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.

Monday, February 23, 2009

New Snow and One Thing Needful

Yesterday I went for an afternoon run in Birch Island Park. I thought I needed to push my lazy body hard with some hill repeats and crazy woodland running. Stepping through the fresh snow of the night before, I got it all and so much more. I covered 6.2 miles (10K) with 1012 feet ascending and 1025 feet descending. It was a gorgeous 18F with a completely unnoticed westerly breeze of 10mph. Oh, and the sky was clear. Clear! I felt like someone had ripped the lid off of this tired old winter and tried to ram a little spring into Sunday afternoon. It was wonderful. And all of this sent me leaping around the trails like a kid in a new pair of canvas shoes. This is a gift when God graces us with these moments of wild, unrestrained freedom.

As I sit here reflecting on yesterday’s run I realize that I must make the point to stop and savor these times. Each experience, seasoned with my Father’s perfect blend of teaching and correction and love and discipline. Each moment an echo from eternity’s shores - a blend of joy and praise and awe and overwhelming beauty. In so many ways the Lord walks among us.

I will make my dwelling among you, and my soul shall not abhor you. And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people. [Leviticus 26:11-12 ESV]

At one point I was returning down a hillside that I had come up a short time before. On the ascent I had needed to climb – not run. Now as I came down the hill I stopped and considered the edge I was standing on. Hmm. No where to go. I leaned forward and thinking, I need to grasp that root there and, yes, shift my weight and…. At this point, my grasp of the root was about to twist my arm and wrist under the full weight of my body. Immediately I decide to take control of what was happening rather than “spectate” over my crash. I pushed off with my right toe and tucked my head (like I’d seen my once gymnastic son’s do so many times) and – What? Amazing! – my feet just went over my head like they were pivoting on a string. I ended up still grasping the root, yet gazing out over the remaining descent. Then I dropped to the hillside and continued running down the slope. I had gone completely head over heels and had landed more or less flat and without injury. More grace.

I was out scampering around for an hour and a half. I needed the time with my Lord to think through things and sort out the last few weeks. Sometimes it all gets so crazy that we just need to pull up and pause in the busy press of days. We need to give Him time to lift our hearts to the things that really matter.

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” [Luke 10:38-42 ESV]

There are always a thousand thousand things to distract and demand our attention. But there is only one thing that is needful. Come with me as I pursue the one thing needful. Oh friend, run hard and run true.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Sun and Ice

It was a little after 7am this morning as I stood at the edge of Purgatory Park preparing for multiple circuits, each loop a pleasant 1.23 miles with modest elevation changes to keep me from being a total slough. With the coming sunrise and 11F in temperature I figured I better get moving. How would today’s run compare to my skating rink of trails two days ago? I knew immediately. It would be much more tedious, much, much more tedious. This morning’s run consisted of 70% ice, smooth flows, and for the most part, not even level but for a prayer – a serious challenge just to stay upright. I spent the next 5 miles, a bit over 4 laps, looking for any grit or grass or dirt for traction. No tumbles but a few almosts. I was so thankful. As the morning sun advanced in the sky, I noticed that the ice was getting progressively more slick and dangerous. I decided at 5 miles that I would call it a run and go find that treasured first cup of morning coffee. (Note to self - my hydration pack water tube freezes at 11F and there is nothing to drink.)

One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple. (Psalm 27:4)

Reflecting on my morning run, well - more of a morning shuffle and slide really, I considered the benefits. More difficult challenges like a few days ago, more careful navigation across ice flows and hard irregular frozen chunks of trail, near crashes and risks of injury, first day’s light in a glorious sunrise, blue sky cathedral overhead, friendly exchanges with a few passersby, and the abiding companionship of God. I don’t know about you, but this sounds pretty terrific! It was not what I had planned or expected but it was very good.

Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession... (Hebrews 3:1) Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. (Hebrews 12:3)

As I look to the remainder of my day, my prayer is that I can worship and adore Him, see and embrace Him in the needs of others, and ever consider Him. Oh, that I might run true; that I might run faithfully to His glory. Friend, Come run with me. These trails go on for a ways and we can help each other over the hard parts. Together we can find Him wonderful!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Weariness and Gloom

In recent days temperatures have been pleasantly in the upper 30s and low 40s as we make our way toward warmer weather. So, as I planned my run for yesterday morning I was anticipating a comfortable jaunt along some fairly easy trail ways. I got going around 6:20am. Standing in the driveway waiting for my running watch to find the satellites, I felt a pretty brisk breeze. Hmm. I later learned the temperature was 27F with wind gusts to 23mph. This explains the bite in the air. Oh well, off we go, I thought. And there I went.

It was dark as I began, but within 20-30 minutes I could see day’s light coming. Sky was solidly overcast and gloomy. Was there a ceiling on my heart? My goal was to tick off a 10 or 15 miler. At my five mile point I could determine whether I had the juice to go 15 today. It was good that day’s light came when it did. The trails were about 25-30% iced over; and I mean ice – glazed over hard smooth like a skating rink in many places, and I needed the light to find trail surface with a little grit and traction. My pace became crawl - careful slow. OK, I have the time; relax and enjoy the morning. Did I mention the clouds and gloom? I could feel the weight of my spirit as it struggled to get beyond these sensory depressions.

