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, April 30, 2009

Flowers and Light Rain as the Trail Goes On

I could not wait anymore. I could hear the trails calling to me. It was a longing in my heart to move along wooded pathways; an anxious desire to feel dirt beneath my shoes; to catch a glimpse of a noisy squirrel at play; to take in the scent and aura of the woods once again; it was a lovely, distracting dream behind my thoughts. Yesterday I just had to go. At just a few minutes past 4pm I succumbed to the enchantment and made my way to Birch Island Park for an hour plus run. I told myself it was just a little run to get moving after the 50K a few days ago. Plus, I only had a 1.5 hour window of time before the evenings activities.

The temperature was 54F with an east wind at 13mph. Initially, overcast and progressing into a light rain, I was full of delight. Once in the woods, I padded along the trails with a comfortable rhythm. I had expected to be stiff and a little uncomfortable after the 50K a few days back. Perhaps I had allowed just the right amount of time to recover. Cool. Over the course of the next 1:24 hours I paced along at a very comfortable 14:32 minutes per mile, ascending 1574 feet and descending 1559. I covered 5.77 miles in the time I had. I could feel the fatigue near the end, justifiable given my recent race, but I felt good.

The woods were beautiful and alive with newness. It is springtime after all. The dampness of a light rain was perfectly fitting. The appearance of miniature blue and white blossoms, scattered trailside was for our visual delight. The fresh, earthy odor of the forest, and the bursting expectations of this season, gave me an energy and quickness I was not expecting. Up a hill, down a path, stop and take in the view, gaze into the glorious, tangle of branches, brush, leaves, and light – I feasted for over an hour on the wonders laid before me - every sense alive and glistening with hope and joy, every thought drawn into considerations of His love for me. Did God make it this way to keep tossing us into His beautiful handiwork, to keep us perpetually aware of His magnificence beyond measure, to sense with deep reverence the wonder of His world as it weaves a new image for us each day? Did He do that just for me and others that wander these trails? I think so. I think He made these things so enchanting to call to our hearts, to see Him more clearly, and to love Him more purely. This happens to me when I run on the trails. I truly feel that I have been closer to Him and to His ways. Somehow I feel better in my heart for having been with Him along the forest paths. As I’ve prayed and worshipped and found Him wonderful, the forest has become a holy place, a very sacred place with Him. When I’m there I feel His presence so strongly and vividly that it seems to change me. I feel more alive. And so the trail goes on. Can you hear the call of the wood? It is the heart that hears. As the trail weaves on I’ll be on it. I’ll look for you. We can share a few miles and wonders. For now, run hard and true, and listen for the trail’s song. It’s just on the wind, just now.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Twists, Climbs, Drops, Rocks, and Roots

[My Chippewa Moraine 50K Ultra Marathon reflections]

Friday evening I was lying in a roadside motel not too far from my race location on Saturday morning. I was listening to the thunder crack, watching the lightening flash at the edges of the curtains, and feeling the wild shaking of the storm as the wind roared down on central Wisconsin. What would race morning bring? Some few short hours later I knew – drizzle. It was 5:30 am and I was preparing for my first 50K trail race - Chippewa Moraine 50K Ultra Marathon. Having identified the exact race location the previous evening, I checked in at the race about 6:30am and waited for our 8am start. I spent the time observing the other runners as they readied themselves. From what I could see many were seasoned veterans with a handful of trail newbies like me mixed in. The drizzle was replaced by just an overcast sky. Hmm, that could work. As we prepared to go, the race director told us the course was in excellent condition.

Over the next 31 miles I developed an appreciation of what “excellent” means. Just to help you out here, it means that trails will be trails, and they will have rocks and roots and mud and muck and brush and timber and – yes – breathtaking views and picturesque trails and the rich odor of the woodland and sound of birds and other wildlife and a thousand other things that cannot be described in words because they touch our souls and lift us right up close to God if we let them. This is trail running.

