Posts tagged ‘God’

2013/08/31

Good Form

running-symbolA couple of weeks ago, I went to a running clinic on Good Form. I’ve been running for almost a decade, so why would I need a Good Form class? After my car accident earlier this year, it took me a while to get back into my normal workout schedule. And unfortunately by the time I was done with physical therapy, much of my endurance that I built up last year was lost.

This hasn’t been discouraging for me. In fact, I’ve focused on more cross training with dance, shorter running routes, and strength work as I gear up for a Warrior Dash in October. But even as my focus has been other types of exercise, I have this longing to train for another longer race. And with that longing has come a desire to improve my running both in form and speed, which I know will increase my overall benefit from it. It made sense then to start with my form as a precursor to speed training.

At the class, our experienced instructor Tammy Sanders took a video of each of us running past her. Then she played our videos back one by one in slow motion, pointing out how our feet were striking the pavement, what our posture looked like, and if our arms were in the right position. We learned that cadence, or the number of steps per minute, is important too.

It was very enlightening to find out that I’m a heel striker, my arms are coming across my body too much, and that I have good posture and head position. I left the class focused on the simple truths that would help me correct my poor form: bend my knees, center my posture, look down the road and not down at the pavement, lean slightly forward, run with light steps to stay balanced.

My first solo run to practice the good form tips I had learned went well for the first mile or so. But I noticed after that, my body wanted to return to old habits. I struggled at times to keep the new, better form even though I knew that it was more efficient and would help me avoid injuries common to runners. I measured my cadence that day, and found out that mine is about 170 versus the optimum 180 strikes per minute. I have work to do there too.

For a decade, I’ve been running—with success—as far as I would define it. I’ve never been fast; I’ve had very few injuries, but with good form now added to the mix, what more might I discover I can achieve?

What if I practiced good form in my spiritual life as well?

I’m not asking this question to lead into a discussion on “works” here. I’m talking about what if I consciously started to address the bad spiritual habits or baggage I picked up along the way that is throwing my form off.

For those of us raised on church, sometimes bad spiritual form is linked to our families and how they relate to church or other believers. If we’ve been hurt at church, sometimes it is linked to forgiveness we refuse to extend to other Christians or a church as a whole. For those of us who were or are preacher’s kids there’s a reason that there is a negative stereotype equated with many of us. And we see many pastors and wives of pastors (I was also one of these) wound up in burdens that while related to ministry also have to do with poor spiritual form due to burn out, unresolved conflicts, and living hidden lives outside of their parish.

But like the formation of any bad habit, poor spiritual form doesn’t happen overnight. I know for me, I can think of several very distinct instances or situations even in the last five years of being a Christian where certain seeds planted bad form. And frankly, I let those seeds take root.

This bad form has made me more cautious about being “too involved” at church sometimes. It has made me distrust certain Christians without real cause. Basically bad spiritual form has given me excuses to hang some of my decisions on, a place to justify a distance and a separation that I sometimes have practiced in order to protect myself.

I know there is a different way. I can practice good spiritual form. It isn’t easy. Bad habits are hard to break.

But I can start with some simple truths:

bend my knees in prayer

center my posture on God

look down the road and see who is in need not down at the pavement absorbed in my own problems

lean slightly forward into hope

run with light steps giving my burdens to God to stay balanced

Father, help us to practice good form in our spiritual lives that we may be strengthened in you and that we might discover anew what you can do through us to the glory of your Kingdom. Amen.

2013/01/31

Take the shot

Take the shot

Take the shot

“Goal of the century.”

“Best goal of all time.”

That’s what the London AP said last fall about soccer player Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s goal in a Sweden versus England match.

What made the shot so incredible? Zlatan was shooting blind. The goal was made with a 25-yard overhead kick that sank right into the net.

The odds were clearly against him, but it didn’t prevent him from taking the shot. When you watch the replay of the goal, you see that Zlatan didn’t even hesitate to take what looks like a completely impossible shot. The commentator mentions Zlatan’s “improvisation and skill.” I love the juxtaposition of these two words.

Cynics and naysayers would probably say this was a lucky shot. I look at it a bit differently. His physique, his coaching, his hours of practice all prepared him for this moment.

Sometimes even though we are prepared for a moment like this, we fail to take the shot.

Zlatan’s shot reminds me of faith. As Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (NIV) This chapter in Hebrews goes on to trace the history of a team of faithful followers who did extraordinary things in the name of God, taking blind shots, as they trusted Him to lead the way.

