Love With A Capital L

A journey towards living an inspired life of love in the modern world

So, Let Me Tell You About Yesterday — December 11, 2020

So, Let Me Tell You About Yesterday

So, let me tell you about yesterday. 

The Angel & I took the boys to school and left immediately, driving north to Scranton (home of Dunder Mifflin Paper) for the funeral service of a friend’s father. He (James Chickson) was a terrific dad, husband, and man – exactly like my friend. At the Bridge, we would call men like him bull elephants, and the world doesn’t have enough of those, so we gathered to mourn. It was a catholic service and as a general rule, I find catholic services a little sterile and impersonal (just me, just my opinion, but I am very messy, overly sensitive, mushy and untraditional, so I would), which this one was…UNTIL my friend stood to give the eulogy. He was beautiful. He was all of the things we love about him, and probably all of the things we loved about his dad. It was awesome and exhausting, just what a funeral service should be. 

Then we came home, picked my boys up from school and had some ice cream because ice cream is perfect for a broken heart. 

Then at the dinner table (dinner after dessert is also perfect for broken hearts…well, any hearts, really), we discovered that there were new PA COVID restrictions that would, among other things, “pause” school sports. It was then that my boys expressed their emotions in what is sometimes the only appropriate way, with tears of sadness and rage. 

Now, I know school sports are comparatively minor in relation to the widespread wreckage COVID has wrought, but it is absolutely real to them. And to me. Because we all have those comparatively minor’s, right? 

Once the tears stopped and we were able to re-focus and gain a smidgen of perspective, then I began the phone calls to the core group of the Bridge to discuss what we would do, if anything, to address the new restrictions. Again, a small church in Annville is comparatively minor in the grand scheme, but it is my family and it is definitely doesn’t feel comparatively minor. 

We are losing loved ones, businesses, homes. We have been disconnected and isolated, and that leaves us raw and exposed, sensitive to very fine points. I remember months after the flood took our house, I had an appointment where I would need dress socks. I rarely wear dress socks and now that I needed them, I realized, I didn’t have dress socks. The pair I had was lost in the flood. I was working, driving on a major highway towards State College, when I realized this insignificant detail (big deal, stop anywhere and pick up a new pair) and had to pull my truck off the road when my sobbing made driving impossible. Everything was overflowing, all of the months of “What are we going to do????” and utter powerlessness to answer had crested, and dress socks pierced the thin shell that barely kept it all on the inside. 

High school seniors have lost proms and graduations, weddings have been moved, suspended, our lives have been radically upended, and we know that a missed dinner & dance for upperclassmen is nothing in relation to 200,000+ dead in this country alone, countless more worldwide. But that doesn’t make a canceled school dance hurt less. There isn’t a finite amount of love and care in our souls, we can deeply feel all the things in this human experience. There isn’t a cause/effect relationship where ignoring our pain leads to an increase in empathy. I would suggest if there is a relationship, it’s an inverse connection, where turning the blind eye to suffering (in any and all forms, even our own) leads to a practiced desensitization to suffering (in any and all forms). 

I bring all of this up because what I notice is that we often say the words, “but other people have it much worse than me/us,” as a way of minimizing or trivializing our own pain & suffering. At funerals, we say the person is in a much better place or that God has a plan (which are both true) and pretend that we are fine, that are hearts aren’t shattered. In the Scriptures, God asks us for 1 thing above all. He asks us to bring who we are, everything we are, honestly and without pretense, to Him. He says that He doesn’t want our sacrifices, He wants our hearts. He weeps over the death of a man He intends to resurrect to validate the suffering of his community. 

The Bible says, as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death… and it’s that through that makes all the difference. We can’t walk around, or avoid, or fake that it’s not the shadow of death. We can’t get through anything without going through. My beautiful buddy’s eulogy had very evident pain and loss, and it also had a lived-in gratitude that his dad was his dad, and I’m pretty sure the 2nd doesn’t come without the first. 

