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.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Loose Ends

Yesterday, feeling the aches of the aggressive run two days prior, I made it out by 6:35am. It seems like anytime I push beyond the comfortable, I am disproportionately blessed. And yesterday’s morning run was no exception: clear skies with a modest 3mph north breeze, a temperature of 20F that felt like 28 higher, a hushed stillness only interrupted by the occasional bird announcing the beautiful, awakening day. These are good runs for weighing out the “loose ends” in my life. It is time to pray through this issue and that, to praise God for His unstoppable love for me and my family and friends, to lift up brothers and sisters facing steep challenges on the Calvary road, to visit a thousand and one occasions lifting my voice in profound gratitude. This is a time for worship. Beneath the sacred firmament above, beginning with the stars fading in the morning light to the approaching glories of the sunrise, I can always find my Savior’s thoughts mingling with my meditations. It is time to wait on Him and listen.

I reversed my overall path from about a week ago, and covered 15.7 miles in 3 hours and 3 minutes. Although not a quick pace by any measure, I felt good about it. I faded in the last several miles, and I’m guessing I needed a little more fuel along the way. I’ll adjust that and see what happens. This route has 1608 feet ascending and 1568 descending, so given the length it is largely a flat course. I like it for basic conditioning.

Drawing from my own devotions yesterday, here are two companion verses that capture my experience on yesterday morning’s run.

We give thanks to you, O God; we give thanks, for your name is near.
We recount your wondrous deeds. [Psalm 75:1]

And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. [Mark 1:35]

As I made my way along yesterday morning, I was reignited with a fresh passion for Him. Sometimes just being quiet before Him can transform how we are walking and dreaming. I felt like I set my sails anew toward my heavenly home, pursuing the pearl of great price, the treasure hidden in the field that Jesus spoke about. Oh, there is work involved, hard work. But with His strength I will run this race. I’m in this for a lifetime. I have a lifetime of sunrises, and early mornings, and heavenly musing with the Lord. I have a lifetime of praising Him and magnifying His name. If you want, you can come along. We can run together on this Calvary road. Let’s run strong and true. I’ll be looking for you down the trail.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Little Piece of Heaven

For a few days now I’ve been watching winter attempt a comeback - throwing us icy cold winds, scattered snow, and then just cold, drizzling rain – bone-cold wet. Most of us around here just want springtime. Count me in. And this has really affected my attitude toward getting outdoors and running. But at some point, I just have to do it. And this happened at 7:31am this very morning. I got my gear together, and headed out the door for Birch Island Park and some aggressive hill repeats. I was looking for an intense workout. If I didn’t have the time for “long”, I’d find the time for “hard”. Some 10.66 miles later, after ascending 2636 feet and descending 2645 in the course of just under 3 hours, I felt like I had achieved my goal – a good, solid workout on the hills. The temperature was 28F with a wind that grew from 5 to 9 mph over my run. Sky was cloudy with just a brief attempt by the sun to burn through. This was a good day for running in the woods.

I’ve written much about the staggering beauty of the woods and trails, and how these are glorious reflections of their heavenly Creator. Today I was thinking how this was all a little piece of heaven. Now before you misunderstand me, let me say that I was not thinking about the flora and fauna, I was not thinking about the woods and trails. But rather, I was thinking about the person in the woods or on the trails. Yes, woodlands are spectacular, but they touch the heart. The beauty is staggering, but these touch my heart and they touch the heart of the person wandering the trails or running through the woods. There is something here. Is this some of what Jesus meant when He said, “…the kingdom of heaven is within you…”? [Luke 17:21] We know from other places in the Gospels that Jesus spoke frequently about the Kingdom of God. Just a quick glance at Matthew 13 and we find a number of them. These teachings highlight many things, but one thing is clear – the Kingdom of God is found, in part, in our hearts. Our hearts reflect a love of the pure and holy, or they reflect baser values. Our hearts reach heavenward, or they a satisfied with lesser treasure. And it is here that we find a little piece of heaven. These slices of paradise are reflected in the way we see the woodlands, the way we hear the sounds of the wild, and the way we smell the fresh, bracing wind; whether our hearts rise up in praise as we are assaulted by these wonders, or whether we simply attribute them to some chance event long ago. Oh, there is no chance! There is a God in heaven, and He’s pressing in on our hearts as we wander the trails and forests. He is touching our hearts and giving us a little piece of heaven – if we are willing to receive it.

