The Unpredictable: My Experience at the 2013 Boston Marathon

Runners of the 117th Boston Marathon passing through Newton, MA. Photo taken by LAurie Champ

Runners of the 117th Boston Marathon passing through Newton, MA. Photo taken by Laurie Champ.

I think the allure of running is found in it’s unpredictable nature. Those that have spent much time dedicated to the discipline of distance running know what I’m talking about. It doesn’t matter how fast you are. It doesn’t matter what your last workout was like. It doesn’t matter what your PRs are or when you last laced up, stepped out the door, and took off down the street.

You never know what you’re going to get.

Sometimes, you get going and feel like a world-beater. Miles click away without much thought or effort. You feel like you could run for days and never really have to work or struggle. These are the days that make you love running. They make you dream of crushing PRs. They make you feel alive and almost invincible.

Other times, you get three steps down the sidewalk and realize that every step of that day’s run is going to be a battle. It’s like you’re trying to run through waist-high molasses. These days are humbling. These days make you want to burn your running shoes and call it a career. After all, the couch and a bag of potato chips will never feel tough!

The nerves before a race come from this very phenomenon: the unpredictable. Everyone on the starting line wants to seem confident and ready to roll. Inside, everyone is hoping that today is the day their body decides to deliver the goods; everyone is fearing that today is the day their body decides to deliver a good dose of humility-inducing, waist-high molasses.

Standing on the starting line of the 2013 Boston Marathon, I knew I was in shape. I had a workout log full of 12-14 mile runs at faster than 6:15 pace. I had long runs of  17, 18, and 20 miles all at about 6:35 pace and in the midst of 75+ mile weeks. I was ready to run fast. I was determined to run fast. I wanted to make the most of a gift: the chance to run in the 117th offering of the world’s most prestigious road race. And yet, in the back of my head (as well as every runner from number 1 to 27,000) I knew there was no guarantee. I knew that I was going to take what my body gave me, run as hard as I could, and pray that it carried me to the finish line. The goal was to run 2:50:00. I had qualified in Dallas in December of 2011 with a 2:54:34. I had trained hard, tried to taper well, and was ready to punctuate two years of focused effort with a big PR on one of the everyday road runner’s biggest stages.

The starting line of the Boston Marathon in Hopkinton, MA.

The starting line of the Boston Marathon in Hopkinton, MA.

The historic course of the Boston Marathon starts in Hopkinton, Massachusetts, a quick 26.2 mile jaunt from downtown Boston. It runs northeast through Ashland, Framingham, Natick, Wellesley, Newton, and Brookline, then comes to a close on Boylston Street near Copley Square in the heart of the city. Thousands have run the course. Thousands more hope to at some point. On Monday morning, April 15th, 2013, I got my chance.

As I started down highway 135 out of Hopkinton, it only took about 3 miles to realize that my body just didn’t have it. By the fourth mile, I knew that something just wasn’t there. I can’t put my finger on what didn’t feel right. I wasn’t breathing hard. I was nailing my desired paces. Despite the downhill nature of the course’s early miles, it just seemed like my shoes were full of concrete and my legs were made of lead. Not a good combination for a guy who has 23 more miles before he hits a finish line. By the time I got to mile 6 in Framingham, I had already worked through one really rough patch. At mile 8, when things weren’t getting better, I said to myself (literally out loud): “Well, the wheels may fall off of this bus at any minute, but the last thing you’re going to do today is let the fear of failure make a coward out of you.”

Six miles into the race in Framingham, alongside a bunch of America's fittest and fastest runners. Photo taken by Laurie Champ.

Six miles into the race in Framingham, alongside a bunch of America’s fittest and fastest runners. Photo taken by Laurie Champ.

So, I just kept hammering away. I like to run my long runs and my marathons in 5 mile chunks. Run 5 miles, clear my head. Run 5 miles, clear my head. On this day, I was one mile at a time. Each time I heard my Garmin watch beep to signal the end of another mile, I would look down, see that I had run somewhere in the 6:35-range, and praise God that I had moved myself one mile closer to the finish line before things got ugly. At miles 11 and 16, I hit really rough patches, but was able to push through them without a real change in pace. I made it up and over the hills of Newtown and Heartbreak Hill at mile 20 without dropping the pace. In fact, I made it up Heartbreak Hill and thought that maybe I was going to be able to hang on after all.

