My car is eleven years old. In car years thats like eighty. And just like a person who is growing older, she has started to develop problems. Little issues here and there. Her problems aren’t major but she is beginning to show her age.
She has one bad headlight. It isn’t completely out but it’s really dim. Like a lazy eye or a cataract. She can’t quite see what’s on her right side.
She has started to leak from the roof. When it rains, water drips down and collects in the passenger side floor board. Sometimes it forms a puddle up to an inch deep. I constantly have to clean up after her. And because of the water, she has developed a slight funk that emanates from the back seat.
She has small dents and scratches on her body. Little reminders of where we’ve been and what we’ve been through. I’m not sure where they all came from but new ones seem to pop up over night. I guess thats just a part of life for a car.
On cold mornings she has to have a little time to warm up. She shakes and sputters for a minute and then she gets into her normal groove and begins to purr. But she doesn’t sound like she used to. Now there are hiccups and murmurs. Her engine is beginning to feel the effects of all the miles it has on it.
She has a hairline crack at the top of her radiator. Every few weeks I have to replace her fluids. When we are stopped at a traffic light, the needle on her temperature gauge rises to abnormal levels. She doesn’t like to sit still.
She still has life in her. She gets me from A to B and beyond but she has to go fast to stay cool. She has to keep moving. If she stops… she’s a goner.
* * * * *
There is a line in Raiders of the Lost Ark that I love. Indiana Jones is bruised and beaten. His latest adventure has taken it’s toll. And when he’s told that he’s getting to old to be jet setting around the world, he responds with this:
“It’s not the years. It’s the mileage.”
Like our cars, the mileage of life takes a toll on us and all of our adventures add up on our odometers. We show signs of where we’ve been and what we’ve done. We wear our dents and scratches with pride.
Life’s a short, bumpy ride but it’s an adventure. And it’s these adventures and God given purpose that keeps us going. Despite the wear and tear, we press on. We keep seeking, following.
Life is fast so we go fast.
We keep moving.
Because if we stop… we’re goners.
Mixed martial arts, like the UFC, is one of the truest forms of competition out there. It’s a one on one battle. Man versus man (or woman versus woman). There are limited rules. It’s just you against your opponent in a test of work ethic, pain management and who has the better right hand.
I’ve always wondered if could make it in a steel cage against a highly trained fighter. I daydream that I’m scrappy and quick enough and that I might be able to outwit my opponent. Maybe I could confuse him by telling him jokes. Maybe I could say flattering things about his mom instead of saying bad things about her. Kindness is a deadly weapon.
I quickly come to the conclusion that I wouldn’t last long. It’s an exciting but bloody sport and blood is my achilles heel. Ironically, when I see blood, the blood in my body ceases to flow to my brain.
I’m a wimp. I’m more likely to be KO’d by a paper cut than a superman punch.
I have to face the facts that I am not, nor will I ever be, a cage fighter. I’m five foot nothing. I’m a hundred and nothing. Even on my best day I probably couldn’t fight my way out of a wet paper bag. There are no ninja moves in my repertoire that would allow me to be a successful fighter. In a one on one fight, I’d never make it on my own.
I am equally incapable in the cage fight that is life. There are circumstances in life that I could never get through by myself. As strong as I think I am, when the cage door shuts and the bell goes off, I am undeniably out of my league
But that’s ok. I have a tag team partner. Someone who will intercede and fight on my behalf. He is stronger than me, stronger than anyone. His right hook is accurate and powerful. He invented ju-jitsu and karate.
He is the master of disaster, the king of sting, the ayatollah of rock n’ rolla. He floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee because he created butterflies and bees.
“They will fight against you, but they will not overcome you, for I am with you to deliver you.” declares the Lord. - Jeremiah 1:19
We often face challenges and circumstances in life that are too much for us to handle on our own. Despite our best efforts and fearlessness, there are times when our opponents are too much for us. And this is where God intercedes, He tags Himself in. Because He knows when we are in over our heads and when we need to tag out.
This is when god shows us the champion that He is. This is when God delivers.
Once a month my dad and I meet for sushi at our regular japanese restaurant. Our normal sushi joint is a little place that is hidden off the road, in the back corner of a seedy strip mall. It’s a place with little signage and fanfare. It’s a hole in the wall, nestled in between a night school and an adult entertainment establishment. If you weren’t told about it or if you didn’t stumble upon it, you would never know it was there.
The inside of our sushi joint is uniquely japanese and minimal. The staff speaks little english and are all dressed in traditional japanese clothes. They happily greet us with the japanese word for “Greetings”.
