How I Love Thee, Indoor Treadmill

Top Ten Reasons why running on a treadmill is better than my trainer-friend says:

10) It’s warm.  Actually it’s a little too warm, which can be problematic, but…

9)   I can roll out of bed and onto the treadmill without having to put on 18 layers of moisture-wicking thermal insulation.  This saves both time and laundry.  Win-win!

8)   Springy pavement.  Is it my imagination, or is running on treadmills way easier on your shins?  I am also discovering that I tend to run more on my toes on a treadmill.  No idea why, or if it will last.

7)   Mirrors.  Okay, so this could be a blessing or a curse.  You’re probably supposed to do something constructive like look at your running form, but I prefer to make faces at myself and give thumbs up to all the other runners in the mirror, namely, me.

6)   Fancy gadgets, like heart monitors.  I haven’t actually used the fancy gadgets (I have such a high resting heart rate I’m afraid my running heart rate would probably set off an alarm), but just looking at them makes me feel high tech.

5)   Calorie counter.  Let’s me know how many extra Twinkies I should pack in my lunch.  I need to make a suggestion to the manufacturer, though, that it would be much more motivational to remove the numbers and simply announce things like, “Congratulations, you just earned yourself three slices of pizza and a pint of Ben & Jerry’s!  One more mile, and you also get a chocolate bar!”

4)   Digital timer.  Perfect for tracking my run-walk intervals.  Assuming I’m paying attention, which sometimes I do.

3)   Digital Pedometer.  Seriously, how can you not love the tick, tick, tick as the numbers go by?  And when I reach my distance, the stop button brings everything to an instantaneous halt.  Because really, why take one more step than you have to?

2)   Buttons. Oh, buttons!  Who could ever get bored on a treadmill with so many buttons to push?  My favorite is the speed control. Ha ha ha, look at me, I’m running 10 mph!  (Okay, so that actually didn’t happen, but the point is, it could.)  There’s also the incline button (I pushed that button once.  Won’t do that again.)  And all the fancy program buttons that I’m still too scared to touch because some of the pictograms next to them look like I might get ejected off the back of the treadmill.  If you hear a crash from the fitness center, you’ll know I pushed the wrong one.

1)   My trainer-friend said treadmills are not fun, and every once in a while I have this incontrovertible stubbornness that makes me see for myself just how bad… Wait a minute…  Was this a trick?

Fools think their own way is right, but the wise listen to advice (Proverbs 12:15).

The Day I Discovered the Treadmill

The day I discovered the treadmill was cold and snowy and – did I mention cold?

The story begins something like this: On any given day, I would much rather lament my running incapacity than to do something productive to remedy it.  Every once in a while I do something advisable (recall Exhibit A).  But more often, I do not. (Notice there is only one Exhibit A.)

Secretly, I want to be a runner.  But running is intimidating.  To be a runner you have to – how should I put this?  To be a runner you have to… run.  Regularly.  And regularly is not something I do well.

Then it happened.  In a moment of weakness I succumbed to a friend’s request to come to an informational meeting about a training session she was starting.

“Just come to the meeting,” she said.  “You don’t have to actually join.”

“Will there be punch and cookies?”  I asked.

Unfortunately, I happened to be available the night of the meeting.  And while I didn’t really expect there to be cookies, there was always the chance…

So I went.

That’s all it took.  Which, of course, my trainer-friend knew all along.  Because as any good trainer knows, just getting to the starting line is the hardest part.  What my friend didn’t know is that for the last couple weeks I had been looking for an outlet to blow off the steam of a 10-hour-a-day desk job.  I had been coming up empty.  This is the door God opened.  Sigh.

I signed my form.  I paid my fee.  Okay then, let’s do this thing.

