Waiting for Lent in the Shadow of Christmas

Easter comes crazy early in 2013; March 31. And with an early Easter comes an even earlier lenten season (Ash Wednesday is February 13). Ten days ago I picked up and began reading N.T. Wright’s Lent for Everybody, Luke. Our church is thinking of using it this year as a study. After a few pages I looked up and saw Christmas decorations scattered all over the floor. The Christmas tree was still lit.

I was waiting for Lent in the shadow of Christmas.

Wright’s writing has always challenged me. His ability to draw out deep theological questions while not shying away from a firm conviction is fantastic. I only read bits and pieces of Rob Bell’s Love Wins and only glanced over Francis Chan’s Erasing Hell, but both those guys, while being phenomenal (and sometimes divisive) communicators, seem to be N.T. Wright light (read Surprised by Hope to see what I mean).

This little book is a great. He gets to the point of Lent on the first day.

..come with your hopes and longings, your awareness of the ways in which the world is still out of joint. You might begin, today, by thinking about some situations, whether in your own life or far away, where the world is not yet right. Hold them before God in prayer and patience. And then look for the signs of hope around you, the first stirrings of God’s new life. And give thanks to God for the way in which he is at work in the world today.

  • The world is out of whack – We’re reminded of this daily. We’re all hurt and we all, intentionally or unintentionally, hurt others. (read Romans 3:9-20 for a morning dose of total depravity).
  • But God is still at work – All too often we forget this. Our sinfulness keeps us from seeing what God is up to in the middle of our broken world. God remains perfectly good. And we’re in need of his perfect grace.
  • Prayer and Patience – Ultimately, this is what the season of lent is about. We wait. We pray. We give thanks. How are you doing these things?

I love the season the Church will be entering into in a month. It’s rare that we get to celebrate Jesus’ birth, mourn his death and return to celebrating in the resurrection in such a short amount of time (just over three months). Lent always teaches me something. I’m looking forward to what this year will bring.

Altar Call Anxiety

I know it is a pastor’s job to introduce people to Christ. For most, the
chance to preach the message of grace is at the heart of our calling.

Yet, I’ve never felt completely comfortable with the “saved” terminology tossed out by most evangelical speakers at camps and conferences. We often throw it out like it’s one of those orange and white life-saving rescue rings. The chance to “get saved” is flung out over the side of the boat, and all the person drowning has to do is hold on for dear life.

For a moment the rescued feel safe. Tears of joy stream down their face as they are reeled in from the stormy waters. Death has been averted…for now. Once back on the boat they realize the boat isn’t really the safe haven they had envisioned. Open waters call their name and, soon enough, they’re back in the drink.

Again the life buoy is thrown out to them and, once again, they’ll be pulled back to safety.  Oh, to “be saved” once again. They’ll limp down the aisle toward the pastor and will hear the same message they heard the year before, pray the same prayer and re-accept the same Christ into their hearts. They are convinced; this time it will be different.

Tomorrow, revival season begins in Malawi. From Friday to Monday groups will gather in homes, churches and large fields. People will sing for hours on end. Both good and bad sermons will be preached. And people will come to know Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

This Easter season I will experience Christ’s resurrection in an entirely new way. At Lingadzi there are four preaching teams that will be sent out to each of the church’s places of worship. I am leading one of the teams.

At the end of every gathering my job is to summarize what the three preachers before me said (a difficult task considering they will all be speaking Chichewa) and to offer an altar call. I’m all for the message of grace reaching people in a new way. I’m all for people accepting Christ into their lives and having it change the way that they live. What I am not about (and am fact terrified of) is cheapening the death of Christ by turning it into a dog and pony show.

Jesus died once for our sin but the need for repentance is constant.

When guilt—more than grace—drives people to the altar, Jesus is nothing more than an artificial life raft. He may save us, but he is no longer the one who gives abundant life.

We need to preach that no matter what a person has done in the past—no matter how they have screwed up or fallen short—that they are still loved by Christ. Yet, at the same time, we need to preach that the grace that Jesus offers is costly and demands us to become imitators of the One who calls us to put on faith, hope and love.

