Why we don’t stop for medals before the finish line

Photo courtesy of Unsplash: Braden Collum

Aside from the running we did in P.E. classes, I’ve never been in a race in the traditional sense of the word. I help with a charity 5K every year, so I’ve seen people stretch their legs across the finish line and then bow their heads to have volunteers place a medal around their necks.

And I run my own sorts of races. The kind where you work hard to finish school and then work hard to prove yourself in your career. The kind where you see others passing you by with better houses and nicer furniture. The kind where you just aren’t sure where you’ll rank at the finish line.

I notice other people’s hurdles — from a distance — look smaller, and sometimes it seems people running the relay are given extra seconds on the clock because their teammates reached them sooner and set them up with better opportunities and better bank accounts.

Because I’m working hard, I expect my medal before I reach the finish line. I want praise and accomplishment at the 1K mark and at 2K and 2.5K.

The funny thing is real-life runners don’t think that way. Of course, they all want to be first to cross the line but they mainly talk of breaking personal records, of doing better than they did last time — of keeping their eyes in their own lane. And they have no interest in stopping every 10 minutes to collect a reward.

A runner will grab water from an outstretched hand and wave to a person holding an encouraging sign, but stopping for a medal would cost time and add weight. Who wants to carry that burden for miles? And who wants to put off reaching the finish line?

Some of the runners at the 5K have a drawer full of medals they’ve earned because they run year after year. Not one of them wears them during the race because it isn’t the medals that help them run faster — it’s their faith in their training. It’s their knowledge that the race may be tough but they are strong enough to finish.

Maybe it shouldn’t be so different for me and my race. Maybe I should have faith that God and I are strong enough to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Maybe I should be thankful for the encouraging signs and thankful that the medal, the reward, is waiting at the finish line.

 

Sometimes even the straight and narrow looks different

When you have a 5-year-old who is a train enthusiast, you spend a portion of almost every weekend riding trolleys and visiting model train displays. So, it wasn’t that unusual that we found ourselves at the Arcade & Attica Railroad Depot boarding a steam engine on a sunny afternoon.

The passenger cars were comfortable, but it didn’t take us long to realize that the open-air gondola car at the end offered a much better view of the farmland and of the steam pouring out of the funnel ahead of us. We sat on the hard benches for nearly an hour while we made our way to Curriers Station, where we stopped for pictures and ice cream that melted down our hands.

While other passengers milled around, we boarded early because we knew the steam engine would soon be coupled to the gondola car for our return trip. Moving just the engine was easier than turning the entire train around, the railroad workers explained — and it gave Colt a chance to see it attach in real life, not just with his models.

But when we sat on the hard benches again, it was the front of the engine that moved toward us and attached to our car.Turns out, there’s room at Curriers Station for the engine to move from the front to the back of the train, but no place for the engine itself to turn and shift direction.

It wasn’t a big deal, the workers said. The steam engine would just drive backward on the return trip.

It looked like a big deal, though, as I stared at the front of an engine moving closer and closer to my family. It didn’t look as menacing once it coupled and started pulling us back to where we had started.Still, it had to seem funny to all the people waiting for us to clear the train crossings — a majestic steam engine facing the direction of its passenger cars. But a lot of what happens on the straight and narrow must look funny to the people on the side.

For those of us trying to walk in faith, trying to stay on the rails of love and grace, we don’t have great expanses where we can turn around or make excuses. Our focus is more narrow. We’re called to feed the hungry. To care for people who are often forgotten. To forgive.

Living that out may look different than what we’re used to seeing on the tracks. It may look like peace in the midst of world that is angry. It may look like extending a hand in a culture that buys until it fills houses and storage units. It may look like making room at the table for outcasts and even sinners in a society that focuses on self promotion and self righteousness.

It may look like a train moving down the tracks in reverse. But it is still the best way to get us to our destination.

 

The story we all share at Easter

A friend of mine owns a travel agency with employees scattered throughout the country. Her crew specializes in Disney-related trips and gets invited to exclusive opening events. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve seen her beautiful pictures in Italy, in Florida and in amazing resorts.

You’d think, with such obvious success, that it would define her life — that it would be the first thing associated with her name. But she understands that while success may draw others to you, it’s honesty that binds them.

So, like Jesus, she begins by showing her own scars.

