Browse Articles By Month:

Life Is Like a Salad Bar


I love a good salad bar, because it is not just about eating but about creating. You have all these ingredients– different flavors, different sizes, different textures, different colors — and you get to decide which to use and how much of each to use. No two salads are the same— they will all look different and taste different. What will be the perfect salad to you will be revolting to someone sitting right beside you. What fun!

So, what are the principles for making your ideal salad? First, know your ingredients– what tastes sweet, what tastes tangy, what is crunchy, what is syrupy. Second, know yourself– what are your likes, and what makes your tummy unhappy. Third, don’t get tied down by any supposed rules or what other people think– who says you can’t have pickles and beets on a Caesar salad? Fourth, experiment, try different things and different combinations, don’t be afraid to go back to the bar again and again until you have exactly what you want on your salad. And lastly– relax, have fun, and enjoy.

Now to me, life really is like a salad bar. There is all this enormous variety spread out before you– different jobs, different places to live, different hobbies and friends, and a million different ways to combine all those to produce your ideal life. You can live in an apartment or a country house, work alone or with a team, like reading or going to the movies, buying NASCAR box tickets or opera box tickets (or maybe both!), having a bust the house open party or just a few friends over. It’s all your choice as to how to create your ideal life.

And guess what? The best way to approach creating your ideal life is a lot like creating your ideal salad.

You have to know what “ingredients” are available, and what your likes and dislikes are. Do you need supervision and structure in your work, or do you need to be a free spirit? Do crowds drive you crazy, or give you energy? Are you a beach or a mountain person? Part of becoming wise is being able to take an honest inventory of who you are and what your needs and desires are, and what dreams and opportunities meet your individual needs and desires.

Wisdom is also realizing where you are limiting yourself by saying “Oh, I can’t do that.” You can’t go back to school when you’re 60? Who said so, why not? You can’t live on a South Seas island? Well, if you know what other things you have to give up and your heart still sings, why not? Oh, I can’t do (fill in the blank) because (fill in the blank) will think (fill in the blank) about me? Whose life are you living, yours or theirs? Take a hard look at where you’re setting limits in your life– do they really need to be there?

Wisdom also knows that life is a process, a journey. You will always be trying new ingredients, finding new things that are tasty to you, and finding that some things that were tasty ten years ago may not be a good fit any longer. You’ve been a marathon runner for ten years, so you have to keep doing it? No you don’t. Never run a marathon, so it’s too late now? No it isn’t!

Finally, wisdom knows that all this craziness we call life is not meant to be endlessly analyzed and brooded over, is not meant to be taken so seriously, but is meant to be lived— to be enjoyed, moment by moment, day by day. So look at your life and its ingredients— keep experimenting, keep blending, keep living, and enjoy your handcrafted creation of life every day.

Thoughts for a New Year

2010 has been such a good year. I feel so blessed to have been a part of so many people’s lives: patients, friends, & family. It was a blessing to help in their challenges, share in their sufferings, & rejoice in their joys. And I feel I have grown in so many ways this year too.

As I was reflecting on the year, I wanted to share some quotes on life. They come from a variety of sources. Many I have scattered on the walls of my office. Yes, I know they are all generalizations, and some are more on target than others, but all of them have reminded me of important truths about life. I hope they can do the same for you.

Life consists not in holding good cards, but in playing those you hold well.

Each day comes bearing its own gifts. Untie the ribbons.

Don’t live in the past— you’ve already been there.

How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were?

The best things in life aren’t things.

When suffering comes, do not resent it or resist it, but welcome it, for it brings depth & richness & wisdom to your life, just as beauty.

No Winter lasts forever, no Spring skips its turn.

Do not regret growing old. It is a privilege denied to many.

Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass; it’s about learning to dance in the rain.

Let your life lightly dance on the edges of time like dew on the tip of a leaf.

Smiles reach the hard-to-reach places.

You must let go of what you are to become what you can be.

One hundred percent of the shots you don’t take don’t go in.

When writing the story of your life, don’t let anyone else hold the pen.

Tension is who you think you should be; peace is who you are.

Between the “don’t know the reasons why” of the past & the “don’t know what lies ahead” of the future lies today. Today is where God wants you to live.

