Settled

      Somewhere out of Jonesborough, Tennessee, Cyndi and I ended up on the wrong highway. We don’t know how or where we went wrong, except to claim there were no landmarks to catch and hold our attention. All we could see while driving were miles and miles of trees and mountains, a confusing scene to desert-dwelling flatlanders like us.

      We were in Tennessee for the National Storytelling Festival, which we enjoyed immensely, but which we had to leave early and fly back to Midland Saturday afternoon because we needed to do some adulting (isn’t that what the kids are saying nowadays?)

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      We stayed at the Festival as long as we could, until 12:00 noon, listening to Bil Lepp describe how he creates stories, then dashed off to our rental car (which was actually a manager’s special minivan) hoping to make the Charlotte airport in time for our 4:25 departure.

      Once we discovered our navigation error we were able to vector our way back to I-26 through the magic of iPhone GPS, but we were concerned about making the flight home. There was no sense worrying about it, though. We were on the shortest route and driving as fast as seemed reasonable.

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      According to the highway signs, we passed several towns, but all we ever saw were trees and mountains. In west Texas we put our towns out in plain view to show them off, but these Appalachians tuck their towns behind tall green obstacles.

      As we neared the airport we stopped to fill up with gasoline before returning the rental car. Cyndi had her credit card in her left hand and the door handle in her right hand as I pulled beside the pump. By the time I turned off the engine she had jumped out, dashed around to the driver’s side, grabbed the nozzle, and was entering our zip code in the keypad. I removed the gas cap and she filled the tank. We were back on the road in less than one minute. We weren’t late yet.

      We made it through the airport maze and found Rental Car Return on our first pass, literally a good sign. As we screeched into the return lane, leaping out of the car like a swat team, Cyndi told the young attendant we were racing to catch our flight so she typed madly into the hand-held computer and called out as we took off, “I’ll email your receipt.”

      I had my boarding pass on my phone thanks to my Southwest Airlines App, but I couldn’t pull up Cyndi’s pass, and neither could Cyndi. That meant I could go straight through security, but she had to have her pass printed at the check-in counter.

      Cyndi wanted me to (not wait for her but) go on to the gate, but I didn’t want to do that. What if she got hung up and didn’t make the flight? I said, “I’m not going anywhere without you.”

      Cyndi maneuvered her way through the check-in switchbacks, slinking and stretching like an experienced yoga teacher, to an unused kiosk. Looking over her shoulder she suggested, again, that I go to the gate. “Tell them I’m coming so maybe they’ll hold the plane.”

      I’ve been around long enough to know not say no twice, so I took off. I made it through TSA Pre-Check quickly except for when they had to dial up the body scanner just for me since my after-market knees tend to set off the standard metal detector.

      It turned out to be a long, long way from TSA to the departure gate. Even worse, the Charlotte airport, while delightful in every other way, has mind-numbingly slow moving-sidewalks. They are so slow you might fall over if you stood still. Fortunately, I was running and not walking so my balance was fine.

      I tumbled into Gate A3 just as the last people in line were boarding, and before I asked them to wait for Cyndi I look back down the long hallway and saw her running toward me. She was beautiful, and smiling, and knew, finally, she would make the flight home. Our reunion was like one of those videos where two lovers run toward each other in a flower-filled meadow, arms outstretched, music playing … only we weren’t in slow motion and I had my foot stuck in the entrance like a door-to-door encyclopedia salesman keeping it open.

      We made it.

      As we slid into two adjoining seats, I remembered how one of the storytellers, Jerron Paxton, told a joke about using a dating app on his phone. When no one laughed he looked out across the room of gray-headed and white-headed couples and said “I guess you folks don’t have a need for a dating ap.” And then he added, “You seem pretty settled.”

      It was a great trip … one we will do again. It turns out that listening to stories, navigating new highways among winding mountains, and racing through airports can be fun if you’re with the right person. And Cyndi and I, we’re settled.

       

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

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Stamped and Sealed

      Our daughter, Katie, lived as a Rotary Exchange Student in Odense, Denmark, for a year after she graduated from high school. It was an adventure she’d talked about for years, maybe since ninth grade, after she heard a presentation at school from an international exchange student living in Midland.

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      I’ll admit it was unnerving to send my daughter so far away for an entire year. Cyndi and I had many long conversations about it, as in, which countries we felt comfortable with and which we didn’t, how Katie was brave and smart and solid in her beliefs, and even how I was jealous of her big view of the world at such a young age. Being the modern era of 2001-2002, we had email and phone access so we would have no trouble staying in contact. Even more important, to Katie, at least, was the relatively new ability to transfer money around the world through readily available ATMs.

      While she was gone I went to the post office every Wednesday to mail a manila envelope with the current issue of Time magazine, a personal letter from me, an occasional newspaper clipping about her school or her friends, notes and letters from Cyndi, and maybe a cartoon or photo. It cost about $6.00, and if I mailed by noon on Wednesday, Katie had it in her “Danish” hands by Monday.

