Solitude

One question you don’t have to ask me is, “Are you OK by yourself?” The answer, 99.99% of the time, is “Yes.”

One thing I've learned about myself is that I have to be alone. Not all the time, but some of the time. If I go days or weeks without any solitude I get crabby and irritable and unhappy. 

Sometimes I think I would enjoy the monastic life, spending my days reading and studying and writing and praying. The idea of unlimited time to develop thoughts and work through ideas is very attractive. I would hope to qualify for an order that wore jeans, T-shirts, and running shoes instead of scratchy brown hooded robes and sandals. And I'd hope to avoid the bald-headed part.

Unfortunately, real monks spend a lot of time working hard, and rising at 4:00 AM for prayer. And I doubt they’d allow Cyndi in the monastery; I would be miserable without her. 

A few weeks ago I was enjoying breakfast and quiet time in Dave’s Café in downtown Cloudcroft, NM. The last words Cyndi said to me as she hustled out the hotel room door to go to yoga class was “the family is going down to the little café for breakfast if you want to join them.”

I didn’t want to join them, actually. Not that I don’t like my in-laws, I like them a lot. But this was a wedding weekend and I knew I’d be surrounded by people all day, so I felt very noble going down to the café  to join the family instead of making coffee in my room and sitting alone on the porch in a rocking chair with my book.

When I got to the café, however, there was no family present. I was the only one. Perfect. I found a table toward the back and ordered breakfast and dug out my Bible and journal. It was going to be the best of both worlds – I could claim credit with Cyndi about how hard I tried to be sociable without actually associating with anyone.

And then I got a text from nephew Kevin, who was up the hill at the main hotel. He invited me to join him and everyone else for breakfast.

I wrote, “Oh. I’m at Dave’s Café. I thought that’s where the crowd was going.”

Kevin wrote, “Who is with you? We’re all up here at the hotel.”

Me, “As it turns out, only two friends: peace and quiet.”

Kevin, “We’ll fix that. We’re on our way.”

In a few minutes, about twenty minutes, actually, since it takes this family a while to get going, they started trickling in to the café. By then I’d had sufficient time alone to recharge and I was ready to socialize again.

I recently celebrated my 60th birthday with about 1,000 of my closest friends. Maybe it wasn’t actually 1,000 but it was enough to be overwhelming.

What made me happiest was how many people have come in close to our lives, and how much I need them. There was a time when I didn’t think I needed people around me, either because I thought I was self-sufficient enough to do everything by myself, or because I was afraid. Maybe both. I don’t feel that way now.

The older I get the more I like being around people. I don’t think it is a change in my personality so much as a desire to influence. It’s hard to change the world holed up in a hermit’s cave.

Thomas Merton wrote, "And since no man is an island, since we all depend on one another, I cannot work out God's will in my own life unless I also consciously help other men to work out His will in them." 

There has to be a purpose in solitude or God won't bless it. He doesn't need more desert saints all puffed up with superior spiritual insight but with no one to serve. And in fact, I don't want to live alone. I cannot imagine learning anything new and different and not sharing it. What a waste that would be. It is the sharing that I really learn what I know, and it is the opportunity to share that makes me want to learn more. That is the source of my joy in teaching - the chance to give away what I've learned. It can't be done living alone in the desert. 

How about you? How do you recharge – in solitude, or in community? How do you give away what you’ve learned?

 

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

The Trail to Change

Saturday afternoon I ran on the Winsor Trail in the Santa Fe National Forest. If you’d seen me you’d’ve label my efforts as walking, or at best, power hiking, rather than running. Yet it was my best mountain trail run in thirteen years, since Boot Camp at Frontier Ranch near Buena Vista, Co, October 2003. It was fun, delightful, and happy. It felt like the future. It felt like a comeback. It felt like restoration.