  • Abraham faithfully raises a knife over Isaac
  • Moses faithfully leaves the privileged house of Pharoah to eventually lead the Israelites to freedom
  • Rahab faithfully helps the spies who come to Jericho

These stories just scratch the surface of a myriad of believers who have taken the shot with a promise unseen or a blessing yet unfulfilled, and often the promise or blessing is somewhere far off in the distance. This particular passage of scripture doesn’t tell the whole story—how many of our forefathers and mothers doubted God’s words to them, tried to manipulate events to quicken God’s promise, or even wallowed in their own insecurities. And yet, they all stepped up to take the shot, however unclear the future was.

Sometimes we can’t see what is ahead. Sometimes the path is so foggy the brightest flashlight doesn’t help. Sometimes though we study scripture and learn from sermons and seek counsel from fellow Christians, we still aren’t sure of what to do next.

I have a pretty extreme need for knowing the course ahead, ever the planner, I want to take the safest path. But frankly the lack of trust at times has stopped me in my progress. Sometimes I’m too afraid to take a calculated risk because I’m trusting in myself versus trusting God and His sure and lasting promises to me.

As 2012 came to a close, I felt God pushing me out of my comfort zone in some surprising, life-giving ways. When my humanity takes over, I get scared and start talking myself out of moving forward. But as 2013 is now a full month underway, I’m praying for courage and strength, even if my back is to the goal, to trust the training, the coaching, and the practice, to step up and take the shot.

May you find the courage to do the to take the shots God is leading you to take in 2013.

2012/11/01

In Emergency Push to Open

In emergency, push to open.

Last night, I watched my girl Emma, dressed as Alice in Wonderland, go with friends to celebrate as other kids (and adults) all over the country do, many donning capes and gowns and masks and makeup to hit the streets for some treats or to attend a Halloween party. I noted how some dressed as sweet things like lady bugs and princesses while others went for more dark characters like ghouls and zombies—playing with scary things, fright giving way to smiles or laughter once the realization hits that it’s just a bit of makeup and fake blood.

Playing with fear is much different from living with real fear.

I snapped the picture that I’m using for this post a few months ago. I had just dropped my daughter Emma off at the airport to go to her dad’s for the summer. She was having a rough time and leaving was part of it. The sign on the exit door reminded me of how she was handling it all. She was closing the door to herself, holding back information and her feelings, making it very difficult to know how to help.

At the time, I was worried about her. I had never really seen her like that, but I recognized the new phase we were moving into. Age 12 already felt like 13. Emma being a bit ahead of the curve was no surprise, and the teen angst had been showing up off and on for at least six months.

Fast-forward to today, and that picture is taking on more meaning. Several weeks ago, I began asking, “Where is my little girl?” Everything about Emma was changing. She was disobedient, rebellious, and even rude to my friends at times.

This is normal. This is what it looks like.

But it didn’t feel normal. It felt too sudden and helpless, and my heart felt like bigger things were under the surface. Turns out there were.

I pushed the door open, and in the midst of that I was able to find out at least some of what was going on. On one hand what was on the other side of the door was painful to face, but on another hand, opening it has brought with it hope and some answers.

There is pain, and there are tough, ongoing conversations still to be had. And there is fear—real parental fear. The old adage of taking things one day at a time often becomes taking things moment by moment. Some days are roller coaster days with great highs and deep lows. It helps to know that we are not the first people to ever deal with tough teen stuff, and we are very blessed to be able to seek out the advice of professionals and the love of our family to help.

As a parent, this is by far the toughest time we have gone through. Entrusting Emma to God looked a little different when she was going from diapers to “big girl pants” or from one-night sleepovers to weeklong school trips. Now she has questions about faith and God that I don’t always have the answers to. She feels lost sometimes, and there is a yearning that a mom can’t fix by redirecting her attention to playing with her toys or by determining whether she’s cold, hungry or tired.

Unlike the joy and the relative ease there was in helping her take her first steps, I know that she has to take some of her next steps on her own. And yet, I also realize that in a strange way she needs me more now than ever.

In emergency push to open.

This seems like the biggest thing I can help her learn now. I want her to know that when things get dark or scary or worrisome or confusing that she can be open with me. I want in a small way to show her that my love is big, though nowhere near as big as the love of her Heavenly Father, and that He is always with her even when I’m not.

Just a couple of weeks ago at church, she sang these words from O Vos Omnes with her choir:

(Translation) O all you who pass by the way, pay heed, and see, if there is any sorrow like my sorrow. Pay heed, all people, and see my sorrow, if there is any sorrow like my sorrow.

