My mother-in-law (whom I love dearly) uses that phrase. Anytime someone does something for someone, it rings in the back of my mind. And as much as I am reluctant to admit it, well, dadgummit, she is right too often. I don’t want to admit it, because as an old Boy Scout (do a good deed daily), and because I long for a world filled with greater compassion, I want people to do good things for others, and I just don’t want to deter them by this phrase.

But case in point:

During the ten years that we lived in Pascagoula, Mississippi, we had Gus and Katherine Spyridon as neighbors. We enjoyed and appreciated them, our daughter Kathryn claimed Gus as her “adopted hometown Grandfather,” and they helped us learn more about the Gulf Coast. Sadly, Gus’s cancer returned and he was promoted to the Church Triumphant. Through Katherine’s force of personality and stern will, she finagled things so that I was allowed to participate as clergy in Gus’s Greek Orthodox service.

A few years after Gus’s death, Katherine decided she wanted to sell his Honda Accord. It had been sitting in the driveway for far too long, and she came over to our house one Friday (my day off) and asked if I would help her get it started so she could get it ready to sell. I pulled my car around, and jump-started the Accord. It took several tries to get it started long enough to keep running (I’m no mechanic, but something bad had happened to the gas and oil). I suggested that I drive it around the block just to get all the fluids going, and Katherine agreed. I made it less than 100 yards, when it died again. I walked home, got my car, drove down there, jumped it off again, and this time made it around the block. I pulled into the parking place, put the car in Park, and set the parking brake. I walked back and got my car, put it in our carport, and Katherine and I agreed that the Accord should run for a little while to charge the battery. She went into her house, and I went into mine.

It was now lunchtime, so I zapped some taco meat and fixed a couple of tacos. I was standing in the kitchen, eating a taco (you do that when you are home alone), and looked out towards our swimming pool, the opposite direction from Katherine’s house. “Huh, I wonder where that fog is blowing in from,” I thought. Sometimes on the Coast you get these thick–I mean really thick–fog banks that move in and blow around. I turned and looked out the kitchen window, towards Katherine’s house, to see if the fog was coming in off the water.

And I saw Gus’s car on fire.

It was one of those freeze-frame moments. I turned towards a part of the house, wondering if I should grab the fire extinguisher. Then I looked the opposite direction, thinking I should call 911. Then I looked back thinking about the fire extinguisher. Then I looked towards the phone. Then I looked back, and thought “Where the heck IS the fire extinguisher?” That’s when I grabbed the wireless phone off the wall, as I ran out the door, dialing 911, calling in the car fire. As I got off the phone, I was bursting into Katherine’s house, screaming “Katherine, the car is on fire!” She jumped out of her skin (must have been a really good soap opera) as I ran back out.

I headed towards my garden hose, thinking I’d get started trying to fight the fire, when I had a rational thought about gas and a possible explosion. Katherine was wisely lowering her garage door at this time. About then, the flames and heat melted enough of the gasket, and the sunroof fell into the car. With the added oxygen, the flames kicked it up a notch with all that foam rubber, and it REALLY started boiling. The plume of flames and smoke was about 20 feet into the air, so I backed off, since I could now hear the fire engine on it’s way.

The firefighters showed up and did their thing. The flames were knocked down and the entire car cooled off in seconds thanks to a copious amount of water. We stood around and Katherine and I explained what had happened, as the firefighters filled out an incident report. They left, Katherine went into her house, and I went home and ate cold tacos.

Later that afternoon I ran a few errands, and by the time I arrived home, the car was gone, there was only a black spot in the parking area where it had been. My family trickled in from school, I told them the story, and we all had a good laugh before leaving for the soccer field, where Kathryn (our daughter, not our neighbor–note the spelling difference) had a game.

During the game, I saw my friend Lynn Jacobsen on the sidelines, and since he was an insurance agent, I walked over.

“Hey, Lynn, if a car catches on fire because of an electrical short (that was our best guess), is that covered?”

“Oh, yeah,” he laughed. “I hear you barbecued Katheryn Spyridon’s car today!” he hooted. Everyone around us listened to the story, and I was the laughingstock of the soccer team for a few weeks.

All because I was trying to be a nice neighbor (I would have said good neighbor, but Lynn was not with State Farm).

No good deed goes unpunished.

Practice makes perfect

April 13, 2011

That hill was a little easier today.

I am a cyclist by avocation, it’s what I do to try and keep my heart in shape, and wish that it kept the rest of me in shape. I don’t know that there are that many former interior linemen who are now cyclists. You sure don’t see that many guys in the Tour de France who look like they used to be a pulling guard, anyway. I was a runner for many years, but after having cartilage taken out of both knees, it became obvious that I needed a sport that was less damaging to the system. I became a cyclist.

After living on the Mississippi Gulf Coast for 10 years, where the only hill I ever climbed was the high-rise bridge over the Pascagoula River, I landed (again) in Atlanta, where the longest flat street is about 200 feet long, I think. Rolling hills, everywhere you go.

