Grace Abounds Through Music

       “Grace abounds through music,” said Manuel Lopez, one of the leaders of Coro Philarmonico, an organization in Guatemala City that rescues kids and young adults from street gangs and violent homes by teaching them to be musicians.

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Music runs deep

       I’ve been playing trombone continuously since I was in beginner band in 1968, longer than I’ve done anything except ride a bicycle or read books.

       Not only that, music runs deep between Cyndi and me. We met for the first time in a high school band hall in 1973; we started falling in love with each other at a University of North Texas One O’clock Lab Band concert featuring Bill Watrous in 1976.

       I’ve played in jazz bands since high school, and those have always been the most fun. I’ve never been a lead player although I’ve occasionally stumbled into it by default, and I’ve never been a soloist even though my heart has always wished I were. I told people I was a utility player, meaning I played my parts but I wasn’t a soloist. That was a cowardly dodge, though. It might’ve sounded smart to me at the time, but I was hiding.

       So last December while playing with the Midland College Jazz Band I stood up and played an improvised solo in front of an audience for the first time. It was not great, but I did it. I was a beginner in public, something I’ve spent my entire adult life trying to avoid. Typically I’d rather stay seated, even if it meant missing an opportunity, than stand up as a novice in front of family and friends. Who knows how many cool things I’ve missed because of that? The Enemy certainly used that fear to stomp down my expectations and dreams.

       But then, for some reason, last fall, I decided my Fear Of Looking Foolish (FOLF) was less than my Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO). I didn’t want to live out my life having never tried.

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A Long Journey

       I told Cyndi it feels like I’ve been on a journey of reengagement with music. I date the beginning around a Wynton Marsalis concert (Oct 2015), when I started leaning into it a bit more.

       I stepped further in after we attended Camp Kirkland’s Instrumental Convergence in Tyler, Texas, in Mar 2016. It was fun and exciting to be around so many adult musicians, especially trombone players, and I came home inspired to play more and play better.

       That weekend in Tyler led to Cyndi and me traveling on a music mission trip to Israel with Global Missions Project in Nov 2016.

       And then I enrolled for trombone lessons, for the first time in forty years. I’d grown lazy and complacent as a musician and needed a professional reboot.

       My most recent move further in took place over the New Year’s holidays when Cyndi and I joined another Global Missions Project, the Metro Big Band trip to Guatemala.

       It was scary at first, for both of us. Not the Central America part, but the jazz band part. All the musicians were amazing and we both felt like inadequate beginners. But we grew into our places with each performance, and by the end felt comfortable playing with the band. Now we can’t wait to take another trip.

       Here’s the thing about this deepening journey into music: It makes me happy to be 61 years old and reengaging with something I’ve loved since I was twelve. I’m glad to know I still have improvement ahead of me.

       Here’s another thing: It’s really about learning to give away what I’ve received.

Give Yourself Away Every Day

       God has placed specific gifts within each of us. For some, it’s music. For others, it might be painting, or teaching, organizing, counseling, or giving … the list of gifts is long and wide.

       It’s usually simple to identify those gifts – they are the things people notice and compliment - they make us come alive when we use them. However, we tend to discount our own gifts because they seem natural to us, and maybe because we don’t think we have the skills to use them well.

       But God didn’t give us gifts just to brighten our lives; He expects us to give them away. First Corinthians 15:3 says, “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance” (NIV) We are obligated to give away what God has given to us.

       During one of our concerts, in the Casa Bernabé Orphanage near Guatemala City, I remembered the long list of people who have invested in my heart for music: my dad, who showed me that grown men were musicians; band directors in Kermit (Mr. Gillian), Hobbs (Bob Lane), University of Oklahoma (Gene Thrailkill), and in Midland (Rabon Bewley); private teachers Worley Hines and Nick Conn. Thinking of all that God poured into me, I was grateful for the opportunity to give it away to those children and future musicians. I owed it to them. I owed it to God.

My Challenge To You

       Ask yourself, where do you need to reengage? Where have you, like me, grown lazy and complacent? Are you passing along what you received from God as of first importance?

 

 

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

100 Things That Made My Year in 2017

       It should come as no surprise that I am a man of lists.

       I love lists. I make a shopping list anytime my assignment has three or more items. I make to-do lists for my day. I keep lists of books I read, books I want to read, miles I’ve run or biked, summits I’ve hiked, blood pressure and heartrate measurements, body weight, passwords, calendars, goals and dreams, and, as you can see, lists of lists. I agree with the sentiments of Sheldon Cooper, who said, “If there were a list of things that make me more comfortable, lists would be at the top of that list.”

