The hills of Atlanta started taking their toll on me at about mile eighteen of my first marathon. Each step forward was a monumental task. Every footfall was a small victory. There were only eight miles to go, but the finish line seemed like a world away.
It became clear to me that the person who designed the streets of Atlanta didn’t have runners in mind. Instead of winding, flat, asphalt roads, I pictured the streets of Atlanta as a long, steep staircase that led to a summit. The kind of staircase you see in old kung fu movies. The ones that are made of stone and zig-zag along the side of a mountain that leads to an ancient temple at the peak. Success and enlightenment wait at the top for those who can make the climb.
It’s no mystery that the mind starts playing tricks on you at that stage of the marathon. During those last few miles I was passed by a gangly older man, wearing all black. His skin was olive and we shared the same hair line. I noticed our similarities.
He mumbled to himself while he ran, like I sometimes do. He ran with his head slightly down, like I sometimes do. His arms and shoulders were relaxed and his cadence was steady – like mine sometimes is.
In the distress that I was feeling in those final few miles, I saw that man as the future version of me. My thoughts began to race as I watched him pull away and disappear over the next hill. The marathon is emotionally draining and when my future passed me by, I began to think that my life was flashing before my eyes right there amongst the hills of Atlanta.
I wondered where the old man in black had been. Where did he come from? What got him to this point?He never gave up on running. He was lucky to have not sustained any injuries that would keep him off the street. His legs were strong and quick. His passion and determination are what got him here. Two things you need in a marathon and in life.
I wondered where the old man was now. Maybe he had a family waiting for him at the finish line. A wife, children, grandchildren ready to welcome him with open arms and a cool bottle of Gatorade.
Did he know God? Was he praying that he would make it over that next hill? Not to puke? To reach the finish line? I had to believe he was asking for help from above because that’s what I was doing at that point. I had to rely on God at mile eighteen because my own strength wasn’t enough.
When I crested the next hill, I saw my future far in the distance. He was climbing the next hill. One of the many endless hills that stood between us and the finish line. But he wasn’t intimidated. He never slowed down. He was strong and fast.
I liked how my future was shaping up. It was bright and exciting – but it wasn’t necessarily true.
When the hills flattened out during the last stretch of the race, my foray into the future came to an end. I could see Centennial Olympic Park just down the road. The finish line was near. At this point the future didn’t matter and neither did the past. At this point during the race all that mattered was the here and now. This stretch of road.
I have an idea and a vision of my future but it isn’t guaranteed. Because His ways aren’t my ways and even though I’ve learned from the past, all that matters is where I am now.
My future may not be a gangly old man in black who runs like the wind. I can’t say with certainty that I’ll even be running when I’m his age. I can only hope.
But I believe that there will be hills to climb and that the road will sometimes be flat and smooth. There will be mountains to traverse and the view from the top will be spectacular. And I believe that my strength alone is not enough to make it.
All that matters is where we are now and that the only way ahead is forward. One monumental step at a time. One small victory at a time.
I watch the clock tick down on the two big screens on each side of the stage. When it hits zero the lights go down and the blinds lower over the windows, blocking out the sunlight. The drummer stomps the bass drum and I feel it reverberate as I lean against the back wall of the worship center. The room is a subwoofer and I am right in the middle of it.
As a member of the church host team, I often stand in the back just in case I’m needed. You notice a lot of things from back here. You see who’s coming and going. Who sits where and who they’re with. You see joy and pain. You see relief and enlightenment. You see it all.
There’s the married couple who sits in the same section every week. He keeps his arm around her and she snuggles in close and every now and then she’ll scratch his back. They seem comfortable and happy to be there. It’s one of those things they do together. Worshipping as a pair.
There’s the large family on the opposite side. They take up half of a single section. The widowed matriarch sits closest to the aisle and she is joined by her children and grandchildren. They are surrounded by each other. Not only is it just children and grandchildren but they’re also joined by cousins, nephews and in laws. Today they grow closer as a family as they grow closer to their maker.
There are the teenagers down front. No one worships like them. They exude spirit and excitement. When the music is playing they jump and dance and raise their hands to the sky. They’re uninhibited; wild and reckless. And when the sermon begins they are attentive. They soak it in like a sponge.
The older people, in the next section over, find the kids either humorous or annoying. It’s hard to tell. They smile gingerly when they let out a scream or a whoop.
But the kids are setting the example, showing us how it’s done. Why are we not following? Worshipping freely and wholeheartedly?
There is the singe lady who sits by herself every week. She is receptive to the message that is being taught. You can see it in her unblinking eyes and the way she nods her head. The lights are going off. She gets it. God is making sense.
When the pastor ends the sermon and the music starts up again, the people in the room seem rejuvenated and restless. Sometimes it’s like witnessing an aftermath. Their world is wrecked and re-imagined. Like a tsunami has washed through.
From the back wall I can see that hope has arrived. Voids have been filled and doubts have been crushed.
From the back wall, I see that God was here today.