You never lose by loving. You always lose by holding back.

What you don’t experience positively you will experience negatively.

To the extent that you give the world your gifts you will feel joy.

A visionary is someone who realizes that they can choose how they will look at the world & how they will interpret every event.

If lessons in life were easy then they wouldn’t be lessons.

It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.

Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.

You’ve got to say no to some things to say yes to others.

Take life for what it IS and what it CAN BE, not for what is was or what you wished it would be.

You can either accept what is, resist what is, or change what is, but regardless you must deal with what is.

There will always be pain.  There will always be joy.  Choose joy.

The only way to live a life fully saturated in love is to live a life fully saturated in God.

The events of life aren’t important; the meaning we choose to assign to them is.

There is only one happiness: to love & be loved.

How to Get What You REALLY Want, Right Now

Okay, quick, list five things you REALLY want—

1.
2.
3.
4.
5.

How did you do? What’s on your list? A dream vacation, car, or house, or job? Brimming over bank account? Physical health or healing? A spouse who is always there for you? Children or grandchildren? A grande mocha latte?

So, now, take your list, and consider this: for each thing on your list, do you really want the thing itself, or do you actually want what you think the thing will do for your soul?

Look deeper. That dream job– you really want what you envision that job’s status, accomplishment, and fulfillment will do for you, don’t you? That deep need to feel loved & cherished, isn’t that what you are really desiring from that perfect relationship? That bank account means security & freedom from worry to you, doesn’t it? In fact, if you dig down deep enough into your soul, you will find that for each & every material reality you desire, there is a spiritual need that is fueling that desire.

And guess what? Although material realities are given to us by God & are meant for our enjoyment, they aren’t meant to fill spiritual needs. No thing, no person, no accomplishment, nothing in this world can give us true & lasting peace or contentment or security or acceptance or joy. That’s not what material things are for. (You might even say that’s like putting Pepsi in a gas tank… )

Jesus taught his disciples, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” He knew that even the best things in this world are only material, and that the material can never bring us the spiritual things that we truly desire.

Look at your goals, your dreams, your desires, the material things you are striving for, worrying over, clinging to, frustrated about. They are not what you REALLY want, and they can’t get you what you really want.

Peace, joy, contentment, acceptance, security— you don’t have to hope for, strive for, work for any of these– they are freely & instantly available, they are our birthright as children of God. You really can have what you really want, not someday, but right now, if you are willing to turn your eyes away from the things that cannot give them to you. All you need to do is turn your eyes & open your heart toward the One Who can give them to you. Your heavenly Father is eager to give good gifts to you, His beloved child. Receive, and be blessed.

The Pillars & Planks of the Man of God

The time was September 2002. My oldest son Andrew had just turned nine, and I was amazed at how fast the time had passed. I remembered that day in 1994 when I first held him in my hands. I was overcome with a profound sense of the responsibility of having this tiny life in my hands, both in a literal sense and in a sense of the responsibility of guiding the life of his soul. I remembered feeling totally inadequate to the task, and asking God for His grace.

Nine years later, I again felt keenly in need of God’s grace. No, there was no major crisis, but I saw how that tiny baby that it seemed like just yesterday I was cradling in my hands was now a cub scout, and I saw how this boy would soon grow into a man. I looked around and thought how little this world and this culture would be a positive influence on his journey into manhood, and how it was my responsibility, more than any other person, to be a mentor, example, and guide to him.

The boy would soon be a man, I thought. But that realization begat the question, what is a man? What defines manhood? How does God define it? What are the values that will allow a man to look back at the end of his life with a sense of deep & lasting satisfaction, and what will cause the heart of God to speak over his life, “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased?”

I wanted to give my son some guideposts, some markers along the way that would be faithful & true. And so I turned to the Scriptures, and saw three vertical pillars that define the relationship between a man and his God, and fourteen horizontal planks that characterize a life well lived. These pillars and planks can describe the lives of both men & women of God, but I wrote them originally for my son, and set them in a frame that hung as a daily reminder in his bedroom.

