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.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Rain was as the Tears of God

This morning I was reluctant to go running. I was much too comfortable as I lay in bed; and yet the Lord mercifully aroused me. I ate some oatmeal (oats, walnuts, raisins, cranberries, brown sugar, cinnamon), made a coffee, and was out the door. I drove to Hyland Park, arriving shortly before 8am. My run was undefined. It was raining. How many times have I begun in this way? How many times have I simply pushed beyond the immediate resistance and made my way to the trail? This is so vital to my heart. I need to apprehend afresh how weak and vulnerable I am. I need to push beyond it until I understand that it is God who gives me the strength and will to run. It is God who fills me with the desire to live and love beyond my limits. It is God who opens His wonders to me along every trail and avenue that I have ever traveled. Here am I – ever so reluctant to be blessed by God Himself. Here am I running in the rain.

As we run our trails, we frequently must push beyond our natural limitations. It is only in the vast expanse of the unknown where we learn to listen and cling most dearly to our Lord. Today I ran a little over 8 miles in just over 2 hours, climbing 2352 feet and descending about the same. Often the trails are new to us, untried. Sometimes the trails are numbingly familiar. But we run them all the same. Since returning from Shenzhen, China I've covered about 80 miles running familiar routes – Purgatory, Hyland, Birch Island, and others. Usually, I'd select my distance to coincide with those times when I felt weakest, or a time of day that would be the hottest and most difficult. It is good for me to push myself beyond my natural boundaries; to discover anew that I am not alone. There is another with me on the trail. I am sustained by Him. We share the joys and sorrows of the way. In times of plenty, there is rejoicing. In times of want, there is quiet reliance and trust. It is the Lord along the trail who faithfully teaches me. I need Him with every step.

Of late, I have been listening to A Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan, read by a dear English woman. Sometimes I can hear her turn the pages. I like that. In the past year or two, I've listened to this recording three times, and each time I am overwhelmed by the true nature of John Bunyan's allegory. I have read the book in times past, but there is something about listening as I run. It is always so striking to me, so applicable. My trails in many ways are like the travels of Christian and his wife and children.

For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. [Hebrews 11:10 ESV]

...Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. [Hebrews 12:2 ESV]

We are each sojourning. Are we seeking the Celestial City - the dwelling of the Lord, or something far less, something shallow and dead? Each time I listen, my soul is challenged to remain fixed upon my heart's passion, to remain true to my deepest desires to love God above all.

Today the rain was as the tears of God. Sometimes, I thought His tears to be tears of joy over the multitudes redeemed to Himself, to live forever with the Lord as their light, to behold Him and find their deepest joy and satisfaction in Him, to be forever with the Lord. At other times, I thought His tears to be tears of great sorrow over the multitudes lost, forever separated from His everlasting joy and happiness, forever apart from the Lord. And then I would weep. As I ran, as the rain streaked my face and clothing, I wept. Sometimes the joy overwhelmed me. At other times, the sorrow would almost crush me wholly. And through it all, there was my ever companion, Jesus the Righteous; my Sovereign, my Lord.

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 ESV]

But from there you will seek the Lord your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul. [Deuteronomy 4:29 ESV]

Let us run the trails that are before us. If we seek Him, we will find Him. Although the breadth of eternity is God's alone, He mercifully reveals Himself to us. He is the treasure of immeasurable worth, the pearl of great price. Oh Friend, may I weep tears of joy for you, and not tears of sorrow. Let us run hard and true.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Wutong Mountain and Friends

 Wutong Mountain   梧桐山  is located near the border of Luohu and Yantian in Shenzhen, China. It is 943.7m (3,096 ft), and is the tallest mountain in Shenzhen. The mountain is the source of the Shenzhen River that flows into Shenzhen and Hong Kong. (Wikipedia) 

After my experiences on Tuesday, I wrote a little poem about running Wutong Mountain through mist and rain as a gift to my students this week.

Rain on Wutong Mountain, Mist rising,
I run the green forest wet with joy.

