Are You a Hand Holder?

       Cyndi and I are hand holders.

       Well, at least I am. I suspect Cyndi mostly puts up with me. I am a lucky man.

       I can’t sit within arm’s length of her without reaching out to her hand. To be honest, it’s one of my disappointments with our current assignments during worship service at our church. Either we are both playing in the orchestra, which isn’t conducive to handholding, or Cyndi is working in the media booth and both her hands are too busy to hold.

       I’m not sure why this is such a big deal for me, but its deeply rooted. Whenever I take the Love Languages quiz my top answer always comes out Physical Touch; I think for me it has more to do with security than affection. I find the world safer and friendlier when we are holding onto each other. Having Cyndi within reach gives me the courage to take on whatever the future brings.

       The reason this has been on my mind is because I read about hand holding in Psalm 73, a psalm about doubt and insecurity, rescue and restoration. Verse 23 says, “But even so, you love me! You are holding my right hand! You will keep on guiding me all my life with your wisdom and counsel;” (TLB) It’s one of my favorite images of God.

       And then I read another of my favorite passage about hand holding, in Psalms 37: “The steps of a man are established by the Lord; and He delights in his way. When he falls, he shall not be hurled headlong; because the Lord is the One who holds his hand.” (37:23-24 NAS). The Psalmist doesn’t promise that we won’t fall, but that that God will keep us from being hurled headlong. That is good news.

       One Sunday morning several years ago, as our family drove through the parking lot on the way to lunch, we saw my friend Scott walking with his wife and little daughter. Scott is an attorney who is about 8 feet tall. He is so tall no one really knows how to measure him. (One time my daughter Katie was trying to see who was taller, me, or my son, Byron. Byron told her, “You are jumping to see the tops of our heads. I don’t think that is a very accurate way to measure.”)

       Here’s the thing. When we saw him that Sunday morning he was holding the hand of his daughter, a toddler just learning to walk. Scott was bent over sideways at the waist in the most awkward position I’ve ever seen so that that his long arm could reach down far enough to hold his little girl’s hand. I can’t imagine how he walked ten steps that way, much less how he made it across the entire parking lot. I would’ve thrown out my back and spent the afternoon in bed.

       It was a great picture of how God holds our hand. Just like that little girl walking proudly we think we’re making our way through life on our own. And, like the little girl who was tripping and stumbling as she went, we don’t fall, or as the psalmist wrote, we aren’t hurled headlong, because someone bigger and stronger is holding our hand.

       Well, I was going to write more about this, but I’ve been away long enough. I need to hunt down Cyndi and get close enough to hold her hand. It’s the best antidote for me for this scary world, and I cannot get enough.

 

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

You Can Change the Future

       “What were your dad’s last words to you?” is a question I’ve heard a lot in the past two weeks. There is an implied expectation last words will be profound.

       Here is the last exchange I had with my Dad when I could be absolutely certain I understood what he was trying to say: “How do you feel this morning?” “I feel great!” (He was propped up in a hospital chair, couldn’t open his eyes, couldn’t swallow, yet not complaining.) “What have you been doing all morning?” “We had a volleyball tournament. Our team won.”

       The answer to the last words question? Dad was cracking jokes, making people smile, not complaining, and enjoying what he could of the life he had left. That’s how I want to go. It seems profound to me.

       I had lunch with my Dad at least once a week for the past five years, and while we often said nothing to each other, like men tend to do, we never ran out of things to talk about. I am content that he and I said everything that needed to be said between us. There was nothing left to settle, explain, justify, defend, or forgive. We just had fun together.

       For most of my life I saw my Mom as the biggest influence on my life. I followed her structured life, her love for reading, her search for quiet and solitude, her temperament, and her personality.

       I saw music and humor as coming from my Dad, but little else. However, the more I’ve listened to stories and comments from friends over the past weeks, I’ve realized Dad’s significant imprint on my life. Even though we were very different men, I am grateful for what I have of my father in me.

