Twenty Good Books 2017

Here are 20 good books I read in 2017 (sorted in the order I read them):


The Innovators, Isaacson, Walter . . . A compelling story of the people who created the computer and the Internet.

The Creative Habit, Tharp, Twila . . . I re-read this book after hearing Ms. Tharp speak in Midland. In this book she shares her secrets for developing and honing your creative talents

The Chronicles of Narnia, Lewis, C. S. . . .  I read these books again about every three or four years. If you haven’t read them, I insist you read them in the order they were published and not in the order the box set thinks they should be. If that is confusing, write to me and I’ll send you the best order for reading.

The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything, Martin, James . . . A practical spiritual guidebook based on the life and teachings of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus.

The Tummy Trilogy, Calvin, Trillin . . . Calvin Trillin was my first biggest influence as a writer. Especially these books. I realized if someone could write funny, clever, and entertaining pieces about food, I should be able to do the same with running or cycling or whatever.

Boys in the Boat, Brown, Daniel James . . . A book recommended to me by my Santa Fe friend Linda Spackman, who’s daughter was a college crew member. This book is about the University of Washington’s eight-oar crew team who won the gold medal in the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

Simplify, Hybells, Bill . . . Hybels identifies the core issues that lure us into frenetic living―and offers practical steps for sweeping the clutter from our souls.

The Holy Wild, Buchanan, Mark . . . speaks to one of the biggest questions of human existence: Can God be trusted?

Isaac's Storm, Larson, Erik . . . I got this through a Facebook book exchange, and thoroughly enjoyed it, and the history-changing hurricane that destroyed most of Galveston, Texas, in 1900.

Finishing Well, Buford, Bob . . . Stories of people age 40 and older who have pioneered the art of finishing well in these modern times, and who can teach us to do the same, starting today.

Finding God in the Waves, McHargue, Mike . . . A story of having faith, losing it, and finding it again through science—revealing how the latest in neuroscience, physics, and biology help us understand God, faith, and ourselves.

Racing the Rain, Parker, John L . . . A prequel to the New York Times bestselling Once a Runner—acclaimed by Runner’s World as “the best novel ever written about running”, the story of a world-class athlete coming of age in the 1950s and ’60s on Florida’s Gold Coast.

Falling Upward, Rohr, Richard . . . Seeks to help readers understand the tasks of the two halves of life

Wild Mind, Goldberg, Natalie . . . I first read this book in 1993 as part of my commitment to becoming a writer. I’ve pulled it off the shelf and re-read it twice since then.

Option B, Sandberg, Sheryl . . . After the sudden death of her husband, Sheryl Sandberg felt certain that she and her children would never feel pure joy again. This book describes her journey to recovery, facing adversity, building resilience, and eventually, finding joy.

The Last Arrow, McManus, Erwin . . . McManus’ challenge to risk everything for a life you thought you  could only imagine, and enter the life God has called you to.

Resilience, Greitens, Eric . . . A collection of letters written from one Navy SEAL to another SEAL who was struggling through PTSD.

One Friday in Jerusalem, Moubarek, Andre . . . A spiritual and historical journey down the Via Dolorosa with a Christian Arab who was born and lives in Old Town Jerusalem

We Stood Upon Stars, Thompson, Roger . . . We search mountaintops and valleys, deserts and oceans, hoping sunrises and long views through the canyons will help us discover who we are, or who we still want to be.  The language of our hearts reflects that of creation because in both are fingerprints of God.”

Daily Chronological Bible, God, and others . . . This is the Bible I read through every year, year after year; it has had a profound impact on my life and my deepening relationship with God


A Change of Pace

“Be still, and know that I am God.” ... Psalm 46:10 NIV

      “I might be in trouble here,” is what I kept telling myself as my pace deteriorated toward the toppling-over point. I was on my road bike, climbing a hill, trying to get back to a hot shower and eventual recovery.

      We were spending most of the week with great friends at Bishop’s Lodge near Santa Fe, New Mexico. Everyone else in the group was attending yoga classes, but being the contrarian that I am I was cycling instead. I brought my road bike – I don’t do enough mountain biking to survive the trails around Santa Fe without beating my body to pieces - hoping to squeeze in a couple of rides in decidedly different terrain and altitude than I get at home.