My paternal grandparents, Pop and Georgette, lived in a quiet little house in a quiet little neighborhood in the suburbs of Atlanta. In their living room, was a small shelf that was built into the wall, right next to their chiming alarm clock that hung above the couch that I slept on when I stayed over.
On this shelf, they kept knick knacks and keepsakes. There were matching coffee mugs with their names on them. There were pictures of my great grandparents and other relatives that I had never met. There were statuettes of birds and angels and dust covered artificial flowers. The shelf was full of things that they collected over the years. Things that meant somethings to them, memories.
On one of the lower shelves were pictures of my grandparents when they were in their early twenties or younger. The picture of my grandmother was beautiful with her big blue eyes and white smile. She was a looker; Pop was a lucky man.
The black and white picture of Pop is one that will never fade from my mind. He was in all of his military gear. He wasn’t a very big man so the gear and the uniform seemed to swallow him up. He looked too young to be wearing it all, like a child in a halloween costume.
The one outstanding feature of this photo was the big smile on his face and the look in his eye. He looked happy, excited, nervous. I could tell that he was happy to be a soldier. He wanted to serve and fight for his country despite not knowing exactly what he was about to face. I wonder what kind of memories Pop formed while he served, the friends he made, the friends he lost.
I’m not sure of what branch of the armed forces Pop was in or where he traveled to but I’m proud of him that he did. It’s humbling to know that he risked his life for his wife, children and grandchildren.
It’s heart warming to know that the same man who took me camping, held my hand, bought me happy meals, taught me about faith and made me pancakes, put his life on the line to protect my freedoms.
Because of Pops service and all of those who serve and have served, I am able to live in a country where I can freely worship God. I’m free to live the life that I choose.
I’m free to write this post on my couch, in my quiet little house in my quiet little neighborhood in this suburb of Atlanta.
Here are five things that I learned or was reminded of this week:
1. My knees don’t always agree with my running.
2. My dad is far-out!
3. I can’t grow grass. I’ll let God take care of it.
4. Praying without ceasing means talking to God about the good things, not just the bad.
5. I can resist the temptations of donuts.
What did you learn this week?
People say that the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree. If I am the apple and my dad is the tree, then that tree would be out on a hill by itself, away from the orchard. Unique and different. It wants to stand out and not be in a straight line with all the other trees. It wants to make a difference with style. It wants to be a hero.
My dad taught, and is still teaching me, how to be a man. One of the things he taught me was to be fearless and he did that in a unique way.
When I was six or seven years old, he gave me a cup of brown liquid and said ”Here son. Drink this. It’s like chocolate milk.” After sipping it, my face wrinkled up and my mouth burned. Coffee tasted nothing like the sweet taste of chocolate milk. It was bitter and new.
In that moment, my dad taught me to not be afraid to try new things.
When I was eight or nine, my father made me watch horror movies. The TV screen was full of vampires, monsters and guys wielding machete’s while wearing hockey masks. There were lots of people screaming and running for their lives. I was mortified. ”It’s not real.” he said, “There’s no such thing as monsters.”
In that moment, my dad taught me to not be afraid of the things that go bump in the night.
When I was ten, my dad took me to Six Flags. ”Do you want to ride the choo-choo train?” he asked. I was barely tall enough to reach the height limit. When the bar came down over my lap, I quickly learned that this choo-choo train was like no train that I have ever ridden. Choo-choo trains don’t climb up steep hills. They are safe, slow and happy.
When the choo-choo train dropped off that first hill and plummeted towards the earth, I knew that this was no kiddie ride. It was indeed, not a choo-choo train. It was the Great American Scream Machine, one of the oldest and fastest roller coasters in the world.
In that moment my dad taught me that life is a thrill ride. It’s full of ups and downs and that I shouldn’t be afraid of a little adventure.
I dont recall enjoying these things when they happened many years ago but over time I realize that this was one of my dads unique gifts. He taught me these things by putting me in the moment. He is fearless and has taught me to be fearless. The apple didn’t fall too far from the tree.
He leads by example.
He is one of a kind.
He’s my dad, my hero.
One of the great things about running is that your biggest opponent is yourself. Only the elite runners and those of you who are wicked fast compete to win the race. Very few of us go into the race thinking that we’re going to win.
The true beauty of running is that you are sharpening yourself. You are making yourself better by pushing yourself harder. Not only are you becoming physically healthy but you are becoming mentally healthy as well.
Despite the simplicity of the sport, running is a series of decisions. And as you get further along, those decisions get harder. Running is often a chess game with your mind. You get to a point where your mind wants you to stop so you have to outwit yourself. You have to trick your mind because your body has so much more than you think.
So when you want to quit, try these three things:
Disassociate from the run: Think about something else. Anything else. Cake, horses, rainbows, clowns, things that make you happy. Let your mind wander. Your legs will continue churning and the pain and fatigue will be an afterthought. Occupy your mind and leave no room for doubt.
Breathe easy: Take long, slow, deep breaths. All the way down into your stomach. Almost as if you are trying to make yourself belch. Relax and listen to yourself breathe. Enjoy the rhythm.