By the day of our first group run, I was pumped.  I had new running shoes and had cobbled together assorted pieces of hiking/exercise clothing that I thought could withstand a foray into this new and exciting world.  Then the run got cancelled.  They do that if it’s less than 0°F.  Wimps.  (Just kidding, trainer-friend!  I don’t actually want to run through snowdrifts at -20°…)

This is where it is either an amazing benefit or a curse to have your trainer also be your friend.  Because just when I was pretty sure I’d be walking my dog instead of going for a run, I got a message.

“I’ll meet you at the treadmill and help you with your run,” she said.

The Treadmill. (It would not be melodramatic to add Dah Dah-Dah music here.)

Up to this point, I had been on a treadmill exactly once in my life: three days prior in the running store where they were taking exotic measurements to match me to the perfect shoes.  I knew nothing about treadmills except that my trainer-friend had recently lamented she would rather eat dinner with rusted silverware than run long distances on a treadmill.  (Of course, her definition of running long distances and my definition of running long distances are a little bit different…)  The fact that she was willing to coerce me onto the treadmill proves that a) she is a good trainer, b) she is a good friend, and c) I was going to run on a treadmill.

In the end, our schedules did not line up, and I ventured to the treadmill solo.  But here’s the thing.  Even though I had walked by the fitness center in my apartment complex hundreds of times, the fact that I had easy access to a treadmill never even entered my mind until my trainer-friend pointedly brought it to my attention.  I had never thought about treadmills before, and so I didn’t think of them now.  The game had changed, but I was still in my old mind-set.

How many times do we start something new but carry with us old patterns of thought?  Sometimes, even when we know something (I had walked by that treadmill hundreds of times!), we still need someone to point it out to us.  Paul exclaims excitedly that the old has passed away and the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17), but this is not always an instantaneous transformation.  Whether we’re talking about a physical run or our spiritual walk, we need the willingness of someone to come alongside us and give us that extra push.  We need one another to try new things, to be challenged, and to grow.  We need one another to lean on, to learn from, to follow and to lead.

God bless the gift of encouragement.

 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.  Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching (Hebrews 10:24-25).

Three Things My Friends Know About Me

If you read these blogs, you know a little about the things I think about, but you probably don’t know a whole lot about ME.  So here’s a post that breaks with my usual content to give you some insider insights.  If you were to ask my friends about some of the quirky things I do, here are three that are likely to come up.

NUMBER 1. I sometimes wear this hat.  I LIKE this hat.  It’s warm and, um, stylish?  I have friends who pretend they don’t know me whenever I wear it.  This does not stop me from wearing it.

Janet with a stringed winter hat

I like this hat even better when the wind is blowing!

NUMBER 2. THIS is one of my all time favorite photo poses.  (I use it… a lot.)

Janet with arms open

Janet with arms open wide

I can’t help it.

Janet with arms open wide

Life is exciting!

Janet with arms open wide

And I’m excited too!

NUMBER 3. Whenever I am someplace new and see water – a waterfall, creek, river, ocean, lake, bog, etc. – I MUST touch it.

Hand in waterfall

I have no idea where this impulse comes from, but I if this is not a practice you share, I highly recommend you start.  Just be careful so you don’t fall in.

touching lake water

Ah, clear cool water.

touchign ocean water

Waves are tricky when you’re trying not to get your feet wet!

touching water in a harbor

If I remember correctly, it was about 7 degrees Farenheit out this day. I just HAD to see how cold the water was. (Very.)

So there you have it.  Three fun facts about me.

And now, back to our regularly scheduled blogging.

Forsake thou not thy friend, and the friend of thy father… (Proverbs 27:10).

Flying Sushi

The other night I went to a sushi restaurant with some friends.  We rode a motorboat across the lake to a giant floating raft that housed the restaurant.  We were ushered into a long rectangular room where we sat on low benches.  Japanese waitresses in colorful flowing gowns walked quietly among the tables filling plates from kettles they carried on towel draped arms.  I looked down the table and realized I didn’t actually know anyone there.  The whole experience suddenly took on a “Hotel California” feel.  And I don’t even like that song.

