Getting outside, no matter the weather

Even though it’s the lead story on the 6 o’clock news many nights, I haven’t written about the weather in awhile.

News flash: It’s cold out there right now.

You already knew that.

But it’s not that cold today. I went for a walk/jog earlier, and my car temperature gauge recorded a balmy 17 degrees. The sun was out, too.

Unlike some of you, I like living in a place with four seasons. I don’t wear a scarf in the winter; I like the cold on my face. It’s invigorating.

When jogging, I wear layers. My thumbs and fingers get cold first, so I wear two pairs of gloves. I had no issues today.

Joy of winter

I’m thankful for winter. Last year, it never came. I jogged in the rain in January last year – and got soaked in a rainstorm when it should have been snowing. Ugh. That was my worst jog ever.

Those signs that say “Bridge may be icy”? It’s true. There are two bridges over the Black River on my favorite exercise path, and they do ice over before the path itself does. I tread gingerly there. (They get slick in the rain during summer, too. Got to pay attention all the time.)

I drive a passenger van for a living, so maybe it’s strange that I say I enjoy winter. This means I have to slow down when the weather turns nasty. Welcome to the real world.

I learned how to drive in a Chevette in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula a long time ago. I can rock a stuck vehicle out of a snowbank with the best of you.

Step up your game

For Christmas, we visited family in Michigan. I drove my wife and oldest son to a late-afternoon Christmas Eve service in Ann Arbor (with Ohio license plates and a Michigan State sticker on the back windshield, by the way) along snow-covered roads. I traversed aptly-named Hill Street and pumped the gas pedal repeatedly without thinking to get our minivan up the incline. If I’d floored it, I’d have spun the wheels and lost traction. Keep the wheels rolling, slow enough to keep traction with the road but fast enough to keep the vehicle moving.

There’s a skill to winter driving. Perhaps that’s why I like it.

Speed limits, of course, go out the window when it snows. Before our sons were born, we motored through Buffalo the first week of January during a snowstorm similar to the one Erie, Pa., got this week. I drove 15 – that’s fifteen – mph on the New York State Thruway, a 55 mph highway then (it’s 65 mph now). We were grateful we had a motel reservation; otherwise, we might have been stranded out there.

I always see an SUV or two speed past me on snow-covered roads. Be my guest. I’m not surprised to see them in a ditch or stopped by a police officer a few minutes later. Happens all the time, doesn’t it? You’d think we would learn.

I have never owned a snowblower. Put on the boots and get out the shovel. I’ve been blessed with excellent health. It’s good exercise.

Year-round beauty

I enjoy spring more when we’ve had a real winter. If trees never “die,” how can they “come to life” again? New blooms, greener grass, warmer temperatures, more people outside (I saw only one older man on my 6-mile walk/jog today).

There’s a reason Easter is in the spring. It’s a symbol of new life, of rebirth.

Summers are nice in northern Ohio (although I did get dehydrated once after my walk/jog last summer). Not too hot or humid, usually. I couldn’t handle a Florida or Texas summer.

Fall is a beautiful time, as leaves change color and the temps begin to chill a little. We bought a house a few months ago that has a number of mature trees in or near our yard. I spent a lot of time this fall raking those leaves. Again, good exercise. (I have to find the positive side, right?)

Our city has an awesome leaf collection system. We rake leaves to the curb, and the city brings around a huge vacuum cleaner that sucks up the leaves. It’s pretty cool. They come through several times each fall, so we just keep raking. (I filled a couple of yard waste cans with late-falling leaves on Dec. 21, just before the most recent snowfall. Someday I’ll get all the leaves off the yard. Maybe.)

I enjoy getting outside year-round. Cold, cool, hot, warm. It’s all good.

It sure beats over-eating while watching blowout bowl games all day (which I did yesterday, actually – yawn).

Fresh air. It’s good for your health, and mine.

See you on the trail. Any time of year.

At Easter: Why Jesus?

Even if I could prove beyond doubt that Jesus Christ not only existed but was – and is – the Son of God who takes away the sins of the world, some of you, perhaps many of you, still would not accept that.

I heard a conference speaker say recently that the evils of smoking are well documented, but millions of people do it anyway – with the full knowledge that they are harming their bodies. Smokers have their reasons. I don’t judge them; it doesn’t bother me one way or another, as long as no one smokes in my car or house (where the effects will linger, proving that no one lives in a vacuum; every decision we make does affect others).

So, if proof isn’t enough, why follow Jesus?

Because it works.

Abundant life

Jesus wants the best for us.

