Saturday, November 1, 2014

Ride a Little Longer: Memories and a Tribute to John Peterson

Premature death puts life in perspective like nothing else.

This week another robust, powerful and influential life was cut short by cancer.  A cherished husband, father, friend and pastor was taken way too young.  John was 42.  Left behind is a devastated wife, and bewildered children.  But even as I write that, I hear my John protesting.  "They have hope in the hereafter, Jeff, and trust that God as Father will provide for and sustain them."

If anything, John was always ready with a word; specifically The Word.  He knew the Bible well, and dedicated his life to teaching and applying it to his own life, and many others, beginning with his own family.  And his cycling buddies got our fair share of good hearted and well-intentioned instruction about the "Higher Ways" of the One John wholeheartedly believed in and trusted as his Maker and Savior.

But friendship with John wasn't all serious and sober.  Man, we had some good laughs!  "Do you guys want to hear a joke?"  Whether we did or not we usually said yes.  John's nature as a story-teller was to spare no details, so it afforded an extended opportunity to focus on breathing while John used extra breath to tell the story.  As we learned this drill one of us would often ask John if he had any jokes just before we started a long climb.  Eventually he caught on, and would wait until the road was flat before speaking again.

Then, there was language practice.  Often John would roll up beside us and begin speaking in some foreign language.  I think Korean was the most frequent.  John and Melissa had adopted Isaac from Korea and so John had taken it on himself to learn his son's native tongue.  Amazing.  And speaking of different of John's favorite collections was Bible's in different languages.  I heard John 3:16 in no fewer than seven languages!

Singing was another of John's favorite ways to pass time while rolling on two wheels.  He had a good voice, and was known to break into song during sermons at church.  Just to tease him we'd pick up the pace to make breathing difficult on the bike.  But rest assured, slow down and the song would return.

When John first got sick I visited him at the hospital.  He couldn't resist telling extended family about his first ride with me.  "Remember that Jeff?"  Of course I did.  He wouldn't let me forget.  "The guys gave me a bike as a gift on New Year's Day, 1999 (see 'Reflections of a Dying Pastor for details).  When spring rolled around it was time to ride outside.  So off we went, me and Jeff.  I did pretty well for the first part of the ride, so coming down Morris road, Jeff said it was time to turn up the intensity and to show him what I had.  Well, I did my best to keep up, and I did but when we got to the stop sign I got real dizzy and had to get off the bike and sit down, and Jeff had to go get a car to drive me home.  Remember that, Jeff?"  Yes. Not one of my proudest moments, but the beginning of learning to enjoy the ride and doing well by my friends instead of trying to win the ride and beat them.

But the competitive thing wasn't over.  We were all amazed by how strong John became as a cyclist.  I teased him mercilessly about the size of his calves and how they flexed w/ every pedal stroke. John had a natural gift which he honed through long hours in the saddle.  And as he grew strong, it wasn't me putting the hurt on him any longer.  Now John could keep pace and take his turn leading the group, sometimes for miles and miles on end, like a turbo-diesel on a long cross country trek.  As Butch and I sat in John's draft we often reflected that we'd created a monster.

The inevitable finally happened on a day our group was racing the sign sprint in Clifton.  As we flew toward the sign, John pulled away from me and there was nothing I could do about it.  Finally catching him as we all caught our breath after the sprint I pulled alongside to congratulate John.  His words were classic.  Looking at me with a lot of pride (well deserved) and satisfaction, John glibly said, "Whose your daddy?"

Guys bond through activity, especially Epic experiences.  Thankfully, now with hindsight, I'm glad that most of our rides were Epic.

Just last summer as Jill and I drove down Montego on Father's Day, we spotted John, heading out on a ride.  We pulled alongside, "Hey John!"  "I'm headed out for a Father's Day ride, Jeff.  I can wait, wanna go along?"  It was an unexpected treat to get to ride and to ride with a friend.  That's a fond memory.  Big smile on his face, trademark bandana tied in the back, flapping in the wind, mashing the pedals very easily yet powerfully with well-muscled legs ticking out a slow cadence.  He couldn't have been happier.  That was Epic

Many other rides were Epic because as an older brother and cycling mentor John trusted me to make good judgments about where we rode, how long we rode and how hard we rode.  Just let me say simply that this wasn't always well placed trust. I was intense about going further and faster, and John (and those waiting for him at home or the office) often paid the price.

Start of the ride:

John: 'Jeff, I really need to be on time today.'
Jeff: 'No worries, John.  I have a route planned, and I'll behave myself.'


John: 'Jeff, where are we and how long is it going to take to get home?'
Jeff: 'I'm not sure John'
John: 'Not sure about where we are or how long to get home?'
Jeff: 'I'm not sure about either. Sorry.'

So, we'd mash the pedals with me on front.  Being on front was the price I paid for getting us lost again. 'That's the price for leading us into another Epic ride, Jeff', said Butch, a common third companion on many rides with John.  It was a drill we repeated countless times.  The result?  We often rode a little longer and a little harder than we'd anticipated at the start of the ride.

Knowing now, what I didn't know then is how short John's life would be.  And knowing that now, I'm glad that we often rode a little longer.  I'm just sad that now we can't ride a little longer.

I'm consoled by imagining that John is enjoying his Maker, asking questions, and probably telling a few jokes, and going for rides in warm sunshine with a new body and the wind at his back (certainly there can't be any lactic acid in Heaven).  Pedal on dear brother, and map some routes for us to ride together, again.  And know that we're here for your family, and I'm certain you would be for ours.  Jill and I stopped by the house to hug on and sob with Melissa for a bit last night.  It won't be the last time.

Goodbye John.  We loved knowing you, and we love you.


Thursday, August 21, 2014

Emotional Hygiene

I had a dream about a friend being in trouble because they were carrying things that had happened to them in the course of ministry leadership.   The cumulative effect was weighing them down, visibly in the dream, as pieces of lead dangling from their body, as if pinned to them.  Can you identify? (I don't think this phenomenon is isolated to ministry or leadership).

I called my friend to share the dream, believing that I may have received a divine communication intended to help him.  He said that it was on the mark, and proceeded to share honest feelings about some things that have happened.  I was gratified by his trust, and he was helped out of isolation in his pain.

"What's the takeaway?  What should I do?", he asked.  We agreed on a simple plan of action:  "Make a list of your honest feelings (mad, sad, scared and glad) every day.  Make the list as long as possible.  Then, ask Jesus to speak to you about your feelings.  Ask His perspective and input on what you are feeling.  Sometimes He will probably validate how you feel, and other times He may challenge you about your attitude or conclusions.  Sometimes He'll prompt you to take your feelings to the person that they are about (speaking truth in love)..."

Emotional hygiene is identification and expression of your honest feelings in prayer, journaling and/or conversation with a trusted friend or counsel.  It is essential to build and sustain emotional health.  The alternative is to become emotionally constipated, numb and inward.  This erodes mental and emotional health just as physical bowel constipation becomes unhealthy.

I reminded my friend that it wasn't his fault that he'd been unfairly accused, judged and misunderstood, but that it was his responsibility to respond to the realization that he was carrying things by recognizing and removing them so that he can stay spiritually, physically and relationally healthy.

"In this world you will have many troubles...but take heart. I have overcome the world." - Jesus

Jeff Williams is a co-founder of Grace & Truth Counseling and Coaching, licensed as a Supervising Professional Clinical Counselor in the State of Ohio.