I have come to the end of my year-long running journey, where I had decided to run through the last twenty years of my music collection, going back-in-time with my thoughts and musings to see where it led. Each song or album that I acquired over the last twenty years had a memory or meaning attached to it. So I began the journey by loading up my MP3 with a variety of songs and genres and took off running. As the year came to a close, I found the last artist on my playlist – U2. It seemed appropriate enough. This particular album was a collection of four songs from a Starbucks CD back in the early 2000’s. Ah yes, I remember those early Starbucks days, juggling morning carpool and a full-time commute into downtown. Starbucks had become my refuge for a while and this CD had offered solace.
So I began my last musical journey listening to the songs, “All You Need is Love” and “I Believe in Father Christmas”, and then finally came to the last song: “The Redemption Song”. It was originally sung by Bob Marley, and his words played over in my mind as I ran…
“Won’t you help to sing these songs of freedom Cause all I ever have is Redemption Songs.”
Redemption. Such a powerful word. It’s a transitional word, bringing to mind many other similar words and progressions.
Atonement. Restitution. Forgiveness. Grace. Love. Jesus. God. Heart. Soul. Life.
A great way to end the year’s running and thoughts – Redemption. After all that a year can bring – happiness, sadness, new beginnings and old friends – I am forever humbled and grateful to be here, and hopefully a little wiser. We are all on a journey; let’s make sure we’re on the right one because we only have this one life to decide. What will be your last song?
Let us lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and have sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2
The musical group, Train, always makes me smile. Their songs have that nostalgic,
feel-good feeling mixed in with a little hope and inspiration. I ran across one of their older songs on my running journey today – a song called “Calling All Angels” from 2003. Ten years later, the song is still relevant, perhaps even more so today.
The lead singer for the band is Patrick Monahan. His unique sound and onstage presence of a messy-haired, slightly awkward little kid makes you want to root for him even more. His songs invoke memories and hope. This particular song begins with those familiar words, “I need a sign…”
As I began to listen to the song once again, my immediate thoughts take me back to a time at my workplace ten years ago. I was facing a tired and beaten project team near the end of our project, and they had just discovered why our new computer programs were not working as planned. We were getting our data from an accounting software program that did not use negative signs in the dollar amounts. Instead, it used a debit and credit indicator to determine if it was a negative number. Now all of our data was showing up as positive numbers and over-inflating the balance. I looked around the room at all the long faces, and without hesitation, immediately jumped up and started singing those words, “I need a sign…” while using my best Train impression. They did not see the humor in it, or perhaps it was just my bad singing. Eventually though, we got through the project as we always do, but I still remember that memory and smile to myself. It was good times during the bad times.
Signs of another kind at work began to jog my memory as well – the signs of God’s constant care and interest into the details of our lives. There is one story in particular that stands out above the rest; one lesson that I will never forget. Many years ago, I was responsible for a large project that was beginning to take a wrong turn. The team had split into two different groups, each with different ideas and agendas on how to complete the work. Each group was working independently on their own, and often against each other. I knew the project would not be successful if we continued like this, and we would certainly not make our million dollar deadlines. I decided I had to call a meeting with the new Director of the company to express my concerns.
I sat in the stark conference room with the Director on that day, and began to explain the dire situation to him. After I finished, he just sat there and said nothing in reply. He turned his head slightly to the side and quietly spoke as if saying to no one in particular, “It wasn’t supposed to be this way.”
“What?”, I thought to myself. I was expecting to hear a typical response like, “how
did this happen?” But his answer struck me as odd. What did he mean it wasn’t supposed to be this way? Who told him that? And then he did something more. He closed his eyes and bowed his head. At first I thought he must be thinking, but after an uncomfortable amount of silence, I realized he wasn’t thinking; he was praying.
It seemed to be one of those serious conversations with God too, not the quick desperate kind we often pray when we’re trying to get out of a situation. I sat there in silence, realizing this one was not about me. When he finished and looked up, he did not apologize or make excuses. He only said, “Will you give me a day?”
“Ok sure,” I replied as I fumbled around for my things and left the conference room.
I ran into my manager on the way out and he asked how the meeting went. “I’m not sure,” I said, “but we will know tomorrow.” I walked away leaving my manager with a puzzled look. “This is not how corporations are supposed to handle things,” I said under my breath, shaking my head with a sigh.
The next day I waited in anticipation. I was also a little skeptical that this too would fall short like most other good intentions do. Then miracles began to happen. Barriers were knocked down, obstacles broken, and the bureaucratic red tape that had been in place for years had suddenly disappeared. The team reunited and we were back on track with a new purpose. People asked me how I did it, but I could only shrug and say that I had done nothing.
I learned a lot that day, about how to live the rest of my life at work. I can choose to just work harder, always beating my head against the wall, or I can first go immediately to God with my problems, unapologetically to everyone else, and do things His way. After all, I have the greatest Computer Designer of all times by my side. God cares about us and our well-being, but He is not as overly concerned as we are about how to handle negative signs and computer designs. He parted the Red Sea. He raised the dead and healed the sick. He designed the Universe!
Now I understand now why Jesus refused to give the Pharisees the sign they asked for in the New Testament. There are miraculous signs all around us in everyday situations, but we must be open to believing them or we will not see them. I often wonder what could have been the outcome of our recent government shutdown and arguing between the divided groups in Congress, if they too had first tried the approach that my Director took that day.
