And the day God breathed upon your still life, stirring into being the green leaf and the flower, bud upon the branch and light
upon your soul. Here you felt the earth’s air on your petals and your leaves, and squinted into sunlight, gazing high for heaven
until you felt the gardener’s hand gently turning soil and soul, and nurturing you, bud in radiant sun.
Cascading rain absorbed in warm earth turning, heaven of fragrance. What is that sound in the wind and dazzling light?
Oh, the sweet sound of your delight in God. Sometimes it is like the sound of running laughter.
Thursday, December 31, 2009
"But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head." [Psalm 3:3]
I cling, as I do each morning of my life, to the Lord Jesus. We cross this bridge together – He and I - from despair to hope in twinkling of the eye; in a moment of the heart; as the day dawns. I reach for Him and His deep, firm comforts, and the haunting shadows slip away. The world looses its hold on me. The light increases, the day breaks, the sun rises - a fresh, new morning. The Lord has made all things new. It will be a good day.
Today I feel my sore muscles from the 10K winter run yesterday. It took me 1:31 hours to cover 6.2 miles. Several days before, my daughter Abbey was looking for a run, so we laid down a bit over 5K in the afternoon in about 39 minutes. Over these most holy days my running has been irregular, so I expect to feel the soreness and impact of almost any run. But I was determined to run early yesterday morning. The night before, I set out my things so that I could push out the door as soon as I woke. The challenge was simply to leap over that first hurdle, to break through that initial resistance, and get to the thing at hand. And so I found myself on the edge of Purgatory Park at 6:30am yesterday morning. It was dark, but just so. I decided against the headlamp in this earliest dim light of darkness, and pushed off to the left, clockwise, up the slope along the plowed trail that surrounds the park. This is a circuit of 1.23 miles, undulating hills and gentle slopes with numerous pleasant perspectives - when you can see them. I was enjoying the early morning brace of raw cold and the bite in the occasion breeze, my feet crunching along the ice and snow, a rhythm in footfalls, almost quiet, and so peaceful – yes, restful almost. Here a person can sort things out, can pray and worship and wait on the counsel of the Lord in the breathtaking silence of early morning. Words are few, thoughts are heaven bound, and my feet trace a trail along the snowy ways. I take the gentle inclines as they come, and once each circuit (I will make five circuits plus a little), I climb steeply to the park’s summit, off-road on a single foot trail, carved by those of us who simply cannot resist the glorious pleasure of this view from highest spot above the park. With each climb to the summit I pause amazed, and gaze out across the breathtaking vista. A fairly small park - but so beautiful. It is rich with God’s fingerprints. This park may be one of His smaller canvases as far as landscapes, but His work is masterful and divine; glory-laden wonders laid out plain for us. You don’t need to be a theologian to see His sign here. It is plain.
"Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory,
for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!" [Psalm 115:1]
The light is coming. How could you ever miss God here? It seems impossible. And then I resume the run, the rhythm along the snowy path in the ever-increasing light of the morning. The rhythm, the cadence of life that has come to expect God’s wonder in a thousand twists and surprises; the ever-turning, cycling seasons; the crazy madcap wonder in a child’s joy and delight; the sun and rain, the blazing glory of the rising sun each day as God whispers His common grace across the morning. I resume my run into His wonder, into His grace. I run because of Him.
Sometimes when I look back over my shoulder I catch a glimpse of despair approaching. I feel the weight and troubles, the darkness of the world and the weariness, hope seems to hang lifeless there. And the darkness begins to close in on me. Then He comes - bold, light of dawn, breaking across the horizon.
"And he who was seated on the throne said, 'Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.'” [Revelation 21:5]
The Lord comes as I have been taught by every sunrise that I have ever seen. He comes in glory and wonder, and He comes in His faithfulness and hope. He comes as I place my hope and trust in Him. No, the troubles will not vanish, but he will give me the strength to run, to love, to forgive. He will lift me as I reach out to Him. He will comfort me as I listen to Him. His words are true and simple. I hear my footsteps crunching on the snowy trail. I feel the rhythm in my steps that He has taught me over the many miles together. His grace abounds and it only remains for me to accept His love in this dark, harsh world. I feel the cold, but even the bite of winter reminds me of His constant provision and grace. Oh, may we run! May we feel His kindness with each step along the trail. Let’s run hard and true! Oh, may we run hard and true for Him. Come with me today, my friend. Life’s trails lay out before us, and they are unknown to us. How shall we run and for whom?