3 Punishments: Two Curses & A Promise

I threw my Old Testament class for a loop a few weeks ago. We had spent about 20 hours going over the historical setting, context of and the different theories about the Pentateuch’s composition. After the fourth lecture or so I could tell they were less than thrilled to hear about another dead guy’s opinion. Running without knowing how to crawl, let along walk, seems to be a common theme in Malawi—Biblical study is no exception.

After convincing myself that I had dutifully explained that it is possible to critically study Scripture while still holding it 100% authoritative, we finally opened the book of Genesis.

I lectured for about an hour on the two accounts of creation (yes, Scripture has two sometimes conflicting accounts about the formation of the world) and then I tried to convince them that the significance of the Primeval History (Gen 1-11:26) is theological in nature. I explained that while debating the how of creation, we often miss the why, which (regardless of how you interpret the first chapters of the Bible) has to remain central.

For the most part they were tracking along, so I figured I’d drop the gender role bomb. Malawi is a very male dominated society and, similar to much of the conservative evangelical western world, Scripture is often used to defend man’s domination over woman. I had them turn to Genesis 1:26-28, 2:18-25 and 3:14-24.

Gen 1:28-28. God created humankind in God’s image, both male and female, god created them. Most in Malawi read from the Chichewa, King James (KJV) or Nearly Inspired (NIV) versions of the Bible—which all wrongly translate humankind as man.

Gen 2:18-25. Verse 18 reads, “it is not good for humankind to be alone.” Again, not man. It’s not until the end of verse 23 that we see a distinction between genders (“this one shall be called woman”).

I said that if you want to use Scripture to defend male dominance, you have to look somewhere other than creation—somewhere like God’s response to original sin.

Gen 3:14-24. Three punishments; two curses and one promise. The punishment for the serpent; it was to be “cursed among all animals.” The punishment for man; the ground itself is cursed because of his actions. The punishment for the woman; a promise that childbearing will be painful AND her husband shall “rule over” over her.

We debated the issue for a bit and it was refreshing to see that at least a portion of my lectures on the work didn’t fall on deaf ears. I mentioned that the discussion we were having-one that asks what happens when one interpretation of Scripture confronts culture-was one that needs to be had frequently within the church, and too often it’s not.

A week or so after our discussion at JMTI, a good friend and mentor of mine posted this article about Scripture and Homosexuality (which was responding to this article) on facebook.  What followed was a very well thought out, though incomplete (really, how does one have a full conversation on facebook?) discussion about Scripture and culture colliding when it comes to sexual ethics.

In mentioning homosexuality and the church I do not mean to beat the dead horse that has unfortunately become the theological center of the destruction of the Western Church (the Church takes its focus off of Christ and then, somehow, is surprised it is dying?…a post for another time). I bring it up to ask this question; when it comes to any sort of Christian Ethic, are we to strive for the pre-fall understanding of our relationship with God and others? Or do we just accept that we live in the post-consequence world?

But we don’t only live in the post-consequence world, we also live in the post-resurrection world—where death has been conquered and love of God and neighbor is to reign supreme. But what does that mean for how we act and live in today’s world?

You Lack Discipline!

Kindergarten Cop, "You Lack Discipline!"

Twenty-ten is gone, Twenty-eleven is here.

It’s time to make the annual decision to lose ten pounds, stop smoking or finally finish that project around the house that was started three years ago. Our promises to ourselves don’t seem as hollow when surrounded by the oozing optimism of a new year.

We wait two or three weeks—till we’ve slept through the morning alarm for the gym or worked later than we said we would because the boss has one more thing that can only be done by you—to realize New Years Resolutions are a farce.

Maybe I’m wrong? Maybe I am only really talking about my failed attempts at following through with Dave Rohde’s (fill in the year) life improvement plan. But something tells me I’m not—go look in the windows of your nearest 24 Hour Fitness today and then go back and do the same in a month…

But does the failure of the multitudes mean personal goals should not be set at all? Does it mean we shouldn’t make attempts to better our lives through a new commitment to X,Y or Z? No. Not at all. We just need to learn to actually commit ourselves to a change.

As I write, I can’t help but think of the now former California Governor’s famous quote from his more successful career, YOU LACK DISCIPLINE! Every time I fail to follow through with a new year’s resolution I look over on my shoulder to see a mini-version of Detective John Kimble screaming at me.

