Sojourner


I have always been interested in the unique word sojourner. To understand what the word, not necessarily the historical name, actually means takes a bit of research and some creativity. Even in the Bible. a few translations make reference to being a sojourner throughout the land. Slowly but surely I’m beginning to have a better understanding of what this word means, and how it applies to me.

Perhaps, I should begin by offering a heart-felt apology to so many people. I feel guilt. Shame. Abandonment even. It may not necessarily make sense at the moment, but please believe me when I state my aim is not to create hate, but instead confess my own confusion.

I do not understand this world.

I do not understand this society.

I do not understand the people.

While not impossible, I do firmly question how hard it is to be a Christian within the society that I currently dwell in. Maybe that is too broad of a statement and/or question. Perhaps I have not tried hard enough to emphasize my thoughts, God’s will, or Biblical interpretations in relation to last weeks election.

I feel…nothing.

*crowd throws tomatoes*

I am sorry. This is where my heart hurts. I see one side of people thrilled about an elected leader who is going to ‘change the status quo in Washington’. I see another side that is full of fear, sadness, and anger. I’m stuck in the middle because I feel sadness for both sides. I cannot look at any person, any group of people, and suddenly feel threatened by their power. God is a lot bigger then what we measly humans can conjure up. That realization, that fact, that truth is what I hold onto on a daily basis. In fact, literally this is something I carry on me in the form of in on my left shoulder:

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

I did not get a tattoo just because I wanted one. I received one because I wanted that reminder with me. Originally, I thought it would serve as a reminder of what God has done to protect me coming out of a horrific divorce. However, five years past those tragic days I see that God’s message holds true in many uncertain events.

Reality is understanding that bad things will always plague this world. We have done this to ourselves. History demonstrates that to us on a daily basis. We will always have leaders that strike fear throughout the masses, and there will always be groups of people trying to rewrite the laws of society. This is not a situation within just the United States, this is a situation that resides within the global community.

I have watched friends, colleagues, people of faith, and people without, tear at each other for the past seven days. I tiptoe around every conversation I can, barely giving recognition to the results of the previous week. Why? Because I’m not spiritually swayed one way or another, there is no line for me. I follow the government as instructed, and I follow the God that created all of it. I try to keep my regulations and rules to a minimum, and simplify thoughts so that I do not become lost within ‘red tape’.

However, the problem with the information stated above is that it does not sit well with anyone within society anymore. I can say the things above because I am “a middle class, white, male who owns personal property”. I’m ‘entitled’ to live life risk free because of elements that I cannot control within my own identity. With that said, if I do choose to take a side, most likely either viewpoint will immediately conflict within the Biblical principles that I am to hold myself accountable to. I can gain the whole world, but in turn I can also lose my soul.

I feel like a wanderer, a person without a home. I feel the urge to apologize to every person I come across since last week because there is not a camp that I fall into. I don’t understand how Christian’s can take such polarizing stances on any specific political topic inside our society. So much of everything conflicts with the governing nature of God, Himself. I know what Christ said about government, I know what God warned about in relation to government, and I know that the direction is at all times to trust God, love like Christ, and endure the world that I currently live in.

Currently, I am not mad, angry, or frustrated with any group of people within the United States. Extremists, political groups, advocates, social media stalkers, etc…I’m sad because inside my soul; I can tell I do not belong. I feel isolated and alone because I did not take a side*, pick a camp, or reside with specific people that have the same political views. I chose none of it because none of it made sense compared to the teachings that I have immersed myself in. I do not need Church leaders to tell me who to vote for, who to be afraid of, or when to panic. I need a body that is willing to focus on what and who is important and recognize that the kingdoms of this world with come and go. Only one will forever remain.

In conclusion; I am sorry that you do not find me with a  safety pin, and I apologize that I do not join you in jokes about protestors, immigration, and racial charged groups of people. I apologize that I have very little share on social media, and my ‘political education’ appears to be turning up nothing of value for fuel of those looking.

I am sorry that this one time I will agree with former teachers, leaders, parents, and everyone else; I cannot resist but to go against the grain and not follow the standard norm. I am a sojourner; this is a land where I realize I will never belonged.

If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. John 15:19

-D-

*Note: As a citizen within this society, I would like to go on record of stating that I did vote within the election. Should be stated just as an act of clarification.

Shoes Instead of Pews


Life continues to be a world of ‘firsts’ throughout the 2016 year. So much of it has revolved around running, friendships, and breaking away from the standard system that I had grown to accustomed to over the years. The truth is; I think I am growing, and at the least I am beginning to think on my own versus accepting a reality that has been preprogrammed into my soul.