The trail begins at 7,200’, in Tesuque, just northwest of Santa Fe, and climbs 22 miles to the Santa Fe Ski Basin. The upper trailhead is the most popular, but knowing I was going to do a 45-minute out-and-back I wanted my second half to be downhill, so I started at the bottom.

While I was on the trail I listened to Erwin McManus preach about the Ethiopian Eunuch, a man whose entire adult life was defined by what he wasn’t, what he couldn’t do, and who he couldn’t be. That is, until he found a new life and a new definition. The story felt familiar and personal as I hopped over rocks and crossed streams. New hope is an amazing thing.

When people ask how my new knees are doing a year after replacement I tell them I’ve started to hope again. I’m dreaming of long hikes, bike rides, runs, things I had given up on.

Mark Rowlands (Running With the Pack) wrote, “Any worthwhile achievement changes you in a way that makes what you achieve no longer important to you.”

Running has certainly changed me. It lead to cycling, weights, and backpacking. You would’ve suspected none of that if you’d known me in high school. I was the furthest from an athlete you might imagine.

Again from Rowlands, “Achievement is a process of making the things I achieve not matter anymore. I run not to achieve anything – not in the sense of acquiring something – but to be changed by the process of achieving … I run because I want to be changed.”

I can absolutely see that in my life. I have never been a competitive athlete – either in temperament or talent – but I entered races, especially marathons, knowing I would be a changed man afterwards. I have a deep desire to keep changing who I am even as I know I am a man of routine and predictable behavior.

And now, as I ease back into running after new knees, I long to do more. I have nothing to prove and no one I know cares whether I do it, but I want the process of training long and the discipline of finishing to once again work me over and reshape me. I don’t know any other way to accomplish that.

However, the changes I want won’t happen overnight. They’ll take time and distance.

That’s true about anything of value; especially spiritual maturity. In her book, Dakota, Kathleen Norris quoted Native American writer Linda Hogan’s comments about tourists who said they felt “one with nature” after spending a single night in the wild, “There is not such a thing as becoming an instantly spiritualized person. Enlightenment can’t be found in a weekend workshop.”

While it is true what the Apostle Paul wrote, that anyone who is in Christ becomes a brand new person, something that happens in the moment of decision and commitment, Paul also reminded us we need to work out our salvation. There is growing and deepening that won’t happen without time on the trail. There is no such thing as instant spiritual maturity.

Well, the next day after my run, my feet were stiff and sore. No surprise there since I’d doubled the amount of running time I was used to. And the uneven ground and sudden stop-and-starts typical of trail running also made my quads and knees ache, but that unpredictability is why it was so much fun. I was proud of my soreness.

I couldn’t have even started a trail run without my renewed hope in the future, but hope is not enough. Sunday’s soreness was a reminder that I needed more miles, more training, and more trail experience, to make this work. Hope has to be acted on. We have to live it out. We have to put in miles and training for hope to become reality.

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

Digging Deep Roots

“I have been listening to the roots of my life,” is what I said to Cyndi when I walked into our house. She smiled at me with that look she has whenever I say something like that. She’s used to it.

“I’ve been driving around in my pickup listening to some old lectures by Jim Rohn, and over and over I hear him say things that I first heard in 1983 that have imbedded into my life.  Even as I listen I am surprised. ‘Oh, that’s where I got that,’ I say to myself.”

I recently bought a set of CDs by Rohn from 1981. I wanted those, rather than newer talks, so I could reconnect with the same words and language that first moved me to action.

Jim Rohn entered my life when I was at a crossroad. I was 27 years old, married for four years with a three-year-old son and newborn daughter. I was working as an engineer for a major company in a first-level manager position. I could have easily leaned back in satisfaction with the path I was on: slightly-above-average work, slightly-above-average schedule, slightly-above-average TV every night, slightly-above-average performance, slightly-above-average parenting, slightly-above-average husband. I could have lived the next fifty years slightly-above-average happy, ticking the right boxes, checking the right list, clicking off milestones, living a life of substance if not significance.