I lack discipline. There are many things I’d love to accomplish in 2011, but to get them done I have to learn to live differently.

So my resolution is simple in theory but difficult in practice: Live a more disciplined life. Hailey and I agreed that every night before preparing dinner we will ask each other if we have “done our twenty minutes.” At least 20 minutes of exercise and 20 minutes of Scripture study/prayer (sermon prep & curriculum planning don’t count). If not, we can’t eat dinner till each of us have met our daily goal. We figure if we can’t be disciplined with forty minutes of our day there is something seriously wrong.

My New Year’s Resolution is to make a daily decision to be disciplined, what is yours?

A Dose of R’s and 4’s

A few days ago I spilled water on the keyboard of my laptop. I didn’t notice I had spilled and closed the computer, opened it a bit later and Hailey pointed out the pool of water sitting on the R and 4 keys. We wiped it off and went on with our day. Sometime later I started typing and, to my dismay, realized that every word I wrote that had an “r” in it was misspelled. I was furious.

I tried not to be angry, to feel like an idiot or to yell at Hailey (as if my accident had anything to do with her). But I finally gave in. I pouted, paced the room and than flopped on the bed in exhaustion. What was I going to do? I’m in Africa, I couldn’t just run the computer to the nearest Apple store (and Apple, if you read this for some odd reason, you need to work on your presence on this continent-specifically in Malawi. A store in Lilongwe would be much appreciated, thanks). My computer is four years old and I have never had a problem with it. Now with zero technical support, I had a fried keyboard circuit! Really? Great.

After I finished a few minutes of moaning, we decided to walk to the store to pick up some rice and attempt to dry out the keyboard (something I read about years ago after soaking another piece of electrical equipment). While we walked I realized how ridiculous I was acting. I am spoiled. We walked by children on their way home from school without shoes on, by the gas station that hasn’t had petrol for a month because of a nation wide shortage and by a few “wealthy people” on their bicycles (owning a bike is a status symbol). And I’d been whining because one of the THREE computers we brought was no longer fully functioning?

As my computer marinated in rice, I sat and stared at it, reflecting on my anger issue. At home, when I would have these frustrations, I would write them off as a rational response. I would think, “it’s normal to be peeved when something breaks, we can’t afford something we ‘need’ or we don’t get something we ‘deserve’.” It’s human nature, right? Wrong. It’s entitlement. I am not saying it is bad to come from a place of plenty or that we are to feel guilty for our upbringing. I am simply suggesting that those of us that come from much deserve what we have no more than the children with no shoes deserve to have so little. We may have earned much of what we have, but we didn’t start from a level playing field. No one gets to choose what family, country or economic status they are born into. Some will argue that each of us has the opportunity to “pull ourselves up by our boot straps,” or that if one “puts their mind to it they can achieve anything,” but these statements are simply untrue–These kids dont even know what boot straps are.

I’m not positive, but am fairly certain that when Jesus ripped the money changers a new one or exhorted church leaders His anger was very different than what I experienced with my keyboard. I believe he was angry at the entitled for taking advantage of the oppressed or turning a blind eye to the widowed, exiled and the poor. He was frustrated at our self focus and self righteousness. Much of the entitled world needs the same dose of r’s and 4’s that I am experiencing…

Bee Stings, Wedding Rings and Five Years of Marriage

I didn’t wear much jewelry growing up. I was never rebellious enough for the single earring, punk rock enough for the lip ring or jock enough for a class ring. To be honest, I was always a bit afraid of shinny menswear. The first piece of jewelry I owned that didn’t serve a function (i.e. a watch) was my wedding ring. I remember trying it on with the ring lady before our ceremony and thinking it felt cumbersome. I had no idea how it was supposed to fit or feel. Weeks into our marriage I found myself playing with the ring all the time, and remembered that playing with it was supposed to make me remember the commitment I made to Hailey on June 12, 2005. But that only lasted for weeks (the non-stop spinning of it, not the commitment part!). Within months the ring melded into my finger and I only noticed it when doing something that pushed the ring against my hand in an uncomfortable way.

I lost it once at a youth group night where we mimicked the American Gladiator t.v. show and played games in a giant tub of goo. It must have fallen off as I was tackled by adolescent boys with a gross amount of energy. Luckily, at about 2 a.m. it was found during the draining of said goo. Needless to say, since the goo incident, I have been pretty good about taking my ring off when there is a chance it might make a run for it.