       This is my third year to make a list of things that made my year. I hope to make fifty more annual lists like this one before I’m finished. I want to continually remind myself of the best that happens

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       The world we live in is scary enough; we don’t need to be reminded. But we do need to remind ourselves of the good things that happen, the grace-filled things, the influential things, the things that make us human. Not just because we are lazy and forgetful, but because the Enemy steals them from our memory.

       Living with gratitude is the secret to a meaningful life, and this exercise of listing people, events, and things that made the year better is a powerful move toward having a habitually thankful heart.

       I encourage you to put together your own list, and don’t stop until you can identify at least 100 things. You may have to find help in order to remember the best, so dig out your journals, comb through your calendars, review your reading lists and music purchases, and ask those who are close to you. It won’t be easy, but it’s worth the effort.

       And when you do, I hope you share. A big part of imbedding gratitude in your life is making it known.

       (By the way, this list has been randomly sorted using the mathematical magic of Excel. Trying to decide which item is more important than the others is paralyzing.)


1.     Leaving the trailhead at Durango for a 40-day through-hike of the Colorado Trail

2.     Book: The Tummy Trilogy, by Trillin Calvin

3.     Playing in the FBC orchestra with Cyndi

4.     Somebody kept sneaking Honey Buns into my pickup and my closet and my life

5.     When friends send me photos of rock cairns

6.     Reading my Bible near the early-morning glass-smooth lake water at Granbury

7.     The hymn, Great is Thy Faithfulness, in the Villa Nueva Church, Guatemala

8.     Dancing with Cyndi at the Los Lonely Boys concert in front of the whole city of Midland

9.     Cracking jokes with my dad up until he passed away

10.  Memorial service for Deane Simpson, who passed away March 31, 2017

11.  My favorite booths at Whataburger

12.  Wrangler Relaxed-Fit jeans

13.  Reading my Daily Bible

14.  Byron’s brisket chile rellenos at Thanksgiving

15.  Iron Men FORGE retreat in Junction

16.  The term, trans-generational; it’s how I want to live

17.  Watching Cyndi play the congas

18.  Base Camp Gathering in Colorado

19.  Celebrating 14,000 days of marriage to Cyndi Simpson

20.  Kevin riding his long board

21.  Working with Tamarack Petroleum

22.  Taking family photos in Mansfield

23.  Cycling the hilly roads around Tesuque New Mexico

24.  Nick Conn, my trombone teacher

25.  Book: The Last Arrow, by Erwin McManus

26.  Climbing stairs at my office in the mornings; it’s exhausting, but victorious

27.  Singing with Cyndi on the ski lift

28.  Watching the movie Muppets Christmas Carol November 1st

29.  Specialized Tarmac Elite bicycle

30.  Taking trombone lessons for the first time since 1976

31.  Learning how to use OneDrive

32.  Hearing (reading) my essay on NPR

33.  Chicago concert in Midland with my brother Carroll

34.  Energel Liquid Gel Ink Metal Tip 0.7mm ball pens

35.  Book: Boys in the Boat, by Daniel James Brown

36.  Salomon XA Comp trailrunners

37.  Cyndi flirting with me.

38.  Speaking at MOPS with Cyndi

39.  Watching granddaughter Madden be baptized

40.  Rappelling with Daryl Jensen at Bear Trap Ranch

41.  Quote: “I am not preoccupied with collecting more goods and services; quite simply, my desire and effort - every day - is to pay back, to give back to the world a bit of what I have received.” (Richard Rohr, Falling Upward)

42.  Summiting Guadalupe Peak again (my 18th time on top, second time with new knees)

43.  Playing with MC Jazz band

44.  Cyndi reading from The Best Christmas Pageant Ever in our adult Bible class

45.  Book: The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything, by James Martin

46.  Listening to audio books with Cyndi on long road trips

47.  Cycling with Daryl on Sunday afternoons

48.  Traveling with the smallest two suitcases in the group

49.  Catching up with the Harry Potter movement, only twenty years after everyone else

50.  Quote: “It’s your own responsibility to keep your own bucket filled, to identify streams of replenishing energy that will take you from a depleted state to where your tank is filled to the brim and overflowing.” (Bill Hybels, Simplify)