      My friends at the Post Office were so used to my routine they didn’t even ask how I wanted to send it – airmail, guaranteed-overnight, or slow boat to Copenhagen. They just took care of me. They gave me a stack of U.S. Customs Forms so I could fill them out at home and showed me how I could use pre-printed address labels instead of hand printing the address every time.

      I didn’t attach the Customs Form to the envelope myself, however, because I was too nervous I would stick it on crooked or on the wrong place. I let the professional postal guys stick it on. I wanted it done right. I didn’t want to get the customs part incorrect since Federal Customs Agents aren’t the kind of people who joke around about procedures.

      After the Post Office guy carefully slapped the Customs Form on the front of the envelope and after I’d paid my money, the exciting part began. He started pounding the envelope all over the front and all over the back with big red official stamps – one said “Airmail,” and the other was a round governmental-looking seal of some sort, apparently an international postman code that meant acceptable.

      They loved stamping; it was their favorite part of the transaction, even more fun than taking my money. They stamped with vigor and boldness so that the boom boom boom echoed around the room. Businessmen standing in line flinched when the percussion wave hit them in the chest. I liked the stamping part, too, because it meant my job was done. From then on the US Postal Service professionals handled the envelope; it was no longer up to me.

      Those red stamps were like magic; they guaranteed the envelope would go all the way to Denmark without further delay. Once the Post Office guy finished stamping that envelope and tossed it into the outgoing mail bin, no one ever scrutinized it again. They didn’t reweigh it in New York to see if Midland got it right. They didn’t call me from the airport to make sure I wanted this to go by airmail instead of by slow boat. Once the stamps were in place, the package travelled all the way without any more questions.

      One particular Wednesday when I left the Post Office, my ears still ringing from the stamping ritual, I realized that Katie’s envelopes were a lot like being sealed and stamped by God. I had been reading Ephesians, and verse 1:13 says, “In Him, when you believed, you were marked with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance. (NIV)” Even better, the Phillips translation says, “you were stamped with the promised Holy Spirit as a pledge …”

      Once we are in Christ we are sealed by God and stamped with the Holy Spirit. We are free to travel all the way with Him, all the way to eternity in heaven. No one has to check up on us five years from now or fifteen years from now to see if our stamps are still good. Our packaging may get damaged from the travel, but because our stamp is the Holy Spirit, we never ever have to be re-stamped. We don’t have to prove our acceptability over and over, again and again.

      Just like Katie’s envelopes were accepted at the Post Office in Midland, and that acceptance cleared the envelope through all other checkpoints, we have been accepted by God and redeemed by the blood of Jesus, once for all time. He has chosen by His sovereign will to set us aside as holy and blameless, and there is no earthly power or spiritual power that can undo that acceptance. It lasts forever. Even more, the Holy Spirit has been given to us as pledge of our inheritance, and He will not leave us.

      I think God, like the Post Office guys, likes the stamping and sealing part. It may be His favorite part of the transaction. I like it too, because it means my job is done, and I can trust Him to handle things from now on.

 

“You have made us for Yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in You.” … Augustine

A Hot Ride on Monday

      The Midland Reporter Telegram said the temperature on Monday at 5:00 p.m. was 113 degrees, making it the third hottest day on record in Midland, Texas. The two hotter days were back-to-back: June 27, 1994, temperature 116 degrees; and June 28, 1994, 114 degrees.

      The readout in my pickup said it was 115 degrees when I drove home from downtown but those extra two degrees were probably a gift from the parking garage.

      As soon as I got home about 5:30, before I could change my mind, I left for my regular bike ride. I knew it was too hot; maybe even dangerous, but I was determined to ride. It's always too hot, except for the days it's raining, or the days when the dust is blowing 35 miles-per-hour, or it is freezing cold. There’s always a reason not to, so I just go anyway. When people ask why, my stock answer is – “It doesn’t cool off until October and I don’t want to wait that long” – but my unspoken reason probably has more to do with arrogance.

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Monday’s ride was, at least in the first half, more fun that I’d expected. Nothing felt oppressive for the first ten miles right up until I bonked. I pulled over under the first shady tree and drank water and caught my shortened breath. I considered climbing off my bike and sitting on the grass against a fence but decided I’d probably fall asleep and some Good Samaritan would call 911 about a cyclist who passed out from heat exhaustion and I would be embarrassed when the paramedics arrived, so I didn’t.

      When I got back home, as I put away my bike, I promised myself not to do that again, at least not this year, or this month. Although once I was inside under the air conditioner and sitting next to my fan and eating ice cream, I felt much better and already planning my next ride.

      And those two days back in 1994, the hottest days in history? I dug out my logbook and found my entry for June 27: 5 miles. Hot. But good. Ran 3 miles, then run/walked back home at 3:00 intervals.

