Sunday, April 29, 2012

Living the Word

Short entry tonight--I think.  At mass today, our priest commented that many Catholics in America listen to the word at mass and process it a bit but don't get excited about it and don't necessarily work that hard to live it.  He made reference to the reading about the stone that the builders rejected is now the cornerstone.  Having Jesus as the cornerstone of our lives--with the opportunity for resurrection--should be something exciting.  It is a wonderful thing that should move us.

While I won't judge my fellow Catholics, I do want to comment on one thing.  My blog is my way of getting excited about my faith and living the word.  My blog brings me to Word in the Bible in ways that nothing else in my life has.  My desire to put together my fitness, my religion, my service, and my community has been a blessing beyond anything I ever could have imagined.

We can debate whether I send too much time on it.  Some may say so.  But I read on someone's Facebook page just today--those things we really want to do we will find time for.  Those we really don't--we'll find excuses for.  I think my actions show me the importance I have found in finding ways to link to my faith that make it real.  That make is something that is alive for me.  That make it something I live with and grow with and hope to grow even more with over time.   

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Why Do I Run?--The Seven C's

It is not often that I ask myself this question anymore.  Everyone around me knows me as a "runner"--whatever exactly that means.  But this morning, I was participating in a neat 5K race.  It was called Operation Oliver.  It focused on a neighborhood not far from where I work that is being revitalized with help from a number of organizations include one called the 6th Branch--military veterans performing service activities.  The local leader of the project carried an American flag (a large one like you'd hang outside your home) on a pole the whole race and ran not too far behind me.

The race was not the best organized.  No port-a-potties at the start or finish.  Took them a long time to figure out who got awards.  Not the best marked course.  And it was the last part that led me to ask that question--why do I run.

The race was so poorly marked and there may have been miscommunication among people who ran the race that some people ran 2.5 miles and others ran just over 3.  It was almost certainly short of 3.1 unless my watch erred the opposite direction as it does in every other race.  If it was 3.1, my 19:33 would be my first sub-20 time since high school.  As it was, my 19:33 projects out to about a 20:15 which would still be my personal best since high school.  That 20 minute 10K remains elusive.

But, I was challenged to answer "why do I run?" when I thought about what the mis-direction on the course would do to my placing.  Incidentally, I was first in my age group.  That's a nice feeling.  And the fact that I was even worried about it points to one of the reasons I run--I'm still competitive.  I once posted on Facebook "why do I still get butterflies before a race if it's all for fun?"  A friend from high school asked, "Are you sure it's just for fun?"  Today's race clearly showed me the answer is no.

Interestingly, there was a guy from the Back on My Feet team with which I run whom I did not expect to pass but did.  He indicated his frustration with the fact that he lost a place or two because of the misdirection.  Again, someone who is competitive.

My previous entry about Back on My Feet shows that it is not just about competition though.  It is also about community and caring.  A healthy mix of community, caring, and competition is not a bad thing.

And there are other things. I met new people today.  People talking as it got chilly after the race.  The race was run with the sun out.  Then the clouds came and it got cold.  But we talked for a long time about running, racing, and learning.  It was all good.

I saw people as they crossed the finish line.  Some struggled. Some were overjoyed.  Some who had obviously run most of the race slowly had it left in them to sprint as they could see the finish.  The joy and exhilaration that I saw on people's faces was amazing.

And, the sense of camaraderie.  I suppose that may be part of community.  But it is definitely cool to get to see others succeed.  I was the last one from team Christopher's place there today and I brought home medals for six other runners on my team.  I'll give them out on Monday.  It was just incredible.  I was particularly impressed by one woman whose running I knew was strong, but it became extra clear to me a couple weeks back when we did timed miles.  She ran a 6:12.  Few guys on the team were running that pace.  She hung with me and was the second female overall.  It is just so cool to be able to share success (and struggles--like trying to understand where the course actually went and dealing with the chill after the race) as part of being a team.

So, why do I run?  Competition, community, caring, and camaraderie.  To stay with a C theme, I could probably add compassion.  Given the sense of accomplishment that comes from finishing a race I could add "completion".  And, finally, to complete the seven C's, I'd say "consecration".  A dedication to something.  It does not have to be religious.  It does have to be a higher purpose.  I believe there is a higher purpose to running.  And I believe that for me in particular that purpose is a key aspect of why I'm out there.  

Back on My Feet--More than Just a Running Service--An Approach to Life

Yesterday, I happened to be staying overnight in Washington DC for a two day conference.  Since I know that Back on My Feet groups everywhere run Monday/Wednesday/Friday during the week, on Thursday, I emailed a staff member of Back on My Feet--Baltimore, who put me in touch with a staff member from Back on My Feet--Washindton DC, who put me in touch with two team leaders, and less than 24 hours later I was leaving my hotel to jog for a circle up with Team La Casa at 5:45 AM in a part of Washington DC I'd never seen before.  I enjoyed running 2 miles with the group, meeting a lot of new people, and adding a few miles as a social activity rather than just a run as part of my 6.5 mile total yesterday morning.  But running with Back on My Feet in a different city while away for work is not just about finding a few people to run with for a social activity.

Back on My Feet has established a process by which its team get togethers proceed.  I felt immediately at ease meeting and greeting with hugs as I arrived.  The team in DC circled up and had announcements in a way that seemed familiar.  Their approach to learning everyone's name was a bit different than my team's in Baltimore but that is okay.  Each person said their name just once and answered a question.  Yesterday's was favorite cupcake flavor--red velvet in my case.  Then the run with lots of chatting and a circle at the end that ended with the cheer "Back on My Feet--Keep coming back".

In the starting circe, the team leader for La Casa mentioned the degree to which Back on My Feet provides community so that they could have the opportunity to welcome a Baltimore teammate who happened to be in town for the day.  One could also refer to as a just plain "company" rather than community but it is definitely something more.  I also heard it referred to as fellowship or "extended family" in a figurative way.  The community feeling is always present.  And being referred to as a teammate who just happened to be from Baltimore was a reminder that other than the fact that some of those who run with Back on My Feet are in some type of recovery while others come from the community to run with them, once we are in circle we are all just teammates.  Everyone is equal.  Everyone cares about each other.

