Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Joy in the Familiar

This morning's 4 miler was along one of my old familiar routes in Alexandria, Va, just outside of Washington, D.C. It doesn't get light as early in D.C. as it does in Minnesota this time of year, so it was good to be on familiar terrain. I knew what to expect and how far I needed to go to get to 4 miles total. There is something that feels good about being in familiar surroundings, even when far from home. I suppose that one danger would be if I started to think of this "different" place as home--if it became too familiar.

Many days it is an effort to remind myself that this life, this existence, this world is not my home--that my true home is elsewhere and elsewhen. (Yes, elsewhen. It means a different time.) This life is temporal; it only lasts for a short time. My true life is everlasting; which is a long time. This life is very present, but my true life is hidden with Christ in God. (Not quite sure what that means, but it is not in Monticello or D.C.) It is so easy to forget my real home in the midst of all that I see and experience. But I can live life best when I remember that I am but a tourist and a visitor to this present life--my home is elsewhere and elsewhen.

Pressing on!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Not Fun at All

Today's 12 mile run was not very much fun at all.  It was hot.  My legs felt like lead.  Parts of me were hurting that I had forgotten about.  And I found myself asking, "Why am I doing this?  It doesn't even feel very good.  And I am not happy right now!"

Then I remembered.  The reason that I was doing 12 miserable miles this morning was to be able to run the Twin Cities marathon in October to raise money for hunger relief in Africa through World Vision.  I was doing something that I disliked to day in order to be able to do something that I want to do later.  And without days like today, Twin Cities will not happen for me.

If I had acted on how I felt, I would have turned around at mile 2 and gone home.  But in general, if I acted primarily on how I felt, I would not get much done.  I think that the key is to do the right thing, whether or not I feel like it.  This may sound elementary, but how often do we/I/you violate that simple principle?  And in retrospect, my life has  not been enriched by using my feelings as my guide for life.

I need to base my life and decisions on something greater than what I feel.  For me, that means to base my life on the guidance of my Creator.  It means working toward goals and objectives that are worthy of the investment of my time and effort.  It means not being tossed about by the winds of short-term gratification or doing what I feel like at the moment.  It means being guided by ideals and principles that are bigger than just me and my little world.  Ultimately, it means trusting the Creator rather than trying to take to role of the Creator.

Pressing on!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Trail Markers and God's Will

I did not get lost last Saturday during the trail run.  There were plenty of opportunities to do so, but I never wondered whether I was on the right path.  Lots of trails crossed the one we were to run on.  Some looked challenging and some looked inviting.  But the correct path was clear.  The marked trail was more than a general direction (run NE for .8 miles), but less than predetermining where each footstep should go.  The other notable thing was that the trail markers were not consistently spaced--they were only as close together as they needed to be.

A few years ago (like 25 or so) a number of my friends became interested in God's will.  Not just whether God had a will, or what God's desires may be, but the contours of how individual Christ followers could discern God's desires for them--as individuals.  At times the mental gymnastics were stunning.  Trying to see the hand of God in every little aspect of life.  What does it mean that I get a red light at this intersection, at this time.  In my dream someone was speaking Italian.  Is God calling me to go to Italy?

I am not mocking, but it makes me grin inside sometimes.  Granted, I could be entirely wrong and God may care deeply about the minutiae of our lives.  But I am not so sure.  It is certainly not a matter of capacity.  God the Creator has the ability to be involved with the most intimate details of every human life if He so chooses.  I'm just not sure that He so chooses.  Undoubtedly there have been times, places, and people down through history where God has had a very direct concern that His direction be followed in exquisite detail.  But that doesn't appear to usually be the case.  Please let me be clear.  I am not saying that I believe that God is disinterested--just that He may not have a preference.  Does God care whether you have green beans or yellow for supper tonight?  Probably not.  I do believe that God takes pleasure when we enjoy eating what we have grown in our gardens (and that He has created). 

When it comes to discerning God's will, I believe that He wants us to follow His direction even more than we want to.  A logical corollary is that if it is important to God, then He will let us know what He wants.  I do not believe that God takes pleasure in playing "hide and go seek" with His desires.  Sometimes I just think that He has no preference and takes pleasure in letting us make some of our own choices.