      And for June 28? My logbook shows I ran five miles again, but I didn’t leave any comments. There was nothing left to say, I suppose.

      We all do something that everyone else thinks is crazy. We each have our own bizarre behaviors. I shake my fist at the sun and yell, “You can’t change my plans. I’m going to ride!” as if I know what I’m doing.

      Don’t misunderstand me – I don’t love the heat. Every year by mid-May I’m already tired of hot days and ready to move to cooler climes. I believe I’d enjoy living in a place where the temperature never climbed above 75 degrees, except if I did, I would be single. Cyndi won’t live anywhere that gets cold, and she thinks 75 is too cold, even inside the house, even in the summer. She once asked me not to interview for a job in Wichita Falls, Texas, because it was “too far north.”

      Here is the amazing part of the story. I rode again on Tuesday and it was 93 degrees, 20 degrees cooler; and again, on Wednesday at 83 degrees. I hope this a trend.

       

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

Like Someone in Love

      Cyndi and I married on July 28, 1979, so this summer is our 40th anniversary. A few years ago, I realized one way to celebrate our anniversary was to spread love around. We feel fortunate and blessed to have each other, and we want to share that with people close to us.

      In 2007 I started giving away love songs. Music is a deep root between Cyndi and me. We first met in a band hall in 1973 in Hobbs, NM; we rediscovered each other at a NTSU One O’clock Jazz Band concert in Denton in 1976, and we’ve been playing music together ever since.

      Falling in love often feels like an accident. Maybe it is. But staying in love is a learned response, maybe even a spiritual practice. If listening to love songs reminds you how to be in love, shouldn’t we all listen more often?

      I hope at least one of these songs will soften your heart and push you toward your own true love. This is my 13th collection to give away. I expect there will be many more since I intend to stay with Cyndi for a long time, so I need your suggestions. Send them to me. Play these and dance with someone. It’ll make you smile. (Here is the link to my playlist on Spotify.)

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 1.      It Only Takes A Minute Girl, Tavares, 1975. I was never a disco fan, but I might’ve been had I been dating a dancer back then. I forget how contagious and fun it can sound.

2.      Just One Look, Linda Ronstadt, 1978. We (the guys) were all in love with LR back in high school. So was I, until I took a look at Cyndi.

3.      I Never Met a Woman, Los Lonely Boys, 2006.

4.      Feels So Good, Chuck Mangione, 1978. One of the first concerts Cyndi I went to, soon after we were married, on the Texas Tech campus.

5.      Girl Like You, Monte Montgomery, 1998. “And then you smile that smile, Make me feel brand new, And I'm wondering how I found a girl like you.”

6.      All About You, Kat Wright & Indomitable Soul Band, 2013. “Listen to my story, it's got to be told. If you live long enough, you're bound to grow old. You know I'll be there, if times get tough. I know you love me, babe, and that is enough.”

7.      Nothing Like You, Dave Barnes, 2016. “The stories that are mine to tell; all got you and all end well”

8.      Just the Two of Us, Joanna Wang, 2009. A nice cover of a great Bill Withers song from 1980.

9.      It's You or No One, Doris Day, 1948. When Cyndi was in high school in Hobbs, the local Rotary club hired her to take money and attendance for their monthly meetings. They all thought she looked like Doris Day.

10.    Everyday Will Be Like a Holiday, Carole King, 2011. I like every song Carole King has written or recorded.

11.    The Look Of Love, Rumer, 2016. (If you haven’t yet, go listen to Rumer. I like everything she’s recorded)

12.    Next to You, Next to Me, Shenandoah, 1990. There’s no place that I’d rather be.

13.    On Top of the World, Mindy Smith & Phillip LaRue, 2013.

14.    Stuck Like Glue, Nick Howard, 2014. “You're the one for me, I'm the one for you, we're stuck like glue.”

15.    For Once in My Life, Stevie Wonder, 1967. Nobody is better than SW; I rediscovered this song in the movie, Begin Again.

16.    That's What's Up, Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, 2012. A gift from my daughter, Katherine Noss.

17.    Like Someone in Love, Diana Krall, 2017. DK songs have appeared on 9 out of 13 Love Song CDs.

18.    Just to Say I Love You, Michael Franti & Spearhead, 2018.

19.    More Today Than Yesterday, Spiral Staircase, 1969. I can’t believe it took me this long to use this song.

20.    This Will Be An Everlasting Love, Natalie Cole, 1978. Used for the closing scene of the 2006 movie, The Holiday, Cyndi and I have to enjoy each other every time. Plus, the ending of the song is so full of joy.

       

 

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

Sharing the Trail

      I picked a short hike to start off the week. My public reason was so I could return in time to take Cyndi to her class that afternoon, but it actually had more to do with making a gentle entry to the mountains. I found the trail in my copy of The Best Durango Hikes; it climbed and circled Animas Mountain, which overlooks the city of Durango and the Animas Valley. The guidebook said the trail was easy, and it was, even though it climbed about 1,400’.

