Listening Well

       A while back I was at one of our finest local restaurants when I asked the young-yet-experienced person across the counter, “May I have hot cakes with sausage and a large Diet Coke?”

       Punching my order into the cash register, “OK, that’s a biscuit and sausage sandwich and a small orange juice?”

       They were so wrong it must have been a joke. But it wasn’t.

       I corrected the order, presented my money, and took my food to the back corner booth where I could hole up with my journal and books. How could anyone get an order so completely crooked? How could they hear what they thought they heard when I clearly said what I said?

       What we hear, how well we listen, makes all the difference.


       Bob Sorge wrote that “The word “hear” is the most important word in the Bible. Everything in the kingdom depends upon whether or not we hear the word of God.” (Secrets of the Secret Place)

       Psalm 32:8 says, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you” (NIV)

       God wants us to hear him. He wants us to listen to him, up close and personal. It’s up to us to listen.

       Sorge wrote: “The Lord is saying, “I don’t want to guide you from a distance. I don’t want to have to put a bit in your mouth and jerk you around in order to get your attention and get you on course. I want you to draw close to me – scootch up close to my heart – and allow me to direct your life from a place of intimacy and communion.”

       It’s my own desire to hear the voice of God that sends me on solo pilgrimages into the mountains. It’s why I carve out time for long rides on my bike, or why I used to do 20-mile runs. It is why I write and teach, and why I read from my Bible every day. Those are all ways I’ve learned to listen to God, and the more consistently I do them the more often I hear from God. It is a direct corollary. As if they are sowing seeds for future listening.

       I had a friend in college band who could play any melody on his horn. If he heard it once, he could play it. We tried to stump him with obscure TV themes or one-off pop songs, but if he’d heard the song once he had it. He had a gift of translating whatever he heard in his head into tones from his trombone.

       I wasn’t born with that particular skill. I might hear amazing music, life-changing jazz patterns, in my head, but I don’t know how to get them out of my horn. It’s a skill I can learn with focus and practice, but so far I haven’t put in enough of either.

       I want to be like my trombone-playing friend from college. I want to be able to translate what I hear from God directly into action. It’s a skill that can be developed - well, maybe skill is the wrong word – it is a behavior that can be learned, a relationship that can be cultivated.

       Henri Nouwen wrote: “Listening is the core attitude of the person who is open to God’s living and creative word” (Spiritual Direction). It is significant that Nouwen used the word “attitude” to describe listening rather than the word “skill.” We can decide to listen well.

       How about you? What helps you listen to God?


“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32

When Plans Change

       I’ve felt wobbly since returning home, probably because my calendar is open and free and I don’t know what to do with myself. I didn’t expect to be back before the end of August.

       My biggest goal for all of 2017, the one I’d been planning for eighteen months, ended abruptly. I’d planned to through-hike the Colorado Trail this summer, but I pulled off the trail from altitude sickness after only six days.

       One of my prayers before leaving was that God would lead me to make good decisions. My friend Paul reminded me that’s exactly what happened. He told me about his friend who is buried on Mt McKinley. “He was the one who taught me how to powder ski and some of the finer points of technical rock climbing. He succumbed to Pulmonary Edema due to lack of acclimatization. They were having such good weather they pushed their way up too fast. He knew better. We had even discussed this. The team had a mountain doctor with them but they persisted even though they knew better. He lies buried in the snow as a testimony to stubborn foolishness and lack of God's wisdom.” I’m glad that isn’t the closing line to my story.

       I’m not whining about my lost trip, but I do want to understand God better, and for me that means pondering outcomes like this.

       Why would God plant a dream in my heart of a forty-day pilgrimage in the mountains of Colorado, only to send me home after six days? Did I hear him incorrectly from the beginning? Did I carry it out wrong? Did God change his mind?

       I think it’s unreasonable to assume just because we have a God-given dream it won’t change. God never lays out the entire journey before us; if he did, we’d probably be too afraid to start. We should expect the journey to change. We should expect the dream to be diverted. Even the Apostle Paul was blocked by God in Acts 16:6 and he was doing what God told him to do at the time.