Did she digest the message? Jesus felt great sorrow, and in that we can take comfort. But as I try to look through the lens of my daughter’s eyes, I can see how that idea, how that comfort, could seem far away or frankly unbelievable. God doesn’t always seem near—even to lifelong believers.

And that makes it hard to stay open especially in the midst of a personal crisis or emergency. Yet so often in scripture we are reminded don’t be afraid, and God is talking about real fear—no makeup or fake blood. As one of my favorite verses in the Bible says from John 14:1:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.”

And later in the same chapter in verse 27: “Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

I’m praying this for Emma today and really for anyone who is facing an emergency. Push to open. Trust God.

May we find rest in that place where fear and trouble dissipate through trusting a God of love. Amen.

2012/08/22

This is where life is now

Life starts from the reality of where we are now

My neighbor turned 40 a few weeks ago. This vibrant, beautiful woman that shares a wall with me is celebrating four decades of life. Though we have lived beside each other for about three years, we only recently became good friends. Two single moms passing like ships day and night are now sharing Zumba and laughter and more conversations about life, love and God.

Because our friendship is relatively new, I was really honored when she asked me to come to her birthday party. It was great for a number of reasons but perhaps most of all because she was inviting me into her close circle, and that was a wonderful gift.

At one point in the party, we talked about the “big 4-0” and she confessed to being a bit sad and unexpectedly emotional about it. Most of her feelings centered on her expectations of “where she would be” at this age. Birthdays, especially the mile-marker ones, have a knack for making you evaluate your life.

But even though she has faced a lot of tough stuff through the years, my neighbor doesn’t just sit around waiting for life to happen. She is actively shaping her life around the things she knows are valuable.

Years ago, this is not where my neighbor would have envisioned herself at 40, but this is where her life is now.

I have two friends both who have lost their moms in the last few years. They each have small children some of whom will not remember much about their grandmothers. Their moms have left this life too early, and life just isn’t the same without them.

I know these friends think from time to time about the big things their moms will miss like birthdays, and weddings, and great-grandchildren. And they think about the ways they miss their moms right now in the day-to-day stuff of life.

Losing their moms so early in life is not what they planned on, but this is where their life is now.

I have another friend who spent 10 years writing a book. Ten years is a long time to work on anything. At times, she was very discouraged in the process, and she thought about giving up. Sometimes she beat herself up for taking so long, and yet as the celebration of the release of the book grows nearer, I think she knows now that the timing is just right.

She would not have planned to take this long to write her book, but this is where she finds herself now.

So many of us have similar stories. We have unexpected break ups, a move across the country to find a job, a miscarriage, a betrayal that forever changed the course of life. I certainly am not living the life I once imagined. I’m not married, I only have one kid, and I continually bounce between laughter and tears at my bank account.

But this is where my life is now.

And I know I need to embrace it.

It’s scary to let go and move on. Forgiving ourselves and others; taking another risk; rising to a new challenge; believing that God’s timing is perfect timing…these are tough things to make peace with. Sometimes though, we willfully choose to stay shackled to the past and to the pain, to the failure and the loss.

God knows how to use our pasts to help us live in the present and wants us to have confidence that our futures are redeemed in him. When we pray, trust, and keep ourselves open to him, we can see glimpses of this truth.

So whatever you are facing, look it in the eye and come to grips with, “This is where life is now.” And choose to see that statement as a fact that is your friend. From that reality, you move forward.

Just like the beautiful women I’ve mentioned here. They remind me in inspiring ways that life goes on with realigned expectations, new dreams, and unexpected hope.

This is where life is now.

But with a hope rooted in the God of all, it’s just the beginning.

2012/07/31

Lean In

Recently while eating at a desserts-only gathering (a fabulous concept for a home party by the way), a new friend named Donna told the story about some puppies being born at her house when she was just a kid.  She remembered helping her mother feed the infant pups at what seemed like all hours of the day and night.  Because the litter was large, it took the whole family to feed the “newborns” when each mealtime rolled around.

After a few weeks, Donna’s family looked for good homes for the puppies and several were taken in. When the remaining group of puppies diminished to four, Donna said her family realized that one of the male puppies was blind.  They had not noticed this before.

His disability had been masked because his sister had been leading him around for weeks.  They watched as the pair of them padded around. The female stuck to her brother’s side, leaning into him to help guide his steps, doing all she could to keep him from running into anything.

