God & A Torn Achilles

He’s one of the best pitchers in baseball. He pitches for my favorite team. And from all I can tell, he’s a great guy. That’s a pretty good combination. But sometimes bad, fluky stuff happens to good guys.

Last Saturday, the St. Louis Cardinals were playing the Milwaukee Brewers. Adam Wainwright had breezed through four innings, doing what he does best — shut down opposing batters. But then it was his turn to pick up the bat, and when he hit a pop fly along the first base line, he began to run — only to tear his Achilles heel.

And just like that, his season was over. Off the field. Til next year. I hate that for Adam. For his family. For his teammates. And, as a fan, I hate to think what this means for my favorite team.

But life is like that, isn’t it? If it’s not an Achilles, it’s an aorta. Or a lost job. Or a lost relationship. Maybe this is why people say, Life just threw him a curve ball — because Life has a way of pitching you something you aren’t expecting.

But I am confident Adam will be okay. And I’m not talking about his Achilles. I hope that will be okay; no doubt he’ll have the best doctors and the best rehab. But even more than his foot, I am confident Adam will be fine because he sees the bigger picture: baseball isn’t life. And hardships don’t determine who we are.

On Adam’s twitter account, his last post before his lost Achilles is a video of a guy passionately preaching about the hope we have in Jesus. The preacher takes a look at Barabbas — the guy set free instead of Jesus — and then says: We are all Barabbas. All of us depend on Jesus for life.

What does all of this have to do with a torn Achilles? Nothing. And Everything.

Nothing, because followers of Jesus still face torn Achilles and blown aortas; broken hearts and broken relationships. Walking with Jesus provides no guarantees for your health, your safety, or your security. As the writer Eugene Peterson points out, hitting your thumb with a hammer hurts the same, whether you are a Christian or not.

But Adam’s faith has everything to do with his Achilles — because he knows what all followers of Jesus eventually come to learn: life is hard. Bad stuff happens. But our faith helps us see the Big Picture: that God loves us. That Jesus gives us life. That His Spirit guides us, in good times and in bad. For ultimately, our faith is not in our bodies, or our abilities, or our accomplishments, or life being exactly what we want it to be.

In the end, our faith is in God, who walks with us through whatever we face; who is present in whatever we face; and is still God no matter what.

I think Adam knows that. I hope you do, too. No matter what you face.

Slow Down – and Live!

I don’t wear a watch. Don’t want to. But I have to say: I am fascinated by this one: The Slow Watch. It’s a watch that doesn’t measure seconds or minutes like other watches — it only measures hours. Why?

On the surface, the Slow Watch seems so out of place in our fast-paced world. But the designers have a bigger purpose: they want us to remember that what we do shouldn’t be calculated by minutes or even seconds — but by the choices we make. In a hamster-wheel world, the Slow Watch is a reminder to slow down. To live life. To be intentional.

All of this isn’t enough to get me to buy a Slow Watch — especially because they start at $270! But it is a reminder that my day — my life — isn’t about rushing from one activity to the next.

To that end, Randy Gariss has written a very helpful article to remind us to live our lives on purpose. With intention. And direction. Gariss calls this a “whole life” — a “full and complete” one. You can find the article here. In fact, if you only have five minutes to read before you have to rush on to your next activity, click through to Gariss and leave my blog in the pixillated dust. It’s okay. I understand.

For the three of you who are still here, let me simply say a few words about what Gariss writes. He gives us ten areas that he considers essential to living a life of wholeness. I can’t say that I disagree with any of the areas he mentions; they are all important. But let me mention five of them:

  1. Worship. Wholeness starts here. Especially when we realize that worship isn’t simply about Sundays, but about a wholehearted pursuit of God. I want this to be what defines me. And shapes me.
  2. Friendship. Every one of us, no matter our personality type, or our maturity level, needs good and godly friends to walk with us through life. The older I get, the truer I find this to be.
  3. Work. If our lives are going to be full and complete, then we must come to grips with what most of us spend most of our time doing. Work is a gift; work is a challenge; work is an opportunity; work is a reflection of who we are. Not all of us get to work at what we love, but all of us have to (in some sense) learn to love what we work at. Otherwise, life becomes about clock-watching — and wondering why this dang Slow Watch is moving … so … slow.
  4. Rest. This is vital. Rest is not only how our bodies renew; it’s also how our souls renew. Without rest and solitude, life becomes a blur. And a meaningless one at that.
  5. Creativity. This ties in to number one. If our lives are ordered around worship (that is to say, a healthy relationship with God), then creativity is the natural outflow. If I am in a proper relationship with my Creator, then, as one created in his image, I reflect that creativity. And my unique reflection of the image of my Creator is demonstrated in the unique creation that flows through my hands, my heart, my life: And in the God-infused creativity of my life, I come to realize: for this, I was made. To use the creative gifts a creative God has given to me. Which, to me, sounds a lot better than just rushing through my day getting the next thing done.

I’m ready for a “whole-er” life — one lived more intentionally, and faithfully. How about you?

What Do You Do When Life Gets Bad?

Mandy loved music. She was a standout vocalist at her high school, and began attending Colorado State University to study music education. She loved music, she was good at it, and she was pursuing a career doing what she loved. Who could ask for more?

But then things took a turn. She began noticing that she couldn’t hear the teachers in her classes. Then she realized she was losing her ability to hear most of the piano notes. At her year-end freshmen recital, she had to watch the lips of others to keep in time with the song. After that recital, it was over. In the span of one school year, Mandy had gone deaf. She was subsequently dropped from the program, and she left school, figuring she would never sing again.

Mandy was angry. But her dad told her, You still have a gift; you still need to use it.

Her dad’s words sunk in, and Mandy found a way to get back into music. Using a phone app, she learned she can visually start at middle C, and then from there find her starting note — and learn a song  She returned to vocal music — but sings barefoot, so that she can feel the vibrations through the floor to stay in tempo.

Music isn’t as easy for Mandy as it once was. But I guarantee you — it’s more meaningful.

Your story isn’t the same as Mandy’s, and probably isn’t nearly as dramatic — but the reality is that all of us suffer. All of us struggle. We all have to face dashed dreams, and hurt we can’t help.

The question is not “if,” but how. Not “if” you will struggle, but when you struggle — how will you respond?

The question is also not “why,” either. We often can’t answer the “why” question. Instead, the question is: what will you do with the stuff life hands you that you don’t want? Do you learn from it? Do you face it head on? Do you wrestle with it?

A 19th century writer once asked a perennial question: “You desire to know the art of living, my friend?” His response? The art of living, he said, “is contained in one phrase: make use of suffering” (Henri-Frederic Amiel).

Learning to live, in part, is learning to face the challenges we cannot control, we do not want, and are hard to overcome. Suffering isn’t something we seek, but it finds us. And the question that it leaves us with: will we just suffer through it, or will we learn from it?

One thing is sure: life won’t be as easy on the other side of suffering. But, if we let it — if we learn from it; if we grow through it; if we let God’s grace sustain us every step of the way — life will be more meaningful.