Remembering to Count

Image result for gratitude

Distance: 4.53 miles (7.3 km) Time: 41’ 35” (PB 38’ 38”)

Out for a run on my 54th birthday.

If at age 18 I had been offered that as a life outcome – still running a 9 minute mile pace over 4.53 miles at age 54, I think I would have gone for it.

Of course I would also have laughed, as I was running around 6 minute miles then – admittedly only over 2 miles and I was 30 kilos lighter!

But to still be running after such a very long time is something of an achievement.

But I am increasingly aware that it is also – perhaps even more so – a gift and a grace.

So many of my friends and family have not been so fortunate with their health.

There is a saying full of wisdom that says;

You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.

It is often the absence of blessings that we feel, rather than their presence.

One of the characteristics of a good and wholesome life is the ability to appreciate and give thanks for the good.

One of the characteristics of a good and wholesome life

is the ability to appreciate and give thanks for the good.

That can range from saying ‘thank you’ when someone holds the door open for you, or is considerate in some way; to noticing a sunrise or a sunset, or a flower, or the way the light plays on the ceiling; right up to valuing and appreciating the people who make your life better, more joyful, fun.

At 54 my life is filled with many good things. My goal is to appreciate them and to focus on them more than the things that aren’t so great.

There is also good and beauty in the world.

And I am grateful.

 

 

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Run no. 95 –Difficult but Doable

Difficult

Distance: 4.53 miles (7.3 km) Time: 42’ 47” (PB 38’ 38”)

As I started off I felt that I was going at a good pace (for me!). I decided to try and maintain that pace throughout the run.

It was very painful as I’m just getting back to regular running after a break – although that seems to be my most common state!

I’m not usually someone who looks at split times, but for some reason I glanced at my watch at the half-way point and was amazed to see that it read 19’ 41”; which is actually pretty close to my personal best time.

Which I guess tells you everything you need to know about me as a runner; as I get fitter I don’t go any faster, I just slow down less.

Real runners would want to talk about speed training, but at my age I am really so not interested in speed!

I just want to maintain a reasonable level of fitness and control my weight; both of which have suffered in recent months.

It has been a complicated time in my life circumstances, as a job comes to an end, and as yet there is nothing else in sight. I have been applying for posts that I thought were a good fit for me, only to be rejected every time; which even though you rationalise it, is still a psychological blow. And when you don’t feel good about yourself that tends to express itself in ways that aren’t helpful and feedback back into the negativity.

It was amazing to me that unfit, carrying a few kilos too many I was still able to run at my fastest ever pace – even though I fell off quite badly towards the end.

I fell off quite badly towards the end

I discovered that it is still doable, just difficult; just really painful and unpleasant.

Which was my spiritual lesson of the day. We are told in the Bible that;

 without faith it is impossible to please God Hebrews 11:6

Which, if ever you needed a starter for ten on whether the Christian life is easy or hard, you have your answer.

Someone once said;

Faith is like a muscle, it only gets stronger when exercised.

Others have said;

Faith is spelt R.I.S.K.

And in some senses I believe both of these to be true. However I think the key component of faith is learning to live with not understanding. Learning to embrace the mystery of God, who is often, opaque, obscure, confusing.

the key component of faith

is learning to live with not understanding.

Learning to embrace the mystery of God,

who is often, opaque,

obscure,

confusing.

It is only faith that can hold on when nothing makes sense. If you want to see the awfulness of that experience played out in a human life you have only to read the story of Jonah or Job.[1]

But although their faith was rocked, fissured, stretched to breaking point, it did not fail. God would not allow it to.

All that God asks us to face is difficult but doable.

 

[1] You can get an in-depth look at Jonah through my book Jonah the Epistle of Wild Grace – available free here http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/stephenjohnmarch


The Oddest People

Lucien Guitry: Sa Carriere Et Sa Vie [SIGNED} by Guitry, Sacha

Distance: 4.53 miles (7.3 km) Time: 46’ 30” (PB 38’ 38”)

Almost 4 month gap since my last run – not good. Disturbing life circumstances have left me feeling drained with little energy and motivation for running. But I made it out today and it was ok, so that’s a start.

