All posts by jimazing

God’s Gracious Gifts

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

1 Peter 4:8-11 (New International Version)

I keep coming back to the idea that the Church is not about an event on Sunday. It is about brothers and sisters coming together in love. It is about our using our gifts to serve one another as if we were the very body of Christ Himself. That’s radical! Stop and re-read that passage again. Take your beliefs and put them on the shelf for a moment. Ignore your life experiences and read it for what it says. Forget about church being something-you-go-to. Some of you are thinking that you don’ t have any gifts or talents. Just imagine the possibility that you are wrong and read it again. Did you get it? Read it again.

If you are a follower of Christ, you are a part of His Body. Just like my fingers are parts of my body. I have trained them to touch the keys on my computer keyboard so you can read these words. But the words come from my mind. My fingers could complain that they do not know how computers work and therefore, they have no talent. Only my mind knows about computers and blogs. But my mind needs my fingers to type it out, or it will never be published for you to read. The fingers do have talent. They will never find it by looking at what the mind does for direction though. They have to do finger stuff.

In this way, we brothers and sisters in Christ need all of us to be the body. None of us has what it takes. We cannot do it alone and that is by design. God doesn’t want us to be alone. We can appreciate and even admire the gifts, strengths and talents that God has put in others by observing them. But we cannot learn what our gifts, strengths and talents are by looking at others.

What will it look like when we figure it out? I don’t know, but my belief is that the possibilities are boundless. As I re-read what I just wrote, I am frustrated. I have been thinking about this for weeks and months and it runs deep. I feel like this is just a stone skittering across the surface of the water. I hope to come back to it. But it is late and I need my rest.

Is it legal to pray in a blog? Would that be a prog (prayer+log)? I’ll risk it…

Father, I ask you to bless those who read this blog. I ask you to speak to their hearts. You have given me some measure of talent for putting words together. You have given me enough talent to understand how to publish a blog. You have the ability to lead people to this blog and to even use me. On the one hand, I couldn’t ask for more than to be used by You. On the other hand, I am wasting my time if these are not Your words. I ask you to guide my thoughts and words and to speak through this blog.

Running the Race Set Before Us

I invited my buddy, John to run with me in the Cooper River Bridge Run (10K), which was today. I ran it last year for the first time… not just the first time for the Bridge Run, but the first time for any race at all! It is hard to teach 48 year old muscles that they can actually do this. John accepted my invitation to run and we did it together—today.John is an experienced athlete and I am not. He has played and continues to play all kinds of rough and physical sports from soccer to Gaelic Football. All that to say, John is in great physical shape. I am not. Why then are our finish times exactly the same? How did I get done in only 1 hour 6 minutes? How is it that John didn’t do so well, (his time was only 1 hour 6 minutes)? How could our times be exactly the same? What are the odds? The odds are exactly 100% when your buddy gives up his chance at beating the Kenyans to the finish in order to be with his friend.

Here’s the way I saw the race:

We arrived and parked downtown just in the nick of time to catch the bus and get over the bridge to the starting line before the bridge closed for the race. The ones who didn’t get over in time had to go the long way around and risk starting the race late. Grabbed some water and found our place in the lineup. Never did find the bananas. Where were the starting side bananas?

At 8:00, the gun went off… wait, no gun this year, just an announcer counting down the time. And we were off… walking… slowly… creeping towards the Starting line. The race starts at 8, but each runner’s time is measured by a little chip on their shoe. Our time started when we crossed the starting line. Ok, we were through the starting line and on the obstacle course. For the first two miles we dodged walkers and slower runners. It was pretty dangerous, but par for the course. Look for an opening and dash through.

Then we hit the bridge. I thought the new bridge was harder than the old bridge. The angle of ascent was steeper and it was longer. Once we got to the top of the bridge, the rest was downhill or flat. But that was one long hill! I thought we’d never make it. I was thinking near the top that I ought to walk a bit and I did for about 30-40 yards, then started running again.

