Saturday, August 24, 2013

In the Rear View Mirror

Were my eyes playing tricks on me, or was something up with that guy's tire?

"Mom, what's wrong with his tire?"

Okay, it wasn't just me.  The driver of the pick-up truck in front of me was clearly losing the tire off the back of his trailer.  "I think," I said, as bits of rubber started flying toward my windshield, "that he's having a blow-out."  I slowed down, anticipating that he would pull off to the side of the road as soon as he realized what was happening.

Except he didn't.  He kept going 65 miles an hour as the tire continued to rip apart.  And then the entire thing came off and flew across the road, the rim of the trailer blazing along the pavement.  He didn't even slow down.  Smoke started billowing up behind him.  I honked several times.  Surely that would make him look in his rear view mirror and see the cloud of smoke.  Nope.  Nothing.

The kids and I started laughing in disbelief.  "Wow, Mom, he must be really determined to get where he's going!"

When he finally pulled over, I thought to myself that there was probably a lesson here.  Everyone knows that you can't drive looking in the rear view mirror.  You can't move forward if you're always looking back.  It's the same with life.  If we focus on the past and spend hours contemplating our childhood and reevaluating past choices, we won't make forward progress.  Ecclesiastes tells us that it is better not to "dwell unduly" on the things that happen in our lives.  (Ecc. 5:19-20)  We have to travel with our eyes forward.

The pick-up truck driver had that lesson down.  No looking back for that guy!  He had his eye on the goal and he was moving forward.  He was off to work and nothing was going to distract him.  But he didn't take the time to realize that things were falling apart behind him.  Every once in awhile, we need that rear view mirror.  A quick glance back here and there can give us information that will help us reach our destination.

After all, how can we learn life's lessons if we don't take some time to look back and evaluate?  There are many who spend far too much time pondering and reconsidering every step, but the hyper-charged people out there- we know who we are- are guilty of the opposite folly:  Moving toward a goal at a breakneck speed at the expense of letting the past instruct us.  I find it's far easier than I'd like to admit to fall into that trap, especially in the little day to day areas.  After all, when something huge happens, you pretty much have to stop and take notice.  If your house burns down, there will be inspections and reports.  What caused this massive disaster?  But in our day to day life, it's easier to ignore the warning signs.

Take parenting as an example.  One of the advantages (other than having a fail-safe retirement plan) of having a lot of children is being able to learn from your mistakes and change tactics.  That's why we firstborn children are all so tightly wound and high strung, parents just have no idea what's a big deal and what isn't.  So with the first child, we usually decide that EVERYTHING is a big deal.  When Nathan was seven, he started lying.  Oh my goodness!  What kind of future con artist were we raising?  And then, he stopped.  And when the next child turned seven and started to lie, we said, "Hasn't this happened before?"  By the third or fourth time, I was able to say, "Well, it looks like it's time to start teaching the required seven-year-old curriculum on the value of honesty."  I could look in the rear view mirror and apply those lessons as I moved forward.

A look back can also remind us of all the ground we've covered in the past.  Sometimes, the destination is too far ahead to even see.  There are just too many turns in the road between us and where we're going.  We have to remember, then, how far we've come, how many times the Lord has sustained us in the past, how we've overcome obstacles that seemed insurmountable before.  And as we look back, we get the courage to move forward.

"A wise man considers well his steps."  (Prov. 14:15)  On the highway of life, we'd all do well to check the rear view mirror every now and again.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Live Fast

I was listening to some great Keith Green music.  I love his songs.  His passion and zeal shine through in his lyrics, and when I sing along with him, I am inspired to follow the Lord without compromise.  His life was short.  He was killed in a plane crash, along with two of his children, at age 28.  He left behind a pregnant wife and one more little one, and a legacy of speaking the truth through music:

"The world is sleeping in the dark,
that the church just can't fight,
because it's asleep in the light.
How can you be so dead
when you've been so well fed?"

Conviction and inspiration, all from a life- though brief- lived well, lived passionately, lived fast.

For some reason, that made me think about how short Bryan's life was.  Just 44 years, and he was a Christian for less than half of that time.  And yet he accomplished so much and touched so many.  He lived fast.  He packed as much as he could into his short life, and I think there's a lot to be learned from his example.

