. It quickly became apparent this was a bigger task than I originally thought. The roots were much deeper than I anticipated and had spread out in a 5 foot circumference. It was a task that took a lot of sweat, energy, and more than a little frustration before I finished.

Changing our thinking can be equally as challenging. Once we have established a perception or a pattern it’s difficult to alter it. We might believe it’s easily remedied, but without extra effort we won’t completely eradicate negative habits. Are we willing to dig deep to discover the root of our thinking? Will we put in the extra effort to remove negative thoughts and patterns? It is a process of growth which requires consistent effort, but it’s essential if we want to have a healthier mind and spirit.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

All Around Me

One of the regular parts of my week involves sitting at Chick-Fil-a on Saturday waiting for daughter to get off work. I show up about an hour before she's done, order a cup of coffee, and write while waiting. I enjoy the change of place and pace as I find it refreshing. Some people (my wife included) might find it distracting to attempt to develop creative thoughts in a crowded place. I actually enjoy hearing the people around me and the uniqueness of the thought of all of us ending up together in this time and place.

This place is usually quite busy on a Saturday afternoon and there are wide varieties in the groups of people here. There are older couples out for ice cream, families with young children looking to escape the heat and enjoy the playground, travel baseball & softball teams grabbing post-game meals, and others grabbing a late lunch. While I'm here writing there is a constant buzz of life around me in its different stages. Knowing that I am one life sharing this mundane moment is one of my favorite parts of being here.

How often do we stop to pay attention to the lives moving around us? I think too often it's like floating on the top of the ocean without any clue of the life that fills the water beneath us. We can pretend it's not there, but we are denying ourselves the beauty of sharing in it unless we are willing to get beyond the surface.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Keep Turning

There’s an illustration I’ve read about a giant, heavy flywheel. A person is charged with turning it and has a very difficult time getting it to move because of its weight. They keep pushing on it and start to see it inch forward and it still takes an hour to make one revolution. After consistently applying pressure, the wheel starts to pick up speed. Eventually, the weight of the wheel begins to work to help the spinning movement until it finally rocks along in a steady rhythm. The question is asked: what turn of the wheel was the one that moved it faster? Was it the 1500th or the 110th spin that made the difference? The truth is that every push of the wheel helped to make it happen. They all contributed to the momentum.

Transformation and opportunity in our lives are the result of all the decisions we have made to this point. There isn’t one choice that has radically changed our lives, but the sum total has created momentum for us to move forward. Don’t neglect the power of the moment you are living in and how it contributes to positive movement. Even when things don’t seem to be going forward our focused efforts will help us in the long run.

Our future destination is found in the sum of our life experiences.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Going 100

The world has yet to see what God will do with and for and through and in and by the man who is fully and wholly consecrated to Him.  Mark Batterson

I’m not that man, but I would like to be. How do I keep growing in that direction? What do I need to set aside so I can put my life in God’s hands? How do I need to see the world around me if I am fully committed to this cause?

Choosing to follow this path won’t just change me, but will also change everyone I come into contact with. This isn’t an overestimation of my influence, but an accurate reflection of what God is capable of doing if I truly dedicate my life to serving Him. Batterson says the world hasn’t seen that level of manhood, but I haven’t even seen it in myself. I can’t expect the world to change if I’m not going to focus on changing me first. My desire is the first step in the right direction.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

It's Rasslin' Time!

When I was in junior high we all had to take a PE class which sometimes involved team sports and at other times focused on individual athletics. There was always a wrestling unit for 2-3 weeks that very few of us looked forward to (or perhaps it was just my own dread.) Our PE coach would put us all in weight classes and then pair us off to wrestle on the big mat. Not only were you being asked to grapple with a classmate who you may or may not know very well (but soon would), but it was done in front of the entire class. Your peers (30-40 people) would sit around the mat and watch as you grappled with a classmate in ways that would cause a fight if you did it outside of the gym. There were only two ways this was going to work out: you were either going to embarrass someone or be embarrassed. My athletic abilities didn’t kick in until several years later and I almost always ended up on the defeated side of embarrassment.

The idea of wrestling is still a difficult one for me, but not necessarily on a physical level. Now most of my wrestling is in prayer as I struggle through asking God for the right things and in the right time. I tell people constantly that prayer doesn’t have to be difficult, but that we can just talk to God and He is thrilled to have our attention and conversation. I still believe that to be true, but I also know there are times when we have to battle through difficult questions and wait for answers. I am wrestling with God in prayer now and it isn’t easy. It would be simpler to tap out and quit, but I know that isn’t the best solution. I’ve got to push through even though I may get tired, sweaty, and frustrated. It’s in the act of wrestling that God shares His answers, reveals His nature, and shapes my character.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Real Commitment

Commitment is an interesting word. I think we use it more often than we actually align ourselves with its true meaning. I know I’ve watered it down in my own life depending on the circumstances around me. Many of us have turned it from a word signifying our resolute pledge to endure into something that can be altered or broken whenever it suits us.