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
It is Tuesday morning, 8 December 2009, Kolkata India. Yesterday I ran a 5K on the hotel treadmill. Today I will do a 10K on the same machine. It has been over a month since I have written in this place about the trails we run and the struggles we face on the way. And like you all, the trails and challenges continue whether we write or not. Since the last time I wrote, I have traveled 45,000 miles and dusted the trails and treadmills in four counties on three continents. And the trails and struggles have attended me with each new place. Each fresh trail has offered a feast of difficulties and a feast of things to behold. Along with the struggles, I have found beauty and wonder that stretches my heart and sends my spirit to soaring to new heights. These wings to fly seem to come of the rarified air in the times of struggle and hardship. So I cannot turn away from the hard places. They are by design for my good. The difficulties seem to prepare our hearts to see with more clarity and insight. Is it the same for you?
Since I wrote of the old growth forests, the ancient trees and their abiding mystery, I have been many places – almost moving too quickly to pause and appreciate, to allow the air of each new place to tease me into a run and into fresh discoveries. Looking back over these weeks, the past lays out in a crazy, wandering line. But let me share. Late October found me pounding out a 10.36 mile trail run in the Reserva Ecologica in Buenos Aires, Argentina. In early November I managed a 10K and a 5K treadmill run in Sao Paulo, Brazil, followed a few days later by a 13.86 mile run in the Parque Ibirapuera. Returning to Buenos Aires in mid-November, I managed to squeeze in a 7.13 mile run in the Reserva Ecologica. Returning home, I had the opportunity to run a 5K on Thanksgiving (26 November). A good friend of mine, Brian, suggested running from his home (insert 6:30am start and 6.75 miles here) to the 5K event. It was wonderful. An early morning run in the pre-dawn darkness. My total for the day – 9.85 miles. In late November/early December, I returned to Buenos Aires only briefly – enough to drop a 5K on a treadmill – and head for home before coming to India. This is a recap of my last 9 runs.
I could almost fit these nine runs on the back of a postcard. But could I? No. It cannot be done. For truly each run, each experience and challenge we lay before ourselves and follow through on - each one carries a weight of wonder and a feast for the heart’s enchantment. A mere description of place and time and distance cannot capture the spirit of the place, the struggles and attitudes, the dark challenges that tell us to give up and quit; no mere recap can capture the lovely rays of light that dance on leaves, a thousand glimmering jewels of dew and the early morning breeze coming from the Río de la Plata near Puerto Madero in Buenos Aires. It takes your whole heart. It is not words, it is life. These are not mere facts to be listed. Rather, they are the fingerprints of the living God on our lives - His world spun into being by His own hand; and we are given the opportunity to handle it, to see and smell it’s deep hues, and wonder at it manifold complexities and mystery. We are given this window to see Him and know that He is there. I would not miss this for the world.
The trails will continue and the wonder will never cease. He is Lord and His world declares His greatness each time we slip on our shoes and start down a trail. We, each of us in our own way, begin to see Him more clearly and with greater reverence than the last trail we ran. I must run and I must declare His place along the road. Will you come along and see? Will you run the trails and watch for His unmistakable fingerprints in every living thing? I hope to see you soon. Let’s run together and see. Let’s run hard and true into the breaking light and the glories that abound.
Sunday, October 25, 2009
During the week my colleagues suggested another place for running. Friday I headed for Saint Edwards State Park. I got to the place about noon, and had only time for an hour-long run before taking off to the airport. So off I went. This park was also stunning in its ancient beauty and rich forest coverings, the ferns and underbrush, the splay of fall colors and the high-over-head canopy of leaves, the trails twisting along a natural flow of the land, first winding through the trees, and then descending, descending, descending until I stood on the shore of Lake Washington. A quick check on the time, and I was burning up the steep incline and dashing along the trails that I had just covered going the other way. In the initial stage of my run I had maintained an active though not crazy pace. Now I was pushing the clock and needed to make swift tracks. I noticed that even though I was really cruising as I came out of the woods heading for my car, I could not ignore the glory that hangs – it seems always to hang – in these forest lands. In 57 minutes I covered 3.87 miles for a pace of 14:43. I had ascended 2614 feet and descended 2621. I think these woods have made my heart a little bigger. In some ways, God seems closer still to me – having been in these old-growth forests.