I take it off when I ride my bike, when I go in the pool, when I surf, play a hand drum or make pizza dough. To tell you the truth, it may be off more than on these days. A few days ago I ran down to the beach with my surfboard under my arm. I was looking at the waves and noticed it: there was my wedding ring; I forgot to take it off.  Looking around, without anywhere to stash it I decided to put it in the velcro pocket in my leash (my car was three blocks away, and the key was in my wetsuit…way too much effort).

After a few hours in the water I came back to the car. Being the responsible husband that I am, I pulled the ring out of the pocket right away and stuck it on my wet shriveled hand. With a towel wrapped around my waste, I pulled off my wetsuit and grabbed my pants from the trunk.  I lifted a leg to put on my pants and felt a sharp pain on the bottom of the middle toe of my right foot. Thinking I had stepped on glass I kicked up my foot to see a bee digging its stinger into a painful place. I whipped at the bee with my pants, knocking it off my foot and fell to a sitting position grimacing in pain. Immediately I fell to the ground and sought to pull out the stinger (did I mention I was wearing nothing but a towel?). As I sat, two cars drove by and I heard the sound of a small piece of metal hitting the ground. I looked up to make sure I had not knocked my keys from the roof of the car and went back to my foot. Five minutes later I got in the car, toe throbbing and put the keys in the ignition. As I grabbed the steering wheel with my left hand it hit me; my wedding ring was no longer on my finger. When I flicked my pants at the bee I whipped my hands straight up in the air and flung my ring into an asphalt abyss. The ting of metal I had heard earlier was the ring off in the distance. The search was on.

I looked for nearly an hour. Nothing. I checked under the car three times. I crossed the street, searched the sidewalk and scoured the nearby grass. Nothing. I was nervous. I knew it was only a material possession and that Hailey would understand (though I was not sure how I would explain it) but it was the one piece of important jewelry I had ever owned.

Finally I looked up in the driveway of the house I parked next to and it was as if the sun was shining right in the perfect place, there it was! I drove away relieved that I didn’t have to tell my wife about losing my wedding ring less than a week after celebrating our fifth anniversary. As I gripped the steering wheel with my left hand I reached over with my right and began to spin the ring like it was brand new all over again. Immediately memories began to flood my very being.

I remembered being seventeen and offering Hailey my sweatshirt when we were at a friend’s baptism at the beach before we were really an item. The nerve racking adolescent game of oh I think she likes me began that night. I thought of dating in high school and the awkwardness that came with trying to discover who each of us was amidst deciphering what was going through the other’s head and heart (still trying to figure out what was more awkward; learning about Hailey or reconciling the fact that my future father-in-law was filming me when I picked her up for our first date—gotta find that VHS…). Our college years hit me and I recalled the time we broke up, standing on cliffs over looking the ocean—we agreed to not talk to each other for a week, I didn’t last a day. We continued dating, and I continued to learn that I was a better man with this woman by my side. Then she went away to college.  Every time I dropped her off at a terminal at the airport I had to hide in the bathroom after crying to gather myself, because I was too insecure to show the rest of the world how emotional I really was.  Eventually we went to a ring store and my aforementioned unfamiliarness with jewelry became painfully obvious.

More than a year later I actually listened to my grandmother’s wisdom and bought a ring. She always reminded me of how special Hailey is and how lucky I was. To this day (at 93), grandma gingerly reiterates that Hailey is way out of my league. Our wedding was a lovely collision of our lives. It was one of the few moments were everything came to a screeching halt, slowing down as if it were a dramatic scene in a movie. We danced, we celebrated, laughed and we played, affirming that life really was better when we were together.

Five years of marriage has had plenty of speed bumps, but really the pace has been way too fast. The sensation of everything slowing down and feeling just right has not occurred near enough…and then that dang bee showed up, stung my foot and forced me to toss my ring. While I limped around on the search I cursed the bee that left me in pain and ringless. Then I saw it and the world around me froze. The curses quickly turned to odd praises about the recently deceased bee. The ring may symbolize the commitment Hailey and I made to one another in front of God and plenty of witnesses, but it does so much more. With every spin, even if just for a moment, things slow down and I am reminded that love isn’t meant to just melt away into its surroundings.

