Thursday, December 31, 2009

Making Tracks and Traction

Yesterday, I embarked upon my last run of 2009. Nary a cloud in sight, everything was crisp and cold. All of the buildings and trees looked sharpened, like the first time you put on a pair of glasses when you really need them. (Ironically, I had to take my specs off after a block or two, because my scarf-covered face kept fogging them up.)

The pace was little slower than usual, since Minneapolis sidewalks are looking a bit different than they did a month ago. Now, it is a veritable obstacle course: snow boulders, mini-mountains from weeks of plowing, and patches of treacherous ice. Familiar paths, but covered with unfamiliar obstructions. You've got to pay careful attention to your ankles so as not to twist them, but it can be giggle-inducingly fun to navigate such terrain.

One thing that made it fun rather than worrisome were a pair of recently-acquired "Yaktrax", which are these fascinating rubber and spring contraptions that wrap around the treads of regular running shoes, and enable one to run in the winter. Well, particularly with less bruises on the elbows, knees, and bum. My dad couldn't use this pair (they were too small), so he passed them onto his very grateful daughter. This was my first try at running with them, so I headed for the steepest hill I know around our place: Kenwood Parkway. I knew the trek going up from the Walker Art Center would be both lovely and difficult. Lovely and difficult! Sign me up!

The traction provided by these was terrific. On solid ice, I still felt a little slippage coming off my stride, but never enough to feel dangerous. On the mix of ice and snow that has layered onto the footpaths in the city after numerous snowstorms, the treads were ideal. That is probably more than enough "gear talk" for those of you who do not really care about the gadgets and gizmos of my sport of choice. But the experience did get me thinking. (I have often thought that there must be some relationship between jogging and, well, jogging the brain.)

As I crunched my way through the neighborhoods and nearby lake, I was struck by the combination of the familiar and unfamiliar, and the beautiful and the treacherous. I suppose the number of times I've covered the ground between my apartment and Lake of the Isles isn't countless. But it does feel like it sometimes. Yesterday, however, the old routes were made new and pretty. Sometimes, it meant jumping over an ominous combination of snow and gravel, only to feel my foot to touch down and meet a slab of smooth ice hidden beneath the most recent dusting of snow. Needless to say, it was an adventure.

In some sense, when we came back from France this year, we returned to a city that we knew very well. The cherry and the spoon? Still there. Lifelong friends and most of our family? Still here. Music scene, university, restaurants...some cosmetic changes, but nothing really significant. Well, there was that bridge that fell down, but now there's a whole new one anyway.

But in other ways, much of the landscape here has changed. Some of it has gotten truly bizarre. Relationships that we thought to be genuinely warm and affectionate have been covered by snow, bitten by hard frost, taken on the quality of the frigid cold winter. Initially, we came running through jauntily, oblivious to the change in the weather. But we found the slippery stretches soon enough. Now, we ache alongside these who long for reconciliation, who don't understand themselves what has gone wrong, and why this boulder or that can't seemed to be moved for the moment. Tears froze on my cheeks yesterday, as I cried out to the Lord to change melt them.

What is the special sort of traction needed in these situations? Something akin to Yaktrax, but for the soul. The only thing I can think of that works like this is the Word of God. He gives us our firm step, one that can remain both confident and humble when we find ourselves scrambling up sheets of sheer, steep ice, or catches us when one part of our shoe hits on unseen, slick patch.

Who keeps us in life And does not allow our feet to slip. (Psalm 66:9)
He will not allow your foot to slip; He who keeps you will not slumber. (Psalm 121:3)

I imagine that 2010 will bring both familiar and unfamiliar paths for all of us. May you be able to navigate them with the nimblest of feet, outfitted with His never-failing truths!