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Stick With the Program

randomlychad  —  September 27, 2015 — 4 Comments

I’ve made no secret of the fact that, for a little over the past year, I’ve been working out. It’s truly the first time in my life wherein I’ve committed myself to something and have stuck with it. At first, I floundered around, unsure of what I should be doing. But then I began observing others, watching what they did for their routines. And like Donald Miller says at the beginning of Blue Like Jazz, “sometimes you have to watch someone else love something before you can love it yourself.” I’ve found this to be true; at first, I didn’t like the gym, didn’t like exercising. Probably because:

1) It was work; and,
2) I was unsure of myself.

Then as I said, I began watching others, and doing some online research. And somewhere along the way I began to love it–the working out. The stresses and pressures of life, the minor aches and pains, would fade away during that focused time of exercise. I would leave the gym feeling like I had accomplished something. Never was this more true than when I had finished a routine as I worked around some kind of pain. Make no mistake: pains there will be. In fact, there are primarily four kinds of pain faced in the gym:

1) Pain which can be worked through. This is the kind that comes when pushing through a particularly challenging routine, and you want to hit that last rep.

2) Pain which must be worked around. This when we get hurt and have to modify our activities, doing something until we are well enough to resume our former routines.

3) Pain which just plain lays us out. This is when we’ve simply been hurt too badly to continue any level of activity, and must recuperate.

4) The pain of unmet milestones. This is when we set goals and do not achieve them.

During my time in the gym, I’ve experienced all four of these kinds of pain. I’ve experienced the pain of pushing through a grueling set, the pain of having work around an injury, the pain of not being able to workout because I was in too much pain, and the pain of pressing on despite not having reached a goal. Because make no mistake, whatever course of action we set ourselves to there will be setbacks. I’m not sure what obstacles you face, but rest assured whether they are relational, creative, professional, or even exercise-related, there will be setbacks. You will face some kind of opposition, some kind of pain. For me, the first setback in my fitness goals came in the form of something I’d never heard of before:

Exertional headaches.

In my case, I performed a Valsalva Manoeveur during arm curls. Basically, I held my breath during exersion, which caused a precipitous rise in blood pressure. Essentially, the vessels in the back of my head expanded too rapidly into the surrounding meninges, causing extreme head pain. In other words, I felt like I was having a stroke.

The recommended remedy was rest, but I found I could work through the pain, providing I:

1) Took NSAIDS; and,
2) Backed off on the weight.

So I took it easy for a couple of weeks, and then was back to full strength. You might find you’re facing a challenge, and in order to get through it you’ll have to scale back on one thing to focus on another. This is okay. Setbacks happen. It doesn’t mean progress isn’t being made. Oftentimes, it means just that; that progress is being made, and you’ve uncovered a previously hidden weakness, or that perhaps you are not fully adapted to the place you find yourself in. Give it time. You will find your equilibrium.

I could continue in describing: lower back injuries, and the financial pain of having to visit a medical practitioner to some relief. Upper back injuries, which slowed my progress in achieving a fitness goal.

You can see the title of the piece there, How To Bench Press 300 Pounds In 12 Weeks, right? It hasn’t taken me twelve; rather, it’s been easily twenty-four (if not more). Setbacks, upsets, incidents, accidents, injuries knocked me off track. These kinds of things will happen to you, too. Count on it. But also decide now that, no matter what–no matter what happens, what people say, what the resistance is telling you–you’ll stick with the program. Whether it’s lifting weights, training for a marathon, writing a book, painting a landscape, sculpting, whatever.

Whatever it is: stick with the program. If one story, or book, isn’t working out, does one quit writing? No. One moves on to something else. Do we quit XYZ just because it’s gotten hard? No. We harden our resolve. Because, just like my goal of benching 300 pounds, whatever it is you’re working on, it will take longer, and be harder, than you anticipated.


Stick with the program.

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It’s Not All Good

randomlychad  —  August 24, 2015 — 2 Comments

Photo Credit: “”it’s all good”…best Pete the Cat quote ever”, © 2014 Kate Ter Haar, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

There are only four chapters in the Bible where everything is good: the first two chapter of Genesis, and the last two chapters of Revelation. This is particularly telling, for we inhabit the space in between those four chapters. Where all is not good, all is not as it once was, nor as it will one day be. From our limited, time bound perspective, it seems that we are perpetually in the third act of a four act play. If this were Narnia, this is that time when “it is always winter, but never Christmas.”

This is the in-between. A time supposed to be defined by the declaration of Christ upon the cross: “It is finished.” Yet paradoxically we are also told “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” In short, it’s a time where we are told that God is good; where we see the majesty of mountains, the relentlessness of powerful tides, the sonorous rumblings of thunderstorms, the vast expanse of stars in the night sky, and simultaneously the depths of depravity, evil, loss, privation. There is cancer, famine, pestilence, war, children are abused, Christians lie, people are sold into sexual slavery, babies are ripped living from their mother’s womb, and dissected into their component parts for experimentation and sale.