The organization is not religious.  We do recite a version of the Serenity Prayer at least once for each run.  Team La Casa actually recited it at the start and finish.  But that is a general prayer for serenity, courage, and wisdom to a higher power as it is treated within the organization.  Despite the fact that the organization is not explicitly "of any faith" the principles of community, care for each other, and equality among members reminded me of something from the Bible and one interpretation of the success of early Christianity.  On the first, the Bible verses I am thinking of are Matthew22:36-40 from the New American Bible Revised Edition:

36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”
37 He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.
38 This is the greatest and the first commandment.
39 The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
40 The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”

It is verse 39 which is most striking and makes me think of the approach to others promoted by Back on My Feet.

For the early Christian community, there was a Frontline program on PBS where I saw at least one historian's interpretation.  You can read the complete story here.   Here is the paragraph I find most moving:

"Now the Christian community, as we have it particularly in the letters of Paul, begins with a formula that is a baptismal formula, which says in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither male nor female, neither slave nor free. This is a sociological formula that defines a new community. Here is a community that invites you, which makes you an equal with all other members of that community. Which does not give you any disadvantages. On the contrary, it gives even the lowliest slave personal dignity and status. Moreover, the commandment of love is decisive. That is, the care for each other becomes very important. People are taken out of an isolation."
Back on My Feet is still a young organization guided by a powerful idea. If the idea and the organization continue to be nurtured so that I feel the sense of community at every run with Team Christopher's Place, at every local race the entire Baltimore BoMF family runs, and every time when I try to get together with local groups when I travel, and if the organizational leadership (paid and volunteer) does their best to make sure that everyone shares that sense of community, I believe the organization will go far.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Luke 19:11-27

This verse was purely based on the inspiration of an idea that crossed my mind after the race.  I didn't have anything in this race that was associated with 19:11 or the 27 either.  So, let me share my thinking.

At some point in my blogging, I know I have blogged about the parable of the talents, although I am hard pressed to find it.  The key is that I have spent time thinking about the consequences of not using my God given talents and the poor outcomes that will follow.

What I spent time thinking about last Saturday after the 10K was another parable.  The parable of the talents as told by Matthew is one in which three servants are given different amounts.  Two double what they have and are rewarded.  One does nothing with what he is given and is punished.

In Luke's version (19:11-27) it is a bit more complicated.  In Luke's version three men are each given one gold coin.  One turns it into 10 and is given a great reward.  One turns it into 5 and is given a moderate reward.  And the third does nothing with his and is punished.

So, in each case, the one who did nothing is punished and the one with the biggest return is rewarded.  What is interesting is a comparison of the guys in the middle in the two cases.  In Matthew's story the guy in the middle starts with less resources.  In Luke's story the guy in the middle is presumed not to have worked as hard.

I thought I might have better than a seven minute mile average pace in me.  Am I losing sleep over the fact that I "only" managed to run a seven minute average pace and not something faster?  No.  There were a lot of variables.  My fastest one mile run in over two decades the day before.  The warmth.  The stress of a very busy day.  And the fact that I had run 2.9 miles before the race.  Each could have contributed.

However, as I was running back to the symphony hall after the race and passing by a student of mine, I did think, could I have done more?  Did I not set my sights high enough?  Did I set an achievable goal at the cost of not doing even better if I had set a goal that would have made me strive just a little more even if I had not made it?  And, in the end, what is better?  To set an achievable goal and make it or to set an aspirational goal and fail.  Setting goals that are just good enough is probably not what life should be about  Setting goals to be the best I can possibly be--the aspirational goals that I have to keep working toward, should be what I focus on.  I should aim to be the man who returned 10 golden coins--even if I fall short and perhaps only come back with a few, rather than being the guy who makes 5 golden coins without having to try very hard.   

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

3 Pictures and their Symbolism

Today, I share three pictures from Charm City Run's Sole of the City 10K.  And I will point out what I think are the most important symbols in each.  First, the picture from before the race.  This is a picture of me speaking with a fellow Back on My Feet runner who was also a fellow trainee with the Charm City Run training group with which I trained last summer.  Why is this important?  One word: social. Running is not just about exercise.  It is also a social activity.  And this has made it so much more than it ever was since I was in college.

The second picture is of my finishing the race.  This picture shows my right foot flailing out.  This is a habit I have had since I was in high school.  You can ask any of my friends who ran high school track and cross country with me.  They will confirm that I have been doing this since the 1980's.  What I find fascinating about this is that it is a bad habit that I have not been able to break in more than a quarter century.  In a week in which I have celebrated running my fastest mile run and half mile run since Ronald Reagan was president of the United States, I also see that other things that I would like to change since then have not changed.  And I ponder--are there things other than my less than perfect running form that have not changed since my adolescence?  I can say that, unfortunately, my tendency to dabble, to take on too many things, and to have difficulty seeing any of them through to a conclusion is a habit that began long ago and continues to this day.  So, in the same way that I keep trying to work on my running form, I also keep trying to get the rest of my life in order.  While I am usually much more focused on the end result than on the process of getting there, the idea of life improvement is one thing that I have to take as a step by step process--one step at a time.  Always striving for the best end result but mostly focused on the fact that I am trying to make myself a better person--use all the gifts God gave me--every day.

The final picture is one that I think is the best picture of me running (other than a picture with my son a year or two ago) that has been taken in a long, long time.  This picture was actually taken just before the picture that I posted above, as I was coming off Fort Ave and turning toward the finish line.  This ia a wonderful picture.  It shows me almost done something.  A symbol of the fact that I leave a lot of projects almost done.  But it also is a symbol of my completing something.  Because I know that I was less than 50 yards from finishing.  The picture shows me running strong--pumping my arms and in a good stride.  That is the symbol of the result of six years of work.  The picture shows me in my sunglasses.  That is one of the biggest improvements since my high school running days.  The freedom from glasses on a daily basis.  In the background you see the Baltimore row homes.  A sign of the city in which I love.  A sign of the city I love.  A sign of the city in which I have truly grown up.  And finally, you see the American flag off in the upper right hand corner.  The importance of living in the United States of America is something I cannot overemphasize.  The country that provides me with near limitless opportunity.  The country that allowed a high school geek to believe that he could be something more and could make it come true.  The country that gives me the freedom of choice to be what I want to be.  To be who I want to be.  To excel.  To slack.  To speak up. To hold back.  To express myself.  To hang with whomever I want.  To try new things.  To encourage my sons to try new paths.  There was a wonderful a-cappella group that sang the Star Spangled Banner before the race.  That was a moving experience and the harmony was wonderful.  But I like to think of American the Beautiful.  "America, America, God shed his grace on thee/And crown thy good/With brotherhood/From sea to shining sea."  Runners have brotherhood.  People can have brotherhood.  A common purpose.  Each seeking his own success to make the world a better place in which we can all be successful and all share in the fruits of the successes we share and build upon.  