       I have been blessed in the best way possible: both my parents loved me, were proud of me, and believed in me, every day of my life. My mom bragged about me even when she was living in the Alzheimer’s Unit. Even when I wasn’t sure she remembered my name, her eyes would light up every time I came close to her. And my Dad continued to tell stories about me to his friends all the way to the end. I know this because those stories have been coming back to me lately from those very same people.

       I realize maybe that wasn’t your life. Maybe you never had that sort of relationship with your parents, or with any of your family.

       If that’s your story, I’m truly sorry. You cannot change the past, but you can change the future. You can give your children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and generations you will never meet a new story to tell. You can change your family’s future by deciding to love unconditionally, respect unconditionally, and believe unconditionally.

 

 

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

Packing Stories

       We’ve spent this past week packing and moving my Dad’s apartment. It’s the sort of thing all families have to do occasionally, one of the final steps in saying goodbye. My Dad passed away last Friday, March 31. He was 88.58 years old.

       It would’ve been a much bigger task had we not moved my mom and dad from Hobbs to Midland in 2011. They’d lived in Hobbs for 42 years, which means they accumulated a lot of stuff. I made dozens of trips back and forth from Hobbs, hauling boxes.

       Since their apartment at Manor Park didn’t have room for most of their furniture and belongings, the bulk of it ended up in my garage and attic. Deciding how to handle all of that was not a small problem. I still have a lot stored.

       This time all we’ve had to pack was the bit of furniture and odds and ends he needed to live, and my Dad didn’t need much. Most of what was in the apartment was what we moved in for him in 2011, and it was mostly in the same place where we first put it.

       Well, except for a significant collection of Southern Gospel CDs, DVDs, and VHS tapes that his sister, Betty, brought for him to enjoy. I packed at least eight banker’s boxes full of those. We are expecting Aunt Betty to take them back home with her.

       We found …

       Clothes belonging to my Mom that had been in the same dresser drawers for at least ten years. Apparently, Dad didn’t need the space.

       Clothes belonging to my Dad, all completely worn out. He wasn’t the sort to pay attention to details like clothes, and he only bought more when someone told him to. Except for cycling gear, that is. He had several jerseys and shorts. None of us ever saw him in shorts until about three years ago; then, they became all he wore.

       An assortment of magnifying lenses and devices, a variety of hearing aids, all things he added to adjust to the changes in his own body during the past years

       A handful of doggie sweaters for his little jumpy dog, Lucy. Growing up, he never even allowed dogs in the house. They lived in the backyard. Now, not only did Lucy have free run of the inside, but she had sweaters.

       Boxes of notes and records from his twenty years of genealogy research. I found a cousin who will take these and make sense of them. Whew!

       An N-scale model train kit that he got for Christmas. He was hoping to reboot his hobby of train driving, but his eyesight limited his ability to do detailed work more than he anticipated.

       Ski clothes laid out ready to go on the First Baptist Church Men’s Ski Trip. He was planning to stay warm. I found six complete pairs of long underwear in his suitcase, all for a three-day springtime ski trip.

       Of course, moving is more than boxing belongings. It’s about stories. The stories we tell over and over, the stories we keep in our heart, the stories we cherish to remember people we love, and the stories that define us. All of those stories are linked to the artifacts we keep around us in our home. So when it comes time to move, it is a process of editing and filtering stories, not just thinning the load. It is never a small thing. It is a nontrivial process.

       I was reminded of the days when life treated my mom and dad more gently, before Alzheimer’s, when daily living came a little easier. It was a subtle lesson on how two very different individuals accommodated each other and leaned into each other for 59 years. How they made space for each other in their crowded lives.

       Packing up someone else’s house is the triage of life - keeping things of value and painfully leaving the rest behind. Not because the past was unimportant, but because life is about the future, about grand ideas and bold plans. We have to make room for what it still to come.

