Friday, November 20, 2009

New Moon Birthday Cake

I love birthdays. It is the one day out of the year that we get to celebrate you! The day you were birthed is such an amazing day because it was your entrance into the world. Sure you might share the day with some other people that you know, but it is still a celebration of you. Today is the day that my wife was born. Knowing that she loves to read and is a huge fan of the Twilight series, I decided to make her a replica cake of the New Moon book.

Here is the cover:


Here is the cake that I made. I found it great that this chapter was named "Cult." I have not read any of the books, but I have seen the first movie and know all the hype that surrounds these books. I am not about to give my opinion on the books in this blog, but I do think that they are great for improving book consumption in a technologically addicted age.



The gum paste orchid did not turn out exactly the way that I wanted it to, but you get the idea.



A large part of the fun in making cakes for people is that they are one of a kind. My mom always made us wonderful cakes when we were growing up and we thought that we were the coolest kids on the block. Cakes are able to not only convey a message about the person they are for, but also can bring so much joy and delight to a party. A great cake is one that not only looks great, but that tastes even better. The red velvet that is hidden under this cream cheese frosting is, well, to die for! (Pun intended for this book!)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Food Phobias


On Monday I decided to make some guacamole for lunch. As I was dicing up the green goodness of the ripe hass avocados a wave of sadness swept over me. How many years of my life did I have to live without guac simply because I was afraid of the bright colored dip? The first time that I encountered this yummy Mexican treat was in Juarez Mexico during the summer of 2003. There is no real explanation for while I had such an aversion to quac, but I think that I was simply afraid of the color. Who eats things that are that color? The first taste was a trace of the dip on a chip. I was shocked at the creamy goodness that delighted my taste buds. It was salty, creamy, a bit spicy, and fantastic all over the place. From the first bite I was hooked and have lived the rest of my life regretting my decisions to give into my phobia of oddly colored food.

The other major food that I have discriminated against throughout my life as a result of my fungus phobia is mushrooms. I was the kid who would mine for the itty bitty pieces of mushroom in any dish and discard them as if they were land minds awaiting the destruction of my palate. Beef stroganhof? NEVER! As I have matured in my late twenties I have discovered what a treat these multifaceted decomposers are. They come in so many shapes and sizes that make the culinary possibilities endless. I will eat them on about anything now. I like them raw sliced paper thin, or simply quartered and sauteed in some olive oil. These little gems can take any ordinary dish and elevated it in a few quick and easy steps, not to mention the fact that they pack an amazing punch of vitamin D. This vitamin that we so often associate with the sun abounds within the walls of mushrooms. Mushrooms are the second most potent food for this essential vitamin. So skip that 15 minutes in the sun and eat some more shrooms!

I have had other food phobias as well that I have overcome and am disappointed about how much I missed out on throughout my life. Chilli beans, cheesecake, blue cheese, Gorgonzola cheese, asparagus, squash, the list could keep going. The point of this epiphany is that I know there are food phobias that are hindering your culinary experiences. Sure there are going to be things that you do not enjoy even after trying them, but you have to at least try. Not all of the things that you eat will be your favorite, just as not every book you read will be one that resonates with you. The point is to look beyond your phobias and embrace the delights that await you on the other side of your pearly whites. Try something new and you never know, you might just have a new favorite food.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Culinary Creativity.

Culinary creativity is something that I have always been interested in, since that fateful day in the early 1990's when I decided to add peppermint extract to a $17.00 batch of cookies. I thought it would provide a nice aroma for the cookies, but thought nothing of what it would do to the taste. The cookies were destroyed and I was forced to eat them, with a friend, until they were gone. This past Labor Day, while at my dad's house, I had an idea for a peach dessert. These sliced and sauteed gems were fruit bliss. As I was looking for something sweet in the kitchen yesterday I decided to try the same technique I had implored on the peaches to some Minnesota apples. So this is what I did...

Sliced the apple into seven even slices horizontally with the stem. I then cut out the core that remained in each section. Each slice was dusted with some cinnamon and sugar before being placed onto the hot cast iron that had been brushed with butter.

Once the sugars had began to brown and the apples began to soften I flipped the slices over. As the apples neared the end of their time on the skillet I dump a splash of cider into the pan to soften the apples just a bit more. Once they were evenly browned and nearly soft I removed the slices to a plate and went onto the granola.

I added some more butter to the pan along with some walnuts, old fashioned oats, and brown sugar. I added some cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt to the mix and sauteed it atop the stove for a few minutes until it began to brown. I again added a splash of cider to the pan to loosen up some of the bits off of the cast iron and provide a bit more flavor to the granola.

To finish off this dessert I stacked three of the slices on the plate and filled the center with the granola mixture. I then added the top four slices and filled it with yogurt and granola. This flavor bomb was finished off with a dusting of cinnamon and enjoyed with a fork and a knife! What a treat on a cool fall day!

Give it a try!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Parental Double Standard


This past weekend was the "gun" deer opener here in Minnesota. Although I did not go hunting myself, I know a number of people who loaded their camo, doe urine, ammo, and various firearms into their manly vehicles and headed out to their favorite hunting spots. I was not one of these men, but in fact had the privilege of staying at home with my two wonderful children so that my wife could have a weekend away at a mothers retreat. As I was outside with my kids I was questioned about, "how things were going with Nikki being gone?" This was not the first time that I have been at home multiple days with the kids and will certainly not be the last. However, it did motivate me to write this post to all those men who are unwilling to stay at home with their kids alone or simply see it as their God given rite to simply leave on a man trip while their wives stay at home time and time again.

I am aware of the number of stay at home dads there are today, but this number pales in comparison to the number of stay at home moms. Men are equally as capable and need to be equally as responsible for the rearing of their children. The break that men can give their wives through time away cannot only act as a refreshing boost to their parenting, but can pay dividends to your future plans for your next "man trip." Since when is the wife/mother to be handcuffed to the home or the children? We all need breaks from our children and our day to day duties. Staying at home with your kids for a weekend or even a week may provided you with some extra stress, but will also provide you with countless memories. The joy found through time that I spend one-on-one with my kids is something that I cannot purchase in any store or find in a tree stand. So fellas, ask your wife when she would like to find a weekend away and help her make it happen. Clear your calendar and fill it up with daddy time. Forget about the game you might miss or the poker game that might go on without you. Enjoy those kids and bless your wife with an escape that does not require your in-laws watching the kids. (That is a different post all together.) You will not regret it and you will survive it!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Farewell Milwaukee has arrived

Last night I had the pleasure of taking in the Farewell Milwaukee show down at the Fineline in Minneapolis. This five member band brings raw emotion and passion to the stage as they seek to do more than simply entertain those in attendance. Their smooth and relaxed folky sound draws you in and their rockish tunes keep you wanting more. Although the band harkens the name of a Wisconsin city, this group of bearded men's heart is here in Minneapolis. Having started playing together as a worship band, the bond these guys share is clear through their music and interaction with one another. Even with some sound difficulties the band brought it last night to the excited Fineline crowd last night. With the recent release of their debut album, the radio waves will certainly be full of the addictive sounds of Farewell Milwaukee in no time. If you have been looking for some new music that you can connect with and will entertain while moving you, Farewell Milwaukee is the up and coming band that you have been looking for. You can listen to these guys while drinking a cup of coffee in the morning, a glass of wine in the evening, or while at your next house party. Trust me, once you listen to one of their tracks on their website you will be hooked.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Running Refuge

I just finished reading an article in my most recent Runners World on a woman who found solace in running after losing a dear family member. She described the pain she felt while running through her grief, and the joy that she found in embracing that physical pain. When we feel anything, we know we are still alive. This article brought back a lot of emotions for me and even caused a few tears to roll down my cheeks. You see the night of my wife's grandfather's death I ran. I did not have a grandfather growing up and Grandpa Bob had become the grandpa I always wanted. I had always found refuge in my running and cannot count the number of times that I have been overcome by one emotion or another while logging some miles. Tears, laughter, anger, and confusion all have joined me along my running journey.