Bryan, you see, was busy, very busy.  He had a job, a family (a big one!), and all of the usual "responsibilities."  And yet somehow, he still managed to teach Bible studies, plan and lead Passover Seders, teach Sunday school, lead AWANA at our church (a Sunday night Bible memory club), and invite people to our home for celebrations and fellowship.  Then, of course, there were the comments he'd make that made people wonder what on earth he read in his spare time (Irenaeus, Tertullian, Justin Martyr, and the like.)

He did all of that while dealing with chronic pain.   Some nights before Bible study, when his ankles hurt so badly that he could barely walk,  I can remember him debating whether or not he should rearrange the room so that he could sit instead of stand.  He usually stood.  One afternoon before a large Passover Seder at our home, he went to the emergency room to get a splint for his wrist.  (Collapsed joints are very painful.)  He had every reason to take it easy.  Oprah would have told him to practice saying no and work in some more "me time."  And no one would have blamed him if he had chosen that path.

But Bryan felt blessed to have so many opportunities to share the zeal he had inside.  He would say, "Well, you've got to do something with your life."  How often do we forget that we're supposed to be doing something with our lives?  How often do we say, "I'm just so busy.  I need to slow down"?

And maybe we are too busy.  But there's a good chance that we're busy doing the wrong things.  We turn down the opportunities for service that are meaningful and eternally enduring, and absorb ourselves in little distractions that won't matter much in the end.  Plus, there's always the chance that we're stronger than we think, capable of doing more than we think we can, if we just choose to follow the passion that God has given us.  Are we squandering years that may turn out to be all too short?

God hasn't called us to an easy path, a path with lots of time to pursue idle pastimes.   He's called us to serve, to reach out, to think carefully about what we can do to impact those around us.  And when we do things for His glory, He gives us the strength, even if it seems impossible at the outset.

A few months before he died, Bryan asked me, "Honey, do you think we can do a public Seder at church again this year?"  I was kind of surprised he asked.  I figured he would have taken it for granted that we would.  (When Justin was born two weeks early, he said, "Oh good, we can invite some people over at Passover.  He'll be 6 weeks old!"  We had 20 guests that year.)  I asked him why he was asking me, and he said, "Because I know it's hard, and I don't want you to do it if you don't think you can."

It's true.  It was hard.  We were busy.  We had an infant and six other kids under ten.  Bryan was putting in long hours at work.  By all the standards of this world, I should have said, "No, it's too much."  But I knew how much it meant to him.  I knew that God had placed a burning desire inside of him to share the wonder of the Word.  And I didn't say no, I said we'd make it work.

And that was his last Seder.  Was it worth it?  I think so.

Walk as children of light...
Redeem the time,
because the days are evil.
- from Ephesians 5:8,16

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Tiny Texan

I finished my first sprint tri!

Sunday was the annual Tiny/Small Texan Triathlon in Boerne.  I've had my eye on this race for a few months, and I finally decided to sign up and go for it.  The sprint (Tiny) race is an 800 m. swim, 25K bike, 5K run.

I got there early, got everything set up, and nervously bounced around waiting for the race to start.  The pro triathlete who's helped me with some of my swimming, Travis, was there for the Small Texan (olympic distance race), and he talked me into a short, slow jog before the race started.  That sounded pretty crazy to me, considering that I was just hoping that I'd have the endurance to finish the race, but it was better than standing still, so I went along with it.

The Small Texan racers started first, and Travis was the first one out of the water by a minute and a half.  Then, it was time for the Tiny racers to start.  (You're probably picturing elves right now.)     I had done one open water swim before the race, so I knew I probably wouldn't panic in the water, but I wasn't willing to fight it out with the other racers at the start.  I'm not a fast swimmer and I had no intention of getting run over.  I hung back and started nearly last.  Apparently, I then passed other swimmers, but since everyone was fairly spread out in the water, I didn't really realize that.  I am terrible at swimming straight in open water.  It's harder than it looks.  The buoys were placed 200 m apart, and I stayed on track by looking up every so often and course correcting.  In politics and in swimming, I lean right.  After about 500 meters, I became pretty convinced that I was coming in dead last.  I wasn't really looking for a fast finish, but it made me remember what Nathan had said after his first tri, "You just don't want to be in the water so long that everyone knows your name and is cheering for you."  That made me laugh- yes, even while I was swimming- and I just kept going.  Turns out I wasn't last by a long shot, but since I could see people ahead of me and no one was passing me, it just felt like it.

