Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Anything is possible

All things are possible with God.” Jesus

“In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned. You work for what you have.” Lebron

            This has been an incredible year for me. On June 9, I turned 60 years old. In celebration of my birth, the CAVS won their first NBA championship ten days later. They were down three games to one but found a way to win it all anyway. Less than three weeks after that, our grandson Joseph was born. And the Indians have done their part by winning their way into their first World Series since 1997. You would have to say that I am on a roll.
            When I was a younger man, I didn’t believe that I would reach 60. I don’t think I was fatalistic but 60 seemed impossibly old – an age for other people but not for me. And I also didn’t think I would be a grandfather either. As I grew older and those things became more likely, the chance that any Cleveland sports team might win a championship in my lifetime seemed to become more remote. I witnessed in person “The Drive” Game in January of 1987 when the Browns lost to the Bronco’s and have caught my share of CAVS playoff games over the years. I have seen Lebron James arrive in Cleveland, leave Cleveland, and return once again. Until June of 2016, I saw Cleveland teams get close now and again but always come up short.
            I accepted getting close occasionally yet losing as part of the fabric of Northeast Ohio culture, and I was ok with it.  So I was as stunned as anyone on the planet when the final seconds of the NBA championship game ran out and the CAVS actually won. Like many Cleveland fans, I looked at the screen expecting a late call, a disqualification, or Lucy pulling the football away from a charging Charlie Brown. It just didn’t seem possible. The seeming impossible actually happened.
            I have been around long enough to know that there are many more important things than professional sports teams. Each week our prayer team lifts up people and situations that couldn’t be more serious. A winning or losing sports team can seem pretty trivial. And I have noticed that many of my daily concerns haven’t changed a whole lot since the CAVS won, and my life is unlikely to be transformed by an Indians World Series win either.
But the success of these teams has made daily life in this part of the world just a little bit sweeter. Just a bit.
            When Lebron James was returning to Cleveland a few years ago, he was quoted in Sports Illustrated as saying: “In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned. You work for what you have.” It was his way of saying that winning a championship was not guaranteed and was bound to be difficult to achieve. And he was right.
            The CAVS worked hard to win that championship, but I didn’t do a thing except show up at a playoff game against Toronto and yell until I was hoarse. We were so far away from the court that I don’t think Lebron heard us.
            So it is accurate to say that for me – and for just about every Northeast Ohio resident – the championship could only be described as a gift – a gift to us earned by the effort and determination of others. I didn’t work for it. I didn’t earn it. Yet it was given to me just the same. 
There is certainly a value to setting a goal and working towards it. We can achieve many good things in life if we work hard enough. Yet some of the best things in life cannot be earned no matter how much we try. We can only receive them as a gift.
We are offered the gift of salvation and the forgiveness of our sins, and there is absolutely nothing we can do to earn it. No good works will suffice. Instead it is the work of Jesus, his willingness to die for us on the cross, that earns our freedom for us. We didn’t do anything to deserve it.
Even at the advanced age of 60, I still have some things I am working for, but I am so grateful for the blessings and gifts that have come into my life because of the hard work and efforts of others. Family (including grandchildren), love, and friends are among the best gifts that I have even received. I don’t deserve them, but I cherish and savor them just the same.
The Cubs haven’t won a World Series title in 108 years, and the Indians last won in 1948. Unless the World Series ends in a tie, one team’s fans will soon be euphoric and the others disappointed. I hope that the gift of a World Championship comes to Cleveland once again, but I can’t say that we deserve it more than Cubs fans do. And I tend to think that God won’t intervene in the outcome no matter how many prayers are lifted up by faithful fans.
But, as I said before, I am on a roll. I have seen things this year I never thought I would experience. And the year – and the baseball season – isn’t over just yet.  I am beginning to believe that just about anything is possible.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Adventures in Aging

A few days ago, I was running in the final mile of the Capital City Half Marathon in Columbus, Ohio. This will be my last half marathon before I turn 60. At this point in the race I know a few things: 1) I will finish; 2) My time will be about my worst half marathon time ever; 3) Despite #2, I am having a good time; and 4) I have only one goal left – get across that finish line without incident or embarrassment. In previous Cap City races, I have seen people collapse during that last mile as well as at the finish line. I don’t want to join them.
I am glad that there are no mirrors or store windows nearby. I have no need to see what I look like at this point of the race. This is not a matter of vanity. It is a matter of reality. I have little self-respect left. All I want to see is that finish line.
But, unfortunately for me, a young man in his 20’s or 30’s provides me with the feedback that I am not seeking or wanting. He runs alongside me, and after sizing me up, he figures that I need a bit of encouragement. He says: “You are going to make it,” then he adds that terrible word at the end of his sentence: “SIR.”
“You are going to make it, SIR.” I can only imagine that he says this because he doesn’t want me to collapse in his general area and present him with the ethical challenge of whether or not to stop or to keep running to get his PR. If he is running near me, he’s not very fast. His words don’t seem uplifting to me. Instead of encouragement, what I hear is: “Man, you look awful. Should someone of your advanced years be running this kind of race? Maybe you should be watching, not running, SIR.”
If I had had enough energy, I would have kicked him. But I probably would have tripped. Instead I said: “We are BOTH going to make it.” At the end of my sentence, I wanted to add (like Dirty Harry would have) “Punk” or at least “Callow Race Participant,” but I had used up the six words I had left.
I don’t remember if he finished ahead of me or behind me. If he finished behind me, I hope he has a self-image healthy enough to withstand the shame of finishing behind a man old enough to be his father. A man who he needed to call: “Sir.”
A recent “New York Times” article asserted that when runners get older, they also get slower. That isn’t exactly shocking news. Ray Fair, a professor at Yale, has created a chart to predict how much slower a runner will get every year after they have passed their peak years. This is not a chart I am all that interested in studying. Who needs a chart about aging when you have yourself as a reference? I’ve got years of race times that tell me all I need to know.
Getting older has its benefits, but your body’s betrayal is not one of them. Just a few days before the race, I was paying a specialist affiliated with a local hospital to do things with my body that I would have punched him for attempting to do to me when I was a teenager.
Trust me. When they say, “Just relax,” that’s the last thing you are able to do. When they say: “You’ll feel a little pressure,” what they really mean is “This is going to be a special pain that you won’t forget for a long time.” And this is just the diagnostic process. I am sure that the treatment will be even more fun.
So a young man calling me “Sir” as I shuffled my way through the last mile of a half- marathon wasn’t really all that bad compared to my intimate time with my new special doctor friend. What I am unclear about is whether or not I am supposed to send the doctor flowers. Maybe after my next visit.
So, runners, walkers, shufflers of all ages and shapes and sizes, here are my words for you: “You are going to make it.” Really. If you are moving ahead at all, I complement you. Keep it up. I am proud of you. It will help you stay as young as you can as long as you can.  Moving has got to be less painful than stopping at the doctor’s office.