Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Chariots of fire

I remember one summer’s church camp theme—Hebrews 12:1-2. "Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus."

I think the reason I remember this is because of the T-shirts we all got. They had this verse on them along with a silhouetted runner. At the time, this verse brought to mind me, running in slow motion with a big grin on my face to the tune of Chariots of Fire, my blonde hair flowing, and some sweet new kicks on. Woohoo! Me and my junior high friends are running the race for Jesus! And every time I hear that verse I think of that T-shirt and that camp theme.

But last night I had to read through Hebrews for class. That verse hit me differently, and it’s because in the chapter before, the writer talks about the races run by Abraham, Isaac, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, and many others. They didn’t have new kicks on and their races were not won on some smooth new track. To say they encountered some hardship during their runs is an understatement. The writer mentions others who faced "jeers and flogging," "were chained and put in prison," "stoned," "sawed in two," and "put to death by sword."

So you read all about them and THEN you hear "let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us"? Suddenly my grin begins to fade ever so slightly, I slow down, Chariots of Fire decreases in volume. My new kicks get dirty.

In high school basketball tryouts, the coach had us do backwards ladders. The person to complete them first could be done for the day and head home. It was a race. Well, shortly after starting, I fell. I mean c’mon...BACKWARDS ladders? I fell right on my wrist and sprained it. Because I was just so good (or coach felt sorry for me), I still made the team, but ended up sitting on the bench for the majority of the season. That race held pain, disappointment, and frustration. I did not have big grin on my face.

Anyways, I got to thinking about how Hebrews 12:1-2 is not about smooth-sailing to the finish line. The race of life is sometimes marked with huge difficulties. But even so, there are some really great things about God’s race. For one, we don’t have to run with anything on our backs. "Throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles." (verse 1) Granted we sometimes forget this and think it might be a good idea to pick up that backpack of selfishness, greed, jealousy, addiction, whatever.

Second, we have a set course. The race has been "marked for us" by God. If life were a 5K, this would be one of the one’s with super clear directions on how to sign-up, well-organized registration tables the morning of, and ample food and giveaways at the end. Don’t you hate the runs where you can’t find the table with the first letter of your last name to get your number? Or after you’ve paid $35, you get to the end, and guess what? They’ve run out of T-shirts. Too bad so sad. Knowing that my race is marked brings back my grin and gives me the energy to keep going. It helps me "not grow weary or lose heart." Turn up the Chariots of Fire.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Just make a vision board.

Are you kidding me? At the risk of offending some people, this idea is ridiculous.

I generally don’t watch TV, but with company in town a couple months ago, I was subjected to the very first (and for me, the ONLY) episode of the most recent Bachelor. They did brief little snip-its of each potential girl. One had vision boards—essentially pieces of posterboard, like I used to use for school projects—on which she pasted cut-out magazine phrases and pictures. Like "Happiness" "Love" "Fitness" and a big, fat diamond ring cut most likely from a jewelry ad. She then quickly explained to the millions of people tuning in, along with the bachelor (who I hope didn’t select her) that a vision board is a representation of the things you want and long for, and essentially, because you went through the trouble of making said vision board, the items and things on said vision board will actually come into your real line of vision! Ta Dah! Diamond ring right in your living room. I don’t know for sure because I haven’t read the book, but supposedly this vision board idea comes from the popular book The Secret.

I’m being obnoxious, I know. But, it just doesn’t work that way! If it did, wouldn’t we all have our houses stocked with posterboard and glue sticks and subscribe to every magazine under the sun? I’d go to Jo-Ann’s right now with my 40% off coupon and get me a new scissors!

In a conversation with friends last night, we got to talking about these vision boards. This in turn got me thinking about our wants—longings that are so strong and deep. Sometimes so strong they have the power to create in us bad attitudes, lethargy, hopelessness, when they are not fulfilled. They can shadow joy and laughter and happiness in other things. We want so badly that we will even create vision boards (I wonder if there’s a Wiki-how on vision board making).

I’ve often wondered about David writing some of the Psalms. That dude is intense! He often challenges me in my seeking and desiring for God. He writes about heavenly things like we write about earthly things (or cut and paste about earthly things). Do we want God as much as we want those things on our vision boards? Do I really long for God?

