Friday, June 9, 2017

When I'm 42

Michael Jackson and Roberta Flack sang a song in Free to Be You and Me, When We Grow Up. It was written by Diana Ross. I have always loved this duet.

When I'm 42.

When we grow up will I be a pretty
will I be big and strong

Well, I don't care if I'm pretty at all.

Can you live in your skin now?
Is it enough? Are you good and true and full?

God thinks you are. God loves you as you are and is situated to help you live your purpose.

Who loves you like this?
Humans are too selfish for this kind of service. If we are this obsessively focused we tend to have personality disorders. We are infatuated in an unhealthy, unbalanced way.
But God is obsessively in love with you. Lavishing love without a break.

Thursday, June 8, 2017


How much of your heart is
covered up
hiding blemishes

It's enough
     It's enough to be spontaneous
letting your light shine

don't let your illumined self be dimmed
one iota

There is risk
without a covering
a protective layer
but your natural grain
It's your genuine self

Friday, May 26, 2017

Morning Song

This morning I awoke at 530am. It is Friday.

As the dog began to bark I did not hope that he would relinquish the call for me or anyone from upstairs, but I went down to greet him and begin the morning. In late May the morning is already breaking into the day before 6am, but in the hotel or the rental house I would have wished it dark.

Now I am ready to start. The downstairs are bright and clean and I have a client at 9am and now I can have an hour with the dog and the sunrise and raisin bran and counterculture coffee and filtered water from the new fridge. Everything is new and I am stirred no less than the coffee run through the french press.

The morning has broken and I am entering into new light. I am ready for new things. I am not afraid. I am ready to face the day. I am ready to greet children and welcome their commentary on the changes to their surroundings. Some change comes with criticism at first. Let it come. It's all part of their stirring, the process of adjusting to a new wineskin. Their home is new, but they were paradoxically once in it, but in it in a different skin. Before it was yellow on the outside and there were carpets upstairs. There were two sofas in the living room and no doors on the front office. The back deck was rougher and darker and now it is lighter and smoother. The berm was not cut back showing the fence and lost soccer and kickballs on the other side where there was once a thick brush. The prayer wall has been reconfigured in a low long line beside the house. Things are similar, yet decidedly different. How does all of that feel to a nine, or an eleven, or a thirteen year old? I don't really know. It feels great to an almost 42 year old. My birthday will not come (June 18) with me a sojourner. Instead, I will awake here, stirred, rested and ready to listen to the day.

With a word, the Lord stirs me in the morning; 
in the morning, he stirs my ear to hear like a disciple.

This word is written on a scroll held by the prophet Isaiah on an icon I have treasured for years. I wrote the words on the bare floor of my bedroom before the hardwood covered it up, sometime in the Spring or late Winter of 2017. But the words are still under there. The words are hermetically protected by the hardwood. I even saw them after the hardwood was first laid, because those floors had to be ripped up and put down again. So I know they rest protected. By the grace of God, I'll never look on them again. But they still speak to me. I can still hear them. I can still follow their commands -- to get up in the morning, to stir, to hear well, because disciples hear for action, contemplation, for wisdom. I often tell coaching clients that it sometimes takes saying something three or four times to figure out what you really think and feel about a subject. Do I believe this and both sides of it. Sometimes you have to say it three or four times to figure out what you really think. Sometimes you have to hear three or four times to figure out what you really think. In a hurried world, it takes time to hear and say things three or four times. Better to get it right and hear and speak like a disciple.

Kristen took a picture of each of our prayers and scriptures written on the floors of the rooms where we sleep during construction. Each of us received a framed picture of the words that we wrote. Each little gift was placed on our beds on the day we moved in. She truly is a great giver of gifts. Mine are the words above and once more:

With a word, the Lord stirs me in the morning; 
in the morning, he stirs my ear to hear like a disciple.

Norman Maclean closes A River Runs Through It with "under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs." My words are under the floor, just a few feet away from where my head rests each night and lifts each morning. I can't see the words anymore, but I trust that they are still there.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Moving Day is May 24th