That isn’t what happened. My friend Rickey loaned me a set of cassette tapes from a conference with Jim Rohn, and I listened and listened and listened. I took notes, and I took note.

In those days I heard a lot of motivational speakers, but none of them changed my life like Rohn. He was unusual in that he didn’t talk much about dreaming or visualizing, or whatever the mind of man can conceive he can achieve, or tapping the power within, or overcoming fears by walking on hot coals. Rohn used to say, “You cannot grow strong on mental candy.” His message was primarily about personal development and character. He taught me disciplines, practices, and habits that have stayed with me over thirty years.

Sometime in the mid-1990s my friend Bobby, who was instrumental in my twelve years in city government, told me, “You are not the same guy I first met ten years ago.” He was right. I had Jim Rohn to thank for that.

Here are some things I learned in 1983 that still inform my life today:

Don’t be a follower, be a student. When you hear a good idea, don’t accept it at face value. Dive in and study it, learn it, make it your own. Don’t be satisfied reading only one book on a topic, even if it’s a best-seller. It might not be the right book. Read two or three books to get a broader scope of the subject. Better yet, read four or five.

Set goals. Rohn said the greatest value in reaching goals is not the goal itself, but who you become to get it. I’ve set New Year’s Goals almost every year since then, and although I would guess my accomplishment rate is only about 30%, I’m a better man because of the efforts. Rohn said, “It’s true, you will arrive in ten years; the question is, where?”

Casual living breeds casualties. I learned to be deliberate with my plans, intentional with my actions.

Capture wisdom. Write it down. We think we will remember the important stuff, but that is a lie. We won’t remember anything we don’t write down. I started my first journal in 1983, and my first entry was a poem by Shel Silverstein. The journal is full of lecture notes, song lyrics, Bible verses, and personal observations, and it was only the first of many. I never would have seen the wisdom as it passed by, much less captured it, if I hadn’t learned the practice from Jim Rohn. He said, “You have to search for knowledge; rarely does a good idea interrupt you.”

Keep a reading list. I’ve been a reader since I was very young; entering the library reading club every summer during my elementary school years, but Jim Rohn turned me into a systematic and aggressive reader. He said, “How sad if a man spends his book money on donuts. Ten years later he is overweight and behind in his life.”

Rohn said the three treasures we should leave behind are: photographs, a well-used library, and our personal journals. Since 1983 I have been working hard to accumulate all three.

How about you? Who did you listen to? Who’s message changed the way you live?

 

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

KEEP PEDALING

Cyndi recently hosted her 2016 Gran Camp, which means our granddaughters stayed at our house for a week. Cyndi’s best friend, Patti, has two grandsons that are almost the same age, so they work hard to plan fun days for all four kids.

On this year’s agenda for the older two was learning to ride two-wheeled bicycles, and it was great fun to see them conquer something that will stay with them their entire lives. Watching Madden and Cason learn to ride their two-wheelers reminded me of lessons I’d forgotten I’d learned.

For example? Like all bicycle riders I had to learn to balance. And like Madden and Cason I learned balance comes with forward motion.  You have to keep moving if you want to stay upright. It’s almost impossible to balance on a bicycle unless you are moving forward, and moving forward with some minimal speed.

When first learning to ride there is a tendency to freeze up and stop pedaling when you get nervous or scared. You have to learn to keep pedaling anyway. It isn’t intuitive. You just have to act, in spite of your fears

It isn’t true only for cycling. I recently read a story by Shauna Niequist, about teaching someone paddle boarding. Her friend said, “I can stand up, but then I can’t get stable, and I can’t start paddling till I get stable.” She was doing exactly the wrong thing because she was afraid to stand up and paddle.

Niequist wrote: It’s the paddling that keeps you on the board. It’s the forward motion that gives you the stability you need. Sometimes we just have to pick a direction and start pulling that paddle through the water, and along the way we’ll get the stability and confidence we’re looking for.