That dark, cool, wet night in August I was exhausted both mentally and physically. I thought I didn't have another tear in my body to shed. Vacation was awaiting me with the rising of the sun, but that night I had to run. I had to get out and move. I had to enter into the solace of a run where the movement of my body can bring some resemblance of focus. Silence surrounded me as I moved quietly along the lake. Crunch, skid...crunch, skid...crunch, skid went each of my footfalls on the gravel that lined the old highway. As I turned the corner and headed for the library I felt like I could have just kept running. I could have ran through the night and into my vacation. Grandpa Bob and I were together along that dimly lit street talking about the garden, fishing, hunting, the times we have spent together, the battle that just took his physical life. My breathing was relaxed and an afterthought as I was focused on something more important. The heartrate monitor was left at home with a sleeping wife and two sleeping children. This was not about training for Chicago, meeting my weekly mileage or staying in a target heart rate zone. This was about him. This was about us. This was about how much I was going to miss him. Although I wanted to extend my run as far as my legs would take me; I knew that I had to end it. I could not live in this run, but could hold firmly to future meetings along the road. People, memories, emotions await you along your runs. Although you can never predict where they may join you along the way, I can guarantee that they are out there. Running is about more than simply burning calories or achieving goals. It is about life, love, passion, and solace. We live to run because we run to live.

I would love to hear a story that you might have about a walk, run, bike ride, or just a stroll in which you were able to tap into some deep seeded emotions. The burning in our lungs and the ache of our legs assure us that we are alive and must recognize the blessing that is on this day. Run on!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Daylight Savings Dilusion


This past weekend was daylight savings time. I am aware that some states in the country do not participate in this brilliant tradition, but I happen to live in one of the forty-eight that does. It is really quite an amazing phenomenon where you go to bed one night and while you are sleeping you "gain" an hour of sleep. Do you really "gain" an hour of sleep? Can you really "gain" an hour of anything by simply turning your clock back by an hour? Next time you are talking about "gaining" or "losing" an hour in the Fall and Spring you should talk to the parent of a young child. Kids do not understand the whole daylight savings thing. They simply wake up when their bodies tell them to wake up and go to sleep when their parents tell them it is night time. Our two precious little ones awoke on Sunday morning at 6:00 am. Their bodies communicated to them that it was in fact 7:00 am, their typical wake up time. My wife and I had to gently educate them on the fact that it was still "nighttime" even though it looked exactly like it did the day before when it was "morning time!" Kids just cannot wrap their minds around such an obtruse concept. I am not attempting to dig up the history of this madness, just make a few passing comments about how this affects the majority of us who have children.

Sunday night I had the pleasure of working the 3:00 pm to 11:00 pm shift at work. Now I am not complaining about the fact that I missed out on the previous nights overnight shift where Stephen had to work an extra hour. I am however commenting on the fact that the day after daylight savings is always a difficult night to stay up, especially when you have kids. One of my duties at work is to lock up the tennis/soccer complex on campus at dusk. Well since we had rolled our clocks back it was prior to dinner that I had to make this happen. As I locked the gate I thought to myself, "my it sure feels like it is about 9:00 pm." I am really a fan of the extra hour of light in the morning, but the nights can become very long and depressing for those of us who live north of I-90. Since I am a morning person I welcome the extra visibility on my morning runs, but is there something we could do about turning up the thermostat along with the turning on of the lights? Just a thought!

Soon the whole time change will be a thing of the past and we will not even think about it, but in the week that follows it sure can throw your entire biological clock off. Well, just like any other changes that happen in our lives we must adapt, adjust, and just keep moving forward with our lives!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Relax, Halloween can be wholesome and fun!

Today is one of those days that can bring people together and also rip them apart. I personally find Halloween to be a great tradition in our country that provides kids an opportunity to have fun and live a little beyond their norm. I have very fond memories of Halloween and the various characters I was through the years. I do think that my favorite of all time was when my brothers and I were the California Raisins complete with insturments. Our mom went to great lengths to provide us with creative and cheap costumes that were outside of the traditional vein. The most memorable Halloween of all time though took place in the early nineties and will live in infamy among all those who were living in the Upper Midwest at the time. We received the snow storm of the century that night and the entire tri-state area (SD, ND, and MN) was blanket with feet of snow. Schools were canceled for the next day and kids could not have been happier. What is better than spending a night collecting free candy and causing mischief than having the next day off of school! I will never forget hiking through knee deep snow at the high school to get to another group of houses. I was about halfway through one of the practice fields when I decided to hunker down for a break and eat some of the booty I had already obtained from gracious residents of Yankton, SD. Everyone's costumes that year were transformed into Arctic Explorers or Eskimos.

One of the best things about Halloween for me was having two older brothers. We would always get home from trick-or-treating and dump all of our candy out on the floor. I liked to separate all of my candy into groups (candy bars, sugar candy, suckers, garbage). After dividing my wares into piles the trading would begin. The bartering and swapping would last for what seemed like an hour before we finally were told that we needed to go to bed. In addition to dividing and swapping, there was the inevitable toll that we had to pay to our parents. They would always request a few pieces here and there and it was never those nasty black and orange wrapped candy that everyone hated. It had to be the Crunch bars or the Milky Ways. Well I am in that position now where I need to, "make sure the candy is safe" before my kids can eat too much of it. I would hate for them to get sick!

Whatever you believe about the origins and background of Halloween needs to be placed into a little wholesome perspective. It does not matter what the tradition, event, or holiday is there will be people who will openly criticize and critique the quality of it for all people. We have gone from having Halloween and Christmas parties to "Fall Fests" and "Winter Celebrations." Halloween, in large part, is not about the demonic and ghostly traditions that radicals would like to make it out to be. It is about friends and family spending some quality time together. It is about letting loose with your kids and getting dressed up for one day of the year where you can be goofy. The vast majority of our population is afraid to get on a stage and act out a role in a play, but will dress up for one night to "play" someone they are not the other 364 days of the year. Where is the harm in that? Where is the harm in my buddy getting dressed up as an old lady and going to a party where no one knows who he is for the entire night? People need to simply calm down, relax, and enjoy the wholesome fun that can be had on this last day of October. If it makes you feel better to call it something other than Halloween you go right ahead, but that does not change the fun that you can have on a crazy night like tonight.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Midnight Madness


Last night was one of those nights where you wonder how you were able to function when your children were infants. Our kids have been fairly decent sleepers for most of their lives, but in the past month our son and daughter seem to take turns waking up in the middle of the night for one reason or another. Last night it was the fact that our daughter needed her sheets pulled up. After pulling up her sheets and flopping back into bed, she called out requesting that I turn on the bathroom light for her. (The bathroom light shines into their room.) When this request was denied, the waterworks erupted. You would have thought that we had thrown her favorite stuffed animal (Snuffy) out the window. Even though they have a great nightlight in their room, it was not good enough for her. There is a part of the request that is pointed towards wanting some more light, but the majority of it was focused on controlling the situation. She calmed down and fell back asleep, but it through me for a loop. When your sleep is interrupted in the middle of the night, you can never seem to get a quality night of sleep. It is one thing to stumble into the bathroom at 1:47 am to use the facilities, and it is a completely different thing to have to get up and do something that requires brain power. Sure I have had to wake up and change sheets, wipe up vomit, rub a back, and re-tuck in covers, but it never ends good the next morning.

This whole episode last night made me think of a couple of fantastic people that I know and knew who were late night eaters. Uncle Steve wakes up every night around midnight, eats a large snack and then goes right back to bed. Some nights it is a banana smothered in peanut butter, other nights it is all of the pecans off of the top of his mother-in-laws pecan pie. He doesn't discriminate against food. Our old neighbor was known to wake up in the middle of the night and wolf down a large bowl of ice cream. How does one wake up in the middle of the night, eat something, and then just fall back asleep? I would be dead if I woke up in the middle of the night every night to eat something. I have a hard time eating something after about 9:00 pm. Plus, are your tastebuds really functioning at their maximum capacity in the middle of the night?

