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HOPE in a Long Game

Have you ever just wanted a shortcut? Push hard and win quick? An easy ride to 7-Eleven instead of the Tour de France? Prepare and study for weeks vs. cram it all in the night before?

This morning, I received a Facebook Messenger message from one of the biggest encouragers in my life. She sent me this link to a sermon that was entitled Hope in a Hard Place. Those messages are so important to me. If you’re reading this, could you just stop for a moment, and think of the last song, message, photo, etc. that truly lifted you and your life up, and could you just take 30 seconds and send it to a friend that you know needs encouragement? We often wonder how we can help someone in a fight for Hope...and I’m telling you, this is one of the most effective ways to encourage someone. God takes what you send, and will use it to reach their heart in ways you could not have otherwise. This morning, this brought me back into the fight...a fight that I had momentarily abandoned because of the SUCK!

Round 17 made for a brutal week. The pain and fatigue crushed my spirit. I became consumed with sprinting, I ditched the long game.

Anyone who went to high school with me and ran track knows that I hated long distance running. I could not stand it. It was so mental for me. I did not find joy in running long distances. I wanted to run fast, not pace myself, and be done. In fact, in football, I loved wind sprints, because I would run so hard and so fast just to be done.

One year, though, in Waverly, Iowa, I had a coach who must have known me all too well. Track season started and as usual we spent a lot of time running distance to improve our fitness. I hated this part of track season. But, this year, it took me to a whole new level of hatred. My coach decided to pair me with a running partner named Jim Johnson. If you went to Waverly-Shell Rock High School at that time, you would know that Jim was a long distance stud. He had qualified in the top 3 best runners in state for cross country and track.* What possessed my coach to pair me with Jim was definitely lost on me, and I’m sure Jim felt exactly the same way.

The first day, Jim took off. And you need to know that Jim was like a gazelle. He had these long legs, perfect stride...I mean if he wasn’t so nice...I’d say I hated him. I was competitive, though, so I tried to keep up with his pace. Yet, every one stride he took, I swear I took seven. Eventually, as we were running through neighborhoods, Jim started to pull about a block ahead of me. I was not having that. So, the next block I went into sprinter mode and caught him...and as we sat waiting for traffic, I did the only thing I could do...I threatened Jim. I believe my words were something like, “If you don’t slow down and run with me, I’m going to kill you.” I can’t say those were my exact words, but that’s definitely the gist of my message. Jim never ran partners with me again. I’m sure he told our coach that he needed someone else.

I don’t know if my autism affected this in some way, but I became myopic on how much further I still had to run. Instead of seeing one lap down as a victory, I thought of the three more I still had to run.

I recall that story, because it speaks to a mental focus that was difficult for me to achieve. Long distance running is so mental. I don’t know if my autism affected this in some way, but I became myopic on how much further I still had to run. Instead of seeing one lap down as a victory, I thought of the three more I still had to run. Each strained breath became a cacophony bombarding my brain with a brutal reminder of how much more pain I still had to endure. I hated the long game. Inevitably, I would grow so upset at the distance, that I started sprinting...and those of you who are runners know, that was a HUGE mistake. I would start passing people in track practice, only to hit a massive brick wall, slow down to a jog, and watch everyone on the team pass me.

These memories didn’t come back to me until recently. Several times in my career, I had to re-learn this mental focus. I would be asked to create a department or take over one, and we would need to change the culture and develop leaders. I learned that this was a “long game” approach. You can’t change culture or develop leaders in a short sprint, it requires a very long, strategic game.

The reason those memories came back is that for the past few weeks, my wife and I have been watching and re-watching a TV Series called Ted Lasso. Frankly, it’s the best series I’ve watched perhaps in my life. The reason being, is that the main character Ted Lasso embodies the way I learned to approach building teams. So many times, as leaders, we want to sprint...we want to get it over with...we have a target, and we want to get there...yesterday. But, we can’t. If we sprint, it won’t matter, we’ll hit a wall of frustration and we’ll bring the rest of the team into that wall too. You can’t rush development. You must see it as a long game...and celebrate every lap you complete on the way.

Living with a cancer diagnosis has brought this back around for me too. It has shown me that I still fight with the tendency to be a sprinter. I want to find a powerful drug, a treatment, something...I don’t care how painful it is, if it can quickly cure my cancer and we can put the disease in the rearview mirror. So, we fighters, start scouring the internet for solutions, for something to provide us with HOPE. Yet, that will land us right back into hitting the WALL, but also we’ll bring the rest of our loved ones into the wall with us.

Hope cannot be in a drug, a cure, a quick sprint.

Hope cannot be in a drug, a cure, a quick sprint. Hope, for all of us, is found in seeing God’s original intention for our world and specifically for us, understanding that a significant amount of things in this world have fallen short of that ideal. Disease, violence, much of our world needs to be renounced. But, in the midst of all of that, there’s such beauty in kindness, generosity, serving, love, and creation. HOPE is seeing a day when God will put the world to rights. The things that should be renounced will be done away with. A new creation will be born...or reborn if you will. Jesus started this LONG game...on the cross, in his burial, and then in his resurrection. And he calls us all into this fight. We deny ourselves...and we follow him. But, he asks us to “pack a lunch” because this won’t be a sprint.

We must stop sprinting...we must focus on the HOPE set before us...and we run the LONG game...celebrating every lap together...regardless of the pain, the struggle for breath, the circumstances...we FIGHT!

*Jim Johnson: Runner-up in Drake Relays two-mile in 1987, runner-up in state meet two-mile in 1987, top five three years in a row in state cross country, three years in a row all-state in track and cross country, all-conference four years in track and cross country, four letters in track and cross country.





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