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      I had my iPod with me, so I cued up a Rich Mullins playlist and put it on random play, to let God pick the songs I needed. Right away I heard:

My deliverer is coming, my deliverer is standing by

      Me too, Rich; the greatest, longest, and deepest loves of my life – Jesus and Cyndi –delivered me, pursued me, and continue to chase after me today.

      I was fortunate that Jesus pursued me from the very beginning of my life. Literally from Day #1. I never had to find him on my own. Not only did he find me right away, he used my parents and my grandparents to leave a trail easy to follow.

      When I was a teenager, at the point in life when many of my friends resist their parent’s way of life, Jesus delivered me through music. And then, during my college years, when I was hungry for a new grown-up life, wondering who I would be and what would I believe going forward, Jesus came after me with structure and daily practices. He delivered me, settled me down, gave me peace and hope, and forged a personal faith born from my family heritage but centered in my own life.

      Since then, Jesus has continually delivered me, often through unexpected emotional encounters. He pursued me through running and marathon training, writing, teaching, hiking and backpacking, cycling, and now, once again, through music. Decade by decade he gently led me through the phases of life, speaking to me in the ways I needed most.

Where could I go, where could I run
Even if I found the strength to fly
And if I rose on the wings of the dawn
And crashed through the corner of the sky

      My other greatest love, Cyndi, pursued me long before I was smart enough to pursue her back. We first met in August 1973; it was three years later, at a jazz concert in Denton, TX, when I noticed her for real and fell suddenly for her. She delivered me from my own plans and schemes by moving in close first.

      Later, after she thought my interest had waned (it hadn’t, but I was too clueless to talk about it), and I thought I’d lost her forever because she was with someone else, she came straight back and rescued me again. As soon as she had a clear path she showed up at my doorstep and delivered me from my own sad self.

      Without those two deliverers, who would I be? Probably be a Buddhist monk, or a lonely pathetic grouchy old man living in a cave.

I will seek You in the morning
And I will learn to walk in Your ways
And step by step You'll lead me
And I will follow You all of my days

      Rich Mullins once wrote, “The biggest problems with life is that it’s just daily. There are no shortcuts.”

      Kathleen Norris said something similar about spirituality in her book, Dakota. She wrote, “Enlightenment can’t be found in a weekend workshop. There is not such a thing as becoming an instantly spiritualized person.” She continued, “Americans seek the quick fix for spiritual as well as physical growth. The fact that conversion is a lifelong process is the last thing we want to hear.”

      Maybe that’s one reason why I like hiking on mountain trials. It’s hard and long, there are no shortcuts or quick fixes, but it’s fun. It’s worth the hard work.

There’s more that rises in the morning than the sun

And more that shines in the night than just the moon

It’s more than just this fire here that keeps me warm

In a shelter that is larger than this room

      Like I knew it would, hiking in the San Juan Mountains while listening to Rich Mullins made me want to get in my car and drive to the horizon. I wanted to feel the sky the way he did. His songs make me feel I've underestimated God’s presence in the southwest desert where I've spent my entire adult life. His songs make me look at the sky and wonder about the love of God.

And there's a loyalty that's deeper
Than mere sentiments
And a music higher than the songs
That I can sing
The stuff of Earth competes
For the allegiance
I owe only to the Giver
Of all good things

      The magnificent view of the Animas Valley from the mountain ridge reminded me - there is always more, bigger and deeper. Like Rich, I want to be a curtain-puller, an inspirer, a heart-giver. I want to be someone who lives the bigger picture of God.

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      And nowadays I no longer have any interest in things that don’t get bigger the longer I look. I’m tired of tiny petty ideas. I want to be involved in deeper, bigger things, stories, and movements. I’m at home in our ever-expanding universe; I want bigger.

And may you be able to feel and understand, as all God’s children should, how long, how wide, how deep, and how high his love really is; and to experience this love for yourselves, though it is so great that you will never see the end of it or fully know or understand it. And so at last you will be filled up with God himself. (Eph 3:17-19,)

      How about you? How have you been delivered?

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

From a Long Line of Love

      One afternoon, when my daughter, Katie, was only ten years old and we were hanging around the house listening to an oldies radio station while doing chores and waiting for Cyndi to come home from whatever exercise class she was teaching at the time, Katie asked, “Daddy, what’s your favorite song?”

      I tend to avoid favorite questions because it’s too hard to decide an absolute-of-all-time top favorite, and I knew that whatever I told Katie she would remember forever and bring it up again if I ever mentioned a different song as being my favorite. She had a long memory for things like that, even at ten.

      But then, even as we were talking, a familiar song began to play over the radio and I couldn’t believe my luck. Katie said, “What happened? Why did you start smiling?”

      I said, “Here you go. This song has been one of my favorites since high school.”

      We both listened as Edward Cornelius sang, “My momma told me, she said son please beware. There’s a thing called love and it’s everywhere.”