The first of the three pillars that I chose was that a man enjoys God with all his heart. Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself also in the Lord,” and yet so few people structure their lives around that command. It is so easy to slip into a mere religion of rules and end up delighting in religion itself like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, or adopting today’s materialistic mindset that adds God as a once a week afterthought to a life really focused on the things of this world. I wanted my son to steer a true course between both of those errors first and foremost.

The second pillar posted on his bedroom wall stated that a man depends on God for all his needs. I wanted to cultivate in him a constant gaze toward God, meditating on Philippians 4:19, “And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” I knew that if he always looked to God, God would never fail him.

The final pillar I gave to him was that a man glorifies God with all his life. Looking to the Westminster Confession and to Paul’s command that, “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God,” ( 1 Corinithians 10:31 ) I did not want him to fall into the trap of dividing his life between the secular and the sacred. I didn’t want him to ever think that God would consider it acceptable to give a mere portion of his time, talent, & treasure to the Kingdom. No, I wanted him to see all of life as a marvelous quest to enjoy God, depend on God, & glorify God.

With these pillars firmly set, I next outlined the “planks”– the values that characterize the man of God. I first reminded him that a man was passionate–that he loves God and loves life with all his heart. A life not driven by passion is a life that accomplishes nothing. I wanted the first commandment to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” ( Matthew 22:37 ) to be more than just words to him, but the life blood of his own heart.

Next I wrote that a man was selflesshe shows God’s love to others. Jesus in John 13:34 gave us a “new” commandment to love one another. What was new about the love Jesus commanded? His love was a selfless, sacrificial, divine love, the love that He himself showed to us. I wanted to pass on that challenge to my son, to let his life be characterized by selfless Christlike love.

The third plank was that a man needs to be humble. I defined a humble man as one who knows he needs God, who admits when he’s wrong, and who isn’t proud when he’s right. Humility begins with the realization of who I am in relation to who God is. Humility demonstrates itself day to day by accepting responsibility in the face of failure, and avoiding pride in the face of victory. As Peter wrote in 1 Peter 5:5, the man who can consistently live out humility is the one who gets much grace from God.

But in his humility a man also needs to show that he is brave. The definition I wrote was that a brave man is committed to do what’s right whatever the sacrifice, for he knows that God is faithful.  I crafted each word to clearly define what a God-honoring bravery is: it takes commitment, it must be in the service of what’s right, it must be prepared to pay the price, and it must have as its foundation the faithfulness of God toward His people.

Another essential quality I saw was being thankful: to know God’s love is behind every blessing & every trial. The Bible warns of both flavors of ingratitude– that of the man in plenty who forgets God, and the man in want who blames God. Every man experiences times of both want & plenty, and I wanted my son to be prepared to obey the words of Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 to give thanks in everything.

The sixth plank in my list was for him to be committed to being honestalways telling the truth no matter what. Telling less than the truth is always the easy way out of a difficult situation, but it is never the right way. As a memory verse I wrote down Proverbs 12:22– Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who deal truthfully are His delight.

I next wrote that the man of God is a holy man, in that he lives as a temple of the Holy Spirit, as 1 Corinthians 6:19 teaches. The concept of personal holiness is so often misunderstood & even mocked, both within & without the church. I wanted Andrew to see the Biblical view of holiness, as being honored, chosen, and set apart for God’s use.

I also wanted him to learn the true way to be strong– that supernatural strength is found in following God. The prophet Isaiah gave us this secret of the true source of strength thousands of years ago when he wrote,

He gives power to the weak,
And to those who have no might He increases strength.
Even the youths shall faint and be weary,
And the young men shall utterly fall,
But those who wait on the Lord
Shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faint. ( Isaiah 40:29-31 )

A godly man also reflects God’s own character in being faithful– he knows that God expects him to keep his promises. I want my son to one day hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord” ( Matthew 25:21 )

In order to be faithful, a man must be hard-working– knowing the opportunity to use all his might for God’s glory is an honor and a pleasure. I most certainly did not want him sprawled across my couch at age 29 playing video games. I wanted his life to demonstrate 1 Corinthians 15:58 with him “always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that (his) labor is not in vain in the Lord.”

I longed to see him grow up to be wiseseeing things as things as God does, as well as patient, seeing God’s timing as perfect. I knew that without patience & wisdom no man will go far.