So, I guess what I’m saying is this: Sometimes you need ice cream to ease the ache of a broken heart, or screaming rage for a 3-week break from basketball, or an offering of bitter tears over dress socks. There are no comparatively minor’s with God. There is only us, and that’s enough.

A Bad Review —

A Bad Review

I posted quite a while ago on a book I read called A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman. I loved it more than I can tell you, though I tried in the post. I will always try.

So. I finished another book by Backman, My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry. I stayed up too late several nights ago to finish it and was exhausted all the next day. That day was heavy and my heart was soft, hammered into mush from the book. (I told you about that day – the post on that is called “So, Let Me Tell You About Yesterday,” in case you wanted to read that, too.)

I bought 4 copies today to give as gifts. Maybe I’ll buy more, but 4 was a good enough start.

The story is about a girl, 7 year-old Elsa, and her Granny, who dies and leaves a treasure hunt of sorts behind for Elsa. There are people and dogs and fairy tales, it’s funny and sad, about death but more about life. The characters are odd (I would say “delightfully odd” if I were a critic. I’m not. I’m just a man in a chair who writes for a blog that few read. If you’re reading this, you’re part of a select club. Thank you. But maybe a critic is just a person in a chair, too. Anyway.) The characters are odd and not all are very likable.

Not everybody is likable in real life, either. And those that are to me aren’t to everyone. I think my neighbors are probably the only people I know who it would be impossible not to like.

But what makes me not at all like a critic is what I’m about to do now. I don’t want to talk about the book any more. I thought I wanted to talk about the story and how it felt when I was surprised by the characters. As it turns out, I don’t.

Last night, I read another Backman book, called The Deal of a Lifetime. It is also, to borrow a phrase from Dave Eggers, a heartbreaking work of staggering genius. This one is short and devastating. I won’t talk about this one, either.

The best thing about art, these books in particular today, is how they are an invitation into the parts of ourselves that are usually roped off, back rooms where nobody goes. Real life is so much more about brushing teeth and alarm clocks than themes, narratives, depth and connection, but they’re all there if we only take the time and attention to recognize them. They’re all there barely under the surface, asking to be unearthed. We hide them because of their uncomfortable complexity, but they are ultimately the things that make life so wonderful. My tears were a cleansing, an offering in gratitude that we are here and we are now. In such tremendous gratitude that we are alive.

Ain’t The Same — November 18, 2020

Ain’t The Same

Jasper Mall is a documentary on Amazon Prime. It’s pretty unremarkable, actually. It chronicles the decline of a mall in the American south and nicely weaves in the death of a store, a young relationship, and a man. It was slow, melancholy and predictable. (The irony can’t be ignored that it’s playing on precisely the monolith that is murdering malls like this one)

It finished 5 minutes ago and, if I am completely honest, I am much more broken hearted than it deserves. But you understand my heart isn’t broken from this mall or this relationship, instead it’s a mourning for my own youth, my own mall, my own relationships. I spent so much time at the local mall, well spent with my best friends doing nothing at all except being together and learning each other and ourselves. I miss those guys, those seats in front of the Bavarian pretzel, the ice hockey table, and cassettes (which would later morph into cds).

I miss those guys the most. Cassettes were wildly overrated.

I often get nostalgia for details. For instance, no 15 year old boy will ever know the overwhelming fear of sitting by the phone mustering the courage to call the girl, and when/if he finally does, it might be busy (!!!) or (infinitely worse) answered by HER DAD!!! Now, he’ll text at 2am. A student like me will never cut classes to wait outside of the record store to buy the new release of his favorite band, speed home, and spend the day in bed with the liner notes. A new release the record store dude will already have pulled and waiting at the counter. Now we stream it a track at a time and forget it.

There was a lot that wasn’t great, too. My rose colored glasses are tinted, not opaque.