      By now Katie and I were dancing in the living room and I was singing along: “It’s too late to turn back now. I believe, I believe, I believe I’m falling in love. It’s too late to turn back now. I believe, I believe, I believe I’m falling in love.”

      Katie was familiar with conversations like this so she asked, “Is that song about you and mom?”

      “Aren’t they all?”

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      I first heard that song in the summer of 1973 while standing beside a school vending machine in Hobbs, New Mexico. I wasn’t in love with anyone at the time so I don’t know why it stuck with me; maybe it was a premonition of the great love in my future that I had yet to discover.

      Thanks to our recent 40th Anniversary, I’ve been thinking a lot about being in love; even more than I usually do. It reminded me of another song, recorded by Michael Martin Murphy, about a young man who was getting married and afraid it might not last. His father told him, “You come from a long line of love; when the times get hard we don't give up; forever is in your heart and in your blood; Son you come from a long line of love.”

      That’s us. Cyndi and I come from a long line of love, a line given to us by parents and grandparents. I’m grateful, and I don’t take it for granted. So I looked up length of marriages to see the pattern laid out for us:

      Cy and Dulcie Simpson: married 44 yrs.

      Roy and Pauline Haynes: 49 yrs.

      Forrest and Ruby Atchley: 57 yrs.

      Deane and Lenelle Simpson: 59 yrs

      The curious thing is, our human desire for long-lasting love doesn’t have an evolutionary advantage. It makes us vulnerable, makes us take chances not necessary for survival. The more we love someone, the more we risk, and the people we love most have the greatest opportunity to hurt us the most.

      Love means giving your heart away – a great risk. Like ET, whose heart glowed red and showed through his skin when he was emotional, making his physical heart an easy target for anyone who’d cause him harm, our hearts are our weakest most vulnerable assets when full of love. I’ve learned from the comments left on my blog from last week that some people would rather avoid the bother and danger of love. Not me. Long-term love makes my life work. It’s more than worth it.

      Besides, we have a long line of family tradition to live up to.

        

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

Forty Ways to Keep Your Lover

      Paul Simon sang, There must be fifty ways to leave your lover, which was a fun song in 1975, but turned out not to be the life I was interested in. I preferred Dan Fogelberg’s lyric from 1991:

Now that we love
Now that the lonely nights are over
How do we make love stay?
Now that we know
The fire can burn bright or merely smolder
How do we keep it from dying away?

      This Sunday, July 28, marks 40 years of marriage for Cyndi and me. (That’s 14,611 days, or 4.4*C, or 38 years with wind chill.) In 1979 Cyndi was 21 and I was 23; in my memory that felt older than it does now.

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      We ask each other all the time - Why have we stayed married for so long when others don’t? We aren’t so arrogant to think it was all up to us no matter how hard we’ve tried. Too many perfect marriages fall apart, often couples we know well. The truth is, to either of us, no other life looks better, or more exciting, or fulfilling, than staying married to each other. Our love grows deeper and richer year by year and I can’t wait to see what it looks like in 2059 for our 80th.

      True to form, I made a list of some of the things that have worked for us. They’re randomly sorted because I’m not smart enough to rank them. I would be interested to hear your own suggestions. What has helped you?

 

Forty ways to keep your lover:

1.     Be proud and brag. Boast about your spouse’s accomplishments in public and let them overhear your boasting.

2.     Don’t complain. Never complain about each other to someone else. I don’t complain to my family or friends about Cyndi, and she doesn’t complain about me to hers. It’s hard to say “I’m sorry, I was wrong” once the group battle lines have been drawn.

3.     Trust each other. It isn’t easy for any of us to ask for help. Be vulnerable and ask.

4.     Be loyal. Cyndi and I see ourselves as a two-member team, back-to-back against all boarders.

5.     Grace. Don’t say, “I told you so.” There is nothing to gain from that except to feel like you’re the hero and your spouse is the loser.

6.     Flirt. Never stop flirting with each other ... serious, frequent, grown-up flirting. For example, I won’t walk past Cyndi without brushing my hand or touching or bumping her. She has often asked me, when in a store trying on clothes, “Come in the dressing room and feel me in this.”

7.     New. Read to each other from new books and share new things you just learned.

8.     Listen. Intentionally listen to each other. Cyndi will sit and listen to me read on and on from my journal, especially after I come down from a solo backpacking trip. It’s a rare gift.

9.     Dancing. I’ve learned the courage to dance with Cyndi, and she has the grace and patience to dance with me.

10.  Together. You don’t have to do everything together; however, we climb mountains, go to yoga class, enjoy study dates at Rosa’s, play music, run races and marathons, and hold hands whenever anyone is praying.

11.  Guard. Jealously guard those few opportunities to be close. Back in the day we never let the kids sit between us at church. That was our space.