       My friend John reminded me of a Bible story. When God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son, he knew how Abraham would respond. There was never a question in His mind. He foreknew exactly what Abraham would do. But after the ordeal was over, God says "Now I know..." Or better translated, "Now I have actually seen for real what you would do, I have experienced your heart in action." God wanted to experience the joy of seeing Abraham obey no matter what the consequences.

       John wrote, “I think he put a dream in your heart that you thought was attainable, and God knew you would certainly "go for it" because that's the kind of man you are. But God wanted to experience your heart in action. He also knew beforehand that the altitude would get you and that you would be wise enough to decide to come down, but he wanted the joy of seeing you be the man that you are.”

       Well, John, that’s certainly the man I hope to be.

       I realized, if God had given me a six-day-hiking dream (instead of a complete through-hike) I never would’ve devoted enough energy or research to the project, and I wouldn’t have gone to the trouble to bring people along with me. I probably would’ve kept it to myself, treating it like an extended weekend, and missed the epic nature of what God had in mind. Erwin McManus wrote, “The bigger people dream, the bigger they tend to live” (Wide Awake).

       When we go on a pilgrimage, we don’t get to pick the answers we hear. When we go on a “Who am I?” quest, or a “Who are You?” quest, we can’t reject God’s answers just because they aren’t what we had in mind. We can’t throw them out because they don’t correspond to our model. We can’t turn to God and say, “That’s a nice try, and you almost got it, but if you work on it a bit more I think you’ll come to the same conclusions I have.”

       When we pray for God’s will, we must be willing to accept the will he shows us. We can’t wait for God’s will 2.0, or 5.0, until we finally get the version that makes us happy. If we’re going to pick and choose, as if God’s will is a buffet … well, it wasn’t really God we were after all along.

       I went on a pilgrimage to hear from God. It didn’t last as long as I’d hoped; nevertheless, I expect to be digesting what he said to me for quite a while. I may need more trail time to figure it out.


“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32

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Disappointment and Relief

       My plan, the one I’ve been talking about and writing about for so long, was to spend forty days hiking the Colorado Trail. Instead, I spent six. I was defeated by altitude sickness. More than once I found myself sucking for air like Matthew McConaughey in the movie, Intersteller, and then bent double throwing up on the trail.

       Here is my first draft analysis; a data dump of sorts.


       Did my gear work like I expected? Everything worked just like I’d hoped. Well, I had some slip-on camp shoes that I tossed in the first trash barrel, but besides that I was very happy.

       Did my body perform as expected? I had no physical injuries or pains. No blisters or foot problems. My after-market knees were wonderful and my right shoulder (the one that’s bothered me for two years) had a great trip. My quads were usually burning at each summit, but that quickly subsided.

       On Wednesday, I hiked two 12,000+ summits connected by an exposed rocky ridge. It was beautiful, and possibly the hardest thing I’ve ever done. If I end up spending the rest of my life on the couch growing lazy, at least I’ll know I did those peaks.

       Was I adequately prepared? I don’t know what else I would have done, or could have done, except be born at altitude, or live in Colorado. I knew I was front-loading my hike, doing the most difficult part of the trail first, so I never expected it to be easy. I’ve hiked at altitude before, but not for so many miles as this. I had no idea how hard it would be for this 61-year-old flatlander. I never expected to be taken out completely.

       Was my eighteen months of preparation wasted? Not in the least. Preparing and listing and spreadsheeting are the most fun part of an adventure. And I wouldn’t have attempted anything without working it out. I’m not an impulsive person. I like to know what I’m getting into. I want to be a student of everything.

       Did I give up too soon? That is always the fear, isn’t it? That you’re giving up only one day before the best day? But I spent six days unable to breathe, light-headed, nauseous, and throwing up at least once during every ascent. I think I would’ve tolerated this if it got better the longer I was in the mountains, but it didn’t. In fact, Friday, my last day, I passed out two different times while sitting on a log to catch my breath. I woke up on the ground staring at the sky, wearing my backpack so that I was like an inverted turtle with arms and legs in the air. I was concerned that I might fall off a cliff and never be seen again.