The “Unemployed” Label

“I feel worthless.” The words came out of my mouth and like ants crawled across the bed into my wife’s ears. As I lay there, clutching my pillow, the overwhelming sense consumed me. It was painful to say, but finally getting the words out somehow eased a bit of the hurt. I had told Hailey, and almost anyone who asked, that being unemployed had taken me through a couple of different stages. I had accepted it and been okay for a while, then felt angry and bitter about the PCUSA hiring process and for the last month or so I had just been restless. But this night brought on a new feeling, an emotion I wish I could completely forget.

Maybe it all started when the nurse at the doctor’s office asked what I was doing with the extra day off for Memorial Day. I told her I’d probably spend it with family. She continued, wondering if I had to go back to work after the appointment. I looked down at my feet, commented that I didn’t and as she took my vitals she said, “a four day weekend, awesome!” I nodded my head as my insides suddenly constricted. Yeah, awesome.

Days later I was walking with a friend and one of his roommates whom I had never met. The roommate asked what I did for a living, an honest and innocent question, and I laughed reciting my tired line of, “I’m a trophy husband.” As I told him all about my job search, my heart sank and my morale continued to take a self inflicted beating.

At church the last few weeks there has been a sermon series on Thessalonians. The last three weeks took us to the rather difficult and often taboo subject of heaven, hell and Christ’s return. Most of what was said I agreed with but when we got to how we are to live and work as Christians (not knowing the specifics of the when, how and where of the second coming but living as though it could happen at any moment), I couldn’t help but squirm in my seat. Thoughts of inadequacy began to infiltrate the thick walls of my inner-being as I realized I had not been busy living or working to love others, use my gifts or serve the way I thought I had been called.

Its sad how much worth I put into what I “do.” I once heard a talk about how people don’t really know how to get to know each other in casual conversation anymore.  He argued that too many of us couldn’t talk with one another without bringing up our job or role in life. And for this reason he suggested that we only know how to find our identity in our profession or that which we spend the majority of our time doing. One is an engineer, fireman, mother, academic, teacher or a musician. If we aren’t busy labeling ourselves by what we do, we do so by how we look, where we live or what we believe. We are American, Mexican, Californian, Asian, Black, White, Rich, Poor, Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Straight, Gay, Republican, Democrat or a mix of any or all of them. Some of us even seek to be un-labeled. We fight so hard against them that we create a new one, a more innovative stereotype and eventually simply another misnomer. Regardless of how hard we try, a label will always be connected with who we are as individuals. Yet our American culture doesn’t allow us to exist outside of the one that is placed on our forehead.

Our worth, or my worth at the very least, ends up being found in something that ultimately will let me down. I trained for years to be a pastor. I believe I’m still supposed to be one. But without an official label its as if the person I have become, or the work I have done up to this point, means nothing. As I talked with Hailey in bed that night, rather than being content with husband, uncle, brother, son, mentor and friend I was a nonentity. For some reason, I had allowed myself to believe that I needed to be more than the child of God that I was created to be. It’s as if having “Rev.” in front of my name would validate my existence. At that moment it felt as though even a pretty placard on a desk, magnet on the side of a car or a nametag and goofy uniform would help me have importance.

Months ago I wrote, that unemployment didn’t define me, that it wasn’t my label. Yet at times my insecurity prevails, proving otherwise. Deep down, I know I am important. I know I am loved. I know I am not alone. Ultimately, I know I am not worthless. But when I slip, when that button is pushed and I fall into the dunk tank of misery, convincing myself that I have nothing to offer, I need not turn to a label that I have attempted to obtain for so long, but to the label that really has value. As I moved from my bed to sob in the big red chair in our living room, feeling as though God was distant, I found comfort and relief in every tear that ran down my cheek. The warmth of each drop seemed to lighten the load that got heavier as each unemployed month piled on top of one another.

