Loading My Gear

To be honest, I’m always a bit apprehensive when assembling my gear for a backpacking trip. I’m not sure why it bothers me. Afraid to look like an unprepared beginner, I suppose.

One of the attractions of backpacking is uncertainty - what the weather will be, how the altitude will affect me, do I have the right food, can I still lug my pack up the trail, and like that. Experience solves some concerns. I have better gear nowadays, I’ve accumulated a few skills, and I’ve learned to trust both of those. If conditions turn bad I might have a few miserable moments, but I will survive. More likely I’ll have an amazing time with great stories to tell.

Most of my backpacking trips to-date have been solo efforts, spiritual pilgrimages into the backcountry to feed my heart. But this trip will be communal. We have as many as eight men in my group, and we’re meeting more at the camp spot. We’re headed to the Pecos Wilderness of New Mexico, and weather permitting, hiking to the summit of Truchas Peak.

Curiously, knowing this is a group hike has made me less apprehensive. I’ve enjoyed pulling gear together, loaning gear, and talking check lists with the guys. I pack differently when I’m with a group rather than my typical solo trips. I know I won’t spend as much time alone reading and writing, and will probably spend more time cooking and eating with the group.

Here’s the thing: every trip I take I try to reduce my load, but my pack always seems so heavy – too heavy. The question of how much gear to take is the dilemma that fuels backpacking. The more things we are afraid of the more gear we carry, just in case, and the heavier our pack becomes. Every ounce we carry makes the trip more enjoyable, more comfortable, and safer. And yet every ounce we carry also makes our trip less possible, less enjoyable, less comfortable, and less safe.

Fear adds weight to life. Fear presses down on us and limits our movements and squashes our freedom. Fear makes us heavy on our feet, and unlikely to try new things. Fear is a great subtracter, and the more you feel it, the less you feel the wonder of life. Fear kills adventure.

Part of what makes it hard to pack light is that you’re convinced you’re already doing it. But with each trip I am able to go lighter. It’s true, the more you know, the less you need.

I expect to live in the backpacker’s dilemma the rest of my life, always lightening my load, leaving behind habits, behaviors, desires, and possessions I no longer need or want, subtracting the obvious and adding the meaningful.


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

Do You Need Help?

Being reminded of your limitations is not pleasant. It’s hard being the one who needs help. It doesn’t seem very leaderly. And yet, it’s a blessing to be surrounded by friends and family willing support those limitations. That is good news; that is grace, indeed.

Early Friday morning a couple of weeks ago Cyndi and I noticed one of our two Pistache trees leaning against our house. I was driving home from early morning pump class at the gym and caught the non-vertical anomaly in my peripheral vision.

It had apparently rotted from the roots just below ground level. The trunk was not broken, but leaning at the surface, and there was no disturbance of the ground around it. The tree seemed somewhat stable in its lean, it wasn’t hurting the house, so we left it alone to drive to New Mexico for a family wedding.

That Sunday afternoon our friend and tree-whisperer, Miles, came over to look at the tree and give advice. He confirmed our fears. The tree was a goner. Even though the leaves were still green, its days were limited. He said we could straighten it up and stake it vertical but it would fall again someday, and it might be bigger, and it might land some something or someone we care about.

Since we are several months away from planting season we decided to leave our leaning tree the way it was for a while. At least it was throwing off shade.

And then last Wednesday night a fierce storm blew through the neighborhood. The next morning we noticed the tree was tree2still standing, but it was now leaning a different direction, against the porch. It seemed more unstable than before. It was time to take it down.

Remarkably, with no regard to my personal history, in full optimism, I borrowed a chainsaw from Clark. I say all that because my experience with chainsaws is they don’t start when I am holding them. Maybe they start and work all day for you but not for me. It is a glaring hole in my man card.

So Friday afternoon, even though Clark’s saw was almost new, used only once, I couldn’t get it started. I even put in a new spark plug, drained the fuel and replaced it, read the manual and followed all the steps. No joy.

My across-the-alley neighbor, Randy, saw my dilemma and loaned his electric chainsaw. I was able to start it, but smoke poured out of the motor, so I returned it before I destroyed it.

We borrowed another electric chainsaw from Cyndi’s sister, Tanya, but it was too dark to do anything safely so I decided to attack the tree the next day after my bike ride.