In golf, Saturday is moving day, the day to position oneself for a run at a win on the final day of play. If you can move on Saturday you can win on Sunday.
Our moving day was today, Wednesday, May 24, 2017. We just had to be in position for the win as we had been losing for so long -- 228 days. A tree fell on our home on a Saturday, coincidentally, the 8th of October, and we moved out. We moved eight separate times from October to May -- hotel to rental house, back to the hotel when the heat quit working, back to the dreaded rental house with it's awful smell and muddy back yard. We just kept moving and moving.
And finally, a few days before Memorial Day we moved back into our home.
I had prided myself, arrogantly, that I was not a mover. I am a durhamite and settled here and specifically in this particular home once yellow, now a beautiful grey. We had been in our same home, in the same town, for nearly a decade when we were forced out, no thanks to Hurricane Matthew and Loblolly Pine that split through our roof. Rain poured in for the next 12 hours.
As I drove this morning from the Residence Inn on Main Street in Durham to our home on Denada Path, I started to feel alive and hopeful. I started to imagine that I could write again and I could make plans for the Snow in October project on a daily basis. I had begun the project as a balm, a source of healing in the days after the disaster, but mostly I couldn't find the words. For November and December, I could barely drag myself out of bed. 
But today was different. As a I drove and returned home, I felt the full weight of Spring turning to Summer. I felt like Durham was a place I could grow old again, and not just a town where all my dreams had been cast away. 
I stopped for coffee at the drive-thru Starbucks on 15-501 for Kristen and the movers from Trosa. I knew that most of the guys who would be helping with the move would be new to the addiction program, probably living in the main quarters on James Street, between our house and the hotel where we had stayed the last 24 days. The month of May included three more delays by the worst contractors and sleaziest company I have ever worked with. Too awful to even mention. Ask me face to face, and I will tell you. Or maybe, by God's grace, I will forget them completely.
But the Trosa guys, I knew these guys would be super polite, not the most polished movers, but still excellent service and just part of how we move and how we celebrate Christmas -- with one of their Frazier Firs. Can't wait to have Christmas back at home tomorrow, plus seven months.
As I write this, lstening to James River Blues by Old Crow Medicine Show.
Thinking of James Street, where Trosa residents live and sort out their next step. Reminiscing about the James River in Richmond, where William and I crossed a few weeks back and then watched Keslowski and Jimmy Johnson race with 40 other guys as a distraction to the long exclusion from our home. As I drove to help with the unpacking at the house, optimistic about what Kristen would already be directing, I started thinking about NASCAR and this weekend's race in Charlotte. I thought once I got back here to Denada Path that I'd never want to travel, never want to leave again. But instead, I started to feel settled, knowing this time for the first time in a long time, I would be coming back to my proper home. I could go away this Sunday and Monday and leave the house to Kristen alone, which she would love, the chance to work alone and fix things up with clear eyes to fill her heart so she can't lose again. Thanks Coach Taylor and Touchdown Tammy and all the crew from Dillon, Texas.
The stream of consciousness style is intended to show what it takes to survive and distract from difficult times -- music and Netflix and golf and stock car racing were just a few of the ways that I kept moving forward. We're back!!!

Wednesday, March 8, 2017


The sometimes somber tone of Lent can at times be juxtaposed with the beauty of a bright Spring in North Carolina. Do I feel down and low or cheerful and ready for new life.

In other places around the world, winter is still in full effect. We barely had winter at all in North Carolina, for which I for one, am thankful.

Season is everything with the psyche. Seasonal affective disorder, beach season, the crispness of fall, the quiet that comes during snowfall.

Take note of the season and see how it is running with your mood or against it. How is the creator providing a day, a weather system, a whole climate in order to shape your life? Are you shifting with the seasons?

F. Buechner once said, "Preach the day." What a great thing to preach.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Running Considered

As a runner I consistently take stock of what works and what does not. What habits and tendencies lead to success. What patterns lead to failure. At least this assessment and reflection has been necessary for me over the years to learn, grow, and improve, but perhaps most importantly to cope with the difficulties of injuries. I have tried to learn from injuries and setbacks, getting sick, when to run and and when to rest, but the cold hard truth that I have learned over the years has been to accept some mystery and then move on. When and how injuries come is not always as predictable as everyone else around you seems to claim, but there is a silver lining. With time and patience almost everything heals.

The author at Smoky Mountain
Running Camp, July 2016
My first truly disruptive injury was in 1989. By October, and the heart of the cross country season, I had overcooked things with training and my body was basically falling apart. Our team was running fast about three times a week and I was no longer the boss of my body as I had been the year before. A coach that didn't listen to the athletes was the last thing I needed, yet, what I had. This pain and the communication breakdown were the first major setbacks I had incurred in my fledgling running career and I didn't know how to proceed. My knees hurt on nearly every run and I was unable to complete my first competitive cross country season. The coach implied that I wasn't being tough, and even at 14, I knew he didn't believe what was coming out of his mouth. He was simply frustrated and didn't know what to do to get one of his fastest runners healthy again.

I went from being the fastest runner on the high school team to one of the walking-wounded, side-lined for nearly all of the next four years. I have since connected the fact that I was not only growing muscle tissue from hard training, but I was entering a two year period of rapid genetic growth. I just had not grown much at all during my middle school years and I went from five feet to six feet tall in less than two years at an inopportune time for the purposes of running, 9th through 11th grade. Every time I tried to lay on the other type of neuromuscular fibers, the kind that comes from endurance training, my body would fall apart. Again and again, I tried and failed as a runner.

I did not know much then. Thought I would never run again. Thought all of my running dreams would be de-activated or un-activated. But I got better. I got back on the proverbial horse and was having consistent running success again by my mid-twenties. That seemed, at the time, like a lifetime, but it wasn't, now that I look back on it with a bit more of the long view. I had run in the decade between ages 14 and 24, but it was sporadic as I was mostly injury plagued. I unfortunately was not able to do what I had imagined, run successfully in high school and then develop into a competitive college runner. I missed that critical window during youth where big-time speed and strength is typically developed, where I might have run 4:15 or better, for one mile, and I am sad about that fact to this day. But sometimes, you get what you get.