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Bar

Yesterday was my daughter's fifth birthday. I love to decorate cakes and always ask the kids what they want for their birthday. This year Mattie asked for a Deedee Doodle birthday cake. The majority of this requests was generated from her thumbing through the cake books at Target and the local grocery store. Every time that we are purchasing lunch meat from the deli, the kids love to run over and look at all the airbrushed cakes that are compiled in a binder at the bakery. I am not an airbrusher, but knew that I could grant her request for the Doodlebops cake. As I began to plan for this cake I made some initial sketches and evaluated whether or not I was going to be able to pull off this new feat.

Whenever I make another cake, I attempt to make it bigger and better than the one before it. In August I tried my hand at constructing a cake that had a skeleton. The high heeled shoe that I made turned out very well, but not exactly the way that I wanted it to, due to the materials I used for the skeleton of the shoe. I was not going to make that same mistake with this cake. Everything came together quite well, until about 11:30 pm on Saturday night when I was tired and getting frustrated with the mediums that I was using. The cake was not looking like the prototype did in my head. After sleeping on it, I awoke Sunday morning feeling much better about the cake and what I was attempting. Mattie was thrilled with her cake and I was mostly pleased with the end product.


A friend posed an interesting question for me though: If you have set the bar here for her fifth birthday, what will you need to be making when she turns sixteen? I have never stopped to think about that, nor have I ever lived my life wondering about how high I am setting the bar. I want to put forth my best effort in the present and will worry about how high the bar is when I get to that time. I think that when we choose to do less than we can, in order to preserve our best for later, we are doing ourselves and others a disservice. I have never put forth a mediocre effort on Monday, so that my boss is impressed when I am working at full capacity on Friday. In my opinion, when we do our best today, our best tomorrow will be even better. I do not know what my daughter will ask for her sixteenth birthday cake, but I know that I will be up for the challenge when I get there. The hard and fast reality is that day will be here before I know it, and that is scary!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Welcome to the future


There is a newer Country song by Brad Paisley entitled, "Welcome to the Future." It is a great song that talks about how far we have come with technology in the last sixty plus years. Today at work I am having some serious "welcome to the future" moments. My grandfather and then my father owned a car dealership back in the 1970's and early 80's so I have been familiar with that new car smell. The new Hybrid Prius that I am driving, while at work, makes those "new" cars look archaic. First off this vehicle is a hybrid. If you would have told me fifteen years ago that I would be driving a car that was propelled by mostly battery power I would have said you were crazy. Beyond the battery, you do not need a key to lock or unlock the doors, or start it for that matter. Every thing is done through a simple touch. Oh, did I mention that I am typing this post from the passenger seat of this vehicle. Laptops used to be a thing of the future and now people are carrying them around in their pockets. When I graduated from college ten years ago very few people had email accounts that they used at libraries, let alone blogs they would update through a wireless card. Speaking of wireless, this vehicle is equipped with voice activated bluetooth. I know you have seen the commercials with all the voice activation stuff, but using it is another thing. F-A-B-U-L-O-U-S! Sure this care if great. It is brand new and has all the bells and whistles, but in another year it will be just another car. Although it will end up being just another car, the technological advances are still mind blowing. Where are we going to be in another 5, 10, 25 years? What will my kids be driving when they are thirty-five. I am not about to jump on the hover board craze with Marty McFly, but I am know that wherever technology is then is going to be amazing. What blows your mind about technology in your life?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Language Learning


In order to qualify myself for admission into a few key doctoral programs I am required to take Greek and Hebrew. I have taken foreign languages in the past. English...check! German...check! Spanish...check! Greek...check! Hebrew...NOPE! So here I am in this bonus year of Seminary trying to take Greek and Hebrew at the same time with the option of taking German in the Spring. It is great to tell fellow seminarians that I am taking both Greek and Hebrew at the same time because most of them about keel over. I, on the other hand, have found it quite interesting. The best part about taking them at the same time is that they are taught completely different. My Greek teacher is old school and beats us over the head with drilling paradigms and mastering flashcards. "Know it COLD!" he says. Dr. Vogt, on the other hand, is loose and fun. He has adopted the conversational method of teaching Hebrew and has a ball with it. I look forward to going to Hebrew because it is like participating in an improv drama game that is full of laughter, confusion, and self discovery. Instead of making flashcards with foreign characters on them we are looking at goofy pictures and listening to audio. It is a mini exercise in hermeneutics. The best part is that I am learning. I am learning not only words, but phrases and full sentences. Learning a language can be fun! When I begin to discouraged I have to step back and think to myself, "Self...you are in the same place your kids were and are." This is not something that I have been doing for twenty-nine years of my life. This is BRAND NEW! Last year at this time I was trying to learn new English words in order to rock on the GRE. I spent hours a day drilling words that normal people have never heard and will never use in their life, but I needed to know them for some ridiculous standardized test that has become the measuring stick for graduate studies. Learning new languages and new words is something that makes my brain hurt, but invigorates my soul. I listen to my daughter attempt to form Spanish words on a regular basis. She has extremely limited exposure to the Spanish language, but she tries. That is all we can do, try. We try, try, and try again! The key to anything new in our lives is about the determination that it takes to maintain the journey when it becomes difficult. I do not think that anyone needs to rush out and study Hebrew or Greek, in particular, but I think that we would all do well to learn a new word or phrase each and every day of our lives. Our world is becoming more global by the minute and we should not assume the egotistical position that, "all must learn English." You can have fun and make the lives of others better by simply trying to learn even a few words and phrases of another language. Trust me, you will not regret the decision to step out and try something new. Remember though, you did not enter this world speaking full English sentences. Shoot, some people at forty years of age still struggle to formulate sentences in English that make sense. Go for it!

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Ultimate Food

Blueberries, salmon, accai berries, and nuts are all categorized as super foods. Bananas, onions, and garlic are all foods that I have deemed as invaders. The ultimate food though, is bacon! I know, I know, some people are thinking that bacon is unhealthy and should be removed from everyone's diet. Hear me out on this hypothesis. Bacon is a food that can stand alone as the best piece of your meal, or meld into a meal to take it to the next level. Bacon is great for breakfast, lunch, dinner, a snack, or even in dessert. Bacon takes any salad that it is added to and ratchets it up a few notches. Take an already exceptional food like filet mignon. Sure it is already on the top shelf of your dinner menu by itself; wrap it in bacon and you have a feature item. Little smokies, fabulous by themselves, exceptional when wrapped in bacon. Green beans straight out of the garden will knock your socks off, but add a little bacon to the equation and your taste buds are in heaven. What is a BLT without the bacon? Who is going to eat a lettuce and tomato sandwich on toast? You add some bacon and anyone will wrap their mitts around that. Any average hamburger can become great when you add a couple slices of thick cut bacon to the top. These thoughts came to me over the weekend when I was making our first batch of chilli for the fall. Chilli is something that is really hard to screw up, but when you fry up some bacon to start things off you absolutely cannot go wrong. The bacon grease provides a smokey atmosphere to saute up your onion, garlic, and tomatoes that cannot be duplicated by any other food. Sure some would argue that it is just all the fat the bacon brings to the dish. Not so fast my friend. Butter is fat, but does not pack near the taste sensation that good bacon does. Think about it, have the Canadians tried to develop their own, "Canadian butter?" I don't think so. Bacon is so good that everyone wants to be known in the same culinary sphere. Next time you are thinking about how you can make your dish better, just add a little bacon. Go ahead, sprinkle some bacon on the top of that sundae for a savory experience. You will not be let down.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Art Imitating Life

I know that Oscar Wilde said the exact opposite, but I am not fully convinced of the great Wilde's belief. Last night my wife and I finally had the opportunity to sit down and watch "The Soloist" with Robert Downey Jr. and Jamie Foxx. Since we have two children we do not always get to see current films in the theater, but that is a different discussion and a different post! This film is about so much more than the development of a relationship between two strangers, or even the journey of self discovery for a popular and edgy L.A. Times columnist. It is about uncovering the dark reality of mental illness and its affects on America's social outcasts through the life of an extremely gifted African American chelist. Since I am aware that some who made read this have not seen the film I will refrain from giving a detailed review of the movie. The motivation for this posting is the reality that is facing our country on and off the streets of all towns and cities in our country and world. The study and treatment of mental illness has come leaps and bounds from where it used to be, but this does not mean we have come far enough. Celebrities have brought the spotlight to things like breast cancer, pancreatic cancer, ALS, spinal chord injuries, and even AIDS. However, mental illness is still something that is largely ignored and chastised in our culture. You do not become famous when you have a mental illness. You do not rarely become the most successful or greatest in your field when you are gripped by bipolar disorder or pschysofrenia.