       When Cyndi and I were finally able to text each other, and she said she was coming after me, I felt, not disappointment or shame, but huge relief. I took the tangible release of tension as a message from God that I was making the wise decision.

       Friday evening, I sat on a log at the intersection of Forest Service Roads 550 and 564, wiped out, exhausted, and prayed, “Help Cyndi find me, or send someone else.” And then I heard a pickup coming up the road. It was a silver Tundra belonging to our San Angelo friend, John. He and Cyndi were coming to rescue me.

       When Cyndi got out of the pickup it was all I could do to keep from crying. The first thing she said as she ran across the road was, “I love you; I am so proud of you.”

       Will I try again? Maybe, but I doubt I’ll do it alone. With each passing year, doing things by myself feels more and more selfish.

       What do I think this all means? I don’t know, but I expect I’ll be working on it for a long time. My friend John Hard taught me that small inflections make huge changes in the trajectory of our lives, but we can’t know the direction or destination until time passes. However, in the moment, we must be honest with our story if we want God to shine through.

       Why am I telling you about all this? Because so many of you have followed me on this journey for so long. We must be honest about our lives, both victories and disappointments, or we rob each other of the opportunity to see God in each of our own lives. And besides, a life without goals and dreams is no life at all; certainly not one I want to live.

       Thank you, Cyndi, for loving me. Thank you for rescuing me yet again.

       Thank you, God, for putting dreams in my heart. Thank you for giving me one more turn to do what I love.


“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32


I’ve spent this week trying to put my stuff away. You know what I mean: the stuff we leave stacked over there across the room, and the plumbing connections piled in the garage we didn’t get back to yet, and the books that want to be re-shelved, and the pile of mail that aren’t bills but ought to be kept track of, and the tail ends of so many projects that just won’t stay completed.

Why am I doing this? Because I am leaving this weekend and I might be gone as long as six weeks.

I haven’t disconnected from everyday life for so long since the three summers I traveled with Continental Singers. But that was forty years ago and I didn’t have much to disconnect from.

I also haven’t been away from Cyndi for so long. We spent two weeks apart in 1980 when I attended a Halliburton school in Duncan, OK. She and our two-month-old son went to northern New Mexico while I was gone, so she could study china painting with her grandmother. And then the next summer we were apart for three weeks when Cyndi attended a summer class for Texas Tech at a camp near Enchanted Rock, Texas. In the last 36 years we haven’t been apart more than a week at a time.

Separation from Cyndi is the most traumatic part of my summer adventure in Colorado, and the part I can least prepare for. Missing her doesn’t fit onto any of my maps or spreadsheets, although I suspect it’ll find its way into my journal.

Fortunately, being apart nowadays is easier that it was in 1981 since we can phone and email and text. Disconnecting doesn’t feel so permanent. Also, even though I’ll be in the high-country of central Colorado, it isn’t like being around the world when we sent our daughter Katie to Denmark for an entire year.


Six weeks apart is a long time. That’s the reason I’ve never seriously considered hiking one of the longer trails, like the Appalachian Trail or the Pacific Crest Trail. I don’t mind being by myself, I actually look forward to solitude, but I like hanging out with Cyndi even more.

Who will I share my jokes with? The other hikers on the trail won’t be interested in hearing the song lyrics I woke up singing in my head the same way Cyndi does. They won’t make fun of me the same way Cyndi does, the way that makes me feel known and accepted. They won’t give me that look – you know the one - when I try to put in too many miles or push through an injury. They won’t encourage me to keep working through wild ideas or listen to me ramble on and on and on about a clever podcast I heard.

So why am I leaving? Good question. I’ll admit this hike is very much a selfish following of my long-held dream. It’s a goal that’s important only to me.

Knowing why is usually harder than actually doing. The real reasons why we do things typically surface only part-way through the project, or many months after finishing.

For me, this is not a “finding God in nature” story, but a “finding God on the trail” story. The process, the progression, the evolution, is as important as the location. I don’t expect a blissful walk in the woods. I expect it to be hard and risky and unpredictable. It’s the unknown of it that draws me in.

