Photograph of lake copyright Ben Mizen - BMiz https://flic.kr/p/fTYzCs

Doubts

I am writing this the morning after the Brownlees’ took gold and silver at the Rio 2016 Olympics. In two days I will be completing in my own Olympic distance triathlon. I am under no illusion that I will be completing that in somewhat more time than the superhuman times that the brothers do. But I will be giving it my all.
Three days ago I was in a different place, I had a different mindset. I decided that I really needed to swim in a lake with the wet-suit on, and daft cap aloft, before the big day. I had been swimming 1 – 1 ½ kilometres in the pool so although not my favourite part of the the tri I knew I would complete it. However I had not experienced the lake and so felt I should do it. It worked out that I should have done it a lot earlier. The moment I entered the lake everything felt wrong, doubts rose up in me. I pushed them down, I was in the correct kit, I swam, this was not a problem. The doubts continued to bubble away down there somewhere. I swam around a short circuit, perhaps one hundred metres. It was hard, much harder than I had expected, the doubts rose again. I pushed them away with a quick exchange of bravado with the lifeguard, and headed towards the big circuit. The rhythm was out, the environment was different, my breathing was all over the place, this was not going to work. Reaching the first buoy I decided I was not going to make it and so looped around and headed back towards the shallows. The guard read this as me needing help and so headed out towards me in the canoe to drag me in. My humiliation was complete. I left the water confused and defeated. Steve, the operator of the lake, encouraged me to do some shorter loops, offering advice and encouragement. I did a couple of short laps in much the same manner and then left with my doubts and fears intact and reinforced.
I emailed my running companion Hilmar about the swim.

…It is seriously different to the pool and I now have big concerns that I could do 1k… …I may have to be sensible and make a call about doing the novice or postponing all together. The cycle and run I am ready for so they are not a problem, but the open water is very challenging.

Himlar did not respond by email, but instead called, to encourage me. ‘I am sure you can do it, it can’t be that different, let’s go again Thursday and see how we do.’ So we did, Hilmar left work early and met met me at the lake. I entered with some trepidation remembering Steve’s advice, but this time the short loop felt better. The pace was more appropriate, my breathing was smooth, even the crocodile eyes were working. I tried a bigger loop, the same experience. Hilmar had ignored the small loops and gone of swimming the big loop, even though by his own confession he had done way less training than I had. So I started out on the big loop. Reaching the first buoy, I turned and headed for the second and completed three loops. I had completed the distance I would need to complete, where were the doubts, what was so different today compared to Tuesday? I left the lake with a fresh mindset and mindset that said we can do this.

I joked with Hilmar on the way home that this experience had sermon written all over it. Here I am on a journey preparing for the prize of completing my first triathlon, and the lessons I was learning could be mapped directly to my life journey and goals. Just a few that come to mind from my experience this week:

  • People can look the part but still have doubts and fears.
  • The mind is a powerful tool which can propel you or paralyse you on the journey. Be careful what you feed it, and what you allow others to feed it.
  • Journeying in community is key to reaching the end.
  • Setbacks are part of the journey, not a reason to stop.
  • Planning and preparation may not be all you need, but they are important.
  • Listen to those who have journeyed down the same road before you.

I am sure there are more learning points, and they could all have their own blogs written about them. But for now I shall take another lesson and reflect upon that in my greater journey. That would be the fact that I have not yet actually done the tri, and yet have already learnt so much that I can use in my day-to-day journey. So we don’t’ need to have reached the goal, before reflecting and using what we have learn’t. Journey well, and reflect as you go.
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Blatant piece of promotion: You can still sponsor me for the tri at: https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/maxcross

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Photograph of lake copyright Ben Mizen – BMiz https://flic.kr/p/fTYzCs

A Prayer of Thomas Merton

Thomas MertonMy Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think that I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always
though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

Thomas Merton

I am not a great expert in the life or writings of Thomas Merton, but this famous prayer of his has struck a note in me ever since I first heard it. For me it sums up the delicate tip toeing approach I take in trying to understand the will of God in my life. It seems to me that many who choose not to follow Jesus, believe that those of us who do have some sort of direct line to God, on which He directs every detail of our lives. It has never been like that for me, and I don’t believe that there is even one single will God has for me. I have always seen God’s will as being like a motorway way rather than a single track. God’s guidelines being that I might not stray of either side of the motorway, but that I can choose the lane that seems right to me, a route that would please Him. This is probably why Merton’s prayer is one I can say so readily, particularly at this stage of my walk. The next month should by rights be a month that I am dreading. Within the family we have school exams, college exams, a house move, completion of essays and much more besides. All this potential stress because I chose to follow a route that I believe is part of God’s will for my life, and yet I cannot have certainty that it actually is. It’s not a moment of doubt, because actually I am not dreading the next month. I am excited about the possibilities and actually have a huge amount of peace about our future. Perhaps that’s because ‘the desire to please’ God ‘does in fact please’ Him.

Running

Running Mates

Running
Image courtesy of Sura Nualpradid / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
The whole travelling companions theme has continued to roll around my head the last few weeks. That combined with the fact that I have been doing a little more running reminded me of how the Bible uses a race as a metaphor for discipleship. Ask my family what my favourite verse is and they will sing in unison, 1 Corinthians 9:24. “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.” Who you run that race with is vital, and running with my workmate Matt recently, has helped me visualise what type of leader, what type of running mate I want to be in the future.