Today was a good day of running on the trails. I hope you were able to find your little piece of heaven. It is just there for the taking. Reach out. Tonight I’m resting from my workout with my heart just a little bigger than it was this morning because I was blessed with an almighty encounter. With each touch of glory spilling from the woods and trails, I felt the pull of heaven; prayers and worship rising as I ran hard and true.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Beautiful Holy Tension

When I got up at 5am yesterday, I was not so much thinking about how great my run was going to be, as I was just trying to remain focused on getting out the door. Eat some muesli, drink some water, fill the hydration pack, grab the watch and id wristband, check hat, gloves, position headlamp, drink some more water, and on and on. At 5:39am I was ready to go. Quietly winding out through the neighborhood, I headed west on Highway 62 for a mile or so and then swung north towards Purgatory Park, passing through the park on the western path. It was 35F with a south breeze at 3mph. I continued north until I hit the Regional Loop Trail, and went east. Once on the Regional Trail I stuffed my headlamp and ran by the light growing in the eastern sky. At 7 ½ miles, my halfway point, I passed through Minnetonka Mills and ran by the local Dunn Bros coffee shop. I always want to pull in there for a little kick-in-the-head. Maybe another morning I’ll surprise myself by doing just that! But not today; today my plan is set. I’m focused. After a little while I came into Hopkins with steadily growing eastern light as the trail began to turn south. Dawn was teasing the horizon; just playing with us that were watching for it. Midway through Hopkins I was greeted by a sun blazing over the horizon, radiating a magnificent glow into my morning. It was so big and so magnificent that the whole world must have seen it! It was just too wonderful; what a thing to see. Beyond Hopkins, I headed southwest along the Regional Trail. This straight-as-an-arrow section passes by several picturesque lakes. I was focused on keeping my pace respectable even though I was fading a little. I came to Highway 62 and headed west until I came to my neighborhood, and I turned in for the final uphill leg of my run. After 15 miles I was all in and was quick to refuel on a fruit and yogurt smoothie and some peanut butter toast. Over the run I had ascended 1403 feet and descended 1395. Coming in just under 3 hours, my pace was a “blistering” 11:26 minutes per mile. Someday I hope to pace at about 10 to 10½. But not today.

Whether “blistering” or not - like every time I run - I am most keenly aware that each step, each breath, each finished effort however difficult, is just His grace to me, His sovereign hand in my life lifting me and supporting me, carrying me to the end of a trail. My life is the smallest breath, a blink, a discarded sigh. The Lord could have taken me a few years ago with cancer, but chose to leave me here. Why am I here? Why did He do that? He could take me tonight. Do you remember the parable that Jesus told:

“What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him. [Matthew 21:28-32 ESV]

Well, I am like the son who said “I will not”, and then did come. And I can see that even my obedience to Him, my turning to Him, was not in me. I am not capable of it. I would have forever chosen wrongly unless God had changed me. And God did – and does it in me every day. I live each day on His strength much aware of my weakness. And this is true in my running, as well. I use my running to teach me discipline and training and preparation. And then, I throw myself on His mercies in order to run the race event. He is the steadfast one.

But there is a beautiful holy tension in all of this. How so? On the one hand, I am casting myself wholly on Him and His strength. And yet on the other hand, I am setting out to condition myself – to learn discipline and training and preparation and how to run. So which is it? Is God supporting me, or am I helping myself a bit in all of this? This is what I say. God is doing it all, but He calls me to invest my life in a life with Him. But this is not new.

Just before his death, as Moses was summarizing God’s teachings to the children of Israel, he says,

And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live. [Deuteronomy 30:6 ESV]

The Lord your God will circumcise your heart. This is God’s doing! Oh, the calm and peace, the rest we have in our sovereign Lord. He causes us to draw near to Him - just like me as the late-to-obedience son. He rules over all. And yet just a few verses later Moses says,

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.” [Deuteronomy 30:19-20 ESV]

So, though He is our sovereign King and is stirring our hearts to follow Him, He also lays out before us a blessing and a curse. There is something we must do in all of this – we choose the blessing or we choose the curse. This is the beautiful holy tension I find in my life as I seek to serve the King of Kings. Although He has captured my heart and holds me true, He also calls me to actively pursue of Him; to pour out my life; to actively reach and struggle and hope and dream. He calls me to a life of faith. He calls me to choose the blessing.

