A Pause

It had been a cold winter’s day when I walked into the church that Sunday morning, wearing a long black coat that draped down to the top of my black boots, and probably wearing a little bit of an attitude too.  I was hoping to go unnoticed as I walked into the back of the church, but even for a rather large church such as this, I saw the preacher pause from his sermon when I walked in, and he look over my way.  Yeah, I’m a stranger here, I thought, and I eased my way into the back pew, all the while keeping my glance downward.  It was not a condemning look from the preacher, but it was a pause… a thought of some kind.  And the music that played was beautiful too.  The young singer’s voice was mesmerizing, almost hypnotic.

Fast forward to today, and I find myself sneaking out of my company’s corporate meditation training class to go for a mid-day run.  I already sit all day, I just can’t sit any longer, I tell myself.  Running is my meditation and I’ll be a much better worker for it, I say convincingly as I lace up my running shoes.  I pull out my mp3 player and instinctively select the song from that Sunday morning several years ago.  It is Mindy Smith’s, “Come to Jesus” (2004).  The Appalachian folk melody eases me into a comforting and reassuring calmness that I would not have found in my corporate meditation training class.  I do not necessarily mind the concept of meditation.  I like to think that each of us can find our own ways to meditate – I pray, run, play music; others may garden, fish or paint.  All of these things can help you relax and clear your mind.  But I have an issue with the “nothingness” part of the meditation.  In the class, we were taught to clear our mind of all things and think of nothing.  I cannot do that.  God and Jesus have been my personal companions since I was very young.  It is innate to me, native to my soul.  I cannot separate from that, nor do I want to.  I have come close at times, and it is not a good feeling to be void of everything – without hope and without light.

Even still, I am feeling slightly guilty for skipping the class today.  After all, this training was modeled after Google’s corporate training.  Yet, I know this is not the first time I have excused myself from the corporate training feel-good fad of the moment.  In the mid-1990s, the next big thing was the corporate team-building exercises held in the mountains.  We were supposed to do things like catch each other while falling backwards.  Well, I did not sign up for one of the sessions being offered.  I had a small baby at home and did not feel like spending 2-3 days stomping around in the woods, away from my family.  One of my co-workers responded in disbelief when he found out, “You DIDN’T go?”  Nope.  “They WILL make you go when your manager finds out.”  So my name was put on a list of people who still needed to attend.  Fortunately for me, the fad died out before they got through the end of the list, and my secret rebellion was safe.

The training class this time was optional, but I still carry around a little bit of that attitude sometimes.  And what about that black coat Sunday from all those years ago?  I guess it was just the pause I needed at the time, to pause and rethink my life.  

pause

Worry not my daughters,
Worry not my sons,
Child, when life don’t seem worth livin’
Come to Jesus and let Him hold you in His arms.

Oh, my baby, when you’re prayin’
Leave your burden by my door
You have Jesus standing at your bedside
To keep you calm, keep you safe,
Away from harm.

~ Mindy Smith – Come to Jesus 
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lzRsw_zsBXQ 
(this is a great one to watch)

little feet

The Finish Line

The tragic and surprising death of a long-time colleague has prompted me to write this story.  It encapsulates a thought that has been on my mind for a while, and now it is time to form it into words.  I hope I do it justice.

Live with the finish line in site.

I have seen a lot, working in a large corporation for more than a few years now.  I have met all kinds of people, and though we are all unique, believe in different things, and have different situations to deal with in our lives, there is one increasing theme that I see many times over.  People often trade the long-term prize for a lesser, more immediate one.  I think it is because they do not realize how valuable the long-term is.  Our legacy, honor, and honesty, these are things we cannot immediately see their value.  They cannot be bought or held.  It takes trust and perseverance to know their value only increases over a lifetime.