But with the strength & wisdom & patience, I did not want him to be directionless in life. I wanted him to be a man of purpose– always searching for what God wants him to do. I knew that God never tells us the whole story of our life, but I wanted him to always be assured that there was a story that the Father had specifically written for him. I wanted him to know that he could live with the same confidence that Jesus displayed in John 12:49 and know that God had sent him into this world for a specific purpose as well.

Finally, I wanted to sum up all I wanted him to be for God, for his family, and for himself. I chose the word deep. The man who is deep gets that way by committing to grow by knowing himself, the world, and God better each day. By living his life daily by these pillars and planks, he develops into a man of depth who is of inestimable value to God’s Kingdom.

So, eight years later— how is my child who is now a man? Well, at 17 he still has a way to go, but he is on the path. As he continues to learn from God and walk with God, I trust that he will continue to be a son that makes his father proud. For that matter, I hope that we all want to live by the same pillars & planks to make our Father proud as well.

Book Review: A Place of Healing


“Wrestling with the Mysteries of Suffering, Pain, and God’s Sovereignty” is an apt subtitle for this book, for just like Jacob wrestled with God many centuries ago, Joni has been wrestling with God for decades, ever since she took that dive into a too shallow lake as a teenager and became a quadriplegic.

Joni doesn’t speak on suffering & healing as a lofty theologian, or as some shallow social commentator, but as a real woman who has walked through real suffering and pain for all her adult life.  Unlike many sufferers, however, she has developed a rock-solid conviction of both God’s love for her and God’s sovereignty over her quadriplegia. This fusion of personal experience with Biblical truth is what makes this book so powerful.

She starts the book with a quote by John Stott: “The fact of suffering undoubtedly constitutes the single greatest challenge to the Christian faith.” She then launches headlong into a discussion of the question of healing and God, both personally and theologically. Further chapters discuss the benefits of suffering, how the sufferer can bring God glory, regaining perspective, and the impact of suffering on the Kingdom of God.

The title of her final chapter is a phrase she has earnestly repeated over the years: “Thank you, God, for this wheelchair.” In it she opens her heart to say that she really is content, for contentment is “realizing that God has already given (me) everything that (I) need for my present happiness… If there were anything more that I needed, God would have given it to me.”

A Place of Healing is a rich treasure of wisdom & comfort to share with anyone who is struggling with any kind of suffering. Highly recommended.

Does Your Life Rock?


(one of the most rocking people I know, my son Michael)

Can you scream at the top of your lungs, “MY LIFE ABSOLUTELY ROCKS!!!“?

If you can (and you’re not under the influence of some drug), then stop reading this and go out and let the world bask in your awesomeness.

But….. if you’re like most of us, and don’t feel your life absolutely rocks right now, can I ask you one question?

Why?

Why don’t you feel like your life rocks?

Are you mentally ticking off things like, oh, I’m 20 pounds overweight, or I haven’t found that special someone, or I found someone and they didn’t turn out to be nearly as special as I thought, or I’m between jobs or I don’t like the one I’m in, or I don’t have any friends, or I’m struggling with this illness, or…..

Have you thought about it? Do you have your list of why your life doesn’t rock?  Good, now here’s your next question:

What would it take? What would it take to make your life rock?

What would need to change on your list? Would you need to look younger, lose that extra weight?  Find that partner of your dreams? Land that dream job? Have money to burn?

Let’s get specific. How about starting with that bank balance that popped in your head?  Go ahead, don’t be shy, fill in the blank, if I had $______ in the bank my life would rock.

Now notice something:  You just made a choice.  You just decided where to set the bar for your happiness.

Think on that some more.  You made a conscious, personal choice about what it would take to make you happy.

Now think on this:  Could you make a conscious personal choice to revise that number up or down?

What if you said it would take ten million dollars to make you happy— couldn’t you choose instead ten billion dollars– or ten dollars?

No, no, no, you say, I couldn’t choose ten dollars, that would be silly.  Oh really?  What if you were five years old?  Or living in Somalia?  Then your world would be rocking with ten dollars in your pocket.

You say you need to win an Angelina Jolie / Brad Pitt lookalike contest for your world to rock– have you ever considered that there might be someone who would be grateful to have the looks you have right now?