But the thing is, when things change, any change, even wonderful ones, hidden in the gooey center is loss that must be mourned. My oldest boy is very nearly able to beat me when we wrestle. I’d never tell him, but it’ll be such a cool celebration when he does. But he’s no longer the boy who slept on my chest and that I carried through stores. He won’t ever be that small again. I could cry for days when I consider how much I miss that tiny baby. AND I love the young man he is now. Things change. We often don’t get to choose what we carry with us, the best we can do is be fully present as they are happening.

The Security/Maintenance/Cleaning man in the movie says, as the last line of the movie about the domino game that has lost a player, “It just ain’t the same.” No kidding. Maybe we spend too much time looking at yesterday or tomorrow at the expense of today. I know this is nothing new or groundbreaking, but we probably thought malls and high school friends and ice hockey tables would last forever, right? And we thought hugs and meals together were so commonplace, we were too busy checking our phones to notice them for the divine gifts they were. Maybe a totally average film is just the reminder we need from time to time to jolt us into our lives here and now.

The Spectacular Us — October 15, 2020

The Spectacular Us

Last week in this space, I mentioned the “just” fallacy. There is no “just” anywhere, no “just” anything, certainly no “just” anyone. Everywhere is sacred, charged with meaning and potential, if we only have eyes to see and ears to hear.

Every other Wednesday, we are studying a terrific book called Inspired by Rachel Held Evans.

(I love that her name is Held. There is a song called “Held,” too, that is gorgeous. I have no idea if her middle name is Held or if it was her maiden name or if it was her name at all. Or maybe she took the name as a constant reminder of her place in the arms of God. It’s easy enough to find out, but I don’t think I want to. Like a song, I think I’ll live with the story it is to me.)

The last 2 meetings we have been in chapter 7: Fish Stories. It’s an exploration of the many miracles throughout the Bible and belief/faith. Initially reading it, I couldn’t really find much for discussion, which was ok, because I wasn’t this chapter’s facilitator. I didn’t need to find much for discussion. It was somebody else’s problem. I simply needed to show up.

As it turned out, our time was lively and full of the fantastic in each of our lives, those occurrences that can’t be explained in words or reason, like car, train, and tree accidents, amazing coincidences, forgiveness, and love.

This book is wonderful, but the real draw of the group are the people in it. I suspect it’s that way with most groups and communities. Where it might be an activity, event or shared interest that brings us together, it’s the relationships that keep us there.

It’s a trendy idea that I can follow Jesus on my own, in my bed or living room, by myself, privately, just me and God. I really don’t know how that started. I do know how and why it’s trendy – the independence and arrogant self-reliance is very modern. The more I think about it, it’s not really modern, it’s human. But the point is, this notion didn’t start in the Bible. In fact, it’s just the opposite. In Genesis 1 & 2, before the fall, it’s only the man and God, and God specifically deems it “NOT good.” It’s the only thing that isn’t good. So He takes a rib and makes another person.

We’re made to be together. (Not all the time, of course. We all need a break from each other from time to time;) This group makes me remember, and sometimes the learning comes outside of the explicit lesson. We were talking about miracles, trying to explain our way into loaves & fishes or walking on water. But as I looked at the Zoom pictures of each of our faces, brought into the space by a mutual love of our Creator and nothing else, sharing the extraordinary stories of our lives, I understood. This was the miracle, this safety, this connection, this love. We were God’s miracle. And it isn’t confined to this particular book study group or any particular group, not confined to the religious or spiritual, not confined by anything at all. I guess we miss it, or are looking for a parting of the sea, when it’s right here in front of us all along. It isn’t “just” a small group, not “just” a local church, community, football game, gym, class, office, grocery store, not “just” you or “just” me. It’s the breathtaking, spectacular us.

To Show Up — October 12, 2020

To Show Up

I suppose, like so much else, this story begins with my dad. When I was a child, I wanted nothing more than to be the opposite of everything he was…but that was when I was a child. Now that I am a man, it’s easy to see him clearly, as he was, as a complete human being with talents, passions, dreams. Sure he had his share of flaws, but also many strengths. I love him, have always loved him.