On the trail run, when the race director wanted to make sure that we didn't miss a turn, or get off course, the orange flags marking the course were very close together.  That way all we had to do was pay attention and we would stay on course.  When there was really only one path to follow (single track through the woods), the marker flags were more spaced out.  Along those sections a runner could have gotten off the course, but it would have been intentional.  If I had spent a lot of time looking for the marker flags where there were none, I would have finished even later than I did.  But along those stretches where there were not many flags, all I needed to do was to continue in the same direction until I was shown to go a different way.  I wonder if it is the same with following God's direction?

Pressing On!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Well-marked Trail

The instructions for last Saturday's trail run were simple--"keep the orange markers on your left.  If the orange marker is on your right, you are going the wrong way."  That is really all we had to remember.  It was clear and the only way to have trouble was to forget which side is the left.  Of course, that we the easy part.  The rest of the run involved keeping going over 15.5 miles of hilly terrain.  The course elevation map looked like an EKG.  Nevertheless, at the end both Abby and I determined to be back next year for another go at this one.

As followers of this blog would know, I love to run.  I am not very good at it.  I am not very fast (or at all fast).  I don't look like an ad for a running magazine.  In fact, I may look more like an ad for someone who needs to get out and run.  But I just love to run.  I also love the outdoors.  Hiking, backpacking, just being outside in the woods.  But Saturday was really the first time to put these two passions together.  And it was wonderful.  (Plus, this morning the hills I ran around home felt like nothing.)

The disorienting thing about Saturday's run was not really knowing how much of the race remained.  I have run a lot of routes around town, so I know exactly how long those runs are.  I also have a pretty good idea of how fast I run on the roads, so can gauge how far I have gone pretty accurately.  But for most of Saturday I didn't really know how much of the race was left.  Ordinarily that would not be a problem, but I needed to make sure that I had enough gas left in the tank to make it to the end.  Next year I will know.  This year I did not.  I had seen a map of the course and could see where the run would go, but seeing a line on a flat piece of paper bore little resemblance to the reality of Afton State Park.

The point is that my main job on Saturday was to keep following the marked path.  It was not my responsibility to determine where the orange markers went--but just to follow them.  My task was not to consider whether I might have set out a different race course, but to follow the course that the race director had marked out for us.  This was a trail run, not an orienteering event.  In fact, I would have been disqualified if I had set off on a course of my own choosing.

One thing that I believe is that I have been made by a Creator who has marked out a course.  Sometimes the markers are close together and sometimes they are farther apart.  But someone else has marked out the course.  My task in this life is not to chart my own course or to determine what is the "best" way to get from point A to point B.  My life will primarily be assessed on how well I followed the marked path, and secondarily on the effort and determination that I bring to that following.

The writer of Hebrews said it this way: 

Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.

Pressing On!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Just Being There

There was nothing remarkable about this morning's run.  Not very long.  Not very fast.  An often-run course.  Nothing to set it apart from dozens of the same run over the past few years.  And maybe that is the point.  Looking back over my training logs you would find that most of my runs are unremarkable.  There have been a few that are on a different or particularly interesting or challenging course.  A few that are of a notable distance of pace.  But mostly just regular, ordinary, unremarkable runs.  But without the ordinary runs, there would be no foundation for the extra-ordinary.  If I expected every run to be a new mountaintop experience, then I would be quickly and deeply disappointed.  Yet all too often, I tend to devalue the ordinary in my pursuit of the spectacular, stunning, or remarkable.

For example, I am much more willing to talk about the Goofy Race and Half Challenge (half marathon one day followed by full marathon the next) that I ran last January than the dozens of 3-5 mile runs since then.  Why?  Because anyone can run the ordinary runs, but I don't know anyone else who has done the Goofy.  I think that I look for, and value, that which is unusual or unique above the regular.  But I believe that there may be a greater benefit to holding the regular in just as high a regard as the unique.

But there is certainly not a lot of support for that view in our culture.  There is no award for the "Most Ordinary" and Mr. Regular doesn't get headlines.  Yet the foundation for extraordinary achievements--whether in one person or collectively--is ordinary, day after day, consistency.

Think about relationships.  When a good friend is going through a difficult time, what I have heard most often is that what was valued was not the witty words of wisdom, but just being there.  Not the "solution", but a willingness to walk together through the darkness until the break of dawn.  Just being there.

I wonder how often we are looking for God to do something spectacular and stunning, and yet He offers to just be there.  Day in and day out.  When things are good and when life is challenging.  He never promised that He would always appear with craches of thunder and bright flashes of lightning.  But he does promise:

Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The ultimate "just being there."

Press On!