While preparing for this trip I’ve read many accounts written by through-hikers, and unlike a lot of them I’m not hiking to escape the overwhelming pressures of my daily world, or settle grief, or fight addiction, or even to simplify my life. I’m doing it because epic adventure stories stir my heart, and I want to see what happens when I’m the one doing it. Also, it sounds fun.

So if you see Cyndi while I’m gone, please help fill the vacancy I’m leaving by offering to replace some light bulbs, or unscrewing jar lids, or carrying out the trash. That’s mostly what I do around the house; Cyndi does all the rest.


P.S. Cyndi told me she wasn’t really worried that I would be attacked by wild animals. “But,” she said, “If you were, except for the two minutes of terror, I would know you died doing what you love.” How can I not love a woman who cares so much as all that? I’ll hike as quickly as possible to get back home to her.

P.S. P.S. follow my hike on Facebook at the page, Colorado Trail 2017.

“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32

Summer Pilgrimage

       In ten days I’ll begin my summer odyssey, a 486-mile hike from Durango to Denver on a route called the Colorado Trail. I expect to live out of my backpack at least forty days, which is a 1200% increase over my previous backpacking experiences.

       I’ve wanted to complete an epic adventure like this for a long time, maybe my entire adult life. A friend was asking about my plans and wondering if it was possible for him: “How old are you?” I said, “I just turned 61. But next year I’ll be 62 and that might be too old.”

       Leonard Sweet wrote that all stories fall into two categories: coming home stories, and leaving home stories. I wonder which this will be: leaving home to go to the wilderness, or coming home to what I love to do? What I hope this will be is leaving behind the debris of life, age, and distractions I’ve accumulated during 61 years, and coming home to a fresher and deeper life with God.

       What do I think will happen? How do I expect to be changed by the adventure?

       I expect to learn new survival skills, how to make myself comfortable and civilized. I think I probably know most of the skills I need, I just need to trust myself. But maybe more important than learning survival skills, I hope to come away with confidence that I can improvise and survive on my own, make good decisions, stay healthy and engaged, and keep moving no matter what happens.

       I expect personal depth, a broader view of life, an I’m-beyond-the-trivialities kind of thinking. I expect spiritual insight from so many days living inside my own head. I’m carrying Bible verse cards with me, and plan to use them daily to open my mind to God in a new way. This practice shaped me during my formation years at the University of Oklahoma in the 1970s, and influenced everything I teach and write today. It’s time for another round of influence.

       I’ll have a generous dose of solitude, maybe too much, even for a solitude lover like me. I’ve often said I tend to go to seed after three or four days by myself, but I’ve always wondered what lays on the other side of those three days. What happens after, five days, or a week? Will I go crazy, or will I break through to a new ability to see and understand.

       There is a tendency in life to shrink our world as we get older. Mostly it’s a good thing to narrow our focus and put our time and energy into our most significant places. But often we just stop doing things because they are too much bother. Things we used to do, like going to movies or plays or concerts or church or parties. Personally, I tend to withdraw from things where I have to interact with lots of people; I have to constantly fight against that. I want to increase, not decrease, my exposure to new ideas and influences.

       And so I hope this hike is part of that. It would be easier to stay home and think about hiking and read lots of books about backpacking. It would be easier to take a handful of weekend hikes instead of staying on the trail for six weeks. But I don’t think either of those would open my world in the same way.

       I also hope this hike brings some clarity about our next steps. I’ve been feeling squishy and uncertain what to do next in ministry. Should I continue teaching every week like I’ve done since 1990? Some members of our class have been in the room listening to me for ten years. Surely they’ve heard what I have to say, how I say it. I wonder if they need a new voice in their lives. I’m not looking for a reason to bail out. I can’t imagine a life without teaching, without giving back, but I sense change in the air, and it may be something I haven’t even thought of, but  I hope God will speak to me about that somewhere along the trail.

       I’ll start hiking early Sunday morning, July 16, leaving at a trailhead just north of Durango. I’ll be what they call a NOBO (northbound hiker). I’ll have opportunities to check in with Cyndi and update my progress; I plan to use a Facebook page Colorado Trail 2017 to post photos and writing.