Saturday morning I rode a long way, getting home about noon, only to discover my tree had been cut down and the branches piled on the sidewalk near the street. Some lumberjack elves (I was going to say wood elves, but no one likes wood elves) did the job for me.

I went to eat lunch and do some writing before hauling away the tree branches. But, afterward, when I drove up to my house, there was Randy and his son pulling away. They had put all the branches in Randy’s pickup and were about to haul them off. I barely arrived in time to catch them. Randy jumped out of his truck, shook my hand, I told him thanks, and he took off to finish his good dead.

Besides being a good guy and great neighbor and the kind of friend we all hope to have, I think Randy fixed my problem partly because he felt sorry for me. Cyndi told him I was a chainsaw loser, so he took care of me.

Letting other people help you is often the hardest thing in the world. We are more comfortable giving than receiving. It is hard to accept help, even harder than admitting chainsaw incompetence.

One of the things I’ve learned these past few years is how I overrated self-sufficiency in my younger years. I used to consider it one of my best features. I liked that I could sneak through life without asking or needing much from anyone else. And while I still work hard to not be needy, I have learned the value of letting people help me. I was never as good at stuff as I thought. I need help. We must be willing to receive if we expect to know the grace of God. Only empty-handed people can understand grace.


“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 people like you share with friends, 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.

Questions About Life Goals

“Madden, would you like to go backpacking with me someday?” I asked. “Sure, Pops.”

I knew she would say yes to anything I suggested we do together, so I elaborated.

“That means we put food and clothes and sleeping bag and tent in our backpacks and hike up a long trail in the mountains and spend the night in the woods. It’s really hard work, but it is fun.”

“OK,” she said.

“How old do you think you should be for us to go together?”

“How about ten?”

“That’s perfect.” Since Madden is 6-1/2 I have 3-1/2 years to plan a trip.

I’ve had “Go backpacking with grandchildren” on my list of 100 Life Goals since I put my first list together in 2009, before I even had any grandchildren. It was one of several goals that was only partially up to me since who knew if there would be any grandchildren at all, and who knew if they would want to go backpacking, and who knew if I would still be healthy and mobile enough to do it when they got old enough. I still don’t know any of those for certain, except the first one.

That conversation reminded me that I should take advantage of my 60th-year transition and rebuild my 100 Life Goals list. Some of those original goals have been accomplished, and some others aren’t important to me anymore. One that needs to be modified: I made a goal to read 10,000 books, but at my current reading rate that will take another 135 years.

setting goalsI’ve been a goal setter and list maker as far back as I remember. Goal setting is about making moves now based on what you want your life to look like ten or twenty years from now. I make a list of New Year’s Goals almost every January 1, but the urge to create a big list of 100 Life Goals came after I read Mark Batterson’s book, Wild Goose Chase. It isn’t an easy project. Everyone can come up with four or five big goals they want to accomplish, but writing down 100 is hard.

I have scratched about 15 goals from my first list of 2009, things I no longer care enough about to do them. I need to replace those with current goals.

I’ve also accomplished about 16 of my first-list goals. I haven’t yet decided if I should replace them. Should a list be something I whittle away at until I’ve accomplished every last one, or should it be an expanding document that always has 100 goals on it? I don’t know. I suppose my Life Goal List will always be a rough draft because I intend to keep setting new goals and tweaking old ones.

I used to have my list of 100 Life Goals on my webpage, but I just checked and apparently my webpage is in the process of falling apart. I suppose I should add Rebuilding my Webpage to my list. I’ll post a link when I have my new list up and ready. I want to make it public because maybe someone out there can help me find a way to accomplish a few goals that seem impossible to me, but I’m not ready to publish it today since I need five or six more to finish out 100. Any suggestions?

What I’m really hoping to do is inspire and encourage you to start on your own list. Here is a link to Batterson’s tips for setting Life Goals, as well as examples to help you do it. If you type “100 Life Goals” into Google you’ll find many more examples from a wide variety of people.

It’s a worthy exercise, and I would love to see your list when you have it. Email a copy to me, and I’ll sent mine to you. Maybe we can help each other. Goal setting is stewardship; it’s making the most of the time, talent, and resources God has given you.


“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 people like you share with friends, 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.


Most of the time wisdom and age travel together; sometimes age travels alone. For example, Wednesday morning I dribbled my breakfast burrito down the front of my shirt. It was quite depressing. I’ve been feeding myself for a long time; I should be a more reliable eater by now. There is a haunting voice in my head that says I should be past some of these problems. I should be further along.

