Come apart or come apart.

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Come away…and rest a while. (Mark 6:31)

My wife, Betty, and I are in the middle of the longest vacation of our married lives.  And we are enjoying every minute of it immensely while getting away and getting some much-needed rest.  I always thought that when I reached the age of retirement, life would slow down, become more relaxed and, in general, become the most peaceful part of my life.

Was I ever wrong!   Family relationships have become more complicated and time-consuming.  Health issues have come up that require treatment and life-style changes.  Household tasks that I put off for the past 20 years now need doing.  It’s true….retirement isn’t for sissies.  While I may have thought that retirement would free me from work and the pressures of my earlier life, one thing has remained the same.  I still need to take time off to recharge my batteries.  A change of scenery, a break from my everyday routine, and a temporary escape from the business of life can change my whole outlook and perspective.  We all need a break.  A MarketWatch survey in 2015 noted that 55% of American workers no longer take their paid vacations.  The Boston Globe followed that with a survey that showed that of those that took their vacations, 61% still continued to work.  I can’t even imagine the kind of unrelenting pressure to succeed that must create.

As I get older, it becomes harder for me to accomplish what I used to be able to do.  That can be very frustrating.  I’m no longer as quick physically or mentally (though some of you may feel that this is not necessarily a recent development) as I once was.  That’s even more frustrating.  Success now has a different definition and timeframe.  While a time of rest and separation may not cure me of getting old, it does help me to continue facing life with renewed energy and anticipation.

So, like the busy executive, the emergency room doctor, the mother of five, or the soldier serving overseas, we all need to come apart from our normal routines and pressures of life in order to keep from coming apart at the seams.  So rest and rejuvenate yourselves to be ready to face the coming days.  Happy vacation!

Gotcha!

 

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Be sure your sin will find you out. (Numbers (22:23)

Did you ever notice that when you’ve done something wrong, foolish or embarrassing, you rarely get away with it?  Somehow, somebody always seems to find out.  And when they do, there are consequences.  They may confront you, which can be difficult–both for you and the person confronting you.  They may “share” it with someone else with the alleged reason to find some way to “help” you overcome your failing.  Or they may keep it to themselves, either hoping that the problem will go away on its own, that they can hold it over you to be used at later time or to make them feel better about themselves because they aren’t guilty of the same thing.  And sometimes, it’s a combination of all these possibilities.

I remember a couple of amusing incidents from my coaching days.  At the time, I was coaching both spring track and cross-country.  One bright and wintry Saturday, I took my runners on a 9 1/2 mile run in the snow and ice.  About a third of the way into the run, we went by a frozen pond.  Wouldn’t you know it, one of my runners (who was absent from practice) was on that pond fishing.  What were the chances that we would stumble upon him skipping practice?  I bet he thought it never would happen.  None of us stopped and we let him sweat it out until we returned to practice the following Monday.  Then his teammates and I enjoyed” his extra workout for skipping the previous one.

Early one spring, one of my runners asked to be excused from a Saturday workout for his grandmother’s funeral.  The next week, he asked to be excused for his grandmother’s funeral.  Two weeks later, he again asked to be excused for his grandmother’s funeral.  Needless to say, he didn’t have three grandmothers.  Once again, we all enjoyed his extra workouts.

 We’ve all done things that we’ve regretted.  And when we’re found out, we usually suffer some immediate consequence–if only to feel guilty.  Even if no one else knows, you do.  And that knowledge will always be a part of you until you make it right, fix it, then let it go.  You may think you think you’ve gotten lucky and that no one else will ever know.  And that you think there will be no consequences.  Well, maybe not in this life, but what about the one to come?

Surround Sound

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“Concentrate on these things” (Philippians 4:8)

My wife and I have always had an abiding love for music.  So, many years ago, we stretched our limited budget enough to buy a Bose sound system complete with “surround sound.”  Much like today’s movie theaters, there are speakers in various places that allow us to feel like we’re right in the middle of the action.  It’s great for TV, movies, and, of course, music.

In this past holiday season, we often found the “reason for the season” being buried by the surrounding flood of advertising, cranky shoppers, winter weather, seasonal decorating, lack of parking, and sadness over the recent loss of family members.

We sang “Joy to the World” in church to celebrate the birth of Jesus.  But I wonder how many people actually felt joy during this blessed season.  Or did the hustle and bustle of the holiday surround us and bury the joy we should be filled with.  If we allow the potential  negatives that this time (or any other time) can cause, we will never be filled with the joy that God intended for us.  Instead we willed be filled with irritation, frustration and sadness.