It is a good thing to look long and quietly at the world that God has made. I am so glad that I can run them and experience these places, taste these wonders, these declarations of His glory and magnificence. These were old-growth forests, ancient and deeply beautiful in their glory. And yet they pale beside their maker. If these woods and their delight can take my breath away, what shall become of me? God’s glory is immeasurably greater and more wonderful. If I were not infinitely loved, I would be afraid. But I trust Him wholly. These runs have shown me ancient forests. And yet it is the Ancient of Days that I run after. It is Him that I seek. Will you come? Let’s run hard and true. It is not the woods that call to us, it is the Lord Himself.
Saturday, October 10, 2009
Working in Vancouver BC the following week, a colleague asked on Monday, “So you run a little? We go out on Wednesdays for a little run on the trails… You want join us?” I could hardly believe my ears. How perfect! But could I run on my tired marathon legs? Then, how could I pass up a wonderful trail run? What a blessing! I said, “Yes! I’d love to. Just tell me where to be.” The next day Paul supplied me with maps to get me to the meeting point of the group. Wednesday after work I made my way to the location on the map – “the corner store”, and met up with my friend Paul and the other members of this hardy band of runners – another Paul, Jen, Bob, Sue, and Michelle. There were seven of us altogether and off we went into the Lynn Canyon Park on the Baden-Powell trail that tracks along the edge of Lynn Creek - incredible beauty from my first steps; a high woodland canopy alive with birds and other wildlife. At the outset the group was moving at about 9:30 minute per mile. A healthy pace for me on my just-a-few-days-ago marathon legs, but I thought to myself – “Hey, let’s go!” The massive trees and lovely forest trails interspersed with rock beds, twisting roots and branches, and the typical undulations of a woodland trail - every breath a fragrant blessing, every sight a glorious declaration. We were running through a wonderland of glory. This was all that I imagined and so much more. By the time we made our turnaround point, night had fallen and we were in near darkness. I had been cautioned to bring a headlamp. As we set our return direction I did not have time to get my headlamp ready, and just set off down the trail. In the dark as the twists and roots and boulders threatened to crash me, I was eventually forced to simply stop in the total darkness and get my headlamp going. Yeah, now I could see – and off I went chasing the string of lights snaking along the trail ahead of me in the night. What a fabulous evening. In all we covered 6.91 miles in 1:26 hours (the others at a somewhat better pace). For me this was an overall pace of 12:31 with 2639 ascending/2657 descending. A very good run with new friends along the trails. Oh, and the burger I had following the run was excellent! What a perfect evening.
Several mornings later I journaled,
“This morning feeling very mortal… Many muscles are sore… But I just could not let my invitation to run trails in Vancouver BC slip away. So now I will slow for a bit and heal… I came downstairs and lay on the couch, and noticed a short time later the sun was about to break out above the trees through the front window into my face. I decided to let the sun and dappling light stir me to full wakefulness. Ah, my morning begins in thanksgiving and praise even if I do feel mortal. Yes, we are immortals and aware of the realms beyond.”
When God formed us, He made us creatures with immortal souls. We run these trails and see his handiwork, we taste His glory, and our senses come alive to His majesty. And just every so often we glimpse His eternal nature and come away speechless and overwhelmed. It is that He calls to us continually, urging us to listen with greater care and attentiveness to His love song. Perhaps King David said it best when he sang,
Praise the Lord from the earth, you great sea creatures and all deeps,
fire and hail, snow and mist, stormy wind fulfilling his word!
Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars!
Beasts and all livestock, creeping things and flying birds!
Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth!
Young men and maidens together, old men and children!
Our ears prick excitedly and our hearts lean forward to hear Him more clearly. Yes, we are awakened to new depths of His beauty. I was glad for the marathon and glad for the trails north of Vancouver BC. These were rich experiences for me. But to be honest, I simply run for Him. I run the trails and run the races so that I might see Him a little more clearly along the way. And my hope is that you will be there along the trails – listening with me for the voice of Him to whom we owe our very lives and the breath of our being. The great trees of Lynn Valley Canyon Park shake with His glory praising Him. May our legs run and our lips sing of His infinite worth and beauty. Oh, may we both run hard and true dancing on the winds of immortality.