      I started my first ride feeling great, full of myself, especially since the route dropped in altitude during the first mile. However, reality returned quickly, and I had to gain it all back in the second mile, already more elevation change than I accumulate in a month back home. Then a long descent between miles four and six, meaning no pedaling was required but vigilance encouraged. In situations like this I start working my breaks when speed approaches 35 mph; fast enough for someone like me. Later, my friend Wes asked if I saw the opera house while riding past, but of course I saw nothing but the white stripe in front of me. I was concentrating on not crashing.

      The thing about long descents is you eventually have to climb back up the mountain to get back home. Which I did. It was hard, but I actually enjoyed the change of pace and effort. And climbing meant I was now moving slow enough to appreciate the forest surrounding me.

      It was the last half mile that made me wonder if I was in trouble. I was barely moving up the hill, just fast enough to stay balanced but too slow to safely unclip from the pedals without fall sideways. I had no alternative but to keep pushing.

      The road was a 7.6% grade, which might as well be vertical for a flatlander like me with 61-year-old legs and lungs. In the context of local cyclists who routinely ride up the Hyde Park Road, ten solid miles of climbing, including a mile stretch at 9% grade called “The Wall,” what I did wasn’t so impressive. I blamed my difficulty on inadequate bike gearing, but it was probably more a function of wimpy legs and lousy power-to-weight ratio. However, it was a great ride. It was hard enough to clear the cobwebs from my brain and create space for new insights, which of course, was my intent all along.

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      Later that same day, after recovering a bit, I sat about five rows from the altar in the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis in Santa Fe. To my left was a statue called La Conquistadora, which has resided at this location since 1626. I heard the docent pointing out the ceiling above the statue to a group of tourists: “It was built in 1715, before George Washington was born.” The current cathedral where I was sitting was completed and dedicated in 1887.

      I must admit most of the statues and icons were a mystery to me. Catholicism is not the tradition that raised me. My life has been firmly Protestant and Baptist, where we intentionally shy away from physical representations of faith. I often wonder if we’re as noble as we think we are in that regard.

      I like to come to this cathedral and be still, to feel the space, to soak in the silence, to slow down and let my brain floaters settle, and to listen and absorb the centuries of worship. Even though my own tradition and theology is significantly different from what is represented here, the object of our worship is the same for me as for the generations who’ve sat here before me.

      I often wonder if we modern evangelicals put too much effort into making our worship centers as nonreligious as possible, with industrial grade flat black ceilings, offering no incentive to tilt our heads and follow the columns and vaults as they point upward.  We miss the nobility of architecture that draws worshiper’s eyes and hearts toward heaven.

      As much as I lean into the future, which is a core value for me, my spirit longs to tap into the ancient streams of faith, to follow the footsteps of generations, to feel the strength and power flowing through all those who’ve come before, to, as Aslan said, experience “a magic deeper still,” to sing what my new friend Matthew Clark called “an anthem born before the world began.”

      Richard Rohr writes that change and growth must be programmed into our spirituality or we’ll end up worshiping the status quo. My hope is to disrupt daily patterns and open my heart to a fresh word from God, whether that that means being physically still and quiet in a large space steeped in history, or pushing myself up a hill on an unfamiliar road.

      How about you? What have you done recently to clear the cobwebs and be still?


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


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Moving-In or Moving-On?

       I will occasionally pull a previously-read book from my shelf and review the highlighted parts (a solid argument in favor of marking-up books), which is what I was doing when I found this passage in Leonard Sweet’s book, 11 Indispensable Relationships You Can't Be Without.

       “Every plant grows in two opposite directions at the same time: downward, more rooted and bound, clinging to the ground; but also upward, freer and more open, swaying in the breeze. Jewish mystic and history scholar Walter Benjamin once observed that all storytelling emerges from two fundamental experiences: the state of being rooted to a particular place, and the act of traveling.”