Not long after hitting the top, we passed the 5 K mark and I looked at my stopwatch. It read 33 minutes and some seconds. That wasn’t going to be a good enough pace to make my goal of 1 hour for the 10 K, but I didn’t think I could do a faster pace. John encouraged me that runners frequently go through a place where they can run faster after they have been running for a while. I heard him and hoped that I would experience that.

After we were off of the bridge I was so glad to have that behind me. John was encouraging me so much. He would find openings between other runners and I followed him through them. Sometimes he’d jump ahead and look back to see if I was still behind him. I’d catch up and say, “I’m with you, man.” About mile 4, I was really feeling the fatigue and I wanted so badly to walk a while. John wouldn’t “let me” though. He’d keep encouraging me to remember my goal. I remember hearing these phrases over and over; “Come on.” “You can do it.” “You are doing great!” “Run to win the prize.” “Run the good race.” “We are running the race of life together.” At times, I was dazed. I could only see this mass of people in front of me and I kept going thinking to myself, “One foot in front of the other one.” “Baby steps” “Just keep going” As John continued to remind me of my goal, I said to myself, “Have a huge goal, then take baby steps and you’ll get there.”

Earlier in the race, at the first water station, we both got cups. At the second station, I was having trouble and John got me a cup. I swallowed most of it, poured some of it on my face and shirt. The second cup didn’t agree with me, so I decided I wouldn’t get any more water until the end. At the third station, John got me another cup. By this time, I was barely running. Not sure what to do with this water, I poured it on top of my head. When I did that, I kicked it into gear like there was no tomorrow and ran hard. I was determined that I’d finish the race like that. But I couldn’t do it. I slowed back to my slower pace and started thinking about walking again. John wouldn’t let me. “keep going… remember the goal… we’re almost there”

At some point he said, “This is not the end, it’s just the beginning.” By that, he meant that the best was yet to come, but I thought to myself, “NO! This is the end!” I told him that one didn’t work for me and I kept on plodding along. Along the end of the race route, people stood and cheered us on. That was so awesome. Sometimes people would stick their hands out for a runner to slap as they passed by. I did that and it was neat… especially with the little kids.

Finally, we rounded the last corner and I saw the finish line. What a welcome sight! John said, let’s give it a big finish. I kicked it into gear one last time and ran as hard as I could to the finish line. They wanted us to keep running for a few blocks so that other runners could get through. I moved to the side and walked. I had earned that walk! I was completely spent. By the time we got to the fruit and water, I was hobbling like an old man! I have never ever been that sore and tired before.

It is now Saturday evening and my legs still hurt, but there’s a feeling of accomplishment that feels really good. I have another feeling too. I feel fortunate to have a great friend like John. To sum it all up, I must say, “This is not the end, it’s just the beginning.” Thank God it was the end of that race, but there will be more races, God willing, and more time to build our friendships.

…whatever you do, do all to the glory of God


Sometimes, I see something that I just have to stand back and applaud. My nephew, Kenny (who got absolutely none of his athletic ability from me) is the pitcher for his school’s baseball team. I cannot begin to tell you how incredibly gifted he is at what he does… (but that says less about his ability and more about my ineptness as a baseball fan). I think his pitches have been clocked at about a Brazillian miles per hour. No wait, a Brazillian is someone from Brazil. Anyway, he’s fast.

Like most ball players, he sometimes hurts himself and it takes him out of the game for a time of healing. He’s lately been out nursing an elbow injury, but this past Saturday, they finally let him play two innings. He gave up no hits and struck out five batters! On top of that, he had a 100% on base percentage with two singles. To top it all off, he also hit a home run (about 350 ft)!

Needless to say, everyone in the family, including me, is busting buttons with pride. However, that’s not why I am writing about him. I’m writing to tell you what most of the folks in or out of the game don’t know… inside Kenny’s hat is a Bible verse. He wrote, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” Phil 4:13. When he stepped up to the mound, he took off his hat and read the verse to himself, said a prayer. Then he went to work applying his talent, and setting out to demonstrate the power of those words.