Our society gives us many examples of the immediate kind.  Former U.S. VP Al Gore divorces his wife after 40 years of marriage, at the age of 62!  Wow. The long-term prize of passing down a privileged legacy, heritage, and emotional security to his children and grandchildren was given up for something very temporary.  This is equivalent to a marathoner giving up at mile 25 just because it starts to rain a little and the crowds thin out.  No, any marathoner will tell you they will keep running through the rain for one more mile to reach the finish line.  They know the prize waiting for them at the end, and they know the real crowds will be there cheering them on.

A few years ago, baseball player Mark McGwire lost the national home run record after admitting to steroid use.  He commented later that “he wished he had never played during that time”.  The long-term prize of honor and honesty and a well-played God-given talent was forgone for a few records that will eventually be replaced anyway.

In my own circumstances, I have watched people make work their first priority all their lives, saving everything for that retirement day – money, their time, living their life – only to experience a serious health decline at time of retirement and unable to do very much with the little time left.  I have seen those who are seemingly on top of their game, who several years later have fallen almost beyond belief.  And some people work more for their boss’s recognition over their own family’s recognition.  It almost always, always goes wrong.

I know how hard this life can be, and how hard it is to stay on course.  My competitive type A personality sometimes gets the best of me.  I have to keep myself in check, to make sure I do not lose site of the finish line in this fast-paced, instant message world.  I ask myself almost daily, “What really matters in the end? Will this last beyond the moment or will it be forgotten in a few years?”  I write notes to myself on my phone’s memo pad and look at them each morning to remind me of my focus for the day.  I call them my “finish line” notes.  It is that important, that critical.

Each of us, no matter how good we are, will eventually be replaced someday in our jobs.  Life moves on.  So hang on to those things that truly last over time, the things that make us unique and cannot be replaced – our legacy to our family, our honor in society, and our standing with God.  It may look like no one is looking at these things, but they are.  God is looking, our children are looking, our friends and neighbors are looking, and even those strangers you have not met yet are looking.  Hang in there, go for the long-haul.  It may mean not getting that additional recognition at work, declining a promotion (which I have done), and letting some things go.  It will work itself out, if you let it.  The less important things are eventually sifted out on their own.

Finish life well. 

Staying on course is great, but what if things have not gone as we had wished?  We messed up. Do we just give up now?  Absolutely not.  This is the best part of the story.  God gives us a way out, a second chance.  God gave us Grace.  We all get the choice to finish life well, no matter what we have done.  The catch is, none of us know how long we have left in this life, but if you are reading this now, then it is not too late.  Maybe we cannot fix everything.  Mark McGwire cannot go back and redo his past.  But we can finish this life well.  One of the best hero stories in the Bible, better than Noah, or David and Goliath, is the brief story of the criminal being crucified on the cross next to Jesus.  He recognized his wrong.  He asked Jesus to forgive him and to remember him.  He finished well.  All it takes is a sincere change of heart.  Sincerity is not over-used these days; God will know if we’re faking it.  Finishing well to you may mean a much-needed heart-to-heart conversation with God, or perhaps the need to forgive someone so that we too can be forgiven.  Maybe it is reaching out to someone we have wronged.  By God’s Grace, we all have a chance to finish well.

If the first century A.D, there was a man called Paul of Tarsus, who did both of these things. He kept his thoughts on the finish line, and he finished well.  He was on his way to Damascus when he was converted.  He gave up his short-term goals of wealth, power, and the security of his Roman position, to take on a life of hardship but with great long-term rewards.  He saw the finish line that day.  He knew the real prize.  He is considered to be one of the most influential leaders of all time and wrote many of the New Testament books, yet he never even knew Jesus while Jesus was still living on earth.  Paul’s most famous last words are:

“I have fought the good fight.  I have completed the race.  I have kept the faith.  The victor’s crown of righteousness is now waiting for me.”       2 Timothy 4:7-8.

finish-line

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y-4NFvI5U9w
Chris Tomlin’s Amazing Grace (2007)

… this run is for you, my friend and fellow runner.  You finished well!

little feet

Time

For this one hour, I leave behind my daily tasks and break away for a lunchtime run.  For one precious hour, I forget about the morning rush and all the undone work I’ve left back at my desk.  I don’t think about the afternoon’s conference calls and meetings, or even the things I have to do this weekend.  Almost instinctively, I select Bruce Springsteen’s The Rising (2002) for my run today.  He created this album right after 9/11.  I leave the tightly secured boundary of my headquarters building (a change resulting from 9/11) and go for a run in the streets below. 