The televisions that hang from the ceilings all display the same japanese game shows and there are those special tables in the back where you have to sit on the floor that are closed off for special occasions. My dad and I sometimes wonder if they will let us sit there, just once.
Because we eat there regularly, the staff knows what we want before we order. A pitcher of hot tea and a glass of water are usually waiting for us. And while we wait for our food, my dad and I often joke that our sushi joint is the best… because we are the only caucasians in the room.
Our sushi joint is the real thing. It’s authentic.
The neat thing about authenticity is that you know it when you see it. It doesn’t try to dress up or shine. It has no agenda. It is what it is and if you aren’t ok with that… then too bad. It’s the same way with people.
Authentic people stick out like a sore thumb but in a good way. They are unashamed of who they are and what they believe in. They are a breath of fresh air in a world that seems bent on being just like one another. Authentic people are a step above the mainstream.
God created us to be authentic.
How are you being authentic today?
Dear weekend weather man,
You intrigue me. It seems you’ve landed that slot that’s meant for rookies who just graduated from meteorology school or for the man or woman who was getting tired of that hourly radio gig on the AM station that they’ve been doing for years. It’s a new beginning. It’s a fond farewell.
The weekend weather man position is your chance to prove yourself. Can you win the crowd with your charming personality and charisma? Will you bring them back every night just to see your white smile and your interesting take on cold fronts? Will you make the weather a reason for them to tune in?
Will you make them believe?
Right now you are a part of the Action News weather team. You are an integral piece of the whole. You’re grinding it out, waiting for your chance at the big time. Every big weather event is your chance to prove yourself.
Don’t be content at where you are. God has big plans for you. We all start somewhere. That prime time spot is your’s for the taking. Keep hustling.
Maybe I’ve got it all wrong. Maybe you’ve been doing the weather for decades. You’ve bounced around from channel to channel. You were once a highly coveted weather man with a huge following. You’ve left a legacy. You paved the way for the current breed of weather man. You’ve set the standard.
But the new kids have more energy and technical know-how. You recall the times when there were two radars and you simply called them radars. Now the young weather men have eight different radars and refer to them with wild acronyms like VIPER, ZULU and SONIC.
The weekend gig is right up your alley. Less stress and more time at home. Less hours but more make up. You are getting longer in the tooth and it’s time to step back. But you haven’t given up.
The weekend weather position is your swan song. Your final farewell. This is where you leave your final legacy and transition from leading man to wise old sage.
Your job isn’t over, its taken a new and exciting turn. You use your experience to guide and nurture. You are a leader but you do it from the weather center in the back instead of in front of the blue screen and the camera.
Lead on wise one!
Weekend weather man, you are an example to all of us. We admire your ambition and your determination. We applaud your expertise and leadership and all the years of somewhat accurate forecasts.
Where are you at in life? Are you just starting out? Are you using your experience to guide others?
Here I am. Stuck behind this behemoth truck at a traffic light. It has to be sitting five feet off the ground. It’s wheels are the size of a VW Beetle. It has two exhaust pipes that extended vertically behind the cab. The kind of exhaust pipes you would see on a semi. Every time the truck lurches forward, they spew grayish black smoke into the air and give off a deep, menacing growl. A growl that demands it be noticed.
It’s windows are tinted all the way around. On the back window are several stickers. Stickers that are shaped like deer heads, race car numbers and one that reads something about guns. I can’t see the driver but at one point I notice an arm slide out the drivers side window and with pin point accuracy, flicks a cigarette butt across the road and onto the median on the other side.
This leads me to believe that this is no ordinary human. This is a true redneck. A real salt of the earth kind of guy. A man who loves his country and fears God. A man who spends his free time hunting and fishing and maybe driving that truck through the mud.
This man probably voted republican all the way. He shops at Walmart for everything. He probably has three or four dogs. Big dogs. He wouldn’t be caught dead with one of those dogs that you can fit in a bag.
I’m judging this book by it’s cover. And this mans cover is screaming trailer park, Beechnut and tribal tattoo’s.
But I’m jumping to conclusions. He may be a family man. He could have a wife and three kids at home. He may live in a nice neighborhood with security gates and an olympic size swimming pool. He may be an executive at a company and thats how he affords this toy that he is driving around in.
Maybe he is a deacon at his church and goes on mission trips every year to third world countries and spreads the love of God to people who have never heard it. Maybe he teaches Sunday school at his church and is actively involved in bettering his community.
I feel guilty now, convicted. It’s easy to judge with the eyes. But until you know someone, their story, you really don’t know them at all.
“Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgement.” – John 7:24
That says it all. Guilty as charged.