Monday, April 23, 2012

Feed My Sheep: More Reflections on John 21:17

So last night I began my post 10K run reflections with thoughts on John 21:17.   The chapter and verse that when written out together equal the time I had at the half way mark by my watch.  The verse I thought of while making crepes for scrippelle yesterday afternoon.   The verse that I have more to say about.

First, as I have mentioned in my blog before, Peter was my confirmation name.  So, who is Jesus speaking with in this verse?  Well, most directly, Peter.  I had chosen Peter in a sort of arrogant thought that I could be a rock.  That my belief and my spirituality were strong.  My belief has been tested.  My belief has been brought to the brink on more than one occasion.  There are times that I would say that my faith is not strong at all.  However, if I have only a small amount of belief and I can share that with others, then I may help to "feed God's sheep".  Feeding their need for spiritual reflection through my writing.  Feeding people's needs for sustenance through my family's donations.  Feeding a need for physical health through "service running" with Back on My Feet.  Perhaps this is an originally unseen part of the destiny of my confirmation name.  While I believe very much in free will, I also believe that God plays an active role in guiding us if we ask for it.  And that there are times when the answers come--but much, much later.  Perhaps this is all coincidence.  Perhaps there is no such thing as coincidence.

Second, the story has a part that precedes Jesus speaking directly to Peter.  John 21 in general is a story of the risen Jesus (great for Easter reflection) revealing himself to his disciples.  The first 8 verses of the chapter are the story of Peter and other disciples having bad luck fishing and then having much better fortune once Jesus arrives.  Verses 9-14 are about them eating breakfast with Jesus.  The fact that the verse of such importance to me (21:17) is preceded closely by a story of food can be taken two ways.  Obviously in the context of the flow of the Bible, Jesus then in verses 15-17 asks Peter to feed his lambs, tend his sheep, and feed his sheep.  The symbolism of having a meal together at which Jesus provided for his disciples before he asked Peter to feed his lambs and his sheep if not lost on me.  In my case, it is neat, too, because of the link to my own passion for cooking and feeding people.

Finally, getting back to what my friend from college wrote to me.  There are so many ways in which people hunger.  People hunger physically.  People hunger for challenges mentally.  People hunger through spiritual challenges.  People hunger for recognition and validation.  People hunger for a sense that they matter.

One thing I have always hungered for is recognition for something other than being good at academics.  A wise friend from my high school days once suggested I just be happy for being recognized for what I am really good at.  Good point.  This week, I was lucky enough to be quoted in Science Times Global Update in the New York Times.   But this week, I was also blessed to be recognized as a featured runner (as I mentioned yesterday) and as the team member of the month among the community volunteers for Back on My Feet Christopher's Place Team.  What's more, a student called me a pretty cool professor when I talked about the tattoo I'll be getting and my seven year old called me the best Dad.

Why do I need this validation?  Why can't it just be enough to know that I am following God's will, since that is what it is supposed to all be about?  Honestly, I don't know.  It is something with which I continue to grapple--and probably will forever.

I just hope that I can continue to live up to the accolades I receive.  Sometimes I think I do.  Not that that is anything special.  That is what we are all here for and what we are all supposed to do.  Being what I was intended to be and helping others is just following law set down by Jesus--love your neighbor as you love yourself.  So, I don't deserve a gold star for just playing by the rules.  And I also know there are times times I know I fall woefully short.  I'm not always the best dad.  I'm not always a great teammate.  My running attitude is not always exemplary.  And sometimes I am a lousy colleague and not such a great mentor.

I just hope that on net the positive outweighs the negative so that I can stand tall but with humility,  be of service to others who need me, and be obedient to God in whose image I was made.  I want to continue to focus my personal development on being all that God has intended for me rather than simply what I think I should be.  Or better yet--to make those last two one and the same.  

Sunday, April 22, 2012

My Half Way Time in a 10K--21:17 and the Gospel of John

I never thought that I'd have enough material from running a single 10K race to blog about for the next two weeks, but I think I do.  That should be interesting.

Each entry will most likely be a little shorter than what I wrote during the Lenten season, but I am sure it will continue to be a positive experience for me, and I hope that it will be a positive experience for those who take the time to read what I write.

The 10K was called the Sole of the City.  Cool in some ways that it would be called "sole". Obviously that is a reference to the running shoes sold by Charm City Run, my favorite running store.  The day before the race, one of the few 10K runs in Baltimore City proper, I was honored to be featured as the runner highlight by the store (see the link here).   The picture in the feature was taken last November.  If I had it to do over again, I'd put in the picture that someone from the store took at the end of the race yesterday.  It is a much better picture that you can see here.  I say that the name of the run was ironic as I have focused so much on spiritual and physical well being--the well being of my body and soul.  And this 10K was obviously both a good use of my soles and goof for my soul.

I don't usually write about finding a relationship between my times at the half way point in the race and some connection to the Bible, but I will tonight.  First, let me point out, I don't know where the exact "official" half way point was.  But when I took a data dump from my GPS watch today, I looked at the 5K time--sure enough it was 21:17 (actually it was 21:18 at 5003 meters, so by extrapolation with the next earlier reading from 21:13 at 4985 meters).  While I was making dinner tonight, I had been thinking about different Bible verses and relating them to my writing and the thought of "Feed my sheep" came to me.  It is appropriate for the Easter season.  Sure enough, where do you find that?  John 21:17.

Why do I find this interesting?  And what will I spend writing about for the next two weeks (or more)?  Well, I have recently been emailing with a friend.  She reads this blog and can comment if she wants to be named.  For right now, it suffices to say that I have known her since my days as an undergrad.  I had respect for her writing, ideas, and leadership back then.  We went years without being in touch.  We are back in touch now thanks to Facebook.  She has read some of my blog materials and seen many of my pictures of food on Facebook and encouraged me to write a book.  I think that the ideas around my writing and around my cooking and my running all come back to the end of the verse in John 21:17--"Feed my sheep."

Why?  It would be a great title for a book of reflections.  Especially if many of those reflections centered around Bible verses and food.  There can be so many different meanings to the phrase "Feed my sheep."