As I was running it struck me again how you often find the most unlikely of people are runners.

A couple of time I have met rather tubby blokes, who I subsequently found out were capable of marathons and half-marathons! Something I would never have predicted by looking at them.

As I think about the Christmas story I find I am equally surprised. I am surprised by who is invited to greet the new-born Saviour of the World.

The first on the scene are shepherds. This is a shocking as shepherds were considered social outcasts. They were wild, tough men, who needed to be capable of driving away both sheep thieves and wild animals. They lived out of doors most of the time and were not quite considered civilised by polite society. Given their outdoor life they couldn’t even follow the Jewish religion properly, never mind attending synagogue.

And yet when choirs of angels are sent to announce that Jesus is born it is shepherds to whom they are sent! I can imagine the angels asking to have the order checked,

“Shepherds! Really?!”

If the shepherds are surprising the next on the scene are totally shocking – wise men. These aren’t even Jewish! They are pagans from Babylon, probably followers of the Zoroastrian religion.

It is interesting story how they came to interpret the presence of a new star as sign of the birth of someone so important they were willing to travel around 500 miles to greet him.

A pagan prophet called Balaam was once hired by a King to come and put a curse on the people of Israel as they travelled through his kingdom. It must have been a well-paid assignment for Balaam to be willing to travel all the way from Babylon to do it.

But he duly arrives and starts his sacrifices and incantations. Then, to his total surprise and shock the Spirit of God comes upon him and instead of cursing Israel he blesses her. This happens several times until in the final blessing that he is forced to pronounce he states;

“‘I see him, but not now;
I behold him, but not near.
A star will come out of Jacob;
a sceptre will rise out of Israel.”
Numbers 12:17

It seems likely that this prophecy was taken back to Babylon and became part of the holy writings of the Zorastrian religion. Preserved for around 600 years it is this prophecy that they link to the appearance of a new star in the sky and follow to Israel (probably a comet).

So when the Saviour of the World is born it is the rough, tough, irreligious social outcasts and the foreigners who don’t even worship the true God who are invited.

If ever you wonder whether or not there is a welcome for you at the manger, please remember this, we are ALL invited, no-one is excluded – just come.


Run no. 86 – Habit eats willpower for breakfast

Willpower

 

Distance: 4.53 miles (7.3 km) Time: 41’ 14” (PB 38’ 38”)

 

The hardest thing about running for me, is getting out there.

Once I’ve got into my running gear and got out the door I’m fine.

But making that happen regularly is a challenge.

Today was a case in point. It was a hot day and I just wasn’t in the mood.

What got me out there was that a few weeks ago I decided that I needed to run more regularly and that the only thing that was going to make that happen was habit.

So I started the habit of running every second day. Over the past few weeks that habit has got ingrained and it really helps.

Today, knowing that tomorrow it will be very difficult to get a run in, as I’m away all day, the idea of missing today felt like something I just couldn’t do.

In John ORTBERG’s great book ‘Soul Keeping’ he makes the statement that;

‘habit eats willpower for breakfast.’

A good habit, say giving 10% of your income to good causes each month, will keep you giving even when you don’t feel like it.

A bad habit, reacting aggressively to criticism, will eventually get you to the point when nobody can help you with your weaknesses, your worst attributes will be irrevocably fixed.

Which is why being lost or saved, is not so much a destination, as a diagnosis of who you are becoming.

To quote ORTBERG again,

This is what it means to lose your soul. It is not a cosmic threat. It is a clinical diagnosis.

It is not “I could end up there.”

It is “I could become that.”

If you are a lost soul your surroundings don’t matter – I mean this literally – one damn bit.

When it comes to our souls, as with everything else, habit eats willpower for breakfast.


