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!

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Balance

There is a quote that is attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson that reads:

“Moderation in all things, especially moderation.”

Reading or hearing this quote always makes me stop and pause to think about the balance in my own life. While I think it is important, and I strive for, moderation in my life, I also find value in moments of excess. I suppose it all depends on where you expend your excess that determines the value of it to your life. Balance is most important when you overextend yourself in one way or another and need to physically or emotionally ‘land on your feet.’

I am fortunate that some days my work schedule allows me to go for a morning run, sit down with a cup of coffee, read or reflect, maybe write a little and start my ‘work day’ pretty much whenever I’d like to start it. Other times I’m racing from the bed to the shower to the airport to a meeting and the day seems to start and end at breakneck pace. The thing that always allows me to land on my feet when I’ve overextended myself with a series of those breakneck days is balance. Balance emotionally, physically, relationally, and spiritually.

On a normal day, home or on the road, I don’t have time for both a morning workout and morning reflection and solitude. What I have chosen to do is balance those things. Yesterday after I walked the kids to the bus stop I went for a 3 mile run and then came home, ate breakfast, showered and started my day. I was at the computer working at 8:30a. This morning after the bus stop I came back home, ate breakfast, read, prayed, and journaled for 40 minutes and started my day. I was at the computer working at 8:30a. I didn’t feel guilty yesterday for not having time for reflection. I didn’t feel guilty this morning for not having time for a run. I am trying to create a balance in my life so that next week when I’m flying from coast to coast with presentations, client meetings and spending days full of work and craziness that I land on my feet and don’t fall over (emotionally or physically).

Don’t get me wrong…if someone was going to pay me to structure my day exactly as I’d like it, I’d have time for a run and reflection every single day. But that isn’t in the cards in this stage of life for me so rather than throw my hands up in frustration that I can’t be more diligent to run 5 days a week or getting down on myself because I only make time to pray and journal 2-3 times a week, I just try for balance. When I have that balance, I truly can achieve moderation in all things, including moderation.