My running life so much reminds me of pursuing God. I cannot do this on my own. Indeed, I can’t do it at all. But somewhere along the way, I find myself working to condition myself to run better and longer. Not that there is any inherent worth these things that I’m doing, but only that I simply want to get nearer to Him; I want to be close to Him, as close as I can be. And so I want to run. For Him, for His pleasure, I want to run hard and run true.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Waiting for the Morning

I hear my footfalls in the hushed predawn darkness. It is 6:10am and I’m running by the light of my headlamp; out of the neighborhood, briefly along 62, and then dropping into the woods: Birch Island Park and the rolling trails and good training hills to the east. I play out some of the paths in my mind with anticipation. I want to feel the work of this. Watching my steps in the dim light with my headlamp, occasional hardpack snow not yet melted, brushing unseen branches in the dark. It’s 42F with a southwest breeze of 7. A bit later I will see the clear skies.

We are never alone. God is always there for us. This morning I am aware of His companionship as I make my way along the pre-dawn trails. I am full of anticipation for this run, but I am also very tired. So, I focus on the mechanics. A careful step here and shift of footing there, dodge that branch and avoid the ice. Eventually my body relaxes into the run and the workout, and I begin to enjoy this time with Him. Sometimes we need to settle into our pace in order to find Him pacing right along with us.

Much of our life we spend waiting. Yesterday I had planned a run. Family activities tabled those pursuits, so I waited and shuffled the run into an early morning workout today. But waiting is not a new thing. And it is so much more than simply an interruption or delay in things – it is altogether divine. Oh, for eyes to see like Jesus. King David knew this so long ago:

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning.
[Psalms 130:5-6]

Well, today is no different. I seem to be waiting for things in just about every facet of my life. But this keeps my heart expectant and hopeful. Or, at least, that’s what it should do. For me, if I focus on the waiting, I grow frustrated and unhappy. But If I focus on the Him, I grasp opportunities to trust and love Him more deeply and my joy in God grows bigger. I want the joy. So, one of my prayers is to trust Him more implicitly and love Him more deeply each day – as much as I can. I don’t want to waste my time being frustrated and unhappy. It’s better to pursue life. And sometimes this means that I pursue a sunrise.

David mentions the “watchmen for the morning”. I felt like this a bit this morning. I was running along what I call the east ridge trail, an off-trail that overlooks Birch Island Park’s central trail, as the morning sky began to brighten. I knew the dawn was coming so I kept looping back along this edge in hopes of capturing the rising sun. I had my camera with me and was watching for that first moment. There were a few clouds near the horizon that kept obscuring first light. Eventually though, the sun broke through and I got a few snaps.

In all I covered 8.7 miles of forest trails and steep hill repeats for a total of 1783 feet ascending and 1747 feet descending. With all of my gawking at the sunrise and just enjoying the rich morning atmosphere, it took me about 2 ¼ hours. I watched the sunrise from a high overlook and saw the rays of new light stream across the quiet woodlands bursting rich colors and warmth: a visual gift from my Heavenly Father reminding me of His steadfast love. I will return to these woods again. Lord willing, many times. They are a simple picture of my sojourning life. Are you sojourning with Him? Are you waiting like the watchmen for the morning? Be full of anticipation and hope; be joyful. I see the sun rising just beyond the horizon. Come along, run the race with me.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

In What Does a Man’s Life Consist?