And it isn’t true only for cycling or paddle boarding; it’s true in almost all of life. How often do we freeze up when we get scared? Our intuition tells us to slow down, even stop, gather our wits, think about what’s next, build up courage … when what we really need to do is keep moving, maybe even speed up.

I don’t mean we should always act out of impulse, never slowing to analyze or learn new techniques. But as for me, my tendency is to over-think, over-plan, over-research, build one more spreadsheet, make one more check-list, spend one more evening searching online for answers. I am Marlin, not Dory.

Why is it so hard to keep moving?

Because we never feel totally ready. Our plans are never perfectly formed. We never have the money we think we need or the support we wish we had. We never feel as strong and prepared as everyone else seems to be.

That’s just the way life is for everyone, especially when regarding major life decisions. We’ll never be ready to move forward when God calls. It will always be a surprise, maybe even a jolt. Even for things we think we’ve prepared for, like getting married, or having a first child, or buying a home, we learn two days in we had no idea what we were getting into and, of course, we aren’t ready.

No one has every last thing they need. We all want to slow down to consider. But the people who change lives, the people who make beautiful things, the people who make a difference in our world – they’re the people who keep paddling, who keep peddling, who keep moving.

Are you losing your balance today because you’ve stopped moving forward? Keep pedaling; maybe even pick up speed.

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

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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.

Passing Down Family Traditions

Learning to ride a bicycle – one moment you can't balance because it's too scary, then suddenly you are riding on your own with a skill you'll keep the rest of your life. It is not a linear learning curve, the kind where you gradually improve, like learning a musical instrument or lifting weights. Instead, learning to ride a bike is a step function, it happens all at once. No matter the advice and coaching we get, it comes down to a personal revelation. Something in the brain clicks, and you are a bicycle rider.

This week, that specific something clicked in the brain of our granddaughter Madden. She and her sister, Landry, were visiting us in Midland for what my wife has titled “Gran Camp,” four days filled with fun and games and swimming lessons and cycling and horseback riding. Cyndi is the champion at squeezing as many experiences as possible into a few days, and she is tireless when introducing granddaughters to new experiences. She was the one who gave Madden her first push off on the tiny bicycle and watched her ride away. Well done.

Cyndi borrowed two small bicycles and one tricycle from our friends, the Hammontrees. One advantage of teaching a young couples Bible study class is we have access to lots of outgrown if heavily-used kids gear. The youngest of the Hammontree trio of boys, Hudson, was wary about loaning his bicycle to a stranger girl, but his generosity was our gain. And the economy's gain. Cyndi has gone bicycle shopping already.

cycling with Madden
cycling with Madden

I love it when people tell bicycle stories because the stories go all the way back to when the storyteller was five or six years old. Riding a bicycle is one of the first independent skills a child can learn. Once they take off and feel the speed and control, there is no calling them back. It is about freedom more than transportation or exercise.

My first bike was a huge Roadmaster single-speed with coaster brakes, fenders, black, and indestructible. I rode that bike to school almost every day. After school my friends and I would ride all the way home without touching the handlebars. I remember the crossing guard at Highway 302 stopping traffic before we got there so we could fly across the highway with hands raised high over our heads. We were amazing. We were flying.

So I am excited for little Miss Madden and her future bicycle stories. I can't wait to go riding with her. It is a family tradition, a human human tradition that has successfully jumped another generation in our tribe. And isn't the passing of traditions part of our prime directive as grandparents?

cycling with Landry
cycling with Landry

I must mention our youngest granddaughter, Landry, almost three, who was flying around the parking lot on one of the Hammontree's small tricycles. I suppose this is another family tradition, but everywhere she rode was a race, and it was important that she won every time. She even trash talked and threw raspberries when she passed someone. Who knows what she will be up to next summer at the 2017 Gran Camp.