51.  Keith Skaar’s story about his family connection to my family

52.  Book: Falling Upward, by Richard Rohr

53.  Our full tribe of clever, intelligent, and Godly friends

54.  Movie: Hidden Figures

55.  Bill Britt with Integrity Massage – he keeps me walking straight

56.  Book: Finishing Well, by Bob Buford

57.  Katie decorating cookies; making the world a happier place

58.  Hiking Hunter Peak with Chad and Clark

59.  Dreaming of another Colorado Trail attempt in summer 2019

60.  Commuting to work on my bike

61.  Quote: “To be a contemplative is to learn to trust deep time and to learn how to rest there and not be wrapped up in chronological time.” (Richard Rohr, Falling Upward)

62.  Carving the Thanksgiving turkey – it feels so patriarchal

63.  Music concert in our house with Mathew Clark

64.  Cyndi Simpson in yoga pants

65.  Tiny old Guatemalan women huggng my neck and saying “Gracias” after the New Year’s Eve concert

66.  Dinners with Britt and Patti Pyeatt

67.  Bacon-Lettuce-Tomato sandwiches at Sweetwater Harvest Kitchen in Santa Fe

68.  Talking about music everyday with Bob

69.  Quote: “In the avalanche of sin, grace has abounded through music.” (Manuel Lopez, Coro Philarmonico, Guatemala City)

70.  Watching Cyndi pour her heart, the full weight of her life, into the construction and design of her new yoga studio

71.  Book: Finding God in the Waves, by Mike McHargue

72.  Marmot Precip rain jacket

73.  Regular phone visits with my brother

74.  Movie: The Rewrite

75.  Question: I wonder what my life would be like if I started doing all the things I’m afraid to do?

76.  Playing trombone with the Global Missions Project Metro Big Band

77.  Book: Option B, by Sheryl Sandberg

78.  Holding hands with Cyndi

79.  Hiking McKittrick Canyon with the Compass Class and my granddaughter Madden

80.  Books: The Chronicles of Narnia, by C. S. Lewis

81.  Family ski trip at Santa Fe

82.  Granddaughter Landry in her Super Girl cape and mask, walking boldly into Einstein Bagels, ready to save the world

83.  Played my first two stand-up jazz solos – they were not great, but I was brave enough to risk it

84.  Quote: “Once you believe that it’s possible, and you start working toward it, it becomes inevitable.” (Alex Honnold, NPR All Things Considered (after free-soloing El Capitan))

85.  Sitting with Cory on the back row of orchestra

86.  Clark’s stories from his time in England

87.  Movie: Dunkirk

88.  Book: Isaac's Storm, by Erik Larson

89.  Cyndi dancing with audience members at the Arkadia Mall in Guatemala City

90.  Cyndi’s homemade apple pie at Thanksgiving

91.  Book: Simplify, by Bill Hybells

92.  My Panama hat (I want so much to be a “Hat Man”)

93.  Midland Storytelling Festival

94.  Abandoning the Colorado Trail only  a week after I began due to altitude issues, disappointed yet knowing it was the right thing to do

95.  My life verse, 1 Corinthians 15:3 … “For what I have received I passed on to you as of first importance”

96.  Movie, About Time

97.  Movie: Begin Again

98.  Black fleece pullover

99.  My brother, Carroll, reengaging with his drums

100.         Running on the Trinity River Trail in Ft. Worth

Solving Problems

       My mom once reminded me how I took encyclopedias on road trips and read them while sitting in the back seat of the car. I loved to browse through the books one page at a time, learning new things. As an elementary-school-aged student I was already a book nerd, solving problems and answering questions I was too young to understand or ask. I had no idea everyone else my age was reading comic books.

       Through the years, I searched for God the same way, spending the bulk of my early adult life in a pursuit best described by author Mike McHargue (Finding God in the Waves) as “trying to see God as an equation to be solved instead of a living being who partners with us in His creation.” Mine was a robust square-cornered problem-solving dependable and predictable faith. You could count on me to know the answers.

       Today I earn my living pursuing answers to complicated questions. Solving problems is a core motivation for me; it’s how I see the world. So during the Christmas holidays I read lots of blogs about what we get right about Christmas and what we get wrong; how our traditions are influenced, even driven, by western thought, interpretation, and modern terminology. I want to solve the puzzle of the Nativity.

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Solving the Nativity

       We try to understand what it was like for Mary and Joseph and the shepherds and the wise men. We argue over the timeline of the visits, the location of the birth (Was it a cave? A house? A stable?), and the actual time of year when it all took place. We want to know what it was really like, but we can’t possibly know. Even writers who tell the story through Middle Eastern eyes are inescapably tied to the modern ways of living and the current ways of understanding the past.

