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Chasing Down a Dream

I can put the napkin down…I do not have egg on my face. And I am so relieved.

After highly publicizing my intention to run a 5K race-something I have NEVER done before in my life-yesterday, I did it…and I finished.

With a good luck kiss from my wife, and the encouraging words, “just don’t throw up” echoing in my head from my good friend Rachael, I was off. And my life was changed forever.

I know that sounds a bit dramatic, but it’s true.

You see, when I weighed 360 pounds and I could barely walk up a short flight of stairs without stopping because of severe knee pain and extreme shortness of breath, running a road race wasn’t anywhere on the radar of plans for my life. In fact, I genuinely believe that if I had tried to run at that point, I probably would have had a heart attack.

And I was probably right.

But that was then…In the last four years, I have lost weight…close to 100 pounds.

And with the loss of fat has come a gradual gain in self-confidence.

But it was a series of challenges that brought me to the point where I am able to write this particular blog post:

  • Steve challenged me to run one mile, because he saw my lack of belief in myself;
  • Larry, Bryan, and Mark challenged me to run a 5K with them;
  • And I challenged myself to risk looking like a fool if I failed by telling anyone and everyone who would listen what my goal was.

So here I am, 24 hours later, reflecting on my first 5K. The race route has been cleared, the road has returned to normal, and the only reminders I have of the race are a couple of tired legs, some great memories, and a few nice pictures.

And, oh yeah, I also have more than 100 comments and “likes” on Facebook from well-wishing friends and relatives. Thanks to everyone for their well wishes.

To be honest, I was a little bit surprised at the massive groundswell of support. People who had friended me and then disappeared from my Facebook feed are popping back up to congratulate me or to tell me that they are inspired to set a similar goal.

You know what that means?

It means that during a time when the stock market is down and gas prices are up…when the politicians on both sides of the aisle can’t stop the attack ads and negative campaigning…when the Middle East situation continues to spiral out of control…

People from all cross-sections of society NEED to hear a feel-good story.

As I ran this race, I was energized by the people along the 3.1 mile route, shouting encouragement, clapping for the runners, handing out cups of water, and even spraying willing runners with a hose to cool them off.

I joked with a couple of people sitting in lawn chairs at the end of their driveway that I would trade places with them if they wanted. They laughed, politely declined, and encouraged us to keep going. As I approached the finish line, the race director was standing at the top of the hill, shouting encouragement, “Keep going! You’re almost there! Good job!”

And then I heard the calls from my friends, my wife, and my kids:

“Keep going, Jon! You can do it! Go Dad! WOO HOO!!!” I crossed the finish line with a smile on my face and was immediately mobbed by my favorite people in the world…my family and friends.

With my son, Andrew, who finished 17 minutes ahead of me. 🙂

And as I thanked them for their encouragement, I also thanked God for giving me the strength to do what I could never have done on my own.

So now I have done something I never IMAGINED would be possible…I’m looking for my next challenge…and I’m excited to figure out what it will be.

In the meantime, I am planning to run my next 5K. It’s at the Valparaiso Popcorn Festival. And it’s in three weeks.

I guess I better keep running.

Because I can’t accomplish my dreams if I’m not willing to chase them down.

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The “Domino” Life

When I was young, I watched a TV special about these guys who wanted to set a world record for tumbling the biggest field of dominoes. They spent weeks and weeks meticulously setting up dominoes, one at a time. If their placement was off at all, it would cause a failure in the pattern, and not all the dominoes would fall. On the other hand, if, during the setup, they accidentally knocked over a domino, it would cause a cascade effect that would cause hundreds of dominoes to fall early. They would frantically find a place to remove a domino somewhere up the line that would stop the untimely chain reaction, and then they would have to clear the fallen dominoes and start to rebuild from the point of failure.

As I reflect on the patience one must have to undertake such an effort, it reminds me of my life. I spend a lot of time trying to maximize my effectiveness in so many areas: spiritual, physical, emotional, mental, relational…and when one area of my life is not going well, it tends to cascade over into the other areas of my life, like dominoes that aren’t meant to fall until the entire “puzzle” is set up just right.

Recently, I have been struggling mentally. As the summer semester draws to a close, I find myself completely drained. I’m having mental lapses, making careless computational errors (not good when you’re a math teacher!), and just having trouble focusing in general. This has made it difficult to run.

Yes, I said run…

You see, I have come to realize that what everyone says about running really IS true. It’s all mental. In the last couple of months, I have increased my base running distance from one mile to two miles. And it has been that mental focus that has enabled me to do that. Being mentally drained from teaching has made it difficult to run.