Here's the thing: The traditions Cyndi and I want to pass down are bigger than cycling or swimming or even horseback riding. We hope to imprint a willingness to tackle new things, scary adventures, and to keep moving. We aren't as edgy as I made it sound – we don't climb frozen waterfalls or juggle chainsaws - but we want these girls to grow up dreaming big. We say “You are so brave” more often that we say “You are so pretty.”

And I have to say, Well done to Cyndi Simpson. She made the big plans and taught lifetime skills while I sat safely in my office typing into spreadsheets. She did all the work; I got to be in the photos. In our 37 years together, Cyndi has dragged me into attempting new things and scary adventures (including dancing), and she's encouraged me to keep moving. Both my road bike and my backpack were gifts from her. I am a fortunate man to have her encouragement; a better man to have her influence.

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

 

Dribbler

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.

 

Scary First Steps

Why is the first step often so scary? What is it we are afraid of? I remember the first time I went rappelling at a Wild at Heart Boot Camp at Frontier Ranch in Colorado. It was, well, terrifying.

The scariest part was waiting for my turn. Could I do this? Would I chicken out at the last minute? Would I be the only one who froze-up halfway down the cliff and the belay-guy had to rescue me? I watched guy after guy take off in graceful ease like they were born to do this – the way cool guys can always do things when someone like me is watching. I tried to pay attention while the instructor explained what to do, but I was too nervous to listen.

rappelling However, once I cleared the platform, stepped over the edge, and had my feet planted on the rock face, I was no longer afraid. I fed the rope through my D-ring at a steady pace, making my way down the mountain with beautiful bouncing steps. I was amazing. I was one of the cool guys. I hooted so loud I could hear the echo off the opposite canyon wall. I was the man of unlimited courage!

That is, until we made our way over to the high ropes course. I immediately deteriorated from courage-guy to fraidy-cat-guy. It was pathetic.

I wasn’t afraid of falling to my death. I trusted the gear and construction and guides. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to finish the course and they’d have to stop everyone to pluck me from the scaffolding.

But once I moved past that first step on the cable, I wasn’t afraid. I focused on the task at hand, kept my eyes on the wire, inched my feet along, and held on to the overhead hand ropes. I didn’t worry how goofy I looked; I just kept going.

In his book Running With the Pack, Mark Rowlands wrote, “That is the magical thing about first steps. Before that step I was outwardly calm but inwardly riddled with doubt. Will my calf hold together? Will I be able to go the distance? How painful will this be? How humiliating? But with that first step, all my doubts are washed away by the quiet calm of certitude.”

I remember how afraid I was taking the first step to marry Cyndi - asking her. Not scared that she would say No, but scared to move into the great unknown life ahead. However, after that first question, after that December 1978 night, I’ve never been afraid of being married. Still not.

My first steps in my first marathon, in 1983, weren’t so scary, but only because I didn’t know enough to understand what I was getting in to. However, I remember several marathons later when I ran the Paper Chase in Amarillo in 1998, that first step was very scary. I’d piled too much emotional baggage on that race and made my fears even deeper. Until they fired the gun and I took my first step. Then I just kept running. As it turned out, I finished in a reasonable time (for me), on my own two feet, and I could still walk the next day.

Mountaineer David Lloyd George warned, “Don’t be afraid to take a big step if one is indicated. You can’t cross a chasm in two small jumps.”

When Cyndi and I left the adult Bible study class where we’d taught for fifteen years, a warm and safe class full of our own age-group peers, to begin a new class of 20-year-old newlyweds, well, the first steps were frightening. I loved teaching, and I knew I was good at it, but I wasn’t at all convinced what I did would work with these youngsters. Would they understand any of my cultural references? Would I understand theirs?

Yet, as soon as I started teaching that first Sunday morning it felt like the place where I belonged. But I had to dive in, cross the chasm, before it felt good.

How about you? What are the scary first steps in front of you that have you stopped in your tracks? Maybe it’s time to leap forward. James Lawrence says, “A better you lies just on the other side of fear.”

