my search to understand the bigger picture

Monday, April 25, 2011

Praying at Bars

Last week Friday night I joined some good friends of mine who have started sort of an impromptu prayer ministry on the University of Illinois campus. We've spent year talking about the organization 24-7 Prayer, and how inspiring they are. I particularly love the work and stories from their presence on the European island of Ibiza. Well, my friends felt led to begin something here, which seems to be turning into something pretty amazing. I'm not sure they ever saw this coming. (I'll spare you the details)

Well, the past few months they've taken their late Friday and Saturday nights to walk the streets of campustown, stopping by each bar, taking in the sights, praying, and then just offering to help when the need arose. Help in many cases simply means walking someone who's blasted out of their minds back to their apartment safely. They have been met with much skepticism. It will take time for their presence to be trusted I think. But that's ok.

Well, this past Friday night I joined them, and immediately experienced some inner turmoil going on. Within the first few minutes of walking, we had a full beer can launched at us from a nearby balcony. In a humorous twist of fate, the beer can missed us, and slammed into a parked car right in front of the frat house. Free tip of the day: Never throw a beer can when your wasted, and YOUR car is directly in the line of fire! Sort of gave us a chuckle, but also kind of took us by surprise. That had never happened to my friends before.

We continued along, making observations and stopping to pray at various bars. All night long I dealt with embarassment, not wanting people to hear us praying. Go ahead and judge me. I'm not ashamed to proclaim my love for Jesus. But for some reason, that night I was attacked with tremendous embarassment (due to Satan). I was continually reminded of the Scripture Mark 8:38, and that helped push me forward. But it was a constant battle that night.

A little while later, we were walking along when a cigarette butt was tossed in our direction from another balcony. We were beginning to sense a theme. Thankfully we were able to chuckle and keep the mood light, and just kept plugging away. Being that it was Easter weekend, many students were gone. The Easter theme also seemed to be included in many of our prayers.

It was good to do that with my friends. It was good to feel uncomfortable. It was good to pray. What pains me is that after I do things like that, I'm so energized. I love it! There's nothing I would have rather spent my night doing. I gave up trail running the next day to do that. And yet, here I sit a few days later, my thoughts focused back on myself. I say I care about the hurting of the world, but rarely do I spend my free time with them.

Even when I was back at Salt & Light, I convinced myself I cared simply because I spent so much time with those in need. But that was my job. Most of the time I allowed myself to check out once I left the building. I'm sure many of you will gasp at the awfulness I'm laying out here. But I want to be honest. Especially about what I struggle with.

I so desperately want to be a person of action. I want my actions to back up my words. That's part of what excited me so about my trip to South Africa last year. And yet, I've not done much since then. I've written a few letters to our sponsored children. Big deal.

Ok, sorry, time to wrap this up. All that to say, I don't want my life to be a series of isolated incidents that I'm proud of. I want my entire life to be summed up as one of action. Whether it be traveling somewhere, raising money for something, praying for people, whatever. Not isolated incidents. A continous flow of non-stop action.

What good does going down to Campustown and praying do? I don't know yet. But I do know that my friends have started something powerful, and God IS going to bless that. Lives are going to change; even if it's their very own lives. How about you? What do you pay lipservice to that needs to change into action? Let's purpose today to meet our maker with as few regrets as possible. I'd rather have regrets from trying and getting it wrong, than not doing anything at all.

So, while I may not be able to join them every weekend praying at bars, I definitely plan to not only support and encourage them, but join them whenever possible.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

What Running Has Taught Me About Life

Ups and Downs.

Life has them both. It really can be one big roller coaster ride where one minute you're climbing this steep mountain that seemingly has no end in sight, and next thing you know you've reached the top and are now hurtling downward at unimaginable speeds only to be met with twists, turns, and more hills to climb. This is an analogy that we are all too familiar with.

Running, it seems, is another analogy that seems to share some striking similarities. Amongst other things, I've learned with running that by and large, the more I put into it, the more I get out of it. However, even when I've been in my best shape, I still have good days and bad days. In fact, running Comrades Marathon last year taught me that the peaks and valleys can occur on a fairly regular basis, both equally challenging to attack and navigate.

I've sort of come to accept the peaks and valleys in running. It's a part of it. But for some reason, I've yet to expect that in life. When the tough times hit, my thoughts many times turn to what I've done to deserve it; what I've done wrong; what I could have done differently. A "why me" type attitude.

The reality is, while Christ has risen from the dead, has ascended into heaven, has brought His Kingdom to earth, it has not yet quite taken full control. Satan is still loose, thus so is his kingdom of darkness seeking to oppress everyone. More than anything, I think that when bad times hit, I'm reminded that I'm not in control, and I don't like that. I'm also reminded that my trust is not fully in Christ.

I came across Proverbs 3:5-12 the other day and it reminded me of these truths. Take a moment and read this........
"Trust God from the bottom of your heart;
don't try to figure out everything on your own.
Listen for God's voice in everything you do, everywhere you go;
he's the one who will keep you on track.
Don't assume that you know it all.
Run to God! Run from evil!
Your body will glow with health,
your very bones will vibrate with life!
Honor God with everything you own;
give him the first and the best.
Your barns will burst,
your wine vats will brim over.
But don't, dear friend, resent God's discipline;
don't sulk under his loving correction.
It's the child he loves that God corrects;
a father's delight is behind all this."