       For some reason none of the original participants in the nativity kept a personal journal, so we can’t read their eyewitness accounts. But what if they had? Would their accounts help us understand the story better? Would more believe? Or would we file it away as something that happened so long ago?

       This year our church used videos produced by The Skit Guys as part of our Sunday morning worship. Each week we saw a different video, each with a single individual dressed like you or me, speaking like you or me, as if the birth of Jesus just happened and we are watching a PBS documentary. Those videos have become my favorite nativity presentation of all time, and I’ve seen a lot of them in my 60+ years of church attendance.

       I liked them because they didn’t attempt to portray a historical context, but told the story as one-of-us. People are the part of the Nativity story that doesn’t change through time. Geography, climate, customs, language, medical treatment, clothing, all that changes many times through the millennia, but the hopes, fears, pain, or joys of everyday people change very little. We focus on the details of the nativity story because we want to get it right, we want to honor God in our telling, but it is the people themselves, who were more like us that we can know, who own the heart and soul.

Reading from John

       So on December 26th, the Second Day of Christmas, my Daily Bible served up the three letters of John. I have written in the margin, “This letter uses the word know at least 37 times. It is not a letter of uncertainty or speculations.” John’s letter is full of things we can know for certain, whether reading it in the first century when he wrote it, or in the twenty-first century when we’re reading it.

       Through the years I’ve gradually moved away from solving God (nailing down all the correct answers), and toward knowing God (being comfortable with his contradictions and paradoxes). I didn’t do it intentionally; I wasn’t even aware I was changing. I now long for the complex mysteries of God. Anything easy to explain and understand feels shallow and simple. I want God to be deeper than my own understanding.

God With Us

       Like everyone else I still want to understand the nativity. I want to feel what it was like and how they lived, but whether we have all the details exactly correct no longer bothers me. What I know for certain, what the Apostle John reminded us he knew firsthand, is that God, who is from the beginning, has come after us to bring us to himself … Immanuel, God with us, Jesus Christ the Lord. The truth of his coming shines through all the details. That is the real solution to our problems.

 

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

Surprise Blessing

       I spent last Saturday afternoon strolling around downtown Santa Fe looking for any of several bookstores that popped up when I pressed my Around Me app, but no joy. Either the data was stale, or the bookstores were too well hidden. Hiding a bookstore makes no sense if the owner intends to sell books unless it’s a Harry Potter bookstore, or in Santa Fe it relishes being hard-to-find and impossible-to-park.

       Hoping to redeem my time spent not locating a book store, I walked inside St. Francis Basilica to sit in a pew for a short while. The cathedral has a nice bookstore, so I found what I was looking for, but as a lifelong Baptist, I’ve already bought all the books from here that I’m interested in.

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       After a few minutes of sitting I lifted my head out of my Moleskine journal and noticed a couple of dozen tourists inside. I was the only one not taking a selfie.

       Of course, I felt noble and righteous because I wasn’t taking a selfie and my own phone was reverently stowed in my back pocket. However, as I sat in judgment of the selfie-takers it occurred to me how un-St. Francis it was to feel nobler-than-them. Bummer. That was a humbling moment.

       Taking a selfie is not unholy or irreverent. We all experience the sacred in our own way. Who knows the stories of all these people? Maybe they just recently turned their life around and entered a church for the first time in their lives and documented the experience for themselves and for their support group, or they promised their dying aunt a photo since she wanted to attend this church her entire life and now she is unable to come so the selfie taker was doing the next best thing. I’m sure many of those same people wondered why a gray-haired man would sit in a cathedral writing in his journal. Was their method of documenting the experience less righteous than mine, they might ask?

Hunter Peak

       Later, on the drive home, as I was telling this story to Cyndi, I started listing other places that have become holy and sacred for me. The first that came to my mind was Hunter Peak in the Guadalupe Mountains.

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       We hike in the Guadalupes several times every year, but Hunter Peak is not our most frequent destination. We hike Guadalupe Peak more often. I always encourage people to make this hike because all Texans owe it to themselves to summit the highest point in Texas at least once in their lifetime. But standing on top is an accomplishment, a celebration; it isn’t holy.

       However, Hunter Peak is different. I’ve been up there many times, and often by myself. Even when I’m with a group, they’re always my people and we hiked up here together, to be there together. It is personal and holy to be on those flat rocks, whether by myself, or with my tribe.