Am I particularly qualified to feed God's sheep?  I don't really think that I have anything on the next person when all is said and done.  I am not more holy.  I have not spent that much more time studying religion.  I am not smarter.  I don't have more common sense.  I just like to think.  I like to write.  And I like to try to make sense of life.  If my journey and quest to explain life helps to "feed" others' needs for spiritual guidance, then so be it.  I am glad that others can share.

This is one of the less organized entries I have written in a while.  It is, right now, mostly just stream of consciousness.  I think that the key will be for me to pull ideas into a coherent format to share them, to begin to shape the idea for a book, and to express all the insight I gained from one race.

Life is good.  God is great.  And there is always so much to learn.  

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Finding God in the Quiet Times (1 Kings 19:11-13)

Yesterday afternoon, I posted that I was eating dinner at Five Guys Burgers and Fries alone before having a series of family related errands and activities.  One thing that happened last night was taking in way too many calories--a double patty, Five Guys burger with cheese, jalapeno peppers, and mushrooms, onions, tomatoes, and pickles, and an entire regular order of fries with malt vinegar followed by a small order at TCBY later after my middle son's concert.  Another thing that happened is that I was exhausted by the time I got home and did the dishes so the work I planned to do last night got done very early this morning.  With all the other stuff that went on--picking up one child from a guitar lesson, picking up a second from hockey, and then seeing a concert--it was also very busy.  But, when I was reading the Wall Street Journal and eating in relative peace and quiet with just a few other people at five guys I did have an insight.  I thought of 1 Kings 19:11-13 (although I did have to look up the actual verses to make sure I knew where to find the story of Elijah).  From the Catholic Bible...

Then the LORD said: Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD; the LORD will pass by. There was a strong and violent wind rending the mountains and crushing rocks before the LORD—but the LORD was not in the wind; after the wind, an earthquake—but the LORD was not in the earthquake; after the earthquake, fire—but the LORD was not in the fire; after the fire, a light silent sound. When he heard this, Elijah hid his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.
Of all the places for this verse to come to me, I'm not sure why it came to me at Five Guys.  It didn't occur to me in prayer at night or in the morning.  It didn't occur to me in the church.  It didn't occur to me as I teach my kids in Sunday school.  It occurred to me at Five Guys.  Why?  I suppose because that was one of the very few times in the past week that I have actually stopped and say down without doing something that needed to be immediately done.  Even if it was just for 30 minutes.  I was at ease.  And that is when I felt the presence of God.  

When I think of the different ways that God was not passing by Elijah I can think of what they might symbolize.  The wind--strong and consistent and obviously powerful.  The earthquake--gets you attention quite immediately.  The fire--gets your attention and can be maintained for quite some time.  These could be any number of events--positive or negative in my life.  Songs that go well when we play at mass.  Lessons that go well.  Praying alone.  Positive or negative events in my parenting, running, or career.  Each of these have power in my life.  Some are more obvious than others. Some come quickly.  Some last a while.  Some rock my world.  But, in none of them do I just stop and listen and wonder.

I can play music and sing about God.  That shows my devotion but it doesn't necessarily mean that I am listening for God to answer.  Teaching about God--I have to think about my relationship with God and how I model that for children.  But it doesn't show my listening to God.  Praying--again, clearly thinking about God, but not necessarily listening in return.  

But, when I just sat and could listen--in the same way that I would listen to a close friend and confidant--then I could hear God.

I'm not one to say, "God told me to do x, y, and z."  I'm one who thinks that God keeps tabs on me but that my decisions are ultimately free will. But I do think that God approves of some things I do more than others.  And, yesterday, I think that God was approving of the fact that I was just listening.

That is just the start--of course.  I have to go from just listening once in a while to setting aside more time to listen.  To make sure that to the degree possible, I am really hearing back from God that I am doing what is consistent with his will and not only seemingly consistent based on my own reasoning.

It is amazing how just slowing down for even a half hour--even while eating in a fast food restaurant--could help me with an insight into the need to listen for God's message.  Not just thinking about God.  Not just talking to God.  Not just hearing about God.  But actually listening for God.  How refreshing! 

Monday, April 16, 2012

Scones and Smiles

Apricot Scones made on Saturday Morning
Before a 6:30 Run!
This morning, the local Christian Rock (or "positive hits") station asked "what made you smile this weekend?"  There were actually many things that made me smile, but the answer I gave had to do with apricot scones.  (See the picture!)

I made these early on Saturday morning, took a few with me when I met a friend to run just after sunrise by the reservoir, and shared the remainder with my family.  Everyone liked them.  My running friend called them delicious.

The answer I gave this morning was something about the smiles on everyone's faces when they tried these.  Apricots, butter, cinnamon and sugar on top.  What more could you ask for?

I also commented that I could not think of a way to celebrate God's bounty, the gifts of nature God has given us, the gift of health God has given, and the gifts of inner and outer beauty.

As for the gift of God's bounty--well, the food is an obvious link.  And it was enjoyed by all.  And I appreciate just how much effort it takes to make these.

As for the gift of nature--the apricot comes from nature and the run by the reservoir with for over the reservoir, the sun coming up over the horizon, the trees, and the hills was amazing.

As for the gift of health--I would not be running 12 miles at a 7:33 pace up and down hills with a friend if I were not healthy.  And really healthy by the choices I make.  The free will God gives and the capacity to be strong and fast.

Finally, the gifts of inner and outer beauty.  My wife's reaction--it earned me a thankful kiss!  My kids' smiles.  My friend's smile.  The beauty of family relations.  The beauty of friendship.  The strength of all the relationships brought together by food.

If food was good enough to bring Jesus and his disciples together in many stories, then there is no reason not to think that it is good enough to bring people I know together for spiritual togetherness and happiness. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Sirach 34:9-12

Just two days after Easter and I'm writing again. Why? Patterns. For anyone who has seen the new Kiefer Sutherland series called Touch, you know that the premise is that Sutherland's character is a single father whose wife died on 9/11 and whose son has never said a word. But in the first episode they communicate through numbers for the first time and subsequent episodes continue the theme. One of the supporting characters tells Sutherland that when his son sees numbers they reveal the world.

