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.

 

Renew your spirit and your creativity

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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.

 

Finding your way toward positivity

Untitled design (66)It was slightly irreverent but I snapped the picture of bird poop on the labyrinth sign anyway because it fit my mood — because it seemed to symbolize my own path, my own crooked maze through life.

Oh, there wasn’t a big catastrophe going on, just my own smelly thinking that needed to be cleaned away that day. I had hoped time in the beauty of Tinker Nature Park would settle my soul a bit, so I walked by summer’s blooms, stopped to say thanks to the buzzing bee hives and meandered over to the labyrinth, still thinking pretty poorly of myself and my accomplishments when I saw the pooped-on sign.

[UPDATED] (way more than)15 people of faith to follow on social media

Big or small, their stories strengthen us all

Christians to follow on SnapchatListen, I am all in favor of cute baby pictures, and I don’t even mind the occasional snapshot of a meal. But if given the choice, I prefer a steady diet of story and substance – in real life and on social media.

If you’re looking for that, too, then let’s compile a list of people who offer practical tips for living out our faith. Let’s find people who are authentic and encouraging because their stories will strengthen all of us.

I’ll get us started. Here’s who I’ve been following and learning about on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat:

  1. It’s no secret that I have a writing crush on Ann Voskamp. I love her focus on gratitude and how she uses her words with the precision of a poet, and it was one of her social media posts that introduced me to Meredith Toering – a must-follow on Instagram. Meredith, an Oklahoma native, lives in China and runs Morning Star, a foster home for babies and infants who have complex congenital heart defects. Her Instagram feed could easily dwell on the challenges she faces. Instead, you’ll find post after post that highlights courage and hope. (Even if you aren’t into that, you should follow her just to get to know a little boy named Ben. He and his chubbiness are the reason I check Instagram every day. He has his own hashtag: #benstagram.)
  2. I call Instagram my sacred place. It is where I only follow accounts that I find uplifting — accounts that remind me of the beauty of God’s world and His people. That’s why I follow @galvanizedgrace. If you need just a little space to breathe, just a moment to let your thoughts turn toward God, follow her, too.
  3. Eric Maddox’s life story reads like a suspense novel – and that’s why the former Army interrogator who tracked down Saddam Hussein has a bestselling book and a movie in the works. Hopefully he’ll get the chance to tell how his faith influenced his decision to join the Army and his ability to gather information without using violence. Eric is easiest to find at his website, but he’s also active on Facebook and Twitter as @ericbmaddox. I am slightly biased since we grew up together, but Eric has a lot to teach us all.
  4. You’ll like Tyler Speegle, too. He’s on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. He writes about things like spiritual conviction and finding peace when you are uncomfortable. Good stuff. Important stuff.
  5. I find The Blessing Counter hard to resist. Carol Shrader, a mama to four – including triplets born prematurely – writes about her challenges and, of course, her blessings. She shares raw emotion and gives us a glimpse into parenting not just multiples but parenting children with Cerebral Palsy. So. Much. Wisdom. Besides her website, you can follow her on Twitter at @carolsblessings.
  6. I’m addicted to listening to podcasts and I really like Man in the Pew by Phil Mershon. I’m not his target audience, but he covers topics like how to stay grounded in tumultuous times and how to stay competitive at work while following Christ — topics that are helpful regardless of gender. Oh, and you might also like Engaging Story. It’s a podcast about marriage.
  7. If you are looking for advice on using social media with your ministry, check out Natchi Lazarus. He wrote The Connected Church: A Social Media Communications Strategy Guide for Churches, Nonprofits and Individuals in Ministry. Also, Heather Heuman helps business owners and churches grow their online brand. She hosts a Facebook group where she shares tips and suggestions.
  8. I started following Adam Powell mainly because he loves tacos, and I respect anyone who points that out in his profile. Turns out he’s also in ministry and a photographer, and I’m really enjoying what he says: The world is desperate right now for the person God has called you to be and We always want God to fix our circumstances. Sometimes He doesn’t. Sometimes He wants to fix our focus within our circumstances. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at @RealAdamPowell. Look for the taco emoji.
