Monday, December 20, 2010


We have a new word that a few years ago did not exist, regifting. It is the act of taking a gift given you and giving it to someone else as if you chose it especially for them. A number of years ago Doris was in a panic on her way out the door to a wedding shower for our friend Kim and her husband-to-be Eric. She had no gift. Another good friend, Sharon, wife to our friend Pete (you know where I’m going with this) reached in the top of her closet and brought down a still wrapped gift from her own wedding shower a few years earlier. “Give them this,” she said. “Pete and I have never even opened it.”
What a great idea! Until Kim opened the gift and found a card on the INSIDE, “Congratulations Sharon and Pete. You are a wonderful couple.”

Regifting is especially pronounced at Christmas time. We get busy. There is yet another party to go to. The budget is stretched so we grab a present from under the tree, rewrap it, CHECK FOR OLD CARDS, and off we go. My mother has more than once actually given the gift back to the person who gave it to her in the first place. Hey, we’re all trying to live green and recycle. This takes it to a whole new level. Maybe we should just establish a finite number of gifts and keep reshuffling them across the world every year. No, that wouldn’t work because when I got Donald Trump’s Rolex, or Warren Buffet’s Mercedes, I stop the regifting cycle.

There is one gift that we get over and over at this time of the year that is very appropriate though, the Gift of the Christ Child. Every year the nativity scenes come out, the Baby Jesus ornaments get hung, and we sing Away In A Manger. We receive again the gift we got last year, and the year before that, and the year before that.

This gift, however, is one that was designed in the heart of God to be regifted. Somehow in His wisdom God knew that it would take us about a year to get cynical, distracted, or afraid. Somehow, at the beginning of time God knew that we would need an annual reminder of His endless devotion to us. And so He gave the gift that keeps on giving. (another shameless Christmas cliché that comes attached to the jelly of the month card.)

In this case though, the regifting of the Christ Child not only keeps on giving, its the whole point of the thing. When I am sure that life is meaningless, that there is no hope, and that all of my efforts are futile, I carefully unwrap this precious bundle and remember that this Baby changed the world. I remember that this Baby changed me. I remember that every good and perfect gift was and is compressed into this tiny, wriggling little infant and God really is with us. I open this gift again and again and know that My Savior is not some ethereal, mystical being but He lived and breathed, and walked among us. And I can go on for another year.

We don’t put our nativity set in the front yard or on the mantle to memorialize some event that happened 2000 year ago. We celebrate the Baby in the Manger to accept one more time the gift of joy, and hope, and peace on earth. So…in the middle of your hustle and bustle this last week before Christmas don’t forget to do some regifting. Give the Baby away again. Remind one another that Christ not only did come, He is here, now, with us, in us. And those socks I gave you last year….keep them.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