Somewhere near the 16 mile mark. The look on my face sums things up. Photo taken by Laurie Champ

Somewhere near the 16 mile mark. The look on my face sums things up. Photo by taken Laurie Champ

Then the bottom dropped out. It went south in a hurry. Here are my splits from throughout the race. They tell the story just as well as any of my words could:

6:37 — 6:33 — 6:31 –6:39 — 6:36 — 6:36 –6:38 — 6:33 — 6:37 –6:38 — 6:34 — 6:33 — 6:34 = 1:26:50 at the half

6:33 — 6:35 –6:33 — 6:37 — 6:43 — 6:41 — 6:43 — 6:50 — 7:33 — 7:25 — 7:11 — 7:28 — 7:30 = 2:58:43 at the finish

I knew by mile 23 or 24 that my race was now with the 3 hour mark. Truth be told, I knew it much earlier than that. I knew it way back in Ashland (mile 4). I just couldn’t let myself not go for what I had trained for. Instead, I dealt with all the fearful thoughts of the unpredictability of what was to come and just kept plugging away. When and if things got bad, I would deal with it then. And when they did, I did. The last 4 or 5 miles were drudgery. I knew the finish was coming, but it felt like I was never going to get there. People were passing me. It was depressing and discouraging. Somehow, though, I was still passing people as well. Fans were encouraging me by name thanks to my wonderful wife writing my name underneath my number on my race bib. No matter how tough it got in those last few miles, I refused to quit. I couldn’t stop. I had cheered too many times for the kids I coach to “dig deep when things get tough” to just throw in the towel and ease my way to Copley Square.

Mile 25. At this point, it felt like Iw as shuffling along and the finish line wasn't getting any closer. Photo taken by Laurie Champ.

Mile 25. At this point, it felt like I was shuffling along and the finish line wasn’t getting any closer. Photo taken by Laurie Champ.

When I made it to the finish, there was no wave of accomplishment, joy, excitement, or relief. Instead, there was heartbreaking disappointment. I walked through the finishing chute and received my medal, some much needed food and water, and my belongings that I had checked way back in Hopkinton. I got some warm clothes on, walked to the family meeting area where I met my wife and our friends that had come out to Boston to cheer me on, and was quickly moved to tears by the feeling of unmet goals and expectations. Little did I know that in only a few hours time, those tears would seem so absurd, unwarranted, and ridiculous.

My 2013 Boston Marathon finisher's medal.

My 2013 Boston Marathon finisher’s medal.

One of the things that makes life so interesting is it’s unpredictable nature. Sure, we all have our schedules and plans. In reality, though, those mean very little. When we get out of bed in the morning, we have no idea what is going to greet us. Sometimes we’re met with days filled with excitement and joy. Some days are filled with the mundane and ordinary. Some days are difficult, by 9:00am we’re just ready for them to be over.

You never know what you’re going to get.

When the 117th annual Boston Marathon began on Monday morning, no one had any idea the horror that would come in just a few hours time. The celebratory atmosphere throughout Boston that morning was no different than it had been every year since the race began. People showed up to the course in droves to cheer on the runners, just like they have every year. They brought signs, water, orange slices, noise-makers, cowbells. There were babies, children, parents, and grandparents. It seemed like any other day. It turned into a day unlike anything anyone could have possibly predicted.

4 hours and 9 minutes into the race, a bomb went off just meters from the finish line. About 11 seconds later, a second bomb detonated just a few buildings further down. Chaos ensued. For those near the finish line, time slowed down to a crawl. It felt like the tragedy was never going to end. The horror of the injuries and the scene unfolding around race volunteers and medical staff was unlike anything they were prepared to handle that day. No matter how difficult the circumstances around them, they refused to stop helping those who were in desperate need of medical attention. Those who were present deserve to be honored. They were heros. They were the difference between life and death for many of the injured on Boylston Street Monday afternoon.

Unpredictability. Life is full of it. The unpredictability of life can lead to our greatest joys and the depths of our despair. In the midst of all of it, no matter how tough it gets, we just keep moving forward. We muster all of our internal strength and fight as hard as we can in an effort to refuse to quit. As Monday afternoon turned into Monday evening, I quickly got some perspective on my “disappointment.” Had I run as fast as I would have liked? Nope. Did I beat as many people as I had set out to beat? Came up over 1,000 short. In the grand scheme of things, did it matter? Not really. For my wife, our friends, and me, life was going to go on. In the aftermath of Monday’s events, that was a humbling reality. That was a blessing. We didn’t do anything to deserve it.