“What is this?” I asked, pointing to a platter that looked like a halved avocado covered in fish eggs.  They answered, but I couldn’t understand what they were saying.  Not because they were speaking Japanese; that would make sense.  It sounded more like pidgin or Old English or something that was almost comprehensible.  But not quite.  It was at that point that I realized the bench I was sitting on was actually a trapeze.  Yes, a trapeze.  I was hoisted into the air and began careening around the room, smashing my feet into the stucco walls hoping to slow myself down.  Each time I hit, I only seemed to pick up speed.  I hurled back through the crowded tables with people and bowls of food parting before me.  Flakes of stucco cracked off the walls as I rebounded.  (Someone was going to have to completely spackle that room by the time I was done.)  The last thing I remember was the terrified look on some newcomer’s face as I barely missed her head and found myself clinging, bat-like, to the corner of the wall.

Then I woke up.

Perhaps I should have started this blog post with a disclaimer.  Earlier this week I was having back spasms and was given muscle relaxers and pain killers that had me sleeping 19+ hours a day for four days straight.  Then my doctor cut me off.  The four days were rather uneventful, at least, as far as I recall.  (If any of you told me something important earlier this week, you better tell me again.) The return to non-drug induced sleep, however, has been a bit more memorable.  Not only am I having crazy dreams about eating sushi while on a flying trapeze, I wake up feeling as though I have been eating sushi while on a flying trapeze: pounding headache, churning stomach, sore muscles and all.

The other morning I woke up at 3 a.m.  I am typically not a nocturnal wanderer, but this night I needed a break from the crazy dreams.  I slipped from bed and made some toast and tea.  I pulled a Bible Study from my shelf that a friend had given me but which I hadn’t had time to use.  I read about Psalm 120:1 In my distress I called to the Lord, and He answered me. 

He answered me.

You know, people talk about having a personal relationship with Jesus.  I don’t always know what this means.  When I first became a Christian, it sounded a bit too… religious.  Sometimes I would just smile and nod and step away.  Except that in the last couple of years, I’ve seen it.  I’ve seen people that do have a relationship with Jesus.  They have that hope about which Peter says we should always be ready to give a testimony (1 Peter 3:15). They aren’t just Christians.  They are truly friends of God.  They have a relationship that makes me say: I want what they have.

Don’t get me wrong.  I have a relationship with God.  But it is qualitatively different than where I am headed.  I talk to God all the time.  What I don’t do very well is wait for His answer.  “Okay, God,” I say, “Here are all the things I’m thinking about today.  Got it?  Okay.  Catch you later.”  And I’m off.

In my distress I call to the Lord.  But I’m completely missing His answer.

Until He sits me down at 3 a.m. with a cup of tea.

I learned from my 3 a.m. study that the word translated as Lord in Psalm 120:1 is the Hebrew word Yahweh, which refers to God’s nature as a covenant maker and covenant keeper.  This makes the words of Psalm 120:1 that much more powerful to me.  The Lord answered the Psalmist and He answers us because He is the God who keeps His promises.  Promises like, I will not leave you nor forsake you (Joshua 1:5).  Promises like, I am with you always, to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20).  Promises like, I have called you friends (John 15:15).

Friends.

We can be more than Christians.  We can actually have a relationship with God.  We can be a friend of God.  Have you ever paused to look beyond the jargon and think about what this means?

If not, a 3 a.m. cup of tea is a great place to start. 

In my distress I called to the Lord, and He answered me (Psalm 120:1).

Free Hugs!

Yesterday as I was walking across campus I passed a small group of students dressed in red t-shirts with permanent black marker emblazoned across the front: FREE HUGS  =)

Photo of students with Free Hug Tshirts

Perhaps they were taking a page out of the book of the Purdue University Compliment Guys, or perhaps they were just trying to spread some cheer in the days leading up to Valentine’s Day.  As I walked past them, one young man came bounding across the sidewalk with his arms opened wide.

“Hi, there.  How are you?” He asked.

“Fine,” I said.  And then, as he continued to stand in front of me, “Are you going to give me a hug?”