Coach Eddie, Boerne's swim coach extraordinaire, was there to watch Travis, and Travis' mom and girlfriend came as well.  I got to borrow them to be my cheer squad too!  I ran up the hill (uphill proved to be the theme of the day) out of the lake and into the transition area, hopped on my bike and headed out.  (Thanks, Katlyn, for the pictures!)

The ride started out along the I-10 access road.  It was a little hilly (something I never realized when driving in the car!) but not too bad at all.  I started to feel pretty confident.  We Tiny racers turned around just after the Welfare Country Club (ritzy place, let me tell you) and PoPo's restaurant.  (All the German speakers should feel free to snicker.  No, I've never eaten there.)  We actually had to head back just as things were getting scenic.  The announcer had said before the race that, on the way back, we would pass the lake and go in the other direction "for a little bit" to make it a true 25K ride.  No problem, I could do a little bit.

Well, his definition of a little bit and my definition of a little bit are clearly different.  Oh my goodness, the hills!  I just became determined not to walk up any of them.  And I didn't.  It was beautiful and scenic in a Texas sort of way, with a view of the lake after the turnaround, but my lack of training on the road started to become apparent.  I don't care how much I crank up the resistance on my trainer, it's not the same as actually riding uphill.

I still felt good coming out of the bike, though I knew I had slowed considerably during that last "little bit" (which I think was at least 1/3 of the ride.)  I got back into transition, slipped on my running shoes, and took off up the rocky hill for the run.  And then I hit the dam.  I had heard people mention the dam- how hot it was, how hard it was to run at the end of the race- but now I knew what all the fuss was about.  It was soooo hot!  I felt like an egg in a frying pan, and I was pretty certain that I had used every last ounce of power in my legs biking up those hills.  At this moment, I was really worried that I was going to have to walk the run, but I pushed ahead, and kept going as best I could.  The run revealed another problem with my training- no heat acclimation.  I work out on a treadmill in the air conditioning.  My body had no idea what to do with the temperatures I was dealing with.  The aid station and its cold water seemed forever away!  And I have to admit, I was kind of shocked with how I was feeling.  I'm not a fast runner, but my 5K pace is pretty consistent, so I felt confident that I could handle the run.  Halfway through, my legs were cramping so badly (holdover from the bike) that I could see my muscles spasming.  I stopped to work that out, and then, coming back across the dam, I finally realized that I just HAD to keep an even pace.  There was a lady who was running more slowly than my usual pace, but she was being consistent.  I got behind her and just followed her to the finish line.  Thanks #177!

At the finish line, I picked up my medal and WATER, carefully made my way down to the lake and cooled off!!  My final times were 800m swim: 23:57; 25K bike 1 hr, 9 min; 5K run 37:04.  Total time: 2:13:34.  I actually came in third in my age group, which surprised me because I felt SO slow.  I guess it helps that everyone else was having to deal with the same hills and heat.  (Travis came in first in his age group and third all around for the olympic distance.  The top three finishers were all pros.  And it actually took him just 10 minutes longer to finish twice the distance that I covered.  Ah, well, the joys of being young.)

I had a great time, and there wasn't a single moment during the race that I regretted signing up for it (not even on the dam!)  I had some great inspiration along the way:  On the swim, I could hear Coach Eddie: "Steady, even pace."  Coach Travis: "Ten strokes then look up or else you're going to end up in the middle of the lake." On the bike, "Coach" Dad: "Don't coast- keep pedaling!"  Amanda, who got me started on this craziness: "You've got to start taking these hills, Aimee!" Trust me, after struggling up the hills- I wasn't chickening out and braking on the way down.   And the most inspiring of all, little Carsten, "Mommy, I hope you win your race!"

Not win, buddy, finish.  And that's a win in my book.