Our race director shook a cow bell and we were off, the whole bunch of us numbering around 150, down a hill, out and away from the Chippewa Moraine Interpretive Center on the Ice Age Trail. I was feeling good and was so glad to just be moving along. It only took us a brief dash over a meadow before we dropped down into the forest and onto the Ice Age Trail. What an amazing place. My watch says that over the 50K course I ascended 6862 feet and descended 6876 with an overall finish time of 6:41 hours averaging a pace of 14:38 per mile. I felt good about my results, especially considering that about 5 of us had made the midpoint turnaround and were on our way back when suddenly there was a general feeling of, “We have never been here before….” We were lost. A few moments later about 5 more runners joined us, having made the same wrong turn. We wandered around for 20 minutes trying to imagine where to go until we realized that we just needed to retrace our steps to find the error. Moments later we were off and cruising down the right trail.

This was a grueling run for me. I have never booked that much up and down in a single run, and I have never run that far. Plus, this was the first time I was representing FMSC and wanted to do my best for the kids. I ended up about 2/3s of the way back in the pack of finishers. But I’m very happy with this result. In simple terms – I finished the race. But there is so much more to the story. I got my trail rhythm at about mile 5 or so, and began to settle in to the steady flow of twists and climbs and drops and rocks and roots. We traversed the marshy areas on boardwalks and caught glimpses of each other here and there as we moved through the trees and brush. During the race I had my tunes along. I would listen for a while and then turn them off choosing instead to soak up more of the forest atmosphere, the sights and smells and feel of this wild enduring place, this vibrant heavenly canvas.

I was over 3 miles short of the turnaround when the lead runners overlapped us heading back for the finish. They were at least 6 miles ahead of me! Surprisingly, this did not frustrate or bother me. I had just been thinking about my running and God, and had been appreciating how He did not call me to be fast, but that He called me to be faithful. “Just stay the course”, I told myself. Over time however, the distance and growing fatigue in my legs and slamming of my toes in my shoes as I descended anything after about mile 23 did push me to new and exciting limits with the Lord. I felt could echo David’s heart:

If the Lord had not been my help,
my soul would soon have lived in the land of silence.
When I thought, “My foot slips,”
your steadfast love, O Lord, held me up.
When the cares of my heart are many,
your consolations cheer my soul. [Psalm 94:17-19]

So for me this was another indelibly rich experience of holding onto God with my fragile faith in situations that are so much bigger than me. And, oh yes, I found Him absolutely faithful, my Shepherd and my King.

Along the way, the other runners were encouraging and wonderful, and the numerous volunteers were all heart and help. In the last five miles I queued up my son Ethan’s music to take me into the finish. I love his music. It helps me when I’m struggling. As the finish area came into view some distance off, I broke into tears; so much joy. My Lord had again carried me to the end; He had allowed me to run for the kids at FMSC; He had taken me along another course in my journeys to know Him better and deeper and to reach higher for Him. He had helped me stay the course, my glorious, steadfast Lord. And now the race is over, but the trail goes on. I’ll be on it. I hope you’ll come along. There is so much to see, so much to experience. Sure there will be hills up ahead. We can climb them together. Sure there will be rocks and roots and numerous things to trip us up. We’ll run them together. Let’s run hard and true as we pursue Him -the greatest treasure in all the world. It’s just down this trail.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

To Carry Me

I’ve been reading through the Book of Ruth lately. It says of Naomi’s two daughters-in-law that “Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.” [Ruth 1:14b] I want to have a heart like Ruth. I want to cling to Him whom I have set my heart upon. And a moment later Ruth declares, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” [Ruth 1:16-17] I want to cling to Jesus the treasure of my life. As I cling in deep dependence my whole world changes; the direction of my thoughts and the steps of my days. I suddenly declare with Ruth, “Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” Jesus has become everything to me, and this has changed every thought and decision. And so I run.