Perhaps I will say the wrong thing, upset the balance of acceptance, or maybe just rub a reader the wrong way. I would apologize for such strange ideas, but in my life, that tends to just be the direction of which my heart flows.

I am happy and sad all in the same mindset and my soul struggled to comprehend such explicit emotions…

I had an interesting weekend. Darco and I traveled north to Omaha, Nebraska. We were traveling with a group of 14ish other people with the same task; run. My challenge was a 21 mile trail race Sunday morning. It did not go quite as planned. I finished, but I finished with a limp, a waddle, and nearly a crawl. My body gave out early and I truly struggled to finish the race. Afterwards, I was not in a good spot. My body hurt, my heart hurt, and the only thing I knew I did not want to do…was to run. That is how extreme the course was in my perspective.

After a rough night of trying to sleep, and lounging around in the classroom through the day, I decided to head back out to the trails Monday night. In celebration for Halloween, our running group had decided to have a ‘costume run’. Meaning, I was on a trail between a unicorn and a clown. I told myself, I told my wife, I told my mentor/coach that I was just walking for a mile. That was all I wanted to do, still slightly disgusted with myself on the day prior.

Something happened though; perhaps it was lacing the dirty, crusty shoes, or feeling the October evening breeze, or perhaps even just kicking up a little dirt, but even in my soreness I had to run. I started running, painfully, but I kept moving. It became fun, each step, each breath, each conversation with the people that I have grown to love. A mile and a half passed by and I finally stopped for a drink and to catch my breath. I felt better. I could discuss the chemical reasons and reactions for why I felt better, but honestly my heart felt better. Even walking the mile back down to the trailhead I sang to myself, walked in the dark, and just embraced the moment. I felt clean. I felt pure. I felt free of guilt and disappointment.

What a strange sensation.

Life taught me that being dipped in the water, raising your hands, and following the chords of a guitar was to bring about that feeling. Laying hands, eating crackers, and clapping to a 4/4 beat was to bring about joy. Ensuring that you were in your seat at 8:30 Sunday morning, not leaving the building until 7:00 PM Sunday night, plus Wednesday night from 5:00 PM to 9:00 PM, that is what was to bring about glory and peace. Listening to speakers discuss fear and politics, and voting strategies because God doesn’t know what He’s doing was the norm to bring the mind under control.

I cannot be tied down anymore. I have to escape.

The biggest joy in my life is knowing that God is amazing, patient, and never gives up on me. It is so humbling, terrifying, and inspiring; it’s something that I do not deserve. It does not make sense, it is not scientific, and at last check it is not necessarily politically correct.

But it is mine, and mine alone, and my heart feels so light because of it. What a beautiful gift.

What a beautiful gift I almost lost. What a brilliant joy that I almost forgot. What a marvelous prize that I almost gave up.

I love God. I just can no longer stand the institution.

What I witnessed last night was the beautiful benefit of God’s love through the element of friendship. Friendship that is not tied to work, and not tied to the Church, but tied together with heartstrings. I could not walk into a church, complain about feeling down after a race, and expect to find grace. Instead the pain tends to get buried under budgets, and bureaucrats, and business transactions that illuminate stained glass like the office lights along Wall Street. I’ve searched, I tried, and I have torn my heart apart to find what is so wrong with me for the sake that I cannot seem to locate a building, an institution, a congregation that can put down the Facebook posts and ignore the campaign signs and just breathe life.

Likes, shares, and retweets aside…simply I ask, why did Christians choose to make being a Christian in this society so difficult?

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Maybe shoes instead of pews could change a lot of lives.

-D-

Heart


I received a hand written letter tonight after a hot, muddy run through the woods. It was an awesome, encouraging thank you letter from the previous weekend.

I did well reading the encouragement, all the way until the final sentence. Only then did my emotional state become unstable. In the cursive font I read the following:

You’ve got the heart of an ultrarunner the same way you have a heart of a good Christian.

It has been at least six years since anyone has ever said good and Christian when identifying me. This didn’t come from a preacher, choir leader, Sunday School teacher, missionary, theological professor, elder, or deacon. It came from no one within the Church. It came from a person that I want to match step-for-step with in the mud one day.

I was called a good Christian.

I was called a good Christian.

I whisper this to myself with a half smile; facial muscles fighting off sobbing or quivering lips. This is something I never deserved to read:

I was called a good Christian.

The jealous, lustful, divorced, cheating, spiteful, hateful, flawed, ugly soul that roams this earth…was called a good Christian.

I was given a compliment that I had assumed I would never hear again in my lifetime.