This Friday Doris and I will celebrate our 33 wedding anniversary. Most of you who knew us at number 25 probably doubted we would make it this far, What am I talking about, most who knew us at number 3 had those same doubts. To all of who doubters I say these spiritual words, “Nananananaaana!”
Well, actually if you knew us then, you know that God is awesome. He has performed a miracle in our lives and the last 8 years have been so different, so full of Him that we rejoice every day over His grace and mercy to us. I love my wife in a way I never imagined because I have finally realized that God loves ME in a way that I never imagined, and out of that….well, this is getting mushy. You get the picture.
So, every year for the last 8 years we have celebrated our anniversary in a big way. We take 4 days and find a new, exciting place. We go to a place we cannot afford and spend money we do not have to remind ourselves what God has done. We have stayed at a bed and breakfast in Pennsylvania, at the old downtown Sheraton in Chattanooga. We’ve gone back to our roots in Ohio and stayed in a beautiful house in Orlando. And we stayed at the Biltmore, a mansion in Asheville, NC for what may have been the best one of all. This year, not so much. This year we are staying home and babysitting our grandson. No trip. No room service. No late night, candlelit dinners. Just toys in the living room, spaghetti-o’s on the couch, and 30 episodes of Thomas the train. AND WE ARE SO EXCITED WE CAN’T WAIT!!!
Somebody might say, “What a sacrifice. That’s too bad what you are giving up.” But we say, “Are you kidding? Where’s the sacrifice? We love him so much that it is a delight. We don’t even consider it giving something up to get to spend a whole weekend with Jon-Mical.” Now in case you think there is no point to my little story, let me make one quick. Your walk with God is not all anniversary cake and strolls on the beach. In fact, the call of God on our lives is to live holy and Godly. To repent. To pick up a cross and follow Him. Brennan Manning says, “The tone of the Christ of God is not always sweet and consoling. The gospel is the Good News of gratuitous salvation, but it does not promise a picnic on a green lawn….It is a summons to personal holiness, on going conversion, and new creation through union with Christ Jesus.” (The Importance of Being Foolish)
We have, most of us, watered the Christian life down to sugary slogans about the love of Jesus and tender, tiny, talks about joy. We sing Kumbayah as our fight song and drop a $20 in the offering plate in response to a challenging message. And any conversation that brings up discipline, piety, and holiness, we dismiss as being legalistic and ignoring grace. And we have missed the point. The point is that our love for Christ, our overwhelming devotion and adoration for Him, based on our recognition of what He has done for us, should compel us to sacrifice and servanthood without so much as a blink of the eye. Paul says, “I consider all these things loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ my Lord. I consider them dung (look it up) that I might gain Christ.” (Phil. 3:8)
Now I’m not being hardnosed or suggesting that everyone should burn their TV’s and where their hair in a bun. We lived through those days and that wasn’t holiness. I have no idea what holy living looks like for you. I’m still trying to figure out what it look like for me. But I think it means that every decision, every desire, every habit, attitude, and pleasure is filtered through my intense love for My Savior who loved me and gave His life for me. And when I do that, there is no sacrifice, there is no giving stuff up. It is all joy because I get to be closer to the one that I love. How good is that? And you know what? Speaking of anniversaries, the longer I live a life fully surrendered to Him and His Kingdom, the better it gets. This “peace that passes all understanding,” and this “joy unspeakable stuff,” it really is there and there is no loss when I gain that.
So don’t feel sorry for Doris and I this weekend. We are spending time with someone who delights us. We are rolling in the floor with the light of our life and the joy of our hearts. Come to think of it, we should be doing that every day with Jesus. If giving stuff up is that easy for us where Jon-Mical is concerned, how much more for the One who makes Jon-Mical and every anniversary possible? And when you run into someone who doesn't understand, say to them with all the love you can muster, “Nananananaaana!”

Saturday, November 6, 2010


I hurt for you in your private pain
And I often sit and wonder how I could take it away;
Though I do not imagine that you think I do,
And I do not imagine that I can.

You and I are all that’s left.
Your pain is your pain and not mine.
My pain is my pain and not yours.
And the taking of mine or yours by the other is more painful.

My pain is a part of my self;
To allow it to be taken from me is to lose a part of myself.
To take yours without permission
Is the worst kind of invasiveness and a diminishing of you.

We are one in some sense, maybe in our common pain,
But we are not the same.
If I forget that, I tear a piece of you away
And I create more hurt.

Your pain like yourself cannot be taken,
Only given.
So I wait, and pray, and hope to be allowed,
And that is painful.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Fina Art of Arguing

The Fine Art of Arguing

My sister tells a story (probably not true) about my parents getting into a tiff when we were all much younger. My mother was on the way to church in the middle of their argument and she came to my father, turned her back to him and asked him to zip up her dress. He grabbed the zipper in his ire and yanked it up and down a few times saying snottily, “Zip, Zip, Zip!”
A couple of hours later my mother came home and saw our clunker of a car jacked up in the driveway as usual with a pair of legs sticking out from under it. Remembering her encounter with my father earlier she decided to get even. She reached down and grabbed the zipper on his pants and yanked it up and down, “Zip, Zip, Zip!” Then she stormed into the house where to her chagrin she saw my father sitting on the couch watching TV.
She told her story to my father and they ran out together to see our neighbor who had come over to help my dad work on the car, climbing out from under our vehicle with a huge knot on his forehead and a totally bewildered look on his face.