Well, yesterday I had a bit of inspiration. A student of mine (yay for Isadora) defended her dissertation. It was the third defense I'd attended in the past month. For two of the students I was either the student's advisor or co-advisor. Both students whom I had an advisor (rather than simply committee member) role for defended on the 9th day of the month. When I added Isadora's final defense to the list of those I'd attended I noticed 3/9/12 and 4/9/12. Combining those, I thought of 34912. (Of course there are other combinations, but that easily translates into 34:9-12). There are not many books of the Bible with 34 chapters. I looked in Psalms--no good. I then looked to other books of wisdom (only fitting as it was two PhD students whose defenses inspired me to look this up) and turned to Sirach. For my Protestant friends, Sirach is one of those "Catholic only" books. What does Sirach 34:9-12 say? Here:

A much-traveled person knows many things; and one with much experience speaks sense.
An inexperienced person knows little, 

whereas with travel one adds to resourcefulness.
I have seen much in my travels, and learned more than I could ever say.

What does this say to me?  It shows the importance of experience.  It shows the importance of going out into the world and participating.  It shows the importance of becoming resourceful.

It says, "Live a little!"  It say, "Don't hide."  It makes me think of the story of the talents.  It makes me think of how I learn.  It makes me think of the difference between running a road or trail and running on a treadmill.  It makes me think of the difference between running alone and running with others.  It makes me think of everything a person can do to gain experience.  To gain insight.  To gain from being different places doing different things with different people.  It makes me think of how being inexperienced can be constricting and limiting.

Of course, everyone is inexperienced before they are experienced.  The key for me is to maximize my opportunities for experience and to attempt to learn from every one of them.  

Learn things that will help in my continued physical development or health.
Learn things that will help in my continued spiritual development and well being.
Learn things that will help me to continue to grow.
Learn things that will continue to help be to become everything God sent me here to become.

The opportunities are there for me to take.  If I do not take them and do not gain the wisdom that is there for the taking it is my own fault.   

But if I take every opportunity that is presented, I truly hope that I can someday utter the last line speaking truthfully--that all my experiences will have taught me more than I could ever say.  

Sunday, April 8, 2012

He Reigns yet He Serves

A joyous Easter to all who celebrate. And to those who celebrate Passover, I hope your observance of the defining moment of Judaism was a great experience for you. And to all of those celebrating anything else as I close my period of daily personal reflection during the spring of this year--may peace and serenity guide you.

Yesterday, I mentioned a part of the Holy Thursday mass in the Catholic church--a remembrance of Jesus washing his apostles' feet that I wanted to reflect on this day. Here is the text from the Gospel of John, Chapter 13, starting from about verse 3 and continuing through verse 15. This is long, but well worth the read:

So, during supper,
fully aware that the Father had put everything into his power
and that he had come from God and was returning to God,
he rose from supper and took off his outer garments.
He took a towel and tied it around his waist.
Then he poured water into a basin
and began to wash the disciples' feet
and dry them with the towel around his waist.
He came to Simon Peter, who said to him,
"Master, are you going to wash my feet?"
Jesus answered and said to him,
"What I am doing, you do not understand now,
but you will understand later."
Peter said to him, "You will never wash my feet."
Jesus answered him,
"Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me."
Simon Peter said to him,
"Master, then not only my feet, but my hands and head as well."
Jesus said to him,
"Whoever has bathed has no need except to have his feet washed,
for he is clean all over;
so you are clean, but not all."
For he knew who would betray him;
for this reason, he said, "Not all of you are clean."
So when he had washed their feet
and put his garments back on and reclined at table again,
he said to them, "Do you realize what I have done for you?
You call me 'teacher' and 'master,' and rightly so, for indeed I am.
If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet,
you ought to wash one another's feet.
I have given you a model to follow,
so that as I have done for you, you should also do."

In contrast with this, I believe that the closing song for the mass at which the worship band plays tomorrow is He Reigns.  We can sing He reigns because he conquered death.  He has given us the opportunity for new life, and His word is the greatest of all.

Yet, the model he set was that He served.  Just because a person has power doesn't mean that he should use that power to overwhelm all.  Instead, the power can (and should) be used to serve all and to make the world most like the Kingdom of God.  That is what power should be used for.  

Service can be big things--for example I may have another person ready to join Back on My Feet after running with this gentleman off and on for the past year and constantly extolling the virtues of the organization.  Making a commitment to a consistent service is a wonderful thing.

Service can involve teaching the word of God.  That is certainly what Sunday school teaching is all about.  That is another big commitment.

But those are commitments.  Once I am in being "all in" is fairly predictable.  I think that an even better example of service in my life occurred at the grocery store today when I was there for the third time.  (Yes, I ended up making four different trips to the grocery store today.  Two different stores two trips each.)  And, I think that a short reflection on what happened at the grocery store today is actually a wonderful way to end my Lenten and now Easter Sunday reflections for 2012.  

I was walking through the grocery store.  I had picked up three different twelve packs--one non-diet caffeinated soda, one diet, and seltzer water.  I had also picked up the deviled ham I needed to turn our extra hard boiled eggs (long story) into deviled eggs.  And I was headed for the last thing I needed--ice cream.  As I walked along, I saw a woman in a motorized wheel chair accidentally bump into a display and knock it over.  While I should not have hesitated to help her, I did.  But then, I thought to myself-what kind of follower of Jesus would I be if I didn't help her?  She had tried to situate herself to get the display to stand up again, but it was going to be difficult for her.   So, I offered to help, carefully turned the display on its side first to avoid having all the items (I don't even recall what it was but it was in a personal care aisle) fall out, stood it back up, and picked up the few price tags that had been knocked down.  She thanked me and we wished each other a happy holiday.  

Do I deserve a gold star--no, of course not.  It should be second nature.  But it is events like this--little unexpected and unplanned opportunities to serve others in need when I clearly have the power to help and the other person is clearly in need that define whether I am truly a follower of Jesus.  The routine is nice but is hardly a test of character.  The spontaneous will probably be a much bigger determinant of my eternal salvation.  The spontaneous is a much clearer definition of my character.  No time to think--just time to do, or not.  And if I do not, then it would be a sin of omission just as bad as any sin of commission that I might commit.  

So, I take forward with me one final message about being "all in".  To be "all in" when trying to follow the Almighty does not involve might but involves service--first and foremost--in big predictable ways and in little unexpected ways.  All in all the time.  

Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Eucharist, The Cross, The Empty Tomb

If we were playing a game show like the $25,000 Pyramid or Jeopardy the response might be "Things a Catholic Priest is Likely to Mention at the Mass of the Lord's Supper".  And, sure enough, Monsignor Rick Hilgartner mentioned these three--not just independently but together at the Mass on Thursday.

