The joy of running

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I’m learning to like running.

“How?”, you ask.

By not making any plans.

Saturday afternoon I set out to run at least two miles. Two miles marked the full extent of my planning. I had no set route. No GPS to measure my progress. No phone or clock to keep time. Nothing but a beautiful day and time. My feet hit the end of the driveway and I turned right, but within less than twenty strides I’d decided to explore. Another twenty strides and I turned left onto a street I’d never taken before.

Abercrombie sported a few people up and down the street and I zigzagged back and forth in an effort at mobile social-distancing. By this time I had already started to breathe a little harder. I’m no six minute miler. More like a ten minute miler. I pushed a little, but I settled into a pace I could keep without stopping. I ran until what amounted to a dead end before retracing my steps and heading back home. I felt great as I pushed myself all the way to the driveway and, slowing to a walk, walked right past. Over the next mile I strolled, sprinted and punched my way into a cooldown before finding my driveway again and turning in.

I felt great! And I felt appreciation for the freedom I’d had to simply be.

No real goals.

No timer.

No schedule.

Just me and the open road.

And I loved every minute of it.

So much so, in fact, that every run since has turned out the same way. I run until I don’t want to run. Strangely, I find I’m running faster, longer and harder than I did when I had goals, timers and a schedule. It leads me to wonder what other places in my life would benefit from such freedom? Something to explore another day.

So, like I said, I’m learning to love running by not making any plans.

What about you? Care to give it a try?

Beyond the realm of coincidence

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“Oh Lord, all my longing is before you; my sighing is not hidden from you.” -Psalm 38:9

Wednesdays of late have been an irritation. To put it in context you have to understand I work open to close on Wednesdays. It makes for a long day, but that alone isn’t the source of frustration. Opportunity is. I find myself busier than I’ve ever been and loving every minute of it. So my mid week is an interruption, and I hate interruptions.

Yesterday, however, was an exception. I arrived at work without any other thing on my mind to do for the day. I was at peace. If I understood all the reasons why, I’d try harder to plan so I could live there. Since I don’t, I chose to enjoy it.

But as the day went on my peace faded. Expectations I’d held for the day didn’t come to pass and the knot of anxiety began building in my gut. Magnificent stories began crafting themselves in my mind. Great myths and legends to fill the void created by my lack of knowledge. By the way, I’m a great story teller. Sadly, that also means I’m an exceptional liar when it comes to the unknown and I couple that with expecting the worst. It’s uncomfortable to say the least.

In this state, I wasn’t prepared for the last minute rush of customers. About ten minutes to close, a family of ten and a couple others walked in the door. I cursed myself. I cursed God. Then I put on my customer service face and started helping them. In the midst of this I received a single message that turned everything around. The customers who would keep me well past close became a blessing instead of a curse. And the very thing I’d longed for might yet come to pass even at this late hour.

I was chastened. God showed me in a single moment that everything sits in the palm of His hand. He went out of his way to stack the odds beyond the realm of coincidence so I wouldn’t miss it, and I heard him loud and clear.

I see you.

I love you.

I know your longings.

Trust me.

Praying with an open hand

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“Be careful what you pray for. You just might get it.”

Anyone in church circles has probably heard this admonition before. I came face to face with it last week as I struggled with my longings. I wanted to pray. I wanted to ask God to fulfill my desires. I wanted to entrust my hopes to Him with anticipation. And then I heard these words from the recesses of my mind. I began to worry over the rightness of my desire and felt a deep sorrow.

Thankfully, I dared to question this so called wisdom that I’ve taken at face value for so long. I won’t completely throw it out. After all, I do believe there is wisdom in these words. However, that wisdom can only be found in a right understanding of who God is. When I addressed my fears, I realized my expectation saw God’s “you might get it” answer as bordering malicious, as a punishment.

But that’s not the God I serve!

The truth is found in the reminder that God is love. At any point He chooses to give us our desire where it causes pain or hurt, His purpose behind doing so is one of Love. It is a gift to make us into better men and women, better children.