That is all true, I have made peace, but that doesn’t change the damage that has been done. For instance, our house was built on an ever-shifting foundation. He was wildly inconsistent. This comes pretty standard with alcoholism, but the unreliability created an environment of tremendous uncertainty and anxiety.

If you ask me, (and I understand no one has), the reason our culture is so riddled with anxiety and stress is for the same reasons. We are all so unpredictable, our values and beliefs sway in the breeze, commitment and stability are relics of the past. How can we find peace if every time we close our eyes, the furniture is moved, and when we wake, the room is unrecognizable? It’s a world of “who knows?” where truth is public opinion and public opinion is fluid.

Anyway. Though my father was home every night, it was impossible to know which version of him would show up (in mind & spirit, as well as physically) at any moment. I saw this and the devastation it causes. For exactly this reason, a primary value of mine is to be a safe, consistent presence to those around me. That when I walk into any room, nobody holds their breath in apprehension like we did.

This makes relationships hard for me. I heard someone say about the Enneagram once that #1’s (‘perfectionists,’ to over-simplify things) can be hard on others, and expect much, but it is nothing compared to how hard they are on themselves, a mere fraction of what they expect of themselves. This is mostly true in my experience. When my actions don’t match my intentions, I am my own very worst critic.

Where this is going, the “story” of the first sentence, is that I am awfully sensitive of how people show up, or more importantly, if they show up at all. Philip Seymour Hoffman says to Julianne Moore in the Hunger Games, “people don’t always show up the way you want them to.” That is also mostly true, but it can be the most wonderfully breathtaking surprise, as well. Allowing others to be who they are, quirky and awesome, has been one of the greatest lessons (and now pleasures) of my life. But they have to show up, first. He could’ve stopped half way in, “people don’t always show up.”

I have trouble with deep friendships because I get “stood up” so often. This is of course, physically, but emotional and spiritual, too. How many times has someone sat across a table for a meal with their phone on the table, preoccupied and distant, distracted. They are there, but they are not at all there.

Now. I don’t have a point, this is more of a mournful exploration. Maybe my expectations are too high (I’ve been told that), but I can’t seem to agree, no matter how hard I try. Is it really such a high expectation that I am where I say I’ll be, do what I say I’ll do, and that I am simply me all the time? And that I expect the same of you? Really?

9 Years — September 9, 2020

9 Years

This week is the 9 year anniversary of tropical storm Lee. I talk about this particular storm so much because it started to rain on a Sunday and when it stopped on Thursday, my house was underwater and our lives would never be the same. We now refer to memories and personalities as Before the Flood and After the Flood. It’s 9 years later, though, and it’s fingerprint is still branded on our souls. I had a friend (a good friend, despite the story I’m about to tell;) who said to me about 5 months afterwards, “Isn’t it time to move on? It happened months ago.” I wonder what he’d say now, and I wonder if I’d still want to punch him when he did.

Sometimes you move on, but the scars are still there and sometimes they still ache.

We all were forced to closely examine our unhealthy relationships with control. Maybe that’s the biggest, most valuable loss – the delusion that we were ever in control. I thought I could be a superhero, protecting my family from all threats, keeping them safe and secure with my strength and will. As it turns out, my strength and will couldn’t stop the rain, couldn’t keep the water from swallowing my house, couldn’t make the insurance company make good on their promise, couldn’t make the family pictures reappear, couldn’t give anybody back what was lost.

This was a great big domino that started an avalanche. This horrible lesson/sledgehammer broke me open and walked me into many many more “couldn’t”s.

Now. Last week, in another space I write, we discussed control, the things that ARE actually ours to control, and taking it into settings, circumstances, situations. The flood, when it broke me open also broke my heart (a sledgehammer is NOT a particularly precise tool, that’s why we don’t use it to crack eggs) and when it healed, it formed in a different shape and pattern with grooves and texture that wasn’t there before.