You say that the place you live is dingy— but aren’t there millions of people who would give anything to live where you do?

You get the point: you really can consciously choose where to set the bar for your happiness, and you really can consciously choose to set it RIGHT WHERE YOU ARE RIGHT NOW.

Yes, you got it, you can choose for your world to be rocking RIGHT WHERE YOU ARE RIGHT NOW.

But, John, what if I really do want to find that special someone, or add another zero to my bank account balance?  I would tell you, go for it, keep reaching, keep dreaming, but let your dreams be to make your already rocking life even more awesome.  Do you think that Bill Gates went around in a funk, moping and sulking until he made his first million? or his first billion? Of course not!  It’s people whose life is on fire from day one who end up achieving their dreams.  It’s a little like Jesus once said, that it’s the people who handle things well when they have just a little who get the opportunity to handle more.

Think of all you have right now, think of what God has blessed you with.  Most of all, think about how much He loves you, and how He is pouring infinite unconditional love into your soul like a fire hose this very minute, if your soul looks on Him to receive it.

So, one more time: Can you scream at the top of your lungs, “MY LIFE ABSOLUTELY ROCKS!!!“?

There, I thought you could.  Now get out and let the world bask in your awesomeness. :)

Spiritual Seed Pack: Crazy Love

I love books that are in your face and don’t mince words. There are few books that are more straightforward than Francis Chan’s Crazy Love. His writing and his challenges are plain:

  1. What’s Wrong With Christianity Is That We Aren’t Crazy About God
  2. We Aren’t Crazy About God Because We Don’t Really Know Him
  3. We Aren’t Crazy About God Because We Are Too Crazy About Us
  4. Lukewarm Love for God Is Good for Nothing
  5. If You Get Crazy in Love With God You’ll Lead a Crazy Life

Crazy Love is a quick, easy read that will impact your life. I highly recommend getting that you read the whole book, but here’s your seed pack of its core ideas:

What’s Wrong With Christianity Is That We Aren’t Crazy About God

To just read the Bible, attend church, and avoid “big” sins— is this passionate, wholehearted love for God? –Francois Fenelon

Chan writes boldly that everyone can see that all is not well with the American church— that we really seem little different than people who don’t go to church.

“The core problem isn’t the fact that we’re lukewarm, halfhearted, or stagnant Christians.”— those are just symptoms, not the core issue. “The answer to religious complacency isn’t working harder at a list of do’s and don’ts”

The core issue is getting “crazy in love” with God. Remember when you were wildly in love with someone? It changed EVERYTHING— you were consumed with the person, every thought, every moment of your life was structured around them.

That’s the passion we need to feel about God.

Until we get crazy in love with God little will change in our lives or in the church.

We Aren’t Crazy About God Because We Don’t Really Know Him

What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. –A. W. Tozer

The first step in getting crazy in love with God is to really get our minds around who He is in all His power & glory & majesty & love.

“If my mind is the size of a soda can and God is the size of all the oceans, it would be stupid for me to say He is only the small amount of water I can scoop into my little can.”

“God is holy. In heaven exists a Being who decides whether or not I take another breath.”

“The greatest good on this earth is God. Period. God’s one goal for us is Himself. Do you believe that God is the greatest thing you can experience in the whole world?”

We Aren’t Crazy About God Because We Are Too Crazy About Us

What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. –(James 4:14)

The second step in getting crazy in love with God is to get a proper perspective of who we are in relation to God and eternity.

“On the average day, we live caught up in ourselves. On the average day, we don’t consider God very much. On the average day, we forget that our life truly is a vapor.”

“It’s crazy that we think today is just a normal day to do whatever we want with. Do you live with the reality that perhaps today you will die?”

“We generally think our puny lives are pretty sweet compared to loving Christ.”

In other words, we need to step back, take a look around, and realize that—

“Life is all about God and not about me at all.”

“Frankly, you need to get over yourself.”

Lukewarm Love for God Is Good for Nothing

“Has your relationship with God actually changed the way you live?” –Chan

The third step in getting crazy in love with God is to realize that what usually passes just fine for devotion in the American church is pretty lame in the eyes of God. Chan says that just because we are saved and try to live a good life, we assume that we are the “good soil” in Christ’s parable.