“I have come that you might have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)

Why would we not want that?

Because having “abundant life” means giving up things that do not benefit us. We don’t like being told we can’t have something or can’t do something, even if it might hurt us.

“Thou shalt not commit adultery.” (Exodus 20:14)

How antiquated is that in American society? And yet God put that in the Ten Commandments for a reason. Marriage is supposed to be the highest form of relationship, when done right, when the husband and wife want the best for each other.

Many of us have screwed that up, so we look for validation in other places. But we’ll never find a deeper relationship on Earth than we will in “holy matrimony.” There are plenty of effects of relationships gone sour when we don’t want the best for each other.

We are inherently selfish. I want the best for me, even if that hurts you. But if I hurt you, I won’t ever find the best for me, because I’ll feel sadness when you are hurt. We are inherently that way too.

The Ten Commandments are a list of dos and mostly don’ts that we are to follow. All of them are for our own benefit. Our common laws are based on them (do not steal; do not commit murder; do not bear false witness against your neighbor; you shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor).

Whether the Ten Commandments are posted on the Courthouse lawn or outside a school doesn’t matter to me. They’re just words on paper, or stone. When they are written on our hearts, then they mean something.

The ACLU has no jurisdiction over my heart.

Head and heart

My heart. That’s where “faith” meets “prove it.”

I had a lonely, insecure childhood. My family moved around some in my elementary and junior high years, including out of state a couple of times. Getting uprooted meant I never formed deep friendships. I’ve never been more afraid than the first day of ninth grade, in a new town in a different state where I didn’t know a soul, except my seventh-grade sister in another part of the building.

The following summer, we attended a church camp in western Pennsylvania, again someplace I’d never been before. I was accepted immediately. The counselors and even other campers noticed me – not because I did anything, but just because I was there.

They made it clear they did that because Jesus loves them as much as He loves me. We don’t have to earn His love; He gives it away freely.

This was new to me.

I wanted what they had.

I didn’t ask for a theological discussion. I didn’t know the history of the Bible then. I didn’t know what the Bible said about marriage, money, pain and suffering, or the End Times. I just knew that Jesus loves me, because I saw it and felt it in the people around me.

That was my starting point.

As I’ve studied the Bible since, on my own and in groups and with Sunday morning sermons, I’ve learned more about Jesus’ love for me, and how to live that way. Mind and heart. Jesus connects in both places.

Good and evil

Why do bad things happen to good people? That’s a big stumbling block for many. If God wants the best for us, why do we all suffer?

My wife and I just attended the funeral of her cousin. She died a week ago of a heart attack at age 56. Left four children and 15 grandchildren. No warning. Totally unexpected. Why?

I can’t answer that.

But none of us is exempt from that kind of story, are we? Who do I think I am that I am above pain?

If we lived life happily ever after on Earth, where would we find meaning? Seriously.

We find meaning in helping others. We fundraise to fight cancer or world hunger. We provide clothes and other necessities to victims of fires, earthquakes or floods. We mentor in schools. We raise awareness for autism or diabetes. We do a myriad of things to serve those less fortunate than us.

Why?

If life is only about making me happy, why should I care about you?

God put a deeper purpose in our hearts than the “pursuit of happiness.” There’s nothing wrong with being happy, of course, but how do we do that? Really?

God: yay or nay

Here’s the kicker, the real reason most people don’t follow Jesus: He demands a response from every one of us. “Faith is fine for you, but not for me,” you might say. Or, “What makes you so certain that your faith is the right one?”

Because Jesus is the only “god” who wants the best for us. No other god can offer salvation from anything. There’s no bigger picture.

Jesus is inclusive and exclusive at the same time.

“I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

The invitation is open to every person, but not everyone will accept the invite. There are rewards and consequences either way. No exceptions.

Good Friday is the most horrific story ever told. What makes it so compelling is that Jesus died on that cross willingly, because He wants the best for us: relationship with His Father.

Jesus overcame even death on Easter.

We do not want the best for our own lives. I say and do things I know I shouldn’t, but I do them anyway.

I ask forgiveness, and Jesus forgives. Every time. He knows the human heart. He created it. I reach out to Him again. He smiles. I walk away, then return to Him. He smiles again.

This is relationship. This is the way life is meant to be.

It’s the way we should treat each other as well.

Think how much nicer America would be if we did.

If we let the God who wants the best for us lead us.

Take a deep breath. Could it happen?

Theoretically, yes. In practice, no.

Because we cannot know good without evil.

So, we live with both.

Which side will you choose?