12.  Share. Let your spouse safely share their weirdest ideas, rawest thoughts, and edgiest philosophies.

13.  Space. Some of the best advice given to us before we married was to find our individual lives apart from each other. It seemed crazy at the time since being apart from each other was what we were trying to eliminate, but we learned to give each other space. We don’t have to do everything together.

14.  Learn. Take every personality test or compatibility survey you find, to learn more about each other, how to take care of each other and respond to each other. Through the years Cyndi and I have learned to enjoy our differences as an asset.

15.  Money. Don’t fall into the trap of my money vs. your money. We’ve always treated money as ours no matter whose bank account it sat in. And yet, one of my favorite gifts was when Cyndi bought my road bike. The checkbook she used had both our names on it but she made a point of writing and signing the check, endorsing my new adventure. I told everyone I knew.

16.  Always changing. Allow each other room to change through the years. No one stays married to just one person, even if we marry only one person. We all change and grow.

17.  Impression. Make it a point to never appear like you’re looking around for a better deal. Not even a hint.

18.  PDA. There’s nothing wrong with some public display of affection. Cyndi and I have even been busted in the church hallway. I remember one time at home when one of our teenagers saw us kissing and told us to get a room. I pointed out, “These are all our rooms.”

19.  Support. Support each other’s adventures, whether running marathons, or playing trombone and congas, or buying a yoga studio, or hiking the Colorado Trail.

20.  Music. Reinforce those deep bonds that first brought you together. Cyndi and I first met in a high school band hall in 1973 and fell for each other at a One O’clock Jazz Band concert in 1976. We’ve played together in the FBC orchestra since the late 1980s and have recently traveled on music mission trips together to Israel, Guatemala, and Hungary.

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21.  Simple decisions. Work out a system for making those decisions that drive couples crazy, as in, where to eat, or what to watch. For us, the first person makes 3-5 suggestions and the second must pick from that list. We both end up satisfied.

22.  Abandon. Give up the notion that your spouse will make you feel completely satisfied all the of the time.

23.  Show up. Show up for each other every day.

24.  Assume good intentions. Give your partner the benefit of the doubt in all conversations and decisions.

25.  Side by side. Cyndi held me and believed in me when I got laid off - four times.

26.  Origin Story. Talk often of your early days, how you found each other, why you fell in love.

27.  Faith. Our shared faith is one of the first things that drew us together. Through the years our best conversations have been about faith and theology and ministry, and some of our best times together have been worshiping and ministering.

28.  Attractive. Work hard to stay attractive for each other. Don’t leave any opening for buyer’s remorse.

29.  Friends. Surround yourself with people who support your marriage. Avoid negative people and negative situations.

30.  Chores. Take time to make the bed or carry the trash even though you know if you don’t the other one probably will. Small gestures of tact and consideration add up.

31.  Advice. Be careful. Unsolicited advice always feels like criticism regardless of your intentions.

32.  Songs. Play love songs for each other often. Let them soften your heart like they did in the beginning.

33.  Lucky. Each of you should consider yourself the lucky one.

34.  Hands. Lots of handholding; especially when driving down the highway.

35.  Never assume. Don’t take your relationship for granted just because you’re married. Courting and winning each other’s heart and attention is a lifelong adventure.

36.  Friends. Meet each other’s friends and coworkers. (see #17) I assume no one knows me well until they know Cyndi, too.

37.  Your song. Whatever your song is, respond to it. Anytime I hear the song Fallen, by Lauren Wood, I know Cyndi is moving toward me with arms outstretched.

38.  Rescue. Protect each other from long (or bad) conversations with crazy people. Cyndi was especially good at this back in my government days.

39.  Attention. Notice when your spouse enters a room full of people. Cyndi often walks across a crowded room simply to stand next to me within arm’s reach. I always take advantage and pull her in closer.

40.  Decide. Make the decision to be in your marriage for the distance. No detours, no turning back, no dropping out, no cutting the course.

 

      Of course, this is only a partial list. My first draft had 60 items. Why don’t you make a list of your own? It’s a worthy exercise to do together. Marriage is the sort of thing where it’s safer to go all in, and it’s dangerous to go in half-hearted.

        

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

I Might Have Been Wrong (Again)

       I’ve tried listening to the subtle nudgings from God these past few years, and with even more intent since the Iron Men group studied Sam Williamson’s book, Hearing God In Conversation. Like most things of value, it takes practice, it can be improved, and it must be acted on. So last week while I was spreadsheeting our trip to Durango, Colorado, and planning a hike up to Gudy’s Rest on Sunday, our first day in town, I got the softest thought in my head – Why don’t you go to church?

       It isn’t such a radical idea for me. Thanks to my observant Baptist family I’ve attended church regularly and faithfully my entire life, even in college when almost everyone else I knew slept in. But Cyndi and I like to maximize our fun experiences when out of town, so we tend to do something besides church on Sunday mornings. So, when I had this thought about Durango, it wasn’t from my own backlog of good ideas. It was a nudge from God. I knew I had to follow through if I was serious about listening to Him.