Being the emotional person that I am, this has been discouraging for me. I have felt slightly depressed over the past couple of weeks, and a lot of it is rooted in my self-perceived lack of progress with running. I have my first ever 5K in just nine days, and I do not feel ready for it. This makes me worried, draining me emotionally.

Being drained emotionally has made it difficult to give to my family in the way that they need me to. I am a husband and a dad. My wife and kids require and deserve that part of me which meets their emotional needs…and it has been hard to give the way I need to.

And when I am having trouble meeting the demands of life, I often find myself being frustrated with God. I ask Him to give me the capacity to meet the challenges of daily living, and yet, at the end of the day, I look back and see a series of little failures along the way that add up to a non-productive day.

Does anyone see the problem here?

I believe that the victories in life flow from my spiritual relationship with God first and foremost. When I look back at what leads me to ultimate spiritual frustration, I recognize that it is because I am coming to God with the scraps that I have left at the end of the day. And I’m mad that the scraps are not pleasing to God.

My most useful, productive days are those where I place God at the forefront of my day, where He belongs. Drawing on His strength enables me to be more focused and mentally tough. And then, like the fall of the dominoes, the rest of my day cascades into place.

And when the dominoes fall the right way-the way that they are intended to fall-it creates a beautiful design…one that I can look back on and say, “Thanks for using me today, God.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Who’s On Your Board of Directors?

Ever wonder why big companies have a Board of Directors?

Think about it…when someone starts a company, they make themselves the president, and they make the all of the decisions that determine the course of the organization.

But when the company gets really big, they suddenly need to have a “board of directors” to make the major decisions…

Do you ever wonder why?

The answer is obvious: there is wisdom in the counsel of many. If one person makes a decision without taking into account the wisdom of others, they do not have the fullest picture of how their decisions can impact the company…a wrong decision made by one person could cause the destruction of an organization and the loss of jobs for many people.

Having a board of directors makes perfect sense.

As individuals, we need to have our own “personal board of directors” as well…

I had never heard that term until my friend Steve used it with me several years ago.

Steve was explaining how he had arrived at important decisions in his life. As a youth pastor, he has served in churches in Indiana, Illinois, California, and Florida. He has had to make a multitude of career decisions, family decisions, decisions about how to handle the problems of teens under his care, and so on.

Whenever Steve had to make a critical decision, a decision that could have a far-reaching impact on himself, his family, or others, he would consult his personal board of directors. This was a group of 5-6 people, including his wife, in whom he had complete confidence. They were people who would not tell Steve only what he wanted to hear. They had permission to speak clearly and directly into Steve’s life…even if what they had to say was not going to make Steve happy. These were friends closer than brothers who would pull no punches in offering Steve the best wisdom they possibly could.

I like this idea…

Not only do I like this idea…but I think it is extremely important.

We need people in our lives in whom we have complete confidence; people who can tell us what we may not want to hear-not because they are being cruel, but because they love us and want what’s best for us.

Our spouse should be one of those people…if they are not, then you have larger issues to work through. My wife is my best friend. I could not imagine making major decisions without her input…and she definitely does not always tell me what I want to hear.

We also need close friends who can serve us in the same way…not too many, mind you. But enough that we can get a diversity of opinion when we are trying to make the best decision possible.

They need to be individuals who can get in your face and call you out when you are wrong, comfort you when you are grieving, and rejoice with you when you celebrate.

It’s important that your board of directors has the same value system as you. Its also important to get a diversity of opinions from the group. My wife Katie is one of my board members…so is Steve…and my oldest son, Jack. I also have guys like Mike, Carl, and Eric that I rely on for wisdom and counsel when I need it.

How about you? Do you have people in your life who have the total freedom to put on their boots and stomp around in the mud of your life? Are they allowed to call you out when you need to be called out? Do they offer you sound wisdom, whether you ask for it or not?

Proverbs 27:6a says, “wounds from a friend can be trusted.”

If you don’t have any friends that you can trust to wound you once in awhile, I would suggest that you find some soon…

Because we all have decisions to make in this life…

And most of them should not be made alone.

 

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Writing about Life…the Universe…Everything…

2/1/2012
(A conversation with my 15-year old son, Matthew)
Matthew: “You need to write a blog…”
Me: “Why?”
Matthew: “Because I enjoy reading them…”
Me: (dumbfounded stare)
Matthew: “And because you haven’t written in almost a month…”

2/2/2012
(Facebook instant message from a co-worker)
“More blog please!”