DO NOT ASSUME THAT YOU ARE GOOD SOIL.

“When we want God and a bunch of other stuff, then that means we have thorns in our soil. A relationship with God simply cannot grow when money, sins, activities, favorite sports teams, addictions, or commitments are piled on top of it.”

“Most of us have too much in our lives.”

“Has your relationship with God actually changed the way you live? Do you see evidence of God’s kingdom in your life? Or are you choking it out slowly by spending too much time, energy, money, and thought on the things of this world?”

Do we really see God as infinitely more precious than anything else in our life?

“Well, I’m not sure You are worth it, God.. You see, I really like my car, or my little sin habit, or my money, and I’m really not sure I want to give them up, even if it means I get You.”

“We need to realize that how we spend our time, what our money goes toward, and where we will invest our energy is equivalent to choosing God or rejecting Him.”

“We disgust God when we weigh and compare Him against the things of this world. It makes Him sick when we actually decide those things are better for us than God Himself.”

Do we really consider ourselves as fully devoted, no holds barred, to God?

“If you sign up for the Marines, you have to do whatever they tell you. They own you. Somehow this realization does not cross over to our thinking about the Christian life.”

“Lukewarm people do not live by faith; their lives are structured so they never have to.”

“Most of us want a balanced life that we can control, that is safe, and that does not involve suffering.”

If You Get Crazy in Love With God You’ll Lead a Crazy Life

The greatest thought that has ever entered my mind is that one day I will have to stand before a holy God and give an account of my life. –Daniel Webster

The life of a Christian should be marked by the word OBSESSION. Not obsessed with a list of rules or performance or measuring up, but obsessed with loving God and loving others through Him.

“Obsessed people care more about God’s kingdom coming to this earth than their own lives being shielded from pain or distress.”

People who are crazy in love with God love freely, give freely, serve freely, sacrifice freely, take risks, are humble and honest with God and with people.

“If we really believe that if we sacrifice things on earth so that we will have an eternity of rewards, it’s the only thing that makes sense.”

“Dare to imagine what it would mean for you to take the words of Jesus seriously.”— & GET CRAZY!

Running Is Like a Three Beaded Necklace

Running a half marathon was not a single experience.

It was really a whole succession of experiences, one after another, like a necklace made of a long row of beads, every bead being different. Runners will tell you that every mile is different, and that is true.

Although every “bead” on my half marathon necklace was different, there were three basic kinds: beautiful beads, bad beads, and bland beads.

I had some beautiful beads on that first half marathon: the giddy positive energy of thousands of runners waiting to start, hearing war whoops as runners topped the first hill, running through the forested greenways.

There were some bad beads as well: frustration when my GPS malfunctioned, the really steep hill where I struggled to make it to the top, the stabbing pain in my calf that threatened to end my race.

But honestly, most of my marathon beads were just bland: not terribly bad, but not memorably beautiful either. I was just there, just running mile after mile to keep going. Most of the moments of those miles are just a gray blur to me now.

Beautiful, bad, and bland, I learned five things about the beads of that run:

  1. Every course has all three. Every long run is a mixture of all three kinds of moments: there will be moments of beauty, moments not so beautiful, & many moments that are pretty ordinary. Sorry to destroy any dreams of running nirvana, but there aren’t any marathons where every moment is sheer bliss.
  2. Every mile will pass. If it’s a beautiful moment, savor it, because it won’t last forever. If it’s a bad moment, take comfort knowing it won’t last either. Moments are just that: moments. They all will pass.
  3. Attitude is everything. When the bad or the bland beads come, you can curse God or cry out to God, but either way you’ve still got a race to run. Cursing or complaining wouldn’t have made my hill or my calf pain go away, but having the right perspective made them livable.
  4. You’ve got to run each mile, beautiful, bad, & bland, to reach the finish line. That’s a pretty obvious one, I know, but one that our minds try to trick us on. There’s no way around it: if you want to see the finish line, you’ve got to accept running every mile, through the good, the bad, and the boring. The only way for me to run 13 miles was, well, to run 13 miles, and everything that entailed.
  5. There’s only one victory bead, and it’s the last one. That flush of emotional splendor that makes it all worthwhile comes at the end, and only at the end, of the race. Struggling up a hill and saying, “I’m not feeling too victorious here,” should come as no surprise to you.