Too often people believe that the only reason people are homeless or unemployed is because they are lazy and just do not work hard enough. A dear friend of mine exposed this myth to me while working on a research project in college. He traced the root cause of homelessness and unemployment in individuals and discovered that mental illness often has a large impact on people's living and employment situations. This same friend has gone on to obtain his masters in counseling and is helping people who are often in this exact situation. His clients often have a hard time doing the most basic things in the day. Obviously, he cannot tell me the details of his clients situations, but I know that some of them deal with more in a day than I will deal with in a lifetime. The human mind is an incredible thing. A minor chemical imbalance can change everything about how an individual sees the world. People who joke about the voices in their head have absolutely no idea the agony that this brings to countless people in this world. Steve Lopez's book, and subsequent movie, flipped the spotlight on this issue in L.A. and will not allow people to bury their heads in the sand on this topic. The people who lay their heads on the park benches and concrete of our cities are sons and daughters just like you. They often have not chosen their position in life and cannot do anything about the chemical makeup of their brain. Sure certain medications and therapy can help these people live moderately normal lives, but this does not put a roof over their heads, nor does it allow them to build life enriching relationships. These people need advocates. They need listeners. They need US!

Recently I have been frustrated about my job and rejection from the doctoral programs that I applied to last fall. I have been feeling sorry for the fact that I have to wait a whole other year to attempt to get into a program that I might not even get into. I have been wondering why I am working a job that seemingly is making no difference in the world. Shame on me! There are people struggling every day to simply make it through the day. I need to stop thinking that the problems that I am facing are the biggest problems in the world and require me to stress about. I need to start making a real difference in the world. I need to start looking out for those who need someone to simply listen to them and be their friend. Steve Lopez was not guided by any sort of religious conviction; he simply was drawn in by the story of another human being. We as the Church are called by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ to serve as the hands and feet of God. We do not need a passport to care for others. Mental illness is not something that is going to go away. People need us to not find them the next best medication, but to simply find them. To be listen to them. To simply be with them. Life may imitate art, but I think when art imitates life we are able to understand the real life changing stories in our world that are happening right under our noses.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Running with your head


It has been almost a week since I ran the 2009 Chicago marathon. If you look back through my blog, you will find my posting about running the Twin Cities marathon last fall. Chicago could not have been any more different. After completing three marathons, I decided to take a different approach to my fourth. I invested some money in a trainer, and chose a new running program in an effort to get myself under the four hour mark. Last Sunday in Chicago it ALL paid off. The key to my run was not the shoes I had on, or even the running plan that I had tried to remain faithful to; it was my strategy for the race. I have heard people talk about running the first ten miles of the marathon with your head, but could never really understand why. How am I really going to make or break the race in the first ten miles? The proof was in the splitting. I took my goal time for the race and cut it in half. I told myself that I was going to run the first half of the race as if it were a separate race. Each of the first thirteen miles were focused on getting me to the 13.1 mile mark at 1:55. I knew that if I was at this pace come the halfway mark, I would be in a position to finish in under the 3:50 mark. I did not need to be under that mark, but knew I could not be much over it. The race began with the chaos of 40,000 individuals attempting to navigate the streets of the Windy City at a rapid pace. As the first miles progressed I knew that I was sitting in a good spot. Shortly after getting back into the downtown area, I crossed the key threshold at 1:54 and change. It was if I had just one my race, even though I was only half done. You see, last year at the TC marathon I hit the half marathon mark at 1:49 and knew that I was in WAY over my head. I spent the next 13.1 miles just trying not to keel over. This Sunday was different. My head had overcome my ego and I was right where I wanted to be. My back straightened, my shoulders rolled back, and I had a new lease on this thing they call the marathon. As a result of this wise running I was able to revaluate my pace at each of the next 5K markers all the way to the end. The final shot in the arm that I received that propelled me to the finish under my goal time was having my wife run alongside of me for what seemed like nearly a mile with only two miles to go. She had conquered her own Everest for the day and was still able to knock off some strides with me. Oh, and I cannot forget Jimmy trying to join me at the 25th mile. I have never wanted to outrun someone so bad. My tank was nearly empty, but I knew I could not let this guy run me into the ground. Instead of dragging my lifeless body across the finish; I was able to log an 8:30 mile at the end of the race and still be smiling at the finish. Running is about so much more than shoes, gear, and fartleks! It is about using your head and your heart to get yourself to a particular goal. You all can do it. You just need to clue your mind in on this reality so that it can pass that on to your body!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Crossing Seasonal Lines


I am amazed every year when I first see the Christmas items in the store. I realize that America is capitalistic and consumer driven, but we really need to establish some boundaries for seasons. Of course there are specialty stores where you can by a hand carved Santa in June or a clay Easter Bunny in August, but the "Big Box" stores need to chill out. Sure we have had our first snow in Minnesota and it we are not even halfway through October, but this does not mean that winter or Christmas are anywhere close to being here. I have never been a big Halloween decorator and don't really get geeked up to decorate for Turkey Day. However, I think I might need to start in order to fend off the Christmas addicts. Mary was barely into her third trimester at this point and could not have given birth to a healthy baby Jesus in October. Also, why are we putting seasonal food items on the shelves well in advance of their optimum consumption time period? I have not even tasted a piece of candy corn or one of those maple candies that come wrapped in that nasty black and orange wax paper. Can I not enjoy a few pumpkin pie blizzards before jumping into the egg nog? Solomon let us know that there is a season for everything. We need to just calm down, reach for the spiced apple cider and gaze at the fall beauty. Sure Christmas is coming. It always does. This does not mean that we need to start planning for it now. Is the garland that you bought in 1984 not still going to get you in the Christmas spirit after Thanksgiving. That is what I said, AFTER THANKSGIVING. May I suggest adding some boundaries to your seasonal consumption in order to get the most out of what each celebration has to offer. No pumpkin before October 1. No roasted turkey until at least November 1. Keep the jellied cranberries sealed up until after the middle of the month. Absolutely no egg nog until Black Friday. Leave the peppermint stick ice cream in the freezer, AT THE STORE, until you are ready to start baking Christmas cookies. No baking Christmas cookies until the Thanksgiving leftovers are gone. No jelly beans until Ash Wednesday. I could keep going, but I fear I could be hunted down for some of these comments. Please, do yourself, and the rest of us a favor. Savor each season. We are not going to run short on fruit cake or hot toddies. Grab a caramel apple and think of how you can enjoy this month. You will be much happier if you do.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Total Emersion


I have spent two of the last three days at the pool with my two wondeful children. On Tuesday I hopped into the pool and was welcomed by the inevitable chill that all pool entrants receive. Any time that one enters a body of water, be it a bath tub, hot tub, lake, or swimming pool there is always some adjustment period. Our YMCA is always bustling with kids during the day and this means that there is not a moment in the pool where someone is not getting splashed. After the first three splashes that had me clinching my fists and attempting to dodge every molecule of H2O, I came to realize that I had to simply emerse myself in the pool to truly enjoy the swimming experience. Doesn't it always seem that we are far more annoyed at things like splashes and squirt gun blasts when we are attempting to stay dry? Are you seriously going to load up the oversized pool bag, slip on the suit, even enter the pool only to be annoyed by the splashing? Why did you come to the summer cement oasis if not to get wet? Once you have submerged your body in the drink, even if it is only 90%, your experience goes from annoying to splendid. The more I have thought about this pool problem the more I have come to realize that there are numerous activities in our lives that we need to take the same philopsophy.