 It is Saturday. Earlier this week, on Tuesday, I had spent almost 4 hours traversing all over Wutong Mountain.  During the week, I met someone who regularly runs Wutong. She had invited me to join her and a friend this morning. I was giddy with anticipation. We met at 5:30am in the lobby of my hotel and caught a taxi to Wutong Mountain. A short time later, we were standing at the archway marking the entry, and off we went. My companions led the way up the road, and then turned off to the right into the forest along a path I had not noticed earlier in the week.  This direction led to many new twists and turns along new trails, and a spectacular view of a waterfall.  Friends have a way of opening our eyes to new things.

We climbed the cut stone steps, old natural stone pathways, hopping numerous streams and roots, chasing our excitement for 3:44 hours, covering 7.95 miles, ascending 5777 and descending 5668 feet.  Our faces were covered in smiles and laughter.  Midway we stopped on a broad plaza (that I had crossed above earlier in the week). One of my companions woke a shopkeeper she knew and purchased orange juice for each of us as a reward for reaching this point. Each of us drank this with a very thankful heart.  It was the perfect refreshment. As the hours and miles drifted past, we shared our mutual joys, struggles, and challenges as followers of Christ Jesus. We celebrated through our running and endurance, and we each shared that our joy seemed to grow deeper and richer – even in life's hard struggles. For me, it was wonderful to encounter two sisters in the Lord, to celebrate our shared faith, and to encourage each other along life's trail.  At last, we completed our run, and my dear companions treated me to a fantastic noodles lunch in a favorite restaurant of theirs right in the village near Wutong. The noodles were made as I watched, and the meal was eaten as the shop owner watched. We loved the food. It was incredible! A shared run, a shared meal, and shared faith and love of God – this had truly been a memorable day. 

"For a man's ways are before the eyes of the Lord, and he ponders (makes level) all his paths." [Proverbs 5:21]

Friend, perhaps we will share a meal of noodles in a small shop in a distant land. Perhaps we will share the challenge of dangerous trails just ahead. I'll be out there watching for you. My prayers will be covering your steps. So until we meet, run hard and run true.  

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Butterflies and Lightening on Wutong Mountain

The day began with subdued, but very real excitement. I was in Shenzhen, China  and had identified a possible trail running route.  After a good breakfast, I changed into my running clothes and jumped into a taxi. My research had identified a place called Wutong Mountain-Butterfly Trail.  The taxi dropped me at the base of an archway leading into the Wutong Mountain area.

Blessed be the Lord, my rock,
who trains my hands for war,
and my fingers for battle;
he is my steadfast love and my fortress,
my stronghold and my deliverer,
my shield and he in whom I take refuge,
who subdues peoples under me.
O Lord, what is man that you regard him,
or the son of man that you think of him?
Man is like a breath;
his days are like a passing shadow.
Bow your heavens, O Lord, and come down!
Touch the mountains so that they smoke!
[Psalm 144:1-5 ESV]

According to my notes this was the correct location, but I saw no trail.  There was only a paved road heading up the mountain.  “Ok,” I thought, “Not what I expected, but let's get moving.”  I hit the start button on my watch, ran through the archway, and on up the road.  This mountain area was beautiful, and I understood why they call it a butterfly mountain.  Butterflies were everywhere -  many colors and sizes.  How would I ever convey this to others? 

In my devotions this morning, dear old Spurgeon had quoted Deuteronomy 5:24, “The Lord our God hath shewed us his glory.”  I was beginning to see His radiance even as I began my ascent of Wutong Mountain along an uninspiring roadway.  The overlooks were becoming increasingly breathtaking. At some point, a trail appeared on my left.  I immediately followed it off into the green foliage.  At this point, I found that my “trail” was paved, as well.  It was paved in cut stone, flat along level and modest changes up or down.  However, anything more severe than a 3-5 degree shift was finished as a cut stone stairway. There were a few exceptions to this, where a cascade of boulders provided a natural stairway, or a massive root structure provided an interesting means of climbing and ascending vertically to the trail section above. But for the most part – stone all along the trail portions.  So, I followed the trail that I had found that had meandered off to my left.  Eventually, this spilled back onto the paved road and I continued my climb.  Although the road was just a road, the surrounding views were unbelievably beautiful.