Run no. 79, 80, 81 – It’s the Cost

Cost

 

Distance: 4.53 miles (7.3 km) Time: 42’ 33” (PB 38’ 38”)

Distance: 4.53 miles (7.3 km) Time: 42’ 07” (PB 38’ 38”)

Distance: 4.53 miles (7.3 km) Time: 42’ 30” (PB 38’ 38”)

 

I was out running at 7:15 this morning as it is going to be hot today. But even at that time the temperature was around 23°C.

It was a hard run, my legs felt heavy and I was more tempted to stop and walk that in any run for a while.

I felt slow and when I finished my time was not brilliant.

A good time makes me feel better about having run, so a poor time is demoralising to me.

As the more negative emotions started to stir I reminded myself that the value of something is often expressed more in what it costs than what it is. I was taught this lesson many years ago.

At the time my wife and I were a young married couple with our first child. We were active members in a church who had just called a new minister. This is always a very exciting time in a church’s life as we wait to see what vision the new person has for the future direction of the church.

The church leaders had decided to have a church weekend where the new minister could share his thoughts and vision with us.

We quickly agreed to go. Then one of the church leaders rang us to say that more families had booked up than they expected and so they needed someone to look after the children while the main meetings were going on; and would we do that.

My heart sank. We wanted to be part of the exciting meetings with the new minister, not looking after other peoples’ children. But because we had been brought up to believe that if someone asks you to do something for God and you haven’t got a good reason not to, you should do it, we said yes.

So while the meetings were on we found ourselves in a port-a-kabin with about 8 children. We found that space was shared with the kitchens, so while we were trying to do stuff with the children the cook was banging around with pots and mixing machines making meals for everybody. It was not ideal, but we tried to do our best. We had chosen some holiday club material to use and every time a leaders said ‘The J Team’, the children had to shout out ‘I wish I could be in it!’ And I guess we had fun and did a reasonable job of it.

About 4 weeks later we were in church one Sunday evening and the new minister said I’m going to invite someone up now and they are going to share what God has been doing in their life

Imagine our surprise when it was the cook from the weekend that came up the front. He said that he had been invited to go on the weekend and cook as he was unemployed and had a friend that went to our church. He wasn’t a Christian and had had a tough life struggling with alcohol and other stuff. He said that he never attended any of the meetings that weekend as he was always in the kitchen preparing food.

But there was a young couple who had shown such love to the children that he had listened in to what they were teaching them. He said that suddenly the message of Jesus and of God’s love and forgiveness made sense to him and he had decided to turn to God. He looked at my wife and I and said,

“I’ve just got one thing I want to say; the J Team, I wish I could be in it!”

By this time my wife and I were in tears, humbled, amazed, astounded.

That lesson taught me that God works in 360°, we never know what parts of our life, or which of our words and acts might be a vehicle for God’s grace.

It also made me play the ‘What If’ game.

What If we had declined the request to look after the children and perhaps someone had done it, someone who more interested in keeping the children busy, and less interested in helping them explore faith.

What If we had not been as loving towards the children because of our feelings of missing out on the important meetings, as it was our love for them that got the cook’s attention.

What If it was only the fact that we did something we didn’t really want to, as a sacrifice to God, that made it something that God chose to bless.

The value is in what something costs, not what it is.

 


Run no. 73 – Transformation

pound coin flaws

Distance: 4.53 miles (7.3 km) Time: unrecorded (PB 38’ 38”)

Second run out after a 4 month lay off.

My return to running was sparked by a few things – my conscience telling me I should be doing regular exercise; the unpleasant feeling of unfitness during heavy exertion; the fact that I stood on the bathroom scales and they indicated 92 kg.

I guess the latter was the final straw. My ideal weight would probably be around 84 kg, so I’m 10 % overweight – that’s a lot.

And so I begin the slow and painful process of self-transformation. I’m trying to eat better – less food, less often. I’m trying to avoid the late evening wine, crisps and sweets that are my nemesis. I’m also back to running.