Is this passage in Philippians about winning ball games? I think not. It is about depending on the strength of God to help us in everything we do. In the game of life, I need God’s help, but sometimes I forget. I proceed with delusions that I can manage just fine on my own. He frequently reminds me that I cannot. Frequently He uses others to show me… sometimes it’s a friend… sometimes family… This time it’s my nephew. Thanks Kenny, for reminding me what a great God we serve. I’m proud of you.

Baby Steps

When I started this blog, I had aspirations of writing a book. I decided that this would be a good first “baby” step in the process. I still have a book in me, but I realize more than ever that it will require a discipline that I have not yet demonstrated. I am going on record here and now that I plan to write a blog a week. It may be something really heavy on my heart or not. I don’t know. Of course, my blogs so far have been varied and don’t seem to have any rhyme or reason behind them. That’s the way I think and the way I process things.

An Observation
I saw something one morning this week that I found to be quite bizzare. As my carpool buddy and I were driving to work south on I-85, we saw going north, a row of police or highway patrol cars with blue lights flashing. They had effectively stopped traffic going that direction. On second glance, they were moving at what I guess was the speed limit. There were no cars in front of them and a mass of bumper to bumper traffic following them. We quickly turned on the radio for news of what was happening. At the first update, we heard that it was a “rolling roadblock”. I have never heard of such a thing.

I googled for “rolling roadblock” and found two definitions, neither of which fit what we saw. the most common definition is what might happen if the police wanted to apprehend someone who would not pull over. They could surround the car and force it to stop. The second was from places that enforce the “no passing on the right” rule of driving. In this case, someone who was driving slowly in the left lane is effetively a “rolling roadblock” since no one can pass them.

I don’t know what the police were trying to accomplish by this other than a display of force. If their goal was to reduce speed on the interstate, they accomplished that for the duration of their little game. If they wanted to reduce speed overall, they failed miserably. Only the first few cars would have known what was happening. Everyone else would merely assume it was typical slow traffic. This appears to be a silly show of force that will result in doing little more than angering drivers.

If the law enforcement officers are really serious about slowing people down, I believe they should 1) Actually enforce the laws that are out there. Give out tickets to speeders. Most of us don’t want to get a ticket and we will slow down. 2) Model the behavior you are trying to inspire. No one is inspired to slow down by law enforcement personnel speeding. Come on, show us what you are looking for.

Nuff said

A Day with God

One of the things I have learned about me is that I need time alone regularly. Another that is closely related is that I need time alone with God for an extended period. Occasionally, I have taken a day off from work just to go hiking and commune with my Creator. Every time I have done it, I knew that I need to do that more often. A couple of weeks ago, I was reviewing my goals for 2006. One of them was to get away with God four times during the year. It occurred to me that the best way to make that happen was to get it on the calendar. So I requested four days vacation from work spaced about 3 months apart. The first of those four days was today.

First thing this morning, Jeanie and I made the effort to start fulfilling another goal for this year. That goal was to get our financial house in better order. So, we met with a financial advisor.

I hate dealing with money. I hate budgeting. I hate paying bills. I don’t even keep track of pay days. To prove it, when I was sharing this with Tim (the counselor), I told him that I don’t even know when I get paid. Jeanie said, “You got paid today.” It is certainly not because I am rich. I have just figured out that if I work at my job, they will pay me and Jeanie will make sure the bills get paid. Then I don’t have to think about it. As much as I love to do everything for myself, money tasks are not high on my list of things to do.

Even though I hate dealing with money (myself), I recognize that we need an objective person (who likes dealing with money) to let us know how we are doing. He will use sophisticated tools (that I don’t care to learn about) to project how we will do in the future if we keep doing what we are doing. He will make suggestions based on our goals to help us get where we want to be. Sounds like a great idea to me.