       “In other words, there are two kinds of stories to tell: moving-in stories and moving-on stories. Moving-in stories are stories with roots: home-sweet-home books about sanctuary, security, and solitude. Moving-on stories are stories with wings: blue-highway books about pilgrimages, on-the-road-again restlessness, and homesickness.”

       I liked this characterization immediately and wondered which category contains most of my stories. Am I a moving-in story guy or a moving-on story guy?

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       I would say most of my spiritual writing is moving-in stories. Even when I write about struggles and questions, I feel safe and secure and settled. I have so much more to learn, but I feel stable in what I know. I’ve moved in.

And I pray that Christ will be more and more at home in your hearts, living within you as you trust in him. May your roots go down deep into the soil of God’s marvelous love; (Eph 3:17 TLB)

       I recently read Richard Rohr’s book, Falling Upward, and I liked it a lot. In fact, I hope to attend one of his seminars in 2018. I need teachers who nurture both moving-in (deepening) and moving-on (broadening) in my stories (which is to say, my life).

       When I write about cycling or running, I think those are also moving-in stories. They are about roots and home, about fundamental disciplines that cling to the ground, about sanctuary, security, and solitude.

       However, I believe my trail stores are moving-on stories; about pilgrimage, swaying in the breeze, experiencing mystery in the unknown, and restlessness. I love being on dirt trails because I want to cover ground, to keep moving, to see new vistas, to feel different textures.

May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. (Edward Abbey, Benedicto)

       Our family recently bought a small house on Lake Granbury, and it’s changed the way I think. My personal dream has always been about having a house in the mountains near a National Park. Recently, those dreams have been centered around Santa Fe. I’ve always been bent toward mountains, not water, so the idea of owning a lake house has been a surprise move.

       I now see Granbury as a moving-in story, a place to dig roots near family and among a familiar culture. Santa Fe would be a moving-on story, among unfamiliar culture and further from family. I love Santa Fe but I doubt it would ever feel like home. It has some of the best food in the world, but eating in excellent restaurants is not enough to grow deep roots.

       I read a blog by Ed Stetzer, Learning to Lead Differently as You Age, in which he wrote about how people my age (61) should spend our time and focus investing in people younger than us. He asked, “Are you raising up the next generation of Joshuas?” I made a note on my printed copy of the blog: That’s exactly how I want to live the rest of my life. Wherever we are, and whatever we do, I want the legacy of young Joshuas to be both my moving-in stories and my moving-on stories.

       How about you? Do you tell more moving-in stories or moving-on stories? Which is more comfortable? Which do you hope describes your future?


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

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Hoping for Rain

      Wednesday before last week was my first autumnish bike ride of 2017. It was 62* and raining; cool enough for long sleeves but not cold; required vigilant cornering and braking; it was fun, not scary. I’ve been caught in the rain before, in the middle of a ride, but this was my first time to leave the house with rain already falling.

      Traffic was light so I didn’t have to worry much about splashing or skidding cars. My brakes were mostly ineffective but I was on a familiar route and never felt in danger. It would have been peaceful except I had to keep wiping my glasses so I could see. I tried taking them off but then the rain drops kept hitting my eyes, which added pain to the not-being-able-to-see handicap.

      My first thought upon returning home from the ride was this: I need better rain gear. I was wet all the way through and covered in muddy back-spackle. I undressed in the laundry room and stuffed my wet clothes straight into the washer.

“Open up, heavens, and rain. Clouds, pour out buckets of my goodness! Loosen up, earth, and bloom salvation; sprout right living. (Isaiah 45:8 MSG)

      Maybe I would get tired of it if I lived somewhere else where it rained every, but I don’t, and I never have, so I look forward to rain. And not only to rain, but the coolness of fall. I’m anxious for cooler weather by September (no, really, I’m ready for cooler weather by the beginning of July). I tire quickly of 100* sunny summer days. I’m always ready for fall.

cycling in rain.jpg

      But back to my Wednesday ride - I’ve been reminded by well-meaning friends that there are alternatives to cycling in the rain, namely using a stationary bicycle in the protected comfort of a gym. But a stationary bike is just exercise. I want to move down the road. I want to play in the rain.