As I drove away from the fine dining establishment where I’d sat reading and writing and dribbling, I wondered whether I should go home first to change shirts.

Had I still worked at Apache, which was filled with hopeful young adults when I was there, I would certainly go home to carl_fredricksenchange. I’d prefer not to be the old guy of the office shuffling aimlessly among the cubicles with dirty clothes.

I belong to a group at my church where I usually sit next a man who’s twenty years older than I am, and who wears predictable and persistent food stains on his black shirt. Every week. Sometimes the stains are new, and sometimes the old ones disappear, yet, he wears food stains regularly. I don’t want that to be people’s memory of me.

But I don’t work at Apache nowadays. I work for a smaller family-owned company, and there are four of us in the office on the busiest days. We are all in the same age group, meaning all of us have seen enough of life we aren’t easy to impress and hard to discourage. And so, I drove straight to the office without changing.

Besides, it wasn’t a white shirt, it was dark blue, and since I sit behind a desk behind my computer screen all day, the salsa stain wouldn’t be that obvious.

In my office building I kept my portfolio across my chest while riding the elevator with well-dressed stain-free classy people. Once again, I didn’t want to be that guy, even if I actually was that guy.

Later that day, during one of our frequent rambling office conversations, I learned that all three men working in the office had some sort of stain on their shirt, all from that morning. When I told my Apache story, and said I didn’t worry about embarrassing my age-group since everyone in the office was my age-group, Bob said, “And no one cares about your shirt. Isn’t it great!”

Wes, a great friend who also recently turned 60 years old, told me that one of his mentors – and let me stop right here and say how cool it is to still have mentors at 60, to know men I want to grow up to be like … Wes and I agreed about that – told him that the next ten to fifteen years will be the most influential of his life. His friend said: Don’t waste a day.

So my most influential years are beginning and I have salsa dribble on my shirt. Bummer.

Even the Apostle Paul realized he wasn’t yet who he hoped he’d be. He wrote in Romans 7, “I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.”

Here’s the thing about this story. Maybe what we offer the world isn’t a perfect life, a pristine story, or even a clean shirt. Perfect people have little effect on the world, and few people listen to their advice … their story is too unbelievable and their advice unfollowable if not completely irrelevant.

When we read the Bible we see that time after time God chose to work with those who limped through life wearing stained clothes. We are in good company.

Here’s the good news. I don’t dribble food on my clothes every day. I hope I have a stain-free shirt when you and I meet, but if I’m holding my portfolio across my chest, just don’t ask. Let me shuffle on my way to the old guy’s section.


“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 people like you share with friends, 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.


Trail Markers

Buffalo Bill once said, “I could never resist the call of the trail.” Well, neither can I. I love trails. I wish I had more opportunities to run, hike, and bike on dirt trails; I seldom miss squeezing trail time into my schedule whenever I get the chance. I enjoy the unpredictability of a trail verses a city sidewalk, maybe because my life is routine and predictable, admittedly of my own making.

I started working on this next book (working title, Trail Markers) because I was fascinated by the idea of trail building. I even bought a Forest Service Trail Building Manual to read their expert opinions. I spent months writing my thoughts on trail guides and ministry.

Trails are irresistible invitations to the unknown. A trail that disappears into the woods or climbs a ridge or curves around an outcropping is a trail I fall for. I have to try it out. I want to see where it goes.

DSCF0606When the most beautiful backcountry seems impenetrable and inaccessible a trial is an invitation to give it a try. A trail makes hiking the most impassable terrain a possibility. Having a trail to follow is a gift. It means you don’t have to bushwhack. You are not on your own.

A trail means someone has prepared the way for you. Someone you’ll never know built this trail, maybe decades ago. So even when hiking alone you are hiking with someone unseen, the trail builder.

However, merely having a trail doesn’t mean the hiking will be easy. You still have to climb the switchbacks, go down the ravines, avoid the rocks, and skip over the roots. But a trail means you are not lost. You have a path to follow.

When hiking in the wilderness, every step we take leaves a mark on the trail and helps to define it for those who are following. Any trail seldom used becomes overgrown and lost to the surrounding terrain. Every hiker becomes a trail builder, a trail guide, simply by walking. Other hikers who come later, those we’ll never meet, will follow our footprints.

Building a trail is an act of faith – like planting a tree – faith that someone someday will use it.