Armed with such a hope, I returned to my desires and began to pray freely. It reminded me of Christ in the Garden. His prayer in the Garden is raw and honest. He prayed freely before God and shared His desires without reserve. And when all was said, He submitted himself to the Father in complete trust – “not my will, but yours be done.”

For me, it can be summed up in these words. Pray with an open hand.

Ultimately, desire is desire. I want what I want. What I’ve come to believe is that I can bring all of me to God, and that includes all of what I want. Ultimately, he may say no. He may also say yes in order to teach me. Note here, not to punish me! And He may also say a simple and gracious yes. In all of this, I’ll never know if I don’t ask. And if I am truly in a relationship with Him, I will want to entrust it all to Him. He loves me and has my best at heart.

So, knowing all that I will pray what is raw and honest while trusting Him to answer as is best.

And I will pray with an open hand.

Dairy is Everywhere (and other things)

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This past week saw the beginning of a fast from dairy. A grand experiment in pursuing a healthier and more mucus free lifestyle. And, as of today I have a perfect record of failure.

While someone, somewhere is sitting in judgment, I am laughing and preparing for my next attempt. This has been an incredible learning experience. I had no idea dairy had such a prominent place in my life. When I’ve tried to relate it to others, I tell them dairy flies under the radar. Sometimes, like this morning, it is the bedfellow of habit. “With cheese” fell so smoothly from my lips that my conscious self only became aware once the creamy melt settled onto my tongue. Most times, I am simply unaware. Having never considered it before, I know nothing of its hideaways. Cereal and lattes are easy to avoid. Yogurt and cottage cheese only slightly more troublesome. But I never saw butter chicken curry coming, and only barely dodged Tira Misu. If any lesson is to be learned, it is this – dairy is everywhere!

Or maybe there is something more. It’s been refreshing to engage in battle with something I can laugh about, and I hope it will translate to other, more sensitive places in my life because failure is a great teacher.

So I guess what I’m saying is this. Go forth and fail. Laugh at yourself and learn all you can.

Oh, and dairy is everywhere!

Moving on

Three years ago I bought a house. I believed it to be the best decision for me, and at that time it was probably true. Today, however, I am moving out of that house and preparing to sell. Time have changed, and I with them.

Preparations for today have stirred up memories like sediment in a stream, and my mucking about has only brought up more. In some ways, it was an act of desperation. I’d enjoyed exceptionally low rent for several years, but the house I’d lived in would soon sell. I had to move, and nothing on the market could match my budget. Oddly enough, here in Memphis a mortgage payment could be far less than rent, and it didn’t hurt to know I would ultimately be investing money in my own pocket rather than a landlord’s.

As for other reasons, I was seeking a more “normal” life. My life has never exactly conformed to the status quo. Sometimes I see that as an amazing gift. Others, I wonder what I’ve been doing with my life. At that point in time, I knew the life I had been living needed to change. For the me of three years ago, change meant more stability and more money. So I began pursuing a management career at Starbucks and bought a house. I know I hoped it would bring some legitimacy in the eyes of others, and maybe a wife.

You may wonder, how did that work out for me? Well… not bad. And not in any way like I planned.

For one, I never saw the money I hoped for. Turns out management is not something I’m well suited for. And the house, while quickly paid off due to an inheritance, became a time and money sink. I never had enough to make it the house I’d hoped it would become, and I realized 1,600 square feet with a front and back yard is a lot of real estate to manage for one person.

That said, these past few years it has been a gift. Paid off, it gave me the freedom to leave Starbucks, and after the chaos of my experience there I needed to leave if only for my mental health. In the interim between my sister selling her house and purchasing a new one, it provided a home for her, my niece and my nephew. And when a friend needed a new place to stay, I had an extra room for him. But most of all, this house has been part of a process of learning about the world and myself. I better understand the value of my time and mental well being. I had to learn that lesson through imbalance of a job, a life and a home.