This may be why I enjoy distance running. It keeps me in an attitude of dependence, a life of clinging. Today I made a final tapering run in preparation for my 50K event on Saturday. I returned to Purgatory Park for another fairly easy workout. It was just about 3pm and 85F with a good breeze to keep me cool. I ran three circuits for 3.68 miles in 38:46 minutes. It was enough, I thought, and I headed for home. I am as ready as I will be. It is now the Lord’s time to carry me – as always – along the trails and the distance. Pray that I will run clinging to Him. It is my joy and His glory. I pray that you will be clinging to Him as well. And in Him we can run hard and true. Hold on.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Running Between the Moments

This week I’ve been extra busy while my lovely wife is away with friends. Along with working from home, I’ve been keeping one eye on the schooling of my 13-year-old while picking up around the house, thinking about and preparing meals, maintaining my devotions and Bible reading, and finding the time to taper down for a race coming at me in a few days. I find myself a bit distracted. Yet God’s calm and steadiness are all the more important to me now. In these seasons of high activity it seems that my heart yearns all the more for Him and His quiet strength.

So it was with careful timing that I inserted an hour run into yesterday’s crazy mix. Twenty minutes after 4pm I was standing in Purgatory Park considering multiple circuits to fill in the available hour’s time. This is an easy run with slight to moderate hills. It is a good workout and would not exhaust me. Of course, this was by intention today. I came for a gentle, tapering workout not a killer, flat-lining kind of experience. This run was just to keep me tight and ready for Saturday’s 50K run. With these considerations I headed in a clockwise direction, up and away from the parking area. It was 60F with a NW wind at 12mph and gusts to 25 with a few clouds drifting high in the sky, bright sun filling the air, and a rich dose of glory covering everything. Refreshing in the face of God.

I was running between the moments, slipping my workout into an available time-slice of my life. Each loop of the park is 1.23 miles. I ran 4 circuits plus a little to register an even 5 miles in 52:21; a 10:27 pace with 924 feet ascending and 845 descending. In just this sprinkle of time, I had managed to enjoy a full measure of God’s beauty, had managed to push my body just a little bit further, and had found the time to pray and meditate on God’s Word. What a feast! What a time to find Him wonderful! A few days ago I was reading the Psalm 90, The Prayer of Moses the Man of God. In part, he said:

Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.
Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.
Return, O Lord! How long? Have pity on your servants!
Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
that we may rejo
ice and be glad all our days.

[Psalm 90:1-2, 12-14]

I pray that I would be swift to see Him as from everlasting to everlasting, and that I would know Him more deeply and securely as my dwelling place. I pray that I would learn – truly learn - to number my days, to weigh them most carefully in scales He would desire. Oh, and I pray that my satisfaction would honestly be in His steadfast love, a rich harvest of rejoicing and gladness of heart. I pray that I would be swift of heart. Oh, carry me Lord as I run between the moments. Help me to always run hard and true.

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Gray Dawns

A few minutes before 7am this morning I slipped out the back door into early quiet of morning and made my way on light steps to Birch Island Park. Glancing into the morning light, overcast skies, slight breeze from some direction but not certain, drifting. I drift into the woods taking note that at 50 feet into the woods, just beyond the big sentinel of an oak tree, is precisely one mile from my home. I must remember this. Today the light is always promising more, but never quite being light enough. There is a thin cloud cover obscuring any direct sun. Is this to be a melancholy run? Thinking on this, I turn the thought over in my mind. No, No. It is not melancholy, not at all. In fact, the same Lord of all that was reigning just two days ago is reigning this day. The morning simply has a new coloring, a hue, a look and feel. It is, after all, today, and marvelous in its own wonder. Somewhere I will find His glory! I’ll just keep looking. It is always plain to the eyes once we are accustomed to the light. With this, I continue on my way along the trails and into the growing mystery and loveliness of the day.