 

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

It's A Long Story

We’re planning to move my dad into Hospice Care tonight, Thursday, March 30. I don't expect him to last much longer. He hasn't been able to swallow food or liquids in a week, can’t open his eyes, can barely communicate, and wrestles with breathing. He is 88 years old. It's time to let him go home.

About a six days ago he fell. I found him flat in his back in his kitchen. "Are you OK, Dad?" "I decided to take a nap."

About three weeks ago he had a stroke that slowed his gait even more than it was, affected his ability to balance on his bicycle, and rendered his once-dependable legs weak and unstable. He asked me to get him a walker, which I initially resisted because I wasn't ready to see him with one. For some reason I can't defend or explain I was more concerned with my own feelings of physical vulnerability than his personal safety.

About three months ago I signed up both Dad and myself for the church men's ski trip. It was his idea. He said, "The age limit is 18-90 so I have two years left." "Are you sure you can do this?" "We'll find out."

About seven months ago Dad and I rode our bikes for eight laps around Manor Park, the gated retirement village where he's lived since 2011, in honor of his 88th birthday. I tried to talk him I it riding 8.8 miles. "No way."

About three years ago my Mom passed away after a long slide into Alzheimer's. I drove Dad home after the funeral with a car full of flowers he wanted to give to the caregivers in the Alzheimer's Unit where Mom had been a patient. "It was a good day, Dad." "Yes, it was."

About eight years ago I took Dad 2/3 of the way up Guadalupe Peak. It was a fun father-son day, and I was proud of him for hiking so far at 80 years old, and for knowing when to turn back and hike down. "Hey Dad, this is the first time I've hiked when I was the youngest guy in the group."

About thirty-three years ago my Dad gave me a ride home after my first attempt to run a marathon. I ran about 18 miles before dropping out. He told me he was proud of me. I was 27 and needed to hear that as much as when I was ten. The truth is, I have never known a moment of life without being certain my Dad was proud of me. It is one of God's greatest gifts.

About thirty-eight years ago I told my Dad that Cyndi and I wanted to get married. "We knew that already. What else is new."

About Forty-nine years ago my Dad encouraged me to join the beginner band program at Kermit Junior High School. I am still a musician today because of him. He served as a church worship leader for years, and showed me that music was what grown men did.

About fifty years ago I was with Dad when we both got busted putting an "It's A Boy" sign in a friend's yard after his wife had their first son. I was embarrassed that we were caught in the act. Dad wasn’t. "If it had stayed a secret it would've been a good prank, but he now has a better story to tell his friends ... Do you know what I caught Deane Simpson doing?"

About sixty years ago my Dad enrolled me in the Cradle Roll at our church in Big Spring, Texas. I was only a couple days old and already a Sunday School member. From my Dad I learned what a long and consistent, quiet and unassuming, happy and joking life with God looked like. I've been trying to live up to that ever since.

 

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

Packing Our Fears

       We pack our fears. Load too much heavy stuff into our packs, just in case.

       It’s the backpacker’s dilemma.

       The more things we’re afraid of, the more gear we pack, and the heavier our pack becomes. If we’re afraid of the dark mountain night, we pack extra flashlights and batteries. If we’re afraid of eating cold food, we pack extra fuel canisters. If we’re afraid of getting rained on, we pack an extra change of clothes. If we’re afraid of getting hungry, we pack extra food.

       Unfortunately, a heavy pack is a danger of its own. It’s exhausting to carry and alters our behavior on the trail by slowing us down, hindering good decisions, and draining our energy.

       The good news is, with more experience we can overcome many of our fears. I’ve learned how much food I’ll actually need on a three-day hike so I don’t carry too much. I’ve learned how many meals to expect from a fuel canister so I don’t weigh myself down with extras.