       Pray for me, that I will be safe, make good decisions, and come home to Cyndi. We haven’t been apart more than a week since 1981.


“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32

 I need your help. The primary reason people read these articles is because someone like you shared with a friend, so please do. And thank you. Also, you can find more of my writing on my weekly blog, read insights on Tumblr, and follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

Long Term vs. Short Term

      Last Thursday, because I am training for my big hike in July and August, and also because I resent the weather dictating what I can do or how I should live, I rode twenty-five miles on my bike. It was very hot. But I was careful. I kept my effort well below maximum, never felt lightheaded or dehydrated, and I drained two large water bottles laced with electrolyte replacement during the ride.

      I went inside, cooled off with a bowl of Blue Bell Cookies-and-Cream, and soon felt wonderful. It was my birthday eve, I was turning 61 the next day, I had just ridden an hour-and-a-half in brutally hot weather, and yet I was feeling good, if slightly dull, and ready to take on the next challenge of the day. I was a mighty warrior. I was quite proud of myself.

      Then I took a quick recovery nap in my big brown chair and felt even better.

      Later that evening I met Cyndi at Jason’s Deli after her last yoga class of the day (she taught four classes and attended two more, the life of a business owner), and she said, “I came home this afternoon and you were riding your bike. I did some chores, then went back to the studio and you still weren’t back home.”

       “I was fine. I made it back home. It was a good ride.”

      She smiled sweetly while staring through eyes I’ve learned to recognize after 38 years of marriage as warning sirens, and said, “Your first goal for the hike is to make it to the starting line healthy and injury-free.”

      She was repeating a mantra we’d both used often back when we were training for marathons. It doesn’t matter how hard you train if you’re too hurt to make it to the starting line. Cyndi trumped all my excuses and explanations for riding in the heat with logic.

      In a poorly-thought-out attempt to show I hadn’t been completely foolhardy I pulled out my phone and keyed up the Cyclemeter app that I use to measure and document my rides. “At least it wasn’t 100* when I rode,” I said. “We didn’t hit the high temperature of the day, 103*, until after I was long finished.”

      But when I showed my ride statistics to Cyndi she noticed it recorded a temperature of 99*. At least it wasn’t 100*, but not enough under the mark to help my case.

      I said, “If it helps, I’m not planning to ride tomorrow. It’s supposed to be even hotter, 105* way too hot for cycling.”

      “When are you doing your birthday ride?” She knew I was planning to ride at least 61 miles in honor of my new age.

      “Not until Saturday morning. The high for Saturday is only 83*.”

      “You might need to break out your long sleeves.”

      The thing is, planning for long term success (such as completing my summer hike) is hard to do at the expense of short term goals (like cycling lots of miles). Staying healthy to the starting line seems too abstract when compared to doing something useful today.

      And I’ve been working on this hike, and by that I mean seriously planning and studying, since January 2016, a year and a half. I don’t want to jeopardize all that now. I’ve already become obsessive enough, weighing my gear and pouring over my notes and rechecking my lists. Cyndi reminded me, “You don’t need to add an injury because you got lightheaded and tumbled into the street.”

      Cyndi is a smart girl, and I love her for it. One reason we’ve survived, actually flourished, for 38 years, besides the fact I’ve been hot for her for at least 42 years, is that we’ve continually kept our eyes and hearts on long term goals and plans. We want a great future together, not just a great today.

      So I suppose I’ll follow Cyndi’s advice and be careful for the next few weeks. But if you see me out riding and think it is too hot, you don’t need to tell Cyndi. She seems to find out on her own.


PS. Two days later, Saturday morning, I rode 62 miles. It was a bit windy, as always, but the temperature was in the upper 70’s, and I had a great time. Happy birthday to me.


“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32

I need your help. The primary reason people read these articles is because someone like you shared with a friend, so please do. And thank you. Also, you can find more of my writing on my weekly blog, read insights on Tumblr, and follow me on Twitter and Facebook.