I plan on being back on the starting line in Hopkinton in 2014. Very little could possibly keep me from being there. I’ll go to run in memory of those who were injured or lost their lives while watching this year’s race. I’ll go in support of their families and friends. I’ll go to get redemption on this year’s unmet hopes and expectations. If my legs didn’t hurt so bad today, I’d be out there working toward that goal right now. Between now and then, there will be a lot of running. More importantly, though, there will be a lot of living. Who knows what any of it will bring? Life is unpredictable, after all.

After taking some time to reflect on the weekend, I can only say this for sure: I’ll keep plugging away until I reach the finish line.

“…let us thrown off everything that hinders…and run with perseverance the race marked out before us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus…so that [we] will not grow weary.” — Hebrew 12:1,2,3

Tagged

To Everything There is a Season

As most of you probably know, I’m a huge fan of almost all things sports related. One of my favorite aspects of any sport is getting the chance to watch a team achieve and succeed at a high level. I think almost everyone can agree that seeing a group of people pull together to win a championship, set records, or overcome seemingly insurmountable odds is inspiring. While watching something of that nature, I’m always curious about what made that particular team accomplish something that so many others wanted and yet couldn’t quite attain. The more I’ve observed and thought about teams in all areas of life – both in the sports arena and outside of it – I’ve come to realize that such success comes about due to the perfect people being in the perfect place at the perfect time.

Two and half years ago, I was given the opportunity to be a part of the student ministry team at Pleasant Valley Baptist Church. At that time, it was apparent that I was the right person to step into the right role at the right time. Since that day, I’ve gotten to do and experience things that I never would have dreamed about doing and experiencing at this point in my life. I spent 16 days in South East Asia seeing all that God was doing to expand his Kingdom in that region of the world. I went to Haiti twice – once in the aftermath of their tragic earthquake and once with an incredible group of about 40 students and adults from PVBC. I got to witness God do some pretty amazing things in the lives of the 300+ students that have come through our ministry in my two and half years at the church. I had the blessing and privilege to serve the students of the Northland with some of the best adult volunteers a youth pastor could ever ask to work alongside. More than any of that, though, I had the chance to invest in, build relationships with, and live life alongside some of the most wonderful 13-18 year olds I’ve ever met. It was absolutely clear over the past 2+ years that I was the right person at the right time in the right place.

Just like we see with all teams though, there comes a time when people move on. Their time in a place runs out and they go wherever God may be calling them next. After a long time of prayer, wise council, and much conversation with my wife, it has become clear that such a time has arrived in my life. As of August 14th, 2011, I will no longer be the Director of Student Ministries at Pleasant Valley Baptist Church. I want to take this chance to be very clear about a few things: I didn’t get fired. I didn’t get asked to leave. Nothing immoral or inappropriate has happened in anyway that has necessitated this move by Melody and I. There was no fight between Brad and I or any other reason that could have forced me out the door. I’m simply doing the best job I can to be obedient in following where it is that God is calling me, just like I would encourage any student or volunteer to do.

I believe that there are some very exciting times ahead in the life of PVBC’s student ministry. I can sense that God is ready to grow that ministry in incredible ways, both personally in the hearts of the students and volunteers that currently make up its ministry and numerically in the number of people it has the chance to influence and impact in the days ahead. Though there is a portion of me that is sad to not be apart of that future growth, there’s an even bigger part of me that is excited to follow God to whatever He has planned for the next season of Melody’s and my life and ministry. In order for that growth to happen, God needs to move the perfect person into place at PVBC. Over the past few months, its become apparent that I’m just not the right person for that role at Pleasant Valley anymore. That man or woman is out there somewhere, patiently waiting and obediently listening to the Lord as He calls them to Pleasant Valley. Once they arrive, I am confident that transformational growth will explode in the lives of PV’s students and into the Northland’s surrounding high schools and middle schools.

While Melody and I are excited to step into what God has for us next, we will certainly miss the people that we have had the blessing of interacting with on a consistent basis over the past two and half years. We are incredibly thankful for the time and opportunity we had to serve at PVBC and look forward to hearing about and watching all the the Lord is going to do in and through the staff, students, parents, and volunteers that make up Life Student Ministries at Pleasant Valley Baptist Church. We aren’t moving. We’ll still be in Liberty and able to hear all about the incredible things that God is doing. I’ll be coaching both Cross Country and Track for Liberty High School and pursuing a job opportunity within the district for the upcoming school year. From there, we’ll obediently follow the Lord wherever and whenever He calls us into the next phase of our ministry life. We are incredibly thankful for the chance we had to learn, serve, and grow during our time at Pleasant Valley Baptist Church. If we’ve had the blessing of interacting with you in any capacity over the past few years, then you’ve been an important part of that process for us. We can’t say thank you enough!