Last fall while running the Twin Cities marathon I began by attempting to avoid all puddle and pot holes so that my shoes would stay dry. Well, once the skies opened up and the deluge began, I embraced the heaveny showers and was able to enjoy what they had to offer. Playing on the beach one can attempt to stay sand free, but be annoyed. I say embrace the sand and take your beach bash to a new level. Think about eating ribs. If you want to eat ribs and have clean fingers, you need to choose something else off the menu. In the same way, I think that people who attempt to live the Christian life part way, are going to always be frustrated. Once you choose to dip a toe in the Christian life, you need to go all the way to fully experience the abundant life that Christ has planned for us. Those Christians who are only willing to get their shorts wet will live a life of annoyance and frustration as they try to avoid the uncomfortable splashes that WILL come their way. Dive in, get wet, live life! Stop living your life halfway. When you choose to go, go all in. The best life that is waiting for you is one that involves total emersion!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

My Buttons


I like to think that I am a very low key, calm, patient, and reserved individual. There are not too many things that get me going and ruffle my feathers. The last two years the family and I have headed to northern Wisconsin for some camping and berry picking with our good friends. This weekend has become a highlight of my summer and this year was no different, but we had to modify our weekend slightly due to some other plans we had on our usual berry fest dates. So the wife and I decide to bring two of our nephews with us in order to free up their parents to join us a day late at our already established camp. Things seemed to begin to unravel as we departed an hour later than our desired departure time, but I was hopeful. The construction that stopped us on the interstate added to the future derailment of my mental train. When we stopped in Duluth to enjoy some pizza at the park it was coupled with a Baby Ruth in Wyatt's Handy Manny drawers to further aid in the eventual train wreck. The wheels really fell off though when we drove through three different campgrounds that were ALL full! We have NEVER had a problem finding a campsite in Bayfield, let alone the twenty mile radius around Bayfield. After we drove twenty minutes down some gravel to a National Forest Campground to find NO VACANCY, I was mentally off the track and in a pile of burning rubbish! We ended our night at a roach motel in Ashland Wisconsin where the guy behind the desk had to be awoken by the doorbell and needed a couple minutes to button his shirt before checking us in. The blankets were not even pulled off the beds. So there is button #1 of mine that results in toxic melt down: "No place to stay on vacation and having to spend money on a roach motel when it was not planned."

The second button was pushed on I-35 south near Rush Lake Minnesota. When traffic that is supposed to be going 70 mph grinds to a screeching halt four miles before the actual construction my blood begins to simmer. Boiling takes place thirty minutes after we have been stopped and have moved about two miles. Why are their no detour options? Why did I not get off on the last exit that was just before the parking lot that is the interstate? We left early because we had to get to the airport to pick up a friend I hadn't seen in over two years. The worst part of it all was that we had sent our food with friends because the car was too packed and we didn't think we would need the food in the car. I was irate and wanted to drive through the ditch and be anywhere but on the southbound side of I-35.

So there it is, two of my buttons that were pushed this weekend and sent me over the edge. It was not a pretty site, but it was reality. Just a little full disclosure on my end!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Really, you like this?

So I am currently enjoying some time in Ames Iowa at my mom's house. As we crossed the border into Iowa, and chuckled at "Fields of Opportunities," we began to feel the oppression of the heat and humidity. The Land of 10,000 Lakes has been exceptional for weather all summer and devoid of humidity. What is better than 72, sunny, and a light breeze? You wake up and slip on a sweatshirt to only transition into shorts and a t-shirt after lunch for the most glorious of all weather experiences. It has been San Diego without the millions of people. I have lived in southern Missouri, eastern and western South Dakota, and southern New Mexico, but cannot seem to get used to this sticky mess we call humidity. (It could be referred to as the "insta-sweat" if that is more up your alley.) How can people actually like this garbage? Do you get excited when the forecast calls for higher humidity? If so, you have some DSI's! (Decent Sized Issues) There is nothing like a low 70's degree day with no humidity and a light breeze. It is prefect to do anything and everything on one of these days. You can sit outside and enjoy a perfect picnic or light walk without sweating through your Degree, body spray, and two t-shirts. Today has reaffirmed my dislike for the humidity and made me wonder how one can really "enjoy" high humidity. If you do I would like to know why and what screw is loose!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Planting vs. Gardening


I just spent some time sweating up in my garden attempting to remove all the unwanted plants that have crept into my plots. It only takes a few days for small weeds to become large weeds and take over the plants that I am seeking to cultivate. As I looked around our community garden at the other plots that people have I was struck by the difference between planting and gardening and the connection between gardening and the Christian life. Everyone in the spring becomes zealous about planting vegetables and seeing the fruits of their labor. People sift through the freshly tilled soil to rid their space of all weeds and seeds so that they will only have the plants that they desire growing in their oversized rectangle. The six packs and 3 1/2 inch pots are easily selected off of the greenhouse shelves and seem to slide into the dirt with ease. The peas and beans fall perfectly into place as one invisions what their mini-farm will look like come July. The sprinkler feels light and playful in one's hand as they moisten their young plants and seeds while the air is still fresh and the rain is in ample supply.

All of this seems to change as the summer schedule becomes hectic and the mercury rises outdoors. As the weekend approaches you have to choose between the lake and the weeds, and the lake always wins. After a long day of work you can head to the grill or up to the garden where immature weeds are doign their best to suck up your gardens nutrients and water. Once you return from a week of summer vacation you realize that some of your seeds have not come up, a few plants have been eaten by bugs, varments, or deer, and you can hardly see your tomato cages through the thick cover of weeds. Now it is decision time! Do I give up on the garden and call it a loss, or attack the neglected space like a hungry teenager on a cheese pizza? Your veggies want to produce and will bless your table with a bounty of goodness as long as you put in the time and effort.

In the same way that there is a large difference between planting and gardening, living a life for Christ is markedly different than accepting Christ as one's Lord and Savior. So many Christians are only concerened about "praying the prayer" or the four Spiritual laws, and not on a living faith that is difficult and messy. It is easy to walk down the aisle and affirm that you are in fact a sinner, but it is entirely different to live a life in Christ. There are certain weeds in your personal garden that require you to put on the leather gloves to uproot. Your spiritual journey requires daily watering, fertilizer, and lots of weeding. Just because I think that I have ridded my garden of all the visible weeds does not mean that the garden is actually weed free. Those thistles that you think you have pulled may have left some roots in the ground that will fester and develop over the next few weeks or months. If you desire to produce maximum fruit you must be watering, weeding, and tending to the garden of your life. Don't just plant seeds along your spiritual journey, but really dig in and get good at gardening your heart and soul. You will not be dissapointed.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Cold Sheets

Why is it that somethings are so enjoyable one time of year and irritating others? The other night I crawled into bed with cold sheets and was giddy! I love to crawl into a cold bed during the summer and feel that brief chill before drifting off to sleep. The great irony is that in four months I will be changing out the plain cotton sheets for a cozy flannel that will never provide the icy evening shock. The seasons in Minnesota provide you with so many joys that you only are able to fully cherish when you do not have them for months at a time. When we used to live in New Mexico it was always sunny and warm with rarely a chance of rain. This seems to dull one's senses and appreciation for the little things in life. If we had access to egg nog all year we would not look forward to that first day in November when we do a double take in the dairy isle to discover that creamy carton of bliss. If pumpkin pie were always on the dessert menu the post Turkey day delight wouldn't demand the reverence that it does. Why is it that people are so obsessed with Girl Scout cookies, the NFL, and Shamrock shakes? They are only around for a short time every year. I purpose that we look at limiting more items in our life to particular seasons so that we enjoy them more. Those cold sheets become unrecognizable when they are at your toe tips every night!

Friday, July 17, 2009

One Way




Yesterday I had to spend some time in downtown St. Paul with my beautiful wife and two adorable children. As we were attempting to find the building we were headed to I had an epiphany...I despise "one way" streets. The first time that I really encountered the labyrinth that is one way streets was in downtown Lincoln Nebraska. My older brother and I were attempting to find the state capitol of Nebraska and ended up driving the wrong way down a one way! This was quite an experience and has left me scared for life. Yesterdays experience reopened my one way wound and caused by blood pressure to rise. What is the value of the one way? Why can down towns not have streets like the vast majority of streets in the U.S.? I ended up having to drive an extra 4-6 blocks because of the inability to simply turn around on the street I was driving.

