Before/During/After 26.2 – A Running Commentary

22792260_10100907716137075_738069296247356257_oOctober 27, 2017

I’m nervous. I’m anxious. I’m excited. I’m scared.

Tomorrow I will run my first ever marathon. 26.2 miles on the famous Silver Comet Trail.

I’ve run 3 half marathons and a few 5Ks and 10Ks in the past few years. I’ve also run as much as 20 miles in my training for this marathon. But that last 6.2 seems so intimidating.

The race tomorrow is the culmination of something I’ve been dreaming about for 14 years. I first started running as a hobby back in 2003. I would just do a couple miles around the neighborhood for fun with no real goals in mind besides burning a few calories. I never had a schedule for running or anything like that. I definitely didn’t (and still don’t) classify myself as a runner.

Through the years my hobby developed into my favorite type of workout. It also turned into a time of reflection and escape. Music and later podcasts have been essential to my runs. I started off running with a Walkman, then a Discman, an iPod classic, an iPod shuffle (the touch screen that clipped onto your clothes, my personal favorite), and now an iPhone.

Even though I’ve always got something in my ears, my thoughts are never more clear than when I’m running. I’ve created many a blog and lesson out on the trails over the years.

After a few years I started to envision running a half marathon. I didn’t think I’d ever be able to accomplish a full, but a half seemed somewhat realistic. After bouncing around the idea for years I finally hatched a plan with a couple of students of mine. We ran the Greenwood Half Marathon in 2011. It was one of the proudest accomplishments of my life.

I first spoke my marathon goals into existence when I was preaching at First Baptist Church Mableton in the winter of 2015. I delivered a message about running the race God puts before us and used my first half marathon in 2011 as an illustration. At that time I had not run another long race yet due to injuries and complications. But I was ready to give it another shot. So I spoke my goal to the 200 or so in attendance knowing they would hold me accountable to it.

My plan was to run the Silver Comet Marathon in October of 2016. I ran a half marathon in the spring as a sort of test run and everything went well. I started a 5 month training plan I found online. My wife even joined me for the training as she made plans to run the Silver Comet Half Marathon at the same time.

The training was going smoothly until about the halfway point. Once again, as I had done a few years prior, I tweaked something in my leg. This time it was in my right foot/calf area. It’s hard to explain as yet again I didn’t get a clear diagnosis from the doctor, but for a few weeks I could not run without a sharp pain in my right leg.

I was devastated. I debated whether I could try to jump forward in the training plan and conquer the marathon. But I knew that would not be a wise decision. So once my foot started feeling normal I joined my wife in her half marathon training. We ran together 13.1 miles and had an incredible experience.

I wasn’t sure if I would want to go through the training experience again. But I knew I had to live up to my words.

The training has been incredible. When I had my first run longer than a half marathon I was terrified. Yet the training plan worked. I was able to run past my farthest point and finish with strength and energy to spare.

That’s not say it’s been easy. I’ve endured blisters, bleeding and chafing. I’ve chugged down all manners of gels. I’ve sweated more than I thought humanly possible. But now I’m here.

Unfortunately my right foot has been acting up again this week. It’s giving me tinges of the same pain I felt last year. I’m doing everything I can to work out the issues these last few hours.

I’m also panicking because of the weather. The forecast is for heavy rain along with chilly temperatures. I’ve only run in the rain a couple of times during my training. It wasn’t terrible, but I don’t know if I can handle all 26.2 miles with soggy socks and shoes. I’ve spent the last 24 hours reading everything I can about how to handle a rainy race day.

At this point though I can’t control the weather. I can’t really control any of this. I have to be content with the work I’ve put in. I have to leave the rest up to God and have faith. So after a delicious pasta meal cooked up by request by my wife and a couple of episodes of Stranger Things 2, it’s time to go to bed.

October 28, 2017

22829871_10100907716291765_3568608627873880667_oMile 1. Ok Here it is. The big day. The day I’ve been training for. Kate prays for me right before the start and it’s perfect and beautiful and I try not to cry. I’ve got a couple of protein waffles and a banana in my belly. I’ve got on more layers than I anticipated due to the weather. And I’ve got some special tape on my right foot. I am ready for this. I want to go fast. But I’ve got to pace myself.

Mile 3. I’m feeling great. This weather is actually pretty perfect. A bit chilly. But no real rain. This is flying by. My feet and legs are feeling really good.

Mile 6. I’m gonna do this. I’m gonna get there. I may even make it under 5 hours. I thought I would be more in the 5:15 or 5:20 area but I’m killing it.