But, if we surround ourselves with positive things, we will begin to feel that joy.  Joy in the act of giving to others. Joy of celebrating with family and friends.  Joy in encouraging those who need it.  So concentrate on these things:  that which is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.  Then you can have the joy of actually celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ (Philippians (4:8)

In All Things…

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“In everything give thanks…(I Thessalonians 5:18)

Thanksgiving has come and gone with its three “F’s”–family, food, and football.  Well, maybe not football.  We’re thankful for our family and friends.  We’re thankful for having enough food and a roof over our heads.  We’re thankful for our health and our jobs.

With people living longer, the size of our extended family has become larger and larger.  Medical advances have helped to prevent and treat injuries and illnesses that might have been fatal in years past.  And our ability to travel long distances has given us greater opportunities to gather together.  With social media, the number of our “friends” has increased daily.

Most of us have more than enough food and our homes are often far more than we actually need.  When we consider the  multitude of people around the world (and even  in our own country), that don’t have enough to eat or a place to live, we should be extremely thankful.  Maybe even enough to try to help others who are less blessed.  We may complain about what our jobs pay, but there are people who would love to have even one of our day’s pay–and then would make it last for a whole year.  They don’t have motorized transportation, multiple changes of clothing or grocery stores, health care, or even much education.  So, yes, we do have much to be thankful for.

I look back over my life and realize how much I have to be thankful for.  My parents have both passed away, but I’m able to remember them by the life they lived and the way they passed that example down to  me.  I don’t have a huge number of friends, but the ones I have, I trust.  They have made my life better for having know them.

My wife and I were never blessed with children, but were given a life-time of working with children, teens, and young adults.  And, at last count, we had well over 100 nieces/nephews, grand-nieces/grand-nephews, and great grand-nieces/great grand nephews.  Along with my wife as my partner, that’s a lot to be thankful for.

I taught and coached for 40 year–both jobs that I loved.  How many people can say that?  It was a job that allowed me to provide for my family then and still helps to provide for it now that I have retired.  If not for health issues, I would probably still be doing both.

My health hasn’t always been as good as I hoped it would be.  Three heart attacks, diabetes, sleep apnea, arthritis, and a “predisposition” for epilepsy are not what I had planned for in my “golden years.  But, while any one of these could be deadly or debilitating, I’m still here living my life to the fullest side by side with my wife.  And then there are the medical devices have helped to keep me going strong.  Reading glasses, hearing aids, and artificial knee, and a machine that keeps me breathing at night. If you think this is complaining, think again.  Despite these things, (or maybe because of them), I am still able to live my life with little to no restrictions.  Not a lot of people my age are that fortunate.

So as Thanksgiving day has passed, remember to be thankful for all things.  They make you who you are and are what you pass on to others.

 

Back in the Saddle

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Do not “give up” or “lose heart” (Luke 18:1)

I ran just 2 marathons during my running career.  My fastest was 3 hours and 18 minutes-not very fast, but fast enough to beat over 400 other runners.  The key was to never give or lose heart.  There were days when I simply did not want to run–either from fatigue or injury or just plain laziness.  But instead, I never gave up and accomplished something I never thought I could.  This was a choice I made for something I wanted to do.

I’ve found over the years, however, that I’ve been challenged by a number of difficult circumstances that I never asked for or wanted to experience.  I’m sure each of you have had similar experiences.  When hit by these difficult times, I have found myself becoming “gun-shy” about picking myself up to get by them.

First, understand that I am not by nature not very gregarious.  I am an introvert.  I like my friends singly and in groups, but I have no compulsive need to have others around me all the time.  In fact, give me a good book, some art supplies or some music and I can vanish from everyone else’s life for hours.  Unfortunately, this does not help when I’m struggling with something.

There have been a few times in my life when a situation has knocked me flat.  Some were of my own making.  Others were brought on by others.  Still others just happened.  I didn’t ask to have a heart attack; it just happened.  I didn’t ask to have a negative reaction to a medication; it just happened.  You just have to “suck it up” and deal with it.  The ones of my own making can be humbling, embarrassing  and sometimes hurtful to others.  For these I’ve had to apologize and make things right.  When humbled or embarrassed,  I’ve simply had to get over myself.  The world doesn’t revolve around me and my feelings.

