Friday, August 31, 2018

Cresting the Hill

My wife and I have been painting the inside of our our house since June.  Our goal is to paint every room and ceiling and to declutter the rooms and closets as we paint them and to fix things that we find or that we have ignored.

This has been an interesting process.  We have been making good progress, but I have found that painting is one of the easier tasks.  Giving away sentimental but unused things that have been packed away for years has been the most difficult task.

I would rather paint 10 ceilings rather than make the decision to donate or throw away baby shoes, our children's old lunch boxes, or toys they played with.

Now I have found out that I have to have surgery in early September and because of all the doctor appointments related to the surgery our progress has slowed to a crawl.  And, we have four upstairs rooms left.

So, being an old runner, I draw from that knowledge at times like this.

When the road suddenly becomes steep, and your legs get tired and your breathing is hard, do these things:

1.  Straighten your posture (stand tall) and face the hill.  Bending over and looking at your feet only serves to restrict your breathing at a time when you need to breathe.

2.  Shorten your stride.  This keeps you standing tall, and helps manage the steepness of the hill. Short steps, in this case, are better than long ones.

3.  Have faith. Draw on your resources.   Trust that your previous experiences and training will carry you upward.

4.  Walk if you have to.  Things slow down when you walk and you can collect your wind.  Sometimes this may be the only way to get up the hill.

5.  Take a rest if you have to.  There is nothing wrong with a time out in order to gather your strength.

5.  Stay in the moment. Feel the wind.  Smell the autumn air.  Rejoice in the movement of your body, and know that the pain of this movement causes growth and endurance.

So, onward and ever upward, to the unpainted rooms upstairs, whose closets are full, where decisions will make me ponder the years, and I will rejoice in the wonder of it all.

Monday, August 27, 2018

The Light We Share

Standing in my driveway at night, I look around my neighborhood. Most houses are filled with light that shines out into the darkness.  And I know that in those houses, life goes on.  Dinners are being prepared and eaten, families gather around televisions, books are being read, people are talking, family pets are being snuggled.

In the houses that are dark, I always feel that something is wrong, that a light should be shining there. These dark houses seem abandoned and sad.  I wish those who live there had left a light on when they left.

I find that some people, like houses, have light that shines out from their inner being into the darkness.    Their light brightens every room that they enter.  My sister was such a person.  People felt better when they were around her.  She passed away three years ago, but her light still shines in me whenever I think of her and I am filled with her presence. Through her light she lives.

Astronomers and scientists tell us that the light we see from the stars is millions of years old, and when we look into the night sky we are actually looking into the past.  Some of the stars that we can see no longer exist.  They burned out before the earth took shape, before life existed on this planet. The light from these non-existent stars will continue to come to earth millions of years after life ceases to exist here.

The light from our sun and the reflected light of the earth and the moon will continue to shine out into space long after the sun has burned out and collapsed on itself, saying to those alien beings billions of miles away who look up into their night sky, that we were once here.  We lived.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

The Journey

Running gives you a perspective about things.  Running was never about running from point A to point B.  It was about the in between; the way running made me feel; the weather; the hills; the landmarks that I passed; other runners on the road.  In college I met one of my professors while running.  He asked why I was running.  I told him I was running for fun.  He looked at me in disbelief, like there had to be something more, some goal, some endpoint to my running that I wanted to achieve.  Running was never like that.  For me it was always the in between, the journey.

A professional football player was recently quoted as saying “Not winning the Super Bowl makes you wish you never played in it.”  Everyone wants to win.  If you play a sport, the goal is to win.  If you play cards, the goal is to win.  No one consciously wants to lose.  

The problem is that no one wants to exert the effort if they cannot win.  People who try their best and come in second place are regarded as losers.  The Buffalo Bills went to the Super Bowl four years in a row.  No other team has accomplished this feat.  This means that they were the American Football Conference champions for four consecutive years.  They owned the AFC.  But, because they lost four consecutive Super Bowls, they are regarded as losers, not as the winners that they certainly were. 

I read that Jim Kelly, the only quarterback to ever start four consecutive Super Bowls, has never watched those games, because the memories of losing them are so painful.  After the fourth Super Bowl loss, people in Buffalo were actually calling radio stations and pleading with the team members being interviewed not to take them back to the Super Bowl.  Apparently it was not worth the effort if they could not win.

There is a quote that is attributed to Henry Grantland Rice in the early 1900’s that ends, “It is not that you won or lost, it is how you played the game.”  Martina Navratilova, a tennis champion of the 70’s and 80’s, after hearing this quote, said “Whoever said that probably lost.”  

Winning has become the only thing that matters.  Not how you play the game.  Not how you conduct yourself during or after the game.  Not how you handle defeat.  Winning is the only worthy goal, and it overshadows sportsmanship, and courage, and honesty, and fellowship- everything.  This is why people cheat, or play dirty, or lie.  To win at all costs. Even at the cost of our souls.

In 1925, Bobby Jones, the greatest amateur golfer (and some would say the greatest golfer), who ever played, was winning the US Open when he accidently touched his ball with his club while setting up for a shot.  The ball moved slightly.  No one else saw it.  But Jones assessed himself with a penalty shot.  This penalty shot cost him the title.  When he was praised for his honesty, Jones said “You might as well praise me for not robbing banks.”  To Jones, not giving himself a penalty shot was the equivalent to stealing, and he could not do it.  He would rather finish in second place than destroy his character.

At the end of our time on earth, what will matter will not be how many games we have won, but how we won them.  It will not matter how many degrees we have earned, but what we learned along the way.  It will not matter how much money we earned, but what we did with that money.  It will not matter how many people we employed, but how many of them we knew and cared about and lifted up.