The world as we see and experience it provides ample prima facie evidence that flies right in the face of the assertion that “God is good.” Despite the beauty we see around us in creation, there is evil. The beauty is marred. Yet how do we know it as evil, lest there is an opposing standard of good? In the words of C.S. Lewis, “If the universe was without meaning we should not know it was without meaning.” Somehow, innately we know that there is good, that things are not right. That some things are objectively right, that others are objectively wrong.

It is why we fight against injustice, hunger, abuse, slavery, racism, abortion. Yet the fight is daunting. It seems that when fire is extinguished, more–hotter and fiercer–spring up in its place. For every Mother Theresa there’s a Pol Pot, a Mao. For every Billy Graham there’s a Joel Osteen. Evil seems overwheming. Because we live in a world at war, in that in-between time. That period in history between Eden and the consolation of all things in Revelation. There is no going back; we can only, as all the heroes of the hall of faith recounted in Hebrews chapter eleven did, press on. Not receiving the promise, yet looking forward to that city with foundations.

Whose Builder and Maker is God.

Press. On.

Like Frodo and Sam on the path to Mt. Doom, or Christ on the way to the cross, there is only one way forwards:

Through the pain.

It seems all we want are happy, pain-free lives–think that because we’re Americans, or denizens of the enlightened West, that we are entitled to such. We forget that we neither live in Eden, nor in Heaven. That there will be pain, hardship, tears, evil. That good plans will sometimes come to naught. That this world is not as God would have it to be.

That we have a responsibility to partner with Him in setting things to rights….

It’s not all good.

But someday it will be.

Lord, haste the day.

© 2008 Andrew Kuznetsov, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

A few years and many words ago, I had a tidy little community here. I would write something, and people would reply. Then that began tapering off.

And so did my output. Somewhere along the way, I lost my passion. Getting caught up in the engagement, I forgot what I’d even started for. I had goals both serious and superficial (the blog is, after all, called RandomlyChad). I wanted it to be a community for people who hadn’t gotten it all figured out, who had been stung a time or two by life, but still weren’t afraid to laugh.

Well, there isn’t much community here anymore, and I have no one to blame but myself. I forgot why I was here, and for whom I was writing. I’ve learned some lessons along the way:

1) It’s better to love, and be loved, than to be popular. Popular is a moment, but love lasts a lifetime (and beyond). There’s no need to keep up with the Kardashians (or anyone else for that matter). Just because Donald Miller, or Jeff Goins, or Michael Hyatt, or Jon Acuff, or Rachel Held Evans, or whomever is doing XYZ doesn’t mean what they’re doing is a formula for all of us. The good Lord above hasn’t called us to be clones, but rather individuals. As such, we each have our own passions and interests. Our art should reflect that. Besides, people are quite good at sussing out imitations. Why do we need a copy of XXX when the real thing is right over there. That’s either pastiche, or parody. Be your own thing, and don’t lower your gaze to settle on mere popularity.

2) Writing is hard work. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying through their gleaming pearly-whites. It’s really a lot like working out: one’s muscles must be exercised to grow. Growth does not happen overnight, but over the many days, weeks, months, and eventually years invested in the gym. Barbells don’t curl themselves; likewise, pens don’t pick themselves up to march across the page apart from human intervention (if they do, that’s something out of a Stephen King story). Anything worth doing takes time, attention, dedication, and focus. Note well: this process will involve pain. There are no shortcuts. The path is through the pain–not around it.

3) Life, and the people in it, come before any blog, book, work of art, etc. As Stephen King said, “Life is not a support system for art; it’s the other way around.” There’s simply a point where life must be loved, and not just merely commented upon. It’s easy to sit in our ivory towers pontificating; much harder to live, and to love, well. If we put our art, our creativity, above living well we’ve missed it. We’ve missed the point entirely. All of those around us will suffer for it. Again, there are no shortcuts. If we know that we’re living half-heartedly–not putting in the time, not really making the effort–you can bet your bottom dollar that others can tell, too.

I can promise you this: that if we take the time, and love well, we will have more interesting stories to tell. It’s like this: “For where your treasure is there will your heart be also.” Invest in the right place, and although you may not reap the rewards of success, money, popularity, or acclaim, you will realize rewards that will continue to pay into eternity when your life (and your voice) is but a legacy.

As Jesus said, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, but lose his own soul?”

What indeed?

2010 Cristina L. F., Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

Letter to My Dad

randomlychad  —  July 13, 2015 — 4 Comments


Like the cooler days of spring, Father’s Day, 2015, has come and gone. The dog days of summer, like a stubborn hound refusing a bath, have planted themselves hard upon the ground of my soul. To say the heat is oppressive is akin to labelling Mao a “little communist.” Particularly this time of year, with the monsoon season hanging pregnant in the sky, its waters about to break. It’s this time of year, with Father’s Day (and my birthday) just so recently past, that sadness overtakes my soul. I can’t help think of my dad; of what was, what is, and what will never be.

In the simplest terms–though I may have something of his face, the timbre of his voice, his light-skinned Irish complexion–I don’t know the man. Growing up, he was a poltergeist: a ghostly presence which only seemed to manifest in some kind of malevolence. When he was there, it was with a caustic word; when not, he was a cypher. I lost him to work, and to the bottle, long before he last darkened the doors of our home.