Though I have always considered myself an emotional guy, Hailey continuously has to reassure me that crying is indeed okay. I am in mourning after all. I am mourning my life schedule, my goals and my personal agenda. I am still learning that I am not in control and mostly that the label I’ve been conditioned to give myself, as much as I may grieve having it, in the long run will teach me something important. Hopefully I will look back at this time with thanks, as a part of a journey or scene in the grand picture. The labels given and received will end up being nothing more than a human attempt at naming a time and situation in a way that I don’t have the right to do. Sometimes it is a lot harder being a character in the story than the author…

Birthday Reflection #2 (Barney! edition)

“BARNEY, go home!” The words stung. They cut me deep as I finished pulling up my wetsuit over my farmer-tan laden arms and legs (thanks to months of cycling). I now knew how Rick Kane from North Shore felt except, unlike Rick, I didn’t need the term to be defined. I knew that a Barney was “a haole to the max, a kook in and out of the water.” I said some unkind words under my breath and then laughed at the high school kids that hurled the insulting words at me as they road down the street. As they rode on I could hear them in the distance, hooting and hollering about their alleged dominance over us all. In the splendor of my laughter I realized I was laughing at myself just as much as I was laughing at them. I have been in their shoes…or sandals.

I don’t know when it happened. It was sometime before my pre-pubescent strait hair grew into a huge curly blond afro and after I got my first mach-five bogey board. I was addicted. The beach consumed my thoughts and surfing defined who I was and who I was going to be in the future. From twelve to eighteen most of my life revolved around the sport. My top priorities seemed to be surfing, reading about surfing (really, the only thing I read as an adolescent), fixing surfboards, watching surf videos and finding a ride to the beach. The walls and ceiling of my room were littered with surfers I wanted to be, places I wanted to travel and the reef girls that were found on the second page of every SURFER magazine (why my mom or dad didn’t rip them down I know not, but at the time I was thankful). The collage was a mere microcosm of the image I wished to portray.  On Sunday, with a bag full of Jack in the Box tacos, I’d sit in church complete with a sopping head, dripping nose and sandy feet. Throughout the week, between surfing before and/or after school, my friends and I would draw epic waves or attempt to design the perfect shaped board while we should have been taking notes. At lunch, we debated over who was better. We fought over which took more skill, having style on a longboard or boosting an air on a wafer thin shortboard. We’d pretend our pens and pencils were surfboards, riding them with our fingers and using our binders as waves. Saturday meant surfing before work at the local wholesale tropical fish store and then, if it wasn’t windy, surfing again in the afternoon. If the surf was unbearable we would co “car surfing,” where black asphalt became our playground and my 1987 blue Ford Aerostar became our weapon of choice—admittedly, not the best choice of activities (I’ll write of when I dropped the transmission of said mini-van, while attempting to race it, at a later time). High school ended and, still having ambitious surfing dreams, I chose my college because of its proximity to the ocean. Needless to say, for a time, I was obsessed.

What happened? Where did that kid go? Where is the grom who found so much joy in spending countless hours at the beach, who dreamt about the ocean and couldn’t stand to be away from it for even a day at a time? You know the same guy that would heave hurtful verbal attacks at those who drove to the beach from East County or Arizona because they didn’t belong? The kid who, at 17, cussed out a father for pushing his son into a wave that he was already riding forcing him to kick out? Oh yeah, he and his friend just rode by and called me a Barney.

A few days ago I wrote that a birthday forces one to say, “remember when” and ask “what now.”  Almost a week into being 29 years young, I am grateful for the memories I have reflected upon, but even more so for the perspective they have provided. After surfing that morning I had a beautiful conversation with two Australians and an older man visiting from Costa Rica. We spoke of the crowds, the oncoming wind and how things have changed. The whole time we talked there was an unspoken cloud of truth looming over us… We all knew it was there. I was not the committed traveling surfer, nor the beach bum home to surf the break he grew up on. I was the guy who had fallen away, the one who had burnt out and was now returning only to be frustrated by noodle arms and a robust belly.  It’s as if there was a large neon sign over me that read, “Barney.” And it didn’t matter. They gave me hope for the man I once wanted to be.

Truth is, I know I am nowhere near the surfer I once was. But I am okay with that. I am okay being ordinary, okay with not having surfing on my mind every hour of the day and being picky as to when I will paddle out. I am even okay being screamed at by the local kids that should be in school. Hopefully, they too will grow up to laugh at their former self.