But by age 25 or 26 I was consistently running 50 miles per week and I brought my 5K time back to an area I had not seen since age 14. I ran 16:25 in a Charlotte 5K during the year I was engaged to be married and the main thing that had changed was that by the Fall of 2001, I was experimenting with running 70 or more miles per week. This time my body was somehow able to manage a whole new workload and I was getting stronger and stronger. Friends and family would probably describe me prior to that season as having looked like a boy. I was a late bloomer, and I had high hopes for post-collegiate success now that I seemed to finally be done growing. I started to achieve some of my running goals, not everything that I wanted as a runner, but more than most. And I give thanks.

I am 41 now and while I have run trail races, and road races and 15 marathons, my true passion is that of the young runner, who pursues middle distances such as the 5K and even shorter, the mile, the 800 meters. My training for these shorter events is not all that different from marathon training. It takes a lot of miles and strength is the name of the game to competing at a high level.

Many don't know it, but there is a whole sub-culture of runners that are over the age of 30 and some as old as 100 who pursue these middle distances. I love the track, but won't race there unless I am healthy and fit. There is no where to hide on the oval, indoors or out, and while I love to run, I will only run publicly if I am "ready," a measurement that is assessed by me personally and subjectively, and tends to only occur a few times a year, if that often. I wish it were more frequent, but track fitness is serious business. I still don't want to be on the track if I can't break five minutes in the mile and that is not all the time. If I am completely honest, I think serious fitness, even at my age is only under 4:50 and I have only been there a handful of times.

Getting fit is risky, but well worth it and there are always memorable times that it didn't quite work out. In the picture above I am on the UNC Asheville Track where I was included in a week of training with 15 and 16 year old boys at a perennially awesome summer running camp. I even attended the camp a few summers as a teen. This time was July about a year and a half ago. I ran twice a day with the young horses. I did their workouts on the track. I got really fit. I had been running successfully for months prior, but this was a bigger training week, not unreasonable, but starting to incur some risk with two runs a day in the heat of summer. A month or so later, my running kind of crumbled and my knees were troubling me in a whole new way--different than my childhood trouble. I took off the next five months, sought out all kinds of therapy and treatments, thought at the time, "my running is over for good." 

But then I got better, a lot better. I started training again. Had a great summer in 2016 by breaking five minutes in the mile three separate times and headed into a Fall where my mileage spiked back to around 50 miles per week.

I did not race this Fall until a 5K Cross Country race this past Saturday. It was a disaster. My calf seized up so badly that I had to pull off the course four minutes into the race. It was such a bewildering disappointment. I thought surely that I had it right this time. I don't know why it happened. My left calf had not been a problem at all in the autumn months--until it was and I limped back toward the starting area at McAlpine Park scratching my head.

Everyone around you is an "expert" on injuries and why they happen, but they don't know your body. You may not know your body. Mine remains a mystery to me. Injuries occur for almost every runner if they stay at the sport long enough and train in a way that raises the risk bar. I wanted to break 17 minutes for this latest 5K, or at least come close, and that takes a certain type and volume of training that puts parts of my body at risk. Is it worth it? Apparently so, I keep doing it over and over again. If you ask people around me, I am generally happy and content when it comes to training. I am not one of those runners who hates all the work of training or loathes each and every run. I love it. Meet God out there. Pray for my neighbors, my enemies, my loved ones. Sort out my work during daily runs. I love to run and I love to keep trying to run fast as I age.

If I have matured at all over the years as a harrier, it has been in letting go of the need to explain and justify it all. The wisdom that has come for me is that even when I don't have crisp answers and explanations regarding the injuries, I am more seasoned and resilient about not getting "down" for too long even if there are some embarrassing and painful outcomes. I have learned that this is, or can be, how it goes and my body will get better and will usually surprise me with its' ability to heal. I support it with stretching and strength, diet and rest, but even all the maintenance does not always account for all the successes or the failures. Sometimes you just don't know how you struck gold or why you came up empty when you were certain there was oil at the latest drilling site. There are coaches around the world who will tell you otherwise, give you all the guarantees so you will write them checks aplenty, but they know better if they coach themselves and others long enough. We coaches must admit that with big goals comes big risk.

If you love to run--then do it when you can and do it over and over. For me, I love to run fast and I accept a certain measure of risk that comes along with teaching my body to cope with speed. It's not that easy on the back or the knees, but it is worth it to me. I hope you are running or exercising, or writing, or praying or fasting, or innovating in a way that is enjoyable and is for your pleasure, not someone else's. I hope you have some goals that are a bit out of reach...or are they?

George Linney has been a runner now into a fourth decade. He considers himself to be at the midpoint of his running career. He has been a writer and a pastor for far less time, but he wants to keep doing those things too!