God once told his people to leave an intentional trail for the next generation to follow back home. He was speaking through the prophet Jeremiah at a time when the people of Israel were being carried away into exile in Babylon. God wanted them to know the captivity wouldn’t last forever, there would be a day when they could return home. Jeremiah 31:21 says, Set up road signs; put up guideposts. Take note of the highway, the road you take. (NIV)

God told the Israelites to make sure they could find their way home when the time came to return. This was not about wishing and hoping, but actively setting up road signs, guideposts, bringing a map. The people had some responsibility to find their way back home. It was their obligation to be trail guides to the next generations.

In my early years I followed the clear and obvious trail left by my family. They were consistent, dependable followers of Jesus, and the path they blazed through life was easy to see and follow, hard to lose.

As I got older and more of life’s choices were mine to make, I needed new guides to show the way. Once again God put people in my path who served as trail markers, delineating the best way to live, reminding me I was still on the correct trail.

And today, I know that I have become one of those trail markers for many others. It isn’t an obligation I take lightly, but the most important thing I do.

Being a trail guide means being entrusted with people, entrusted with the trail itself, and it turn entrusting my own guys with belief and insight and calling. A trail guide is less a mentor and more like a fellow traveler … as in, we are in this together.


“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 people like you share with friends, 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.

On Top Again

Last Saturday I stood on top again, a happy man. We were at the summit of Guadalupe Peak, the highest point in Texas. In my old life, I summited sixteen times, usually with a posse of friends. But since May 2012 I haven’t been able to complete the climb even with multiple attempts. My original stock knees couldn’t do it, even when I was mainlining Advil.

The Iron Men group at First Baptist Church hike at least twice a year (unless we get weathered-out), and even though we continue to hike the same three trails over and over the men keep coming back. Why? The trail turns men into brothers. Once a guy spends that sort of time with friends it changes all their future conversations. They learn to trust each other. They’re more honest. I don’t know any better way to get to that point in a relationship. There are plenty of other ways to bring guys together and commune with God, but for me hiking with my guys has become a prime ministry. It may be the most effective thing we do.

A year ago I thought my hiking days were behind me. The last time I attempted this same hike up Guadalupe Peak was two years ago and I struggled painfully to make it even halfway up. Sometimes, willpower isn’t enough.

And so, last Saturday was a big test for me, only nine months after double knee replacement. I’d been walking and cycling about two or three times a week, pushing the pace and trying to rebuild the strength and endurance I once took for granted, training for this hike.

It was a great day. My legs felt better than I expected. My knees felt better than they should have. I was short-winded most of the day due mostly to poor cardiovascular fitness. I have a lot more training to do. And my feet got sore and ached by the time I got to the bottom; I’ve lost the marathon-running toughness I used to depend upon.

I felt strong the first two hours of hiking as long as we stopped every twenty to thirty minutes to breathe. But after the bridge I started to fade. I was weary and lightheaded. My post-surgery workouts hadn’t been enough to prepare me for this level of stress.

I’d been hiking with Cory for about an hour, but I let him slip off ahead of me. I was slowing down so much I was afraid he’d miss the turnaround time because he was staying back with me.

Finally, I’d had enough. I couldn’t imagine going all the way to the top as bad as I felt. I was about halfway between the bridge and summit when I pulled off my pack and sat on a large flat rock. I’d just wait there until the rest of the group came back down. It was easy to make reasonable arguments why I should give up for the day: I had been up on top plenty of times and had nothing to prove, I’d already hiked further than most people expected, there would be plenty of chances to try this again after more training, I don’t have to touch the top to hear from God, I don’t have to touch the top to be a man. And, like that.

But I remembered something I read in Martin Dugard’s book, The Explorers, how the Navy SEALS believe once someone comes to the conclusion that giving up is an option, there is no turning back. Their mind transitions away from managing the discomfort and begins to imagine how good it will feel when the discomfort ends. Once quitting seems noble and reasonable it becomes inevitable.

I was deep into that scenario when I prayed, What should I do?

The thing about prayer is you often know beforehand the right answer. So I stood up, put my pack on my back, and shuffled the rest of the way to the top.

guadalupe peak Apr 2016From trailhead to summit it took me 3:20 to make the climb; I was happy that I’d kept going. Most of my group was waiting at the top, and they continued to wait while I ate my PB&J sandwich. It was cold and windy and some of the faster hikers, including my loving wife Cyndi, had been up there for an hour already. Waiting for me was not a small thing.