“May I?”

“Sure.”

So he gave me a quick hug and then skipped back to his compatriots.

“Have a good day,” I called.

Student giving free hug Students giving free hugs  Student giving free hug

I love college students.  You never know what crazy, whimsical, or insightful thing they will come up with next.  Like giving away free hugs.

Have you hugged a stranger today?

And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted… (Ephesians 4:32)

A Tale of Two Mountains

In 2010, I made my first trip to Alaska. More than six years in the planning, it was more than a vacation.  It was a celebration with two friends to culminate the end of my Ph.D. program.

Needless to say, by the time I finally arrived in Alaska I was nearly uncontainable with excitement.  With 20+ hours of daylight to burn, we’d tour an area during the day and drive most of the night to our next destination.  “This is so cool,” I would say.  And two minutes later: “This is so cool.”

We had planned our trip so the final few days held the thing I was most looking forward to: Denali.  At 20,320 feet, Denali (or Mt. McKinley) is the largest mountain in North America.  In the years leading up to our adventure, Denali had taken on near-metaphysical proportions in my mind.  I knew only 1/3 of the visitors to Denali actually got to see the mountain.  Denali is known for creating its own weather pattern and hiding itself in broad daylight behind a screen of clouds.  But I didn’t care.  I wanted to stand in the presence of the mountain even if I couldn’t see it.   I was so excited that just the thought would set my heart to thumping.

It was nearing midnight when we finally pulled onto the Talkeetna Spur Road towards our campground.  Just ahead of us, someplace, was Denali.  I will never forget driving down that road, straining to look ahead.  It was dusk and the clouds were glowing.  Off on the horizon it was nearly impossible to tell: was that a cloud?  Or a mountain?  Mountain?  Cloud?

And then we came around a corner and it was THERE, hovering above the clouds like a mystical floating island.  After six years, I was staring into the face of my mountain.

My Mountain 2010

 

This past fall, I had the opportunity to travel back to Alaska for work.  I added a vacation day onto my trip and headed north from Anchorage along the now familiar route.  I was going to visit my mountain!  It was crystal clear and cold and the moment I turned onto the spur road, Denali was visible.  Its massive white face loomed shining against the dry blue sky.  That was too easy, I thought.  Where was the mystery, the anticipation, the straining to see it?

I stopped the car and got out to marvel at it.  And then a horrible thought suddenly occurred to me: that is not the mountain I have hanging on my wall. 

Wait…

Denali

I scanned the horizon.  Surely not!  Had I really taken a picture of a different mountain on my first trip?  That mountain that had burned itself indelibly into my memory – was that not even Denali??

When I got home I compared photos, and sure enough “My Mountain” was not Denali.  As near as I can tell, it is actually Mount Hunter, the next tallest mountain to Denali’s south.  Denali, on that first night, must have been hiding in the clouds.

You know, there are times when God hides mountains in the clouds.  Sometimes physically.  Sometimes metaphorically.  This is probably good.  If I knew the size of every mountain looming in the mist I’d probably never set foot outside my bedroom door.  Instead, God has a way of showing us just the path ahead, just the mountain we need to contend with right now.  When we peak one, no matter how tall, there is always another.  Even among the tallest mountains in the world, climbers will argue which one is the toughest, which route is the most technical, which face is the hardest. There is always bigger.  There is always tougher.

Hunter vs Denali

 

Sometimes what we think is the highest mountain we’ve ever seen is really just a foothill to something more.  Praise God we do not have to climb it alone.

I lift up my eyes to the mountains – where does my help come from?  My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth (Psalms 121:1-2).

The Five Things I’m Thankful For

Is it possible to be thankful without feeling thankful?

The answer, I think, is: Of course.