Matt and I committed to each other just after the new year, to run a couple of times a week. As I make my commitment at the end of June, I will be committing to run the race with a bunch of people who as of yet don’t really know me and I them, but never-the-less I will be making that commitment. I want to be the type of man who follows through on that commitment. There are times when Matt asks me if I’m running, and my whole mind shouts no it’s raining and cold outside. I am sure he feels the same, but because that would impact the other person, we drag our weary bodies out the door. Being a disciple is no different, and I want the people I am on the race with to expect encouragement to get moving again from me, and I from them.

Then there was last week when Matt not only didn’t feel like going, but once we went he seemed to be finding it harder than usual. Matts ten years my junior so normally is the one egging us on and making the pace. This day his nipper had been keeping him and his good lady awake so he was just shattered. I could probably have run ahead, but Matt had hung around for me most of the time, so I just took the role of the pacemaker for that day and encouraged him. Stuff happens in life and sometimes we need to swap who the pace maker is. I want to be the type of leader who knows when to do that, and then knows when to swap back.

I could go on stretching the running mate metaphor to breaking point. But please forgive me one last parallel that has come to mind as I have been pondering it on our runs. On the home stretch of our runs, including the day I lead the pace, Matt will finish with a sprint. I do as well, but somehow the legs don’t carry me as fast as the spritely Matt. It’s at this point I get to make decision to be miffed at this young upstart, or happy that he is leading the way. Surprisingly for someone with my inclination towards competition I have found that I have been happy to see the energy he has to do this. Now if I can take that parallel and mimic it in whatever leader I become, I may become a small success as a leader. If I can smile as people I help in the future outrun me in their discipleship walk then I will know that I really am walking in God’s will. Then I will know that I do run in such a way as to get the prize.

Travelling Companions

Travelling Companions
Image courtesy of Marcolm / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As I sit here in my lunch break there are 22 weeks until my ordination, and since the new year that has become all the more real to me. 22 weeks until, I stop doing this job I have done, 22 weeks until we move home, 22 weeks until life changes completely. I am one of those strange creatures that actually don’t mind change. It may sound like a cliché but I look forward to meeting new people, and facing new challenges. That said it is the past that over the last month or so I have been thinking a little more about. The past and how grateful I am for the people that God has put in my way.

I think of Miss Field who ran a Bible Study group in my road when I was but a lad. We went for the sweets, but I am sure that was the beginning of my journey. She is long gone, and would not have had a clue about her impact. The business leader whose faith and encouragement helped me ask the greater questions of life. I think of a customer who unbeknown to me at the time quietly showed me what a Christ like person might act like. He was the first person I rang when I was looking for a Church. The chippy who prayed with me when it all became real, and hung around over the next few years to show me how to be a disciple. The atheist friend who showed me that you didn’t need to be a Christian to be a good person without belittling my faith. The Christian brother who paid my mortgage during a prolonged period of trouble. He showed me real love, by doing it without fuss and allowing me some dignity. Then there was the Church leader who observed something in me that I did not see, and opened the door to opportunity. Indeed the many Christian leaders who have done that. But others have helped in most unexpected ways, like the ex-evangelical Christian, whose life style choices could have made her shun Christians. Instead she was willing to share her time to answer my questions without judgment but with friendship, and encouragement to be all I believed God would have me be.

All these people and more have been flowing through my head over the last few months and I am grateful. Jesus said. “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15:3 is often quoted at times of sorrow, after some great life giving sacrifice, but I wonder if there is more to it. Is it not in the living out of everyday life that we lay down our life through our actions for those around us? These people and more have done that for me. And so to slightly misquote a recent talk I heard from another one of those friends. I remember back with gratitude, and look forward with excitement, expectation, and yes with a sense of obligation to those who have journeyed with me thus far.

Christmas Cruise

St. Mary Magdalen , Sheet

So it’s that time of year again to send out this Christmas message to all our friends. I want to thank you all for your support over the last year, and let you know that the card money this year went to the orphanage that our church, CoGS is supporting this year at Christmas. It’s a funny Christmas this year as our family have taken a chance to have a Christmas holiday together, something that may not happen again considering my career change next July! So it is from our cabin on our ship in the Gulf of Mexico that I write this note you. We are spending a week on a cruise visiting four ports and then next week a week in Florida. It seems slightly odd to spend so much money on a big family holiday at Christmas, when our thoughts may more appropriately turn to those who have nothing. This is driven home even more to me, as it seems excess is the name of the game when it comes to cruising. The whole system is geared towards how can the cruise line makes us feel happy, serve us, and of course release us from the burden of excess cash. Maybe this is what Christmas is every year, excess for the few. It is just that the few, are the people that we middle class, office workers in the west hang around with. Where as the majority of the worlds people, are the type of people that clean my cabin and serve my dinner. People with “strange” accents that spend months away from their family so when they can return home they can give them a better life.

When I started typing this note I had no idea what I was going to say, and I really didn’t mean for it to be down hearted. I’m not, trust me we are having a great time as a family, and I don’t believe God begrudges us one last chance to have this type of holiday as a family. But perhaps when we celebrate the birthday day of the God man who came to this earth for every man and women in a couple of days time, we (or a least I) should remember those who have little. Those who the idea of a holiday is completely our of their grasp, and a cruise in the western Caribbean may as well be the a cruise on the moon. I thank God for all that I have, and whatever your beliefs I am sure you to are grateful for what you have. So next time you feel the urge to donate to those who have less, don’t hold back, and I promise I won’t either. In the mean time have a great time celebrating the main mans birthday, as we will as well.