I have bad skin, the consequence of years of abuse. I hated that skin for so long, was often disgusted when I would look in the mirror and see only imperfections. But now, when I see the marks on my face, I only see me. I’m not flawless. I’ve made poor decisions with food and drink and lifestyle and sunscreen. I’m getting pretty old and, where there once was a baby face stands someone’s husband and dad, wrinkled around the eyes and mouth from laughter and tears and lots and lots of smiles. I’ve been slapped, pinched, frozen in a questionable procedure by a dermatologist, scratched by cats, and on and on and on. But it’s my face and I wouldn’t change one thing.

And that heart that turned out to be wildly mistaken about my imaginary strength, will, superpowers, and control – it’s mine, I wouldn’t change one thing, and I’ll be taking this new broken/repaired heart everywhere I go, into every landscape and environment.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to speak to some college students who were volunteering to clean “flood buckets” (buckets filled with supplies and sent to flood victims about). I jump at those chances now. You see, I don’t exactly want to talk about or even think about our flood anymore, but now it’s a different sort of story. It’s about what I couldn’t do. It’s about kindness & peace & opening up my hands to the things to which I was desperately grasping. It’s about value and “enough.” It’s about losing all of my stuff and discovering that I didn’t really care about that stuff at all. It’s about my face. It’s about the redemption of my heart.

It’s a Gospel story, now, and it’s a very good one.

Unplanned — August 17, 2020

Unplanned

Last night was the reception for a wedding that I officiated in April. The couple were gorgeous and totally present. That’s not always the case. Sometimes, they are distant and preoccupied, hoping the families don’t fight and the food is hot. Wedding planning usually garners more time than marriage planning, so with that much of a commitment, it’s no surprise that who sits where gets the biggest piece of the pie and leaves only table scraps for the actual vows.

Not with these two, though. They are very well aware how extraordinary it is to have found each other, lovers, partners, friends. I dearly hope they don’t take each other for granted when the excitement of the day gets exchanged for the routine of the everyday like most of us do.

Anyway, I gave the prayer before the meal. In it, I said, “Today and on that day in April, nothing was how it was supposed to be, how it was planned, but it was just THE BEST,” or something like that. And then I paused. Maybe my silence was perceived as dramatic, but I was just thinking about how that’s absolutely true. Not just for their wedding, but probably for their marriage. Almost nothing will go how it’s supposed to, how it’s planned.

Maybe that’s the key to marriage. Maybe that’s the key to life. To ease our grip on the wheel a little. To not be more married to our calendars than we are to each other. To let things be what they are.

We plan, we prepare, then we allow the thing to breathe instead of choking it to death with our white knuckles. How many times have we completely missed the most significant moments of our lives by trying to shoehorn them into our expectations? Too many, right?

We had their wedding in her parents backyard, only immediate family (maybe 15 of us) and me, and to tell you the truth, I probably had the virus. I had been sick with a fever for days and days only getting out of bed to put on my suit and tie. But that horrible disruption may have been the greatest blessing of their lives. We were mercifully freed from ALL of the distractions (except for my mask;), and had no reason at all to be there (no food, no guests, no favors or centerpieces) other than for a man and woman to say “I do” to each other.

I really love weddings, except for the ones I don’t, but if I’m honest, this was one of my very favorites. I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the lovely gift we were given. These 2 reminded me, reminded all of us, that things don’t have to be perfect to be perfect. I hope I don’t forget.

RAIN!!!! — August 4, 2020

RAIN!!!!

It’s raining. Actually, that’s an understatement. Tropical storm Isaias (pronounced, I think, E – sah – E – yas, I heard it’s Portuguese and that sounds like it might be true) is pounding the east coast of the United States, which is where I live. We need the rain, the grass has been brown-ish and dry and it has been unbearably humid for weeks and weeks.