Much of my run was in the gray light and the haze with a seeming gloom and sadness overhanging. Then the Lord used the moment to tip me back in time as I slid into memories almost forty years old. It was the early 70’s and I was living and working at a missionary training school. Most mornings I would rise early around 4am and cross the road, dropping into the deep woods beyond. There I would pray. It was just me and God. Worship came easy for my hungry heart; hours would unfold in effortless praise and intercession: the pitch black of night and predawn heaviness always yielding a full measure. Those gray dawns were so rich in blessing that sometimes there was no room left for breakfast; our magnificent Lord my feast in life.

And today was not so different from that time in that place so many years ago. Yes, it was a gray morning and there was a weightiness in the air. But, oh, the Lord was there with me along the trails. It seemed that we ran together and I shared the burdens of this day. Along the trails, my King and I, as I lay out for Him the desires and needs of my life, my friends, and others.

The woods were not twinkling bright; no, not at all. They were somber and given to serious considerations and prayer. I ran 7.15 miles in 1:45, ascending 1932 and descending 1906 as part of my taper down in recent days. I felt the pleasant rush of a good workout. Yet it seems I spent a good deal of time climbing in and out of my memories weaving here and there in the many years gone by. Just think, dear friend, He has held me secure all of these years: through careers and failures and grief and serious illness and death whispers. He has been my faithful friend. He has never failed me; never. The run today was just plain good. It was so good to run with an old friend as we shared memories of yesterdays and dreams of tomorrows. I look forward to your friendship on the trails. Let’s keep running hard and true, and there are memories in the making.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Wild Crazy Pulsing Glories

At precisely 7:14am this morning I trotted out of the neighborhood heading for Birch Island Park. Yup, the hills and trails were calling to me and I needed to respond. I had been missing them these last few weeks. This was all pretty amazing given the fact that a few days back as I bent over to put a sock on my right foot one morning, I felt a little pain in my lower back. Oops. And since then I’d been hobbling around in pain. Oh well, a run will help me shake this off, shake everything back into the right place. There is nothing like a good run to set things right. I love a runner’s logic – so simple and uncomplicated.

Anyway, there I was this morning moving out into the bright sunshine and 40F with just a whisper of a breeze. I had intentionally left my tunes back at the house so that I could take in the whole morning with full force. Part of me was reaching for that deep, quiet place of worship, the delight and wonderment of spirit, a hushed and gentle pursuit of the Lord, my heart yearning wildly for Him. Yet part of me was taking in the full sensory impact and overload of being in the woods on a spring morning with every twinkle of light, every blade of grass, every pulsing green moss bed, every bud and branch and bird and squirrel and rabbit and, every living, breathing thing radiating life anew and energy. It is spring and the forest is alive and full of praise. I could not miss the glory. All shrouded in golden light, in this awakening to new life; a glorious display in every direction for as far as my eye could see. Breathe deep, I said, and open your eyes wide. There is a message of hope written across this springtime brilliance. “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” [Psalm 37:4] Oh, I could almost taste the wonder. And I could feel the freedom and wild crazy desire to run. And run I did; up and down the trails and through the woods, the branches, the brush; so much to take in. And my longing for a deep, quiet place of worship had mingled into the super-charged excitement and glory of everything alive around me. And there I was to soak it all up like a helpless, glory-drenched soul enjoying God, almost leaping from my skin, as I traveled along on my little run in the morning sun quite beside myself. God is so faithful.

In all I put down a reasonable 7.38 miles in 1 hour 45 minutes, ascending 1844 feet and descending 1852. This was enough of a workout as I taper down into a race in several weeks. I’ll repeat this in a similar manner in a day or so. For now, though, I will just remember God. I will recall His pulsing glories and the wild energy of loving Him without boundaries. And I will remember that there is a quiet place folded into our most exciting times. This is where we can rest in Him. This is where I can worship. I pray that I may I run hard and true. Hold me, Lord.