I bet you’ve figured out by now I’m talking about more than running. Yep, our whole life is composed of those same three kinds of beads. You don’t have to look too far to start counting out the moments of your life: there’s been some beautiful ones filled with love, joy, & peace. There’s been some bad ones filled with pain, grief, & regret. A whole lot of our moments seem pretty bland and ordinary too, don’t they?

So whether you’re experiencing a beautiful, bad, or bland bead in your life right now, you can keep in mind the same five truths:

  1. Every life has all three kinds.
  2. Every one will pass.
  3. Attitude is everything.
  4. You have to run through each one to reach the finish line.
  5. There’s only one victory bead, and it’s the last one.

Oh, and by the way, here’s a bonus one: God is always with you, through each moment of your life. He is with you in all times beautiful, in all times bad, and even in all times boring. God is with you, and that makes all the difference running the race.

Change Your Story, Change Your Life

I should never have run a half marathon.

By “should never have” I mean that it certainly wasn’t a planned chapter in the story of my life.

What do I mean by that? Let me flash you back 37 years ago to a small elementary school playground in rural West Virginia. One of the rites of passage in any elementary school is recess, and the inevitable dividing up into teams. The scene has played itself out thousands of times: the two best sports kids in the class appoint themselves as the captains of the playground, and then one by one they start choosing their players, like opposing generals choosing their warriors. Who gets picked first, and who gets picked last, is for all to see.

In your mind’s eye you can see the characters: the tall kids, the fat kids, the bullies, the prissy girls, the tomboys. Off to the side is the runt, the shortest boy in the class, head cast down, sneezing, eyes half hidden with heavy glasses. Boys get picked first, of course, so he waits as the names get called out: “I’ll take Greg” “I’ve got Frank” “Get over here Darrell.” He waits until he is the last boy not picked, standing among a sea of girls.

And then the captains start calling out girl’s names.

There can be few scenes that shape a young boy’s view of himself more than having girls picked ahead of him on an elementary school playground.

And yes, that boy was me.

Scenes like that wrote my story, throughout my childhood. I see flashes of them as tears come to my face: volunteering to be the umpire of recess softball games so I wouldn’t have to suffer the indignity of not being picked, being the only kid unable to do a pull-up, never even trying out for a sports team in a school where athletics was the only thing that counted.

You see, we all write stories for ourselves, not down on paper, but deep in our hearts. The events of our childhoods shape our image of ourselves, who we are, who other people are, what kind of world we live in and our place in it. Although I did not know it, my childhood heart wrote a story for me, that I was a brain, but not a body, that I could be smart but never strong.

I can remember one of my favorite books as a child: a biography of Theodore Roosevelt. It told about his childhood, how he too was a brainy runt, weak, crippled with asthma, but how his iron will overcame the limitations of his body, and he became the most fiercely masculine President to ever sit in the Oval Office.

But my heart had already written its story: I was weak, and I was never going to be strong. Not even a President’s inspiration would be able to convince my heart otherwise.

My story grew up with me, shying me away from pursuing sports or athletics for decades. When I did try, my story was always there, ready to tell me its version of the truth about me. I can remember learning how to ski, and going down a slope that was too challenging for me, and falling down over and over. Although I didn’t realize what it was, the voice was there, whispering in my ear, “You can’t do this. You’re not an athlete. You’re just not strong enough.” I felt like a total failure, completely disheartened.

It was the last time I ever tried to ski. That was the power of my story.

The stories we write in our hearts as children are strong. They create paths for our lives, much more so than we realize. They help determine what type of job we pursue, whether we go to college, what type of people we look for in a relationship, how we react to storms in our lives, and how we approach God. Our stories guide our lives and even become our lives.

Even though their voice is powerful, it is usually hidden, behind the scenes, under the radar. We usually don’t even know they exist, and yet they are there 24/7, whispering in our ears: “You can’t ask your boss for a promotion, people never respect you.” “He’s more attracted to her than you, men don’t think you’re pretty.” “You just can’t trust people, they will let you down.” or in my case “You’re not an athlete, don’t waste your time & get hurt by even trying.”