I really don’t think that happened. But I do know that we used to know how to have arguments and disagreements on a number of different levels that allowed us to express our opinions, vent our emotions, find some kind of clarity and understanding, and come away from the fray better off for having had it. No so today. We have forgotten how to argue. Whether it is in the public political arena or the closed boardroom of the church, civility and conscience has gone out the window and been replaced with name calling, vilifying, and mean-spirited bitterness.
Our politicians run “attack ads,” (we even have a name for them) that cleverly disguise truth, distort facts, and usually make no mention of issues. They also seldom offer solutions. Our religious disagreements resort to caricatures of entire populations, emotional characterizations of the other side, and blatant misrepresentations of position and purpose, often in the name of whatever theology we aspire to.
For the sake of proving our point (though I am usually not sure what the point is) we castrate and crucify people that we do not know, have never tried to understand, and certainly failed to listen too. The result is deeper divides, more intense polarity, and battles being fought over “principles” that are merely excuses for hatred on both sides of the equation.

Here’s an example. I am a Christian. There is a battle raging in my community over a proposed mosque. We have chosen sides, thrown down our gauntlets, and run into the war screaming and cursing our enemies. We have decided on our principles, staked out our moral high ground, and let fly the arrows of our discontent. And friends, we are wrong. I don’t have an answer to the issue of the mosque but I am pretty sure of this, not every Muslim is a radical, suicide bombing, jihadists. Nor is every Christian who has concerns about this project a bigoted, fear mongering, hypocrite. I am embarrassed when I hear some of my friends say horrible things about Islam without knowing or seeking to understand. (The Scripture that I love has some stories that I hope I have the opportunity to explain to non-believers before they call my Holy God a baby killer, and a male chauvinist pig.) And I have been just as mortified when people that I care about have condoned witch-hunts, and intimidation, and even participated themselves in attacks upon Godly leaders and wonderful congregations in our community that are the other side of the debate from them.

One thing I know about arguing, these tactics only separate us further and never lead to resolution and reconciliation. If the downward spiral of our own political system has shown us anything it is that “attack ads” in the media or on our Facebook blogs drive us into paralysis and hate. They do not move us toward understanding or peace.
Perhaps it’s not fair of me to walk a middle road and not take a specific side so, okay, here’s my position. I am not an expert on the Koran but I do not believe that the intention of the Muslim community in Rutherford County is to build a terrorist training camp in middle Tennessee. Listen, we have lived with and worked with and even prayed with some of the very people that now we are accusing of outlandish things. To you guys that I love who stand against the mosque, you are wrong in using the name of Christ to justify unfounded characterizations and accusations. You have every right to be against the mosque. Fight against it vigorously on the grounds that they circumvented our building codes, that they are proposing a facility that is far beyond the reasonable expectation of need in our city, or even that we are a Christian community and we stand against any non-Christian enterprise. Fight them there but listen to their hearts while you do battle.
And to my friends who are just as viciously slandering and maligning your Christian brothers because they disagree with you, you are wrong. Let me be blunt, Allen Jackson is a good man, a gifted leader that loves our community, our country and our God. WOC is a lighthouse on our horizon that gives tirelessly and sacrificially back to our county. And until the conflict started many of you who now attack Pastor Jackson and WOC were supporters and admires of these people. If you are against their position in this matter (or your perception of their position) fight them. Take them to task for their misunderstanding of Scripture. Debate them over the theological nuances of love your enemy and turn the other cheek. But when you post invitations to dig up dirt or take quotes out of context you are certainly no better than the cartoon creatures of stupidity that you have created on the other side of the discussion.