The Catholic church sees the time from the Mass on Thursday (a very special mass at which we celebrate when the Lord served his apostles by washing their feet--most likely the topic for my final Lenten experience blog tomorrow) through the Easter Vigil mass as the Triduum.  The Triduum is the great three days--or the three day period during which we celebrate the Last Supper, the crucifixion, and the waiting the apostles did before the discovery of the empty tomb on Easter.

Monsignor not only mentioned these three, but, amusingly, he mentioned it within the context of the Baltimore Orioles.  How did he link those?  With the mass on the day before the opening day of the Orioles season, he reflected on local expectations of the Orioles season (which are poor, although the Orioles did win their first game).  When he talked about how low the expectations are, he also mentioned that solving the problems the Orioles have is not something that can be done with a single change.  The Orioles have a set of problems and solving the set of problems would require a whole set of solutions.

Similarly, Catholics celebrate the Eucharist each week.  It is in celebration of the Last Supper.  The Last Supper would have been only a philosophical discussion if it were not for the crucifixion on the cross (the cross behind the altar being a prominent feature in Catholic churches) the next day.  And the value of either of those would have been lost if not for the empty tomb on the third day.  So, if a person liked feeling like a part of the body of Christ (literally and figuratively as the members of the church today act as the hands and feet of Christ on earth) by receiving the Eucharist but don't buy how harsh the crucifixion was or don't buy the Resurrection then what is there.  Or if a person likes to believe in Resurrection but not the other two, there is something lacking.

What Monsignor emphasized was the need to buy the "whole package".  To buy all of what Jesus did.  And while the discussion was mostly about the things between the Last Supper and Easter, Monsignor also alluded to buying the whole set of things that Jesus preached and Jesus did.

So, once again, I was reminded of being "all in."  Except in this case instead of putting "my whole self in" (to quote the Hokey Pokey) it is putting my whole self around a whole set of beliefs.  Sometimes taking just part of the beliefs really doesn't work.  And this is one of those times.  It is a challenge to buy the "entire set of beliefs" for any church, religion, or philosophy.  But there are difficulties with being a cafeteria Catholic as well.

So, am I "all in" when it comes to this set of issues?  As far as the Triduum yes.  For all Catholic beliefs--there are some with which I struggle, but that is a part of my continued growth.  

Friday, April 6, 2012

1-2-3 Loyalty!

Yes, this morning's title looks like a team cheer in kids' sports.  All three of my kids' sports activities (most prevalent for the youngest but the older two each did some) particularly at the YMCA ended with a cheer.  For them it was usually "team work".  Back on My Feet gatherings also end that way.  When we have all city gatherings, we usually just cheer "Back on My Feet!" after the serenity prayer.  Each team usually ends the workout after stretching with a cheer.

As the coach who most often leads stretches for the Christopher's Place group, I am also the one who usually calls the group to "bring it in" afterwards. Today, that gave me yet another opportunity to bring together my physical exercise interests with my spiritual healing from Sheba passing.

When we were done stretching today, I first made sure that there were no milestone awards to give out.  The resident runners get awards after completing various numbers of miles of running.  Then, I made sure there was nothing else to celebrate--for example on Wednesday we celebrated April birthdays and had some homemade brownies.  On that day we just cheered "Happy Birthday".  Then, I called everyone in.

Most days, when I try to figure out what to cheer "on 3," I'll just get a sense of the group.  Or something will come up.  The "Happy Birthday" example is an obvious one.  When a resident runs really well or gets a job, we'll cheer for him. When I qualified for Boston, my team cheered "Boston".  Occasionally, I'll have to ask for suggestions.  Usually they don't require much explanation.

Today, I told my team that I had a request.  I explained (for those who didn't know) that we'd buried Sheba earlier this week.  Then, I commented on how loyal she was (as most dogs are).  Then, I added that there is an incredible sense of loyalty to the organization and among members of the organization among participants in Back on My Feet.  So I asked my team to cheer for loyalty "on 3" and they gladly did.

It was a feeling of empowerment.  My heartache could be turned into a joyful and uplifting moment for the group.  And the sense of loyalty is certainly shared.  A sense of what anyone in the organization would do for another.  From joining the other on a run to a hug to attending a ceremony of relevance for those members who are trying to get back on their feet.

With loyalty comes a sense of being "all in".

And that is how an end of workout team cheer this morning helped me to continue on my way to spiritual healing this week.   

Thursday, April 5, 2012

"Practice" or "A Practice"

When I was reading Chi Running while Sherry and I were on vacation recently, there was a point in the book at which the author made a distinction between needing to practice something and making something a practice.  I looked for definitions online, and the first use is one we are all familiar with--doing something over and over to improve. The second use is also familiar but a little more subtle.  It is mostly a usual and customary way of doing something.  Many times, a person will need to practice something before it becomes a practice.  But just because a person practices, and maybe even becomes proficient at doing something does not necessarily mean that the person will make whatever it is a practice.  Practicing just requires repeating something.  Making something a practice, in my mind, requires a consequential change in the way that I lead my life.  It requires more of a definitiveness. It requires, to use the expression that I've used throughout my Lenten reflections, being "all in," at least as far as a particular activity or way of doing things is concerned.

As I am now on only the second morning of waking up without having to feed and water the dog and let her out, I notice how much I had made care for all three pets a practice in my morning routine.  There are a variety of other things that I make a practice of in my family life and my career.  One of the goals moving forward, is to realize that there are probably too many things that I was trying to make a practice of, and to focus on a subset and move forward better with those.  To truly be "all in" with the things I am making a practice of while other things get left behind.  Making a practice of better prioritization is key.

But the most important thing that I've made a practice of during this Lenten season that I did not before was daily reflection on my spiritual well being.  Sometimes tied directly to my physical (through all the ties between running and spirituality) and sometimes just standing on is own.  Regardless, I don't know that I'll have the time to write every day after the Lenten season is over, but I do want to try to continue to make spiritual reflection a practice in my daily life.  A usual part of my daily life.  It is a luxury to be able to do so--as there are many other things on my to do list that sometimes suffer--but it is a healthy luxury that helps me to move forward, to continue to grow, and to continue to deepen my understanding of my own spiritual needs, the spiritual needs of those around me, and the the relationship between my spiritual needs and other parts of my life  

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Job 12: 7-10 and a Tribute to Sheba (Don't Read if You Don't Want to be Sad)

Yesterday, the vet came to our house to euthanize our dog.  Emailing and speaking to the vet on Monday to ask her to come over was incredibly disturbing to me.  But by yesterday morning when whatever spark we had seen in Sheba last Friday (when we had taken her to the vet for a visit that we had expected to be her last on Thursday of last week) was gone, we knew it was the right thing to do.  And when I say the spark was gone, it was totally and completely gone.