Once I successfully navigated the web of one ways I encountered the second thing that I despise in a downtown area, parking meters! When you are not used to using parking meters you never seem to have the change that you need to cover the meter. Since we did not know how long we were going to be in this particular space we were at the mercy of the change in my wife's purse. Why is it the amount of change that you place in the meter is never enough and you have to come back and the most inopportune time? There we were with only five dollar bills and no change machine insight. It is the only time that I have been glad that 20oz. sodas now cost $1.50. The soda machine allowed me to put in a five and get out $3.50 in quarters. It saved me a ticket and reduce the ache in my head, even if it was only slightly.

I am certain that hell will be paved with one way streets and parking meters!

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Blog in my Head

I have spent a lot of time working by myslef throughout my life. Whether I have been mowing someone's lawn, working in a camp office, or acting as a campus security guy I always find myself working alone. In addition, the amount of time that I have logged running down the road has resulted in more than enough time to ponder life's questions. I started this blog as a way to get some of those thoughts out, but have found it hard to sit down and type on a regular basis. It is not that I have not had anything to say, or even thought to myself, "This would make a great blog post."

I wonder how many people who have blogs don't post all the blog ideas that they come across? This past weekend was the celebration of our countries independence, which brought on more ideas to blog about. Why do we spend so much money on things that we blow up or burn down? How much money is spent by communities and cities across the country on fireworks displays? What could we have done with the money that was "blown" on fireworks to aid those who are suffering financially in this soft economy? Antoher topic that came to mind was the outrageous cost at movie theaters. How can movie theaters get away with charging what they do for popcorn and soda? What will be the top end cost of going to the movies?

Some other ideas that I have overlooked have been: guided fishing trips, gardening, the relation between weeds in your garden and weeds in my life, death and dying, saying goodbye, eternity vs. human life, weight loss and self control, and many more. I am attempting to find a way to make this a more regular practice, but who knows. How does one become a "professional blogger?" What do I need to say on a daily basis to get people interseted in my blog so that I can be payed for ads? All of these thoughts that swirl around in my head, but never make it out.

Is this the start of something new?

Monday, May 4, 2009

Faith seeking understanding?

This posting is something that has been ruminating in my mind for quite some time. A couple weeks ago a wonderful friend of mine who lives in Plano Texas asked me a pointed question that called for a response that is now becoming a blog post. The question revolves around the balance/bifurcation that takes place in my mind between my theological studies and my spiritual journey and "devotional time." Here is my response to my friend:

These are great questions that continually are tossed around here on campus and I love to engage them. Some people refer to the Seminary as the cemetery. It is the place where you faith goes to die. I think this is ridiculous. Scholasticism and the Enlightenment are not the devil, they have simply been used by the devil! I see my studying as an integral part of my faith journey. For example this paper that I am typing on Acts is highly academic, but is extremely enriching to my faith because it allows me to understand in a deeper way what was taking place during the time of Acts and how the things that Luke wrote about are far larger than one can realize by simply taking the text at face value. I cannot separate the relationship that I have with Christ from my academic study, and in the same way I cannot turn off my academic mind when spending exclusive reflection time with J.C. The symphony sounds the way it does because of all the pieces, not simply because of one dominant part. If you take out the strings you are not going to have the same symphony. The great composers often spoke of the level of worship they felt while composing music. I think of the awe doctors must have when they discover how the body works. They do not have to shut down their relationship with Christ because they are in the lab. I once heard a baseball player say that if Jesus played baseball he is sure that he would have slid as hard into home plate as the next guy; he just would have helped the guy up! I think the church and the academy have ruined people, or at least put them through a lot of turmoil, by teaching that there has to be this separation. It gets back to Luther and the sacred vs. secular dichotomy. Wow, this is getting longer than you were probably expecting.

I am a firm believer in organic and holistic living. There can be no Cartesian dualism. (The belief that the mind and the body are separate entities that can be examined by themselves.) We are whole people who need to be whole and holy. The life that we live in Christ must be one in which the Spirit permeates all the nooks and crannies of our being. Just as I cannot shut off my personality in my writing or studying, I cannot turn off my critical evaluation of the reading that I do. The revelation of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit must be always present as I study things like apriori knowledge and as I sit down to read through Psalms for personal edification.

I just thought this might be helpful to someone who is out there wrestling with the question of faith and higher education. It is more than "faith seeking understanding." It is a difficult situation that many face and need to be validated in their frustrations and feelings. I wold LOVE to hear your thoughts on the topic.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Distorted Images


I sit here at the desk and opine on last weekends trip to Miami. It was about this time that I was chilling in Key West sipping on a Red Stripe (insert "Hooray for Beer!!!" here) at the Hog's Breath! What a wonderful vacation full of sunshine, ocean air, and varrious cultures. I have always wanted to go to Miami. Since I was a wee lad I have been a fan of the Hurricanes and cannot quite tell you why. I can think back to the Hurricanes baseball shirt that I had when I was 6 or 7 and think that it has to trace back to that time frame when the Canes were winning National Championships in football and baseball. Needless to say, the trip was a dream come true for me.
Having spoken with a few people who have been to Miami I was told that it is like stepping into a different country. One person exclaimed that they were glad to get home and hear English being spoken everywhere. I have to say that I can agree with a portion of the South Beach analysis I recieved from others, but not all of it. The afternoon that we arrived at MIA we quickly loaded into the convertible and headed for Key Biscayne. While lounging on the beach we realized that we were certainly in the overwhelming minority. Various languages could be heard throughout the beach. It was FANTASTIC!!! It was as if we had left the States and entered into a tropical land where individuals from various countries flock to bask in the Atlantic sun. This trend continued throughout the weekend and made my wife and I very happy. The culmination of the linguistic experience was Sunday morning when we stumbled upon a phenomenal Argentinian bakery near North Beach. We knew that they must have good food by the crowd that was gathered on the sidewalk in front of the bakery. Immediately upon entering the establishment we knew we had made a great choice. The place was buzzing with all sorts of people, speaking multiple languages, and consuming delightful confections. After making our selections and heading for the beach we were slightly saddened for those who become intimidated or scared by foreign languages. Part of the excitement in traveling is meeting new people and experiencing new cultures. Sure it can be frustrating when communication is more laborious than fluid, but that is the beauty of this thing we call life. When you are in a position where you cannot understand the language that is being spoken you are vulnerable, but in vulnerability there can be found great growth.
I think back on all the great times that we had and the richness that was added to our vacation by the languages and cultures of complete strangers and hope that you will be able to share in a similar experience. I pray that you would not allow the images that others paint for you to distort your understanding of an area, a city, or a people group. The old saying goes, "Don't knock it till you've tried it," and I could not agree more. Intentionally step into another culture and see what excitement might be awaiting you there.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Birthdays


Yesterday I celebrated my twenty-nineth birthday. I have always been a big fan of birthdays and enjoyed remembering when my friend's birthdays are so that I could show them how much they mean to me by giving them a call, or sending them a card. I have been conflicted on the location of my birthday though. Since it is in mid-April it often falls on or very near to Easter. As a child this created problems for planning birthday parties. One year I had a birthday party where only one friend showed up. What is kids birthday party with one friend? On the flip side though, April always means the arrival of Spring and the ability for those in the Upper-Midwest to once again soak in the outdoors without covering every inch of our bodies with insulation.

Ohh the birthday party at Memorial Park with all my friends when someone gave me a foxtail (a ball with a streamer like silk tail that you could throw around) that was stuck in a tree within minutes of it exiting its packaging.

Then there was the infamous dual birthday party at the Yankton Inn where we played Wallyball and one of my best friends was mad at me because I chose to have this joint bash with a different friend whose birthday was also at the same time as mine. This party is brought up every year as we wish each other happy birthday in April.

How about the fourteenth birthday party in Sioux Falls where me and three budies stayed in the Ramkota with my dad and spent the day at the mall causing trouble? This was the year I receieved my first CD walkman. It was an Emerson that took SIX AA batteries and was heavier than an Algebra textbook. My first CD I bought was by Snow, "Informer!" Ahh the refined taste of a 14 year old living in Yankton, SD.