Matthew is right…it has now been a month since I have posted anything in The Marginal Writer. I originally intended to write regularly. And I wanted to get better at my writing

To that end, I have sought out advice and counsel from bloggers far more prolific and successful than myself. I have subscribed to blogs about how to write better blogs, how to “find my voice,” how to “focus my message,” and how to “grow my tribe…” and I believe that every one of them has added some value to my thinking…

But mostly, they have made me feel inadequate.

Two months ago, I was on a roll…I was writing on all sorts of random topics in my life that interested me. And, surprisingly enough, there were people who were actually interested in the random wandering of my writings.

Then I decided to get some blog training…

And my creativity locked up…

I started to feel inadequate, because everything I read about blogging told me that the only way to increase my readership was to narrow my focus to a specific topic. One of my coaches posed the following questions to me:

• What am I passionate about?
• In what topic do I have expertise or a desire to learn?
• What could I write about for a year without running out of ideas or energy?

These are excellent questions from a very successful blogger and blog coach. I wrestled with these questions for days. And the truth is, I could not find a specific answer for any of them. I don’t have any one thing that I feel I am an expert in, and there are so many things I want to learn that I find it hard to focus on just one thing. There is no one subject about which I am so passionate that I could write for a year without running out of ideas or energy.

Or maybe…

Maybe there is…

I am passionate about my life…That sounds self-centered, but bear with me for a minute…

I am passionate about my wife…I am passionate about my kids…I am passionate about laughter…

I am passionate about my friends…I am passionate about my students…I am passionate about my hobbies…

I am passionate about losing weight…I am passionate about trying to get fit…I am passionate about writing…

More than anything else, I am passionate about my relationship with Jesus Christ…

So when I put them all together, what does that give me?

It gives me my life…

And I could write about what’s going on in my life for a year and beyond without ever exhausting the supply of interesting stories…

So I’m back…

And I’ll be writing about what’s going on in my life.

If you enjoy reading it, that’s great…

If not, that’s okay, too…

Because I will have enjoyed writing it…

You see, my 15 year old son finds my writing interesting…

And that means more to me than finding any tribe…

 
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Posted by on February 2, 2012 in Family, Focus, Motivation, Self-discipline, Writing

 

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Perfection is Hard…

I am undefeated at Settlers of Catan…

Have you ever played this remarkable game? It’s kind of like a cross between a war game and Monopoly. Settlers won the game of the year award in 1995, and has become an international phenomenon in the gaming community. The US Catan Championships were held in Indianapolis last August, and the winner is going to Germany for the world championships next summer.

And I am undefeated at this game…

Now I am sure some of you are wondering why I have not entered myself into the championships for this great game…I’m sure that even more of you couldn’t care less…

But read on anyway…

The reason that I have not entered these championships is that I am undefeated at this game…

Did I mention that?

Why would I enter a competition that might end with a blemish on my perfect record?

I mean, the person who eventually wins this tournament has probably lost the game at least once in his life, right?

So even when he or she wins the title as world champion at Settlers of Catan, they cannot say that they are undefeated…

But I can…

Of course, that does present a problem.

It means that I can never play the game again, as I would risk my perfect record…that’s too bad.

I will miss this game…Unless…

I could play against my daughter, Rachael.

She’s five…

But with my luck, one of her older siblings, or, dare I say it, her MOTHER, might come into the room and start coaching her on what moves to make.

That would present a problem.

I would have to cheat…

Or I could fake a heart attack…

I guess that would be cheating too…

This isn’t my fault. If my family had just managed to beat me in any of the games we had played, I would not be undefeated…I would not feel the pressure to maintain my perfect record…

But no…sadly, I was too skillful.

So now I have to carry this burden…the weight of having a better winning percentage than the eventual world champion…

SIGH…

Perfection is a tough job…it must be very tough on my family…

Ya know, it’s pretty selfish of me to subject them to the spotlight that comes with having a member of the family who is so perfect.

It would be a wonderful gesture on my part to sacrifice this perfect record so that my family can get back to leading a normal life…hmmm…

I know what I should do. I should play Settlers of Catan with my family…and I should LOSE…so that they no longer have to face a life of being weighed down by my perfection.

I will lose on purpose…

And I have stated it here as proof of my intentions…

So now, they will NOT have to gang up on me…they will not have to make the sole purpose of their playing to bring me down, to bring me to defeat.