Strange Indications

       I’ve developed a persistent ache in my left shoulder. It’s bothersome enough to keep me awake at night, or at least tossing and turning like a rotisserie, searching for the pain-free sweet spot. The worst part of it all is the mystery. I have no idea when or where or why or how I hurt it. It just started aching. I’m surprised the skin on my shoulder isn’t discolored; I wish it was blue and black to corroborate my story. In general, I keep my aches and pains to myself. Not because I’m so tough, but because I’m afraid to look like a silly hypochondriac.

       I hurt my other shoulder, the right one, when I fell in the garage two years ago, dislocating the tendon that converts a floppy arm into a useful tool. Paul Hamels at Green Tree Spa magically fixed it for me, and now I have full use of it except it is weaker than my left shoulder. At least it was until this mysterious aching started up. I hope my left shoulder will be as easy to repair.

       Getting older reminds me of being a teenager. Remember how we were completely shocked that all our new freedoms and opportunities were accompanied by increased expectations and obligations? Every generation is stunned to learn they are now responsible to take care of themselves and take care of their own business when all they wanted was their own phone and a chance to stay up late.

       In the same way, I don’t resent getting older, but I’m constantly surprised at the new baggage that occupies my silver-haired years. For example, any time I bump the back of my hand, it scrapes and bleeds. I never expected my hands to turn into my Dad’s hands. I’m not happy about that.

       And last Saturday, the very day we planned to look at lake houses in Granbury, I woke up with a stiff and painful ankle. How could anyone sprain their ankle while sleeping?

       Here’s another: I’ve never had great vision – I was the kid in first grade wearing glasses – but I’m still surprised whenever I can’t see. Just last night, feeling noble, I dug out my old Bible memory verse cards to take on my big hike this summer, only to realize I couldn’t read them. The writing was impossibly small. What was I thinking when I wrote them out so tiny? I don’t know how I ever read those.

       And now that I have finally outgrown face zits, which by the way took decades longer than I expected, I get blotches and bumps and tags on my face, all of which look like cancer to me. I even started going to a dermatologist. On my first visit he asked, “Mr. Simpson, what brought you in this morning?” and I said, “I decided to be a grownup for a change and get professional advice.” He told me my concerns were nothing more than marks of old-age and come back next year.

       Yet, even with all these strange aging indicators, and I haven’t mentioned them all since memory is a big one, I love being 60 years old (actually, 60.98 at time of this writing), and I’m looking forward to the freedom and understanding that comes with age.  I don’t resent the changes I have to make (running to cycling) or the adaptations (tiny printing to 12-point font), and I wonder what will be next.

       I fully expect the next years to be the best ones. I just read a headline that said “World’s Oldest backpacker plans two-month trip to Europe at 95 years old.” That sounds great to me, like something I want to do. I hope my shoulder feels better by then.


“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32

I need your help. The primary reason people read these articles is because someone like you shared with a friend, so please do. And thank you. Also, you can find more of my writing on my weekly blog, read insights on Tumblr, and follow me on Twitter and Facebook.


Close to Holy

       Last week I read Psalm 42:2, “My soul thirsts for God,” and it launched me to wondering how I could make that my story. How can my soul become thirsty for God?

       Does that sort of thing come naturally for human beings created by God in his own image? Or is it a thirst we develop through spiritual practices? Or could it be a completely free gift from God?

       Or an even better question might be, why am I not constantly thirsty, like the Psalmist? Is it because I’m not paying attention? Do I come close to holy without seeing it?

       Rachel Naomi Remen, an author, physician, and founder of the Institute for the Study of Health and Illness, wrote about a physician’s seminar in which she asked the doctors to use stethoscopes to listen to their own hearts. Once they all stopped diagnosing themselves and settled into really listening to what they heard, the room became quiet and mysterious. She said after the exercise was over, there was a long silence. Then one of the cardiologists began to speak about his work and to wonder aloud how one could be so close to something holy and not know it.

       The doctor quoted a prayer from Gates of Prayer (a Jewish prayer book), “Days pass and the years vanish and we walk sightless among miracles. How filled with awe is this place and we did not know it.”

       It’s so easy to underestimate the significance of our lives, to find ourselves standing beside God’s gifts and not recognize them.