      One reason I enjoy riding in the rain is the same as why I also I like running in the rain. I like the anonymity. When I have my earbuds in and my iPod playing a great podcast only I can hear, and I’m snuggled into my rain jacket shell safe and cozy, I’m happy. I don’t even mind the rain falling or the cars splashing. I’m safely shielded from the prying world.

      Anonymity isn’t the only reason I like rain. As it turns out, some of my most foundational not-giving-up moments happened in the rain.

      My first marathon finish was in 1983, the Golden Yucca Marathon in Hobbs, New Mexico, and I finished alone in the rain. The finish line officials saw me coming, ran out from their camper and stood under an umbrella while recording my number and time on a clipboard, then ran back inside, leaving me standing by myself in the rain. I didn’t mind. The rain masked my tears of pride. That race is still part of my life story, and when I talk about running and the influence it’s had on me I always mention it. I went on to finish eight more marathons but that first one was the most transformational. I still wear the effect with pride.

      Another example? My first time to hike up Tejas Trail, my first backpacking trip into the Guadalupe Mountains, was in cold drizzling rain. The fog was so thick I couldn’t see down the mountain behind me or down the slope beside me. All I could see clearly was one turn above and one turn below. It was spooky.

      I kept stepping in water running down the trail, which was not a good sign. Water seldom runs anywhere in the Guadalupes, so seeing water on the trail meant the rain was coming down even harder up higher, and I was just seeing part of the runoff. Not only that, the higher I climbed, the more the temperature dropped, and the wet ground alongside the trail soon became dusted in snow. Eventually, snow began to cover the trail, and the low spots in the trail were often filled with cold slushy water.

      But I was proud of myself for continuing. I had put this trip off for too long and I had no intention of turning back because of a bit of cold snowy rain. It was an amazing afternoon. Although, I didn’t understand how amazing until later while standing under a hot shower back at home.

He covers the heavens with clouds, sends down the showers, and makes the green grass grow in mountain pastures. (Psalm 147:8 TLB)

      Cyndi and I both enjoy rainy weather. We usually open the doors so we can hear and smell the rain, especially when we’re sitting in our usual places around the library table working on projects. The sound and smell makes us smile. Both of us.

      Sometimes I’ll go out on our porch (or piazza, or veranda (depends on my mood)) and sit in my rocking chair and read and let the sound of rain lull me into peace and quiet. The steady patter overtaking all the noisy chatter in my head. Like Thich Nhat Hanh wrote, “Listening to the rain can help the mind come to stillness.”

      This week the temperatures have climbed back into the 80’s and 90’s, which is way too warm for October. The forecast hinted rain, but so far, no joy. Bummer. I miss autumn already.

      How about you – do you like rain? Does it settle your mind? If not, what does?


“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.

Press here to find my 100 Life Goals


One Lucky Guy

       According to the version of the story that Cyndi tells, she didn’t know all that much about what our Thursday evening consisted of either. But I knew when I saw her in that short turquoise dress with her cowboy boots she was planning to have fun.

       Earlier in the week she’d told me the Perry’s had invited us to join them at their table for a fundraising dinner. Of course we said yes. We’ve never been anywhere or done anything with them that didn’t turn out to be great fun.

       All I knew was that we were having dinner together and there would probably be some form of entertainment or speaker. This lack of information was unusual because I’m typically the one of the two of us who checks out all the details beforehand. Not this time.

       It turned out to be an outside dinner, and they served gourmet tacos and roasted ears of corn. Perfect. I couldn’t have been happier. Until, that is, I looked up at the stage and saw the huge sign behind all the sound equipment that read, Los Lonely Boys. “Are you kidding me?” I asked Cyndi. “The Los Lonely Boys are playing tonight?” Cyndi shrugged and said, “I guess so. I didn’t know, either.”

       Well, the Los Lonely Boys were great. They get an incredibly dense sound for only three musicians, and their harmonies were spot on. It was an excellent concert. I was one lucky guy.