How do we determine our level of commitment? It’s going to be revealed in our adherence to physical, spiritual, and relationship principles through uneven times. Are you willing to run in hot weather, high humidity, and sore muscles? Are you going to choose the healthy option for eating even if other foods sit untouched in front of you? Are you committed to your marriage no matter how encouraging or flirtatious someone else might be? Will you persevere through obstacles seemingly preventing you from reaching your goals? Are you committed to your church even if you don’t agree with everything that is happening? Are you committed to following Christ even when your prayers don’t seem to be answered and you feel lost and confused?

The depth of our commitment is rarely seen on the smooth portions of the road. it’s only when we encounter obstacles and rough passage that we find out where are real allegiance lies. Decide what you are truly committed to and be ready to stick with it when it isn’t easy. This is the difference in true dedication and convenience.

Monday, August 3, 2015

That's Refreshing

I was thinking this morning about the things that revive me and bring me energy. There’s nothing quite like the first sip of hot coffee in the morning or the first splash of cool water when your throat is dry. Sometimes it’s a conversation with a friend that renews your spirit and brings a different perspective. I’ve discovered that quiet, meditative prayer and journaling can reinvigorate me as I work through emotions and concerns. Exercise has become a big part of my life and even though it requires  energy it can also renew my spirit. Time away can be a big source of refreshment as I am eagerly anticipating our family vacation at the end of the month. This is an extended time of relaxation guaranteed to refresh my mind and body. Fortunately, I don’t have to wait an entire month to gain this, but can find it in moments throughout the week as well.

Finding ways to renew and refresh ourselves takes on different forms based on our personality and season of life. There is no set formula for finding it, but if we want to remain healthy we need to figure out what works for us and then do it. It doesn’t always have to be a grand event, but we do need to discover the small pieces of life which bring us renewed energy and focus. Learning to take pleasure in these minor (and major) moments of renewal will establish a healthy, consistent rhythm in our lives.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Walk Off Story

I've written many times about my love of a good story. I love to hear how details work together to create unique moments. I want to see tales of triumph, compassion, and genuine human emotion. This is one of the reasons I love sports. It's not just to see great athletic feats and the power of a team coming together, but also to witness the stories that flow from competition, sacrifice, and loyalty.

This week my beloved NY Mets were active in trade talks as we are positioned to make a playoff run for the first time in several years. One of our players, Wilmer Flores, was part of a trade which was reported to be completed on Wednesday night. With social media leading the charge the fans in the stands of the game knew about it before the players on the field. As word quickly spread to the dugout of Wilmer's impending trade, he became emotional as he realized he was leaving the only team he had been part of during his professional career. His tears were captured by the cameras and quickly became a focal point of sports shows that evening. All of this soon changed however as the trade fell through and he remained a Met.

Two days later Wilmer received a standing ovation from the Mets fans when he came to bat. They were showing their appreciation for an athlete who clearly loved playing for his home team. While everyone was enjoying the feel-good moment for a homegrown player, no one could have anticipated the conclusion to these three days. Locked in a tie ballgame against the first place team, the Mets won when Wilmer hit a walk-off home run in extra innings. While writers and journalists tried to capture the emotion of the moment there is no real way to encapsulate the range of emotions this young man felt over three days. His joy and sorrow were as palpable and genuine as the obvious love shared between teammates and fans.

This is a great reminder of the power of a story and how sometimes life is better than anything we could come up with on our own. These are found in places all around us if we're willing to look for them.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Last Kid Standing

When I was a kid I was always picked last for sports activities. I was short, had big glasses, and wasn't very athletic. Any game that involved picking captains and choosing sides was a nightmare event for me. Sadly, that included most PE activities in elementary and junior high school-especially the dreaded daily game of kickball. There is nothing quite like the pit-in-your-stomach feeling whenever the teacher would announce it was time to pick teams. It was a situation I knew I couldn’t change because I was never going to to be given the chance to prove I was better than they thought. Each person picked before me reinforced the same message: we don’t want you on our team because you’re not good enough.

Physically I’m not the same scrawny, bespectacled kid waiting dejectedly while everyone around me is chosen. That doesn’t mean I’ve kicked that feeling entirely aside either. This is something that carries over into adulthood and periodically stirs up feelings birthed in those moments of exclusion. I admit I still fear rejection and often feel the need to earn favor and position with people. It can become a trap of never believing I am good enough on my own merits, but have to somehow convince people to pick me for their team.

I recognize this internal battle and work fervently to diminish its effect on me. I believe it’s why I’m so drawn to the idea of new beginnings and the constant power of grace. Grace reminds me I don’t have to be good enough to receive it. My value as a person is not reduced based on what others might think of me or how I perceive myself based on my past. Grace is God’s reminder to me that I have value because He loves me. It’s God’s way of choosing me first for kickball not because of what I can do, but simply because He wants me on His team.

I’m learning to be grateful for that grace even when I don’t completely understand it.