For this moment in time, this one precious moment, I soak in the warm sunshine and zigzag my way through the busy city streets.  I notice there are less car horns honking today, and a few more waves and smiles from strangers and friends.  Today, we are all on the same side.  We all want good over evil.

I’m reminded of a story I recently heard from a conversation with a famous journalist of the “greatest generation”.  He tells about a certain time in 1966.  A popular magazine produced a cover that simply stated “Is God Dead?”.  In the unrest of the 1960’s, not unlike today, it sometimes seemed so.  The title caused much uproar, and the author of the article got a chance to interview the Reverend Billy Graham shortly afterwards and asked him the famous question.  

“Mr. Graham, Is God dead?”
In a quiet, calm voice, Billy Graham responded, “Oh no, he’s not dead.” 
The author pushed a little further, “How do you know that sir?”
“Because I talked to Him this morning,”  Mr. Graham responded.

So as I finish my run, I am thankful that I have this one precious moment in time.  I have my health, my family is well, and my soul is settled.  I was able to put on my running shoes one more time this morning and run, something that has sustained me for much of my life.  And someday, in Heaven, I’m certain there will be a huge musical jam session!  I can’t wait to see who is there.  Maybe God will even let me sing, just once.
little feet

…in remembrance of Sandy Hook, Boston, and West, Texas

the rising
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6i-fiRgbpr4

Noise

It’s all just noise anyway.  That’s what I’m thinking while listening to Matchbox Twenty’s More Than You Think You Are album (2002) while running today.  The discordant harmony bounces around in my head, searching for a melody, and it reminds me of just how much extra noise has cluttered my mind lately.  There’s the noise I sometimes tell myself, “I’m not good enough”, or the noise I listen to from others who want to discredit or tear me down, or just the plain old everyday noise from the abundance of our busy lives.  It can feel like arrows flying in all directions, so much that I hardly have a place to land my feet.  No wonder we trip.  It’s all just noise.  We have to get rid of some of those bows shooting arrows, so the remaining arrows can clearly see their target.  Turn down the volume, delete the negative, drive in a different direction.  Step into the light.  Find something good and gravitate toward it, cling to it.  Dark shadows may follow, but eventually and most certainly, the light will outshine the dark, and the noise around us will lessen.  When the noise gets too distracting, I find myself repeating these four words in my mind, and I know what I need to do:  Step into the Light.
little feet

matchbox20

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S5zttEPcCuQ

Music and Science

I’ve had Coldplay running through my head for days now – not the cold type, but the musical group. I was listening to their album during one of my runs last week – A Rush of Blood to the Head, from 2002.  Their rhythm is precise and methodical.  It has a familiar, monotonic beating of chords that stays repetitively in your head for awhile.  Their music always reminds me of science and order and logic, so it was not too surprising to see that one of their songs from this album is called The Scientist.  My math and science-minded background fits right into this type of melody, always questioning and analyzing, trying to fit all the pieces of the puzzle together and to make sense of it all.  Though I usually like to write more about things of the heart, today my mind is stuck in Coldplay’s version of science, so I will stay with the facts.

Contrary to what some may think about science and religion, science actually supports a lot of the evidence for God.  Though we cannot fully prove God or all of the historical accounts from the Bible, we cannot disprove them either.  My two favorite areas of science are found in the creation of the earth and in the most cataclysmic event ever to happen on earth, the great flood.