Screen Shot 2017-10-30 at 6.15.27 PMMile 10. This training really paid off! I haven’t stopped running yet. In training I never ran without a break longer than 7 miles. I may be able to run this entire race without stopping. Kate has shown up a couple of times already to cheer me on. I wasn’t expecting that, and it’s boosted my confidence so much.

Mile 14. I spoke too soon. I’m starting to lose my adrenaline. My bones are starting to ache. But I’ve now completed a half marathon without stopping, which has far exceeded my expectations for this race. I’m tired but happy.  So I’m taking a break. I’m walking for a quarter mile or so. That’s ok. I’m still on pace to shatter my goal time. Maybe I’ll change up from podcasts to music to give myself a spark.

Mile 16. I’ve hit the turnaround point. (This trail has a layout where you veer off the trail for a bit so the turnaround is more than halfway.) My energy is really fading but it’s nice to know that I’m moving into the single digits of miles. I’m trying to break down the numbers in my head into smaller hurdles to face. I keep adjusting my armband, my running belt, my shirt, my hat, my headphones. Anything to try to give myself some momentary relief or comfort. Everything hurts.

Mile 19. I’m over this. Ready to quit. Starting to walk more than run. Every time I try to run again it’s harder to get started. Kate shows up just when I need her to give me one last boost. She won’t let me quit. I get her to give me a different hat. I don’t really know why – maybe a dry hat will give me a little energy boost? My brain isn’t really functioning right anymore.

Mile 22. I’m done with music and podcasts. At this point I’m just praying. The Lord’s Prayer over and over again. I’m singing praise songs to myself. I’m focusing on the Cross. I’m finding my strength in Jesus to push to the end because God knows I have emptied myself of everything I have.

Mile 24. So much for breaking 5 hours. That’s ok. I’m extremely proud of my first half pace. At this point it’s just about crossing the finish line. Despite the exhaustion, I know it can be done. I’ve run this part of the trail probably a couple hundred times. I swallow my last gel packet and I push myself to run (hobble) these last couple of miles in.

22860027_10100907716077195_1148028421579152255_oMile 26.2. DONE. 5:34:03. No records were shattered. In fact I finished after what was supposed to be the cutoff. But I finished. I got my medal. I ran a marathon. Kate was there along with Rosie and our friends Andrew and Krystal and their dog Charlie. A moment I’ll never forget.

Now for those tears I’ve been holding in since the beginning. But only for a second. There’s BBQ and a Frappuccino and a nice long bath waiting for me.

October 29, 2017

Did that really just happen? Did I really just put a 26.2 sticker on my car? I think after all these years I can finally call myself a runner.

I didn’t win the race. But I won my race.

I didn’t set out to smash any records. I never intended to come in first place. My goal was to get across the finish line. 5 and a half hours later I did. To some that time may be laughable. That’s ok. It was a great time for me because I didn’t give up even though I desperately wanted to those last few miles.

The training plan I followed worked far better than I could have imagined. It gave me the physical, and more importantly the mental strength to accomplish 26.2 miles. It gave me the confidence to know that no matter how I felt in the final few miles I could push myself to make it to the end.

After every race I’ve ever run I swear I’ll never do another one. So I’m not ready to commit to another at this point. But I do love running.

I’ve never been good at sports. I have always enjoyed them but never excelled at them. I struggle with comparing myself to others, and in sports I am always inadequate. So I avoid them.

What I love about running is that I am able to compete with myself. The competition is in trying to better myself against my previous performances. And the competition is in just hitting the trail one more time and enduring the journey.

The journey to 26.2 has been arduous and yet exciting. Impossible seeming and yet amazingly achievable.

In the end I believe this is the race we all run: not in competition with one another, but out on the trail before our Lord, running at our own unique pace, cheering each other on, encouraging each other. We cannot be worried about the pace of others. The victory each day comes from getting off the couch and putting one foot in front of the other, each one of us heeding His call to run the race He has set before us.

If you have a crazy dream or goal, I challenge you to go for it as I did. What I’ve learned from my marathon experience is that if you put in the work, follow the plan, and believe then you can cross the finish line too. Press on toward the goal. IMG_6772 3

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In Praise Of Free Fallin’ As A Worship Song

tom-pettynyWhen the news came in yesterday about the sudden heart attack and death of Tom Petty I was deeply saddened. His songs like “Learning To Fly” and “I Won’t Back Down” have been great inspirations to me. His albums – whether solo, with The Heartbreakers, or of course with The Traveling Wilbury’s – have been the soundtracks to so many car rides and road trips.