She points to the sexual assaults of her two sons, to the ways her family grieved and then began to heal. And every time she shares her story those with scars of their own breathe out and loosened their shoulders. They pull closer. Because even in an airbrushed world, we humans are imperfect. We’re all a bit broken, and we’re all a bit relieved when we know we aren’t alone. When we touch the scars of others, we know that we, too, can find our way toward healing.

This week many of us will hear the story of Easter, the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection. If we read further in scripture, it tells us Jesus later appeared to his followers. Of course they were confused, and one man, Thomas, struggled to believe that it could really be Jesus standing before him. So, he made a brave request. Thomas asked to see where the nails had held Jesus to the cross — because he knew the truth was in the scars.

Scars from nails. From depression. From broken relationships. From financial troubles. From giving birth to something new.

They all hold the truth. The truth that we aren’t alone and that pain and hurt can be redeemed and healed.

That’s why my friend unwraps her scars and tells her story to person after person. It would be easier to ignore and push aside and move on. But scars are a testament to overcoming and to resurrection and that makes them worth sharing at Easter and always.

 

How to wait out the winter and the hard times

Anytime I go to the post office I try to take the long way home. I drive over by the yachts, by the pier and the lake that looks like an ocean.

Even after all these years of living near Lake Ontario, I still expect its water to be salty, and I make it a point to catch glimpses of it as often as I can. So, that day, like many Saturdays, I pulled past the mailboxes in the back of the post office and took a tiny road down by where the Genesee River empties into the lake.

Because it’s winter here, boats were out of the water. I could see blue tarp after blue tarp covering stern to aft, and my first thought was one of sadness.

I know boat people. They yearn to be on the water. And I know what it feels like to be a boat on dry land, to have what you were created to do put on hold.

But by the time I rounded the corner toward the pier, I had a different thought — almost like a whisper.

The boats are out of the water for their protection, and this is just a season, not a reflection of their worth.

Those boat owners who are pacing the floor waiting for spring would never risk leaving their vessels in the water during a New York winter. It would be irresponsible. Foolish even.

They understand that, and they sacrifice one season to enjoy many.

Maybe, like me, this is your winter. Maybe the things you are most passionate about are slightly out of reach, beneath tarps. Maybe no matter how hard you try to break the ice, you still can’t reach the water and set sail.

Friend? Maybe this is for our protection. Maybe we are so valued and cherished by God that we are being covered for this season.

And maybe we’re preparing for a beautiful spring.

 

Tackling faith, football and friendship

football and faithI meant to avoid my problems, to give my weary emotions a break, so I gathered the children and turned on the football game. I live too far from Boone Pickens Stadium to drag the boys there on game days, but I sat them on the couch and reminded them to wave an arm each time we scored — a tradition almost as old as the state of Oklahoma.

I settled in and tried to forget, for just a couple of hours, that my friend and her two tiny sons were scared. That her husband had a brain tumor so large that he went directly from the MRI to the emergency room. That there would be surgery. Dangerous surgery.

I pushed aside the fact that another friend’s brother was in intensive care. His fate uncertain. I sat down the wounds of my own that I was carrying, wounds that weren’t physical but that still bled, and I turned my attention to the sport I’ve been watching since before I was a week old.

First down. Second down. Then, a young man in orange caught the ball, broke away from the opposing team and raced toward the end zone, half a field away. But before he had taken many steps, he was surrounded by other men in orange whose only job was to take the hit for him. If anyone was going to fall, it would be one of those men first.

They didn’t stop to discuss where he should go or what path would be best. They didn’t check their calendars. They didn’t decide to take the ball and give it to a faster runner. They followed him and they covered him.

And when the one who carried the weight and the responsibility of the ball made it across the line, they all celebrated.

I stood and waved my arm as the band played, and I cried at what I’d seen thousands of times before and only noticed once.

We all need people to surround us, to pray down heaven when we’re too weak or discouraged to do it for ourselves. We need people to make meals, to show up and mow the grass and answer the thousandth text message.

We need people to take the hit so we can move the ball down the field.

But none of that happens unless we understand that every time our cleats hit the turf we all risk getting tackled. The quarterback. The center. The linebacker. The businesswoman. The husband. The farmer. The teacher. The sister.

People are playing some of the biggest games of their lives, and this game isn’t meant to be played alone.

Maybe I can stand up for your integrity when others try to tear you down. Maybe I can meet you at the hospital. Maybe I can pay your rent while you find work. And we can celebrate together when we cross into the end zone.


what-aIf you like Pinterest, would you please pin this story? I’m trying to introduce this space to new readers and sharing on social media really helps!