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       First Baptist Durango started their service at 10:40 am. I got there early so I sat in my car and watched families walk up and go inside. I told myself I was investigating the best entrance to use, but I was really waiting for the main crowd to pass so I could sneak inside without having to talk to anyone. I keep thinking someday I’ll be old enough to comfortably walking into a room full of strangers, but it hasn’t happened yet.

       The unexplainable part is this: the people I should be most comfortable with it are church people. They are my people. They held me when I was a baby, taught me about Jesus all through my childhood and student years, came to my wedding, helped me raise our two children, put me into leadership positions, listened to me teach every Sunday morning, loved my Mom and Dan and helped me say goodbye to both. Why would I avoid normal conversations with people like that? I don’t know.

       The worship leader began the service by singing, ‘Take my life and let it be all for You and for Your glory, take my life and let it be Yours.” But when I sang along, I heard different lyrics inside my head. Take my writing and let it be all for You and for Your glory … Take my time and freedom … Take my analysis and creativity.

       The pastor asked, “Why are you here this morning?”

       I often travel with Cyndi when she attends a workshop. For me it’s a gift. I get to spend time alone, in a different place at a different pace, with long chunks of unbroken time available for projects I usually piece together back home. I bring a suitcase full of books and projects and my laptop, and I submerge. For this trip I also brought my day-hiking gear and a book, The Best Durango Hikes. I assume when I go deep into myself, whether in a chair by the Animas River with a book in my hand, or on a trail up the San Juan Mountains carrying trekking poles, I’ll journey deep into God as well.

       That’s what usually happens, but I might have been wrong to assume it was the only way. Sunday morning, God found me while I was sitting next to strangers.

       About this time in the service I began to notice people on my pew watching me as I scribbled notes on the 3x5 cards I carry in my pocket (a mark of a writer). I imagined them suspecting I was from the home office and taking notes. I know that’s a silly farfetched idea, but some years ago when Cyndi and I were in Karamoja, Uganda, the local leaders introduced me as The Big Man of This Religion. Not only would that title have surprised many in the USA, but I thought it happened because the Karamojong noticed I spent a lot of time scribbling on 3x5 cards.

       Of course, I could have been wrong about whether my pewmates were paying attention to me at all. Maybe they were happy to have a stranger taking notes.

       The pastor said, “Humility is transformational.” I thought, so is gratitude and generosity. How can I lean into all of those more? I want to be transformed.

       Afterward, as I walked back to my car, I stuffed my stack of 3x5 cards into my pocket, happy that I had something to write about, something to give away and give back, a story to tell. Happy that responding to a tiny nudge resulted in hearing from God.

       I’ll go hiking on Monday.

        

 

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

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Independence Day Again

      Cyndi and I once spent Independence Day in Estes Park with the Ross family at their vacation home. For some reason, we almost always stay home in midland on July 4th, but that year we escaped.

      We started the day early, following Paul up his regular morning hike to the top of the tramway on Prospect Mountain. It was mostly bushwhacking and boulder-scrambling up an invisible path that Paul has loosely followed since he was eight years old. We did a pretty good job of keeping up.

      After breakfast, we drove downtown and joined the hundreds of other holiday visitors in some obligatory touristy shopping for a couple of hours; then we set up the grill and cooked delicious Independence Day hamburgers and hot dogs.

      Later that evening, nearly sundown, we followed the stream of pilgrims slowly moving down the walkway beside the river, chair bags slung over their shoulders, baby strollers loaded with babies, to watch the city-sponsored fireworks display. In general, I like fireworks, but not as much as Cyndi likes fireworks. It usually doesn’t occur to me to make the effort to find a fireworks show, but Cyndi loves it and I love going with her. This particular fireworks show turned out to be one of the best, maybe the absolute best, I’ve ever seen. It was amazing, it was all over the sky, it was creative and original, and it was substantial. It was great.

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      At one point during the afternoon between hamburgers and fireworks, I managed to squeeze in fifteen minutes in a creaking rocking chair on the front porch and read from my Daily Bible. The passage for July 4th is from II Chronicles 29, and it’s about King Hezekiah and his national movement of reform and return to God. During a previous year’s reading I had written in the margin of my Bible: “Great passage for the 4th.”

      Hezekiah’s first move was to open the doors to the temple and repair them. He could have blamed organized religion for the sorry state of his kingdom, but he didn’t. It is always easy to blame religion for the evil in the world. Nowadays it’s very hip to say such things about religion, and it makes us feel clever and original, but actually there is nothing new about it. We followers of God are too quick to slam ourselves, especially since it was probably organized religion that led us to God in the first place. I expect Hezekiah would’ve thought so, too. The first reform he put into place was to repair the doors to the temple so that organized religion could get back to work. Maybe we need to put our doors back in place and stop complaining.