I’m excited by all that God is doing in the lives of those in and around Pleasant Valley’s student ministry as well as in our lives. The days ahead are sure to be filled with both joy and sadness as we move to the next season of our marriage and ministry, but we’re confident that in following where He leads, we can’t go wrong. Know that we’ll be continually praying for each and every student, parent, and volunteer we’ve had the privilege of working with. We love you all and are excited to hear about what God does in your lives as you continue to follow and seek His will!

Blessings,

Tim and Melody

An Addendum to “Isolating the Problem”

I received quite a few responses to my post yesterday entitled “Isolating the Problem” and felt like there were a few things that I needed to clarify for my sake as well as everyone else’s!

First, I am not anti-technology. Time for an honest confession: my technology use more closely resembles that of a 15 year old than it does that of a 30 year old. You could ask any of the adults that work as volunteers in my student ministry at Pleasant Valley Baptist Church and I’m certain they will confirm this fact. The truth of the matter is that I, just like the students I wrote about yesterday and work with on a daily basis, am a part of the Millennial Generation. Sometimes referred to as Generation Y, “Millennials” are anyone who was born between the years of 1984 and 2002. My 1985 birth date drops me right at the beginning of this technology savvy, electronically engaged, overly-connected, virtual generation. My issue is not with technology. My issue is the way we, as those who have the opportunity to influence this generation as they grow and mature into the leaders and pioneers of our future, both model and permit appropriate use of the technology. Texting, the Internet, social networking cites, gaming, and the like are not inherently bad. Not by any means. In fact, I enjoy and use them all more than I probably should. The isolation and shallow, distant relationships I talked about yesterday come from the exclusive, often over-use of those outlets. An example: America has an obesity problem. McDonalds and Big Macs are not to blame. Each person or parent makes choices about how much they are going to personally partake (or allow their children to partake) in such food. The blame falls on people, not restaurants (in the case of obesity) or technological advancements (as in the case of isolation and depression). It’s easy to blame something else, but more difficult to address the actual problem.

Second, it is my observation that experience/perception often trumps truth/reality for today’s students. The life of a middle school or high school student in today’s world is primarily defined by their experience or perception of the world around them. Despite boat loads of evidence and provable truth that refutes what they may think or feel, their perception typically reigns supreme. A few of the comments I got yesterday centered around the idea that students may be “merely sad” and not actually “depressed”. I would offer that the terminology or technical difference between the two makes little difference to a student who is hurting and has been for the past week or month. The bottom line is that students have repeatedly been telling me that they feel lonely, unnoticed, and isolated, and that out of that they feel “depressed”. The issue isn’t whether or not a doctor or psychologist would diagnose them as such, because in their mind they know how they feel and what they are experiencing. I don’t know much about medical and psychological things (I took one psychology class in college and one in high school…don’t think that drops me into the “knowledgeable” category). I’m a youth pastor, not a doctor. So, I’ll leave clinical diagnosis to the professionals and stick to what kids are saying to me. They feel depressed. It’s coming from feelings of isolation. Their desire for a quick fix leads them to thoughts of suicide within a few days or weeks of their feelings arising. That’s enough to get me to act.

Finally, what am I actually suggesting? I get frustrated when people present a problem and then don’t actually provide some sort of concrete solution or suggesting for addressing said problem. I realize that this is kind of what I did yesterday. Rest assured that I gave myself an appropriate scolding. I don’t believe that the answer is to completely cut off anyone’s use of text messaging, social networking, gaming, or surfing the Internet. As people who have the opportunity to influence today’s students (whether you’re a parent, coach, teacher, volunteer, youth pastor or anyone else), our responsibility is to influence them right direction. When it comes to this issue, I think that means modeling an appealing alternative to the shallow, isolating, and unrealistic world of virtual relationships. Emphasis on appealing. It is apparent that for this generation (or should I say, my generation), there is something alluring about virtual interaction and friendship. There is something almost addictive to texting a quick message instead of making an actual phone call. It may be that its easier and faster. Maybe its that it causes minimal interruption or gives us something to hide behind. For others, it could be the fact that we can create false perceptions of ourselves and control our image via individually created profiles, becoming someone that we kind of are, verses the person that we truly are.