       One of my recently favorite movies, About Time, is a 2013 British romantic comedy about a young man with the special ability to travel back in time, a power he used to change his past in order to improve his future. Of course, he learns there are great limits to what time travel can achieve, and it can be dangerous. He eventually understands his most valuable gift is to notice the details of every day, to live in the present, to look for the holy as it happens.

       God once reminded me, personally, to pay more attention when I was attending a Wild at Heart Advanced Camp at Crooked Creek Ranch in Colorado. After watching the movie August Rush, which affected me deeply, God brought me to the edge of my emotional limits by speaking through my own voice, “I’m sorry, I didn’t know how big it is.” I had been underestimating the impact and significance of the gifts and abilities he had given to me. I was so fixed on the details of daily life and the specifics of ministry. I forgot how big it was. I had missed the awe. I was walking sightless among miracles. I wasn’t thirsty for God.

       So my prayer for this summer while I’m hiking the mountains is that I will stay thirsty and pay attention to the miracles surrounding me.

       If you want to pray for me, pray the same prayer quoted by the cardiologist in Ms. Remen’s seminar: Days pass and the years vanish and we walk sightless among miracles. Lord, fill our eyes with seeing and our minds with knowing. Let there be moments when your Presence, like lightning, illumines the darkness in which we walk. Help us to see, wherever we gaze, that the bush burns, unconsumed. And we, clay touched by God, will reach out for holiness and exclaim in wonder, “How filled with awe is this place and we did not know it.”


“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32

How Do You Figure It Out?

       It’s still snowing in Colorado, which makes be a bit nervous about my summer plans. Most mountains across Colorado have measured 8-12 inches between Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning. And they expect it to continue through the weekend.

       I’ve already pushed my spreadsheeted-hiking-schedule for the 480-mile Colorado Trail trek one month on account of the record-breaking snowpack. If I push it another I’ll risk bad weather on the other end of the trip. But I’m not changing my plans again unless I’m forced to. Conditions are never perfect for anything, especially for outside anythings.

       I started working this particular dream in 2016 after a successful trip up Guadalupe Peak proved my new titanium knees could be trusted. The more I used my knees, the more I resurrected old dreams I’d shoved to the back of my mind.

       I spent the last two-thirds of 2016 reading books and blogs written by through-hikers, making notes and lists. I spread the word among family and friends that I was committed. Then, in January of this year, I started getting nervous about the whole thing. It kept awake at night worrying about what’d I’d eat, could I set up camp in the rain, how would I respond to hiking by myself day-after-day, would the altitude make me sick, what if I got hurt and couldn’t hike out, and, well, was I being stupid.

       And then the snow reports came out and the Colorado Trail Foundation recommended strongly that no one should begin a through-hike before mid-July, meaning not only did I now have something new to worry about, I also had to either rethink my schedule or cancel the trip. Cyndi quickly stepped in and discouraged any talk of canceling. Thank you.

       Once I decided to begin hiking a month later, reversed my direction, and left my finish date flexible, I started feeling better. And by the end of February I was past the anxiety stage and into the workman stage. As in, let’s make this happen; just work the problems. My anxiety always decreases when I start making lists.

       The truth is, for me, planning is often the most fun part. Working out routes, picking gear, all that. I wear Cyndi out talking about my lists and showing my spreadsheets and maps, but I love it. The downside of all that preparation is overplanning and overthinking (otherwise known as overworrying).

       It finally occurred to me that most of my detailed answers, the specifics of the perfect system I was going for, couldn’t be worked out ahead of time. I had to figure it out on the trail.

       All of this is way easier to type than it was to do. It’s taken my entire life to learn how to begin a project with the goal of “start and see what I can learn along the way” instead of waiting until I knew all the answers.

Creative genius Twyla Tharp wrote, “I began to see that overplanning can be as pernicious as not planning at all. There is an emotional lie to overplanning; it creates a security blanket that lets you assume you have things under control, that you are further along than you really are, that you’re home free when you haven’t even walked out the door yet.” (The Creative Habit)

       None of this concern should be a big surprise. Once we finally make up our minds to engage in a dream, that’s when the real uncertainty begins. Analytics like me tend to deal with fear by planning; we may look courageous when in fact all we’ve done in minimize our risk. At some point we have to hoist the pack and start hiking. That is, if there is a path through the snow.