Psalm 63 shows that intensity I’m talking about. David says, "in my heart, I long for you, as I would long for a stream in a scorching desert." Now, granted, he supposedly wrote this while he was in a desert, which most assuredly gave him some inspiration. Inspiration I may not have as I sit here at my desk with a bottle of water and some peppermint tea and animal crackers. But... still. And what’s interesting is that David’s longing doesn’t result in bad attitudes and hopelessness. But rather he talks of "joyful praises" and "excitement" and "happy songs." It's because you don't even need a vision board with God. Long for Him, and He fulfills.

In my heart, I long for you, as I would long for a stream in a scorching desert.
I have seen your power and your glory in the place of worship.
Your love means more than life to me, and I praise you.
As long as I live, I will pray to you.
I will sing joyful praises and be filled with excitement like a guest at a banquet.
I think about you before I go to sleep, and my thoughts turn to you during the night.
You have helped me, and I sing happy songs in the shadow of your wings.
I stay close to you, and your powerful arm supports me.

Psalm 63:1-9

Monday, March 16, 2009

Chirp chirp

“Is that a robin?” asked my friend anxiously yesterday morning, as she looked out my front window, jumping onto the couch to get a better view.
“Where?” I asked.
“Over there,” she pointed. “On the roof?”
Why, yes. Yes it is.
“I have to call my dad,” she said, going for her cell phone.
It seems she and him had a little competition going...who would spot the first robin?

This discovery is not taken lightly here in Minnesota. The orange-bellied bird is an harbinger of spring. Robin sighting = melting snow = ice scraper removed from car = mittens packed away = windows open = Minnesotans becoming human once more.

Come to find out though that robins actually don’t go very far in the winter. I hadn’t really put much thought into it, but I think I assumed they were like geese (those nasty, hissing, poop-making creatures). That they flew away during the hellish winter and then came back right about now. But nope. They’re around. They just don’t go about hopping from yard to yard. Rather, they congregate, sticking close together, not traveling too far from homes.

Like us! I mean, I saw all these strangers hopping about from yard to yard yesterday. Turns out, they’re my neighbors!

Friday, March 13, 2009

A pray-er's prayer

I’ve had a hard time praying the past couple weeks. It’s not that I doubt God’s presence, but I think it’s that I doubt how to pray or what to pray about or for in prayers of petition. I have no problem praying for forgiveness for X, Y and Z; nor do I have problems giving thanks for everything under the sun from coffee to friends. But when it comes to asking for something, I have a tendency to quantify.

How many minutes spent in prayer.

How many people are praying for the same thing.

How frequently I pray.

As if I spent a trillion minutes in prayer about something, it would be answered. Or if 100 people are praying for something, surely it’ll happen. Or if I pray 10 times a day for the same thing...

I play little mind games with myself, knowing full well, they won't "work" but I do 'em anyways. Maybe if I pray like THAT, or if I say THIS instead of that, or if I focus on THAT instead of THIS...

And then when something happens so against whatever it was I was praying for—as it did a couple weeks ago—I’m taken aback. I cry out, God, didn’t you hear me all those times? Didn’t you hear the other hundreds of people praying?

Not to discount the power of lots of people praying, but God hears the prayer of one little ole’ person as well as the prayer of thousands. He hears my two-second prayer as well as my two-hour prayer. He knows what I want even if I were to never ask for it in prayer. The power is in Him. Not me.

I remember reading Philip Yancey’s on prayer, creatively called Prayer. It’s great, and I highly recommend, but at the end, I said, well, Phil doesn’t know either. Prayer isn’t an exact science, and thus, unlike I had hoped, he doesn’t have all the answers. So just because X number of people are praying for Y to happen, doesn’t mean Y will happen. And just because A is super faithful and persistent about praying for B means that B will happen. But that doesn’t discount what we DO know.

That His ears are attentive to our prayer (1 Peter 3:12), that prayer is powerful and effective (James 5:16), and that we are to be faithful in prayer (Romans 12:12).

Monday, March 09, 2009


If you had to act out "para-skiing" in a game of charades, would you know how?
I wouldn’t--and didn’t Friday night.

And perhaps that’s because I’m not even sure what the heck para-skiing is! I’m not alone. I see that someone posted a bunch of photos on Flickr and then sent out the question...Help: do you call this para-skiing?

I almost yelled that same question across the lake the other day. As I was running, I watched a person on skis, be pulled across the flat, icy surface by a massive parachute, a cross between a kite and a sail (ski-sailing perhaps?). When he or she pulled the parachute’s lines, he/she’d turn. It looked like fun, except I’d be concerned the wind would pick up and suddenly I’d be picked up.