The creation account found in the book of Genesis follows a specific order of events, starting with light then water, to sea creatures, next are the birds, and then the land animals and man.  This follows the same order of events described by big-bang theorists and evolution scientists from thousands of years later.  The author of Genesis could not have known any particular scientific order, as it was not even known at the time that the world was round.  This does not prove any theories, but rather it proves that the Bible did not follow a random made-up order of creationism that can be disproved by today’s science.  Usually this brings up the next question about how the earth can be billions of years old and still follow Biblical accounts.  On the third day of creation, God created “the fruit tree yielding fruit” (Genesis 1:12).  God created these trees already grown and having fruit.  The trees could have been 100 years old, or even billions of years old at the time.

Another way to see the extraordinary order in our universe is by looking at Fibonacci numbers.  Sometimes called the golden number or golden ratio, Fibonacci numbers are a systematic number scheme that keeps showing up in nature all around us.  A 13th century Italian mathematician named Leonardo of Pisa, or more commonly known as Fibonacci, discovered this number sequence in nature.  Starting with the number one, you add the previous two numbers in the sequence to generate the next one.  So the sequence starts as 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34 and so on.  (1+2=3, 2+3=5, 3+5=8, 5+8=13…).  You can find Fibonacci numbers throughout nature by counting the spiral arrangements in one direction on a pinecone or pineapple, or the spiral growth of leaf buds, or in the number of flower petals.  Black-Eyed Susan flowers have 13 petals, and Shasta Daisies usually have 21 or 34.  What does this mean?  It shows that nature was created by a magnificently planned event, and there is much more than meets the normal eye.
nature
An engineer once explained to me that humans hear at about a 20 khz level.  We cannot hear the higher sounds of radio, cellular, and television waves, but they are still there, all around us all the time.  Even more, we cannot hear a high-pitched dog whistle but a dog certainly can.  There are more layers to our universe than what we can immediately see and hear.

There was once a great cataclysmic event that happened on our earth.  Science supports this and shows further evidence of such an event.  The continents started as a large land mass surrounded by water, and then later separated.  This is also referenced in Genesis 1:9, “Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.”  Later while Noah was on the ark, Genesis 7:11 says, “on the same day were all the fountains of the great deep broken up”.  And after the great flood happened, Genesis 10:25 mentions it in more detail when talking about the decendants of Noah: “and unto Eber were born two sons: the name of one was Peleg; for in his days was the earth divided; and his brother’s name was Joktan.”  This shows the account of how the land split open and the waters came up from the deep, splitting apart the continents in an accelerated continental drift.  More recently, in the 1950’s, a mountain range was discovered called the Mid-Oceanic Ridge.  It is 40,000 miles long beneath the oceans and wraps completely around the earth.  It is concluded to be the result of a world-wide fissure in the earth’s crust.  The authors of the Bible could not have made something up so precisely to fit a science that was discovered thousands of years later.  Additionally, the Bible says that the peoples of the earth were scattered after the flood, which would allow everyone to have experienced the same flood together.  Today, every culture on earth has a similar story of a great flood with amazingly similar details.  Only if they were scattered after the flood could such an explaination be plausible.  

It still seems unbelievable sometimes, with all these grand stories in the Bible.  But the world was a different place back then.  It was newly created; people didn’t have history or books or all of the tools we have today.  Things could have easily been different, and probably were.  If the people from the Bible saw a glimpse of our world today, with cars, planes, computers, bombs, and lasers, they would never believe it was possible.  Now think backwards to their time.  We wouldn’t think their world was possible either.  The problem with our belief is not in trying to explain or disprove anything.  If we believe there is a God that created our universe, then surely that God can do anything else.  Otherwise, what is the purpose of believing?  Then the question simply becomes, do we believe, not what can we prove.  So thank you, scientists, for all your wonderful discoveries in space, medicine, and technology, and keep on believing!
little feet

Coldplay actually said it quite well.  I hope this stays in your head too.
“I was just guessing at numbers and figures
Pulling the puzzles apart
Questions of science, science and progress
Do not speak as loud as my heart.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZWrnpD6jNf8