  9. Interested in a more inspired life? Follow Called to Create, a community of Christian entrepreneurs and creatives. You can find them on Instagram or visit calledtocreate.org to sign up for their weekly devotional.
  10. For those who want to learn more about social media marketing and about podcasting, try Michael Stelzner and Cliff Ravenscraft. They are easy to find on Facebook and Twitter, but their usernames on Snapchat are @mikestelzner and @cliffeotc. They are both experts in their field – Michael is the founder of Social Media Examiner and Cliff is known as the Podcast Answer Man – and while their content isn’t about faith, it shows in the respectful way they treat people.
  11. While Cliff Ravenscraft rides long distances on his bike, Kelly Nash has been known to run more than four marathons in 24 hours. Find her on Facebook at Running with Kelly and be inspired to run the good race both physically and spiritually.
  12. Mike Gastin owns a design firm that handles everything from branding to video production, and he shares his advice for business owners and those interested in leadership and entrepreneurship through his blog, Twitter and podcast. For a glimpse into his life outside of work – including his wife’s beehives – follow him on Snapchat, where his username is @mikegastin. Two other people who are known for inspiring people in business are Lewis Howes, a former professional football player, and John Lee Dumas, an Army veteran. Both offer podcasts, webinars and plenty of interaction on Twitter and other social media platforms. Find them on Snapchat as @lewis_howes and @johnleedumas.
  13. Tara Howisey, A.K.A. The Radiant Goddess, is one of the first strangers I followed on Snapchat, and I’m glad I did. She describes herself as a bohemian-mystic, a fusion of Christianity and Taoism with a dash of Buddhism and Law of Attraction. Because she has a different faith background than I do, she explains spiritual principles in ways that are new to me. I always walk away with new vocabulary and imagery – and that’s helpful when I put it through the lens of my own faith. You can find her on Snapchat as @tarahowisey. She also recommends following @enthusiasticlay, who really promotes meditation and stillness on Snapchat, and @nikinpos, a makeup artist who shares the beauty of Positano in southern Italy every single day.
  14. Marshall Norgaard, a sociology student who plans to go to seminary, writes encouraging scriptures on sticky notes and posts them in public places. It’s fun to watch on Snapchat. Find him at @marshallscott.
  15. And while Marshall Norgaard leaves a scripture or two at a time, Blake Croft helps people pick out a new Bible, is active on Twitter and offers brief devotions on Snapchat – all with what feels like authentic friendship and admiration for those who follow him at @agospelminute.
  16. Interested in a more beautiful life? Follow Thoughts from Alice on social media. She’s a blogger who shares gorgeous pictures of her not-any-bigger-than-yours house, and she writes posts that talk about embracing the imperfections of her 1930s home and searching for hope while living with depression. If you follow Alice’s blog you’ll quickly see the beauty in her life and in your life, too.

Who else are we missing? Who should we add to the list?

You can find me on the Simply Faithful page on Facebook and as @markettagregory on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat.

Simply Faithful column now available to churches

Photo courtesy of unsplash.com

Photo courtesy of unsplash.com

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Gregory’s column has appeared in newspapers throughout the United States, and it can be included in your publications for as little as $5 a week when you purchase an annual subscription. Or, if you only need articles monthly, pay $75 for 12.

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Making a plan to seek joy

summer passports

 

I knew when I went to a work conference in California that I’d come back with a notebook full of ideas. What i didn’t know is what a difference it would make in my husband’s life.

Brian is a stay-at-home dad, and he home schools our boys. He has every Wednesday night off — and he has about 30 minutes to himself each night when he slips away to get something he “forgot we needed” at the grocery store. But I think we figured out that he had slept away from the boys for three or four nights in the last eight years… until he tagged along on my business trip.

That first day, I started to see a difference. By the second day, I could almost see his shoulders relaxing. And by the third day, he rattled off all the places he had visited while I was in class, and then he paused and said how glad he was to have the chance to explore and to have an adventure.

I had forgotten how fun adventure is, he said, and I think I can have more adventures at home, too