       Other fears, we just learn to live with. I can suffer through a day in wet clothes so I’ll leave the extras behind. I can survive a night without a flashlight so I’ll leave the extra one at home. I can tolerate heavy hiking boots in the evening around camp so I won’t pack my cushy camp shoes.

       When you first begin backpacking you’re convinced you’re already packing as light as possible. Everything in your pack seems necessary and useful. It takes time on the trail to learn what you need and what you don’t need. It takes miles on the trail to know the difference between what is important for civilized survival and what is merely compensating for fear.

       It’s a learning process, this constant winnowing of fears and gear. It takes a lifetime to get our weight down.

       Last Sunday morning in our Bible study class we discussed a story found in Matthew 19 about Jesus and a rich young ruler. The story begins with the ruler asking a sincere and heartfelt question of Jesus: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” The man wanted to do the right thing, and he asked the right person.

       I picture the man holding his open checkbook and pen, the check already signed, ready to fill in the amount. He was willing to support Jesus’s ministry, or sponsor a wing on the children’s hospital, or give to the temple fund, or whatever Jesus asked.

       However, after quizzing the man about his obedient lifestyle, Jesus surprised him with this request: “Sell everything you have and give it to the poor, then follow me.”

       This was the last thing the man wanted to hear. It spoke to his deepest fears. How could he possibly give it all to the poor? Who would he be if he gave it all away? Who would listen to him if he weren’t rich? How could he do great and mighty things for the kingdom if he himself was poor? Where would the weight and significance of his life come from?

       Hearing Jesus’ expectations made the ruler sad. He had started the conversation with big hopes of doing something grand, but now, all he could do was walk away.

       The young ruler’s backpack was full of fears: the fear that in the end he would be worse off than in the beginning; the fear he would lose more than he gained; the fear of financial insecurity; the fear of a life with no guarantees.

       The man wanted to follow Jesus, but his backpack of fears was too heavy for the trail Jesus called him to hike.

       When fear drives our behavior we are not trusting God for our wellbeing. We have to open our hands to God and release our grip on our own perfect plan for our own perfect lives. Henri Nouwen wrote, “To open my hands is an admission that I am not God, that I am through trying to be God, and that I was not very good at it anyway.”.

       How about you? What is weighing down your pack?

 

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

Spring Breaks

       We just spent three days skiing in Santa Fe: Cyndi and me, our daughter Katie, granddaughters Madden and Landry, Tanya and Kevin. It was a good trip. The snow was fine for spring skiing in New Mexico, and we skied lots of fun trails.

       One question that came up often during the three days was: How do your new knees feel? In fact I never thought about them until I heard the question. My knees were amazing. They did everything I asked of them without complaint. My 17-year layoff from skiing was a hindrance, but not my knees.

       I am not an athlete. My only native athletic skill is perseverance, which might be better described as stubbornness. In all my sporting pursuits – running, backpacking and hiking, cycling, skiing – I am at the intermediate level at best. Through the years I have learned enough basic techniques so that I can perform at a level that keeps me happy, but I have none of the natural athleticism needed to excel. I’m not complaining; I’m analyzing.

       Skiing used to be a bigger part of our life. Cyndi and I skied together before we were married (the photo is from March 1979, about four months before our wedding, 38 Spring Breaks ago), and we started skiing with our kids when they were very young. For years we volunteered as sponsors for our church youth trips because it was the cheapest way for the entire family to ski.

       But after both of our children graduated from high school, we stopped skiing. We didn’t intend to stop, it just faded away out of view. Until, that is, we realized we had a new generation in the family. It’s remarkable how life is energized by grandchildren.

       We love repeating family traditions and telling family stories, and we hope to pass those down. We even have specific skiing traditions. For example, we eat meatloaf sandwiches for lunch on ski trips. We never eat them any other time. I don’t know why.