I love the imagery that comes to mind as I think about those puppies and the way that sister leaned in to help her brother. As much as I like to think I embrace conflict and other tough situations, I know I have failed people in my life because I wouldn’t lean in. It’s not natural to lean into something when it’s really hard. On the whole we are taught to flee or fight (abandon or kill) whatever is making life bad.  It’s so much safer to create distance and boundaries, right?

Just to be clear, I’m not talking about hanging in there when someone is abusive or dangerous.  I’m also not talking about those times when we think that someone is blind based on the fact that they don’t see things the way we see them. This is often a hard thing to differentiate.

In the case of true destructive blindness, I know that I want to love the people around me through their hardest and heaviest moments, but that I find it really difficult to be like Jesus when someone I love is tearing life apart.  It’s not easy to love someone in that kind of state. It’s messy.

Wouldn’t it be awesome if leaning in was pure instinct? The New Testament shows us how good Jesus is at it. He really leaned in to tough situations, into broken, blind people.

I recently visited Thistle Farms here in Nashville. The company was born out of a desire to give work to women who after being rehabilitated from drugs or prostitution or other major problems couldn’t find work for obvious reasons. Who hires ex-convicts and recovering addicts? Thistle Farms does.

When you go on a tour at Thistle Farms, you get to hear at least one story from a recovering woman as you find out about the company. On my last visit one woman told her redemptive story that tragically started with sexual and drug abuse at the age of eight.  At the end of her talk, she said, “If I had just had one person who had intervened or taught me good things while I was growing up, maybe my story would have been different.”

She confessed that she did what she saw at home, and then she passed on that learning to her son—a son that was tragically shot and killed. Her words struck me. “Just one person…” If just one person had leaned in, maybe things could have been different.

After she got clean, that lady went back and rescued others from similar tragic stories. And now, she has a nonprofit that helps teens. She’s leaning in, and she’s doing it in some of the toughest of places in Nashville.

I’m nowhere near as brave as that woman at Thistle Farms, but I’m convicted of my need to lean in. I want to recognize situations where I like to take the easy way out of a relationship or a problem and dig in instead. May God help me to lean on him as I try to love like him.

2012/06/07

Surprise

Image

Surprise!

A few months ago, my daughter and I took a friend of ours to church.  I had specifically invited him on that day because I knew what my choir was singing.  When we came into the church, the ushers offered us bulletins, but I wouldn’t let our friend take one.  He looked at Emma and I with a confused look. I simply told him that something was going to happen during the service that he would enjoy, and I didn’t want him to read ahead. He smiled and kind of shrugged, and then we walked in to find our seats.

Before the service began, he leaned over and astutely inquired about the music for the day.  I just smiled and said, “You’ll see.”  Temporarily forsaking my place with the first sopranos, I had opted to sit in the congregation because honestly, I had to see his reaction when the music started.

We went through the traditional paces of the service, and all the while I was a little giddy inside knowing what was coming.  I tried my best to be reverent through the prayers and liturgy, but this wonderful tension was building and I kept stealing silly looks at our friend in anticipation.

Finally the moment arrived, and being the musician that he is, our friend only needed a few notes to realize that his favorite song was being sung. I had expected that he would be happy; he looked over at us and shook his head while smiling really big. Then he turned more inward and dropped his head a bit, and I could tell that he was gently crying. The surprise had touched him in a deeper place than I had imagined, and with tears in his eyes he looked at me and mouthed, “thank you” as the glorious music wafted out, swelling in all the familiar and best places and then resolving to a peaceful end.

God surprises us like this.  He puts things into our path, into our hours that make us catch our breath. He knows how beauty and purity can touch us deeply. The sunrise over an ocean, the first kiss from someone we see building a life with, the miracle of a tiny baby in our arms, a letter saying “You’ve been accepted into…,” a long-awaited recovery, and the list goes on.

I find it hard to understand why some people hate surprises, and of course I’m talking about good surprises here. It’s amazing to me that there are people who hate the surprise birthday party or the unplanned weekend trip where someone else has packed the bags.

But there are also people that can’t see or even enjoy a surprise. Numb from pain, boredom, or busyness, they don’t let a surprise touch them.  They don’t lift their head to see the sunrise or stop to feel the kiss.  They don’t connect with the weight of that baby in their arms or let the words, “You’ve been accepted…,” go very deep. They don’t believe in true recovery.

But God is a God of surprise. And if we tune into him expectantly, he will surprise us over and over, giving us unimaginable joy—the kind of joy that only someone who knows us intimately can provide. We have to be awake and aware to enjoy those moments. We may even have to look for them.

Lift your head. Feel. Connect. Let the words go deep. Believe.

P.S. This is the song that surprised our friend. Recognize it?

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