And then he was gone for good.

Only to re-emerge when, and if, it was convenient for him. Only to bring chaos into my re-ordered life. There was no balance when he was there, and there certainly was none he would either deign to visit, or when my brother and I would be made to visit him. Why? Why would we have to go, when he had so stridently declared his preference? Because when it came right down to it, he left, and moved away when his then-girlfriend was transferred out of state. Of all the things I still struggle with all these years later, it’s this; being cast asunder, left by the wayside, when something better came along.

Of the deepest soul wounds, the one which cuts the harshest is that of never being (feeling) loved by the one man who was supposed to love me. I, we–my brother, my mother–were always second choice; he came first. The distance, both emotional and physical, has colored (for good or ill) the way I view my Heavenly Father; as I view my dad, I see Him as a distant presence, uninvolved. Because I know it isn’t true, I daily fight this view.

Thing is, I don’t always know how to keep the dad out, and let the Father in. That’s a struggle, too. And if I’m feeling particularly honest, this one relationship gone around upon the rocky shoals of familial dysfunction has colored not just my relationship with Jesus, but also every other one as well; I don’t know how to let people in. Every time I’ve tried it’s ended in heartache and pain. Men’s groups have fallen in tatters around me when I’ve opened up to share my convictions. I see friends diving deep, doing life with others, and always feel like I’m left holding the bag–standing on the outside looking in.

The only thing I can conclude is that’s me; I’m hopelessly broken, doomed to merely skim through life. Not truly sharing in either the joys, or the sorrows, of the folks that always seem to mean more to me than I do to them.

Like my dad.

Fair warning: while I’m not a divorced dad, I am a child of divorce. And having grown up in a broken home, think I have something to say to divorced dads. That out of the way, here goes:

1) It’s not (all) your fault. Marriage takes two willing parties; that is, two people willing to work at making it work. Sometimes it’s the man who isn’t willing, other times it’s the woman.

2) Own the things that are your fault. Your kids don’t care who carries the blame, e.g. who did what to whom. They just know that one, or both, of their parents is (for whatever reason) no longer around. And they wonder, even if they’re old enough to know better rationally, did I do something wrong? Is this my fault? In the midst of your own pain, and confusion, you’ve got to find a way to be there for your kids. Let them know it’s not their fault.

3) Be honest. Talk to your kids. Talk to them–not at them. In my case, because my mom was more open, and more willing to talk, it was easier to gravitate towards her. My dad on the other hand chose to leave. This lack of communication made it far easier to resent him, make him the villain (even if he was just a hurting soul himself). To this day (I’m almost forty-six), I have no real relationship with him.

Because he chose not to be real with me. In essence, he became this distant figure who tried assert himself into my life (a life he’d walked away from just as I was entering high school) about twice a year. I felt like an obligation, a checkmark.

Not a beloved son.

Did my duty, abided by the terms of the decree, move along.

That is not a relationship.

I’m sure dad wonders now why “the cat’s in the cradle, and the silver spoon” as the late Harry Chapin sang.

4) Just because you’re the dad doesn’t mean you get to dictate all the terms. This is a relationship–not a “dadtatorship.” If you play the general, your kids will revolt. The harder you squeeze something (or someone) the more it slips through your fingers. You have to let them be their own people. Let me ask you this: do you like to feel controlled? Do you think your kids do?

5) Share their interests. Bond over something they like. This may mean doing something you don’t like. But it’s for a greater cause; namely, re/establishing a relationship. If the biblical account of the Prodigal Son teaches anything, it’s that the father goes to the son. He is actively scanning the horizon. He runs to the son (or daughter). We earthly dads are not the Heavenly Father, and as such must model humility and repentance. We set the tone, but we don’t set all the terms. And for myself, I tried for years to have a meaningful relationship with my dad, but because he wanted to set all the terms (the rules of engagement, if you will), it never worked. Believe me you don’t want to be in your seventies, filled with regret, wondering why your kids never call or come around.

6) Be their soft place. Let them know (and model) that there isn’t anything they can’t come to you with. Listen. It’s cliché, but true nonetheless, that people (especially our own families) don’t care how much we know until they know how much we care.

7) Respect your ex-spouse. You can’t do anything about how they treat you, but you can control your attitude and comportment regarding them. Your kids are watching. Show them what it’s like, no matter how hard it may be, to live with honor. At the very least, if you can’t bring yourself to like your ex-spouse, honor their office–that being one of the parents of your children. Again it’s not easy, but it can be done.

8) Pray for your kids. The statistics concerning children of divorce are disheartening to say the least. More likely to have trouble in school, have substance abuse problems, get divorced themselves, and finally die younger.

They need you, dads, and the uniquely masculine love you bring into their lives. If you can help it don’t move away. Find a way to instead be close by. If they move, take the pay cut to be closer to them. Do your all, because ultimately how they view the Heavenly Father is filtered through the lens of your example.

They’re counting on you, dad.