       And Cyndi and I sing to each other on the lift and on the trail. Our songs tend to be scripture songs we learned back in the 1970s, and one of our favorites was based on Psalm 3:103 and written by a college friend named Cathy Browning. We sing that song even though we haven’t heard anyone else sing it since 1979. On the trail, I like to sing the Delaney and Bonnie song, “I’ve Got A Never-Ending Love For You,” whenever Cyndi is within earshot, which isn’t often since she usually skies far ahead of me.

       But remembering old stories and traditions is not enough. We don’t want to be those people who live life grabbing for the past. We also want new stories, new traditions, new adventures, with new generations.

       Penelope Lively wrote this about gardening: “The miraculous power of gardening: it evokes tomorrow, it is eternally forward-looking, it invites plans and ambitions, creativity, expectation.” (Dancing Fish and Ammonites)

       Her description of gardening is exactly how I want to live life: with forward-looking adventures, ambitions, creativity, and expectations.

       During one of our lunch breaks I noticed three couples sitting a table near ours; all six were older than Cyndi and me. They appeared to have lots of skiing miles in their legs and they smiled and joked with each other the entire time. I thought, that is who I want us to be. I hope we have dozens of spring breaks ahead of us, and new stories and traditions to gather up.

 

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

 

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Leaning In

       Do you set big goals for yourself? How do you know when it’s time to lean in to those goals and make them happen, or when it’s time to be cautious and minimize risk?

       I have made a personal commitment to chase one of my biggest Life Goals this summer, to through-hike the Colorado Trail, all 486 miles. I hope I’m doing the right thing, but it is already keeping me awake at night.

       The seeds of this adventure were planted when I first began running in 1978. Almost immediately I was taken by stories of epic runs. I read dozens of accounts of people who ran across the USA. I was fascinated by the idea of covering the surface of the earth by human power, and wondered if I would ever be fit enough to try something like that.

       Once I started backpacking again, in 2004, my thoughts of a cross-country run morphed into doing an epic through-hike of the Appalachian Trail, or Pacific Crest Trail, or even the Continental Divide Trail. I doubted I would ever have the four-to-six months I’d need to complete a hike like those, but they called to me just the same.

       Unfortunately, I waited too long to try. Arthritis took over my knees, reducing my gait to a bowlegged shuffle, and I had to move those goals to the back of my list.

       But then I had double knee replacement in the summer of 2015. It went so well I quickly began to resurrect many of my old dreams of distance hiking. I started rebuilding my strength through running and biking.

       During the Thanksgiving holidays of 2015 we saw the movie, A Walk in the Woods, about two unfit aging non-hikers attempting the Appalachian Trail. During one scene when they were hiking at night through blowing snow Cyndi leaned over and said, “You wish you were with them, don’t you.” She was joking, I think, but I realized that, yes, I did wish I was with them ... maybe not in the snow in the dark, but on the big trail.

       There was a scene the beginning of the movie when the main character, Bill Bryson, played by Robert Redford, attends a funeral of one of his friends. As he’s standing in line to speak to the widow, another friend who was behind him in the line leaned over his shoulder and said, “Makes you think about slowing down, doesn’t it.” I remember thinking, as we sat in the movie theater, no, it doesn’t make me think about slowing down. It makes me want to speed up, do it now, take advantage of my second chance.

       And then I heard about the Colorado Trail. It occurred to me that this trail was long enough and hard enough to meet my hunger for an epic hike, yet short enough it wouldn’t take six months to complete. I could do this. In early 2016 I started making plans to hike the Colorado Trail in the summer of 2017.

       With all that excitement, through-hiking 486 miles is a frightening prospect. What are the odds I can finish it?

       I will be 61-year-old at the trailhead. That comes with more limitations and liabilities than I’m happy to discuss, more than I’ve been willing to accept so far.

       I have strong legs. Since 1978 I’ve run over 37,000 miles and completed nine marathons. Granted, those big miles are a few years in my past, but the muscle and mental memories are still robust.