Do you make snap judgements? Do you judge the book by it’s cover?
I once lived in a neighborhood that was across the street from a county prison. It wasn’t uncommon to see an escaped convict tip toeing through our backyard from time to time, desperate to be free. I realized that the road to freedom ran down the street that I lived on and my first thought when I saw an escapee was, “Please don’t steal my dog or try to escape on my Big Wheel.”
The prison was on the same road as the waste management facility and the DMV. Places that you didn’t want to go but was often necessary. You would know you were on that road even if your eyes were closed. It had a certain stench. It smelled of waste and industry and was none to colorful. It always seemed gray and morose.
And that road led to a seedier part of town. In this part of town, the roads were lined with pawn shops, liquor stores, bail bonds companies, low income apartment complexes and boarded up houses. Establishments that weren’t family friendly. Places you wanted to avoid. We often had to travel through these parts of town to get to where we needed to be. There was no way around it.
As the years have gone by, new roads have been built. High speed connectors that get you from one part of town to another with relative quickness. Shiny, new paths that direct you away from the bad parts and give you a sense of safety.
But the side roads remain the same. You still see the seedy parts. They still exist.
When I travel down those roads, I’m reminded that we often go through things that we don’t want to. There are things we need to witness to understand where we are, where we’ve been and where we want to go.
The road of life is not always paved in gold. It gets bumpy along the way and we often have to travel through rough parts to get where we want to be. But there is a purpose to it all.
Like the escaped convict. There is an escape path, a road to freedom.
If you want to change your circumstances, God will provide a way.
I have an acoustic guitar that sits by my bedroom door, propped up against the wall. A plastic pick is interlaced between the high E and B strings and a capo is clamped to the end of the neck. I attempt to play it every once in awhile, feeling guilty that I just let it sit there. But for the most part it gets neglected due to other things in life that demand my time.
I keep it by the door so that I see it every time I enter and leave the room. The dog hates it. She sometimes whacks it with her tail as she enters and leaves, causing it to emit an off key chord. It startles her; she moves on.
It’s a simple, organic instrument. There are no buttons or outputs on it. It’s just a wooden guitar with no bells and whistles. I keep it in view because it reminds me that, sometimes, I need to unplug. To take off the filters and get back to basics.
The week before our church moved into a permanent building of its own, we spent one final Sunday in the local high school gymnasium. We took one last look around at what had been the church home for so many years. That last sunday was special. One of the things that made it special was that we took a moment to unplug. We went acoustic.
There were no electric guitars or synthesizers. No stage lights or fog machines. Only the rich sound of an acoustic guitar and a room full of voices. There were no videos or effects. It was all very simple. A group of people and God, with no distractions.
Life can be distracting. It comes at us from all angles. Some of those distractions are positive while others are not. Whether they are good or bad, they can all become overwhelming at times. Our need to be plugged in can become a burden.
It’s important for me to have those unplugged moments at least once a day. Free of TV. Free of the internet and free of anything that demands my attention.
I need to go acoustic with God. No filters or enhancements. Just one on one time with my maker, in soft silence. How about you?
My mother tells me wild stories of how my grandfather and his brothers lived a wild life. Back in the old days, they would travel all over the southeast to play in back room poker games and participate in other illegal activities. I imagine they lived a life that mirrored those of old west bank and train robbers. The likes of Butch Cassidy, Sundance and Billy the Kid. They were outlaws. Outlaws to the end.
My grandfather had six brothers in all. They were a motley crew of murderers, thieves and drunks. One of them was murdered during an argument. One of them murdered a man but escaped the authorities and two of them were convicted felons, nabbed for forgery and grand theft. That criminal mentality runs deep in my family. We were born to be outlaws.
I saw a piece of my grandfathers outlaw life with my own eyes. He was an auto body repair man by day but he ran an illegal poker game in the back room of his garage when the business day was over.
The back room contained shelves of tools and brushes and wreaked of paint and plaster. The windowless room had one single light that hung from the ceiling, just over a big wooden table surrounded by eight wooden chairs.
I learned that the game was frequented by prominent business men, city officials – even the chief of police. My grandfather rarely played in the high stakes game but he always took a percentage. A smart outlaw gets his share up front.
Despite all the infamous stories and adventurous tales that I hear about him, I don’t remember my grandfather as a criminal. He was always kind and gentle to my siblings and I.
He drove me around in his pick-up truck, bought me ice cream and taught me how a full house always beats a straight. In an act of heroism, he appeared out of nowhere and saved my mother and I from an attacking dog by hitting it over the head with a shovel.