Not to mention the fact that his iconic hit “Free Fallin'” one of my favorite worship songs.

No, I’m not talking about the line about the good girl who loves Jesus (and America too). I don’t think “Free Fallin” is a Christian song by any means.

But I do believe – from firsthand experience – that “Free Fallin'” is a song that’s paved the way for the gospel of Christ to be shared to countless students across the country.

You see “Free Fallin'” is one of the most popular Young Life club songs of all time. Young Life clubs (of which I led my fair share) focus on sharing the gospel to unchurched teenagers.

Their model takes the shape of a student worship service and blends it with crazy games, goofy skits and secular music.

Instead of confusing or scaring off unchurched students with unrecognizable worship songs, at Young Life club we would typically play 3-4 secular songs to sing along together and make these students feel comfortable before playing one simple worship song and sharing a brief story about Jesus. It’s meant to be a starting point for these students – a way to share the gospel by meeting them where they are.

The idea is to forge relationships and common bonds over the shared enjoyment of these popular songs and goofy games so that leaders can earn the right to be heard about the life-saving gospel of Jesus Christ.

I can’t count the number of times “Free Fallin'” was one of those secular songs we used at Young Life club. It was such an easy song to learn. And such a simple and fun song to sing along with.

3040_527750826645_2660631_nThe song was nearly 20 years old by the time I was a Young Life leader. Yet kids still responded to it. (John Mayer had a pretty popular and pretty great cover of it that came out around this time too which probably helped.)

They knew the words. They knew the melody. They had a blast screaming it at the top of their lungs alongside their Young Life leaders.

Our students particularly liked to goof around with the lyrics, chanting the “living in Reseda” line over and over again during every verse.

After club I’d often drive students back home. We’d talk for a few minutes about the Bible story shared at club, what was going on at school, and life at home. Then I’d crank some Tom Petty up on my iPod and we’d continue the sing along as we rode around town in my truck.

Now I don’t think any of the students at our club or at the countless other Young Life clubs who sang “Free Fallin'” came to know Jesus simply because of the power of a Tom Petty song.

But I do believe songs like “Free Fallin'”, along with other classics like “Brown Eyed Girl”, “Don’t Stop Believing'”,  and “Sweet Caroline”, have been used by Young Life leaders for years to play a small role in leading high school students to the cross of Jesus.

Singing these classic songs together, leaders and students with arms wrapped around each other and bouncing to the melody, set the tone for many a great night together with students. It created an atmosphere of joy and inclusion that allowed the message of Jesus to be presented to open hearts.

I believe Jesus can use a completely secular song to connect generations and pave the way for His message to be communicated effectively. I have seen it work. I have lived it. I can testify to the power of it.

Because the gospel is meant to be shared relationally. Ministry happens and lives are changed not when people are shouted out on the street by a stranger but when people form bonds by doing life together.

Sometimes sharing life together is about explicitly preaching the word and communicating what the Bible says about sin and the cross.

And sometimes sharing life together is driving around town with the windows down listening to Tom Petty.

Love Spontaneously

16722505_10100714193158675_1469869872725083082_oI really didn’t want a dog.

It was January 2011. My friend Ed showed up to watch wrestling at my house with a spunky little stray miniature pinscher named Roc. I’d been living on my own for a couple of years and I was enjoying the carefree bachelor life. I knew how much work would go into having a dog. I knew the financial and the time commitment it would take. I loved dogs but I wasn’t really ready to jump into all that.

I especially didn’t want a dog like this one. A min pin – this dog was maybe 15 pounds soaking wet. I’d never seen the appeal of small dogs like that. They just seemed like overgrown rodents.

Then I heard about the dog’s story. My had gone for work to help clean up a house that a couple had recently been evicted from. Inside the house underneath some dirty blankets was Roc. The couple had abandoned him, left him to die cold and alone.

Ok. I’m not heartless. My heart broke. It wasn’t in my plans to get a dog – especially not this dog – so I told my friend to keep looking for someone to take this dog in. But if he couldn’t find anyone after a week to let me know and the dog could stay with me.

As the week went on I kept thinking about Roc. I just couldn’t believe someone would abandon a pet like that. My heart broke for him and how scared he must have been, wondering where his people were. Secretly I was hoping my friend wouldn’t find a home for him and that he’d end up with me.

So about a week after meeting Roc he officially moved in. Since he was starting a new life I decided he needed a new addition to his name. He deserved better than just being Roc. From now on he would be The Roc.