       I have been cycling a lot in the past five years and it has increased my aerobic capacity and strengthened my legs at a time I couldn’t run big miles.

       My new titanium knees feel bulletproof. They feel anxious and ready to move. They feel like a second-chance in life. Now, when I push myself on foot or on my bike, my knees are the only parts that don’t hurt. It’s like magic.

       I have been backpacking three to four times a year for the past thirteen years so I’m used to being on the trail, but the longest I’ve been out has been three days and two nights. I am looking at a 1400% increase and I’m not certain I can do it. I won’t know until I try.

       I have good backpacking gear, and like most hikers, become addicted to finding new and lighter gear each year. I have an excellent expedition-size pack that Cyndi gave me for Christmas when I first started (She knew this was important to me (even before I knew it) and endorsed my ventures into the mountains. I am grateful. I am a lucky man to be so well known and loved.), but it weighs 7.5 pounds and I need something much lighter for a sustained through-hike. I have three backpack options in my gear room, all loaned to me by friends. Two weeks ago I used the Exped Lightening 60, which weighs only 2.4 pounds, and it was a nice experience.

       I am carrying at least 25 pounds body weight more than I should, something I’ve regretfully maintained for at least 25 years. Lugging my big self over high mountain passes will be that much more work I have to do. Maybe I’ll burn some of that off along the way.

       The average altitude of the Colorado Trail is above 10,000’, and I live at 2,400’ elevation. That means I will struggle finding enough O2 molecules to meet my needs. However, I’ve spent two nights above 9,000’, in the Pecos Wilderness, twice, and never experienced any serious effects of altitude adjustment. No headaches, no nausea, none of that. Doesn’t mean I won’t, just means I haven’t.

       The greatest factors in my favor for accomplishing this goal are these: My wife Cyndi (also a big-dreamer and adventurer) believes in me and encourages me; and I have friends who may hike portions of the trail with me.

       There is joy in taking on challenges with no certainty of success. There is also fear. I don’t know if I’ll make this entire hike, but I want to try. I’m interpreting the jitters I feel as indications my goal is worthy, sufficiently over-my-head, knowing it is in those situations I usually grow as a man and grow into God. I keep reminding myself I shouldn’t feel comfortable about this – it is a difficult endeavor.

 

       PS: If you want to know more about this, see my page Colorado Trail 2017, or write to me. Maybe we can spend some quality time together on the trail.

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

What's in Your Hand?

      Over the weekend, after running along part of the Trinity River Trail in Ft. Worth, I recovered by reading from my Daily Bible, Exodus 3-4, about Moses’ call to action, call to leadership, call to ministry, at the burning bush in the desert.

      A reluctant Moses asked, “What if they don’t believe or listen to me?”

      God replied, “What’s that in your hand.”

      I expect Moses checked both hands closely before answering, wondering what God was up to. Did God see something in his hand he didn’t know about? Was this a trick question? Moses was holding his shepherd staff, but he was always holding that. It was so familiar. It was part of his arm. Why would God ask what was in his hand when it was something that was always in his hand?

      Moses replied, “A staff.”

      I imagine Moses raising his eyebrows and his voice in a question when he said, “A staff?” He didn’t even call it “my staff.” Why would God be interested in the most ordinary thing he had?

      We all have things in our hand that define us, that are our strength, but are so familiar to us, represent our everyday life, we tend to forget about them.

      “What’s that in your hand, Berry?”

      “My pen.”

      “My journal.”

      “My teaching notes.”

      “My trekking poles.”

      “My trombone.”

      “My list of jokes.”

      It’s all regular daily stuff, no big deal.

      I attended at Wild at Heart Advanced camp in May 2008 where I had a devastatingly personal encounter with God. He confronted me in no uncertain terms with the message: “You don’t know how big it is.”

      Curiously, and much to my dismay, God gave no details about what he meant by “it.” I had to figure that on my own, but it seemed obvious “it” was something I was underestimating, something that was part of everyday life, the staff in my hand.