All in all, it served its purpose and I am grateful I made the decision. But as I mentioned before, times have changed and so have I. I’ve rediscovered my long lost dream. I’ve found peace in who I am, and I am not trying so hard to match up to what others think is normal. (Note, if you happen to be looking for a life partner, it might do well to find someone as crazy as yourself.) And I am free. Free from most of the obligations of my peers. It is startling to realize I have the same freedom I did the day I first braved the world and left for college.

Thankfully, I also have a little more experience and, I hope, wisdom. And soon, once the house is sold, I will also have a fair starting point for this next stage of life.

All in all, I guess life is still life. I made the best call I could at the moment. I ran it for all it was worth, and now it’s time to move on. I don’t regret the struggle. I certainly don’t regret the blessings that shined linings of silver on sullen, grey clouds. They made me who I am, and have laid and are laying the foundation for what comes next.

& what’s next?

Well, I’ll save that for another day.

To the End of Self

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Yesterday was a bad day. I struggled from start to finish. I doubt those looking on from the outside could tell, but my insides roiled in storms of doubt and fear. I ended my night as I always do, in prayer and an exercise of gratitude. I am grateful to have learned the importance of such things, especially when I feel like running away.

As I prayed, I uttered these words. “Thank you for bringing me to the end of myself.” The dam broke and for one brilliant moment all the weight of the days worries lifted. I saw, with clarity, the light of possibility again. You may wonder why. Simply put, it allowed me to let go of all the things I wanted to control and cannot. I came face to face with my limitations, and had to acknowledge them.

Today has been much better. I’ve entrusted my mystery, the unknown, into the hand of another and let yesterday’s lesson guide my actions. Today I chose to take on only this day’s tasks. And I believe I am a little closer to my goals than I was yesterday. That is a gift!

As to the things I cannot control, I feel fortunate to believe in a God who loves me. A God who does have control and is far more adept than I ever could be. That knowledge gives me hope that even if the future doesn’t turn out the way I expect, it will turn out for my good. Right now I can rest in knowing that when I come to the end of myself, He picks up where I leave off.

Some days are like this

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I’ve been up for just over four hours as I write this post. I feel as if I’ve accomplished little despite knowing the opposite is true. Thus far in my day I’ve completed my morning pages while enjoying breakfast at Brother Juniper’s, written two haiku, made headway in the song I’m working on, spent some time studying the Psalms, and found a pair of pants that fit. The last alone stands as a feat worthy of mention. So why is it that I feel an empty desperation?

Before I begin, I must first emphasize the word “feel”. Feelings don’t always match up with reality. And today, my feelings have waged war against me. I won’t deny them. I’m done playing that kind of game. Instead I hold them up and try to learn from them. Today they tell me that I hold something so dearly I am unwilling to let it go. Should it come to pass, even for mere seconds, my entire day will be filled with a sense of fulfillment. By contrast, fear of losing it projects me into an imagined future and borrowed pain.

I know enough to recognize my enemy. I know enough to engage him. But I don’t know if I’ll win this battle where anxiety seethes just below the surface. I find myself with the Psalmist crying out, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?” And with the Psalmist I remind myself to “Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.” It is a declaration. It also, I note, makes no promise on time of delivery.

How then, do I fight this battle in the meantime?

First, I borrow another lesson from Psalm 43. I pray, “Send out your light and your truth; let them lead me.” Lead me into the presence of God – to his ‘holy hill’, his ‘dwelling’, to ‘the altar of God’. There I will strive to lay my desire for control on the altar of sacrifice and take up my song of praise.

Next, I align my actions with my goals and my purpose. I am on a journey, and I am deeply thankful to know where I am going. No matter how I feel right now about what the future might hold, I have agency to invest in what I hope the future will hold. So I will continue to write, to play and to invest in shaping myself right now to become the man my future will require.

My goal is to end my night with the assurance that I courageously moved further into the unknown future. So long as I can see the slightest step forward my day is a victory, even if I lose the emotional battle. While I hope for deliverance or the sweet mercy of God choosing to answer my desire, I know that even if it does not come I am the better for it, having been forged in the fire and having forged my way ahead.