This is a crucial and future-changing argument we are having. It has ramifications that reach far beyond the boundaries of this community or even our generation. As a Christ follower I approach it with both fear over the potential harm a wrong decision might do and with confidence that ultimately the battle is the Lord’s. And I am determined that an argument of such magnitude deserves, really demands, to be handled with civility, rationality, and compassion. It is the only possibility we have of successfully navigating this conflict. In the name of Jesus I implore us all to rethink the way we argue and if not, to Zip, Zip, Zip it up.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Two Races

I finished two races last Saturday. We’ll, I actually finished one and watched the other being finished. My nephew Craig and I ran in the RunChikinRun 10K race in Murfreesboro. For you non-runners, 10K is about 6 and ½ miles. And for you people who think the race is named after my legs, it is sponsored by Chik-fil-let. There, we got that straight.
It was a gorgeous day. About 1000 runners ran across the Greenway and through the Stones River Civil War Battlefield. I finished in the top ten in my age group (out of 12) and all in all we did pretty well, finishing just over 6 miles in about an hour. It was fun to run with Craig and we saw a lot of friends along the way. At the end Chera, my niece, and Josh, Jennifer and Jon-Mical were waiting for us, cheering us on. Really cool.
The other race took a little longer. Vernette Cantrell died on Wednesday and was buried on Saturday. She was nearly 96. She started her race a long time before I ever thought about running. My guess is she passed through a lot of battlefields on her run and saw a lot of friends come and go along the way. She had been married to my father-in-law for 10 years, after both his wife and her husband had already finished their races.
Vernette was an amazing woman. She gave her life to the church and counted doctors, college professors, and pastors in her family. Not to mention the fact that for 10 years she loved my father-in-law and our family and allowed us to love her. She and Pa, Doris’s dad, supported me and accepted me during my most stupid years, and cheered for my recovery over the last 8.
Speaking of cheering, at her funeral on Saturday the church was full of people she had impacted, ministers she had helped, and the two families she had loved. We sang her favorite songs, told stories about her and laughed, wept together over scripture, took her to the cemetery then went into the fellowship hall and ate fried chicken and potato salad in her honor. It was quite a finish to a race well run.
I haven’t finished that one yet but I am running it. And so are you. Someday, when we’ve crossed the last finish line some people will gather around what is left of us on this planet and sing our favorite songs, tell stories about us, weep over scripture, take us to a cemetery and throw dirt in our face. Then they will go back to the church and eat fried chicken and potato salad. And all that will matter at that point is how well we ran the race. Did we love God? Were we good to the people He gave to us? Did we open ourselves up to love and be loved? Were we honest about our faults and realistic about our failures? Most of the stuff we are worrying about today will not even be on the radar screen. As Paul said, “I have fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith. Now there is waiting for me my reward, a crown of righteousness.” On Saturday Vernette crossed the finish line and I am very sure was handed a huge crown of righteousness by our Amazing Savior. Pretty good deal, huh?
Craig and I got a T-shirt. Keep running. Mike

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

God Loves You for the Email Tell Us So

I wrote an email this morning to a friend. I asked her permission to share it with you. I hope you'll take the time to read it. As usual, the names and details are changed to protect confidentiality but the story is true. God does love you. I write these for the Branches newsletter ( but not everyone on the internet gets the newsletter. Go figure...