…Back to my day. After taking Jeanie home, I headed to the Ribbon Walk for the afternoon. If you live near Charlotte, NC and you haven’t gone to the Ribbon Walk, you should check it out. It is a small forest with trails and lakes right in the town of Derita. They have a special place called the Treasure Tree Grove, where several huge 150-200 years old beech trees grow. What a lovely place. I sat on the benches there for a long time; journaling and praying and reading and journaling and praying some more. God met me there and it was sweet.

I took my journal out there and the first thing I wrote was an “agenda”. I have a very short memory and I tend to go off on tangents with my thoughts. I used this list to help keep me on track. One huge prayer was heavy on my heart, but there were a lot of other pressing issues. Each time I thought of something, I added it to the list. One by one, I went through each item on the list in prayer.

I believe that God is real and that a relationship to Him is much more than a religious ritual. After walking with him for most of my life, I forget that others might not understand that. When I pray, I am spending time with the Creator of the Universe! That is unbelievably awesome! How could I be so presumptuous that He would have time for me? And yet, somehow He does. He hears my cries and today He even reminded me of some things I had left off of my list! Go figure.

I feel refreshed and renewed. I feel like He heard me and that He cares enough to answer my prayers. Not because I am anyone special. Anything special about me is from Him. It is only because He chooses to let me talk to Him and be real with Him.

I take my hard questions to Him. Did I get all the answers? No, but I got some of them. Will I do it again? I can hardly wait for May 30th!

When was the last time you did something for the first time?

This was the theme Jeanie and I chose for our first cruise. We just returned yesterday and I can sum up my feelings by saying, “If you have never been on a cruise… try it.” This is Royal Caribbean’s Enchantment of the Seas. It was great to just be able to wander around the ship and find out what was what. Eat when we wanted to without worrying about paying for it. Live music throughout the ship. Few rules and few decisions to make. We could just let go and not worry about what will happen next. The crew addressed all of our questions in plenty of time to get where we needed to be with what we needed to have.On Tuesday, for our first excursion, we took a trip in a glass bottom boat out to a live coral reef to see the fishies. Here we are out on the front of the boat. That bridge like thingy sticking out of the boat probably has a name, but I don’t know what it is. Standing out there, the wind was blowing in our face, the boat was bouncing in the waves and we were going pretty fast.


On Wednesday, we toured the ancient Mayan City called Tulum. This site is right on the Caribbean Sea and the water was gorgeous. We were a bit disappointed that we couldn’t walk in or climb the stairs of the buildings. They roped everything off to preserve it.


The view of the Caribbean from the cliff at Tulum took our breath away. The water was so clear and so green. Other places it was deep blue.

We walked down some stairs to the beach and waded in the water. I built a drip sandcastle. The sand was very different than what I’m used to. It was less gritty and kinda mushy. The predominant mineral in the area is limestone and I could feel the limestone in the sand.

On the way back to the ship, we shopped in Cozumel. The merchants there were really pushy. They would call out to us to come “spend our last money” in their shops. One of the funniest lines that we heard over and over was “almost free”. At least it would have been funny if they hadn’t meant it. Neither of us care if we ever return there.

Thursday’s adventure was a zipline through the jungle followed by tubing through a cave in Belize. Belize was formerly a British colony and won its independence in 1981, so the native language, surprisingly to us, is English. We rode in a tour bus about 35 miles from the city to the location of the Arial Trek. This trip was along their major East/West highway, which was not much wider than the street our house was on. I was fine with the bus passing cars… even the dump truck. When it started to pass another tour bus, I got scared. Fortunately, he gave up trying. The aerial trek was an absolute blast! They had towers in the trees as high as 40 feet above the ground with cables stretched between them. After we were strapped into harnesses, we walked up the trail to the first tower, which was on the side of a hill. The first run was pretty tame to get us used to the equipment. After that, we were flying high! This photo is Jeanie finishing the longest run. She was terrified and couldn’t wait for it to end. I was terrified and thrilled too, but I can hardly wait for the next opportunity to do it again.