There was also the one where Nikki (my wife now, but girlfriend at the time) blindfolded me and drove me around in circles attempting to confuse me on where we may be going before heading to Yankton to celebrate with some of my family and best friend. This was the year she gave me the malt maker that still produces some killer treats. (And also scrambles eggs like you wouldn't believe.)

Can you tell that I love birthdays? The interesting thing this year was the explosion of birthday wishes I receieved from friends via Facebook. I have been writing down friends and family memebers birthdays on my old fashioned calendar for decades. Facebook eliminates that need for those who subscribe to this networking epidemic. There is no need to write anything down, Facebook pulls your "friends" info off of their profile page and infroms you when exactly their birthday is so that you may send them well wishes. It is fascinating to see the number of people who take the time to look at this and in fact wish you a Happy Birthday. My date of birth has not somehow changed over the past twenty-nine years, but now is broadcasted to the masses so that they may too join in my special day.

The sad thing about my birthday has not been the events that have signified April 18 throughout history, but the day after. So many tragedies have take place on April 19th that it always brings a somber mood the morning after the celebrations. The Branch Davidian invasion, Oklahoma City boming, Columbine shootings....the list goes on and on. Most parents are surprised by the exact day when their child is born, but all people are surprised on the day they die. Celebration and saddness surround the middle of April for me.

So I have 364 days to make the most of my 29th year of life here on this planet. What will I do? How much will my life change? Will we still be talking about the economic crisis as I ring in the big 3-0? I am not sure what this next year has in store for me, but I do know that my Redeemer lives and He will be near me as I journey along this road that we call life. Birthdays are such a beautiful thing that I think can be often overlooked. Take some time to write your friends and family memebers birthdays down and let them know that you celebrate the day they were brough into this world. A birthday wish is a sign of appreciation for the enrichment that person brings to your life and our world.

Thank you all for your birhtday wishes!

P.S. I could have typed a whole other blog about the wonderful cakes that my mom and wife have made me through the years.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Vacillation is a killer



I have entered into a new time in my studies. I have one final quarter here at Seminary and am taking two distance courses and one independent study, therefore I do not have any actual "in class" class time. I have dedicated Thursdays to my day of study where I will concentrate on my three classes, but discovered a challenging protagonist this morning, vacillation. This is not the first time that I have wrestled with this monster. Each morning when my alarm clock makes me aware of my morning run I go toe to toe with this beast. Do I get up and run, or do I keep sleeping? Can I make it through the day if I get up? Can I make it if I don't? "It would do you good to just get some sleep." "Get up you lazy bum and run."

As I sat on my couch this morning I entered the ring of battle. What should I go after first? Which of the three classes is most important? I should go for my run now and get it out of the way. No, I am tired and should just take a quick nap, it is still early (7:15 am) and I have plenty of day. Run first, then school, and nap in the afternoon. Nah, I will just watch some television while I eat and then get on my school work. Nap, run, school. Back and forth you go for minutes and minutes until you have spent an hour bouncing between the tasks for the day and have wasted an hour. I know I am not the only one who engages in this war of the mind on a daily basis and know that it is not a one and done deal.

Tomorrow I will certainly enter the same ring with the bell of my alarm. I think that a list and a plan that is devised the day prior would be a good move to game plan for this ugly antagonist that lurks around every corner. Press on!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Hidden Hope


Cement gray and cold like a cellar.
Drops driven to the ground by an unrelenting wind.
Streams teaming with melt and foam.
Mustard yellow grass and charcoal tinted piles of snow linger.
Naked trees shutter in the absence of the sun.
Spirits yearning for renewal and hope.


Honkers chattering above raise one's eyes upward.
The orchestra of the wild filling the air.
Buds developing beyond our vision.
Turf thawing, yet hidden from our gaze.
Day light lingering more each day.
Tulip buds awaiting their turn.


Death has held it's grip long enough.
Life and new birth are preparing to reign.
Postures will straighten and coats will be shed.
The trees will be clothed in their spring time splendor.
Spring is the best time of the year.
Have hope, don't fret, it will be here before you know it, I bet!

Monday, March 16, 2009

What kind of bunny are you?

Tis the season for all things chocolate. Chocolate bunnies, chocolate eggs, chocolate eggs filled with peanut butter, chocolate eggs full of the rich creamy white and yellow center... You get the idea. Sunday in church I began to think about Easter treats and two types of chocolate bunnies. Some bunnies look perfect on the outside, but when bitten into are nothing but a thin chocolate shell. (I know, I know, insert "Your head has a thick candy shell on it." line here!) The devastation that is felt when you realize that your picture perfect bunny is nothing by a thin layer of chocolate that when melted is the equivalent of three Hershey Kisses. Contrasts these wafer thin disappointments with their decadent, full bodied relatives! Contrast the devastation that accompanies the empty hares with the elation brought about as a result of the dense long eared creatures.

The reason why I began to think about this while sitting in church was because of the sermon that was being given on prayer. Out pastor has been working through the Sermon on the Mount, and this particular sermon focused on how we should pray. Jesus paints a vivid contrast between those who pray to be seen and those who pray to commune with our Father/Mother in Heaven. Many choose to pray when it counts so that they can be seen as somehow more spiritual than their peers, however, Christ condemns this. What good is it to look perfect on the outside, but be hollow to your core? What value is it to offer up elegantly loquacious words in prayer when they are nothing but babel devoid of actual emotion? Jesus teaches that we are to pray in private where we can focus on God and take the time to truly fellowship with Him. It is the things that are done in hidden that make one's relationship with the Lord truly matter. It is the content of the inner person that truly matters, not only in prayer, but in all areas of our lives. God does not desire perfectly shaped cotton tails that are hollow to the core.

So I challenge you this Lenten season to evaluate not only your prayers, but also all areas of your Easter celebration. What type of bunny are you? Are you going through the routine and not really reflecting on what Lent and Easter are truly about? Think about the commitment of Jesus to his prayers in Gethsemane. When you pray this season do it not to be heard, but to truly communicate with our Savior who has given us the sign of Jonah on Easter weekend.

Friday, March 13, 2009

"Beyond the Epic Run"



This past Saturday, as I cracked open the cover of my new Runner's World, I notice an ad for a new film that is coming out this spring entitled "Beyond the Epic Run." I immediately hopped on the imac and hit up their website. I soon discovered that they were going to be having a pre-screening in Minneapolis before the official release, and it was this week! So, last night was that screening.

This film is absolutely phenomenal. It is the story of a Swiss couple who set out to "run the world." Nicole and Serge sold all of their possessions and set out from Switzerland with a Yamaha motorcycle and more grit and determination than anyone you have ever met. Fueled by the desire to raise money for a Swiss charity and the excitement of pushing one's self beyond the limits of human ability, Serge started placing one foot in front of the other in March of 2000. Serge ran while Nicole rode their Yamaha and filmed their amazing adventure.

The couple encounters a myriad of challenges, joys, and sorrows along the 25,000 mile route. They were present in west Africa when the uprising in Sierra Leone was killing hundreds of people every day. They were in Cairo Egypt, among the great pyramids when September 11th went down. Many they encountered in east Asia were lost in the Christmas tsunami a few months after they had tread on the same soil that was devastated by this horrible disaster. The video that the couple shot is masterfully mixed with excerpts from Nicole's journal and interviews from a variety of experts in their particular fields. Malaria, blisters, hunger, depression and many more ailments could not deter this couple from achieving the goal they set our to accomplish.

Rather than giving you a complete recap of the moving and deterring you from getting out to the theater and seeing it for yourself I will simply provide you with some of my thoughts on why this film is a MUST SEE. This film is about far more than an endurance athlete's desire to shatter the ceiling on how far the human body can be pushed. In the midst of dooms day headlines that have people burying their money in their back yards, "Beyond the Epic Run" is a ray of hope that pierces our overcast climate. The love and passion that Serge and Nicole have for one another is not outdone by their desire to help those who are in need. At the core, this film is a love story that will warm your heart and bring a tear to your eye.