Dear Friend,

It's 2 o'clock in the morning and both of us should be asleep. I know I'm not and I'm guessing you may not be either. Instead I'm sitting on the couch watching the lightning flash and thinking about how much God loves us. Not us as in "He's got the whole world in His hands" but us as in me and you, specifically, by name, in person you there and me here, He loves us.
I had a typical day today. I saw a woman who is so depressed she can hardly get her head off the pillow. The I saw a young professional man whose sexual sin has become so hideous that he has lost his family and pretty much everything he holds dear. I saw a guy that is wracked with the guilt and shame. Next I saw Doris for lunch. (She's not crazy I just saw her for lunch and it was great). I finished the afternoon by sitting with a couple that is watching their love for each other disintegrate over a struggle to understand intimacy. And then a beautiful, Godly, really neat woman who has spent her whole life trying to perform just right to please a God that she thinks is unpleasable and sees her as a miserable failure.
You know what? I only have one message for each one of them. God loves them. Not as a group, or in a general sense. I mean He knows each one of them by name and He knows their story and He loves them with this incredible, undying, everlasting love. He really loves them. and if somehow I could just help them see that everyone of their situations would be a thousand times better. Oh, they would still have stuff. They might still need medicine, and have more bills than paycheck. They might even still get divorces and struggle with sin. But they would know that God loves them for who they are, that He's crazy about them and He wants more than anything to help them get things on the right track and to find a peace that, well, that is beyond understanding.
If I could only help them see that but heck, half the time I forget it myself. It is such a simple concept. And most of us know it in our heads. A lot of us even believe it in our hearts...for everybody else. But not for ourselves. "For God so loved the world" is really not about the world at all. It's about me. And its about you. Its about a huge, magnificent, incredible God, calling my name and saying, "Hey, you with the too big nose and thinning hair, I am absolutely crazy about you. I think you are the greatest thing since sliced bread. I really do love you."
No wonder Paul said, "I pray that you, being rooted and grounded in God's love, might have the power to grasp how wide and long and high and deep the love of Christ is for you. and to know this love that surpasses knowledge." Even Paul knew that you and me would have a hard time really getting it. God loves us.
When I was in my darkest days I had a cd that I used to play a thousand times a day. Actually just one song, over and over and over again. It was my sister singing, "God loves you,and He wants you to know, He is with you. You are not alone. He will see you through. God loves you." I love to hear my sister sing. I still listen to it a couple of times a week. That is the lesson if we all could get, well, we'd be okay. And tonight, at 2 o'clock in the morning it is the lesson just for you. He loves you. Not because He's God and He's supposed to but because you are you and He wants to. Now go to bed and get some sleep. You're hard to love when you're cranky. Mike

Friday, July 2, 2010

Boundaries, Zombies, and Freedom

I had an idea the other day. I was talking to a young friend who is having a difficult time establishing and making boundaries in his life. He gets into trouble because he hasn’t decided where his life begins and other peoples ends. Paul says in Ephesians 4:14 that when we are like that we are like a ship adrift on a sea, “tossed about by every wave of new ideas.” We are easily persuaded to do this thing that we might not otherwise do or go to this place that we might otherwise not go.

So I suggested to my young friend that he write out a short list of a few rules to live by, things that he would operate by when the pressure came from other places to make a bad decision. He jumped all over that. He was so excited. “Dude,” he exclaimed. (I love to be included in the dude crowd.) “Dude, that’s just like the movie Zombieland. This guy had a bunch of rules that helped him to not get eaten by the zombies.” Well, what do you know? I had no idea that I was so artistically in tune with the creator of such a cinematic classic. I am so blessed to know that Mike Courtney, Cecil B. DeMille and the director of Zombieland have similar genius.

Cecil B. DeMille, in case you miss my witty reference directed The Ten Commandments. Remember Charlton Heston and the Red Sea and God writing His rules on a tablet of stone. Okay, maybe it wasn’t so witty after all. But the problem is that many of us think rules, ours or God’s, take away our freedom and make us zombies. We just stumble around with our arms straight out and our eyes have closed doing what we are told to do and not allowed to have any fun or be our own person.