I have been blessed with two days of running. Although I was not in the mood on either day, I pushed out against myself and was given truly rewarding experiences. I need to do that with my reluctant me; I need to drag it out of its comfortable inactivity to pursue broader objectives – the things that need to be done. Maybe you’re like me. Anyway, yesterday I logged a 5 miler in Purgatory Park in the late afternoon about quarter of 6pm; four circuits plus a bit. The temperature was a gleeful 37F with an added west wind of 10 gusting to 17. I say “gleeful” because the ground was gushy and warm and melting away the ice and hard pack. Oh joy! I even needed to make a game of dancing around the mud and puddles. I hear that the near term forecast includes numerous 40s and 50s and above; sounds good to me. This morning, not quite 12 hours later at a little before 6am, I began a 10 miler from my home along the Regional Trail to the Hopkins Depot and back. The temperature was 28F with a south wind of 6. This is largely a flat run with a little up and down near the beginning and the end. I can stretch out miles here and work on my endurance. In fact, in other times of year this is just a section of several of my other longer training routes. Today, though, only 10; and that is just fine with me.

Yesterday afternoon was relatively warm and I saw numerous people out for a walk. I watched the sun drop over the edge of the earth from the park’s highpoint and found new reservoirs of energy in my body as it gradually builds and conditions to more frequent and longer runs. Yesterday, too, I knew it would not be a long run, so I determined to drive myself along with some music. Today, though, I stuffed the ipod in my hydration pack only as a backup if I found I was going bonkers and needed some focus. At 5:47am it’s plenty dark out and my headlamp was helpful. Yesterdays gushy ground was gone and was replaced by a hardness and some bits of glaze ice. Just be careful, I told myself, and take your time. This morning I longed for solitude and the quiet of a morning: the solitary running, the sound of my footfall, a sound of my breathing, and thoughts of my heart and mind mingling with in a day, an occasional owl in the darkness, and later the birds in the trees singing in the morning sun, and then ducks and geese finding their way across the sky.

Yesterday I made a note in my journal, “In what does a man’s life consist? Where is the worth?” Today as I read those words I had written, I was reminded of Henry Scougal who died in 1657 at the age of 27. He wrote to a friend, “The worth and excellency of a soul is to be measured by the object of its love….” [The Life of God in the Soul of Man, p 68] Our own lives are made richer or more impoverished by what we set our affections on, what we set our love upon. This is much like something that the apostle Paul wrote,

“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” [Colossians 3:1-4]

My running over the last few weeks has driven me into many thoughts and reflections about my Lord and His ways. Each time I go out and run, I am confronted with His work, His beauty, His thoughts in my heart and prayers, His love and compassion, and His Fatherly care and leading; the Shepherd of my Soul. Paul says in another place,

“For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.” [Romans 1:20a]

I get excited about this. The whole of creation becomes to me a lesson book on the ways of God – if I am willing to observe closely and wait patiently for Him to teach me things. Every run a place to behold the Mighty God and see His world with new eyes; every encounter divine; every challenge and struggle becoming just the right mix of nurturing from my heavenly Father’s hand; and every step taking me home to an eternity with Him. Run with me. And run to Him – the Author and Finisher of our faith. Run hard and run true.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Sweet Incense of Resolve

Yesterday afternoon I hit the trails. Although winter still holds the area in a cold, cold grip, sometimes you just can’t wait around. You have to get out there regardless of conditions and simply enjoy the day. I was thinking how God always breaks through with His glorious artist palette – so I was keen to see what He had planned sensually in this day. Well, just so you know, yesterday He was working in bright sun colors and magical wood hues and ice wind edges for effect on a high-flung background of endless sky blue. It was all so totally beyond my words to say how beautiful. You had to be there.

So after lunch, a little before 2pm, I headed out toward Birch Island Park and those hills I’ve been working in recent months. The temperature was standing at 4F with NW wind at 16mph and gusts to 24; clear skies and gorgeous. I was out a bit over two hours covering 7.5 miles with 1282 feet ascending and 1290 feet descending. Yup, I found the hills and worked numerous repeats into my afternoon. It was so good for me. Much of my run I listened to the David Crowder Band setting my pace and keeping my mind on my Sovereign Lord, but toward the end of my time in the woods, I killed the music and focused on the silence in the woods; the breathtaking quiet; my footfalls and the stillness, and a few birds making a valiant attempt to inspire hope in warm days ahead.