Monday, April 13, 2009

And Then There Were the Birds

Recently as my days in Sao Paulo clicked by, I put down some treadmill miles trying not to push myself too hard for fear of a relapse in my illness. On 7 April I logged an hour for about 5 miles. And then came Thursday 9 April, the day of my departure and my scheduled late evening flight traveling overnight back home. My original plan had been to weave in a nice long run on this final day and then head for the airport. Should I or not? Should I risk a relapse? Well, I certainly needed to test my limits before my upcoming race in a few weeks. So I better try and do some kind of run.

With all this heady logic behind me – yeah, right – I went and had a good breakfast. Then I made a few preparations and headed out of my hotel with hydration pack and supplies. I just had a feeling that this would become an opportunity for me to dig a little deeper and honestly to challenge my limits. It was a few minutes before 10am in Sao Paulo. The day was fabulous as I moved into the Parque Ibirapuera. During my run the temperature climbed from 71-75F with 80% humidity. Skies had a few drifting clouds along with a radiant Brazilian sun. I ran for 4 hours 44 minutes covering 21.7 miles for a pace of 13:05 per mile. My watch told me that I had climbed 4509 feet and descended 4584. The other day I wrote about the trails in this park and did not think there was much up or down. I was definitely wrong. I did six laps through the park, and I was in good shape until the final one. Then I faded very rapidly with all of my energy gone. I'm guessing this was purely a fueling issue that I will analyze before any events or long runs.

The park is planted deep in the middle of the fourth largest city in the world. For much of each of my circuits I edged along a trail just inside an iron fence bordering the park at its outermost. Elsewhere, for a very short period I tracked along a concrete sidewalk. I had the choice to eschew the concrete and stay with the dirt. I close the “urban trail”, the dirt, which included interesting obstacles such as foot-high anthills, curbs, and occasional pipes protruding from the ground. I ran for over 3 hours amid the sound of my own thoughts and prayers, and then turned on my tunes to push myself along. The beauty was so stunning that it just kept lifting the Lord into my thoughts as I thought of Him. Can our thoughts burn like sweet incense before the Lord? Our praises rise from the melodies of our hearts? And then there were the birds. I snapped a few pictures along the way for you, but many of the most interesting were also the most shy and quick to flight, much like twinkling sunlight at the edges on the surface of a lake, a moment of glorious light and then gone.

Throughout my run as my feet were weaving their way along the trail, my heart was weaving its way along a stream of prayers and praise. These days I am often overcome with His faithfulness to me. If you are like me, you feel most unworthy of such a true friend as Jesus. He remains faithful in every circumstance and challenge. Sure, He sustains me when I run. In fact, during my run in the park that day, I often felt like He was carrying me on wings, light of foot, effortless, and even resting. At other times, He asked me to believe that He would sustain me without giving me the physical lift. But think about it. He also offers His hand in companionship on the harder trails we face, the trails of day-to-day struggles and life. He is there for me, my truest friend, when the way grows difficult and my heart wearies under the load. He is there at the numerous crossroads to encourage me rightly. And He knows me through and through. As David said, “For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.” [Psalm 103:14] So there it is. He is my constant friend, sharing in my life, sharing in the trails and running the race with me. Just give me a few moments to say, “Thank you“, to Him. OK. Now I’ll be off along another pathway and adventure. I can just hear your footsteps along side me. Let’s get moving, the wonder is just beginning.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Nothing in All the World

It is Easter morning; Resurrection Sunday. Nothing in all the world is of greater import than the realities of that historical moment. We celebrate the physical resurrection of the God-Man Jesus, and in this wonder, the evidentiary defeat of sin, death, and the devil – something so beyond measure. What else can be said that would be more significant? The sun is shining and it looks to be a beautiful day. But this creation beauty starkly pales beside the glory of our Lord in this highest expression of His sacrificial love. It was from before the foundations of the world that the Lamb was slain and that His love was being expressed to us. And it was there He laid out His plan so filled with wonder. Like the Apostle Paul we have difficulty grasping or expressing so great a love. Words just fail us all:

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. [Ephesians 3:14-19]

It is out of His eternal wonders that our daily wonders flow. Without the Lamb slain, the all-sufficient sacrifice for sin, and the historical Resurrection, there would be no joy and no wonder. There would be no rich beauty of the woodlands, no winding trails of breathtaking discovery and challenge, no peaceful retreat for the heart and mind. Our Resurrected Christ, the Lamb that was slain, has accomplished a lasting peace in our heart. He is our peace.

