Community

brr-team-pic.jpg

This past weekend, a friend of mine convinced me and seven other insane guys to run the Blue Ridge Relay. As the sign above states, this is a 208 mile relay run that includes 27,000 feet of elevation gain and loss over the course of 24+ hours (it took us 33 hours). I did this because I have found that if I do not have some sort of audacious goal in front of me from a fitness standpoint, I am a lot less likely to stick to an exercise regimen, so this sounded right up my alley. I had no idea why these other guys were into this; I didn’t know any of them other than my friend, the ringleader, until 2 months ago. What I got out of the weekend was very unexpected.

The word community is thrown around a lot these days. You hear it in churches, city council meetings, neighborhood associations, and book clubs. It seems to be something a lot of people are seeking in their lives. I guess I’d never really gone looking for it. Over 33 hours in the Blue Ridge Mountains, I believe I found community in its truest form in several places.

Dictionary.com defines community as:

“A social, religious, occupational, or other group sharing common characteristics or 
interests and perceived or perceiving itself as distinct in some respect from the larger 
society within which it exists.”

I’ll go along with that, but I think there is a little more. More importantly, I think I learned this weekend a couple of secrets to actually ACHIEVING community.

The Blue Ridge Relay requires a massive amount of volunteers to pull it off. Every 3-10 miles, there is an Exchange Zone (EZ) where one runner finishes his/her leg and hands the team bracelet to the next runner. There are 36 of these zones and they are at rural churches, community centers, fire houses, elementary schools, and small businesses scattered all along the route between Grayson Highlands State Park (VA) and downtown Asheville (NC). At every one of these exchange zones, I saw a glimpse of true community – people just helping out others who wanted to be a small part of their town or area. There wasn’t really anything in it for them, they just did it because they cared about their little corner of the world and wanted to share it with others. Some of these people were standing outside at 3 a.m. directing traffic. It was NOT glamorous. What I learned about community from these gracious individuals is that when you have it, you just pull together and get things done because you’re proud to be a part of this THING and you want to show others what being a part of it means.

For me, however, the real lesson of community last weekend came from the 8 guys I shared this experience with in the mountains. I had an inkling a month ago when we got together for a training run up in the mountains that I was going to like these guys. We had fun, laughed, and talked easily about work, running, and life. I had no idea how sharing the incredibly challenging experience of running for 33 hours straight with little or no sleep would deepen those relationships and develop true community. During the course of the weekend, we each had little victories and defeats. Some legs you felt great and came off the course beaming and proud. Other legs it was all you could do to drag yourself to the exchange zone and you just wanted to collapse as soon as you handed off the bracelet. In both cases, these guys were there to greet each other, provide encouragement, and share in either the victory or the challenge. You knew they understood because they were going through the exact same thing. And they knew you didn’t need a lecture, just a shoulder to lean on and someone to hand you some water. As the day and night wore on, we all started to smell, hurt, gripe, and long for it to be over. But we pushed each other on because the task of finishing could only be done together. And as we stood together at the finish line for the picture above, it dawned on me – this is what TRUE community really is – people who commit to a common goal, participate equally according to their strengths and abilities, push each other on in the tough times, and share in common victories together.

It takes being willing to take on something REALLY TOUGH together to create genuine community. I’d love to see our churches, city councils, neighborhood associations and even book clubs truly become the communities they talk about by taking on something REALLY TOUGH together. I believe that if a group of 9 guys who barely knew each other a month ago, certainly didn’t agree on everything, and had lots of different motivations can come together, create genuine community, and accomplish something audacious, then ANY group willing to attack something tough together with a commitment to not quit, will realize not only community, but amazing things.

Cheers to my new friends and being a part of a new community. I hope you will find one too!

Advertisements

The Lonely Extrovert

extroverts

Somewhere in your life there’s an extrovert that you think has it all together. Great family, great job, fun to be around. When there’s a party they are always having a good time – smiling, laughing and flitting around like a butterfly. If you work with them, they don’t ever seem to have any trouble at networking events and they always speak up in the Monday morning meeting. If they are your neighbors or parents of your kids’ friends, they always seem to be running the best family on the block. They are the first one you call when you feel like you just need to get out of the house and “do something” because they’ll always say yes. And they will help out with any side project or business idea you’ve got!

Here’s what you might not know…some of these people are extremely lonely. I’m not talking about the “I’m sitting at home alone in the dark brooding” kind of loneliness. Us extroverts don’t get like that too often because we get energy off of other people, so we just naturally get out and about, do stuff, hang out with friends and acquaintances, go to lunch with colleagues, or just talk to strangers if we have to. It is how we fill our emotional tanks.

The kind of loneliness I’m talking about is the kind where you realize the importance of deeper, rooted, more in depth relationships and then look around to find that you don’t have many. For extroverts who come to that realization, lonely takes on a much deeper, more difficult meaning. It becomes disconcerting because it doesn’t go away with more people, which is always our first response. It creates the same feelings that I imagine introverts feel at a 3 hour cocktail party with a bunch of strangers – How do I get out of this?