The process of helping the dog along her way to death seemed pretty straightforward.  She was already so tired and in what finally looked like such pain that she could barely get up to walk.  My sons and I will have stories to tell about a ramp on our steps for the last two days of her life.  Not quite a MacGyver moment, but definitely a bit of ingenuity.  

I did get her up from the spot she'd found in the sun early yesterday afternoon to sit nearer a place where I could sit and just pet her until the vet arrived.  The vet had what looked like supplies for the process inside (in particular a blanket to put the dog on in case she urinated or defecated upon death), but since she was outside and looked pretty much at peace already, the tech and the vet decided just to perform the process where she was.  When she was given the injection for the sedative, she didn't even fight the tech holding her mouth closed.  More than anything else we'd seen the past several days, the complete lack of fighting back showed that our dog was ready.  Last week on Friday at the vet's office she still needed to be muzzled.  Whatever declining path she was on was simply interrupted for one trip to the vet and a glorious weekend over which she got up and walked around one last time--eating freshly cooked meat and lots of treats.  Reminding us of the incredible dog she had been and the part of our family she was for about ten years.

So, while today's reading was not on the list of things I'd planned to blog about before Easter--usually a time to celebrate new life--I looked for references to dogs or animals in the Bible.  There are some obvious ones such as several in Genesis.  But I stumbled upon Job 12: 7-10

But now ask the beasts to teach you, the birds of the air to tell you;
Or speak to the earth to instruct you, and the fish of the sea to inform you.
Which of all these does not know that the hand of God has done this?
In his hand is the soul of every living thing, and the life breath of all mortal flesh.

Now, it is important to realize the context of this passage.  Job is a book in which a man has much taken away and is struggling with the reason for suffering.  This passage is about looking for answers to why people who don't follow God were prosperous and the Catholic bible footnote describes this as "a bitter parody of the power of God."  

But if we take these verses for what they are, they remind us of two things.  Animals can teach us a lot.  And this passage raises an interesting question about souls.

First, what can we learn from animals?  Dogs are quite loyal.  While Sheba was one of the most stubborn dogs we've ever met (she could still fight against going where you wanted her to go even in her weakest moment until the very very end), she was incredibly loyal to us and incredibly protective of us.  She was a wonderful companion.  She would sit with me.  She would sit and wait for me.  She helped me in my return to a healthy lifestyle (of exercise) starting in 2006.  I will be forever in debt to her for needing to be walked so far when we first got her.  I remember walking a 10K distance with her once.  She was "all in" when it came to my family.  And that sometimes caused us grief.  She bit a worker at a kennel one time--we thought the worker behaved pretty stupidly to provoke her, but nevertheless, my dog earned a reputation there and we never returned.  She barked an awful lot even when we tried to get her to calm down.  She once killed a mouse--seeming to be bothered that it was usually the cat's job.  She chased many squirrels out of our yard, and we think that she kept woodpeckers away from our kids playground equipment until last summer when she was kenneled for a week and we found a lot more damage that had ever occurred before.  She also taught patience.  Not 100%--when she needed to go out, she really needed to go out.  But when it came to waiting for dinner or waiting for a walk, she just sat.  And looked.  And waited.  And she taught us, at the end, the importance of just letting go.  To the degree that a dog known when it is time, yesterday she did.  But as one last sign of her stubbornness the sedative didn't put her to sleep.  She got very calm, but was still awake as the vet and the tech began the process of finding the vein for the final med to bring her peace.

Second, what about souls?  Here, the Catholic church teaches that animals do not have souls.  Yet, the one verse in Job says, "In his hand is the soul of every living thing."  And, there are many ideas about dogs (or pets in general) going to heaven.  Several people sent me a poem about the Rainbow Bridge--which is another interesting link to other parts of life as my kids' elementary school uses the concept of a rainbow bridge to welcome children to elementary school.  Whether my dog has a soul or not--I don't want to debate Catholic theology at the moment.  But my dog clearly had a living spirit.  It was clearly alive and motivating her.  And, as she breathed her last, I envisioned her spirit, finally set free from being trapped in a declining body.  Getting up and running.  Running to chase the squirrels and the birds.  Running to great the next door neighbor dogs.  Running to bark at a dog in the back alley or a dog being walked out front.  Running ahead on a walk. Running--running--running.  Living.  Exuberant.  Welcoming.  Everything that is positively associated with dog.  And running off to a place where she can be free, safe, comfortable, and at peace.

I cried yesterday.  I've been tearing up as I write this.  I'm sure I'll cry again.  Even my sixteen year old--who was completely trying to hold it together--posted a picture of our dog on his FB page.  It was hard to cry as we prepared to bury her yesterday.  Digging a sufficiently deep whole is hard work.  But we all worked together, and we all were together as we finally laid her to rest.  For a family drawn in so many different directions so much of the time, it completely brought us together.  Will that togetherness and unity last? We shall see.

In conclusion, this morning was a weird wake-up.  Every morning for the past ten years, I have awakened to feed the dog, provide her some water, open the door, and let her out.  I've had the chance to greet her and be greeted by her.  I've had a chance to pet her.  I already miss that.  I think even the cats do too.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Empty Promises

On Sunday at mass, Father Sam treated the sign of peace (a usual part of the Catholic mass between the Lord's Prayer and the distribution of the Eucharist) in the way he typically does during Lent.  We had a chance to great the priest with peace (under the new responses, the priest says, "Peace be with you," and the congregation returns, "And with your spirit.") but he asked us to simply search our hearts rather than to offer each other peace.  Father Sam will ask us to offer each other peace again starting on Easter Sunday.

What was interesting was the way he cast it.  He pointed out that the sign of peace is sometimes called the kiss of peace.  Just after having read the story of the passion of Christ, where Judas gave Jesus a kiss as a sign of who should be arrested.  Father Sam commented that, of all Sundays, Palm Sunday is the one on which the kiss of peace has such a diametrically meaning to what we think of in the mass setting.