Los Lonely Boys Midland 2017.jpg

      About two songs into their first set I knew it was time to ask Cyndi to dance. Well she actually broached the topic first but I knew it was imminent when she started swaying in her chair and smiling, so I had my answer ready. There was a time in my life – say the first fifty years – when I never would’ve gotten up in front of an entire dinner-and-concert crowd to dance near the stage. That is, unless sixty or seventy couples started dancing first. This is mostly because I have no confidence dancing, fueled by the fact I have no real skills. It’s been reported that I dance in the sense Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady sang. I only have about two moves and they both involve the two-step.

       However, when Cyndi dances, her entire body lights up. There is a glow of energy surrounding her. Even her shoulders smile. How can I possibly not be part of that? She lures me in close with her sparkling eyes, not that I have any plans to resist, and before I know what has happened we’re dancing alone near the stage, the very first couple to give it a whirl. All by ourselves.

       After a couple of minutes of being the only people dancing AT ALL, Cyndi smiled and said, “I love you, Berry.” “I know; and so does everyone else who can see us. It’s no secret anymore.”

       Eventually the Perry’s joined our dancing for a part of the song, but they were the only ones all night. I didn’t mind. I was so infatuated by my date and overwhelmed by how great our evening turned out I was sparkling just like Cyndi.

       However, I’ll be the first to admit, well second to admit since I heard it first from Cyndi, that Cyndi doesn’t like long instrumental breaks or solos, something most bands such as Los Lonely Boys love to include in their live performances. “Nobody likes that much guitar” is what I heard her say. She prefers music that makes her jump to her feet and move. All I could say was “If I could do what he’s doing, and do it with my brother, I’d never do anything else.”

       Well, I had intended to write a piece about how much I enjoyed the rain Thursday afternoon but the floods in Houston are still too recent to do that in good conscience. And then I was going to write about moving-in and moving-on stories, but with the music still ringing in my head and the taste of chili-lime roast corn in my heart, I wrote about this instead. As I said, I am one lucky guy, and that’s worth writing about.


“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.

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What Are You Afraid Of?

       I recently placed a question in my closet/man-cave: “I wonder what my life would be like if I started doing all the things I’m afraid to do?” The question came from reading James Altucher, and surprisingly, the first afraid-to-do thing I thought of was about music.

       One of my goals for 2017 was “to practice trombone at home more often,” knowing that any practice at all, even only one time, would exceed what I’ve been doing. But I needed more; a new big goal to follow after my summer hike. It was time to reboot some ancient habits, so I did something I’ve been afraid to do. I signed up for private trombone lessons, my first since 1976.

       “So why take private lessons, at your age?” you might ask. “Don’t you usually run away from situations where you appear to be a beginner? Isn’t that the very thing you’ve been afraid of?”


       I knew taking lessons would be scary at first, exposing my fading ability to a professional musician. But I also knew the scary would last only one or two lessons, and then the constructive work would begin.

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       I have played trombone since 1968. In the past 49 years I’ve played in the Kermit Junior High Band, Kermit High School Band, Hobbs High School Band, New Mexico Junior College Band, University of Oklahoma Band, Midland College Community Jazz Band, the Grace Presbyterian Ecumenical Dixieland Jazz Band, Global Mission Project Celebration Orchestra, and the First Baptist Church Midland Worship Orchestra. Those are the ones I remember.

       Currently, I own four trombones: a classic Conn 88H from 1973, a Bach once played in high school by daughter Katie, a cool black pBone, and my favorite, a King Silver Sonic 3B that I’ve played since the summer of 1970.

       But I haven’t actually applied myself to improve my skills since college. I’ve been coasting.

       Well, as I’m writing this, I’ve survived my first lesson. My teacher, the Principal Trombonist with the Midland-Odessa Symphony and a member of the Lone Star Brass, younger than my own kids, is an excellent musician and instructor. If anything, he showed me too much deference, probably due to my advanced state of life, as if I’m his grandfather. That doesn’t bother me. This is going to be fun more than scary.

       I’m so happy that playing trombone is still part of my life after all these years. I’m a better engineer because I’m a musician. I’m a better writer, a better teacher, a better husband and father and lover. Having music in my life makes me creative, open-eyed, and helps me appreciate quality, hard work, and practice. Playing jazz has taught me how the important features are often the most subtle. Making music swing is more about heart than technique. The same is true with engineering.