At five miles, I thought, I could just as easily go for 15 as 10. I accepted the challenge to go the longer distance. Only a few miles beyond this point, however, my hands started getting very cold. I began working them, massaging and stuffing them under my clothes, to get them warm. They did not get comfortably warm until I was back home holding a cup of hot coffee. I plodded along the trail for over 3 hours, my mind alternately between staying warm and praying and worshipping the Lord.

In the middle of this bleak and weary morning, I was struck with the raw glory and beauty of God and His world. And I was appreciating that we are often called out to tasks and places and lives that are not comfortable, not convenient. So learning to deal with the unexpected and not pleasant circumstance, as I was this morning, was so very good for me. It was good for me to work through the discomfort and challenges. It was good for me that the morning had not been what I expected. It was good me to find God in all places; however dark and gloomy and bleak and cold; to find God’s faithfulness in my struggles. In the final quarter mile I was wonderfully surprised. Rays of sunlight began streaming out of the heavens filling the air with bright light, lifting the emotional clouds and spirit weariness. God was shining and faithful.

Now today as I write this, I look out on another gloomy day. But I know; yes, I know; that there are fingers of sunlight and bright streaming rays buried in this overcast view from my window.

“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’” Isaiah 52:7

He reigns. Oh, fellow traveler, rejoice with me. He reigns over every circumstance and challenge. Let’s not grow weary, but keep our hearts fixed on Him the Author and Finisher of our faith. And let’s run!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

I’ll See You There

Today I got up reluctantly with a run in mind. The warm bed kept beckoning me back and it took serious determination to pull away from the warm comfort and make my way toward the door. I was thinking of an easy 5 miles of hills and trails. You know, just enjoy the woodland and have fun. I put on insulated running pants, a tech t-shirt, a tech long sleeve t, a cotton long sleeve t, and a running vest shell top, gloves, mittens, neck buff, and stocking type hat. It seemed a bit nippy when I got outside, but I thought that I should get going. I headed – as I have in recent days – for Birch Island Park and the trails. Within minutes I had pulled the neck buff up over my face to shield me from the air, and stuffed my glasses in a pocket to avoid the nuisance steaming-glasses problem. Now to just coast along and enjoy the miles: the silence (intentionally no music today), and a good conversation with my Lord.

A clear morning and the sun already up. Blue skies high overhead and a light southerly breeze of 3 mph. It felt cold. I discovered much after my run that the temperature at this point was about -6F. This explains why I was a little chilly. Actually, my body was about right – as long as I kept moving – but my hands were getting cold even with my glove/mitten combination. I would periodically jam them into my pockets and spread my fingers out across my thigh as I ran to warm them up. The time passed quickly as I ascended a total of 1143 ft and descended 1170. I worked the hills as I scrambled around on the various trails. This morning these trails were here and there glazed over with a sleet-like surface and I needed to run with added care over these treacherous portions especially when I encountered them on a steep descent. Easy does it.

In the end, I covered 7.1 miles, felt wonderful, and did not freeze to death. Some of my conditioning must be returning. Thank you, Lord. The quiet prayer time was needed, my hungry heart was encouraged, and I saw heaven spilling out over the remainder of my day in countless small moments, attitudes, and worship. Sometimes there is nothing better than a season with God to help us see more clearly and love more deeply. I think I’m beginning to see so many good things in this trail running thing. In fact, later in the day – I ordered another pair of trail shoes. There’s a bunch of trails out there that need to be run. Maybe I’ll see you out there.

OK, one last very serious remark. When I wrote that last phrase I was immediately reminded of the last words my father wrote to me and other’s in the family just before he died (1991). He said regarding heaven, “We all await that great day, I’ll see you there.” So maybe these trails are just good training runs as we prepare our hearts for eternity. Run hard and run true.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Prairie Winds

This past weekend we headed up north to the Red River Valley for a visit with relatives. In just a few hours by car, you can go from the grind and hustle in Minneapolis to a level calm on the northern prairie. We went to a small town in Clay County Minnesota along the South Branch of the Wild Rice River called Ulen. With the town’s stretching 1.1 square miles in area, the 2000 census said that 532 people called this home. I’ve visited many times over the years and have always found it a wonderful place for quiet and reflection. It stirs a memory in me of simpler, less-hurried times. And I like that. In fact, I need that.

So there I was in the middle of the prairie on Saturday morning. The road leaving town to the west looked like a good place to start my day. There were prairie winds in my face. I headed out for a nearly flat, uninterrupted 4 miles along a county road, turned around and came 4 miles back. A smooth eight miles filled with little thoughts, a big sky, and much praise. A few passing cars and trucks, a quiet for the mind, and stunning, and unbelievable rich beauty spread out before me. All of these things drew my heart into the heavens. Your vision grows bigger beneath a wide blue heaven.

These things deeply stir the heart and lift the eyes. The subtleties of this raw splendor quicken my pulse and sharpen my eye to other aspects of His wonder. He is bigger than blue skies and endless horizon. He is God. The prairie is a breathtaking place to taste God’s beauty fresh and bold, across a compelling skyline tinkling with sunshine and glory. And later in the day, the small talk and memories and good food – it all seemed enhanced by my morning run with Him. I felt closer running beneath His blue heaven across a prairie into a cool, steady wind; I felt a wilding running free in His world. How about you? Are you sometimes overcome by His handiwork, unable to take it all in, without words, but loving Him more than ever before just for having seen His work? Oh, let’s not stop running after Him. For to stop running after Him would be to not breath. We must pursue our Lord. He declares His handiwork and we see Him.