      Later in the chapter it says that when the priests and Levites were ready to start work in the service of God, they assembled and consecrated themselves before going in to purify the temple. I had written in the margin: “How should I do this to myself before a spiritual encounter?” I think I’ve bought into the idea so deeply that God, through his grace, accepts me and loves me the way I am, I forget to get myself ready to meet him.

      Just because he loves me unconditionally is no reason to take him for granted, any more than knowing Cyndi loves me is reason to take her for granted. In both cases my action (or inaction) may not affect the love from God or from Cyndi, but taking either of them for granted will do damage to me. It will harden my heart. I believe whatever those priests and Levites did to consecrate themselves had less to do with pleasing God than with preparing their own hearts. I’m pretty sure I need to do more of that.

      The story of Hezekiah ended in Chapter 32 with this statement: “This is what Hezekiah did throughout Judah, doing what was good and right and faithful before the Lord his God. In everything he undertook in the service of God’s temple and in obedience to the law and the commands, he sought his God and worked wholeheartedly. And so he prospered.”

      The story of Hezekiah is exactly what I need to hear on Independence Day. I have a tendency to be too independent, and I need a reminder of where the strength of my life comes from.

      One of the reasons I like reading through this same copy of the Bible year after year is that the lessons I learn come at me again, year after year. I have a tendency to cross my arms and think, “There, learned that one,” and move on, as if I learned it once and for all, for all time. But in reality, I never learn anything that well. It’s good to relearn important truths each year, over and over. For all my thoughts about Independence Day and Hezekiah, I know that next July 4th, whatever adventures we are taking, wherever we are staying, I will be reading this again and learning more. I hope it never ends.

 (I first published this blog ten years ago, in 2009. This morning, when I once again read the passage about Hezekiah, I knew I had to publish this again.)

 

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

The Wind Again

      Monday evening, I went for a bike ride, my usual after-work-end-of-the-day route, 17+ miles to Greentree and back.

      It was hot; about 95*F (which was cooler than last week when I rode in 106*F, but still, too hot for comfort), but other than the heat, pleasant enough since the wind was calm.

      In fact, it was a great ride, maybe my best in all of June. Until I left Greentree and turned east toward home. With only six miles to go before dinner, I hit a new storm wind blowing from the east, sticking the wind squarely into my chest. It was the sort of wind that makes northerners long for their snow shovels and icy roads and load up the minivan like Grapes of Wrath refugees and head back home. My life descended into a pathetic struggle from that moment until I finally got home.

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I should know better by now

      As I was feeling sorry for myself because I had to fight the wind, it occurred to me - since I won’t be moving to another less-windy part of the country any time soon, and since I expect to keep riding for a long time, I might as well learn to enjoy it. Stop complaining; learn to own it.

      Only a fool complains about the same obstacle over and over, as if surprised each time the same problem comes around. For example, complaining about the crowds at Christmas, or the price of gasoline, or the slow service at restaurants in a town with under 2% unemployment, or complaining about the wind. On the one hand, you shouldn’t be surprised at something that happens repeatedly; on the other hand, you should embrace it and learn to cope or go away and do something else.

      The Bible says in Ecclesiastes 11:4 … “Whoever watches the wind will not plant; whoever looks at the clouds will not reap.” My choices are to keep my bike in the garage until perfectly calm days, that one week in October, or take on the challenge.

Wind lover

      In her book, Long Quiet Highway, Natalie Goldberg wrote, “As I knelt in front of Roshi, about to scoop a ladle of rice into his bowl, he sharply, clearly said to me, “Eat the cold.” I took a deep breath, slowed down, and tried to open to the weather. This man wasn’t kidding around. Don’t run away, not even from cold – digest it, he was saying. And he meant this for all my life, not just the moment I was there.” She was in Minnesota, in winter, at the time. Her teacher was telling her to embrace the hardship and stop making excuses.

      Me too. I must learn to think of myself as a wind-fighter, a wind-bender, a heat eater. Stop allowing heat and wind make my decisions for me. Granted, sometimes it is too hot to be safe, or too windy to be safe, but that’s rare. Usually it is about being uncomfortable, not dangerous.

Challenge

      Monday evening, while cycling east into the headwind, on Mockingbird, I was passed by one, then two, then three young flatbelly riders. They were finishing up their group ride, headed to Midland Classical parking lot where they’d left their cars. My first question was – Are they fighting the same wind I’m fighting? – and then my second question – How can every single one of them pass me like I’m stationary?

      I don’t know why Monday’s ride was so taxing. I’ve handled worse wind and worse heat and suffered less.

      I’ll admit part of me longs for the challenge of wind or heat or cold so I can prove I’m a manly man. The 17th-Century French writer, Rochefoucauld, once wrote how “the wind blows out candles and kindles fires.” Sometimes I need to know if I’ll be kindled like a fire or blown out like a weak candle. And as far as personal testing goes, cycling in the wind isn’t the hardest of challenges I face.

       

 

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