At the End, Joy


The first few minutes of running suck. It starts to suck, in fact, before i’ve even begun. Perhaps the hardest part about exercising for me is getting up the motivation to go. My typical exercise session (and yes, i have actually gone enough recently to call it “typical”) is comprised of four minutes of jogging/running at six-seven MPH, followed by four minutes of walking up a 7-8% incline as fast as I can walk, which usually ends up being just under four MPH, and then repeating that cycle three-four times. Now you might be immediately inclined, unless you do much of this type of exercise yourself, to think that the last cycle is the toughest. But strangely enough, as i have already said, i don’t find this to be true. It is, in fact, the first two or three minutes when my body protests the loudest: muscles that have lain dormant all day (and let’s be honest: for years before this) are now suddenly enlisted to the front lines of action, pressed into strenuous and exacting duty. A few minutes in, though, there seems to be a threshold i pass after which my body starts easing into the work, and somehow the second cycle is much less demanding, and very nearly enjoyable.

The same phenomenon is observable in macro: the first few days and weeks of beginning an exercise regimen are horrid, especially after doing nothing for years but languishing in idleness and indulgence. But now that i have a few regular weeks behind me, i actually look forward (sometimes) to going, knowing that it is accomplishing for me what it needs to: chiefly, making me have more and better time with my wife and with others around me (that is, as much as control of such matters lies within my grasp). The point is, being able to see the end result, the fruit, enables me to appreciate the journey.

It isn’t hard to see where i am going with this, especially since this is hardly the only example from the world around us. Stepping into a hot shower, the skin actually burns and reddens in response. A few minutes later, the sensation is soothing rather than painful. Entering a room that is utterly dark and flipping on a bright light can actually cause us to wince, as if under attack by the sudden influx of protons. Yet after our pupils have adjusted, light is not only not an attack but actually an improvement over darkness: seeing our way through the room keeps us from stumbling over the dog’s half eaten chew toy and face planting on the floor. I think, too, of Isaiah 9:2, a familiar quotation that points to the birth of Christ. “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.”

What would it actually be like if, as in John 9, we had walked in darkness all our lives and suddenly had our eyes opened? We all, going from utter blackness to the brightest light of them all, would be blinded, stunned, shocked. We might have no idea how to distinguish depth, color, shape, motion. It would be a radical process of adjustment. The occipital lobe would, like my feeble legs, be arrested up into immediate action, having sat largely unused for many years.

There is a reason this verse points to Christ: this is precisely what an encounter with Him is like. When He enters our life it is as if we see light for the first time. And though we typically think of this verse in Isaiah as an expression of great joy, which is certainly is, it is also a proclamation that where we were previously blind, we will now see, but this takes tremendous healing and adaptation. In fact, our personal encounters with Him can be quite demanding, painful, blinding even, and it may seem at first as though we were worse off than before. Think of how many times the Israelites, after clamoring to be free from slavery in Egypt, bemoaned their new fate and expressed a wish that they had simply died in Egypt.

i have been there many times, and many times a day: every time He wants me to relinquish control, conquer fear, steady my heart, give instead of ignore, love instead of curse, die rather than thrive. These things are anathema to me, to my flesh. Nearly every time i am asked to do one of these things it doesn’t feel like joy, or sudden freedom, it feels, in the moment, like pain and constraint. it feels like stepping into a shower that is too hot, or onto a treadmill that is too fast.

But joy is not in immediate gratification. That is why Paul calls the Christian life a race, why he “beat[s] his body and make[s] it [his] slave.” (1 Cor. 9:27) Joy is in the long haul, the discipline, the dedication, not in the quick fix. The Quick Fix is what got us into a “quick fix” in the first place. Joy, real joy, will need to look like something different, and might very well need to look, at least at first, like something so different that it is extraordinarily uncomfortable. i must remember, we must remember, that many of us, myself chief among these, have just gotten up from our knees on the road to Damascus. We have just gotten on the treadmill of the walk, just plunged ourselves into the heat of His cleansing waters. For the most part, we are still staggering and reeling from the shock of having “seen a great light.” But given time, our skin will adjust to the heat, our legs to the work, our bodies to the strain, and our eyes to the wonder and glory of vision. After that perhaps we will enjoy the fruit of walking upright in Him, and we will see the joy of not tripping over the dog toy of temptation and face planting on the floor of sin.


i don’t go work out every day. Sometimes the sluggard inside wins. i am terrific, probably the best you’ve ever met, at originating excuses. i need to write. i need to read. i didn’t eat that much today anyway so i don’t have enough calories to burn. My leg still hurts from tripping over that dog toy in the dark. Whatever the reason, it is just as common, if not more so, that i fail to go as that i actually do go.

The good news is that the gym will still be there tomorrow, and i bet my key will still work to let me in.

Christ, our Key, will also still be working to let us in tomorrow. He is an Amenity that has already been provided for us as residents here. We have but to reach out and grasp hold of Him and the fruits will come. Should we fail to do so today, well, He will be there for us tomorrow. But my prayer is that as each new tomorrow becomes today, it will be the day that i stop making excuses and just go to Him.


Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.   – Hebrews 12 : 1 – 3

Things the ocean taught me




back to land, to

numbers, screens, digits, dials,

quotas, schedules,

alarms. my heart recalls well

days at sea, but already forgets

the lessons learned there. i am in

need of some words, some mantra, some

prayer perhaps, to remember these things–




what i do not know is

vaster by far than the

rolling wave of what i do.

what is great and greatly

unkown can be either

feared and shunned or

wondered at, praised,

beloved. i have seen many things.

there are many more i will

never see–

yet all things, whether

teariest pleasure, creeping weeping joy, or

darkest, deepest terror, all will

someday end–

the edge of one ocean is

too, the border of another, newer one,

not yet traversed,

holding more wonders,

more joys, more fears,

and yet more lessons to learn

and recall when needed most.


trying to turn the tide


in and out

we should be giving thanks

for this breath, even if we are using it

to do all this cursing.


i sure wish there was more happy art out there. It seems that every poem i come across on my reader (and mine are likely no exception) sound like this:

the twisted path of splintered shards

driving icicles, ravenous ravens, devouring

whole my scarred charred marred heart

Blah blah blah. It gets old. And again, i am not exempting myself from this. i am equally, if not more, tired of hearing myself whine about things in vaguely poetic form. Granted, pain is a very common impetus for art, and has historically produced some very good poetry, but it should by no means be considered the only source. True artists, of which i am not one, are able to express the entire gamut of emotions, including the ones we often think of as positive. In many ways, expressing joy or peace or contentment subtly and meaningfully through writing is much more difficult than expressing pain or sorrow. This is true for me, which is why i find myself only turning to writing when there is a darkness that needs revealing. But not only should i also be sharing moments of illumination and pleasure with others, i think ultimately i should be doing that much more often than the alternative.


i am sometimes prone to wagon-falling. Let’s see how long we can make this last. For the forseeable future, i am going to break out of the mold and follow the advice of saying nothing if i do not have anything nice to say. Let us hope this leads to positive posts, and not merely the lack of negative ones, and let us also hope that it helps me maintain originality and leads to sentences with less than two cliches in them, as the previous one had. If anyone cares to join me on this foolish quest to redeem poetry from the doldrums of gothic self-deprecation, i would love to hear from you.

i do not believe art needs to be wounded and limping to be good, and i also do not believe that merely because something is wounded and limping that it is good art. In fact, i think what passes for a painting of a rose in many cases is merely spilled blood, and is no more worthy to be considered art than children’s cartoons are considered theater. Bad art is easily masked by genuine pain. It is easily detected when trying to convey positive emotions, however, which might be why there is so little of this variety of art.

Let’s all do our part

chip in to save art!

If you like to write

then make something bright!

See? Terrible art is instantly recognizable when it’s happy.

Go out and write something grateful, something joyful, something that loves being alive. And if you can’t find this in you, then get up from your couch, put on pants suitable for the public, grab a light jacket just in case, go out your front door, lock it, and start walking until you see mountains. Then try again.

i am interested to see if anyone can muster this up. i am certainly going to try.


sucker pun

to hell with

doom and gloom

(get it?)


Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.   – Phillipians 4 : 4 – 8

impressions left on sand


Mostly we sit, sandy down, and do not a thing,

(as build and tumble tidal walls, and promptly

crumble sisyphusianly) and call peaceful

the clamor, crying out the waving wails.

False the faulty frustrated seas–

seasoned sodiumed up, too bitter to be of much use

except to carry us to some other else

or to sit idly beside

[eyes closed]

close enough to be glad

to be not submerged

in cold weary deep.


Yet behind these bulbs, as by

squinting squeezing scrunching closed

i try to shut out the bigness of earth–

still within are

flows more violet, violent blue

(and He could have put them anywhere,

and anything else there)

than any they have seen

when wide open


Safety: a short story

It had happened many times before, but not in over a year, and something was different this time.

Before, it was the kind of thing that sent his heart reeling to recover, like a narrowly avoided collision at 70 miles an hour. This time, there was a new rush; a fresher, cleaner one. Pure and serene it was; the subtle kind of creeping joy like sitting at a baseball game on a day off from work. Behind him, the red and blue still pulsed in rampant waves, but whatever physiological response his body had Pavlovianly learned over the past ten years was suddenly and wonderfully absent. There was no worry now, no secret buried in the rubbish of his back seat waiting to be unearthed, no stash of the illicit, no fear of discovery. No foul would escape his breath, and no engorged tributaries of red would be noticed in the floodplain of his sclera. Now there was only a smile for the officer, only genuine wonderment at the reason for the stop.

“Sir, the reason I pulled you over is because your brake light is out. May I get your license and insurance please?” Another smile, not in the least disingenuous, and he confidently pulled out the requested documents. He had to unfasten his seatbelt to retrieve them, but he did not hesitate to hand them over, for he was unashamed of what they could indicate. The date on the insurance was months away, and the license would reveal no unresolved business when swiped through the scanner in the patrol car.

Patiently he waited, not annoyed, not bothered, a cool breeze whipping through his open window refreshing his face.

The officer returned a minute later, having written out a warning for the brake light. He accepted it gladly, gratefully, almost gleefully. As he drove off, he smiled again. How different, how sublimely new! Somewhere inside in that moment, for reasons he could not fathom, some phenomenon deeper than his understanding was occurring: some piece of time was freezing, slowing to still, verging on and almost touching the eternal…

And then it was gone, and he could hardly remember what he been happy about in the first place. Before he realized it, he was home, and the rest of his evening was pleasant and uneventful.


The next day he took his car to the shop to get the light replaced. When the job was done, he paid for it with debit, and popped in to head back home. It would be a while before anyone would pull him over again, he knew. He was slightly saddened by this for some reason, and felt a bit silly and perplexed for being so. But mostly he just felt good. The windows were down, the day was mild, the breeze faint, and the drive home quite peaceful.


A few minutes later he would forget the whole incident almost entirely, but not quite. In years to come, on certain breezy spring evenings, he would still smile for no reason at all.


Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble.

–  Psalm 119 : 165