       I told Cyndi, when I die, if she decides not to donate my body to medical school (my first choice) because it creeps her out, and she cremates me instead (my second choice), I want my guys to scatter my ashes into the wind from Hunter Peak. Well, actually, that’s the sort of thing I would request if it was legal, which it isn’t, so I won’t.

My Rocking Chair

       My rocking chair at home, outside in our piazza, is a holy place wannabe (holy-place-in-training?), working its way up to full holiness. It’s the only place where I sit, and just sit. It is especially peaceful to sit and settle after a long hard bike ride. I’ve learned if I don’t make time for quiet in my life I won’t have close encounters with God later in Cathedrals in Santa Fe. I need one to have the other.

My Prayer

       And so, it was a surprise blessing last Saturday that I never found those bookstores. God had other, more holy, plans for me. It’s funny how often that happens.

       I pray that you will find time for quiet in these last few days before Christmas. Maybe you’ll even find a new holy place.

       And if you take a selfie, it’s OK. Send a copy to me. I’d love to see it

 

 

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

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God With Us

Cyndi and I go to an exercise class at the gym at 5:30 am Wednesdays and Fridays. She teaches; I struggle through. It’s a pattern we’ve repeated for at least twelve years.

The classes get smaller during the holiday season, and the people who attend seem to leave early even more often. This week everyone snuck out during cooldown and stretching. I stayed because I’m old enough to know how much I need the stretching and because I’m married to the instructor and we drive home in the same car.

It was their loss. Cyndi used Amy Grant’s song from 1992, Grown-up Christmas List, at the end of class. When we noticed we were the only two people left in the room, Cyndi said, “Well, everybody needs a friend.”

I’m telling this story because, once again, as happens every year when Cyndi uses this song, it changes my demeanor for the rest of the day. It has a profound effect on me, still.

No more lives torn apart,
Then wars would never start,
And time would heal all hearts.
And every one would have a friend,
And right would always win,
And love would never end
This is my grown-up Christmas list.

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Crying in Church

Sunday night was our big choir and orchestra Christmas worship service, and it was amazing. My favorite moment was the transition between the next to last song – Behold Our God, which brought down the house and left everyone standing with arms raised toward heaven – and the last song – Who Can Satisfy My Soul Like You, which settled the room. Satisfied our souls.

I love to play my trombone in church. It is one of those things that mean even more to me today than when I was younger. I guess it is partly pride that I still play after almost 50 years, but I am blessed to fill a role in worship that is peculiar and unique to me. Playing opens my heart to God, and playing at Christmastime is even better.

But this year I had big-boy tears rolling down both cheeks during the entire last song, which was a problem since I needed to see my music (I play trombone in the orchestra). Fortunately we were dressed in orchestral-black so the wet spots didn't show.

What I’ve learned is that my ears work better when I’m vulnerable. If I choose not to fight the tears like I did most of my early life, if I let the words soak into my heart and do their job, if I relax and forget how goofy I look, if I stand down my defenses, that’s when I feel the touch of God. With each passing year, my heart grows softer and tears flow quicker. Not only have I gotten used to that, but I’ve begun to look forward to it.           

Christmastime

The best way to guard your heart is be open to new influences, and the Christmas season is full of those. But to take advantage requires being open and vulnerable. It means ignoring the effects of over- commercialization (which means, no complaining or arguing over the true meaning) and leaning into the love and grace of Jesus (meaning, it’s OK to cry on stage).

One of Cyndi’s favorite Christmas song is All is Well by Michael W. Smith …

All is well all is well
Lift up your voices and sing
Born is now Emmanuel
Born is our Lord and Savior
Sing Alleluia
Sing Alleluia
All is well

Cyndi’s other favorite Christmas song is Emmanuel, God With Us, by Amy Grant

Travelers through a given time
Who can know what tomorrow holds?
But over the horizon
Surely you and I will find
Emmanuel, God with us

It’s my prayer that your heart will stay soft and vulnerable during these few remaining days before Christmas, so that you too will recognize Emmanuel, God with you. And also, that you’ll remember to stay for the cooldown, and wear a black shirt so the tear spots don’t show.

 

 

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

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

 Press here to find my 100 Life Goals

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Twenty Good Books 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

A Change of Pace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

riding uphill.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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Moving-In or Moving-On?

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

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

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

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

rock cairn.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Hoping for Rain

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

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

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

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

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

cycling in rain.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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One Lucky Guy

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

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

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

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

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

Los Lonely Boys Midland 2017.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 Press here to find my 100 Life Goals

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