The only way to get around these powerful attractions to this isolating lifestyle is to model what real, authentic, meaningful, life-on-life relationships look like and have to offer. It may take some rearranging in our lives first before it can actually influence those students that we interact with. That’s where I am. When I’m truly hurting or going through something difficult, I don’t want a text message from a friend or a facebook wall post. I want someone to show up and be there with me in the midst of the hurt. That’s what a real relationship is. For some of you reading this, you’re saying to yourself, “well, duh!” But I can assure that for most in my generation and those who are in high school and middle school, this is not a self-evident truth. Because of the world we have grown up in, it has to be shown to us. The fact that real relationships are community creating, not isolation forcing is something that we need to be taught.

Clearly, middle school and high school-aged students want this, they just don’t know anything different than what they have grown up with and sometimes can’t fully articulate what it is that they’re missing. That is where someone has to step in and show the way toward something different, something better, something more meaningful, something less painful, something life-giving instead of potentially life-taking. Model it in your family, in your personal friendships, in your relating to students, athletes or their parents. It’s not new news that people imitate what they see. If students see older generations absorbed by email, texting, Facebook, Twitter, farmville, and video games, it’s only logical that they will do the same, most likely carrying it to the extreme. Don’t forsake the use of such things, just model the appropriate use of such things while displaying the life-giving benefit of real, face-to-face friendship and interaction.

Isolating the Problem

I need to start off by admitting to the fact that I am not what most of you would call “an expert”. I don’t have a mountain of research from a diverse sample with detailed charts and graphs of the information I’m about to pass on to you. I haven’t sent out thousands of surveys and compiled the results into easily-digestible, eye-opening statistics.

Here is what I am: I am a youth pastor. My world literally revolves around the lives of students who live here in the Kansas City Northland. 65-70% of the words I say in a day happen in conversation with one of a few hundred kids that I interact with regularly. I text with them, meet with them, eat with them, listen to them, mentor them, hang out with them, workout with them, disciple them, and love them. I hear all about their joys, victories, losses, hurts, and struggles. In the past week I can think of multiple times in which I’ve laughed with, prayed with, cried with, and celebrated with various students for any number of reasons. Like I said, I’m not an “expert”. I don’t have research. I’m not about to blow you away with facts and statistics. But I do have a message, based on my countless interactions with students over the past few years, that I think people need to hear – and they need to hear it sooner rather than later. You need to hear it and act on it before it may be too late for your child, friend, student, athlete, or youth group student.

My message is simply this: physical isolation may be destroying that student. Let me explain.

In the past couple weeks, I have had no less than 7 conversations that followed the EXACT same path. They all started with a student conveying a feeling of depression, followed by an admission of suicidal thoughts within the past month or so. In each of those conversations I went through a series of similar questions. After some digging, I discovered the same root cause for each of these young people – full of life, energy, talent, ambition, and potential – to feel that they were A) depressed and B) had thought about taking their own life.  Seven of them.  In two weeks.  All of the incidents were unrelated and none of the students could be considered close friends.  This isn’t an issue within a particular circle of friends or group of students.  This appears to be a more widespread issue.

After a bit of prying beneath the surface of their thoughts, I found that each of these wonderful students feels an intense sense of isolation. Most of them did not use those exact words, but what they told me conveyed that truth. There is no question that this current crop of high school-aged students is the most connected generation in the history of the word. They have lists of 500 or 1000+ friends on their Facebook page or hundreds of followers on Twitter. They exist in a world of constant contact with their friends and family via thousands of text message sent and received everyday. I once sat with a student, did some math, and figured out that over the past month she had averaged a sent or received text message every four seconds of her waking hours. Somehow, in the midst of such vast connection, they are screaming out from places of intense isolation.

Here is what I would like to offer: physical isolation from real life, face-to-face relationships may, in fact, be killing the student you work with, parent, teach, or coach. Leave a newborn baby in physical isolation in the days, weeks, and months after their birth and the effects are devastating, ranging from potential death to autism. A teenager is beyond the time where these are readily possible. But, if these are possible within a baby, what could the effects be on a still developing, adolescent mind and body? I’m wiling to submit that much of the depression we see invading the culture of teenagers today is due, in part to the fact that they exist in a world that is largely devoid of physical interaction and contact (there are some other obvious factors such as increased pressure to excel, uncertainty about future plans, feeling like they are “on-stage” at all times, etc…).

When I was a child and teenager, I couldn’t wait for school to be out or for the weekend to come so that I could hang out with my friends. Sometimes we didn’t do anything, but being in each others physical presence was good enough in and of itself. My family used to spend a considerable amount of time with each other – eating dinner together almost nightly, watching TV, playing games, going on vacations. Today, I’ve heard more than one student tell me that they go home and sometimes only talk to their parents via facebook chat from one laptop to another in different rooms, or worse, that they often will go whole days without a single interaction with their parents who are living in the same house. I hear others talk about spending their evening texting, as if that is an activity that one schedules into their night. The isolation is devastating.