Even through the stress of today I’m going to bed with a happy heart. I witnessed God’s grace tonight, and my soul smiles because of it.

Cool handwriting!

-D-

Beyond Myself


A week ago I was outside in the early fall weather, watching people defy the odds of humanity. Many were running between 50 and 100 miles in one setting. This is indeed the strange life of trail running. I had volunteered to work at an aid station over the course of six hours, but that was partly due to wanting to watch people that I run with throughout the week, complete these insane adventures.

***

I am a jealous person. In many ways I qualify myself as “the world’s worst Christian” because of my thought process throughout the day. I am a messed up, poorly constructed individual who has a knack for being envious at people who go above and beyond what I could ever consider as ‘possible’. In many instances I have completely avoided contact with people after their grand accomplishments solely out of spite.

Yes, I can confess to you that I am that petty of a person.

It is awful. Along with the usual bouts of anger, hostility, etc…the jealousy aspect of my own life is truly a disgusting creature to deal with. It has assisted in ensuring that I am alienated from other people, it has helped in constantly coming off as an arrogant human, and in many ways it has aided in ensuring that I blend in with the modern Church.

That is why trail running is so, so important to me now. I watch people, friends, complete tasks that I know I never can. I saw a friend run by five times to complete 100 miles in less than 24 hours. Understand, they were running 100 miles in less than 24 hours. I saw another friend compete her first 100 through what I am assuming was gut-wrenching pain in her feet. I was able to congratulate one of the coolest ladies ever on her first marathon race on trail, leading up to her first 50K in October. I was fortunate enough to see someone who struggled with injury at a race in July, power through a 50 mile race this past weekend.

I am not jealous. I am in awe.

The truth is this: I have typed before about the unique situation of blending faith with fitness and what running has done not only for my physical life, but also my spiritual life. However, instead of it being an immediate fix, a quick hit of something intoxicating, this reality continues to linger as if it is a real thing. I have friends. Not friends of my wife, not people from church, not people from my childhood, not people with some past connection with me. These are true, 100% original friends that I have run into solely from running. Anyone ever reading this website knows what it means for me to report the idea…the notion…the belief that I have friends. That reality, that truth has led me to tears on multiple occasions. As a person who lives with his flaws on his shoulders, knowing that God has no excuse to bless him with anything; to have friends…that is an unspeakable grace that I do not know how to comprehend.

They are motivating. They are caring. They are kind. They are loving. I live for each passing week because it is another opportunity to be around people that causes me to want to be a better person. I am not jealous of them, their lives, or their abilities. I am humbled because they are so far above and beyond what I could even be, both on the trails and in real life.

It is as if, even after ten weeks of doing this, I just want to pen a letter to each one them; thanking them for allowing me an opportunity to be myself, to be a ‘terrible Christian’, to follow them, and to still be loved.

I am a jealous person. I deal with envy in the most horrible of ways. I am the ‘world’s worst Christian’. Right now though, in this split second of time, I feel wanted. I am beginning to see what I have missed out on throughout life because of my own failures of demonstrating grace.

I have happiness.

I have friends.

I have love.

-D-

#getyourpraiseon


No school.

Even though the students have been back for only a few weeks, I won’t lie in confessing that an extra day off during Labor Day weekend has been appreciated. Primarily so that I could take care of all the other things around the house that take the sideline through each week.

Time flies.

Teaching a ‘current event’ led course causes me to become immersed in the current trends of our culture, both locally and globally. Frequently it reminds me why I turn myself off to so much of it when school isn’t in session. The world is full of complaints, bitterness, and someone that is always upset with someone else. Someone still wants to build a wall, someone does not want to stand during the national anthem of a money-grabbing sporting event, and the world collectively either freaks out or rolls its eyes.

No wonder so many people struggle to find things to be thankful for in their day-to-day, or just plain forget about what joys are around them.

Driving with the windows rolled down in my truck this morning, while picking up supplies for this upcoming weekend, I was reflecting on what was and what is in my own existence on this planet. When not grading papers, tripping over rocks, or spending time with my wife this is a common place for me to be found. I have come to find enjoyment of seeing where life’s journey has led me in the recent years It continues to remind me how much praise I have yet to give for my time on this planet.

Last night Darco and I started budgeting out costs for carpet replacement in our house. I just brought in a new chair for our entertainment room downstairs, and I think finally we will be going on legitimate vacations during Christmas Break and Spring Break this school year. While I do get tired of listening about Starbucks over and over and over, I do have to admit the blessings that, that company has been in my wife’s life. She will be receiving another raise this month, she will receive a bonus this month, and a few months ago we learned that she will be receiving a brand new store to manage in 2017 (humorously it will be located 1/2 mile away from the school I teach at).