It is out in the wild where I often meet God and talk through difficult things. I just lay it all out there and offer my worship and my prayers; the sweet incense of resolve and purpose; my trail runs becoming an expression of my earnest prayers. And at these times everything around me seems to become sacred; a cathedral of trees, wildlife blessedly dependant, and a deep and holy trust in the Lord. At times my accusers come to my mind and heart, spiritual adversaries bent on my destruction, and they say, “Why this waste?” [Matthew 26:8] Why so many miles and so much time on the trails? But you know, we are called to lavish praise on our Lord, to pour it out, to go beyond and exceed the normal things. I dare not limit, I dare not constrain my worship for one so mightily worthy of every ounce of my strength. We serve a risen and glorious Savior, an extraordinary Sovereign. Oh, let me pour out my strength for Him to the last measure, to the last breath! This is my high joy and purpose, and this is my call; and the trails are just the place to magnify Him in all seasons. Come run, dear friend. Run your race for Him. The sun is high and the day is always new.

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Moon and the Morning Air

My alarm went off at 5am calling me to my scheduled morning run. I had decided to run a few circuits through Purgatory Park as a fairly safe means of getting back on the trails after a short illness. I needed to get myself back in my runner’s groove. By 5:35am I was standing on the edge of the park trail waiting for my watch to find the satellites – or whatever it does when I turn it on. Then off I trotted up the first little slope and around the turn into the darkness with my headlamp illuminating a few feet just ahead of me; darkness with an incredible moon over the early sky. There was a holy silence and hush and just my feet crunching on the ice. Air was calm with 19F, crisp and cold along a largely open trail with some patches of hard, irregular ice to navigate with much care. I covered just over 5 miles in four laps at a breathless pace of 13.01 minutes per mile. OK, not so breathless, I was being very careful on the ice and running in the dark. Anyway, I did climb to my off-road highpoint in the park on each of the laps, and this allowed me to log 688 feet ascending and 671 feet descending. Not a lot, but enough to keep me from becoming a slacker. The run was just the right mix of adventure and effort and discipline to get me back in my running zone. Now I just need to take this forward day-by-day; a daily strength.

In my readings this morning King David was reflecting on his enemies, and concludes:

But I will sing of your strength;
I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning.
For you have been to me a fortress
and a refuge in the day of my distress.
O my Strength, I will sing praises to you,
for you, O God, are my fortress,
the God who shows me steadfast love.
[Psalm 59:16-17]

In Him I find the strength for a day and a run and any challenge that God lays before me. In Him I run and sing and whisper my prayers on the morning air. And in Him I find a treasure of far more worth than any trail run or race or achievement a man might claim. I find the Lord of All, and I find His steadfast love. “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” [1 John 4:10] Oh, the sweet comfort of these words. Even as I run my race, I have this confidence that my way is not dependent on me, but wholly remains with my Lord. As I make my way along a thousand trails through a thousand stands of trees and underbrush, as I worship with my eyes and ears and run amazed at the spectacular glories of creation, I run confident in Him and His steadfast love. Oh friend, come along and run this race with me. And let us sing of His wonders together!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Dreaming of Running

Somewhere between intending to run and the running itself, there falls an interval when I am but dreaming of running. This interval varies in space of time. Sometimes an ever so brief daydream, and I must quickly push aside my reluctance and flee out the door. And other times the dreaming is days on days of waiting and watching, an extended season brought on by sickness or schedule or what-have-you. And then the endless days have passed by, and the dreaming is gone, and the trail begins to present itself again to my heart. Here I am visualizing the trail and I am running on it; alive and breathing deep, ascending the hills and blasting done the trails. Yes, running!

Well, my lovely wife asked me the other day when I would take up running again. I’d been purposely careful about when to restart because I had relapsed just a few weeks ago when I tried to jump back into it too quickly. I had already thought this all through. “5 or 6 am Monday morning”, I said. So, that’s it then. That’s what I’m planning. A few miles to get me back in the saddle. Just enough to toss my heart in heaven’s high praise and God’s glory, just enough to fill me with laughter and joy and purposed effort. If you’ve been on some self-imposed hiatus from the trails, this might be your time to jump too. Come on! Find a trail and sing a song. Carry a prayer as you weave along some forest path watching for the sunrise. Lord willing, I’ll be out there. Oh, friend, get out there and put your heart right close to God’s own beauty. Let’s run our dreams into the reality, and run smack into the wonder of God. Oh, let His greatness overwhelm you as you whisper to Him in the rising light of day. I won’t let a daydream have all the fun. Let’s go running.