Saturday, June 17, 2023


In my life, I have both caused and experienced many moments of joy.  My parents often speak of their joy at the moment of my birth and thenceforth.  I have been the recipient of constant joyous affirmations from their lips, “Oh Ryan!...You are one of a kind…Why don’t you go bless someone else with your presence?”

I remember the expression of joy crossing my mother’s face when I proudly displayed my first hunted kill.  The pigeon hung from my 8 year old hands as red droplets collected on the linoleum floor below. “Look Mom! Look what I got! I got it with my slingshot!”

My mother in a moment of euphoric pleasure began dancing for joy. I smiled as I knew that she was admiring how her little boy was quickly growing into a man, “Get that thing out of here! It is filthy, dirty and diseased!” Odd statements of affirmation to be sure, but she was likely trying not to allow my 3 siblings to know of her immeasurable pride in me…lest they get jealous and begin to tirelessly solicit for her attention. My siblings could be so exhausting.

In her excitement, she forgot to send me out with a knife to clean it up for supper…so I left it on my dad’s workbench in the garage, figuring that he could clean it up when he got home.  Then I went out to pursue more game with my Crossfire slingshot, wondering, “Who else could I bring some joy to today?...I know…my sister!”

I can’t think of any father who has experienced more joy than me, save that of my own father.  One time my own children worked hard to paint the white trim of the shed. My joy had been made complete…until the remaining paint was spilled all over the garage floor, screaming of what looked like a ghost massacre had taken place.   

Sadly, what stood out to me in that moment was the spill and not the gift of the painting.  It is moments like these when I struggle with who I am and why I react the way that I do.  I often do not rejoice and give thanks the way that I want to rejoice and give thanks when circumstances get in the way.

Last weekend was the Minnesota State Track and Field Meet.  It was at this meet that my son and his good friend Hank ran in their 4x200m relay.  These two have been inseparable since they were two years old and a part of this event for the past two years.  It has been fun to watch this relay team as they continue to just keep getting better and faster.  This season they qualified for the state meet and were putting together their fastest times yet.  The team was seeded right on the bubble to advance to the finals and earn a state medal.  In the week leading up to the final races Isaac, Hank and their other 2 teammates put in countless hours cleaning up their hand-offs and polishing their race mechanics. 

When it came time for their race I was nervous.  I knew what they had put into it and I desperately wanted them to run their best race of the year.  I was convinced that if they could run their best race to date that they would have a great chance of advancing to the finals. 

When the gun echoed and the first runners dashed from their blocks I watched as each team member and each hand-off went about as perfect as you could ask for.  When they crossed the finish line they had run their fastest time yet and it was fast enough to qualify them for finals!  I was ecstatic!  So were all of the Little Falls fans!  We were all cheering and giving each other high fives…until…two letters suddenly flashed up on the big screen behind the words Little Falls.  DQ.

Oh how I wished those letters meant that the team had just earned free Blizzards from Dairy Queen.  Unfortunately, those two letters meant that the team has been disqualified.  Something in the race had happened that had eliminated their team from competition.  They were out…they were done…it was over.

It took me a while to deal with that disappointment…but there was one thing that became clear to me after a little while…(in this case a little while may or may not have been the length of 3 days or so…). As disappointing as the result was…I found that I was still extremely pleased with how these boys had run their race.  They were sweet and smooth on the track.  Their hand-offs were excellent! Their sprinting was stellar.  Did I want them to earn a medal?  Sure I did.  But, the feeling that had developed within me was still a feeling of deep pleasure for how they had run…and my privilege to watch them run.  The DQ did not take that feeling away from me. 

Joy is a very difficult thing to define.  I think that this experience of mine has helped me just a little bit to understand how joy is given to us.  Joy is a gift from the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit produces joy in our lives much like a peach tree produces the delicious furry fruit.  Joy is not dependent on my circumstances or the outcomes of events in my life. I think joy is something much sweeter…much deeper.

Paul speaks of joy and thankfulness in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-22.  Paul encourages us toward 3 things…to rejoice always, to pray continually and to give thanks in all things.  Oh Lord, help me by the power of your Spirit to rejoice, pray and give thanks.

May you come to find a joy in the Spirit of the Lord…despite your circumstances.

Saturday, June 10, 2023

 To Follow

I was 16 years old. Snow had fallen and was covering the ground 3 inches deep on the floor of the north woods of Minnesota.  I sat in the wooden seat, 8 feet above the ground, looking for brown furry animals passing through the forest.  It was a cold and wet day and nothing seemed to be moving anywhere…no squirrels, no blue jays and certainly no deer…only an occasional chickadee would make an appearance in the poplar trees nearby.  My dad and two brothers were also in the woods, but by the absence of gunshots in the air, it was safe to assume that they too were seeing no game ready to take down. 

It was our standing agreement that we would reconvene at the camp at noon for a fire and a hot lunch to warm our bones from the penetrating cold of the morning.  I was watching the clock closely, eager to break from the dreary slowness of the day.

As the time approached to climb down, I began packing up my equipment.  Just as I zipped my backpack closed, a rifle shot rang out startling my heart into wakefulness.  The shot was close, sharp and loud.  It could only be from one rifle in the family…Dad.  The 3 of us boys hunted with the dependable .30-30 while our father fired the formidable .30-06.  The contrast between the firearms was notable.  This shot cracked the air, and my excitement spiked as I knew that he was pursuing the game. 

