God is Great, Even After 9/11

Average Us exists simply to affirm that God is great, even when life isn’t. On the tenth anniversary of 9/11, I think that statement bears repeating, and perhaps, explanation.

You probably remember where you were, what you were doing, how time stopped that day.

It was a Tuesday

I was running late for work and just pulling into the parking lot when I heard the first, “what just happened?” report on WSB AM750. I remember the shocking images. I remember the eery silence of the skies, and the startling sound of a plane three days later. I remember the huge crowds on Sunday morning, September 16th, coming to hear the most anticipated sermon since the assassination of JFK.

I must’ve seen those towers crumble a hundred times while the dust cloud enveloped the city. But, I think the smoke and dust reached further and choked more than just Manhattan, and Washington, and rural Pennsylvania that day.

America is different now. The world is different, and yet…

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The Incarnation: Somebody Loved You

A good friend who wanted some advice asked me this week how I handled Dawn’s struggles with anxiety and depression.

Without hesitation, I offered a one word answer: love.

What I Meant by That

I didn’t mean that I feel romantic, warm-fuzzy feelings for Dawn (though, I have them a-plenty) that counter-balance whatever personal loss I might experience (which, I don’t at all) by having her in my life.

I meant that I handle her issues by actively loving her. I think of love primarily as a verb – an action, a decision, a commitment; not as a noun – a feeling, a state of being. Our culture typically defines love as the happy, warm-fuzzy feelings another person makes us feel, or worse, as the erotic passion another person makes us feel. (Have you noticed that no one is pretty, or elegant, or handsome, or cute anymore? Everyone is “hot”? But I digress…)

A better, more biblical understanding of love is this: love is committing oneself to act in a way that benefits someone else. Take, for example, the story of the Good Samaritan. The hero in that story was the hero because he actively loved someone else.

Love is committing oneself to act in a way that benefits someone else.

What Love Can Cost

Noun-love is self-centered; verb-love is other-centered. It is costly to the self, though it often comes with personal rewards, too.

I try to love Dawn this way. I want my life to be a series of actions intended to make her life fuller. I admit though, that in my case there is so much I admire and enjoy about Dawn that my commitment to love her (it’s a verb) makes any personal cost I might experience invisible to me. I never feel like I’m losing anything.  It’s easy to love her.

But what if she had less I could admire and enjoy about her? And, what if her “issues” were a thousand times worse? Would I still find it so easy to actively love her? Would I be as committed to her welfare?

All I can say is, I hope so. I’m only an average man. I have issues, too – pretty complicated, nasty, ugly ones, actually. As a result, I probably don’t have the capacity for great, great love. I would need to tap into Someone else’s supply.

What God Meant by That

And that brings me to why I’m writing today. My friend’s question reminded me how wonderful it is that God wasn’t content to feel a cosmic warm-fuzzy toward me. Instead, He loved me so as to benefit me, in spite of my issues, and He never gave the cost a second thought. The incarnation of His Son was an infinitely costly, supreme act of love toward an unremarkable me. That act of love will ultimately free me from my issues, and empower my own capacity to love Him and others.

God looked down on me and you, a mass of average people with nothing admirable to recommend us, and He verb-loved us anyway…

with the best He had to offer.

How has God’s verb-love made a difference in your life?

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Average People Need Never Run Alone

USMC Marathon

USMC Marathon

Well, it’s been 3 weeks today since my average marathon adventure. I spent the first two weeks resting, then a week ago I went for an 11-miler with a buddy who is preparing for an upcoming half-marathon. That run convinced me I needed to keep resting until my psoas fully heals. (Your psoas runs through your core on both sides connecting your spine to your hip bones.)

The weeks of rest have given me a bit of perspective on my marathon experience. For starters, the ambulance ride + emergency room will only cost me about a $1,000 out of pocket. Well, it’s less than I feared. And – some good news – my sister-in-law found my wedding ring. Hooray!

And even better, I miss running. I can’t wait to get out there and move my legs again once I can do it pain free. I’ve even started imagining a couple of goals for 2011 to keep it interesting. (By the way, I’m only 21 miles away from completing my 2010 goal of one thousand miles. With only 21 miles to go, I figure I can rest through the last week of December :-).

But the best perspective I’ve gained from this experience has come via friends who are runners. That perspective is: I am not alone.