Couple this depression from isolation with the fact that our society – from top to bottom – is obsessed with instant gratification and you have an incredibly dangerous mix. Students have so much energy; they love to have fun; they want to be happy and worry-free. When those aren’t the reality in their life, they find themselves confused and in a position of wanting to return to that “normal” teenage disposition. As their depression wears on for a few days, a week, maybe a month and nothing seems to be instantly removing the pain of their sadness, and the physical effects that depression brings with it, it appears that students begin to mentally toy with the idea of the quickest fix they can think of: suicide.

Hearing this story repeatedly has been heart-breaking and eye-opening for me over the past month or so. It leads me to this: if you’re a parent, put down the laptop and get involved with your child. Make dinner together, go to a movie, have them invite their friends to the house, play a game, take a road trip, force them out of their room, make them shut off the xbox. If you’re a teacher, stop sending emails to answer their questions, meet them face-to-face and talk through the problems, paper, or homework assignment. If you’re a youth pastor, stop texting and meet to talk. Get off of facebook and make a phone call. I’m in this boat with everyone else. I just hope that for a few of the students I work with, it’s not already too late.

Will there be push back? You better believe it. Any change is hard, especially for someone who doesn’t realize there’s a problem. None of the students I talked to immediately came forward and said, “the physical isolation I experience due to increased technological connectedness is manifesting itself as depression, and my culturally ingrained predisposition to immediate gratification has me leaning toward thoughts of suicide.” Not one of them said that. Nor would they, ever. They like the way they live. They feel autonomous and individual. They feel free and able to be the master of their own world and time. What they like or want and what they need are two different things though. I want oreos all the time. I need a balanced diet. A student in today’s world may want one more game of Madden or an hour more on Facebook, but they need your physical presence. They need time spent in the physical presence of their parents, teachers, youth pastors, friends, or volunteer youth workers.

I find myself in the midst of this same battle with the rest of you who interact with this generation of students in any capacity on a regular basis. I’m re-teaching myself to make a phone call instead of sending a text. I’m training myself to ask if a student would like to hangout and talk instead of sending a Facebook message and hearing about their struggles. I see a disturbing trend developing and it would crush me to find out that one of the students that I’ve talked to in the past month about this issue actually carried through with what they said they were contemplating. I’m determined to do all I can to counter-act the apparent affect of isolation on the students I work with. Put down the cell phone, shut off the computer, and join me in reversing the cumulative results of what we have contributed in creating. It may literally save the lives of the students close to you.

Viral

My wife introduced me to this video last night.  When I watched it at about 11:30pm I happened to notice that the video had somewhere in the neighborhood of 3.5 million hits in only two weeks of being posted.  Today, I heard that Ellen had him on her show, so I went back to youtube to see how his video was doing.  As of 1:55pm this afternoon (14 hours after having first seen the video) this has 8.7 million hits.  While I’m pretty impressed with his musical ability, I’m more interested in his “viral” success.

How incredible that in our society someone can literally become a household name in a matter of hours.  Like it or hate it, use it or avoid it, the world we live in is dominated by social media and connectedness.  Greyson may or may not have the talent to make it as a big time celebrity – time will tell.  What is astounding though, is that because he leveraged the social media outlets of our time, he was able to make it big…at least for short period of time.

There’s no way around it.  Here in our current cultural landscape, success in the future will be in some way based on an individual, institution, or corporation’s ability to not only use, but harness, the power of social media.

Accept Responsibility

The young people of the world (myself included) are in trouble, and it’s definitely our fault. I’m becoming more and more convinced that one of the great challenges that my generation and the ones that follow face is the need for individuals to accept responsibility for their actions in the midst of a culture that teaches us to pawn off our problems, errors, failings, and frustrations on those around us. I see this all the time among my peers and among the students that I interact with and work with on a daily basis. In response to troubling situations, compromising circumstances, mishaps in judgment, or failings in personal character it is the increasing response of those upon which blame clearly falls to begin their explanation with one of the following:

  • “You see, what happened was…”
  • “I didn’t have a choice because….”
  • “So and so made me…”
  • “It wasn’t really my fault because…”

Offering no help to the situation are the celebrities and cultural icons that those within my generation and subsequent ones look up to. But the real blame lies squarely on our shoulders for believing that they are modeling for us the correct way to respond to our “mess ups”. People are going to fail. It’s not a matter of if but rather of when. And when high-profile people blow it, their mistakes – and reactions – are played for the entire world to watch. What we typically see is a person who tries to justify why their mistake wasn’t really that bad; why what they did wasn’t really their fault; how they couldn’t help doing what they did. Even worse, we see people who try to pull others into their deplorable situation instead of simply standing up, accepting the blame, taking ownership of their mistake, and moving forward as a better person who learned a lesson as a result of their unfortunate actions.