Thursday, October 1, 2009
My father in the last few days of his life wrote a letter to the family. In it he said, “We all await that great day, I’ll see you there.” I still cry when I read his words. I weep with longing for that great day with the Lord, my Sovereign, my King. My father died many years ago, and over time my heart has been drawn with ever increasing intensity to think of that far country. I am more focused than ever on eternity. But we have trails to run and lives to live. How do we live with eternity hanging before us? King Solomon once wrote,
He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man's heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. [Ecclesiastes 3:11]
God has put eternity into our hearts. He has put some fragrance of heaven, some notion of the far country into our lives to quicken us; a quiet calling out as we make our way through this life on earth. On the trails as we run, we see His handiwork. As we dash along the hills, we hear creation singing to Him in bird songs and on the wild breezes; we see trees waving glorious praise to Him as they dance on the crazy, sometimes stormy, wind. And all the while He quietly beckons us to Himself, calls us to set our gaze to the far country, to His purposes and His treasures. And still there is a life to be lived and trails to run – but we do them all for Him. Yes, there are people to love, and there is laughter and joy – and sometimes sadness and grief. Yes, so many things to echo heaven’s call. Well, for the moment, I’ll just focus on that finish line out there, and I’ll run for Him, for my joy in Him. Together, let’s both run hard and true. This is the thing. Remember what my Dad said, “We all await that great day, I’ll see you there.”
Friday, September 25, 2009
We break this up occasionally with music we’ve brought along or messages to listen to that inspire or teach, but in the end we are left with our thoughts. If you are like me, you cherish these times. These are precious seasons to dwell on the important things, and to dwell on the mundane; to ponder and expand a thought; to thrive in the life of the mind. But there is a limit to these reveries; there is a moment when we have had enough of our own mind and we just want to speak with someone, exchange ideas and have a dialogue with another person.
A few days ago I had scheduled my final long run in preparation for the upcoming TCM marathon. I rose at 4am, biked 5 miles to the Hopkins Depot, ran to the southernmost end-point of the Regional Trail and back – a total distance of 26.2 miles (26.5 with detour), and then biked 5 miles home. The morning was perfect for my run. First the darkness of early morning, and then a light misty rain in the breaking dawn, brief and refreshing; the gradual stirrings of wildlife, the birds and squirrels as the light increased to full daylight, just a wonderful day. Other runners started popping up a little after 6 in the morning, just a few. The numbers of runners, walkers, and bikers increased with the growing light of day. My pictures try and capture some of the visual magic of this run. It was a stunning day to see and smell and savor in so many ways.
My training run was very slow as runs go. It took me almost 6 hours – very slow even for me. But I’m not concerned given that I had compressed a series of workouts into a little over a week’s time to get to my last long run. I think I will be fine by marathon time. The run was so good for so many things not the least of which was my heart. I needed time with God – alone.
Yes, solitude is woven into the life of the long distance runner. But for me this solitude is enjoined with my passion for God, my love of Him and the things He loves. When I run I usually enjoy a solitude from men. But my own restlessness and longings to run are often signals to me that I need to draw near to Him for a quiet season. The long run offers me an extended solitude with God; time to reflect and allow Him to put things in perspective, to listen, to love more deeply than yesterday, to run with steady heart and resolve, setting discomforts aside and reaching for His fellowship, digging deep and learning - once again – to wait on Him, just to wait on Him. Solitude with God on the long run gives me time to be truly alone with Him. I need this time. I need His fellowship.
Oh, the enemy of our souls would work to destroy these precious times, give us hardships and struggles, discouragements. But we must determine to have none of it; to turn our attentions wholly to the purposes at hand. We must determine to press on in the face of tough things and strive to achieve what we have set out to do. For me these are simple things: 1) Spend time with Him and 2) Train to the next level, always watchful not to push too hard and cause injury. We listen to our bodies as we strive to avoid over-training and things. We listen to God as we strive to strengthen our passion for God and reach new heights in our love for Him. Running is a simple thing. I think that loving God is the same.
My friend, let’s both run hard and true. We have no greater purpose than to find Him along these trails. I’ll be looking for the next trailhead, a break in the trees, and a small footpath into the woods. Will you be there? I’m hoping to see you soon. Give a wave, I’ll smile back!