School is always teaching me something new. I have new sets of diversity within my classes this year. While students are still rather innocent, they still arrive with so much baggage and so many questions. I’m blessed because they always keep me on my toes, and I’m always curious as to what adventure we will tackle next in order to make the world a better place. A new year of education has proven to be a stronger year in terms of interaction with peers. I’m trying to work better with my colleagues and do a better job of giving praise in abundance. These folks know so much more compared to myself, and it is a crime if I don’t show them that I am grateful to be able to learn under them.

I didn’t think that running could get better compared to where it was, but somehow, someway it has. Darco joins me more often out on the trails, and she even attends a strength class every Wednesday night. The miles are becoming easier and easier for me. I’ve switched shoes, ate different food (donuts are the answer by the way), and have shown up for more group runs. It just does not hurt nearly as much. My next race is 16.6 miles in the woods of central Missouri next month, Darco is running the same race at a different length, and I’ve gone ahead and signed up for our local half marathon the weekend after that race. It is hard to describe, but the miles just melt by these days. Sure, I still have off runs and I still trip and I still have to fight spiders and mud, but all of that is just a little bit easier. I can feel myself getting faster, being pushed by my friends, and that brings me joy in ways that few things ever have.

Our church journey still isn’t complete. Over the past month Darco and I tried three other churches and sadly left unfulfilled and disappointed. Both for our own reasons. We have arrived back at the church we have been with for a few years now, but I’m still lacking ‘something’. I don’t know what it is, but it is something that burns in my heart throughout the week. I wish I had answers, but I know guidance will come along in its own unique form. I wish I understood more about why I struggle with the church setting. While I wish I could blame all of it on the university that I attended, I know that isn’t the case. It is a mixture of stereotypes, sheep, and my own foolish pride. Make no mistake; God still has so much work to do on me. I’m still convinced that I’m the Christian that people should never want to be.

Work, play, grace, family, home, and so much more. When I take the time to look at the internal works of my own life it becomes so hard to be wrapped up in the hopelessness around me. I don’t say that with pride, but I don’t say it with guilt either. I cannot save the world, but I can fulfill my obligation and responsibility to give praise when it is due.

God has blessed me with a life that I would have never imagined I would have ever had. I did not do a thing to deserve any of it, any of the joy, any of the friendships, any of the grace. That is the amazing thing about how God works; I do not deserve this life because of something I did or did not do, I have this life merely as a testiment of what God’s love looks like.

-D-

God’s Tracks and Trails


I fear that I as I head back to school for another exciting school year, many people are going to inquire as to what I did with my three month. The fear derives from the reality that my answer will be rather…basic?

I ran. A lot.

Knowing that within the next few days I’ll be reporting back to school has given me an opportunity to do a mental recap over the summer, and truth be told, without shame, this summer really did revolve around running. I logged a lot of miles in the few months apart from the school year.

While some were difficult, emotional, and challenging, some, such as the experience I had this weekend, were soul fulfilling.

I’ve struggled for recent months (in some cases years) with the current condition of the Church that flies its banner within the political confines of the country that I exist in. Truthfully, the concept and questioning has come to a head over the past several weeks. Notably it’s been stated that running really can provide an amazing opportunity to experience worship. That may sound strange to those who hate running, but to those who lace up frequently, I feel that, that knowledge maybe understood.

Yesterday, I was given the opportunity to stretch out my mileage with some amazing friends early on in the morning hours. Originally I chalked up as just another run, and another chance to log mileage for myself.

What I, shamefully, hadn’t planned on was the experience with God through the miles of wilderness.

***

Imagine having to take the first mile in stride, seeing only a few feet before due to limitation of dawn’s light. Through mile two and three you begin to coexist with reality for the day. The sky has lightened, life has returned, and you are merely another creature moving about the planet. No talking, no noise, just the idle, repetitive footsteps through God’s terrain. Miles four through six show the ultimate event horizon, where your existence blends into the dirt that you’re attempting to cover. The overhead rocks show your small stature in the world outside of man, and the gentle breeze reminds you of how much you are loved. The final miles bring about celebration! A mix of adrenaline and grace streams through your presence; you recognize how small you really are, and yet how important your life truly is. Finishing eight miles in the woods on a random Saturday morning was not just about logging the required mileage. It was about the opportunity to reconnect to a place, to an entity bigger than ourselves.

***

So, when people ask what I did this summer. I’ll think back to my random journey’s through the woods and I’ll smile and simply say…

I worshipped. A lot.