If we are to be a people of substance; if we are to keep our souls, winning at any cost cannot be the way we play the game. Winning, in fact, will be secondary to the process of playing the game; a process in which we will find that it is not the end but the journey that matters most.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Finding Shade

Over the course of my running life there were times when I wondered "Why am I out here?"

I have run in deep, wet snow that was falling sideways, sticking to the sides of buildings; pouring, cold rain that made steam rise from my head; hard, windy, cold that froze the sweat in the hair on the back of my head.

But the worst were the hot days.  Not just hot, but hauwt!  People say the devil once traveled through the South and that's the word he used to describe our July and August days.

On one such day, I was struggling up a particularly nasty hill that, for some reason, hated me as much as I hated it.  I swear that hill used to puff itself up right before I got to the top so that I would have to run ten yards further up before starting down.

Sweat was rolling off of me and into my eyes.  My hair was drenched; my shirt, pants and socks were soaked through and the heat rose off the road in waves.  The hill beat me down.  I stopped running and began to walk.

Walking is strange.  Things slow down and I began to notice things I had never noticed, like the large oak tree in the middle of a field planted with beans.  I stepped off the road and walked across the field and into the shade of the oak.

As I sat down, I immediately felt the relief of cool breeze blowing under the tree.  I looked across the field of row after row of beans.  The quiet sounds of the wind, the rustling of leaves and the birds were all I heard.  I was filled with a sense of peace and rest and energy.

After a few minutes, I walked to the road and ran up the hill.

Sometimes you just have to find the shade.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

A Better Present

I often hear people talking about their past, as if a past, replicated in the future, is the answer to all of our problems. "I just wish that things were the same as when I was a child.  They were so much simpler then."  Things are always much simpler for children than for adults.  I once told my daughter that we could not buy something because we did not have enough money.  "Well," she said, "just go to the bank and get some money."  Simple.

People who want to return to an idyllic past forget that the 20th Century was virtually born into a world at war, and war has affected every succeeding generation of Americans into the 21rst Century.  They forget that women could not vote until August 18, 1920; that  black people were severely oppressed in this nation and their basic rights as citizens were denied by law until the early 1970's.  Some of us have pasts that we are glad are past and we would not return to them.

Satchel Paige once said, "Don't look back.  Something might be gaining on you."  If we spend all of our time looking backwards, the now will pass us by. Too many of us are rooted in a past that never existed, unable to move forward in the present; unable to see the present for what it is; a blessing; a gift from God. The secret of living in the present is not to live in the past but to live in the now; to constantly grow and transform ourselves into something better based on our past experiences.

Living fully in the present enables us to pay attention and to listen, really listen, to others.  It enables us to help others in a way we could not otherwise do.  It enables us to offer love without constraints.  It enables us to forgive and make peace.

We cannot return to the past.  We cannot change the past.  But God has given us the brains to learn from our past and to live better lives and become better people in the present based on the past. If we do that, then we and our children may have better futures.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The Red Tide

In the early 1990's I traveled to Clearwater, Florida for a conference. I arrived at the conference the day before it began and since the conference hotel was on the beach, one of the first things I did after arriving was walk out to the beach.  I had heard of the beaches on the gulf side of Florida all of my life and I could not wait to see a beach with no waves white sand that squeaked under your feet, and water that was so clear you could see fish swimming by your feet.

Clearwater Beach did not disappoint me.  I walked for miles down the beach, waded into the water, watched a horseshoe crab swim by my feet, then sat in the sand and looked out over the calm, gently rolling tide.  I was mesmerized.

Toward the end of the day, I walked back toward the hotel and the sun began to set and it seemed that everyone on and off the beach turned to face the sun.  The music that a band was playing in the distance stopped and in the golden sinking of the sun below the water we all became one people, watching the wonder of God's hand, feeling the silent quietness of the sunset.

I walked back to my hotel room knowing that I had to bring my wife and children to this place so that they could experience what I had experienced.

I went home and described my experience to my wife and we planned to vacation in Clearwater the next summer.  The following months I talked about Clearwater to my children, describing the beach, and the water and the sunset.  They began to talk about Clearwater as if they had been there.

Vacation time finally arrived and we left for Clearwater.  We stayed at the same hotel that I had stayed in earlier. We went down to the beach.  And what we saw was a nightmare.  Dead fish were everywhere covering the sand and hundreds of sea gulls swarmed down to peck out their eyes.  The once clear water was filled with brown, slimy seaweed, and dark rain clouds hovered overhead.

After talking with several people we found that Clearwater was having what they called a "Red Tide", so named because the seaweed make the water look a reddish, brownish color during the several days it is passing through.

"I can't believe you thought this was a good beach." commented my wife.

The children had fun, though, throwing seaweed at each other.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018


Dad was born on July 3, 1927 in Wilson County, NC.  Somewhere nearby, I am sure someone was shooting fireworks into the air.  Dad used to claim that all the fireworks on that day and the day after (July 4) were in celebration of his birth.  And we would laugh.

But, since his death in 1996, every time I see fireworks (no matter what time of year or what particular day), I think of him.  It is fireworks more than anything else that remind me of him.

I went by dad and mom's graves not long ago.  Dad was buried in the veterans section of the cemetery, near the flags. He and mom rest there, and my sister is buried in the same cemetery, not very far from their graves.

In the hymn, O God, Our Help in Ages Past, there is a verse that says, "Time, like an ever rolling stream, bears all who breathe away.  They fly forgotten as a dream dies at the opening day."

It is tough to think that those who lie in their graves today will someday be forgotten and no one will really know who they were.

There should be a day that we dedicate to the memory of all who have died before us.  A day in which we intentionally remember those who "fly forgotten in the ever rolling stream of time."

And, it should be a day of celebration, not mourning, with music, and food, and fireworks.

Especially fireworks.