Those weren’t the acts of an outlaw. They were the acts of a loving and devoted man.
+ + + + + + + +
When I think of my infamous heritage and the gentleness of the grandfather I knew, I think of how Christ was an outlaw as well. He was seen by his enemies as a man who wanted trouble. He challenged the status quo. He disrupted the peaceful existence that the authorities had established.
He wasn’t a murderer, cheater, smuggler or thief. His only crime was bringing the truth and showing the love. And because of that, he was branded an outlaw by the powers that be. And all of those that professed His message were branded outlaws as well. They were hunted, imprisoned and executed, all in the name of Jesus.
As Christians, we are still living the outlaw life. We reject what the world defines as a truly happy, successful and meaningful life. The world sees us as trouble makers and misfits. We live differently and love differently so they label us as outlaws.
We attempt to live our lives in the same way that Jesus lived His. He was an outlaw. We are outlaws.
Outlaws to the end.
During the last mile of my Saturday training run, I experienced a very rare occurrence. My legs stopped pushing. They were rebelling against me. I had nothing left in my tank. I hit the wall, that mythical and invisible force that sneaks in out of nowhere and drains you of all energy.
During that final mile, I came upon a little old lady who was power walking. Her arms were swaying back and forth wildly. Her short little legs were making short little strides. There was purpose in her every step.
My intentions were to pass her but the wall had done its job well and my legs were unresponsive.
So there we were, cruising at the same pace. Side by side. I in my black running shorts and she in her big pink visor, awkwardly staring at one another. The only other difference between us at that moment was that she was living… and I was dying. She was on a mountain top and I was in the valley of death.
During those long runs, you are literally killing yourself. Your heart is being pushed to the limit. The muscles in your legs are being torn apart, one microscopic piece at a time. Your body is being broken down.
But you survive and enter the recovery process. The muscles rebuild. Your heart and lungs adapt and become stronger. The next run is easier and each one after that takes less and less effort.
All because what hasn’t killed you, has made you stronger.
Such as life.
+ + + + + + + + +
Running mirrors life in many ways. There are peaks and valleys. Some days you have it and some days you don’t. There are days that you have energy to spare and then there are those days that you want to stop where you are and sit down and pout.
We enter these killer valleys in life unwillingly. If we had a choice we would stay on those mountain tops and enjoy the view, breathing in the fresh air.
But its in the valley where our strength is really built. It’s here that we learn and adapt. We grow in these valleys so that we can shine on the peaks.
“After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.” - 1 Peter 5:10
The next time you are in one of those killer valleys, remember that it is here that you are being perfected and strengthened. There is a means and a purpose to it all. God has a plan for you.
And while you are in this valley, always remember that the road to the top is just around the corner.
When I’m in my back yard, my senses are alert. Besides the birds chirping and the leaves rustling, I notice that life is happening just beyond my fence.
I can hear the traffic moving a couple of miles away; that soft, muffled hum of rubber on asphalt. In the distance an ambulance siren wails, reminding me that life is short and that I should make the most of it.
The neighborhood dogs bark at each other from inside their own fences, as if they have some sort of secret language. My dog often joins in. I think they may be planning a rebellion. ”Forget the humans.” they say. ”We’ll run free and live off the land. Meet at the entrance at 0600. Bring treats.”
There are three storm sirens near my house. On stormy evenings they sing in an erie three part harmony. It’s a subtle reminder that even in the safety of my backyard, God is still in control and if He wants to drop a twister right on my fire pit, He’ll do so.
On Saturday afternoons, during the summer, I hear the familiar chorus of lawn equipment. Lawnmowers and leaf blowers growl. Weed eaters whine. The smell of freshly cut grass hangs in the air.
After all the yard work is done, my neighbors enter into barbecue mode. The aroma of meat on a grill makes my stomach gurgle. It holds my mind hostage. All I can think about is a juicy steak and an ear of corn, the menu of summer.
+ + + + + + +
More often than not, my backyard is a place to commune with my maker, surrounded by His creation. If I take the time to listen, I can hear Him clearly. He is reminding me of things.
He made the birds that jump around in the tree tops. But He cares for me more than them.
The rebellious dogs remind me that I am incapable on my own. I won’t make it without Him.
The wail of the ambulance reminds me of how fragile we are and how we should take advantage of the time He gives us.
The storm sirens tell me that He is all powerful.
The smell of the food in the air tells me that He is a provider.
God is always near by. Probably closer than you think. He’s sitting right next to you in a lawn chair, admiring your garden and pointing out that patch of dead grass.
He is not some distant being that hovers around in the universe. He’s right there with you.
Right in your own backyard.