Obviously you’ve missed the finer nuances of that work of art. In Zombieland it was the rules that kept the guy from getting eaten. The people without rules got caught and turned into zombies. In other words boundaries and commandments and living according to God’s plan for us, rather that impeding our freedom actually keeps us free. When I make Jon-Mical, my grandson, hold my hand while we walk across the parking lot, I know that I am keeping him free by not letting him get hurt by a life without rules. Paul again talks about that in Romans 5 and 6 when he says that without the law we wouldn’t know what sin is. And without sin we wouldn’t know what grace is. Dudes, let me put that in words you can understand. If it weren’t for rules you wouldn’t know the zombies from the, well from the dudes and dudettes. And if you didn’t recognize the zombies you wouldn’t know how good it is to not be a zombie. Get it?

Well, let me try one more time. Knowing and living by the boundaries that God has placed in my life does not take my freedom away. In fact, it keeps me from the many pitfalls in life that would destroy both me and my freedom. So the rules in fact keep me free and that is a wonderful gift from God. No wonder the Psalmist says, “The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places.” Psalm 16:6
On this weekend when we celebrate our freedom and remind ourselves of how great it is to not be a zombie perhaps I should also thank God for the rules that are in place that make my freedom in Him and in life possible. I am so grateful for the boundaries. Now pass me the popcorn, dude, the movies about to start.


Nothing to Prove and Nothing to Hide

I went to South Carolina this weekend, to a reunion of a youth choir I was a part of 40 years ago. I have never been very good at reunions. There is usually too much trying to impress, trying to look good, trying to put on a show. And that’s all from me. But this was different. It was great to see old friends, some I hadn’t seen for more than 3 decades. Kids I hung out with, leaders I looked up to, and men and women that spoke God into my life in a way that I will never forget.
They asked me to sing a song that I sang way back then. When it was over, TW, one of those great men said, “I remember when you sang that song 40 years ago. It was better then.” He was right but it was really fun anyway. We sang. We laughed. We told old stories. And we remembered.
There is a saying in the 12 Steps meeting that I go to a lot. The way to real peace is to have nothing to prove and nothing to hide. Can I brag for just a minute? I think the reason this visit was so good was that I am finally learning to live that way. And it feels good.
To live life in the moment, not focusing on the past or the future but trusting God for the here and now is joyful and the source of peace. It takes away the insane need to be something I am not for people I don’t even know, or for those I do. Some days I do that well. Other days, not so much. But I keep trying. I think it’s what Paul had in mind when he says, “Forgetting those things which are behind…I press on.”
Now don’t get me wrong. There are deep regrets from my past. When I am with old friends I can’t help but think about those people that I hurt, that I let down in my many failures. But putting my trust in God keeps me from dwelling on those things or taking on the shame of the past. When I know that I am lost in His love and covered by His blood, well, that’s enough in any group.
So I am suggesting for you that you quit worrying so much about what others think and start reminding yourself of how He feels about you. He loves you “with an everlasting love.” “He will never leave you or forsake you.” “He delights in you and rejoices over you with singing.” Keep all of that in mind and go visit some old friends. Be yourself and let them love you.
As for me, I plan to keep on living one day at a time. I’m not going to spend my energy trying to impress other people. Except I need to lose a little weight, maybe get my hair colored just a little, I wonder if I could get a tuck under my chin. Be blessed. Mike