      The Bible story tells us after God called attention to Moses’ staff, a simple shepherd’s tool, he told Moses to throw it down on the ground.

      Ken Medema wrote these lyrics:

      "Throw it down, Moses."

      "Do you mean, like, on the ground?"

      "Yes, I said, throw it down, Moses."

      "Lord, don't take my staff away from me,

      Don't you know it's my only security?

      Don't you know when you live here all alone,

      A man's gotta have something he can call his own;

      Not me, Lord!"

      "Throw it down, Moses."

      After Moses agreed to do what God asked him to do, he took his wife and sons and started back to Egypt. The Bible says he took “The Staff of God.”. No one thought it an ordinary shepherd’s tool, now.

      God had called attention to it, and then took it away. When God gave it back, it had new significance. Now, it was God’s staff; Moses just got to carry it for him.

      Well, and use it to produce water from a rock, and watch it transform into a snake in front of Pharaoh, and hold it aloft to win the battle of Rephidim.

      Like all Bible stories, we have to ask, was this only about Moses? Could it be about us as well? Would God ask about something he has given to us – a gift, a blessing, a talent, a skill, a calling, a ministry – and then expect us to throw it down?

      Would God ask us to throw down something that defined us, established our identity and worth, with no promise what would happen next? Would God say to me, “You don’t even know how big this is, now throw it down?”

 

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

 

What Was Your Best Idea?

What was the best idea you ever had? That’s a question asked by Twyla Tharp in her book, The Creative Habit. It isn’t an easy question to answer.

This past week, Tuesday evening, I went for a run through my neighborhood, in the cold wet dark, about three miles (well, OK, it was 3.06 miles), and it was incredible. I’d watched the cold rain falling outside my office window all day, and watching it fall was all I could do from the 19th-floor … you can’t see it landing on anything at all. I was bummed because I didn’t ride my bicycle to work, one of my goals for 2017, and going for a run salvaged my attitude. It was crisp and cold and wonderful and one of my best runs in months.

I often look forward to running in the cold. Maybe because I don’t live in a place where I do it often. Here in west Texas it’s a rare treat, maybe one or two opportunities a season. I’m sure I wouldn’t enjoy the cold as much if I lived somewhere that gets extremely cold and stays cold a long time, like where my cousin lives in Minot, ND, but I don’t live in a place like that for (at least) two good reasons: (1) I want my cold weather in small moderate bursts, and (2) I would be single.

Running in cold and dark feels cozy and intimate, quiet and personal. For one thing, there are few others out on the road so I have it all to myself, and for another having my hood pulled over my head eliminates outside world distractions. It’s like a safe cocoon.

I first started running in May 1978, between my first and second senior years in college. If you had known me before then you would’ve never suspected I would do something like that. I was never an athlete; I was never even interested in that sort of thing. For me to begin running, on my own initiative, was unannounced and unpredicted, an original decision, and it turned out to be the best idea I had in my life.

What made it my best idea? Well, to begin with, it was how I reestablished my dating relationship with Cyndi, a deliberate action on my part to win her back from a track-and-field boyfriend. And that eventually led to our marriage which has now blossomed for 38 years. I am thankful for that every day.

Once I started running I never stopped. I’ve spent hundreds of hours running alone, and to my surprise all that time on my feet became a private meditation. It was the catalyst that moved me toward a deeply personal contemplative faith that strengthens my life even today. Almost every spiritual insight I’ve had happened while moving my feet down the road. I’ve gone out running dozens of times with the specific intent to hear from God about an upcoming decision or particularly sticky relationship, and he has spoken to me time and time again during those miles.

Because Cyndi I both enjoyed running, it became a lifelong adventure for us. We try to work in a run wherever we go - most recently, near the Sea of Galilee in Israel. We’ve run in Hawaii, Kenya, Denmark, Singapore, and China.