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility... [Ephesians 2:13-14]

So celebrate with me today. If you have been taking the trails with me, accompanying me in my runner’s journey and feasting on the daily gifts of beauty and fun, then take this trail with me and see how all this crazy beauty came to be along the trails. The stunning glory in the woods and across the sky, our pulsing hearts overcome with the raw wonder of creation, it is possible only because of God’s faithfulness and unrestrained love to us. And all of it he confirmed to us, once for all, on the cross and by His death and through His resurrection. He said it all and said it best, “It is finished.” [John 19:30] And then the angles of Easter morning, “He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.” [Matthew 28:6] We see the beauty everyday of our lives - and the beauty is because He is. We run the trails and feel the rush of joy and sing out loud with freedom and we laugh - it is all because he has loved us so… so fully, so overflowing and rich, without measure, without restraint He has loved us. We can no longer restrain ourselves. He has loved us with too great a love. We are overtaken.

He is Risen. He is Risen indeed! Run with me friend.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Casually Discarded Extravagance

When we say that God is faithful, we are saying one of the deeply true things of this world. The next time we think of this or speak these words, we need to linger over the words and let them sink into our hearts as certain, healing balm. God honors His promises – without fail. God honors His Word – always. Today I read:

Not one word of all the good promises that the Lord had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass. [Joshua 21:45]

It is from His faithfulness that I awoke today. And it is from His faithfulness that I run. Our lives are lived and our goals are pursued based in His faithfulness. There is hope.

I went out yesterday to run in Parque Ibirapuera in Sao Paulo, Brazil. It was a sunny, beautiful Sunday. I began from my hotel just before 11am. After less than a mile of sidewalks I moved into the park. The temperature was 80.6F (27C) and it was loving the day. Lately I’ve been fighting a cold and fatigue, so I was curious to see how far I was good for. After a few circuits I had rolled over 8 and figured by the time I made the return I would have logged 9 miles. OK, time to go back. This was a good decision. By the time I got back, I was totally flat-lined. Later from my Garmin I saw that over my 9 mile run I had ascended 2590 feet and descended 2196 in 1 hour 54 minutes. Taking into account a little slope here and there, running in the park is pretty flat. So I concluded that the up and down of my run occurred on my coming and going. This makes sense. From the hotel there is a little climbing and a whole lot of going downhill – kind of breezy, really. By contrast, getting back to the hotel is a little going down and a whole bunch of going uphill – not breezy, not at all, only focus and determination. I’m guessing that most of 2000 feet of climbing occurred in the final mile or less.

On my run I was making an observation. As I would loop along through the trails and pathways, I’d pass many flowering shrubs and trees. This is not uncommon in this part of the world. With each shrub or tree in flower there were a plethora of fallen blossoms on the ground around the base of the plants. Without number they lay there, some still pulsing color even though trodden under foot by countless passersby. They seemed to me like a casually discarded extravagance from the One who has created them. Of course, as with all things in this world, there is nothing “casually discarded” with the Lord. Everything is purposed to His glory and praise. As I thought about this, they reminded me of giving flowers to my wife. There is a cost. And in this cost is the expression of an extravagance. Love makes me want to be extravagant. Sure the flowers will fade and wilt. But the expression of my love is expressed through this extravagance. I think God is like this. He shows His extravagant love for us in many, many ways. Sometimes He discards a thousand, thousand colorful blossoms on the trails in Sao Paulo. And at another time He gave something of infinite, infinite value - His only Son. I love His extravagance, and I love His faithfulness as I run hard and run true. Did you see the scattered flowers, His casually discarded extravagance, back on the trail? Look again. God is raining down His glory just for you.