Imagine the fans: Listen to them cheering for you. See your friends and family rooting you on. Imagine the finish line where the spectators are clapping and yelling. Let their admiration and respect fuel you.
Running isn’t just a physical endeavor. It’s part mental. Keep pushing yourself. You’re only getting stronger.
What do you do to get through those mental roadblocks?
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?
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.
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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.
As we get older, life becomes more about being safe than having guts. Our needs change and what we really want to be gets put on the back burner. But deep down inside we still have a longing to do what we are called to do. The problem is that we are afraid to launch. No guts, no glory.
When I was a child, there were no limits to what my brothers and I would do. Our backyard was our playground, our kingdom. We were adventurers and we didn’t need a lot of material things to launch a dream. Boys that grew up in my era really only needed three items to launch. Their trusty steed, a hill and a creek.
My trusty steed evolved over the years but my first and favorite was the Big Wheel, that plastic trike that was virtually indestructible. The Big wheel was built for speed and destruction. Like a well known watch, it could take a lickin’ and keep on tickin’.
My Big Wheel was blue, red and yellow. The scuff marks on the sides represented memories of one on one battles to see who was the fastest and most daring. Like WWII fighter planes that displayed victory tallies, our scuffs were reminders of triumph. Although our battles were never about life and death, they usually involved creeks and death defying stunts.
Only the bravest in our neighborhood would attempt to jump the creek with the Big Wheel. But the few that did just needed an old cinder block and a sheet of warped ply wood that the old man threw out. And of course a steep hill to launch off of.
Luckily for us, the steepest hill in the neighborhood was directly perpendicular to the creek. It was actually our neighbors drive way but to us it was Mount Everest. From the top of the drive way we could see the entire neighborhood. From that altitude, the creek looked less like the Amazon river and more like a gentle stream.
When the ramp was lined up and tested for structural integrity (which consisted of jumping up and down on it), we would lead our steeds to the top and get in place. There were no test runs. It was fly or swim.
We would line our Big wheels up and try to calm the nerves inside. Focus wasn’t the issue. It was fear. It was the fear of crashing along the way. We were never afraid to launch. Our peers waited to see if we could walk the talk and we were happy to prove that we could.
To add more pressure, the neighborhood girls often gathered in groups to see the action. There was no turning back when they showed up. Our manhood was on the line. Hold tight to the handle bars. Deep breath. Turn the pedals. The crowd below waited in hushed anticipation.
The wind whistled as we made our decent. It’s pitch would get higher and higher. The plastic wheels had no traction, slipping and sliding on the asphalt driveway. Trying to steer was futile. Speed and trajectory were key. We would use our feet to control both.
When we hit the ramp, it was fight or flight. Do we stay with our steed or bail? It was an instinctive reaction to jump off while in mid air and most did. But the true daredevils stayed with it. It’s you and your trusty steed until the end.
While in the air you see a lot of things. The creek below. The smiles on your friends faces. The terrified looks on the girls faces. While soaring over the chasm, our short lives flashed before our eyes.
Glory and fame waited on the other side. For those who make it, you became a hero, a legend. But to my recollection, no one did. Instead of safely making it across, we usually found ourselves waist deep in the creek or broken and bruised among the rocks on the bank. There was rarely a heroes welcome.
Chunks of Big Wheel were scattered among the rocks after many a summer of failed attempts. Like a boneyard, we would find a cracked wheel here and a bent pedal there. The carnage was real. So was the joy.
Even though we never made it across the creek, we still celebrated. Because we tried. We had the guts to launch.
Shouldn’t we have this childlike courage as adults? Are you ready to launch?
Take a deep breath. Hold on tight. Turn the pedal.
No guts, no glory.
In 1621, the new king of Spain, Phillip IV found himself deeply in debt. In order to pay his creditors, he commissioned a fleet of ships to bring millions of dollars worth of gold, silver and other priceless items back to Spain from provinces that Spain owned in the Indies. One of those ships, the Nuestra Señora de Atocha, housed over $400 million worth of goods.
King Phillips treasure lie in her hull.
On September 5, 1622, a furious storm hit the fleet as it passed close to the Marquesas islands. Most of the ships were lost, including the Atocha.
350 years later, scuba instructor and treasure hunter, Mel Fisher began a long and tedious expedition to find the Atocha and its treasure.
Mel’s search consumed him. He put his whole heart into finding it and keeping it. There were many legal battles over whether he could claim it as his. During the expedition he lost his wife and son when one of his boats capsized during the night.
But he kept searching.
On July 25, 1985, after searching for 16 years, through tragedy and setbacks, Mel finally found the remains of the Atocha and her mother load of treasure just off the coast of Key West.
Mel’s treasure lie on the sandy bottom of the ocean.
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” - Luke 12:34
Where does your treasure lie? Do you find it in material things, cars, homes, money? Do you find it in success or power?
Or do you find your treasure in relationships? Friends, Family? Do you find treasure in furthering your faith or the faith of others.
True treasure is something that cannot be taken away. It doesn’t erode over time. It can’t be washed away or buried in the sand or lost in the deep. True treasure is unfailing.
Where does your treasure lie?