       I Corinthians 1:5 says, “He has enriched your whole lives, from the words on your lips to the understanding in your hearts.” (Phillips) Music is one of the most enriching gifts God has given me.

       Not only does music enrich my life, but it’s firmly embedded in my family. Dad was a church worship leader and Mom played piano so there was always music in our house. I was often “recruited” to play trombone solos in church, and since there weren’t many soloists in those small congregations I stayed in the regular rotation.

       What’s more, Cyndi and I first met in a band hall in 1973, and we’ve played in various ensembles together ever since. I cannot imagine our life without this bond between us.

       One of my favorite Bible verses is Psalm 33:3“Sing to the Lord a new song; Play skillfully with a shout of joy.” That’s what it takes: skill (hard work), and joy (sheer pleasure). Or as my musical mentor and trail guide, Rabon Bewley says, “You’ve got to dig what you’re doing.”

       How about you? What is something you are afraid to do? How would your life be different if you did it?

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

Decision Points

        “Some of the things you do for fun seem strange to everyone else,” said Tonya, my sister-in-law, at the Sunday family lunch. She was referring to how I like to ride my bike for hours, or run marathons, or backpack or hike mountains.

       “Well maybe,” I said. “But I’ve heard that some people think yard work is fun.” Tonya was planning to spend the afternoon working on her landscaping, taking advantage of a cool and overcast summer day.

       The day before, Saturday morning, I left on my bike unsure how far I’d ride. It was liberating not to have a training goal but to simply ride as long and as far I felt.

       I’ve learned when doing uncertain rides like this to postpone my decisions whether to continue until the last moment. I have specific decision points along my route that are good places to turn around if necessary.

       Each lap at Green Tree is a decision point, for example, as is the Kent Kwik at Holiday Hill Road and County Road 60. If I keep riding past those I’m mentally committed to West Grassland. My next decision point is Highway 158, and if I keep going from there I’m committing myself to at least one lap around the Champion neighborhood.

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       By the time I got home Saturday morning I’d ridden 60 miles. It was fun, a good day, and I came home with lots of good ideas contemplated during the ride.

       I’ve been riding well since returning from my shortened hike on the Colorado Trail. I’m averaging 1-2 mph faster on every ride. The remarkable thing about that is it’s happened in spite of a dull yet persistent pain in my right foot that followed me down from the mountain. It’s probably a recurrence of a problem I had several years ago which resulted in surgery, diagnosed as “Overlapping HT Deformity” and “Hallux Limitus”. I’m afraid I may have more surgery in my future. Now that my knees are doing so well, my foot is the next weakest link.

       I was recently telling Bill Britt, my favorite massage therapist, muscle repair artist, and injury preventer, about how the slightest bump can put brown bruises on my skin and I quickly start bleeding. Bill was having the same problem. It was a recent phenomenon for both of us, a product of aging.

       For example, I was in Best Buy entering the checkout line when a blue-shirted employee asked if I was OK. She was pointing at my arm, specifically the trail of blood running across my skin. I had apparently bumped my arm on one of the display racks as I circled the checkout maze and it was bleeding. The bump was so slight I didn’t notice, but now I was bleeding. This sort of thing is becoming way too common.

       Bill and I wondered if all the fanny packs worn by men in the retirement village where my dad used to live were full of body repair kits: Band Aids, Liquid Skin, Super Glue, Ace Bandages, Advil, Absorbent towels, etc. Was that going to be our future?

       I don’t resent the effects of aging. I just want to know how to deal with them, how to do work-arounds, lifehacks, how to compensate and keep moving. I suppose I could stay home and sit in my recliner where it’s safe, but as Jeff Grigsby once reminded me, “That’s not a world you and I want to live in.”

       Maybe I should consider each of those physical issues – new knees, weird feet, and tender skin – as decision points, convenient places to decide whether to keep going on turn around and head home.

       My decision is an easy one: keep going as long as its fun, even if it seems strange to everyone else. After all, moving down the road is better than yard work. At any age.


“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.

 Press here to find my 100 Life Goals

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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