Thank you again, Train, for the memory during my run today. Your video is a wonderful reminder of the human potential and spirit in all of us. It definitely makes me smile. But I don’t need a sign. I see God’s handiwork all around me.
It’s been awhile, I think to myself as I step out to run today, alone. Scrolling through my song lists to see where I left off in my running journey, I come to Third Day’s Offerings album. Well, I guess it’s just me and God today, I say as I select the album and start my run. No distractions and no one to discuss the day’s work or other daily annoyances. I begin to enjoy this time alone, running with God. This is nice, I think to myself. I haven’t had this much solitary time in my runs in many years. I fall into a cadence while my feet traverse through the familiar streets and sidewalks which I have traveled on foot for many years. The old, familiar songs start to come back to me – King of Glory, These Thousand Hills, My Hope is You.
This album from Third Day came out in 2000. Where was I then, 13 years ago? Y2K, a 5-year old son starting kindergarten, before 9/11, before job changes and breast cancer scares, before things became more complicated and then became easier again. It brings tears to my eyes, with thoughts that are humbling, repentful, and grateful. I think when we die and meet God, the first emotion we will have besides the indescribable awe, will be humbleness. Humbleness for seeing our position next to an almighty God, for all those times we did not see or trust Him when He was right there with us, and for all those petty things that really didn’t matter in the end. We can each fill in our own list here. Will it really matter then that we had a 5,000 square foot house, or more clothes in our closets than we needed, or that prestigious job that took all of our time? How did we treat people? Humbleness, and maybe some regret is what I think I will feel.
I continue my running, though my thoughts are a little unsettled today. And then I begin to see, that of a loving God, who wants us to trust Him, who knows what is best for us, and who wants to be with us. The Creator and the created. God, who knows the future, and myself, who does not even know what is around the next corner in my run or within the next hour. But together, me and God. Just like 13 years ago, God knows then and He knows now. I do not remember why I bought this particular album back then, but it has been a nice reminder for me on this day. And I hear God say to me, “I got this. Go back to work now with a rested mind.”
An hour later back in the office, I receive a surprise email about a new job restructuring coming soon to my area. After experiencing the usual range of emotions that we all have at times, I remember what God had just said to me. God knew this was coming. He’s got this worked out, and my mind is rested. Do I still believe what God has said during the certain times is also true during the uncertain times? Yes I must; otherwise it means very little to only trust God during the good times. For how can we believe in a God who created you and I and everything in the universe, and raised Jesus from the dead, yet not also believe that He knows the future and wants the best for us in that future? It would equivalent to only believing in a partial God. We must believe in all of God, and know that all of God is good. No matter what, He is always walking with us, the Creator and the created.
Half a year has already passed by. Do you ever think back to January around this time of year and wonder at how much has changed or transpired in just half a year? I do, and I am always amazed at the things I discover that I didn’t know then but I know now.
I began my running journey this January, conspiring to run and think my way through the last 20 years of my CD song collection that I loaded on my mp3 player. I have temporarily laid aside my mp3 player for this particular part of my running journey. Like running, life can sometimes take us down different paths. Two of my fellow running comrades have recently passed away since the beginning of this year, both too young and too sudden. And I have lost others too, in the sense that after more than a decade of seeing them almost every day at my job, running with them, taking coffee breaks and talks, they will be leaving as part of unexpected job layoffs. So I have traded my mp3 runs at the moment for a few remaining running and work conversations, and precious talks that are of the most urgent and non-committed kind.
I have also just returned from a week of traveling in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, where my morning runs took on a more silent, spiritual ritual all of their own, as I reflected on this half of a year. I began to look forward to this time alone, and to take in the beauty and “sounds of silence” that only God’s nature can speak to. We all need these times where we put down the mp3, forget, and just listen. So today, here are pictures, and not so many words, from my morning runs in Yellowstone.
Running at the top of the world.
No grizzlies on today’s run, but I did run across this guy.
Do I walk past him at the end of the trail or turn around and go back?
My favorite ~ blue dragon flies. In the simplest and smallest of things, life is amazing!
The Grand Finale of morning runs – WOW!
And of course, Old Faithful
What a unique creature! Wonder what he is thinking?
If one ever doubts the existence of a magnificent God, then a trip to Yellowstone is a must-see for a lifetime! It will make you believe, or nothing will.
And a magnificent God will lead us through the second half of the year too, no matter what may come. Life is precious. I sit here now, waiting in a hospital for a family surgery, the same hospital where many things began for me so many years ago… lest I ever forget what God has done in my life. I am in His Hands, which is the best and only place to be.
Today is a serenely sad day, so I chose some earlier Elton John music to run with, which is reminiscent of my earlier days in Atlanta in the late 80’s/early 90’s. My 10-year running buddy at work will probably be laid off in the next couple of weeks, and I will lose my best running therapist! Who else will listen to me ramble on while running up a hill? And my son has now finished school for the year and is away at summer camp. No more pre-dawn morning rush out the door, driving 30 minutes across town to school and talking about chemistry and math tests, and then another hour drive into downtown before I arrive at work. No phone calls from teachers, no mad dash to school at the end of the day, to see my son’s face to tell if it was a good day or a bad day. I kind of miss it all. My big house is much quieter this morning as I take my time getting ready, and then make a straight drive into work. It seems like much of our time is spent being annoyed at the things and people that make our life busy and complicated, but the absence of those things and people is even worse. So today is a little sad while I’m on my solitary run, and that pollen in the air is surely making my eyes water.