Monday, September 21, 2009
“Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?" [Exodus 15:11 ESV]
As we take to the trails to run the footpaths and breath in the fresh open air, we naturally expose ourselves to the divine; the nature of God as seen in His manifold creation, seemingly infinite varieties and captivating designs, wholly unknown vistas seen on the edge of a molecule or through an early morning droplet of dew clinging to a leaf. These are the things that transport us; cause us to shift our perspective and look with new eyes on things we have seen our whole lives, to see them as the handiwork of God. The trails reveal more than they appear. They are often pathways to apprehending the Lord, doorways to divine wonder. I guess that’s why we run. We run to know ourselves. And for some of us, we run to know Him more clearly. For me, I’m going to continue down these trails. Oh, to run hard and true, and to reach for a growing appreciation of His loveliness and glory. I’ll look for you just down the trail.
Saturday, September 19, 2009
On Monday, 14 September at 7:57am, I hit the trail near my home with great eagerness. I planned a familiar route weaving a 16.63 mile loop through several neighboring communities. It took me 3:29 hours as I plodded out a 12:36 per mile pace. I could say that I was savoring the moment, but the truth is that I’m just not that interested in being fast. I simply enjoy the running even when it’s hard and long. My watch says there was 2386 feet ascending and 2457 descending. No matter; I was just loving the experience of a real trail. My tunes were not working so I stuffed the ipod and determined to enjoy the natural sounds along the way. It was nice to be hitting the trails again. I could feel my mind wandering. It was a good feeling.
I set out again yesterday, Friday, 18 September at 2:23pm under clear skies and 83F (28C) looking to build on my run earlier in the week. I followed basically the same route as a few days before, yet not taking a construction detour and not looping as I passed through Purgatory Park. By then I was flat-lining and pushing heat exhaustion, so I headed for home. I logged 14.53 miles at a pace of 12:25 per mile. It took me 3:00 hours. Ah, the joys of the run! Pushing our limits, soaking up divine grace along the way, spectators to immeasurable beauty wild loveliness in creation, seeing God’s fingerprints across His handiwork, the trees, the sky, the sounds, the glory, and finding our help as we accept the challenge of running long, going the distance, embracing a solitude with Him. These runs of late have been so good for my heart; my spirit leaps to think of these times with Him along the way. Oh, these particular trails are just good running trails. But they tease me to more. They call me to listen with greater care to His voice, watch with more studied eyes His glories all around me. I know I’ve been missing so much. I can’t wait for my next run to reach a little higher and linger longer with Him. Just He and I along the trail; yes, I love to run long. Maybe we will meet someday and share the things we’ve learned. Until then, my friend, run hard and true. He’s listening.
Thursday, September 3, 2009
I went into yesterday’s run with an idea of where it would take me and the experiences I would have. Earlier in the week I carried vivid images of what my trail would look like. But circumstances prevented my dreams from seeing the light of reality. I was forced along a trail I had not planned for, one that I had not picked, and one that I did not much enjoy. But in the end, I began to see things differently. I saw the fabric of our lives and the breath of our days on earth. We don’t get to pick our trail. God does this with divine eyes and purpose. We may not altogether enjoy the trail our lives are winding along, but it is one given by the Lord in His infinite wisdom. As we pour ourselves into what He has planned, our lives yield fruit to His glory. As we move along His trails we get to be a part of His workings here. Oh, to do the things that He desires with a full and ready heart.
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. [Phillipians 2:12-13]
As I ran along I saw much of Indian life alive all around me: workers digging along the road with simple tools, men and women carrying heavy burdens of crushed rock, kids fishing crabs from a nearby stream, a vendor with a cart of potatoes, onions, tomatoes, and ginger root, and others carrying colorful displays – all teeming with sound and life. There was the smellof garbage and sewage around the lake, as well. This was initially a distraction, but I set my focus on the intensity of the moment and quickly was able to overlook the hanging odors.
The trails before us each day frequently take us in directions we are not inclined to go. It is up to us to embrace these changes and difficulties, just as we would embrace any challenge encountered on our many physical runs. And behind these things is the wonder and majesty of God’s own hands, the Eternal Potter at His wheel, doing His good pleasure, building His work.
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. [Ephesians 2:10]
My run in Bangalore around the lake was like so many difficult things. But I found the Lord along that urban trail as I ran the edges of wild, on-coming traffic amid much noise and horns blowing. He gave me strength and energy and a will to finish. I pray that I would embrace these realities as I run the spiritual trails that often leave me perplexed and weary. Oh friend, it is good to be in the hands of the Divine Potter and to know that His will is finding expression in every nuance of our lives; every step. May we surrender these fleeting moments to His rich sovereignty with joyful confidence; and may we run ever hard and true. I’ll be looking for you down the trail. I might be singing.