When I had entered this area and began my run, it was sunny with a few puffy clouds and temperatures hovering in the upper 80sF with high humidity.  It was warm, but I was looking for a heat workout, and this would do just fine.  As I continued upward, a mist began rising.  I was drenched in sweat but kept ascending.  Eventually, I came to a place in the road with a small parking area and signs with maps of the park.  Here I spotted another trail going off to my right and climbing significantly upward.  I was more than ready.  Off I went.  A light rain began to fall as I left the road to run up a fairly steep ascent along a path of hundreds of stairs.  The rain was increasing as I climbed. I took a few pictures, but eventually stowed my camera for fear that I would damage it with rain.  Along my trail, I crossed above a plaza about two-thirds of the way up.  Here I saw the final ascent to bring me near the summit, and many more stairs to climb, seemingly stairs without number.  I just set my mind to climb, and maintained a steady rhythm. Who had laid all these stairs?  It boggled my mind.  The rain was increasing even more, and was coming down hard.  As I neared the summit I could feel the roar of thunder and see lightening flash. I was growing a little  concerned.  I reached the end of the stairs and made my way onto a level area very near the summit.  Here I found “The Heavenly Pond”.  It was a small pond with a large boulder in the center and an inscription. I snapped a picture to document how far I'd come, and decided to descend quickly in the growing storm that was swirling around.  Just at this moment, I encountered three Chinese young men who had come up behind me on the stairs. They were drenched and looked alarmed by the wild, crazy weather all around us - the thunder and lightening, and hard driving rain.  I yelled through the storm and said we needed get moving down the infinite stairs that we had just climbed, and head off the mountain. I took off down and they followed.  Eventually they faded in the distance behind me.

 By the time I reached the archway at the entrance to the park, I was all in; very tired and mighty hungry.  Then it occurred to me that given the size of the village at the base of Wutong Mountain, it might be difficult to find a taxi.  I began walking through the village hoping to find a means of getting back to the hotel. After almost 45 minutes, a taxi sailed past me with passengers. I hailed the driver guessing that the driver would love to find a return fare back to Shenzhen. I was right. He came back within minutes, after dropping his other customers.  I was on my way back to my hotel and a good meal. I had covered 10.22 miles in 3:42 hours, ascending 5454 feet and descending 5429.

I thought back to Spurgeon.  For this morning he had written,

Thank God, then, if you have been led by a rough road: it is this which has given you your experience of God’s greatness and lovingkindness. Your troubles have enriched you with a wealth of knowledge to be gained by no other means: your trials have been the cleft of the rock in which Jehovah has set you, as he did his servant Moses, that you might behold his glory as it passed by. Praise God that you have not been left to thedarkness and ignorance which continued prosperity might have involved, but that in the great fight of affliction, you have been capacitated for the outshinings of his glory in his wonderful dealings with you.
[Morning and Evening – Morning July 11, Charles Spurgeon]

I had made my plans for a trail run on Wutong Mountain, but God had chosen to delightfully interrupt my designs His own.  He wanted me to see His glory – the flutter of butterfly wings, a rising mist, the gentle rain, and then thunder and lightening atop Wutong Mountain itself.  I had seen and felt the wonder and power of my glorious, holy Lord. What a day, and what a run to remember.

Friend, I'm running the trails.  I'm hoping we meet along the way. I'll look for the glory of God in your eyes, and the way you love a storm and flutter of a butterfly's wing.  Run hard and run true, my friend. I'll be right along.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

My Lord, I have loved you

My Lord, I have loved you

My Lord, I have loved You
Longer than I have Known Your Name,
Yet dangling by my own imagination,
Severed helpless from the wonder of Your world
Of Your mercies long pouring;
Oil of grace upon my undeserving soul.

Yearnings deep to cling to You,
Yet so unable to rise or reach,
Blind eyes hungry to see You,
Yet so vacant and without vision,
Hollow ears longing for a word,
Yet so empty in staggering silence,
Wearied heart anxious to feel,
Yet so cold stone hard and dead.

My Lord, I have loved You
Longer than I have Known Your Name,
Yet soaring now on Your own certainties,
Tethered joyfully on the string of Your own Word
Of Your mercies long pouring;
Oil of grace upon my undeserving soul.

Longings satisfied falling in Your arms,
Still eyes overcome in brilliant light,
Ears flowing with Your sweet song,
Sad heart changed in a moment’s time;
To hold and see and hear and love You,
So long desired and now embraced,
Oh unearned grace, Oh mercy full that
You found me, calling me by name.

Henry Lewis
31 May 2008