Although a story’s influence on your life is strong, you don’t have to be a slave to it. You are free to write a new story whenever you take the courage to do so.

A few years ago I started writing a new story in regards to my body & sports. I decided to run in a local 5K race. Now, to some of you that might not sound like much, but to me it was like deciding to climb Mount Everest. I had my story of not being athletic ingrained deeply within my subconscious and I had never competed in any type of athletic race EVER. I was filled with doubt and fear, strong emotions to contend when venturing into completely new territory. That’s what stories do to us: they play tricks on our minds, guiding us away from choices we might otherwise make, and they play tricks on our hearts, making us feel strong emotions when we try to stray from the path that they have picked for us to follow.

But with the assistance of some of the lessons highlighted in the chapters that follow, I did it. I rewrote my story, and accomplished something that I would have never dreamed as a boy, a teen, or even as a forty year old: I competed in an athletic event with hundreds of other people.

Crossing the finish line of that first 5K was truly an incredible experience for me. But it was so much more than just an experience. I had changed my story and proved that I was not the weak runt that my heart had told me for decades that I was. Because I had a new story, I was a new man. I literally had a new life & a new future.

The principle: Change your story, change your life.

Once you break the power of a limiting story in your life you have freedom. For me the freedom was to pursue longer races until I decided in 2010 to train for a half marathon. The wounds of my childhood, even though I still feel them from time to time, no longer control me.

What about you? Have you ever stopped to consider what holds you back? What story is keeping you on the sidelines, in the shadows?

Step back and think about what you assume about yourself, about your place in the world. What are the things you just know you can’t accomplish? Why do you feel that way?

Ask someone who really believes the best about you, “What do you think I can do? How am I holding back? Where do you see me going in the future? Who do you see me to be?”

Ask God the same questions in prayer. He delights in rewriting stories. Think about the condemned prisoner Joseph who became regent of Egypt, the shepherd boy David who became king, the fisherman Peter who became the great apostle. Let the words of Paul in Colossians 1:16 become more than words to you:

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

“All things.” What thing does Christ want to strengthen you to do? Could it be a role in a story that you don’t even believe you can be in?

Dare to change your story. Dare to change your life.

Book Review: Notes From the Tilt-a-Whirl

If you’ve never ridden on one, a tilt-a-whirl is an old carnival ride where you have these wild turns and spins that sometimes make you smile, sometimes take your breath away, and sometimes make you nauseated. On the whole, it’s an enjoyable jaunt, but after a while it seems like you keep going around in the same circle, and you may end up growing a little tired of it.

Strangely enough, that describes my experience of reading Nate Wilson’s new book Notes From the Tilt-a-Whirl. Although his analogy is supposed to refer to our life on this world (and it does), it also describes his writing. His prose sometimes made me smile, sometimes made me think, but other times just made me tired.

In a dozen chapters, essays really, he explores the strange and wonderful nature of life, in all its simplicity and complexity, and the nature of how it helps us to relate to God and to ourselves. He wants us to revel in the “wide-eyed wonder of God’s spoken world,” and to an extent he succeeds, while musing on philosophers and kittens, Socrates and snowflakes.

There are sparks of true beauty scattered in the book, such as:

If I were infinite, I could read and love each (snowflake as a haiku). I could remember the dance of each flake since the world was born.

Faith is hard… but faith brings with it the only possibility of peace and joy in this world— the only possibility of laughter on this mad, mad ride.

Logic cannot give you goodness, just validity.

Why do we so often ignore the beautiful in exchange for the cute?

–and–

Do not resent your place in the story. Do not imagine yourself elsewhere. Do not close your eyes and picture a world without thorns, without shadows, without hawks. Change this world. Use your body like a tool meant to be used up, discarded, and replaced. Better every life you touch. We will reach the final chapter. When we have eyes that can stare into the sun, eyes that only squint for the Shekinah, then we will see laughing children pulling cobras by their tails, and hawks and rabbits playing tag.

There is treasure to be found in this book, but you have to also wade through pages that are far less inspired as well. Overall an interesting read.