Hours later, once we were all off the mountain, settled into our bus seats for the long drive back to Midland, the bus was filled with a buzz of stories, scars, photo sharing, and hearts joining together. That part of the trip always makes me happy. Maybe it isn’t the trail itself that makes men brothers as much as the bus ride home.

I am blessed to have these men in my life; guys who will hike with me, who will wait for me in the cold wind at the summit, who believe in me and listen to what I say. I never take for granted the valiant men God has entrusted.

I prayed, Thank you for keeping us safe today, thank you for giving us the desire and ability to do this, and most of all, thank You for giving us one more turn.


“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 people like you share with friends, 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.

Keep Exploring

As strange as it sounds, I don’t have a list of New Year’s Resolutions this year. It may be the first time in twenty years I haven’t published a list. Not because I’ve been so resolutely successful accomplishing all my past lists that I no longer have anything left to do, but because this is a landmark year for me and it’s put me to reflecting rather than goal setting. In 2016 I will turn 60 and I’m looking forward to it.

When I turned 50 it felt like freedom and release. I said goodbye to all expectations of being cool or hip or fashionable and started crediting my idiosyncrasies as eccentricities. It was great. I was finally living up to my gray hair and beard.

When I turned 40 I finally felt like an adult. (No, that’s not entirely correct. Even today I only feel like an adult about 50-60% of the time. I always think of adults as the men my dad’s generation, whatever age that happens to be.) But at 40 I could no longer hide behind my age. I was old enough to know stuff, old enough to stop blaming behavior on my upbringing, old enough to formulate my own opinions without basing them on some talk radio host or what the guys at work say, old enough to settle into my reading list and read the books I enjoy, old enough to learn new ideas.

When I turned 30, well, that one‘s still a blur in my memory. We had a six-year-old and a three-year-old and dadhood took its toll on my brain cells. The summer of my birthday we moved but didn’t move to California due to a promotion I got and then didn’t get. A few months later I was with my son Byron when he was hit by a car while we were all riding bikes one Saturday afternoon, and it changed my understanding of being a father and spiritual leader. It was the first time in my life I called upon God out of desperation and fear.

The year I turned 20 was my last of three summers touring with Continental Singers as a bass trombonist, and my segue into big-time college life at the University of Oklahoma. It was the beginning of my lifelong journey with personal discipleship, my introduction to daily spiritual practices and teaching, my first experience with leaders who deliberately invested in my life, and my first date with Cyndi Richardson. Little did I know I was starting the adventures that would define the rest of my future.

And so I’ve asked myself, what will it mean to turn 60. I’m not sure, we can only know lasting effects after the passage of time, but I have some ideas.

keep exploring backpackLast year my daughter, Katie, gave me a red and white patch that says “Keep Exploring.” In the 1970s I would’ve sewn it on my bell-bottomed blue jeans so that everyone else could see it, but this week Cyndi sewed it on my black backpack so that I would see it every day ... a permanent reminder of how I want to live.

The Keep Exploring movement was created by Alex and Bret, two young men from Flower Mound, Texas. Their webpage says this: “Keep Exploring is the simple idea that adventure can be found anywhere. We are trying to be better explorers by seeking out opportunities in everyday life. This is a collaborative movement - Everyone is invited. Start looking for new roads to take, old mountains to climb, and wild food to chew.”

Well, that’s who I want to be. Maybe not the chewing of wild food part, but I want my 60s to be years of exploring new ideas and trails and mountains and techniques and books and movies and relationships and influences and music.

A few Sundays ago I was cycling with my friend, Wes, and we were working through our increasing list of athletic ailments when Wes changed everything by saying: This is the best time of our lives. We’re finally old enough people listen to us. We can really make a difference.

I thought about what he said for a long time. Through the years I’ve been motivated by this thought: If I apply the weight of my life toward the people God has entrusted to me, I can change the world.

But now, as I enter my 60th year, even that seems too small. I no longer want to merely change the world … I want to change The Future. I am finally old enough, finally weighty enough, to speak truth into hearts and change the future.

And so I suppose I do have a New Year’s Resolution for 2016: Keep Exploring. I hope you’ll join me. Let’s explore together.


“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 people like you share with friends, 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.