What he asked us to consider was weather our promises of peace (or promises and commitments in general, in my opinion) were as empty as Judas's kiss of peace in the story of the betrayal of Jesus.

Being "all in," a recurrent theme for me during this Lenten season, would mean minimizing the number of empty promises I make and follow through on the greatest number of promises/commitments.  And, of course, in the long run simply stop making promises that I can't keep.   

Monday, April 2, 2012

Good Enough (or Not?): James 1:22

Despite running my best half marathon ever--whether it truly was 13.1 or as most of us with GPS devices had it closer to 13.25--I have been pondering whether I raced, "hard enough." Why has this been bugging me when it is not like I am on a competitive team? When I tell myself, "You are only competing to get your own best time?" When, if I had placed one higher I would not have been drawn to Psalm 18 yesterday? When I really should be considering the race an accomplishment?

While teaching Sunday school yesterday, I figured out why. It came to me as I was mostly thinking. We have two third grade classes, and yesterday we all met together. The other teacher took the lead while I helped, so I had time to think. And what I realized was that there is a key difference between good enough and best. On report cards when I was in third grade we had satisfactory and outstanding. The key question is whether satisfactory is good enough. If I could have done better but didn't what does that say?

And it all comes back to the story of St Sebastian. The story tells us (regardless of whether it is fact or just a story) that there was one attempt on his life that he survived. I don't know enough about the stories of various saints to know whether being "almost a martyr" is enough to get sainthood, but he may have been named a saint just for the recovery from the archers. Who knows? The key is once he recovered he didn't just sit back and say, "I've done enough." He continued on the path to argue for God.

So, I've set two personal bests for the year. While I have reasons for not running another full marathon this year, what is my attitude toward another half marathon. If I were to run another, would it be "just for fun"? Would it be "to pace a friend"? Or would I run it to try to continue to improve?  Have I become complacent?

On the one hand, I have to realize that at some point I will plateau. I guess I am stuck trying to figure out whether to anticipate that plateau or to always push myself as hard as I can unless I am purposefully pacing a friend. I once asked myself, "If I don't push as hard as I can, why bother registering for and running a race rather than just going out for a Saturday jog?" If I stop asking myself that question, what does it mean? And what would it mean if I only went out for jogs either by myself or with a group but never pushed myself to my limits?

And, of course, all this comes back to general spirituality in ways that extend well beyond the story of St. Sebastian for me. Religion is not supposed to be about just hearing and passively observing. Religion is not supposed to be complacent.  Religion is supposed to be about doing. Take James 1:22:

Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves.

A good lesson to take forward for life in general. Maybe, once again, I have to think about which activities and how many activities. But whatever activities I undertake should be whole hearted rather than half-assed (excuse the language but there is no better expression I could think of to end today's entry).

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Psalm 18

Yesterday I ran my first half marathon of the year and completed my second running goal of the year. Having reached a personal best for the marathon three weeks ago (which was enough to qualify to register for Boston and put my marathon running otherwise on hold for a while), I decided to set out to run a "post-return-to-running" (i.e. since 2009) best at each of the following distances this year--marathon, 20 miler, half marathon, 10 miler, 10K, 5K, mile. As of yesterday, I can check "half marathon" off the list. I was blessed to run a 1:33:09 (I thought :08 yesterday but the official timekeeper says :09). That was a great feeling--although I had a cramp/stitch in my right side that I have not experienced during a race in a long time.

In any case, I was 18th overall. Two straight races in which I was 18th overall leads me to see a pattern and leads me to look for a connection to my spiritual life as I enter the last week of my commitment to daily writing. (I'll continue to write, just not necessarily ever day). So, as I turned to the Bible for some type of interpretation, I looked to the Psalms (from which I have been drawing much strength and inspiration lately). Psalm 18 verses 2 and 3 (from the New American Bible Revised Edition):

He said: I love you, LORD, my strength,
LORD, my rock, my fortress, my deliverer,
My God, my rock of refuge, my shield, my saving horn, my stronghold!

Then, it goes on to talk about winning over enemies because of a trust in God. That is interesting, but not where I find a lot of inspiration unless I translate winning over enemies to overcoming challenges more generally. I am also drawn by verses 22-32 and 50:

For I kept the ways of the LORD; I was not disloyal to my God.
For his laws were all before me, his decrees I did not cast aside.
I was honest toward him; I was on guard against sin.
So the LORD rewarded my righteousness, the cleanness of my hands in his sight.
Toward the faithful you are faithful; to the honest man you are honest;
Toward the pure, you are pure; but to the perverse you are devious.
For humble people you save; haughty eyes you bring low.
For you, LORD, give light to my lamp; my God brightens my darkness.
With you I can rush an armed band, with my God to help I can leap a wall.
God’s way is unerring; the LORD’s promise is refined; he is a shield for all who take refuge in him.
Truly, who is God except the LORD? Who but our God is the rock?
Thus I will praise you, LORD, among the nations; I will sing praises to your name.

In these past few days when I have been challenged by the health of the family dog (whom we see as a family member even more when she is sick than when she was perfectly healthy), the strength that I draw from my belief in God is quite important.  God can be my rock of refuge and my stronghold (from verse 3).  The remainder is also important.  It is an acknowledgment of the responsibilities that come with following God.  I am not perfect--in any way, shape, or form.  But I, like the writer of the Psalm, try to guard against sin.  I try to be faithful and honest to God.  I try to be pure.  I try to be humble.  With God, I don't know that I can leap a wall, but I can run a marathon and many people would claim that the two are as difficult.  God is my rock.  And every weekend I sing praises to his name as I contribute to the worship band at our church.

This latest example of an interesting tie in between my running (or the places in races that relate to my running) and my personal and spiritual life continues to amaze me.  The gifts that we get through having an active relationship with our beliefs (whatever those beliefs may be) are astounding and are enough to life my spirits even when times are tough (saw a comment about church lifting spirits as I was channel surfing and came across a Waltons marathon on the Hallmark channel yesterday).  Perhaps, some would say, that the reason to lift ones spirits is all an illusion and I should just deal with the downsides of life.  However, I find it much more healthy for me to draw on some directed sense of beliefs, values, and spirituality to guide my life.

Each person must make the decision of whether to look for such comforts on their own.  I only hope that my journey has been interesting to others during this Lenten season.