I climbed down and worked my way toward where I heard the shot, but there was no sign of my dad.  There was, however, boot prints left in the snow.  Curiously, however, they migrated in a direction that I would not have expected.  Yet, I followed.  I followed the prints west, and north and west and south and then back east.  As I took each step I expected to come across my dad with a downed animal or at least a blood trail left red in the clean white snow, but all I found were more prints.  Finally, after 45 minutes of following the prints, the trail broke through ending on a road. 

At this time, exhausted from pounding through the brush of the state forest, tired and hungry, I followed the road back to camp, where I found my dad and brothers…and a stranger.  Apparently, the man had been lost in the woods and in efforts to find his way out, fired into the air and began walking at random through the massive Paul Bunyan State Forest of northern Minnesota…and I…chose to follow him.

Interestingly, not only did he not know where he was going, he did not know that he was being followed.  He was leading me…to nowhere. In 1 Thessalonians 5:12-24, Paul shared a picture of leading and following.  I think that in almost all cases, everyone is both a leader and a follower and if you are not…then you maybe shouldn’t do either. 

A good leader is a good follower and a good follower is a good leader.  A good leader, though imperfect, understands that there is someone greater than them self who is worth pursuing.  Paul shows us that the person who is worth seeking after is Jesus.  A good follower knows that there are people who are looking to them as an example…making them not only a follower…but also a leader.  This reveals the importance of who a leader chooses to pursue. 

May we come to see that Jesus is worth following.  May we follow him in such a way that we can know that anyone walking in our path will be also walking in the path of Jesus.

Saturday, June 3, 2023

 No Wonder

I spent the day at the Minnesota Section 8AA Track and Field meet today.  Every time the starting gun sounded, 8 individuals would leave their starting position and race for the finish line.  Whether it was a mere 100m or lengthy 3200m separating them from the final results, every race shared the same suspense and unknown answer to the question, “Who would win?”

It was not until the very end of each event that the winner would be proclaimed.  I found myself filled with stress and anxiety as these athletes ,that I know and care about, took their turn to compete.  I longed for everything to go right for them.  I wanted them to perform well, to run well, jump well and throw well…especially when my own children were involved. 

It seemed to me that the greater the hope of grandeur and the uncertainty of its consummation, the greater my anxiety.  As I watched my daughter compete in her shot put, I wondered what the outcome would be.  Would she achieve her goal? Would she finally hit the mark that she hasdbeen striving for all year?

When my son took the track, along with his good friend Hank, for their chance to advance to the state meet in the 4x200 and the 4x400, I was consumed with stress.  I could feel the tension in my neck and the anxiety in my stomach.  I began to ponder, “How would I feel if I knew the outcome first?” Would I be more relaxed if I knew that everything was going to be ok and they would achieve the preferred outcome that they…and I…desired?

I remember the summer of 2021, when the delayed Tokyo Olympics finally took place.  True to form I tuned in as much as I could to the track and field events and perhaps even more so…the wrestling matches.  We happened to be in Michigan visiting my wife’s parents during this time, and so I had the pleasure of, “forcing” my in-laws to watch all of the wrestling matches…a sport of which they knew nothing about.

The disappointing reality arose in that the ONE match that I really wanted to watch…Gabel Steveson’s gold medal match, was going to take place DURING our drive back to Minnesota!  My wife, Sarah, graciously offered to help get the match prepped on our “smart” TV when we got home, so that I wouldn’t be confronted with any spoilers before watching the match. 

This seemed simple enough.  All was going just as planned…until…as we passed through the Twin Cities on I-694, at which point a huge electronic billboard suddenly flashed, “GABEL WINS GOLD!!”  Needless to say, knowing the final outcome removed all would-be suspense.   

Interestingly, however, watching the match having known the result was surprisingly enjoyable and even tranquil.  After amassing a significant 4-0 lead at the half, Gabel saw that lead evaporate.  Suddenly Steveson was trailing 5-8 in the match with only 13 seconds remaining.  To anyone who understands wrestling…this is insurmountable…it is impossible…it could never happen…there is no way to win…the match is OVER!  Yet, I already KNEW the result.  I knew that he wins, yet I could not imagine or figure out how in the world Steveson was going to pull this off.  I glued my eyes to the TV, in awe, as I watched the USA wrestler take down his opponent from Georgia, (the country, not the state), TWICE in the next 13 seconds, scoring his final points with 0.3 seconds escaping on the clock and actually winning the match 9-8. 

I can’t help but see a strong correlation to Paul’s expression to the Thessalonian church.  In 1 Thessalonians 5:4-11, Paul reveals the spoiler…the outcome…which is that we get to live together with Him!!  Believers do not need to be surprised by the outcome.  We know that Jesus wins!  We may see it as impossible, yet we know the final result.  We may struggle to see how God will do what he promised or perhaps struggle as we see the proverbial “score” only get worse and worse…falling farther and farther behind…making these more and more hopeless. 

Perhaps, it is time to live with our eyes fixed on the final outcome and eagerly wait and anticipate the wonder…of not having to wonder who is going to win! 

May you find yourself tuned in and awake…ready to watch the wonders of God.