As it turns out The Roc and I would spend the next 6 years together. He would be one of the best things to ever happen to me.

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When I first adopted Roc I was in a bit of a funk in my life. I wasn’t having much luck in the dating department. I enjoyed my job as Youth Pastor but wasn’t sure where my future was headed. There were a lot of days where I didn’t really feel motivated to get out of bed.

Having Roc in my life gave me a reason to get out of bed every morning. He was a hyperactive dog with a hyperactive bladder who needed to be walked 3 or 4 times a day. So whether I wanted to or not I got out of bed every morning and walked him. Getting a few minutes of fresh air first thing in the morning really helped me get my mind in the right perspective for the day. Our walks were routine but carried a lot of meaning.

Our morning (and afternoon and evening) walks turned into many more adventures along the way. I quickly learned that small dogs could be just as fun and adventurous as big dogs.

I also quickly learned Roc was not as young as he appeared.

At first I thought Roc was 4 or 5 years old because of his energy and athleticism. He would bounce off the furniture, leaping from the floor to the couch to the chair and everywhere in between. He could jump freely up and down off my bed, an impressive task considering his minuscule stature.

I was shocked to learn when I took him to the vet for his first checkup that Roc was actually at least 10 or 11 years old. The vet could tell from the condition of his teeth and the beginning signs of cataracts in his eyes. My new puppy all of the sudden became a senior dog.

The vet said dogs of The Roc’s size can often live to their late teens, which meant we’d hopefully get 5 or 6 years together. Still, I knew our time together would be limited. So ever since I learned his true age I began preparing to say goodbye to Roc.

59e42f01-32d2-42cf-bad5-b9a5fc8da32dI made a point that we would live deliberately – that we would make the most of every opportunity before us. I took Roc with me everywhere I could. We went to the beach, the mountains, the grocery store, restaurants, and everywhere in between.

Over the years he lost a toe, faced the cone of shame, and faced a few other scares and surgeries. He even endured a new dog coming into the picture. Yet he was so resilient and strong. He kept recovering, kept fighting, kept cuddling, kept living.

He was just a dog, but he taught me a lot over the years about persevering. He didn’t let his infirmities overcome his desire to explore.

Unfortunately The Roc, just as we all eventually do, faced one last battle he could not overcome. The final days of his life were sad and hard on him and us. He became unable to walk. He was still able to move all his limbs and was still eating and drinking well so we continued to hope he would push through. It finally became clear last weekend that he would not. Kate and I tearfully made the painful decision to say goodbye.

We took The Roc to a park over by our old apartment where we’d had some good picnics and good walks at over the years. We sat. We smiled. We cried.

img_0667-2The next day I stayed home from work. I sat with The Roc snuggled up in a blanket on my lap until it was time to head to the vet. We stopped at Starbucks on the way to get him a “pup cup” – a tiny cup filled with whipped cream. Roc gobbled it right up – those were always his favorite treats.

We didn’t spend more than 10 minutes at the vet. The whole process was a blur. I sobbed as I bent down and looked at my little buddy on the operating table in his final few moments. He was weak, barely breathing, but he did what he always did when he saw me crying. He licked my face and took the tears away.


 

In my favorite devotional from “My Utmost For His Highest”, Oswald Chambers writes about a concept called loving spontaneously:

The evidence of our love for Him is the absolute spontaneity of our love, which flows naturally from His nature within us. And when we look back, we will not be able to determine why we did certain things, but we can know that we did them according to the spontaneous nature of His love in us. The life of God exhibits itself in this spontaneous way because the fountains of His love are in the Holy Spirit.

I think The Roc was pretty good at loving spontaneously. He was the definitive lap dog. All he really wanted was a friend to snuggle up with. He’d cozy up to just about anyone he met. He really didn’t discriminate. He’d drop whatever he was doing to cuddle up with someone.

His appearance in my life 6 years ago taught me how to love spontaneously. It would have been far easier to say no when my friend asked me to take Roc in. It would have saved me a lot of pain and heartache and money. But I also would have missed out on the walks, the car rides, the adventures, the nights on the couch. The moments of joy far surpassed the ones of pain.

Yes, it is far easier to walk away when God puts an opportunity to show spontaneous love before us. We want to plan out our lives. We don’t like the random interruptions.

That’s the thing though. We don’t always get to plan out the people we’ll come in contact with. We don’t get to plan out the strays who wander into our living rooms.