Barney Dave, August 2009

Birthday Reflection

May 18th. I used to mark it down on the calendar and anticipate waking up in the morning to the banner that my parents pulled out that read HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO DAVID!!! I’m not sure how early they got up to set out the presents and put up the streamers, but it started my day off with a different tone. It wasn’t just another day. It was my day…

After a few years, I finally noticed that my mom and dad just kept reusing the same banner. It wasn’t the tattered edges or slight tares that tipped me off to the dear artifact’s age. No, it was the out of date and over pixilated font along with the way in which each sheet of paper was connected to one another (you know… the old printer paper that had holes along the sides to feed the paper through the spool of the printer). I’m not sure why we never had new banners, especially because every couple of years we would get a new computer or printer. I do know that the first version of Print Shop would have wept along with me if that banner got a significant “upgrade.”

It’s odd how getting older changes how one views his or her own birthday. Waking up in the morning on our birthdays, or on Christmas or any special day for that matter, doesn’t quite carry the hype it once did. We speak of quarter or mid life crises as we worry about jobs, relationships, kids or direction. Not that it is entirely bad (some of it is even good), but I now find myself paying more attention to subjects that my 9-year-old self would have nothing to do with (again, not a completely unhealthy thing) and getting less out of the simpler things in life (oh to get the same joy out of Duck Hunt as I once did!). It is as if each year, when May 18 rolls around something clicks in my innermost being saying, “remember when” and “what now?”

Every year the task of remembering when gets harder as a plethora of memories seek to squeeze their way into an all too crowded space. And, as time passes, rather than the answers to the what now question getting simpler they get more difficult, often providing nothing more than additional complex questions. I woke up this morning loathing the inevitable thoughts. Reflecting on where I have been merely made me sad about where I thought I should have arrived. Looking forward scared the hell out of me for the same reason.

Yet here I sit, an hour left in ‘my day’ and as it closes I have realized I’ve missed the point. Yes it is okay to reflect and okay to dream. But my joy in celebrating a birthday cannot come in claiming the day as my own. After already surprising me with 20 of my friends on Sunday at the Padres game, Hailey took the day off of work to go to sushi and a movie with me. She took time to make one of my favorite dinners, call my sister and invite my favorite nieces over. They sat on my lap and blew out candles. We laughed, we played and we savored living in the moment together. I enjoyed the day, but solely because of the people I got to share it with. The more I focus on myself, the less I recognize the blessings that God has placed right in front of me. As I lay down to sleep tonight I pray that God shows me how to answer the what now question with what is really NOW in front of me—not the uncertainty that sits months or years down the road. Thank you all for the birthday wishes, but more importantly thank you for experiencing life with me. Thank you for forgiving me when I blow it, for laughing with me when I’m an idiot, for listening when I worry about the future, for crying with me and for running wild when the time is ripe to do so!

Cycling Diary #2 (Gran Fondo Edition)

Last Sunday I took part in my first organized mass bike ride, The San Diego Gran Fondo. Months ago, when I signed up with a few friends, it seemed like a good idea. Choosing hilly rides over flat, purposefully riding with cyclist more advanced than myself and slowly increasing my weekly mileage–I figured I had prepared well. Unfortunately, no amount of training could have prepared me for what was to come. With the weather forecast predicting heavy rain and winds, I was shocked when I woke up hours before the start and saw still trees and dry roads. I ate a quick breakfast, drank some coffee, finished prepping my bike and headed out to meet my friends Luke, Juan and Sander.

For a few moments it seemed as though we were gonna have perfect riding conditions. About 45 minutes before the start of the ride, reality set in. A small drop dampened my face. Luke’s dad commented he felt a couple, and prodded Luke to put on his booties. Luke headed to start with the faster group and I went to meet Juan, Sander and a few of Juan’s friends (Beth, who is pictured above, road the entire ride with us). As I wandered among the multitudes, it was a surreal site.  While scattered showers stared down the 3,000 preparing for a ride of epic proportions, most layered on more clothing as if putting on more armor for battle.  I began to shiver. I found them, and though I mocked the practice, joined in placing latex gloves under the ones I was already wearing (and am thankful I did).