The Bible tells us that we should give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18).  I’ve heard more than one sermon on this passage that suggests God doesn’t tell us to be thankful for everything; He tells us to be thankful in everything.  I have to contest this theory with Ephesians 5:20 which says we should be always giving thanks to God the Father for everything.  God, I think, wants us to be thankful both in everything and for everything.  God is in control, which means everything will ultimately be used for His glory.  Even when we don’t like something, we are to give thanks recognizing 1) there is always something to be thankful for, and 2) even the very thing we don’t want to give thanks for can be used for God’s good purposes.  Even if others mean it for harm, even if the Devil himself is after us, God can use it for good.  We know that for those who love God all things work together for good (Romans 8:28).  Even the things we’re a little less than thankful for.

With all these verses on thankfulness, I got to thinking how I’ve never seen one that says we are to feel thankful.  Which got me thinking some more.  Sometimes I go about this all wrong.  I act as though thankfulness is something I should be receiving, when in actuality, thankfulness is something I should be giving.  I shouldn’t be sitting here waiting for God to give me that full-to-bursting feeling.  I should be saying, “God, even though I don’t feel very thankful today, I am still glad you’re in control.  Thank you.”

It’s not easy to say thank you – and mean it – when you don’t feel it.  It’s a bit like walking a familiar path in the dark.  The “sunny” days I dash off thanksgivings without a second thought.  I love everything!  I am thankful for everything!  But when the dark days come even the major gifts don’t seem quite so bright and shiny.  I may have the exact same things to be thankful for – everything I loved in the daylight is still there – but I no longer see it.  Outwardly, nothing has changed.  It’s the same path.  But in the dark, my feeling is different.  And this is where we hear Paul say: In everything give thanks.  For everything give thanks.

I am blessed to have a friend with whom I randomly exchange thankful lists.  Sometimes by phone; sometime by email.  One of us will say, “Today I am thankful for…” and we will each list five things.  The other day I dashed off an email that said, in essence, “I am in need of an attitude adjustment, so today I am thankful for…”  and I am sad to say that out of the millions of blessings I should have been able to dash off, it took me several minutes to type out five.  You might say I was in the dark and even though I knew the blessings were there, I just couldn’t feel them.  But it doesn’t matter if I don’t feel them.  I can still give thanks in the dark.

We were talking about that tonight, this friend and I, and she was laughing that she had been thinking about all kinds of things for me to be thankful for.  “Just think of that email transaction,” she said.  “You could be thankful for the computer and email and internet and your eyes to see it and your fingers to type it…”

“I know.  I know,” I interrupted.  And then: “I’m glad at least one of us is thankful!”  But as I hung up the phone I thought, Carry one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2).  Sometimes that means helping each other to be thankful.

Tonight I not only am thankful, I feel thankful.  For a friend who called and talked to me about being thankful.  And also for pillows, breakfast, carpets on cold tile, and indoor plumbing.

It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to your name, O Most High; to declare your steadfast love in the morning, and your faithfulness by night (Psalm 92:1-2).

History Class

Don’t worry.  This post isn’t really about history.  I wouldn’t have much to say in that regard anyway.  Partially for a reason which you are about to see.

As a student, I rarely slept in class.  But by the end of my undergraduate years, after consistently burning through more than one box of proverbial candles, I was struggling.  It was World Cultures, and the professor had one of those wonderfully soothing voices that could knock me from attentive to comatose in under five minutes.  It wasn’t that I didn’t find the class interesting; I did.  But I could not, for the life of me, keep my eyes open for a solid 50 minutes under this professor’s spell.  For years afterwards, I kept the notebook for that class for the sheer novelty of the story that it told.  Each class period began with fresh looking penmanship that slanted quickly down the side of the page and ended with a single fading line.  You could almost pinpoint the exact point at which my eyes must have fully closed.  And then the jagged line when the pen jerked back alive at my friend’s whispered, “Beagle, wake up!”

Needless to say, I have not carried forward a wealth of World Cultures knowledge from that class.  But I have carried forward an interesting lesson that I have only now come to realize was being demonstrated to me even then by my more attentive friend.  You see, one of the more fascinating aspects of our exchange was that she sat in the seat directly in front of me.  So unless my head actually hit the desk with a bang – which I thankfully don’t recall it ever doing – she had no way of knowing when I was falling asleep.  I remember asking her once, “How do you always know when I’m falling asleep??”