David from Alpharetta, Georgia

(David and I are colleagues at AutoTrader.com.)

David and I shared many a good, and not-so-good, run as we trained through the summer and fall. He is running the Disney Marathon in January. I was feeling at about my lowest of post-marathon lows, when David really encouraged me just by offering to run a marathon with me next year if I wanted to do it again. If there’s anything I’ve learned in life, it’s that everything is harder when you do it alone. Thanks David. I might have to take you up on that.

Two other friends, both with a lot more athletic endurance experience than me, emailed me their first marathon experiences which were surprisingly similar to mine. Their stories were so encouraging, so thoughtfully written with the wisdom of experience, that I really wanted to share them with you. With their permission here they are…

Joey from Sugar Hill, Georgia

(Joey and I met at a mens’ discipleship group through Perimeter Church.)

“Lon, your story was incredible. I loved it, I cried, and I am sorry I even laughed a little. I’ve never seen you use so many expl____es.

I ran my first marathon in 2000 at Disney World. After that race, I was done. I could not make myself run. I even had a hard time getting up early to get to work. This went on for a few years. I put on 50 lbs. Somewhere along the way, I decided it was time to run again. I lost all of that weight. I’ve run a couple of marathons since, and I have one coming up this weekend. I love them now. I love coaching and encouraging people to run them (once they’ve decided to do so). I accept them for what they are and that on any given race day, anything can happen. I like going to the edge. I like to be reminded that I am not in control, and that I do rely on His strength. This coming Saturday, I will say more Our Father’s than Tony Soprano would after confession.

So, whether you decide to run another one or not, I am proud of you.

P.S. Even though it hurt to see it, isn’t great to have someone there to be scared for you. You are a lucky man.”

Dale in Temple, NH

(Dale and I marched together in a Drum & Bugle Corps 30 years ago. We have reconnected via Facebook.)

“Thanks Lon for sending the story. I took today off as a precaution just in case I turned out to be in poor shape today. Oddly, I feel better than I thought I would. Everybody’s first marathon and really every marathon is a unique and personal experience. My first one was a transformational thing for me and I learned something about myself that I don’t think I really knew. I remember it was fun for the first half. I was swept up in the event and I felt energized, smooth and strong. Of course as the miles rolled by any good feelings disappeared. By 20 miles in it’s fair to say I was beginning to truly suffer and grim reality had replaced the earlier excitement and enthusiasm. A few more miles and I wanted to quit. Emotionally I was beginning to break. It had gotten so much worse than I thought it could, especially because I thought I was trained and ready. Before I totally fell apart though I found a little help. From somewhere inside a tougher much less sympathetic version of me stepped up and told me to knock off the pity party, stop the whining and get my ass to the finish line. That’s how I finished. It felt like a grim death march and I swore I’d never do it again as I crossed the line. I could barely walk 20 minutes later.

Fortunately, the body forgets the pain and I still felt like I had achieved something… something the most people, even most runners never will. Not right away, but later, I felt like the whole experience had strengthened me and maybe taught me something about myself that I otherwise could not have learned. In our day to day lives we rarely get very close to “the edge”. Almost never do we really approach the limit of our physical and emotional breaking points. The marathon is just long enough to explore that dark region.

Even though you had a rough, perhaps discouraging, marathon I think you’ll be glad you did it. Also consider that each one becomes it’s own journey. Yesterday was a tough course with a lot of hills. I ran most of the race with the same people around me. I spent some time chatting as we ran and some quiet time too. I really enjoy the company and community that runners seem to find with each other. The race went far better than I thought it would and if I hadn’t started to get some leg cramps in the last 4 miles my time would have easily been sub 3:50. I still got a PR out of it though. Most importantly, I truly enjoyed the race from beginning to the end.

Physically I was hurting but not broken at the end. Emotionally I was still high and felt like I had one of the best running experiences of my life. I’m sure when you get back into running again that you’ll still enjoy it and you may not think so now but someday doing another marathon is going to cross your mind. When it does you should give it another shot…. each one is different.”

Thanks Guy

Your words really mean a lot. I’m not alone. I’m not the only one who has suffered and survived, only to be discouraged.

I should’ve known it. Average people like me will always have lots of good company in the middle of the bell curve.

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