On this damned humidity: I have asthma, but I don’t usually suffer anymore. When I was a child, I did, but not much anymore. Only if I exercise outside in the winter (so I don’t) or if the humidity is so high it strangles me. This is that kind of humidity. It’s like having a serial killer just outside my front door, lying in wait to choke me the second I leave.

So, we need the rain.

But in September 2011, another tropical storm (Lee) barreled into town, loaded like a freight train and flying like an aero plane. (That is a reference to a perfect Guns N’ Roses song as well as a story about a G N’ R cover band written by Chuck Klosterman that I just loooove. The song is Nightrain, by the way.) Lee came in and set up in the sky over my town, unmoving, and 3 days later, my house and everything I owned was underwater. This event was so significant to my family and I that we often speak of our lives in before- and after- flood terms. Each of us were forever changed. People were terrific and people (mostly people in utterly broken systems, like insurance companies and government agencies) were horrible. To quote a famous novel, “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

Now we watch the weather and consume forecast models like addicts. A hard prolonged rain sets us on edge until the sun comes out. We check the basements and gutters over and over, every puddle is a sign that we should at least start to consider packing up our photo albums and overnight bags.

When we had to evacuate our home in 2011, we took only 1 tub of toys (Rescue Hero figures) because whose house really goes underwater in Pennsylvania? A few years later, we lent those Rescue Heroes to another family for their boys and they were returned 2 weeks ago, so as it pours against this window, that exact tub of toys is within arms reach.

My wife texted me an hour ago with a sad face and I know, baby, I know.

It’s interesting. If you ask me about it, I would tell you it’s one of the best things to ever happen to me. I am different and I wouldn’t be without that time of growth, of tremendous stretching. That’s true of most pain, though, isn’t it? While we don’t wish it to happen to anyone else, and likely wouldn’t choose to travel those roads again, we are thankful for who we are now. (At least I am;)

Except when it rains.

This Morning At The Gym — July 13, 2020

This Morning At The Gym

Once we received our “Green” designation, the gym I belong to was free to open. There would of course be the changes we notice everywhere – space, masks, distance, etc. One big change was the hours of operation. Instead of 24 hours, my Planet Fitness now opens in the morning and closes at night. This was the one that caused me an unhealthy level of concern.

You see, I transferred to PF because the old gym had a morning employee problem. None of them could be counted upon to open on time. There were 4am’s (too many to count) where we would sit in our cars or on the sidewalks and wait…and wait…and wait, until we could wait no longer, and abandon our workouts.

The great thing about a 24 hour gym is no one ever opens so on one ever doesn’t.

(Before I get too far, I am still aware that we are in a global pandemic and the problems of hours of operation and irresponsible employees at a local fitness center are not what any of us would call too important. But we have been in an intense time of anxiety and upheaval – maybe a sense of normalcy is exactly what we need. In a time where things are wildly coming undone, maybe a sense that there is something at all that we can affect holds some allure. Maybe in that sense is the key to regaining our mental as well as physical health. Maybe not – just know I know how trivial this 1st part is.)

So, a week into our re-opening, the gym doesn’t open. While I’m sitting in the parking lot, with nothing to do, I post on the Planet Fitness members page on Facebook. Not because I’m particularly angry or looking for retribution (after all, these things do happen), but because I understand the power of a “Me too.” Someone else saying, “yeah, I understand” and that being the truth is undeniably healing. Especially now, I just want to feel like someone else is there, like someone understands.

My post was taken down in minutes by the Admin, but not before I would receive 5 surprisingly nasty comments. Instead of presence and understanding, I was mocked and berated.

I don’t know why they were so mean. Of course, everybody can be mean online in ways they would never to my face, but where does that impulse come from? In the Fight Club film, after mercilessly pounding another, the narrator says, “I just wanted to destroy something beautiful.” Is that it? When we feel stripped of all power (whether ecologically, biologically, or politically), is any exercise of force enough to regain the illusion of control?