True love is spontaneous. It is not premeditated. It responds with a selfless heart to all the creatures God places before us. 

It’s still weird to think Roc is not here anymore. I miss him the most in the littlest moments. I miss taking him out on my lunch breaks and when I come home from church. I miss bringing him up into our bed at night. I even miss cleaning up his messes.

The past few weeks, months really, haven’t been easy. Taking care of The Roc became an exhausting task for Kate and I. Yet I would give anything to have him back again, even in that state.

I really didn’t want a dog. And now I can’t imagine my life without him.

I’m so thankful for the 6 years I got to spend with The Roc. And I’m at peace that he is no longer with us. I believe he’s no longer in pain and that he’s running free. And I hope I’ll get to have him in my lap again someday.

Until then I’m going to make the most of my time here. I’m going to make the most of my time with my wife, with my family, with our other dog Rosalita.

I’m going to live deliberately and love spontaneously. For The Roc. 

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I wrote about The Roc a few times over the years on Pop God. Click here to check out some of the many lessons I learned from him. And if you feel like loving spontaneously and adopting a dog or donating to your local shelter, click here to find one near you

 

Remember The Rumble

santino-rumbleThis Sunday is the 30th anniversary of the Royal Rumble, the WWE’s most exciting hour of action every year.

30 Superstars compete in one match – each man drawing a random number and entering the ring in order every 2 minutes. The only way to be eliminated is to be thrown over the top rope and have BOTH feet hit the floor. The last man standing after all 30 men have entered wins a WWE Championship match at WrestleMania, the grandest stage of them all.

I love the Royal Rumble because it’s always full of surprises including debuts, returns of injured wrestlers, and one-off appearances by retired hall-of-famers. There’s a great sense of unpredictability in the air. For at least 60 minutes there’s wall-to-wall action and entertainment.

I also love the Royal Rumble because at its essence it is a grace-filled affair. Continue reading

My 15 Seconds With Springsteen

img_0130It’s a little ironic that I ended up meeting Bruce Springsteen at a used record store. 

Last week I had the incredible opportunity to attend a meet-and-greet with The Boss at a store outside of Atlanta called 2nd and Charles – a place where you trade in used cds, records, books, movies and games for a fraction of their original value. 

I’ve been a Springsteen fanatic for close to 8 years now. But it wasn’t always that way. When I was in high school I went through a phase of trying to expand my musical tastes. In doing so I purchased a copy of “Born In The U.S.A.” to dive into the world of the E Street Band.

I listened to it for about a week before I decided Bruce Springsteen wasn’t for me. I traded in the cd for some spare change at a store just like 2nd and Charles. 

I had no idea that one day years in the future I’d be so obsessed with the New Jersey rocker that I’d be willing to stand in line for nearly 4 hours simply to shake his hand and take a picture with him.

Even though I paid $40 to only get about 15 seconds with my idol (more on that later) I thought the experience was worth so much more than I paid for it.  Continue reading

Finding Dory and The Importance Of Being Forgetful

thumbnail_24066By the end of “Finding Dory”, the latest wildly successful, hilarious, and heartbreaking Pixar movie, it starts to become clear that the forgetful blue tang’s memory is stronger than she realizes.

Throughout the film Dory is sparked by flashbacks of her childhood and the brief time she spent with her loving parents before she was fatefully separated from them.

It’s not clear exactly what type of condition causes Dory’s forgetfulness. She claims to have short-term memory loss, but I’m not sure a marine biologist or any other underwater doctor would diagnose the problem quite like this.

I think Dory’s problem is actually more like one many of us can relate with. Her issue isn’t with her ability to remember; it’s with what she chooses to remember. Continue reading

The Beautiful Compassion Of The Record Store (A Post For Record Store Day 2016)

View More: http://jbltphotography.pass.us/alexandkateA trip to the record store these days is an act of compassion. 

Sure there are plenty of new releases out on vinyl. In fact vinyl records are the fastest growing sales segment in the music industry.

But most record stores fill the majority of their shelves with vintage LPs. These are the records that get traded in by people who have no use for them anymore.

Maybe they inherited a collection from their parents or grandparents and they’re just not that into music. Or maybe they’ve played the records a million times and just aren’t into the bands anymore. Or maybe they thought vinyl died out 30 years ago.

For whatever reason they don’t see any use for the old Cat Stevens or Doobie Brothers albums. They look at vinyl records as an outdated format just taking up space in their attic.

Yet when I and other collectors come in to a record store we see the value in the classic pieces of wax. Continue reading