encouraging words.

I wasn’t sure I was coming back. To writing, I mean.

I’ve been busy, both in head and heart and hands. With family pain and some long work weeks and a new teaching project and my running, I was running short of time. Reflective time.

I mean, we all have the same 168 hours in a week. We all have schedules and long work weeks. But what I know about myself is that I write better when I have time to reflect. In some seasons, that time disappears.

You know that, right? You know that there are some seasons where you can’t do everything that you think you have to do? You know that it is acceptable to say no to say yes? You know that children aren’t always little, that the edges of the wound of deepest grieving may heal just enough so that you don’t have to keep pressure on the gauze all the time, that a time out can be healthy?

I’m trying to practice that awareness myself.

So why am I back?

Two things.

One early morning I was reading in Hebrews that as long as we are allowed to have days we call “today”, we are to encourage each other. It keeps our hearts softened, keeps us from falling into the hard-edged brittleness formed in our lives when we listen to lies, when we take counsel from evil.

I realized that my way of living out that encouraging is to write 300 words a day.

Then, the other day, on the “today” that I am writing this, Nancy and I were on the sofa.  She was reading, I watched the end of “This Old House.” And then I said, “I need to write.”

As I write, I find the reflective time.

May it extend to reading, too.

Finding your stride.

My friend Richard says it sometimes takes him three or four miles to find his stride.

It’s the place in every run where you aren’t thinking about the mechanics of running: speed, coordination between breathing and steps. It’s the place where you aren’t thinking about whether you can afford the time for this run,  where you aren’t taking every twinge in your knee or ankle or breathing as a sign to quit. It’s the place where start to actually just run.

Richard runs marathons. So he has plenty of time to run after finding his stride. At the time in my running he said it, a long run WAS three miles. “Never find my stride in a whole run?” I thought. “That’s depressing.”

stepsBut as I thought about it, and as I kept running, I realized that he was giving me a gift. Even for experienced runners, starting is often rocky. There is often resistance. But if you keep moving, the rhythms of leg and lung, arms and heart, feelings and focus begin to settle down. You run slower than you know you can. You take your time.

Now that I can run further, nearly seven miles at a time, I understand Richard’s words. If I can make it past the first mile or two, I can often make it five or six.

I thought about all the friends I know who say, “I tried to listen to God, but all I heard was the noise in my head.” Or they say, “Three days in a row. I was asking God for wisdom. But then I kind of forgot.” And what I wish I had known to say was, “Sometimes it takes three or four miles.”

And it may take a few weeks to be able to run that far.

A Podcast, iPhone 6, and Daniel

I’m doing well in my breathing space. I wanted to surface for a bit for three observations.

1. I wrote about Lee Warren’s book a few weeks ago. Recently, Lee interviewed me for his “You Start Today” podcast. We had a great conversation both on the recording and off. I appreciate the opportunity to think about my story a bit. I thought you might be interested.

You Start Today Episode 23: Pound on God’s Chest with Jon Swanson [PODCAST]

2. The other night I was talking with some friends about our addiction to novelty. In preparation, I did some math. A contract-free iPhone 6 costs $649. Prediction is that 6.5 million will be sold the first weekend. That’s 4,218,500,000. 4.2 billion. At the same time, the United Nations says that the medical efforts to contain the Ebola virus  could cost as much as $600 million. So a tithe of the money spent on new phones to replace existing phones, could almost contain Ebola. The cool people of the world could stop it, and 90% would still get their phones.

3. I was reading the end of the book of Daniel the other morning. The guy in the lion’s den, the book with the three guys in the fiery furnace. The first half of the book is great stories. The last half is prophecies about the future (at least from Daniel’s perspective). Lots of people have spent lots of words arguing about what and when those prophecies are. But we get to the end of the book, and after these grand images of the future, here is the last message for Daniel:

“But go your way till the end. And you shall rest and shall stand in your allotted place at the end of the days.”

Or, as Eugene Peterson explains it, “And you? Go about your business without fretting or worrying. Relax. When it’s all over, you will be on your feet to receive your reward.”


See you soon.


I woke up too early. It was still dark. The longest day of the year was already slipping away into a distant memory, so the light that normally seeped around the edges of the bedroom curtains wasn’t there. I wasn’t sure what time it was, so I looked at my bedside watch. It has a dial that lights up when I push a little button. Aaah – it was late enough that I didn’t have to try to get back to sleep again.

Then I went to the kitchen to brew a pot of coffee. The clock on the kitchen stove was 5 minutes slower than my watch. Which was right? I turned on my smartphone, because it constantly goes to the internet to find the correct time. It proved the stove’s clock was right. I realized it had been too long since I checked the accuracy of the time on my bedside watch.

Our lives are like that. We need to recalibrate by going back to a source we can trust to see what’s right. “Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path.” That’s Psalm 119 verse 105, from the longest chapter in the Bible. And that chapter is about the Bible. The writer shows many values of God’s word. Here are two of my favorites:

  • “Keep me from lying to myself; give me the privilege of knowing your instructions” (verse 29). The more I am reminded of the truth, the harder it is to wander.
  • “I weep with sorrow; encourage me by your word” (verse 28). Using God’s word as a source of encouragement is perfect for those times when I wake up to early to talk with anyone about my sorrows.

Explore the chapter for yourself. Which is your favorite verse?

(Paul Merrill writes here every First Friday.)

Deep breath.

Dear friends.

I’m taking a break. I’m not sure for how long.

I’ve got too many things happening right now to be able to reflect well enough here.

101_1225.JPGNancy’s mom is pretty sick. Nancy’s been there a lot during the past five months. We’re guessing that there isn’t much time left. Her dad is doing well for an 89-year-old with his own health struggles.

My mom’s living with Alzheimer’s. She still knows us. She just doesn’t know when and where very well.

I’m teaching a college class for the first time in twenty years. Online.

I’m getting ready for an overseas trip in March. It involves some preparation now. (If you want to know more, write to me. I’ll tell you off blog.)

I’ve started too many writing and mentoring projects that are going unfinished.

If I were talking to someone else, I would say “What can you take a break from, just to catch your breath?” And the answer is that I need to take a break from a daily deadline. And not setting a return date helps me have that break.

Paul Merrill has a great post for this Friday. And then I’ll be back sometime.

Thank you for your encouragement and prayer and presence.

With deep affection,