Is that why the discourse online has devolved into a battle royale, where the best insult shouted the loudest with the harshest 4-letter words “wins?” Where our most devastating hurts must be passed along to another immediately, safely behind a screen of anonymity?

I know this gym nonsense is trivial, but this condition sure as hell isn’t and if we intend to move forward, as a nation, as human beings, I think we’re probably going to have to acknowledge all of this powerlessness and isolation that is causing so much suffering. We’re going to have to acknowledge that we’re not just names and avatars and the sum of our emojis. We’re going to have to acknowledge that we’re all just people who are in this mess together.

The Barkley — May 26, 2020

The Barkley

You know I love to watch documentaries… I may need forgiveness in a minute, my neighbor just flooded the street with the sweet smell of burning tires and my headache is beginning and stomach turning and maybe the fumes will cause all kinds of nonsense. No, I don’t know why they do the things they do, I just know they do. I don’t have to know why. If you come by any night between 9-11pm, they’re outside revving various engines and you can ask them yourself.

Anyway, I love documentaries, right? I saw one Friday that was my very favorite. It’s called The Barkley Marathons and details a roughly 130 mile ultra marathon through the mountains of Tennessee. Most years, people don’t finish. Since its inception, 13 people have finished. It’s called a race, but that implies competition and the only competition is against the course and against the voices in your own head that tell you to stop, you can’t do it.

I have 3 quotes I wrote down to talk about with you.

The Barkley was created to “Give people the opportunity to really find out something about themselves.” What would I find out about myself in 130 miles that I wouldn’t otherwise? Everything. We do planks in this house and they always end with my face inches from Samuel’s, saying, “you can do this, your body can do this, it’s only your mind telling you you can’t, and that isn’t true, it’s lying to you. I KNOW you can.” And then he does, goes longer than he thought was possible for his screaming muscles, and he finds out that the limits he thought he had minutes ago aren’t actually his limits at all.

“You never know how much you can do until you try to do more.” I think we’re conditioned to seek comfort, so when that desire is threatened, we stop. It’s called our Comfort Zone, and it’s so much more dangerous than bears and mountain lions and my neighbors. Our soft cozy couches encourage complacency, and complacent isn’t where we were called to be. (Contentment is. They are different, and we should maybe talk about that some time.) We are called to grow and growth requires discomfort. Growth requires us to try something new, something we hadn’t done, something at which we might fail (gasp!).

What is that old cliche? The only way you can not fail is to never try anything new. The only way you can never miss the last shot is to never take it.

Growth requires us to risk. Because maybe we can. This Barkley Marathon is like everything else – nobody could do it until somebody did. It was impossible until it wasn’t. No one could run a sub-4 minute mile, but then when Bannister did, many others followed.

I don’t know if we’re afraid to fail or afraid to succeed (probably both), I just know we’re afraid.

So these people start the race and it’s hot or it rains. They have no idea where to go, there’s no map and the route changes every year. The creator, Lazarus, says, “So many things aren’t going to be the way you planned it,” and that sounds EXACTLY like this year, 2020. Well, it sounds like every year, to be honest.

And when we face these uncertainties, these disruptions, then what do we do? Do we hold tighter to our plans? Grasp even angrier for some form of control? Do we quit? Do we hide?

Or will we take another step?

I married a couple Saturday and, every wedding I officiate, I reflect on the tremendous risk they’re taking. Saying “I do” to another and saying “I do” to this ridiculous marathon is so similar. We don’t know where it’s going, and when it goes there, will I be enough, can I do it??? It’s the same as saying “I do” to Jesus and “I do” to our lives. Maybe we can’t do it today, maybe not tomorrow, but we have to ask, we have to try. It’s the greatest moment of a wedding, that space between my question and their answer. I saw the significance of the choice in their eyes, and I knew they understood what it meant to look straight up a mountain face they did not know for sure they could climb. And we all celebrated like crazy when they said they would find out