The workers all wore shirts that said on the back, “When was the last time, you did something for the first time?” We both loved the motto so much we each bought a shirt and adopted this as the theme for our cruise. We did so many firsts on this trip. Even the cruise itself was a first.

After the aerial trek, we had a good lunch and hiked to the other side of a hill where we got setup for cave tubing. We took a short hike around to the other side of a hill and jumped into the cold river into our tubes. The water carried us into the cave, which was completely dark except for the lights we had strapped on our heads. At first, Jeanie and I got swept off the wrong way and went through a bit of a drama getting back on course. Our guide, Leroy, was a champ at saving us and straightening us out. I really enjoyed him. He has a great outlook on life. As we floated through the cave, he was singing “Don’t worry, Be Happy”

Back on the ship that night after dinner, the dining staff all danced through the dining room. This is me doing the Macarena with our waiter, Kirat and our dining companion, Rich. Rich and his wife, Theresa were assigned to our table each night and we enjoyed getting to know them. As veteran cruisers, they gave us lots of tips. Rich taught me to order everything you want when the waiter comes. He said, “They only take your order once, so order everything you want at that time. Two or three appetizers and even two meals. Try it all.” I took his advice and had some excellent food. The ship also had a buffet, but I didn’t like the atmosphere as much.It was too much like being at the feeding trough.

Yet another first for Jim was climbing the wall. At the stern of the ship (that’s the back to those of you who have never been on a ship ) was the rock climbing wall. I had never done anything like that and wasn’t sure I could do it. The guy that went before me gave up about half way, so I was even less sure when I started. About half way, I saw why he gave up. The handholds got smaller and further apart. I stopped, tried a few different positions and finally got past it. At the top, I rang the bell and looked back for this final photo by Jeanie.

It is great to be home, but I wish the house would stop moving. I still feel the swaying just like I did on the ship. Mostly the ship felt still, but one night in particular, it was moving a lot and the wooden hangers in the closet were clacking together. It sounded like bones from a skeleton. I just lay in the bed and thought about getting rocked like a baby in the cradle, while the skeletons danced in the closet.

Would I do it again? I can hardly wait!

Thoughts on Memory

Life is sort of like a book. It happens page by page. As the characters in the book, we cannot know what is coming next. We do not know if the next page will contain some “dramatic irony” that will leave us flat on our faces. Will we experience some grand miracle that will solve all of our problems?

As I write this, it occurs to me that I’m in the middle of a page now. Will I live to read what I’m writing now? Will I actually post the blog for the world to see?

As I look back at my life, I see it as events (chunks of life), but they don’t feel like “events” when I am living them. It feels fluid. One thing leads to the next… the atmosphere… the Berlioz piece that is playing as I write this… the distracting thoughts going through my head…

Memory is a great gift. There are so many advantages to remembering over living the events. In my memory, (like reading a book) I can move forward and backward in time, examining each page and each scene. I can see how they built up to the climax and how everything came out in the end. Not so in the middle of living it. Sure, I can return to earlier events, but that’s not living; that is remembering, and it isn’t the same thing… even if I am remembering remembering :)

Although there are many advantages to remembering, memory misses the boat completely when it comes to emotions. To truly relive emotion would be to feel the emotion again. to feel afraid, to re-experience the self doubt as if you hadn’t already decided the thing that you were worried about. When we are in the moment, we feel the feeling of uncertainty because we don’t know what is coming. When we recall the event, we already know the end. We know the thing that we didn’t know that caused the anxiety. Now that we know we have nothing to fear, we cannot possibly remember the feeling accurately.

So remembering is wonderful, but it has to go hand in hand with living. If we don’t live, there won’t be anything to remember. If we live without reflecting and remembering, we waste our living. It is only in the remembering and reflecting that we can learn. And in the reflection, we learn. And from the learning, we grow.