The tough ones, though, have been those problems caused by others–the ones that change how you feel about yourself, change the direction of your life and then continue to re-insert themselves into your life when you’re least prepared to deal with them.  Fortunately, these kind of problems don’t come around too often.  I was once accused of something I never did.  Though everyone who knew me knew the accusation was false, the accusation remained.  And, with people being people, this accusation was kept alive by others for years and years.  Their belief was “where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”  And over the years, they created a lot of “smoke.”  This wasn’t a case of just dealing with something or simply getting over myself.  Thankfully, I came to realize that there is absolutely nothing that I could to do to eliminate the accusation or the accuser.  And my negative feelings about them never hurt them.  They only hurt me.  So the only thing I could do to save myself a lot of lasting pain was to forgive them and move on-hard though that was.

This was one of those times where it was good to ignore my introversion and have others around me.  Their prayers and encouragement were what kept me going.  It took years, but life became good again.

“I am what I am, and that’s all that I am.” (Popeye the Sailor Man)

Ken at Jekyll Island 2007
Ken being Ken

 

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Ken not being Ken

 

Whatever you do, do well. (Ecclesiastes 9:10)

I recently took a survey to see how my personality would fit into a workspace situation.  To no one’s surprise, my strongest personality trait is conscientiousness.  This means I take a logical, objective approach to things to ensure accuracy.  I’m very systematic and like to create standards to bring about efficient, high quality outcomes.  In order to avoid making mistakes, I can be quite cautious and like to take time to think things through.  I can be very hard on myself when I’m wrong about something.  I prefer to work alone and prize my independence and privacy.  I’m uncomfortable in social situations with strangers.  I can get annoyed with people who ignore logic and incontrovertible facts.  I pride myself on the quality of my work, but I shy away from public recognition.  I prefer to work behind the scenes.

And yet, so many of the things in my life have required me to stretch beyond the pigeon-hole that the survey showed for me.  As a teacher, coach and minister I have had to put myself to the forefront of the things I have been responsible for.  In those same capacities, I have had to deal with new people and those with less knowledge or experience in those areas nearly all my life.  I still don’t like to make snap decisions without thinking them through.  And I still am very organized.  And I’m still a perfectionist.

But you know what?  I’ve never been happier than when I was doing those things that were out of my comfort zone.  So never put yourself in a box where you can’t see everything else the world has to offer.  Your personality may cause you to be more comfortable in certain situations or with certain people,  but there’s a big world out there with endless opportunities to stretch yourself to be more than just comfortable.  Dr. Suess said no one could be youer than you, while Oscar Wilde said to be yourself because everyone else is already taken.  I couldn’t have said it better myself.

 

 

Test your faith daily.

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The top 5

 

For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. (James 1:3)

Some 25 years ago, I had the great pleasure of working with a group of young boys who had just entered junior high school. Each of these 11-12 year-olds already had their very own unique personality that ranged from “flaky” to downright irritating. For some reason, they all decided to go out for the cross-country team. Several of them had older brothers already on the team. Some just wanted to do stuff with their friends. Anyway, for whatever reason, they all showed up. Little did I (or they) know how much they would accomplish over the next 6 years. By the time they had finished, they had amassed a 71-10 dual meet record (including 51 consecutive wins), 5 League Championships, 5 Invitational Championships, 4 District Championships, 2 State titles and 1 State Runner-up. In the process, they grew up to become good students, great athletes and some of the finest young men I have ever known. Throughout the years, we built on our strengths and strengthened our weaknesses and we did it through hard work as a team. The State Runner-up finish came the year after the 2 State titles. It was a great disappointment to all of us. Somehow I had managed to take a 2-time State Championship team and turn them into a 2nd best team. This last cross-country race probably was the most important one of their (and my) careers. And we lost. Yet, I think all of us grew through the experience. We all learned to take nothing for granted and that no matter how hard we worked or how talented we might be, there was always someone else waiting in the wings and working just as hard or harder to take over. The Olympics in Rio have shown that time and time again. Sometimes the veterans amaze with their longevity and their ability to maintain that competitive edge. Other times, the new, unknown and untested rise to the occasion to capture medals. I no longer am involved with running or coaching, but I have great memories to remind me of those years. One of my most cherished running-related items is a sweatshirt given to me by that particular group of athletes at the end of our last season together. On it was written, “Test your faith daily.” Regardless of those records and years of competing together, that sweatshirt summed up our success and left me feeling maybe I had really accomplished something lasting. They recognized that no matter what we try to accomplish in life, it’s always about “testing your faith daily,” rejoicing in your successes, and learning from your mistakes. I still have that sweatshirt today as a reminder.