“Easy,” she said.  “Whenever I feel myself falling asleep, I figure you must be, too.”

Brilliant, isn’t it?  She too was suffering under the soporific charms of our professor, but unlike me, she chose to do something about it, single-handedly keeping us both in at least a semi-conscious state.

This is the lesson which God instructs us to follow outside of the classroom as well.  Am I feeling lonely?  I should be reaching out to someone else who may be feeling lonely.  Am I feeling tired and discouraged?  I should be speaking words of encouragement to those around me who are probably also feeling tired and discouraged.  It is easy when things are going well to get wrapped up into my own daily schedule and pay no attention to those around me.  Sometimes it takes a bad day for God to remind me to pay attention.  Sometimes it takes feeling lonely to remember those who are lonely.  Sometimes it takes feeling discouraged to remember those who are discouraged.  In fact, my moodiest days may actually be God whispering: “Beagle, wake up!  Take note of this.  I have something for you to do.”

There is, of course, a trap in this.  I could, as I was prone to do in World Cultures, simply sink deeper into whatever I am feeling.  I could ignore God’s wake-up call and think instead only about how I am feeling.  It could never occur to me – as it never did back then (leave me alone, I’m sleeping!) – that God can use this feeling to encourage me to reach out to others.

On the other hand, I could reach out for the wrong reasons.  I could reach out with the coercive expectation that my actions will be reciprocated.  “I am going to help you and therefore you are going to help me.”  But this is acting from wrong motives.  This is not me listening to God’s call and responding; it’s trying to manipulate others with the sole purpose of making myself feel better.  God does not call us to be manipulators; God calls us to be blessings.

Both of these – not acting at all or not acting for the right reasons – are easy emotional traps.  True, reaching out to others often is the quickest road back to where we want to be.  After all, by keeping me awake, my friend also kept herself awake.  By encouraging others, I often find myself encouraged.  But the motivation needs to come not from an expectation that other people will return the favor, but from the recognition that God has given me an opportunity.

Whatever I am feeling right now, whatever I am experiencing right now, God can use to bless someone else if I am simply willing to find them.  They probably aren’t far away.  In fact, they may be right behind me.

And I call learning that lesson a good day in any class.

Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Hebrews 10:24

Southern Hospitality

Not too long ago, a visitor came to town.  I met with her briefly in my office and arranged a couple of meetings for her.  I gave her my phone number and told her if she had any trouble over the weekend to give me a call.  I thought I was being hospitable.

I am ashamed that in reality I was more concerned about my own weekend plans than in helping this visitor.  I failed to see through the business transaction to the person underneath.  I failed to see the opportunity God was giving me.  Even as I offered her my number, I was hoping my phone wouldn’t ring.  Would it have killed me to ask what she was doing for the weekend?  To meet her for lunch?  To take her to dinner?  To take an hour and walk her around town?

It took an extraordinary encounter to show me just how inhospitable I was.

And behold, a lawyer stood up to put [Jesus] to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”  He said to him, “What is written in the Law?  How do you read it?”  And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”  And He said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”  But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:25-29)

I recently boarded a plane to Brazil clutching a Portuguese phrasebook and an iPod of language lessons.  I figured I had 8 hours to learn how to say, “Where’s the bathroom?”  I was hoping my seatmate would be bilingual and willing to teach me a few essentials.  God had another lesson in mind.

My seatmate was not only bilingual, she was eager to practice her English.  Between her English, my phrasebook, and a pen and paper for when words failed us, we talked into the wee hours of the morning.  Before the plane touched down, she gave me her phone number and told me to call her.  She wanted to make me pau de queijo and show me some sites in Brasilia.  When I asked about taking a taxi downtown to meet her, she waved that away.  She would meet me at my hotel and drive me.