Monday, May 3, 2010

Floods and What Matters

This weekend in middle Tennessee we experienced unprecedented rain and the resulting history making floods. Most of us (who were dry) sat glued to the television as unforgettable pictures of raging rivers, lakes, and streams turned quiet, familiar neighborhoods into unrecognizable, muddy oceans. We watched spellbound as cars and small buildings floated down what was once an inter-state highway. We were gripped by scene after scene of elderly and very young people being hoisted from upstairs windows into flat bottom boats to be hauled, unceremoniously across a torrid of chocolate, brown water to stay in some high school gymnasium or church fellowship hall. Our hearts were broken as the number of those swept away to their death began to rise.
Eventually, the discussion, even on the television, turned to insurance. Were they covered? Did they have specific flood insurance? Would there be any recompense for what was lost? Even Doris and I began to discuss if we were covered by flood insurance. What would we do in the event of such a catastrophe?
To be honest, I don't know for sure what we would do. I don't think our house is in much danger of a flood but what about a tornado, or earthquake? Or what if a sinkhole opens up underneath our kitchen? How would we begin to replace our "junk?" Frankly, with all of the loopholes in insurance policies today and all of the potential disasters (car bombs in Times Square) I'm not sure we could ever be protected enough. Man, I'm worried.
But then I got to thinking, all of the stuff we are trying to protect is doomed anyway. It is, every last bit of it, fleeting at best. Cars will die and rust away. Pictures will fade and be forgotten. Even gold and silver will lose its value. Much as I hate to think about it, my precious wife and kids are going to die one day, or I will first. The only thing that we have that is really "protectable" is our absolute confidence in Christ and His ability to give us hope and peace. No wonder Paul says, "We fix our eyes, not on what is seen but what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary but what is unseen is eternal." II Cor. 4:18. Now I'm not diminishing the devastating loss of our neighbors and friends this week. They are crushed and rightly so. But when the waters recede and our pain abates, and it will, it might be good to reflect on the fact that nothing of lasting value was taken away from us. Even the loved ones we lost have the potential of being reunited with us in eternity.
So it seems there is a way of ordering our thinking that causes us to remember what needs to be remembered. This world is just a pass through place and we are citizens of another Kingdom. We need to keep our focus on that place. Hey, when we do that there are no floods high enough to get to us. Now, where are my waders?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Of Running, Raining, and Doing Your Best

Jennifer (my daughter-in-law and one of my best friends) and I decided to run the Country Music Marathon while sitting around the supper table last October. I’m 56 and haven’t run anywhere except to the bathroom in 10 years. Jennifer is 30, beautiful and fit, but long distance running is a whole new game. SO, we started training. The first day we ran together we did 3 miles. I thought I was going to die. She talked and laughed the whole way and I concentrated very hard on sucking as much oxygen out of the air as possible and not throwing up.

In early December we ran our first race, the 5 mile Frosty Fun Run. It was 19 degrees when we started and warmed up to a balmy 22 by the time we finished. Doris, Josh, and Jon-Mical came out to cheer us on and Jennifer coached, and begged, and intimidated me all around the course. We finished, thanks to her, and I still wear my blue Frosty Fun Run tee-shirt with great pride.

For the next 4 months we worked really hard. We ran together 2 or 3 times a week. “Short” runs of 4, 5, and 6 miles in the middle of the week and long runs on Saturday. The day we did 14 I thought my legs would fall off. I did 18 alone because Jennifer was battling a knee injury. I finished it but when it was over I told Doris, “I cannot run one step farther than that.” We just kept at it.
About 3 weeks ago we ran 20. It was a turning point day. We ran it pretty fast (for us) and fairly easy. When we were through we both felt good and were brimming with confidence. “We can do this.” We prepared, paid the price, and believed. WE ARE READY!

Thursday afternoon we went to the Nashville Convention Center to pick up our racing numbers and our pre-race packets. INCREDIBLE! 36,000 runners from all over the world were coming together for this race. We saw body sizes of every possible ilk. There were rail thin Kenyan’s with 2% body fat and there were, well others. I couldn’t help but do a mental inventory. “I can beat that guy. I can beat that guy. She is going to kill me.” Jennifer and I were so excited, the big day was almost here. Try to rest Thursday night because we knew on Friday night we’d be too nervous to sleep.
Friday was an absolutely gorgeous day in Middle Tennessee. Cool in the morning. Bright sun, High about 80. I ran a few errands. Did a little yard work. Got my stuff together. Got a pre-race haircut. Then about 1:30 I checked my email and the worst possible news came. Severe thunderstorms and possible tornadoes were predicted for late Saturday morning. The race organizers had decided to cut the race to 4 hours and 30 minutes. (They ended up cutting it to 4 hours). If you did not make it to the place where the half marathoners split off (11.2 miles) in under 2 hours you would be diverted to the half and not be allowed to run the full.