Running, like smiling, is a universal language that binds people together without the need for words. As Serge would run through the towns, cities, and villages all over the world he was joined by countless children and men who would run alongside him smiling, laughing, and sweating. Nicole says, "The world is so big when you set out to see it, but so small when you choose to stay at home." The lens of their camera is your eye to see what a wonderful world we live in. The sights, sounds, and smells that make up our world are something that we should all have an opportunity to experience.

We in America sit back and fret about our 401 K's and whether or not we will be able to go on two vacations or three this year, while millions of people who have nothing and are joyous beyond belief. This film will make you re-evaluate what you are doing with your life and resources to affect the rest of the world. Our lives are so short, but can have such an immense impact on those who are hurting and in need. You don't have to run around the world to impact a little piece of the world. Check out "Beyond the Epic Run" and you will not be dissapointed. In fact, I would be willing to wager that it will inspire you to do something that you have wanted to try for a long time. Don't just let life pass you by. Cease each day and make it count. You can do far more than you think you can!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

I'm a sucker...

for kitchen gadgets!




I may have the best stocked kitchen per square foot in Minneapolis. I have enjoyed cooking since the 4th grade and consequently have been amassing kitchen "power tools" and gadgets for a number of years. As a sophomore in college I had a griddle and espresso machine in my dorm room. I have found that the joy of cooking is increased all the more by having the right gadgets and tools. This passed weekend my wife bought me some egg rings that have revolutionized my egg frying. I can fry bacon and eggs in the same pan or on the same griddle without either of them affecting the other. These rings are not complex, but they sure are effective. For all of you who do not like to cook, go out and by a new gadget. Just like those who buy new running shoes to motivate their fitness aspirations, half hearted chefs can jump start their culinary adventures with a simple gadget purchase. Trust me, you won't regret it!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Running with the bulls...

I mean the cars! This is a posting that I have been thinking about for a few weeks now. Whenever it snows here in Minnesota running becomes a real challenge. It is not only challenging because of the reduction in traction, but as a result of the laziness of those who choose not to shovel their sidewalks. The biggest fear that I have while running is that I will be hit by a car. I am sure many of you have been frustrated by runners who seem to be running in the middle of the road. As a runner, I have to say, "RELAX!" Runners are different than bikers in that we are still pedestrians and far more vulnerable than one who sits atop a two wheeled chariot.

How is it that a business can neglect the shoveling of their sidewalk when it is clear that we have received more than a couple inches of snow? Is it not your responsibility to maintain the condition of the sidewalk so that pedestrians have a safe environment to move along? Two weeks ago we received five inches of snow on Friday night. On Monday I plotted out my run so that I would be able to use the sidewalks of business that certainly had ample time to clear their walks. As I turned south on a very busy road I discovered that my assumption was false. The walks for over a half a mile were covered with a combination of deep and packed snow. What is more dangerous, running on the street or trudging on uneven snow that may cause you to break an ankle? I thought the snow was the more dangerous option so I took to the road. Running on the road is nothing new to me, it is just that I do not make a habit of running on extremely busy streets with 45 mph speed limits.

About half of the vehicles that I encounter on the road make a concerted effort to move over so that they do not run the risk of hitting me, but that still leaves a large number of people who act as if they do not see me along the side of the road running straight at them with my LED headlamp shinning through their windshield. To those of you who move over, THANK YOU! For those of you who do not, I often would like to greet you with the third finger on my right hand. To all of you who are too lazy to get out and shovel your walks, either get off of your Lazy-Boys or get out the checkbook and pay some twelve year old kid to clear it for you. You are not only making it difficult for those who are walking/running, but you put their lives at risk.

The next time that you see a runner, or walker, headed towards you and your vehicle, MOVE OVER! Also, please don't stop your vehicles on the cross walk. There are more things that you need to be aware of than if you are clear to go right on red. Just some thoughts.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Retreat



This past weekend I was the speaker at a high school/middle school retreat in northern Minnesota. It was not only an honor to speak with these students about the Kingdom of God, but to have my family there with me for a little time of retreating. I have taken some time to really think about what a "retreat" is and how much all of us needs to take some time to retreat from our daily lives. Shortly after moving into our cabin, Mattie, our four year old, wondered where the T.V. was in our cabin. This struck me as funny at first, but then saddened me upon further reflection. Our we that into T.V. and technology that we notice when it is not there? I think about myself tonight when I was wanting to type this post, and am shocked by how connected we are to our technology. When my internet does not work I am on the verge of flipping out. How is it that we have become so attached to technology? What would happen if we turned off our cell phones, blackberries, lap tops, T.V.s and the like for one week? One day? What would it mean to really retreat from the madness that is the American life?

As the amount of cell phone towers out numbers towns and as wi-fi hotspots pop up on every corner it is harder and harder to remove technology from our lives. People have moved from daily blogs, to mobile status updates to twittering about their every step and thought. Do we really need to know when Lance Armstrong has lunch or what he has for lunch? Do you care that I just wiped up my children's vomit? American evangelicals cry out to hear the voice of God, but will not take the time to unplug the trendy white ear buds to open their auditory receptors. The noise and light pollution that taints our cities has robbed millions of people of the joy and beauty that is found in the starry night sky that can be viewed only in the wilderness. The silence that can be found in the vacant space of undeveloped wilderness is a priceless treasure that all should have the opportunity to experience.

In this Lenten season I have heard a variety of things that people have chosen to refrain from. My challenge to you is not to give up something, but to embrace something. Find time to retreat. You do not have to drive to Trout Lake Camp to have a weekend retreat, but you do need to unplug. Turn off the cell phone, unplug the computer, and refuse to give into the lure of technology for a period. Be intentional about what you are looking for and go get it. "Ask and ye shall receive. Seek and ye shall find." Jesus retreated time and time again while he was here on earth so how much more should we be following his lead? It is hard to hear a voice in a crowded room. Take some time to retreat, recharge, and re-encounter our Savior.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Routines

Routines are something that you take for granted, until you get out of it and simply flounder about in frustration. The irony of my routines is that they are often broken by vacations. A few weeks ago I headed to Vail with my brothers for some skiing and quality time with a friend, but since I have returned my routine has been completely thrown off. The 5:15 am alarm clock is shut off nearly every day in favor of a warm and cozy bed. In addition, my weekly blog postings have been non-existent. You would think that a vacation would be just what the doctor order for a guy who runs himself ragged most weeks, but I want my old routine back. I certainly enjoyed my vacation, but I am frustrated every morning that I cannot peel my corpse off of my featherbed to engage in my morning run. I am not looking for any sympathy from anyone, just wanted to put my thoughts out there so that I can be accountable for my inconsistent routine. I guess there is always tomorrow!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Perspectives


One of the classes that I am taking this quarter is "Epistemology." Many may know what that is immediately, but for those who do not, simply put it is, "how we know what we know." In class we talk about empiricism and the value of experience in forming justified true beliefs, but I want to talk about our personal perspectives and our own understanding of various assertions. Minnesota, like most of the country, is going through another arctic chill that has sent the mercury well below zero. So I have been thinking about how we define cold. This same type of question ruminated in my mind when I lived in Elephant Butte New Mexico many summers ago. So what is cold and what is hot? My friends who live south of the Mason Dixon line cannot even fathom what -25 windchill feels like, yet here I was this morning out running in it and feeling pretty good. On the other hand, there are those who have never experienced 115 degree heat and cannot comprehend what that temperature would feel like. The great thing that I have been pondering over the past couple of weeks is that our understanding of "cold" is able to change depending on our exposure to certain climates. Those living in Hawaii think that 60 degrees requires a sweatshirt, but us Minnesotans are wearing shorts and t-shirts if the thermometer hits 60 in March or April. Our bodies adapt to the temperatures that we are exposed to and change our perspective as we experience extreme temperatures one way or another. Is 15 degrees cold? Absolutely, but does not feel nearly as cold when you have been living with sub-zero temps day after day. This concept has great application in our personal lives and how we understand various sins. The more we are exposed to a compromising situation or activity the more we accept it as normative and worthy of our participation. Our minds ability to centrize various positions and classifications of things that are or are not permissible or acceptable for their participation. What are somethings that we have thought were "bad" or "unacceptable" at one point or another, but as we have been around them more we have loosed the negative classification? Just some thoughts on our perspectives.