 

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

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Looking Forward to 60

As I write this, I’m 21,901 days old. The reason I know this is I followed Psalm 90:12, which tells us to “number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” I used Excel to count the days since I didn’t have time to actually count the pages on a calendar. What does 21,901 days mean? It means I’m 59.96 years old, firmly perched on the line of my 60th year. Being true to my analytical self I’ve been trying to understand what that means.

I remember when I turned 50 people asked if it bothered me. In fact, it made me happy. It was a relief to no longer feel the pressure to be cool or stylish or hip. I went straight for eccentric, which is much more fun.

But that was 9.96 years ago; what about now? What do I expect when I turn 60? Who will I become?

Naturally, I did a Google search on the number 60 to see what showed up. I learned there are four Archimedean Solids with sitting on the trail60 vertices. The most interesting one in my opinion is the Truncated Icosahedron (think of a soccer ball, with 32 faces, 90 edges, and 60 vertices). It has the best potential for a birthday cake, or it would if I was a cake guy. I would rather have Cyndi’s homemade apple pie than a birthday cake, no matter what the shape.

I learned that the Latin term sexagena refers to 5 dozen, or 60, and was the typical ransom for a captured Teutonic Knight.

I read about the Babylonians who used a base-60 numbering system. Since I usually confuse myself when calculating non-base-10 numbers, I asked my go-to expert in all things, Daryl Jensen whether my Babylonian age would be 1 or 10. He wrote back, “If you were to translate Babylonian symbols to Arabic numerals, you would actually be 10. However, even that is problematic since the Babylonians had no symbol for 0. My understanding is that the difference between 1 and 60 (which would look identical using Babylonian symbols) had to be inferred from context.” I’m sure if you hang out with me you’ll get the context.

The Bible says in Genesis 25:26 that Isaac was 60 years old when his twin sons Jacob and Esau were born. Fortunately, Cyndi and I have put the birthing of babies behind us.

Sports cars are rated by how long it takes them to go from 0 mph to 60 mph. I don’t know what to do with this, though, since I  have never been an accelerator but a steady-stater.

I read too many magazine articles about how 60 is the new 40 (or even the new 30), but I’ve never heard any 30- or 40-year-olds say this. In fact, I don’t want to be 40 again. I am much more comfortable with my place in life, comfortable in my own skin, now, that I was 20 years ago. When I turned 40 I was just beginning my city government phase and it was still scary and uncertain.

The same magazine articles like to point out that 70 has replaced 60 as the normal retirement age. Maybe so. I’m afraid I would be bored if I completely retired from working … probably hole-up in my cave and never come out. Cyndi once told me my writing gets narrow and shallow when I’m not around people, working. If she’s correct, and she usually is, I should keep working as long as I plan to keep writing. That’s a long time.

I learned the number 60 represents the global Karma of the Universe, but I have no idea what that means and I don’t plan to study it any further.

Bible Gateway reminded me the gold statue which king Nebuchadnezzar commissioned, the same one that got Daniel in trouble, was 60 cubits high. I won’t be building a 60-cubit statue of myself. That too creepy. And besides, Nebuchadnezzar is a particularly lousy role model to follow.

       I wrote this in my book, Retreating With God: “I’ve never been afraid of growing older and never bothered if I looked older. I was not afraid of the future. As I got older I thought more people listened to me and trusted me. I liked the gray in my hair for that very reason. My prayer had been that my countenance would show the hope and joy I felt in my life. I wanted to be one of those graceful sparkling old guys who leaned boldly into the future with anticipation, not one of those crusty ‘Hey you kids get off my lawn’ sort of old men.”

And so, I am looking forward to turning 60, and to the next 60 years after that. I want my writing and teaching to be an invitation to a larger, more intimate, and deeper life with God. I hope to call out and record those moments that move us closer to God, that demonstrate his loving hand in our everyday lives.

 

“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.