I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32

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What Sort Of Story

       On our first hike up Guadalupe Peak, October 2003, it was just Cyndi and me. We were at the top enjoying lunch, looking through the log book, reading comments from other proud hikers, when I asked Cyndi what she would write. Her eyes twinkled and she quoted Sam Gamgee: “I wonder what sort of story we’ve stumbled into?” We had no idea we’d still be hiking this mountain fourteen years later. It turned out to be a big story after all.

       Last Saturday we hiked the Peak again, this time with eighteen Iron Men and family. The hike was as hard as ever. It never gets easier. I kept asking myself the same question, which is the same question we were all asking ourselves: Why am I still doing this?

       Climbing to the top of a mountain is a satisfying experience. There is a definite goal to achieve, and the goal is easy to evaluate. But hiking to the top of this particular mountain is not easy. The first hour is hot and steep and hard, a series of rocky switchbacks that gain elevation step after step. It is enough to send most casual hikers back down to their car. All you can do is put your head down and keep moving. There is no quick way to the top, no shortcuts, no secret passageways for people who buy the expensive tickets. You can’t conquer the Peak by reading or studying or going to workshops; you have to hike with your own two feet, and it is hard work.

       Kathleen Norris wrote, “Enlightenment can’t be found in a weekend workshop. There is not such a thing as becoming an instantly spiritualized person.” She continued, “Americans seek the quick fix for spiritual as well as physical growth. The fact that conversion is a lifelong process is the last thing we want to hear.” (Dakota: A Spiritual Geography)

       Maybe that’s one reason why I like taking groups up Guadalupe Peak, it’s a metaphor for how we achieve the most valuable things in life. It’s hard and long with no shortcuts or quick fixes.

       Another reason I’m attracted to the Guadalupe Mountains is the view. It is spectacular - breathtaking in its raw unconcern for the hiker. As you stand at the summit and gaze across the desert for a hundred miles, there is nothing visible that’s friendly to man, nothing that cares whether or not humans cross. It’s complete, self-contained, and stingy, offering no comforts to sooth a human being. Oddly enough, it’s that very indifference that speaks to my heart. From Barbara Kingsolver: “Looking out on a clean plank of planet earth, we can get shaken right down to the bone by the bronze-eyed possibility of lives that are not our own.” (Small Wonder)

       Here’s another reason: Hiking these desert mountains reminds us that we can push through almost anything hard, difficult, or painful if we have a compelling reason to not give up. During the last 25% of the hike when we’re all exhausted, our feet are sore, we’re dehydrated and long out of water, and we can see the parking lot way down there but there is no short cut back to the bus and there is no faster way down the mountain. Even then we keep moving.

       Later, once we are all off the mountain, settled into our seats for the long drive back to Midland, the bus buzzing with stories, injuries, photos, and hearts joining together. That part of the trip is one of my favorite moments of the day. Sharing our stories makes us brothers.

       We often say “without a scar we don’t have a story.” It is in the disasters, the injuries, the surviving, that our character is revealed and a simple set of facts morphs from timeline to story.

       One of my favorite writers, Jonathan Katz, wrote, “I am coming to see life as a series of paths, some literal, some emotional, some in the nature of life – marriage, divorce, work, family. These paths take all of us to different places. Paths are important, they are the symbols of our lives, they mark the passages of time, they take us out of our lives or, sometimes, into it.” Since that October day with Cyndi in 2003, the trail up Guadalupe Peak has become one of my most important paths. Again, from Barbara Kingsolver, “We need to experience a landscape that is timeless, whose agenda moves at the pace of speciation and glaciers.” (Small Wonder)

       This I’ve learned: God speaks to me most often when I’m moving and when I’m vulnerable. Dirt trails have become a big part of my spiritual journey, and being on top of mountains helps keep my eyes open to the larger, wider, wilder world.

       At the bottom of the mountain, I thanked God for keeping us safe, for giving us the desire and ability to do this, and for giving us one more turn. I’m grateful that it’s his story we’ve stumbled into.

“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32