Taking the Alternate Route

It a bright and cloudless day, 9:00 AM and 24*F, when I parked the at the Chamisa Trail trailhead on Hyde Park Road. We were in Santa Fe for the week while Cyndi Chamisa 3attended a workshop, and I had planned a two-hour hike to judge whether my knees were ready for our Iron Men Guadalupe Peak hike in two weeks. As I gathered my gear and studied the map I noticed there were two mostly-parallel trails. Then I saw a sign reading “Alternate Route More Difficult.” I decided the alternate route was the one for me; after all, this was intended to be a test.

While the regular trail followed the fall line across the face of the mountain the Alternate Route climbed straight up the drainage, meaning there were several steep climbs. I was very careful to keep from slipping and banging my knees. The trail was still covered with snow from yesterday’s storm but I was using trekking poles and they kept me stable on the ice.

For the first thirty minutes my hands were uncomfortable cold, painfully cold, even with my gloves. Still, it was a beautiful morning and an incredible hike. After about 45 minutes I reached a trail junction where the Alternate Route joined the original Chamisa Trail, as well as the Saddleback Trail, which in spite of its name followed a ridge line.

I followed the Saddleback Trail to the southwest for another 15 minutes, sticking to my original plan which was to go out for an hour then return. I wanted to give my knees a good test, but I also wanted to be able to function the rest of the day - two hours seemed realistic.

Chamisa 2On the way back toward the trailhead I kept thinking about that sign and the Alternate Route up the mountain. So often we willingly take the Alternate Route More Difficult in our everyday lives, not to make our journey harder but to it significance. We’re not satisfied with a simple easy hike through life, but take on challenging projects day after day.

I thought about how many times I’ve been driving across town to a potentially contentious church council meeting, or another late night Journey Group session, or even chewing over the Bible lesson I’m supposed to teach in two days and wondering where is the handle of the lesson, and wondered what it would be like to live a simpler life.

I remembered one time on the Guadalupe Peak Trail with Paul Ross, just as we finished the opening switchbacks and stopped to drink some water, when one of us said, There must be an easier way to do ministry. We both nodded in agreement even as we both knew neither of us would be satisfied following that easier way.

The alternate route, the more difficult route, the meaningful route, calls out to us. Following our calling is never the easier trail.

I spent years watching my parents live lives fully engaged with other people, giving away their talents and energy, choosing the Alternate Route More Difficult. And now, following that family tradition, I feel a deep-heart calling to help people live deeper lives with God. Even as I long for a simpler life I know I’ll never be happy if I’m not engaged with the Alternate Route.

And so, I’m encouraging you to choose the Alternate Route More Difficult. I’m urging you to find God’s calling on your life and live it out for the benefit of those who are following you. Why? Because that’s the harder way, the way that matters, the way that changes the world.


Would you like to know more about God’s calling for you? I am hosting a men’s weekend at my house in Midland, April 29 - May 1, with Gary Barkalow from The Noble Heart Ministry. Gary explains and coaches God’s Calling better than anyone, and you don’t want to miss this opportunity. Write to me at berry@stonefoot.org if you are interested and I’ll make sure you’re on my mailing list for more information.


“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 people like you share with friends, 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.


Choosing Between Two Trails

Just that morning in our men’s book study class where we are reading Plan B by Pete Wilson, we’d discussed the things that paralyze us with fear and why does that still happen to grown men. We agreed we worried more when our wives or family were on a road trip without us than if we ourselves were driving. Being the driver brings a bit of confidence to react and get out of jams. None of us said this out of arrogance, or the delusion that men are better drivers, but rather as our way of coping with manly responsibilities in an uncertain world. As in, if I am driving at least I have an opportunity to avoid the danger, but if someone else is driving all I can do is worry.

And then, before the day was over, one of our own was driving east on I-20 toward Ft. Worth, with his wife and son, when he hydroplaned across a rain puddle and flipped his Explorer into the service road barrow ditch. His family was uninjured, but the vehicle was totaled. It happened so quickly, in a blink.

Clark hinted at the scariest part of the accident for most men when he texted, “… there’s the fact that God protected my family when I could not.” That’s not an easy or painless lesson for husbands and fathers to learn. While we are grateful for God’s protection, we are hurt that we ourselves could do so little.