The hope is that these together will make a gradual difference. But I’m under no illusions as to the difficulty and the time this will take.

I was thinking how that analogy fits very well with the process of spiritual transformation.

The human person is a paradox. On the one hand we are ‘created in the image of God’[1], that is to say there are aspects of God’s nature in us, we are capable of God-like love, kindness, self-sacrifice, mercy, justice, beauty etc. On the other hand we have to recognise that this image is flawed and broken.

all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God[2]

The recent debacle over the flawed pound coins is an apt illustration. The image of the queen is marred and broken. It is still recognisably her, but not what it should be.

The Christians life is the process of transformation of self into what we should always have been; our truest and best self, our God-like self; a self that is only actualised as the result of being in relationship with God. Only God can restore Godlikeness in us.

The first step in the process starts only when we recognise our estrangement from God. The Christian faith holds that God Himself, in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, has made it possible for us to be reconnected with God.

Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.[3]

Once that divine-human relationship is re-established then God Himself in the person of the Holy Spirit comes to indwell us, and it is His energy working in us that enables the transformation of self.

We all show the Lord’s glory, and we are being changed to be like him. This change in us brings more and more glory. And it comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.[4]

This is a long, slow, and costly process. It requires devotion and discipline – but it is possible.

We are what we are, but what we become is a choice.

[1] Genesis 1 :27

[2] Romans 3 :23

[3] John 14 :6

[4] 2 Corinthians 3 :18


Run no. 72 – You won’t think that later

endorphin high

Distance: 4.53 miles (7.3 km) Time: unrecorded (PB 38’ 38”)

Today was my first run for 4 months.

I knew it was going to be hard and to hurt.

I didn’t time myself, as the objective was to see if I could still run 4.53 miles without stopping – I could, but only with great difficulty.

In my running loop I passed a lady walking her dog and gave my usual greeting “Good morning, God bless”. As I passed her again on the return part she shouted out an encouragement, “You’re nearly there!”

I replied “This is my first run for 4 months; stupid idea!”

She shouted back, “You won’t think that later!”

Which made me think.

Of course she was right.

You finish your run and the endorphin kick hits you – your body’s self-reward mechanism for your having done exercise.

You also experience the warm glow of satisfaction that you can still run, when many of your friends of the same age can’t.

You get the sense of righteousness that in that doing exercise you are protecting your body against 30 different types of cancer.

That helped me – lungs afire, heavy-legged, and uncomfortably hot. That reminder of the good that was to come got me through the final third of my run.

This reminded me that the spiritual ‘race’ is no different.

St Paul described his approach in the following way:

Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize of God’s heavenly calling in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13-14)

None of the things which foster our spiritual life – prayer, engagement with the Bible, attendance at a worshipping community, serving others and sharing with them, the de-centring of my own wants and needs, giving God control of my life – are easy. They never become easy. They are always costly and challenging and go against our nature.

The only reason that we will embrace them is the hope of where they lead, to goal to which they can take us.

What s that goal? Well God is His own reward – He has nothing better to offer us than Himself. The more we embrace the disciplines of the spiritual life, the more God will reveal Himself to us and in us.

Recently I have had a powerful reminder of the latter.

A man I know has recently become a monk. He still lives in the same village, he still carries out a full-time job, but he lives according to the monastic rule of life and he lives to serve God and his community.

He rises at 3:45 to spend 3 hours in prayer and meditation. He stops every three hours during the working day to pray the monastic offices.

The change I have seen in him over the past year has been dramatic. There is a presence in him, a peace, and an authority. Just to be with him is to experience God.

Obviously we are not all called to be monks, but we are all called to be in relationship with God, and we are all capable of it.

All it takes is discipline.

All that will sustain it as we experience the pain and challenge is the knowledge of where this leads us – to a deeper encounter with that being who is all good, all wise, all love, all power, all majesty.

I think that this should motivate me more.