Minutes after riding away from Juan’s car it began to pour. We sat under a canape and stayed somewhat dry, but one can only do so much to stay warm when wearing little more than spandex and latex. Ten minutes before the seven o’clock start time, we joined the thousands waiting for the start. It felt like hours. It rained harder. The wind blew angrily. I continued to shiver. The master of ceremonies let us know that we would be starting shortly. One would think that a crowd this large and this cold would get unruly. And though it would be wrong to suggest that we were not all a bit testy, for the most part, everyone waited (and froze) patiently. Finally, after a train crossing delay and what seemed like endless introductions the first wave of eager cyclists was released.

As we approached the start line the rain ceased a bit and for a small second, because of deliriousness or false hope, it looked as though the worst of the weather may have already come. We rode through downtown San Diego, on streets I frequent almost daily. It was nice to (for once) have the support of the police and not have to dodge dodgy drivers, but noticing that the feeling in my fingers and toes had completely abandoned me forced me to loathe, rather than enjoy, the beginning of this beast.

After a top light or two we approached the first highlight of the course, the Coronado bridge.  Usually closed to cyclists and pedestrians, some viewed it as a treat to be able to view the Hotel Del and Silver Strand while not sitting in a car. I, on the other hand, am terrified of heights. This was actually the part of the ride for which I was most nervous. Fortunately I was freezing, and the warmth that came with the blood rushing through my legs as I climbed up the first part of the bridge blotted out the fears I may have had otherwise.

As we rode through Coronado, on our way down the strand, the rain eased up a little but the feeling in my extremities was still not there. Because the weather caused glass and shrapnel to get stuck to tires, we saw countless flats. We continued on at a fairly slow pace and eventually got out toward the country side. Sander pointed to glass and said he heard air coming from my front tire, but I blew it off and kept riding. Minutes later I was on the side of the road, changing a tube. Did I mention it was cold? With Juan’s help, after eventually taking my tire off (it was brand new and a stiff one to boot!), the rest of the change went as normal as one could–until we went to fill the new tube. It was so cold that the Co2 cartridge froze to Juan’s glove when he filled my tire. At this point, all we could do was laugh. We put my bike back together and then sprinted off to catch the others (which was a welcomed treat to our frozen legs).

About 3 miles later we reached Honey Springs road, the beginning of the hilly portion of the ride and the location for the King of the Mountain race. I was actually excited to ride up this hill. When I first started training for the Gran Fondo I loathed this climb, but after several rides I realized I was climbing it faster. I gained some sick sort of admiration for it and got enjoyment knowing I wouldn’t be the last up it…which would have been true had I not gotten my second flat less than 2 miles into it! Riding Honey Springs is difficult, but doing it with a tire and a half is near impossible. I pulled over, called Juan (who rode back down the hill to help me), and after changing it AGAIN, feeling like an idiot for getting a flat in the same tire twice, I headed up the hill.

As I reached the rest stop where my friends awaited, it was as if I was driving up to a scene from a movie. Mud was everywhere, people were wrapped in trash bags and blue lips were hiding ever-chattering teeth. It was straight frigid. I got off my bike, ate some food, drank some coffee and then looked back at my bike. MY TIRE WAS FLAT AGAIN! When getting a flat, it is common to run one’s finger inside the tire looking for the piece of glass that popped the tube or to look along the wheel for a protruding spoke. I had done it, my buddy Juan had done it, and we found nothing. Then the bike tech at the support station did it AND? Nothing. He thought that I maybe had a bad side wall on my tire (just meaning I was out of luck and had a defective tire). He suggested I wait five minutes to see if it would deflate again. Waiting. Shivering. Waiting. Shivering. Waiting–realizing I have used all my spares. Shivering. I felt bad that the crew I was riding with was waiting for me. Sander was wrapped in a trash bag and Beth looked miserable. We wanted to get out of the altitude in the worst way. But what if I got a flat 5 miles down the road? No Help there. And, it would be just as cold. So I decided I’d be smart , thought about continuing on and said, “alright it looks fine, lets go.”

And I am so glad I did! The rest of the ride was still cold (usually fast descents were limited because of slippery conditions) but I didn’t get another flat (and am still riding on the tube that the tech put in).  We thought about taking a couple short cuts but in the end stuck with the entire course. Finishing the ride, albeit a lot slower than I wanted to, came with a great sigh of relief and sense of accomplishment. It was miserable and wonderful all at the same time. I had completed my first century. And I knew that my next one would be easier…