-D-

XXXI: Trail (Running) of Tears


I never understood teammates that I had played sports with in school.

If they missed the winning shot.
They cried.
If they scored the game winning touchdown.
They cried.
If they broke a state record.
They cried.

I never understood the emotional responses from these student-athletes that I knew through my education years. What could cause someone to be so emotionally distraught that they would break down and cry during a sporting event? In my mind that didn’t register as something that was acceptable. They were not professional athletes, there wasn’t a human life on the line…it…was…just…a…game.

***

For a few months I had been toying around with the idea of ‘trail running’. There really is marginal running, it’s more about technical footwork, strength, and a lot of hiking. I had established amazing friendships, found incredible support, and most of my nights have been spent traveling around dirt, single path trails along the countryside. It is brutal, it is hard, and yet there is something about surviving that causes you to want to do it again the next day.

This is the world of trail racing.

Saturday morning, 9:00 AM CST I stood in the grass with nearly 100 other souls at a local lake. People were holding bottles of water, vests held food and hydration packs, hats were on, shoes were laced, and the horn blew. We were the last group to take off during this day. An hour prior the runners that were partaking in the 20 Mile and 50K (31 miles) had already begun their journey. The group I was with was running the 10 Mile course. It was the ‘safe’ course for newer runners, compared to the hard mileage that laid ahead for the other two groups.

PS16 I

Real photo at mile 7. Credit: Mile90 Photography

I’ll be honest in saying that the majority of the event is a blur to me now. The air temperature was a stifling 96°F with an extremely dangerous heat index of 103°F. The weather, mixed with being in the woods, resulted in an absolutely awful environment to run for any amount of miles. The first several miles my stomach was tied in a knot. I had ran this course a week prior, I knew it was a hard course, but by mile 4 my legs were completely exhausted. They were too heavy to move. I was in a struggle for this race.

By mile 7 I began seeing signs that stated, “You’re NOT almost there, but you look fabulous” and “Chaffing the dream!” I knew that this meant I was almost to an aid station that was being manned by the group that I run with on Monday nights…the ‘mud babes’. At the station I heard cowbells, screaming, a hairy man in a bikini top, and was inundated with the questions of “What can I get you?” and “Do you need your bottle filled up? Get him a bandana with ice, he needs to cool down.” Within five minutes of that small oasis I was back on the trail for the final three miles.

There was support raining from the trees!

There was support raining from the trees!

Becoming part of the trail running community has shown me so many different sides of humanity. It isn’t necessarily the race that really stuck out to my emotionally/spiritual self; it has been the people that I’ve been blessed to be around. They don’t argue, they’re not mean, and they are not stuck on their ‘pacing’ from their GPS watch. They help each other out through every obstacle. As one person stated, “Trail running isn’t about you against everyone else. It’s you against the mountain, the distance, your demons, yourself.”. In a world that is covered in competition this sporting event requires you to depend on the person your running against in order to survive (literally).

Mud Babes 16 Birthday

Tonight we celebrated birthdays (Mine, Darco, and two others), and then we ran (and ate cupcakes afterwards).

Being around these people outside of just race day has caused me to question so much in reflection to my own connection and growth within my own faith. How is it that this group of people can drink a beer after a run, moon a camera, and carry on in the heat for 3 to 6 hours…and still get along with each other? Politics are not brought up. Work is rarely touched. Family is mentioned frequently, and the next ‘fix’ of a race tends to be the highlighted conversation. There isn’t music players attached to everyones ears, and there isn’t asphalt for miles all around. Everyone is coated in sweat and mud, not pressed in dresses and slacks. Uniquely, the closest connection I’ve found to the world that God created is everything apart from the stone-faced, mortar-laid, carpet-clean church that I’ve been in for so many years. There is transparency (sometimes way too much of it in relation to bowel movements) on the trail, whereas I find so many hidden agendas laced throughout personalities everywhere else. Ironically, running through the woods feels closer to God than being in church on a Sunday morning.

When you move throughout the trails and enjoy the company of those around you, there is an emotional bond that is being built that individuals like me aren’t aware of until usually when we cross the finish line.

***

PS16 VIThree hours and six minutes, a time that I will never forget. I remember seeing the clock slowly tick by as the finish line came up to my sweaty, soaked, mud-caked shoes. Three hours and six minutes I had been alone in the woods, fighting off fear and disappointment, dealing with extreme heat and loneliness; all to cross one line and acknowledge that I had completed something I never thought I could ever do.

I crossed the finish line.

I saw Darco waiting for me.

I wrapped my sweat covered arms around her, and buried my head into her shoulder.

And I cried…

-D-