Instead, I shall lovingly…willingly…SACRIFICIALLY lose at Settlers of Catan…

For the sake of my family…

That’s my story…

And I’m sticking to it.

 
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Posted by on December 2, 2011 in Family, Society, Uncategorized

 

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Reality Check

I had a reality check today…

It was more like a reality “slap upside the head.”

I took my dad to the grocery store. This is something that I do every week. Dad doesn’t drive any longer, and living on a fixed income means that he shops weekly, buying smaller amounts and watching the weekly sale ads for good prices.

It also means that sometimes he wants me to drive him to another store so that he can save 20 cents on a gallon of milk…

This annoys me…

One time, I asked him how much he was going to save on a case of bottled water if I drove him to the other store to buy it.

“A dollar,” he said, somewhat defensively.

Me, being the magnanimous, generous, pompous ass that I can be, pulled out my wallet, handed him a dollar, and said, “There. Now we don’t have to make another stop.”

It was my wife who told me what a pompous ass I had been…

Ok, she didn’t exactly call me that. In fact she didn’t call me that at all. That’s just how I felt after she gently pointed out to me that my dad was trying to be wise with his money, trying to make it stretch through the month.

While I figured that she was being overly sensitive on his behalf, I agreed to try to be more understanding and patient during our weekly trips.

When I picked him up today, he said that he wanted to stop at CVS before the grocery store and Walgreens after the grocery store. Milk was on sale at CVS and bottled water was discounted at Walgreens. I mentally gritted my teeth, and said, “ok.”

After we left CVS and headed for the grocery store, I received my reality “slap upside the head.”

“I wanted to thank you,” dad said. “You’ve been much more pleasant the last few times you took me to the store.”

I felt embarrassed. “I’m sorry, dad. I guess I’m just too self-centered sometimes…but I’m working on it.”

I wish that I had some valid reason for needing to save time or gas by driving all over town and making all of these stops. But we live in a small town. As I write this, dad is shopping in the grocery store, and I can see both CVS AND Walgreens from the comfort of my car!

No, the reason for my impatience is because I am self-centered. My human nature wants to do what I want to do, when I want to do it.

I love my dad…I really do.

But I haven’t made a very good effort to show it. And he has noticed.

What about you? Are you struggling to show someone important in your life how valuable they are to you? Do you find yourself short of patience when asked to help? What are you doing to try to overcome your “self-focus?”

Well, here comes my dad…I think I’ll take him to Walgreens.

 
 

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Surprise!

I hate surprises…

I’m one of those people who reads the last chapter of the book to see “whodunit” before I read the book…

I go to www.themoviespoiler.com to find out how a movie ends before I go see it in the theater.

I found out before “The Empire Strikes Back” was released that Darth Vader was Luke Skywalker’s father…

I hate surprises.

When I turned 21, my parents and my girlfriend tried to throw me a surprise birthday party. I sensed that it was coming, so I sleuthed out the secret.

It was a party….it was NOT a surprise.

I remember when I was 7 years old; I unwrapped a present under the Christmas tree because I did not want to be surprised on Christmas morning. It wasn’t easy to re-wrap, but I did it. My parents never knew, and I wasn’t surprised. Of course I had to. ACT surprised…that wasn’t easy.

I hate surprises…

Last night, I had insomnia. I woke up at 3:30 and could NOT get back to sleep…so I got up. I surfed the web and did some online work until about 6:00 am. Of course, I was then tired and went to bed, promptly fell asleep, and, you guessed it…I overslept.

My daughter, Kelly, woke me at 7:00 with, “Dad, don’t you have to go to work?” I groaned, scrambled out of bed and raced into the shower…this was going to be a horrible day. It was NOT starting out well. Tired, crabby, and late for work is never a good way to start the day.

After my 3-minute shower, I hurriedly got dressed, stumbled into the living room…

And started screaming…

Did I mention that I hate surprises?

I woke up the rest of the house with my scream…my wife came running, the kids came running…

Or , more accurately, the REST of the kids came running…

Kelly was already there…with a big goofy grin on her face.

“Hi, dad!,” he said.

Kelly is not a he…Kelly is a she…you probably already figured that out…

“He” is my son, Jack.

Jack and Kelsie

Jack and his wife, Kelsie, live in Minnesota…Jack and Kelsie are not supposed to be here until Christmas…Jack and Kelsie drove all night to be here for Thanksgiving…Jack and Kelsie did not tell anyone they were coming.

Jack and Kelsie surprised us.

Guess what?

I love surprises…

 
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Posted by on November 23, 2011 in Family, Uncategorized

 

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