Now two things, Jennifer and I have been training for 5 months to run 12 minute miles and finish the 26.2 mile marathon in a very respectable 5:20. We had secretly hoped to break 5 hours but we never considered the fact that we would have to run our first ever marathon in 4:30, nearly an hour faster than we’d trained for. The other thing is that our “bucket list” goal is to run a marathon, not a half, a marathon. And now the National Weather Service is trying to do us in. All of our training, planning, and mental preparation had to go out the window.

On Saturday morning I picked Jennifer up at 4:30AM. We drove the 45 minutes to LP Field, the home of the Tennessee Titans, and joined our 36,000 fellow crazies. There were two huge lines, one to get on the shuttles that would take us to Centennial Park where the race began, and the other to get in one of the 40 or so port-a-johns. One quick lesson we learned, by 5:30, pre-race port-a-potties are NASSSSTY!
15 minute bus ride to Centennial, 10 minute walk across the park to drop off our gear pack, and its time to get in place. We are in corral 14. That means there are 13,000 people ahead of us before we start and about 13,000 people behind us. The vast majority have on yellow race bibs signifying that they are running the 13.1 mile half marathon. Our bibs are blue. One by one the air horn blows and each corral is sent off. Because of the impending storms we are all going off a little early. For us, corral 14 about 5 minutes after 7 there is a blast, a roar, and the marathon is underway.

I’m not going to bore you with the blow by blow but many have asked so here are the highlights. Jennifer and I felt like we needed to really speed through the first half in order to have a chance to finish. We spent the first hour passing a lot of people as we ran down Broad Street in Nashville. We crossed the 11.2 mile mark in just under 2 hours. That’s about 20 minutes faster than we thought we’d have to run, but they let us through and did not divert us to the half marathon route. We crossed the half way point, 13.1 miles in 2:24:44. Way below our projected time and fully on track to break 5 hours, but too slow if we were going to finish in 4:30. We just kept pushing. The Country Music Marathon is known for its hills. We became well acquainted with them. From the start to mile 14 was beautiful. At mile 14 the weather began to cloud up and by mile 15 it was raining. Mile 15 to 19 is pretty much all uphill. It’s a long run up out of the Metro Center. All of that was into a howling wind and driving rain. By mile 16 I had to take my glasses off because of the rain which was a good thing. I couldn’t see the lightning flashes as well. From mile 17 on there were police at every intersection telling us through bullhorns to seek cover because of the storm coming.

We hoped that by making it through the half split we would be able to finish. But at mile 20 we could see the police lights flashing ahead of us. We were being diverted. Instead of making the final loop into Shelby Park and back we were forced to turn towards the river and LP Field. When it was over we had run 21.5 miles in 4:01:20. We were on track to finish in about 4:50, 30 minutes below our goal and well inside 5 hours. But mother-nature and the Metro police department said no.

We crossed the finish line to the cheers of thousands of soaking wet spectators, race officials and other runners. We stood for a minute and cheered the thousands of runners that were still coming in and then went to find our family.
It has been an incredible adventure. I have fallen in love with my daughter-in-law all over again. We worked really hard and did our best. We have the certificate and the medal that says we finished the Country Music Marathon but we are a little disappointed in the fact that it was abbreviated. Last night I sat on the couch, my knees packed in ice, and searched the internet for a marathon in May or June. Who knows, I might see you in South Bend, Indiana, in a few weeks. Thanks for praying for us, listening to us, and asking about us. I marked the marathon off my bucket list but put a star beside it. There’s always next year and my nephew is interested in running…