To my surprise, I learned to love running long distances. Marathon running permanently changed my self-image, and taught me courage and perseverance.

Running provided my first opportunity to write stories for other people to read, in The Rundown, our club newsletter. With that beginning I’ve published a weekly blog since 1998, and published three books (so far).

Running also led to my love of parks and trails, which landed me on the Midland Parks & Recreation Board, and eventually to twelve years of elected service on the City Council.

Nowadays I love to go hiking and backpacking, but I can’t imagine doing either of those if I hadn’t run all those miles. And I doubt I would have tried cycling if I hadn’t been a runner first.

This morning, Saturday, I ran for about four miles in Ft. Worth, my first time on the Trinity River Trails System. I ran along the Clearfork portion of the trail, near Mellow Johnny’s, and thoroughly enjoyed being around so many other runners, walkers, and cyclists. I love breathing the adrenaline-soaked air. It is contagious.

The curious aspect of my life as a runner is that I was never very good at it. I doubt I had the ability to be good even if I’d trained like an Olympian. But the idea to start running was one of the best, if not the absolute best, idea I ever had.

How about you? What was the best idea you even had? How did it change you?

 

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

Let's Go Somewhere Else

       As I’ve written before, I am a goal setter, a resolution maker (see my 2017 goals or 100 Life Goals), but all too often my goals are what I already think I can achieve, which means they may be hard but probably aren’t too scary. Even in goal setting I play it safe.

       I recently read a Bible story about a time when Jesus was trying to escape the crowds and find a solitary place to pray (which makes total sense to me). His disciples tracked him down and said, everyone has been looking for you. Jesus said, “Let’s go somewhere else – to the nearby villages – so I can preach there also.” (Mark 1:35-38)

       What caught my attention in this story was the phrase – let’s go somewhere else. It’s too ambiguous. I expect more details from Jesus. When I ask God for direction I hope he’ll give me specific instructions – exactly where to go and when to leave, the name of a town, or at least a compass direction.

       Planning is important to me. I won’t go backpacking without checking my gear list and plotting my route on a topo map and leaving notes for Cyndi so she’ll know where I’ll be in case I don’t come back and she needs to send out a search party. In fact, two months ago I started planning for an extended backpacking trip that won’t happen until next July. I would prefer few surprises while I am on the trail.

       Often, when people asked where Jesus was going, he simply told them, “Follow me.” That’s not enough information for us planning types. Just going somewhere else doesn’t sound very safe. But Jesus seems to like surprises.

       The easiest way to avoid surprises in life is to do nothing at all ... take no risks, never go somewhere else, stay where it’s safe.

       Unfortunately, there is a price to pay sitting on the couch in safety. We find ourselves stuck living in a small world with small-world problems; making a small impact on people. It leads to paralyzed lives, not the life that God intends for us.

       A few months ago Cyndi and I took our two young granddaughters to see the movie Finding Dory. One of the characters, an octopus named Hank, preferred to live in the safety (and confines) of an aquarium rather than live in the wild, huge ocean. He said, “I just want to live in a glass box. Alone. That’s all I want.”

       I recently listened to a podcast interview with Zachary Quinto, the actor who plays Spock in the new set of Star Trek movies. He described how he plans his life, but also tries takes advantage of surprise opportunities. He works hard to live his life along two parallel tracks. One track is purpose-driven, goal-setting, and intentional, while the other track is random and spontaneous, full of serendipitous opportunities.

       So one of my goals is to be open to Jesus’ surprises, which means leaving margin in my own plans to be ready for change. I want to go somewhere else more often. Maybe not somewhere else geographically, although I certainly want to do that, but maybe somewhere else in ideas, experiences, and conversations. Somewhere I didn’t plan or research, somewhere that scares me.

       If you have ideas for me, I’d love to hear them. But don’t be surprised if I reach for my map and calendar first.

      

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