In order for any of this to change, we need to alter the way young people see mistakes. Instead of viewing failings as potential damage to inflated personal images, skeletons to throw in the closet or dirt to quickly sweep under the proverbial rug – which is what American culture repeatedly shows us they are – we need to re-establish in the minds of young people how to view mistakes for what they really are: opportunities to learn amidst the journey of life. The world needs people – parents, friends, celebrities, politicians, entertainers, sports stars – who are willing to stand up and say, “Yes I blew it, but now I’m committed to going forward after having learned from the mistake I made.” We need people who are willing to accept responsibility for their actions and the subsequent consequences and falling outs, while forging ahead on the quest to becoming a better person.

After all, I think we all can agree that some of the most formative, cultivating, and personally transformative times in our lives have come as a result of messing up, fessing up, and then stepping up in the aftermath – not allowing ourselves to be stuck in the trap of blaming another for our fault, but instead accepting the blame and rising up to the challenge to do differently next time, becoming someone better as a result.

No Excuses

From my senior year of high school through my college years at the University of Missouri I operated with one simple mantra: No excuses.  No excuses in the classroom, on the track, in my personal life, in my spiritual life, anywhere.  There’s no question that the 4 year period of time in which I constantly held myself to this standard represents the most focused, disciplined, and driven portion of my life to date.  I had goals that I wanted to reach in every area of my life.  Some of those were lofty, the bar I had set for myself was exceptionally and intentionally high.  By continually reminding myself and holding myself accountable to the idea of “no excuses”, I was able to not just achieve but to exceed almost every goal I set, dream I had, or hope that I could imagine for myself in that window of time.  Not only was this chapter of my life one of great focus and discipline, but it was also one of the most successful times of my life. 

This whole idea came out of a rule my mom had for me when I was younger.  She affectionately called it the “No Bail-Out Rule”.  The gist of the rule was that my parents wouldn’t bail me out of situations I had created.  If I left a project at home the day it was due, I would have to accept the lower grade and turn it in the next day.  If I left my lunch money at home, I was going to go hungry.  If I left my house key at home, I would have to sit outside until mom or dad got home from work.  I thought the rule was particularly harsh when I was young, but it instilled within me the principle that not only can I not rely on “bail outs” for the rest of my life, but I also can not make excuses for the rest of my life.  It wasn’t my mom’s fault that my homework was going to be late because she wouldn’t bring it to me.  It was my fault because I left it at home.  It wasn’t dad’s fault that I had to sit outside in the cold and wait for someone to come home because they wouldn’t run my house key up to the school for me.  It was my fault that I left the key on the kitchen table instead of putting in my backpack.  I learned at a young age that there were no “bail outs” and there were no excuses.

I have since grown slack in my dedication to and tenacity in chasing down some of the things that I desire and that I believe the Lord has called me to do in my life.  I’m re-committing myself to the idea of no excuses.  No more being lax.  No more being lazy.  No more lack of drive, discipline, and focus.

Thanks for the life lesson mom and dad.

Materially Wealthy or Spiritually Rich

Two thoughts today that come from the story of the rich young man in Mark 10:17-31.  Maybe these will resonate with you like they do for me.

  1. The difference between doing and not doing.  For his entire life, we find out, this young man has been careful to keep the commands of the Jewish Law.  According to the culture that he lived in and the religious temperature of the day, he was right on track  in terms of his religious practice.  Yet, in his brief interaction with Jesus, we see that it’s not about abstaining from things any more.  Relating to God is no longer about not doing certain things; no longer is relating to God about simply following a prescribed set of rules, regulations, and prohibitions.  Instead, it’s is about following Jesus.  It’s about doing the things that he does, going to the places he goes, helping the people he helps and loving the people he loves.  It’s not about what we’re not doing.  Life in Christ is all about what we are doing.  Though it may not seem always seem this way, the story shows how this, at times, is even harder than following the rules.  At times, it challenges us to go against the grain, to give up what we love dearly or have worked hard for, or to do things that may go against our natural inclinations – think about how hard it would be to sell everything you have!  Jesus is trying to show this man the difference between being materially wealthy and spiritually rich.  Tough lesson….
  2. In verse 21 it says, “Jesus looked at him and loved him.”  Jesus could see where this conversation was going to go.  He knew that he was about to ask this man to do something that was very hard.  The story doesn’t say so, but based on other interactions Jesus had with people (check out Jesus with the woman at the well in John 4), we can assume that Jesus knew that this man wasn’t going to follow through on what he was about to tell him.  Jesus knew this guy’s junk, his issues, his lack of full faith.  And yet, in the midst of that, he loved him.  Part of doing what Jesus does is learning to love this same way.  Part of living a life that mirrors Jesus is being able to look at a person that you’ve known for only a few minutes – or one that you know well enough to see all their flaws and failures - and yet still love them.