5 things to make life better

postcards

I’ve tried 45608589 times to get this picture to show correctly. I apologize. It apparently wants to be upside down.

We can all use a few suggestions to make life better, right? Well, here are five things I’ve discovered in the last few weeks:

  1. I’m terrible at keeping up with email. My number of unread emails would make most of you cry. That’s why I tried unroll.me. It is a free service that unsubscribes you from email lists. I’ve been using it for almost three weeks, and I feel like I can breathe again.
  2. While email makes me a little itchy, I love getting letters and postcards in the mail. If you do, too, visit postcrossing.com or search #postcardswap and #postcardexchange on Instagram. In just a matter of minutes you can find people from around the world who are willing to trade postcards with you. It’s a great hobby for children and grandparents to share — and it doesn’t take up much space!
  3. Sometimes it is better to argue via text message. It gives you a moment to think before speaking… and to add a little kindness.
  4. You know how sometimes a price sticker leaves a residue? Baby powder takes away the stickiness. Really. It’s that simple.
  5. My natural hair isn’t so bad. There are large streaks of gray (larger even than I imagined before I stopped coloring it) but each of those silvery strands reminds me of my daddy who turned gray before I turned 5. He was an encourager, the kind of man you were better for having spent time with. A creative thinker. A person with steadfast faith. You’d think after 15 years of living without him, my hair looking like his wouldn’t matter so much. But it does. Sometimes I need a physical reminder — something I can see and feel — to show me who I am and whose I am.

What have you learned recently? How are you making life better?


5 things to make life betterIf you like Pinterest, would you please pin this story? I’m trying to introduce this space to new readers and sharing on social media really helps!

Renew your spirit and your creativity

Sign up today for our free e-mail series

Renew Your SpiritLife can knock you around a bit, leave you sprawled out and dizzy from the pace of it all — and all my soul wants is just a place to refresh. A place to rest. A place to look at the sky and remember my true north.

While I may not be able to take a three-month sabbatical or even spend a week at a retreat center right now, I can spend 30 minutes each day renewing my soul and my creativity.

And you can, too.

Let’s do this together. For you. For me.

We’ll start this one-week online retreat on Sunday, Sept. 18. You’ll get emails that walk you through seven days of spiritual growth — and a tool to help you track your time and evaluate where you can make adjustments.

We want all of us to work through this series at the same time, so we’re closing registration after Sept. 15. We hope you’ll join us!

How to enjoy the view

where to focusI first noticed the direction of the windows in San Diego, and then I saw the same thing when we wandered around the edges of Lake Ontario closer to home.

The windows – the big, beautiful, statement windows – all point in the direction of the water, of the view they value so much. Even the homes that aren’t touching the sand seem to crane their necks and point their windows toward the shore.

Garages and roads are tucked away so as to not interfere, to not interrupt.

It makes perfect sense. Land along the water comes at a steep price, and builders know – even before they lay the foundation – where the focus will be.

I suspect my foundation was designed that way, too. That I was made to see joy and grace. That my soul was created to point toward love.

But often I drag the dirty laundry and the dishes and disheveled baggage and put it right in my line of vision. Troubled relationships and misunderstandings act like dark curtains, and the critics – both imagined and real – seem to pull up lawn chairs and build bonfires on the beach that are hard to miss.

My stunning view begins to get cluttered with self-doubt, with comparison and stress. I’m close enough to see the light sparkle off the water and to hear the crashing waves. Close enough to feel God’s peace and grace and joy. I just need to rearrange the focus.

Critics can go on the street or, if helpful, in the garage for containment and safe storage. Misunderstandings are cleared up and pushed aside to allow light and forgiveness in to do their important work. And baggage can be sorted and put away in its proper place.

Then, nothing stands between me and where my soul was created to point. And I can enjoy the view.

where to focus

 

 

SewGreen upcycles fabric and faith

SewGreen

Sometimes it almost doesn’t feel like work when I’m interviewing people. This is one of those times. I pulled together a story for the Rochester (NY) Democrat and Chronicle on SewGreen, a non-profit that offers low-cost classes — along with a store full of donated fabric, thread, yarn and patterns — and it was an honor to be surrounded by such talented people.

I hope you’re as inspired as I was and that you’ll consider taking a class, shopping or donating. And, just as important, I hope you consider sharing what you are passionate about with others.

Here’s the story.

You can also learn more about SewGreen on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.