The thing is, I want to figure out everything. I want to play a role. But I fail to realize the problem is sin that's still in me. I've got pieces within me that I still need to fully give over to Jesus. And that's precisely why I need to learn to trust God from the bottom of my heart.

I need to be driven to him in the good times and bad. When things are incredibly bad, then we tend to cry out to God and wonder why he doesn't see or hear us. When things are very good, then we forget God altogether and do our own thing; thus one big vicious cycle.

While I can't necessarily control the good times and the bad and when they occur, the peaks and valleys, one thing I can do. I can continue trusting God from the bottom of my heart. I can learn to be ok with not figuring out everything. Is this tough? INCREDIBLY! It's like running a race and not fully knowing what lies ahead. Again, this reminds me of Comrades. I knew it was a hilly course, but NOTHING prepared me for being on the actual course.

All I could do was decide that no matter what obstacles came, I would continue putting one foot in front of the other. I wasn't going to quit. Sure I made some mistakes. Probably went out a little too fast at Comrades, and should have walked more of the hills earlier. But we can't change the past. All we can do is keep our resolve to put one foot in front of the other. Know that better times will come. But ultimately, our circumstances don't matter. We just give it our all, and trust God from the bottom of our hearts.

These past 12 months or so have been some of the toughest in my life. There's been some incredible highs, and some very low lows. But, I've commited to continue to put one foot in front of the other, refusing to quit. And more and more, as I allow myself to be ok with not being in control, I learn God truly is worthy of my trust. His kingdom has indeed come! I love Him REGARDLESS of my situation and circumstances. I love Him whether I'm on a peak or in a valley. The goal remains the same: to put one foot in front of the other, and leave the rest to God.

If God gives me peaks, I will strive to be as big a blessing as I possibly can, remembering that everything I have is God's. If I find myself in the middle of a deep valley, I will continue to sing His praises no matter how exhausted I become. Regardless, I strive to keep my focus on Christ, calm and collected, continuing to move forward.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Kickapoo-Such a Fun Word To Say

Well, let's try this again. Just hit a wrong button and deleted my almost completed post, so here we go........... I was showing my daughters some videos of my run out at Kickapoo State Park this past Friday, and my youngest kept repeating Kickapoo over and over and over, it was hilarious! It is quite a fun word to say, and even more enjoyable place to spend time on the trails! I'm so thankful to have a place like that in the middle of flat Illinois. It's quite a relaxing place for me to go and find some refuge. Friday I had a good friend with me, and we went 10 miles, the furthest run of his life! It's awesome to watch new runners achieve goals every couple of weeks. In fact, it inspires me to keep working on my own running. This year has had it's challenges, but I've grown to accept it for what it is. I've come to the conclusion that this is a year simply to enjoy running. My goal is to get out to the trails as often as possible, and just enjoy myself. I'm glad that I've been able to keep my fitness level at a point of being able to run 10 trail miles quite comfortably, and have plenty left in the tank. Not bad for an overweight runner! Around this time last year I was finishing up my training for Comrades with Team World Vision. What an amazing trip, with some amazing people! I learned so much from that experience, and think of this year's team often. In all of our struggles this past year, I'm so happy that one of a few things has remained non-negotiable, our sponsorship of two girls through World Vision. It's such a honor to be in a place to be able to bless others, and helps keep my perspective in it's proper place when life gets tough for us. So, here's a few videos from this past Friday.

Well, that's it for now. I've got a few more ideas running through my brain, but I need time to process them before posting on the interwebs. Just read a very interesting article in TrailRunner Magazine, so be on the lookout for thoughts on that very soon!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Kickapoo My Friend

This was one of the beautiful scenes that I got to take in this morning, as I took on 6 miles of the trails out at Kickapoo State Park. It's quite the understatement to say that I absolutely love it out there. Kickapoo is almost like my own little slice of heaven.

What's most enjoyable about running these trails is that I can just relax and run. I'm not worried about how fast I'm going, or getting a certain distance in. The setting allows me to enjoy the action of running. No pressure. Nothing required of me. Just a moment in time that I can simply enjoy being alive.

It was during one of those moments this morning when reality came crashing in. Actually, I took a nasty little spill just before snapping this photograph.

It was rather humerous to myself. Thankfully I had my hydration pack on, and had stuffed a windbreaker in the main pocket, so that broke my fall quite nicely as I rolled to my back. Let me tell you, it's quite the adventure to roll around on trails that one normally runs on. You should try it sometime!

Nonetheless, good times were had. Running has been sort of strange this year for me, as work schedules have not allowed much time for running. But every so often, things come together and I'm awarded the opportunity to hit the trails, and I've done so with much more regularity than in year's past. So, I think while this year may not have nearly as many miles put in, the quality of runs as far as enjoyment will be of a much higher percentage. And that makes all the difference.