Say Nothing, Do Plenty

Up until the back half of Mark 8, Jesus has been very quiet about who he is, why he matters, and what his purpose is.  Instead, he has gone the route of displaying his inconceivable love and power by healing people, teaching them, casting out demons, feeding thousands, and even walking on water.  When someone has tried to state who they think he is and what he’s done for them, Jesus asks them to remain quiet.  For whatever reason, it just wasn’t time to make himself fully known.  Instead, Jesus was intent on saying nothing but doing plenty.

Finally, Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do people say I am?”  I love what comes next though: Jesus makes it clear that it doesn’t matter who other people say he is, it only matters who they say he is.  It doesn’t matter if the entire world recognizes that he is long-foretold Messiah.  The only thing that matters is what each individual disciple believes, what each person believes, what you believe, what I believe.  There is no salvation by committee, no saving grace by association.  It all boils down to whether or not I believe, in my heart, that Jesus is who he said he is.  At any point in a given person’s life, Jesus is making himself known through a myriad of actions – quietly displaying who he is.  At a particular point, he asks the question, “Who do you say I am?”

The next line says that Jesus then began to teach the disciples about himself – who he is, what has to happen, when, why, etc.  In the lives of the disciples, it was no longer about displaying his power and love, it was about teaching them, building them up, training them to carry on his mission.  In all his interactions throughout the rest of the Gospel accounts, this is exactly what Jesus does.  For the rest of the world that still needed to see who he was, Jesus continued to display his wisdom, love, and power – he continued to live out a life that displayed the reality of his identity and his Father’s purpose.  The same format should be true of me.

We’re called to do nothing more than live a life that quietly displays who God is – his love, power, mercy, grace, and forgiveness.  Like Jesus, who said nothing about his identity, those we interact with should be able to look at those silent acts and come to the realization of who Jesus is.  From that point on, we go about teaching, training, and building up those followers of Jesus so they catch the vision of doing the same.

Take a Load Off

I would be the first to admit that seeking truly restful times is not my forte.  In fact, most of the time when I do try to find those opportunities, I get antsy and squander them away because I love to go, go, go.  God not only wants us to find time to rest, he wants to be the focal point of it.  He longs to be the force that drives our rest, just like he wants to be the force that drives our lives.  Case in point, Mark 6:30-56

Normally, this passage would be remarked at because of the miracle of Jesus feeding 5,000 men and their families with merely 5 loaves of bread and a couple fish.  Then, as if that wasn’t enough, he follows it up by walking on the water out to the boat the disciples were in.  Both of these are absolutely amazing stories, where in Jesus begins to fully capture the attention of not only his disciples, but also the people who make up the large crowds that always to flocked to him.  The end of this passage tells us that people began bringing the sick from all over the region and laying them in marketplaces just to have the chance to touch his cloak in hopes of being healed.  For Jesus and the disciples, people were everywhere.  Busyness was constant.

Backing up and slowing down, this story offers something different: it all began by Jesus inviting his disciples into a time of rest with himself.  The account starts by Jesus telling his disciples – who no doubt were weary from their time teaching, healing, and casting out demons – to go with him to a quiet place so as to enjoy a time of rest.  I do my best to make Jesus a part of all that I do.  I try my hardest to make sure that God is a part of all that is going on in my life – all the ministry, all the business, all the meetings, conversations, and planning, all the relationships, all the busyness.  I can’t say that I try to make him a part of my rest.  In this story, the invitation is clear.  In another part of the Gospels, Matthew 11:28, the promise is indisputable, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

Jesus doesn’t want to just be a part of our busyness – though he loves to be!  He also wants to be the source of, the reason for, and the central figure in our rest.  Not only does he invite us into it, but he promises to give it.  I get tired, worn out, stressed, and run-down.  Maybe I need to stop and listen to Jesus’s invitation to go with him to a quiet place and allow him to give me rest.

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