I typically ride at 5:30 in the morning, in part because I am a morning person, in part because if I don’t work out first thing in the morning (OK, second thing—prayers and Scripture at 4:30), something else will crowd it out. And, there are far fewer cars on the streets at 5:30 AM, and they are easy to see. Yes, I make certain that I am very visible with front and rear lights and plenty of reflective gear, so I am plenty safe.

Riding at 5:30 AM, particularly in the winter, is less than pleasant, so I spend much of the winter on my bike in the basement, with the bike on a gen trainer. In other words, I convert my road bike to a stationary bike, and watch a lot of movies all winter. But the weather has warmed up enough to get out on the streets finally, so last Friday I was on the Silver Comet Trail for a while. And today I went out on one of my usual rides through the streets of Atlanta.

At one point I was climbing a hill, and it suddenly occurred to me that the hill was a little easier today. Maybe not as compared to last fall (big difference riding indoors and then getting out on the streets), but compared to the first time I rode that hill after moving to Atlanta—it was easier.

What made the difference, I wondered. Then it hit me. Wax on, wax off.

It was Karate Kid all over again. The more you do something, the more you practice it, the better you get at it. Between my two bikes, I have logged around 20,000 miles. Yes, you read that right, 20,000 miles in about 8 years. I have well over 19,000 miles on my Cannondale, and just under 2,000 on the Trek Madone that IRONMEN gave me last Spring (guys, that is one SWEET ride!)

In The Talent Code, Daniel Coyle suggests that it takes 10,000 hours of doing something to make one an expert at the craft, whatever that craft is. I just did some math, and while I don’t believe I got it right, if my figures are correct, I have less than 2,000 hours in the saddle.

I’m not an expert, but I am getting better. Just like the boy in The Karate Kid learning karate by developing muscle memory, I am getting stronger (even as I get older!) by continuing to ride.

In light of that, I have been a follower of Jesus for roughly 35 years. Fifty two Sundays a year, for 35 years, adds up to 1,820 days of worship. Add in all the days and minutes and hours of prayer, Scripture reading (how many times have I practiced the discipline of reading through the entire Bible in a year, or even just the Old Testament, or the New Testament—I can’t recall), the journaling, the reflecting, the added reading in my daily devotions—I hope they all add up to 10,000.

I’m not an expert, but I hope I am getting better. Martin Luther had a classic prayer that he called his “Sacristy Prayer,” that which he prayed each week before going to lead the people in worship. I updated the language, and use it not every Sunday, but every day: Dear Father, you have called me into your service as a Minister of Word and Sacrament. You alone know how unworthy and incapable I am to fulfill this monumental task and responsibility–and were it not for your forgiveness, intervention, and mercy, I would have failed and destroyed your church long ago. So I beg of you to help me. I will devote myself to you and your calling. I long to teach and lead your people, and want to give more of myself each day to you and your Word. So please, Father, claim me, forgive me, fill me with your Spirit, and use me as your agent of reconciliation. Whatever you do, Lord, please do not abandon me; for then I shall do nothing but hurt your church, which is the last thing I want. I ask this, humbly, in Jesus’ name, Amen.

I’m not an expert, but by God’s grace, I’m getting better. Not only on the hills, but I pray I’m getting better on my knees, as well. Or especially.

Wrestlemania came to Atlanta last weekend. There was a time when I was a fan of professional wrestling, but frankly, it was a long time ago. That said, professional wrestling intersected my life right about a year ago, and has remained there just a bit.

Lex Lugar, the wrestler (retired and VERY different from what he was when competing) started coming to IRONMEN about a year ago, and I believe it is safe to say that he and I are friends. With Wrestlemania coming to town, Lex–who experienced a powerful conversion to Christ several years ago, talked about his desire to have a ministry in and to the wrestling community. He tried to create a “prayer breakfast” affiliated with the events downtown, but was blocked because of “legal conflicts” (which sounds like a smokescreen to me).  At any event, we ate Peachtree Presbyterian offered some space in our new building The Lodge, FCA convinced Chick Fil A to donate food (if you feed them, they will come!), and the next thing you knew, we had ourselves the first World Wrestling Outreach event. About 40 people from within the industry attended, no current athletes, but 7 retired athletes came. In the group picture, Lex is on the far right, about 90 pounds lighter than when he wrestled, thanks to a terrible accident he had several years ago.

One of his good friends, Nikita Koloff, who is now a licensed evangelist, is the guy looking like he is going to break me into little bits in the other picture. Interestingly, Nikitaa nd I had just been whispering, joking, and laughing, right before I was asked to say something, and this picture was taken. As menacing as he looks, he is a really nice guy, and a lot of fun.

AND–both he and Lex are incredibly passionate for Jesus. To think that these guys want more than anything, to honor God with their lives, and to help men and women in the wrestling community to experience the grace and the love of God, is downright staggering. This was just the beginning–as Lex said, “We’ll see you back next year, in Miami–South Beach!”

What I can’t wait for, is to see what has happened ten years from now, and to look back and realize that I had been at the first gathering.

Do me–and my friends–a favor, and ask God to bless their efforts, and to open doors for them to share the good news of Jesus to the industry that (as Lex said) “Satan has a choke hold on.”