She arrived the next afternoon with a basket of freshly baked cheese bread and my own personal tour of the cathedral and all the capital buildings – both inside and out.  Downtown we ran into two people who I had met at my business meetings, and she invited them to join us.  We thought she was going to show us one more thing and return us to the hotel, but several hours later we were still circling the city, eventually stopping for acai ice cream along the river and then dinner at a local establishment.  The leftovers she asked them to box, and at a stoplight when she saw a man begging she held it out the window to him.  He took it with a softly spoken “obrigado.” 

She would have taken us all home with her if we had let her.  It was midnight before she finally dropped us back at the hotel with invitations to her family barbecue the next afternoon or an offer to take us to a concert at night.  My schedule did not allow me to connect with her again, but as I was packing the following night, my phone rang.  It was my new friend, wishing me safe travels on the rest of my trip and inviting me to come visit her anytime.  “Minha casa é a sua casa,” she said.  “My house is your house.”  And she meant it. 

I have never felt the story of the Good Samaritan as powerfully as when I witnessed this woman’s hospitality towards me.  Nor have I felt so convicted.  Not too long ago I considered the sharing of an emergency phone number to be hospitable.  Now, I have a new definition.

 “You go,” Jesus said, “and do likewise” (Luke 10:37). I have a long ways to go.

Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink?  And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you… And the King will answer them, “Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:37-38, 40).

Tower of Babel

I was sitting in the Moscow airport when I heard it. 

After four days in Russia, I had managed to increase my Russian vocabulary by 400%.  From zero words to four:  tea, thank you, no, yes.  In that order, apparently the four most critical words for a traveller to Moscow.  Or at least the four I encountered frequently enough to learn.  Needless to say, as I was waiting for my outbound plane and listening to the chatter around me, I was at a loss regarding what was actually being said.  Until I heard it.  A familiar sound that caused me to suddenly pay attention.  Was someone speaking English?  I looked around as I listened intently, but everyone around me was speaking Russian.  I’m sure it had not been one of my four Russian words.  For a moment there, I had heard a sound I knew.

There it was again!  Only this time my brain registered the sound.  Laughter.         

I sat there musing on this as I listened to the incomprehensible flow of their words.  I smiled every time I heard one of them laugh.  I did not understand the conversation, but I understood the laughter. Laughter sounds the same in any language.

The Bible tells us that God introduced the world languages at the Tower of Babel.  Until then, the whole world had one language and a common speech.  Then the men of Babylonia said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth” (Genesis 11:4).  But as Solomon noted, unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain (Psalm 217:1).  And the Lord was less than supportive of man’s latest endeavor.  The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.  Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”  So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city (Genesis 11:6-8).

At first glance, this may seem a little uncalled for.  What’s wrong with a little global collaboration?  I think the answer lies in that one phrase embedded in mankind’s plan: “Come, let us build ourselves a city…so that we may make a name for ourselves…” (Genesis 11:4).  People were once again falling away from God’s purposes and thinking instead only of themselves.  They were not glorifying God, or even acknowledging Him.  It was the original sin all over again – snubbing our Creator and grasping glory for ourselves.  I can almost hear the resignation in God’s voice.  See Him shaking His head with a sigh.  “Will they never learn?”  People were once more on track to distance themselves from God, and God in His wisdom put a stop to it.  Just as He sent Adam and Eve from the Garden, so He sent the people from Babylonia. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth (Genesis 11:9b).

And yet, God left one piece of language the same.  No matter where in the world we are, laughter and tears are the universal language.  I think this tells us something of what God expects from our relationships with one another.  When someone we cannot speak to is crying, we have no response but to cry with them.  When someone we cannot speak to is laughing, we have no response but to laugh with them.  God confused the languages of the world, but He left us enough language in common that we could share what is clearly of foremost importance.

Laughter and tears.  Compassion and joy. A conversation not to glorify ourselves, but to share with one another.

That is why it was called Babel – because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world.  From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth. Genesis 11:9