In my book, Remodeled, I told the story of the time my 5-year-old son was hit by a car while riding his bike. I was riding my own bike three feet behind him when it happened. I wrote: “I worked hard at being a good dad, but even if I drilled my children on the rules of the road and coached them how to ride in traffic, they were still vulnerable to crazy people driving too fast. Bad things happen to good people even when good people do the right thing. My inability to protect my son was frightening.”

We get frightened because there is that residual voice in our head telling us we are all alone, it’s all up to us.

After hearing about the rollover I texted Clark: “Two possible reactions: (1) I trusted God with my family and he let this happen to us; (2) I trusted God with my family and he protected us.”

Both paths of analyzing the crash are defensible, and for most of us, both ways live in our mind at all times. How do we chose? Are we deceiving ourselves, seeing God's hand when it’s nothing more than random disaster?

two trailsToo often we find ourselves staring down two distinctively different trails through life: one is the trail of faith, the other the trail of cynicism. We have to choose which trail to walk, every day.

But faith is more than a choice; it is a gift from God. The fact that we even have a choice, that we are not doomed to cynicism, is a gift.

We see God’s rescue because we look down the path of faith. And that very faith is a gift from God. Unless he gives us faith, we have no choice but to see rollovers as proof that we are alone. Our hearts will glow angry and bitter

God has given us a gift of faith to see his hand among the Plan Bs and stave off bitterness that poisons the soul. But seeing the world through the eyes of faith requires practice on our part. We have to choose how we’ll see. We have to choose a trail.

And so, my challenge to you today: choose the path of faith. Make it your daily practice.


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

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Standing Alone

Sometimes, most of the time, I’ll admit, I prefer being alone. I can entertain myself without getting bored, and most of my best ideas and insights come from being alone. But there are times when I look around to discover myself standing alone, and it is a complete surprise. Last week, while eating at Chic-fil-A in Love Field, Dallas, waiting for my flight to Denver, I read in my Daily Bible from Daniel 10, about his last grand vision from God. It says, “I, Daniel, was the only one to see this. The men who were with me, although they didn’t see it, were overcome with fear and ran off and hid, fearing the worst.” (10:7, MSG)

I wrote in the margin of my Bible, “That is a hard part of leadership, being left standing alone.”

tree standing aloneApparently Daniel didn’t start out the day alone, but when the vision started it was so frightening the men who were with him fled even though they didn’t actually see the vision. Something scared them. Maybe it was the energy in the air, or Daniel’s reaction, a sound or vibration, who knows, it doesn’t say. But Daniel was left standing alone.

And so, when reading this, I thought about the two opposing sides of leadership. Leaders cannot function without community, yet leaders are often alone. Leaders cannot lead, cannot succeed, cannot know or understand God’s will, on their own. They need other people, valiant men and women. Not only that, but being a leader means intentionally bringing other people alongside. It is an obligation.

Yet, so often, the leader is left standing alone, especially when the scary visions begin.

One of my greatest leadership revelations of recent years happened on the porch of Sam’s house in Ann Arbor, MI, when I was writing and thinking about my calling, trying to put it on paper, meditating and praying on the idea of being a lifelong pilgrim for Jesus, when out of the blue I prayed, “God, I don’t want to finally find you, standing alone.”

I don’t want to find myself standing before Jesus and hear him say, “Well done, Berry, you searched for me your entire life, and now here you are, with more understanding and insight than most.”

It was in that moment I realized what had been true all along but I didn’t understand it or know how to articulate it. My life’s calling was not merely to pursue God, which is what I thought, but to bring people with me. I could imagine Jesus saying, instead of congratulations and well done, “Let me see who you have with you.”

But yet, there’s Daniel. He was left alone when the visions began. So much of leadership means being alone, whether setting up chairs, or making coffee, or studying to put together a talk, or gassing up the bus at 5:00 AM, or walking hallways all night looking for leaks. At some point, the number of people willing to stay gets very small. In Daniel’s case, they ran away.

There is another thing about this. Daniel didn’t remain standing before the vision because he trusted God more than the other guys, or because he wasn’t scared. In fact, verse 10:8 says he was “left alone after the appearance, abandoned by my friends, I went weak in the knees, the blood drained from my face.” (MSG)

Daniel stayed because that’s what leaders do, they stay. Daniel stayed because that’s what people who want to hear from God do, they stay. Even when they are frightened and weak in the knees.


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

I need your help. If you enjoyed reading this, please share with your friends. You can find more of my writing on my weekly blog, read insights on Tumblr, and follow me on Twitter and Facebook.