Well, I have since learned that para-skiing came about in Switzerland in the 1960s. It actually came from rescue missions in the Alps. People would jump out of planes with parachutes, land and then ski to wherever it was they were going. Now, there are para-skiing competitions. You ski off a cliff, let the wind catch the parachute and then you’re airborne for awhile before landing back on solid ground. Supposedly though this is technically not para-skiing (even though everyone calls it that), but ski-paragliding. The layperson—me and many others—gets them confused all the time. The non-airborne person on the lake I run around is para-skiing.

Whatever though, I’d like to see you para-ski or ski-paraglide in a game of charades.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

New hubcaps and attitudes

I recently lost a hubcap, and nearly a tooth, going over a nasty pothole a couple weeks ago. My poor car looked so ghetto driving around hubcap-less. And what’s worse is that another one of my hubcaps was cracked and half gone too. I didn’t actually avoid parking spots, but I was cognizant of the fact that if I parked on the left side of people, drivers could see my hubcap issues. And they’d...think less of me? Think I don’t have money to repair? Who cares! I don’t even know, but I somehow felt like it was a strike against me.

And you must know, I’m vain about other things, but when it comes to my car, I really, generally, could care less (don’t believe me? ask my brother--he’s appalled at my vehicle choice). I’ve been driving a 98 black Chevy Prism since I was a sophomore in college. She’s got 112,000 miles on her and for the most part, has given me very few problems. So, why get a new car? No point. I don’t really know why I even thought about other people noticing my missing hubcap(s).

Even more funny, as I pulled one of the remaining in-tact hubcaps off as dad was replacing them for me, I saw the twist tie that a rather resourceful friend of mine in California had used to hold that particular hubcap on when it fell off a couple years ago. I heard it fall off and was able to go back and pick it up. An inside spoke had cracked through and needed a little reinforcement. With a twist tie. Genius, really.

My attitude has mirrored my hubcaps of late. The long, dark, winter months have taken their toll, creating huge pot holes in my plans and routines. Cold temps have cracked good moods and I think last week’s little “thundersnow” officially made my hubcap-of-an-attitude fall off into the ditch. I’ve been looking for it ever since! Thankfully resourceful friends and family with fun twist ties—coffee dates, breakfasts at cozy places, and movies—have kept me going.

My new hubcaps are the cheapest ones available, but I still feel pretty spiffy sportin’ them around. And today’s temps are not exactly hot, but they’re warmer, causing a new spiffiness in my attitude. I didn’t even need gloves when I ran an errand over lunch!

Soon, very soon, I will drive around with new hubcaps and my windows rolled down!

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Eat some sun

Just to spite the current 2-degree temps and 6 inches of suffocating snow, I think I should make pancakes today.

It is, after all, Maslenitsa—a weeklong Russian celebration that bids farewell to winter and gleefully welcomes in spring. The word “maslenitsa” comes from the Russian word meaning “butter.” It is believed that eating hot, round, buttery pancakes (bearing strong resemblance—err…sort of—to the sun) allows one to take in the warmth of the sun. Eating of pancakes was/is a way to encourage the sun to hurry up and thaw the earth. I found some traditional schedules of events for the celebration, which draws from both pagan and orthodox church customs. Here’s what I learned.

Monday is for welcoming the celebration. Start baking those pancakes and make a doll out of straw. Stick that doll at the top of a snow hill. I’m sure your front yard will work.

Tuesday is for playing. Start eating those pancakes. And supposedly on this day men are allowed to kiss any woman they pass. Um, what?

Wednesday is for feasting. Keep eating those pancakes.

Thursday is for merry-making, not to be confused with Tuesday’s playing. Fun outdoor games abound.

Friday is mother-in-law day. Son-in-laws invite their mom-in-laws over for their pancakes. (hope they have a good recipe)

Saturday is sister-in-law day. Female relatives gather for more pancake-eating and gift-giving.

Sunday is for forgiveness. Ask God and those around you for forgiveness. And I guess you are to burn the straw doll that you made on Monday. The doll symbolizes winter, and so burning it shows your efforts to send off winter until next year. I wonder if my neighborhood association would mind a little bonfire in my front yard?

Please, if you live in Minnesota, eat some pancakes this week!!