I posted it :)

Believing my own lies

Did you ever almost remember a dream? I mean, you can’t quite remember what happened in the dream, but you remember the feelings you felt in the dream. I had that sort of thing happen just the other day…

I was driving home from work on I-77 in Charlotte. My carpool buddy, Mark and I were joking about the silly way they routed the intersection of I-77 and I-85. I jokingly suggested that maybe there were old munitions dumps that they had to avoid and that there might be live bomb shells there to this day. Ok, it wasn’t all that funny, but we were in a silly mood.

What is striking is that, when I said that, I immediately had a feeling that there were people buried beneath the road bed where we were driving. Feelings frequently do not make sense and these feelings really didn’t make sense! As bizarre as I knew it was, I couldn’t shake the feeling. It was that same feeling that I get when I almost remember a dream, but not quite. What was the dream about? When did I dream it? I couldn’t remember. It must not have been a dream after all.

The feeling was so strong that, as silly as the idea of dead people under the road bed was, I had to talk about it. So I started to describe the feelings to Mark (who was probably ready to tell me to pull over and let him out). As I was explaining that I didn’t know if it was a dream or not, the whole thing became clear…

I love to tell stories to my family. We frequently go to the Cracker Barrel restaurants where they have old advertisements and family photos on the walls. Many times while we are waiting for our food to come, someone will ask me to tell them about one of the pictures. I will invent names and whole lives for these images… sometimes I create relationships between folks in different pictures. So an old lady in one photo is the aunt of a little girl in a biscuit advertisement. I frequently get so caught up in the story myself that I’m sorry when the food comes. I want to know what happens too. It can be loads of fun!

Just a few weeks earlier, late on a Sunday night my lovely and I were driving home from our daughter’s home on I-77. (In fact it was the same stretch of highway that Mark and I were driving a few paragraphs ago). Suddenly, we were forced us to the far right lane by orange cones that road crews had put out closing three of the four lanes of the highway. Of course this bottleneck caused a bit of a traffic jam. It wasn’t much more than a minor nuisance.

Annoyed, My Lovely asked (rhetorically), “Why do they have to do this now? What are they doing, anyway?”

Unable to resist a great setup for a story, I told her that many years ago, before there were any super-highways through this region, there were other roads and highways. In fact there was another road that followed this very same route. Road construction can be extremely dangerous work, but back in those days, it was perilous. Many construction workers gave their lives to build that road. Unfortunately, they were dealing with business pressures to meet deadlines for getting the road and they couldn’t take the time to appropriately deal with the bodies of these workers. That meant they just buried them right there in the road bed and paved over their graves!

Recently someone had discovered that these graves were still under the road bed! Even though they had replaced that highway with the current I-77, no one knew about the graves at that time, so no one did anything about the bodies. Of course the government officials didn’t want the bad publicity that would come from such a revelation, so they decided that they should quietly exhume the bodies and move them to a cemetery for a proper burial. “Quietly” meant that they had to do it at a time when there wouldn’t be much traffic and also at night so people wouldn’t see what they are doing… and so no one would get the blame.

So that’s what they were up to on that Sunday night… or so I told My Lovely.

When I remembered the story, I could hardly tell Mark for laughing at myself. So that’s where those feelings were coming from! As outlandish as the story was I must have believed it, on some level of my unconscious! Maybe that is what makes old grandpa stories so engaging. They start believing them themselves. I guess I’m just getting ready to be a grandpa.

Iron sharpens Iron

Praise God for friends! I cannot do this journey through life alone. I need companions. I need others who are on the journey with me. I used to think that kind of talk was a copout. Now I see the wisdom in it.

As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another Proverbs 27:17

That is one of those Bible passages that sounds so poetic and spiritual. In reality, sharpening a knife with a steel is a violent process. It is a process of knocking off part of the knife. If knives could feel, I think it would hurt. In reality it is uncomfortable to “rub up against” others. But that’s how knives (and people) get sharpened.

I want to be sharpened! That means partnering with others who are moving towards the same destination. As I start this new year, I am going public with my desire to seek out relationships with others who will challenge me and help me press on to who God wants me to be. This blog is step one. John, I did it! Thank you for following up with me.