Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day

When I was a chaplain in training, I was presenting a case to my supervisor and he asked what I knew about the background of the elderly patient.  I went over his age, level of education, where he was raised, etc., casually mentioning that the man had fought in the first day of the battle of Iwo Jima.

My supervisor stopped me, paused for a long time, and said, "You have no idea what you just said."  He was right.  I didn't.  I ended up performing the man's funeral and I did a little research and I was in awe of what he had likely experienced and what he had survived.

I will always have an uncomfortable relationship with my country's affinity for war and violence but it is easy for me to stand in awe and admiration of the "Greatest Generation," who faced unimaginable evil in the world and met the challenge.  When we were in Washington, DC a few years ago, we went to the newly-opened WWII memorial and saw many of them, supported at the elbow by wives or children, looking at the stones and the quotes in silent regard. They are growing scarce now, with fewer and fewer who can tell the stories.  Their legacy lives on in a world mostly at peace, however fragile that peace is.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The latest

I've got several things over here to catch everybody up on, starting with the kids.

Boo is home from her first year of college, if you can imagine that!  It was a good year and she wrote about it recently on her own blog.  We're so proud of her for studying hard and making friends and mainly for beginning her own life as an adult so well.  She's independent and strong with all that same sweetness that she's always had.

Mowgli graduated in December and came home for a few months.  He's gone again now--this time back to Tibet.  We know he's there because we got an email that said: hey im here.  Part of the adventure is being completely off the radar, so we won't hear from him again until he gets to Nepal in July.  Then he'll be back in India seeing friends in northeastern India and Kashmir until he comes home in August.  We think he'll be home for about a week before he heads off to Cambridge for grad school.  Hopefully, by then, he'll have a place to live at least.  And if not, he certainly knows how to fend for himself!

I'm loving my life and feel so blessed to be in this time of productivity and growth.  What began a few years ago as the Ridder Leadership Initiative with Western Seminary and the  Reformed Church of America (and is the reason I spend so much time in Michigan)  has turned into a large bi-denominational (including the Christian Reformed Churches more fully) and bi-national (the US and Canada) effort to bring transformation to individuals and congregations in those systems.  JTH and I are working hard to keep up and even to help shape the process as God takes us further and further into new relationships and new learning.

Of course, I'm still counseling and I enjoy that.  And the work I'm doing with Mission Houston as we see Faithwalking grow (and Missional Marriage) continues to be so exciting and life-giving, especially as the stories come back to us of transformation and growth.  MarriageHouston is in its embryonic stage and I have to admit that it gets neglected a lot by me although others are nurturing it and taking better care of it than I am.  I'm trying to figure out where it fits in my life and to give it more TLC while it's in its very beginning stages.

We continue to love MBC and C comments regularly about how much he appreciates the work he does there and the people he gets to do it with.  When you hear the horror stories out there in the church world on a regular basis, it is such a blessing to do ministry alongside happy, emotionally healthy people.  The newest thing that is happening there is a new BLESS team to help foster kids who are aging out of the shelter they live in.  I'll probably write more about that later.

So, life is good.  Amazingly good most of the time, actually.  I guess I'll always wish there was more time, for friends and domestic stuff and hobbies and projects but I'm very, very content with this.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Happy Mothers Day!

Today's sermon for Mother's Day is online.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

What I'm learning what I'm learning how to run (part 5)

I'm learning . . . I can do it!

It wasn't pretty.  It wasn't fast.  It was really challenging.  And yes, in its own way, it was fun!

It's taken me a year to make this happen.  First, I started training.  Then I realized I couldn't actually do any training program that I could find so I just kept showing up.  After getting really good on the treadmill, I lost all the ground I'd gained (no pun intended) when I realized that running on the road was nowhere near the same.  I almost ended up starting over.  But I kept showing up.  And today, I finished the Chuy's Hot to Trot 5K for Special Olympics.

There were more than 2000 runners, not counting dogs and small children.  I finished at 45:38, behind a lot of people but ahead of a lot of people too, and not just the walkers.  (A lot of walkers beat me, too, but I wasn't counting.  The goal was to finish.)

Here are a few more random things I've learned:

  • Don't look at little kids or small dogs and automatically assume that you can keep up.  It will make you feel really bad when you can't.
  • If you're running with your wife and you're going to get mad if she has to stop and tie her shoe, let her run with her friends and leave her alone.  Marriage counselors running behind you don't want to be mentally working while you argue.
  • It's not nice to change the course that you advertised.  Especially if the part you add is further.  And uphill.
  • Any 5K sponsored by a Mexican food restaurant is going to draw a different crowd than a 5K sponsored by a fitness club.  Thank goodness.
  • It was mostly accurate to advertise as a flat course.  Of course, that meant Austin-flat, not Lubbock-flat.
  • The lyrics to the theme from Rocky (recommended by many of you) are "Gonna Fly Now," not "Gonna Die Now."  Supposedly.
  • When you take on something you've never done before and you've never even done anything like it and you learn how to do it, you feel really great!
  • Except for showing up, nothing matters more than the encouragement of people who love you.  Thanks to all of you!

Friday, May 4, 2012

What I'm learning while I'm learning how to run (part 4)

I'm learning . . . I can go further if I go slower.

I guess it's pretty obvious but I was really struggling until I figured it out. So I've made peace with the inevitability of finishing this run dead last, behind the walkers and the dogs* and the wheelchairs.  I'm okay with that.  Actually, it was Mowgli who said, "Just don't stop; even if you're jogging really slow, just keep jogging.  Don't walk."