To be clear, this loneliness is not usually something that can be filled by a spouse or children. Those people are central to our lives and relationships with them are much more about interdependence and the deepest kinds of love than they are being “just friends.” My wife is the single most important person in my life. Period. Friend doesn’t begin to describe our relationship, and she is ALWAYS there for me when I need it, but she cannot fill my every need emotionally.

I’m talking about the kind of relationship where you wade through your extrovert’s small talk and conversation to get to the really mucky stuff going on in their life deeper down. The kind of friendship that has the patience to let you peel off all of their layers of extrovert protectionism until some of the soft and sensitive stuff starts to show up. The kinds of friendship that isn’t afraid to just cut right to it and ask them how things are personally, on the inside, because you don’t really care about the big deal they’re working on at the office or the kids’ latest exploits. What you care about is YOUR FRIEND. These are hard to come by for all of us. I’ve only got three of them in my life and they’re all in different states. They’ll read this and know who they are and probably call to make sure I’m ok. And we’ll talk about our upcoming trip together or agree that we have to find a time to get together – that’s the trick. These are the kind of friendships that get to the core quicker when you’re together, but they are challenging to dig into via text, phone call, or Facebook. We extroverts NEED these face to face moments because we’re so good at the bullshitting that it takes looking us in the eye and asking those challenging questions to get under the surface.

So when you run across your friendly neighborhood extrovert today, give them a hug and ask them how they’re really doing. You might be surprised at their answer and they might really need a friend. Or they might just want to go have a green beer – Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Fear and Courage

Image

Fear: An emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous.

Courage: The ability to act in the face of fear.

A little over a year ago, my friend Brad and I decided to go mountain bike riding in Moab, Utah. For those of you unfamiliar with mountain bike culture, Moab is to mountain biking what Nashville is to country music. Neither Brad nor I are exactly mountain biking experts and when you put two 6 foot, 3 inch guys over the handlebars of a piece of aluminum screaming down a rocky trail we’ve never been on, fear will creep in to the picture. The photo above was taken AFTER we faced those fears and came out on the other side at the entrance of Arches National Park, unscathed and courageous.

I tell this story to illustrate a lesson that I’ve been visiting quite a bit lately – fear is not something to ignore, it is something to embrace. It has been amazing to me that as I have improved my level of self-awareness, I have become acutely aware of how much fear I have in my life…fear of failure when I go into a big business pitch, fear of a lack of approval from my boss for my job performance, fear that I am making parenting mistakes, fear that I’m not meeting all of my wife’s emotional needs, fear of being accepted by new friends for being who I am, fear of disappointing my true, long time friends because I’m not available enough for them, and the list goes on and on. For a while I was so ashamed of these fears thinking I was weak and lacked self confidence. 

The turning point for me was a realization that the fact that I can recognize these fears creeping in to my thoughts, gives me an amazing power. I now can recognize the fears for what they are – simple emotions, not good or bad, just feelings. I have now become the most courageous person I know because I recognize the fear is there and I ACT. I do not allow the thoughts of fear to linger for more than a moment, I attack them with a rigor that allows me to confidently sit across from a client and stay completely in the moment with them, I work every day in a way that I know will produce my best, I parent with love and grace and trust that it is enough, I do things that I know will make my wife feel good when I see them to be done, I talk to new friends in honesty and straightforwardness and let them decide where the relationship goes, and I try to touch my dearest friends in multiple ways through the power of technology on a regular basis.

My life isn’t always screaming down the side of a single track mountain bike trail, but my fears are real. I’m courageous because just like during that trail ride, I hold on tight, pay close attention, and only go as fast as is prudent.

Walk with the Wise

Image

“He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm.”
                                                                                     – Proverbs 13:20

This past weekend we spent a fun-filled weekend with some of our dearest friends camping on the beach. Both families’ kids were remarkably well behaved and seemed to have a good time playing together, we did some solid outdoor cooking, and braved a little rain and some cold nights as the raccoons scavenged our campsites for scraps.

Amid all of the fun, I was reminded of the importance of good friendships to any marriage. The four of us have been laughing, loving, cooking, crying, drinking, debating, teasing, and talking for 14 years together. Our families have grown and lives have become busy; our marriages have had rough patches and we’ve helped each other through those; our values haven’t changed, but our priorities have. So this morning, when I read the Proverb above, it really hit me – my life is being enriched, and I am growing wiser by “walking” through life with wise friends. 

This past weekend it was the Richardsons, but there are many other wise people that I walk with and who walk with Jessi and I as a couple. I am thankful for each and every one of them and the wisdom they have added to my life. Sometimes it is just the right word at just the right time, other times it is just a hug and saying ‘I love you.’ The wisdom of friends comes in many ways and I hope that I can continue to walk with the wise. As for the foolish…there just isn’t time for fools in my life, so I’m sticking with the wise. They’re a lot more fun anyway!