Well, I do walk, but I also figured out that jogging really slow is still jogging and I can go a lot farther at a slower pace.  (Also, I ski really, really slowly.  Actually, I defy gravity.  I can actually ski uphill.  That's another story that has nothing to do with this one.)

My friend Janet and my spiritual director Joyce are smiling right now.  Because they really get this:  that living at breakneck speed isn't necessarily an accomplishment, especially if you break your neck.  Because they know that pace matters and that life really isn't a race.  Because they know what Dallas Willard knows, that "you must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life, for hurry is the great enemy of the spiritual life today."  Because they live their own lives from a calm center that is grounded in stillness and not speed, although each has a rich and full life and ministry.  I'm learning . . .

*Yes, there are dogs registered for this run.  In fact, they apologized that this year they are only allowing one dog per runner.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

What I'm learning while I'm learning how to run (part 3)

I'm learning . . . it matters what you listen to.

Mowgli, who is a real runner, asked me what I was listening to as we headed to the track together for the first time.  I told him about my collection of audiobooks and podcasts.  His eyebrows arched.

I told him about how they helped to distract me from the exercise which seemed like a good idea, since I hated it.  I told him about how I could just check out and try not to think about what I was doing.  He looked at me with something bordering on pity or contempt and just barely avoided saying, "You're doing it wrong."  What he said instead was, "I'll make you a playlist."

The next night, I went out to jog in the neighborhood (the hardest venue I have).  I listened to my audiobook for the first 20 minutes and then switched to a song that a magazine had recommended, "I Run for Life" by Melissa Etheridge.

O. M. G.

How had I not known this before?  I could run further, faster, better based on what was coming through the headphones of my iPod.  Checking out had kept me plodding along, going through the motions.  Being fully present opened up new enthusiasm, new experience.  I was having fun! (I know this, people!  And I keep learning it over and over again.)

It also mattered what I listened to in my head.  The voice in my head thinks that trying to run or even jog is a very bad idea.  A very, very, very bad idea.  It has lots of reasons to back it up and has the sly arguing skill of Matlock:  "Do you or do you not feel that stitch in your side?  Let the record show that breathing this hard is not and never has been fun!"

But then I learned to talk back.  I learned from my friends what to say to the voice that says, "Go ahead and stop."  Mowgli said that he likes to ask himself, "If someone was chasing me and I had to run away, could I?"  If the answer is yes, he says, he keeps going because the limit is clearly mental, not physical.  I tried to imagine someone chasing me to motivate me to run.  Imagining the person in a hockey mask wielding a knife seemed to help a little.

An old friend who is a real runner gave me all kinds of advice about what to drink and how to pace and motivate myself.  My favorite piece of advice: someday I won't be able to run and I owe it to myself to do it now while I can.  Or something like that.

Another encouraging friend said that she imagined that all limits were mental and said to herself, "I do not choose this limit."  I've said that to myself a thousand times since then.  It comes in handy in other settings, too.  Sometimes I say to myself, "Just a little longer.  Just to the next corner.  Just to the next curve.  Just to the next line on the sidewalk."  Most often, I say, "You're doing great. You're okay.  Don't think about what it will be like a mile from now.  Right now, you're really okay.  Don't quit."

Talking to myself in a compassionate voice or a challenging voice works better than talking to myself in a shaming voice or a mean voice.  Really, people, I know this!  And I'm learning . . .

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

What I'm learning while I'm learning how to run (part 2)

I'm learning . . . vulnerability feels, well, vulnerable and the solution is always the same.

I always feel deeply vulnerable before I stand up in front of people to speak or facilitate.  Vulnerability practically defines certain social situations and certain relationships.  And I can't remember when I have felt as vulnerable as I felt when I first tried to run.

I lurked around the track at the park until no one was around.  I tied my shoes, checked again to make sure no one was watching, clicked the app on my phone and then tried to do what comes naturally to children and dogs but felt to me as foreign as walking on the moon.  When I realized that I was even more inept than I feared, a certain amount of shame set in.

That--more than the physical limitations--was what I had to face every time I went to the gym, every time I went to the track, every time I imagined signing up for a run.  Vulnerability--the one variable that universally defines the human experience.

I know what I believe about vulnerability and shame; namely, that the antidote to both is a life oriented around courage, compassion and connection.  That's the north star of my daily living.  The courage and the compassion I got.  The connection?  Epic fail.

I did what human beings do when confronted with their vulnerable selves--I hid.  For a long time, I hardly told anyone what I was doing.  At first, it just felt too fresh, too close to my heart, to share.  But then hiding became a habit.  When I did sometimes let it leak out--either from anxiety or enthusiasm--I immediately swore people to silence or told them that I wasn't willing to talk about it.  I even blogged about it here in a moment of needing to connect and then told everyone to leave me alone about it.  I even picked out a run and then when I realized that I would know other people running, I backed out.

And then I got a tiny bit braver and realized the impossibility of finishing this thing alone and admitted that I was teaching authenticity while living inauthentically.  I realized that my assumption that I would be either judged or pitied was ridiculous, given the incredibly high quality of my friends and family.

I asked for help on Facebook and got it.  I shared some fears with a friend at a party and got customized reassurance.  Earlier this week, I got a lovely card in the mail from a friend who understood why I couldn't talk about it but still wanted to encourage me.  A friend offered to wait for me at the finish line and even though I have to do this virtually by myself, I was deeply touched by the offer.

So . . . courage, compassion and connection, these three.  And the greatest of these is love.