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.)

one.jpg

 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’.

one.jpg

      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.

two.jpg

      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?”

one.jpg

      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.

young.png

      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.

old.jpg

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.

fbc.jpg

       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

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

 Press here to subscribe to this weekly essay.

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.

IMG_0475.JPG

      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.

20170628_185308537_iOS.jpg

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

Walking the Pond

      “I’m going to walk” was the first thing I said to a quiet room and sleeping Cyndi. I was still prone in bed, but my inclination was in the direction of getting up. It was 6:20 am and I had been lying in bed arguing with myself whether to get up and walk around the neighborhood pond since my alarm first went off at 6:00 am. Unfortunately, I’ve become adept at turning it off and going back to sleep.

      But this time I did the right thing. I got up, pulled on gym shorts, T-shirt, and Hokas, waited while Cyndi got dressed (she hadn’t been thinking about it for twenty minutes like I had), and we made our morning walk.

park 061919-7.jpg

      Our neighborhood has a beautiful private park created from scratch by the developers, who turned a drainage project into one of the coolest places in Midland. It has two ponds, lots of trees, and even a small man-made bubbling stream. The walking path is one mile long if you circle both ponds, and this morning it had a Disneyesque quality about it: birds singing, ducks quacking, bunnies hopping, and fish flopping.

      When we first moved here eleven years ago, we had an aging Labrador, named Lady, and we’d walk her around the pond twice a day. In her long life with us, over twelve years, Lady ran thousands of miles, with Cyndi early in the morning before sunrise, and with me in the evening after work. By the time we moved here in 2008 she was too old and infirm to run. She wanted to but had neither the stamina nor ability. She was so slow, even accompanying her on a one-pond shortcut was a test of patience. But Lady loved it, and she’d earned it.

      After Lady died in August 2010, we no longer had a pressing need to walk the pond every day, so we didn’t. Maybe we ventured out a few times, on and off, but never consistently. I missed the regularness of it, the twice-daily meditation and prayer time.

      Last fall, as part of my 40-Day Challenge, we started getting up at 6:00 am to walk the ponds, and we had several successful streaks of daily trips. But something inevitably interrupted our schedule and the pattern would go dormant for weeks. Or months. This morning, we resisted the resistance, and took our walk.

      Why am I writing about this? Even the simplest activities can take on spiritual meaning if repeated often enough.

      I believe in the magic of daily practices. I especially long for practices that take me inside myself, allow my thoughts to wander, and allow my heart to be open and vulnerable. Walking the ponds was once a daily practice of mine and I want it back.

      In his book, Soul Keeping, John Ortberg wrote, “Prayer, meditation, and confession actually have the power to rewire the brain in a way that can make us less self-referential and more aware of how God sees us.” That is my strongest motivation for daily practices, and my greatest expectation, to let God rewire my brain.

      It’s like those phone apps that ask permission to access my location, and I have to agree if I want to use the app, knowing that the app will use the data for its own purpose. When I pray, when I meditate, when I practice daily, I’m opening myself to God, giving him my password, giving him permission to access my ideas and thoughts and dreams and loves and goals, and asking him to manipulate those to his pleasure.

      That’s what I want to happen. That’s why I want simple activities like walking in the park to become daily practices. I know how a repetitive act can speak to my heart and open my thoughts, and that’s what I am after.

      But first, I need the discipline to get up and do it, day after day. Deep spiritual practices start out as chores. It takes a lot of reps to convert ideas into habits into practices. I started again this week.

        

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

Nine Stories from Hungary

      We just returned from a trip to Hungary with Global Missions Project, playing excellent music with the Metro Big Band. We played concerts in churches and schools, with the stated aim to share the gospel and encourage the church. I am constantly amazed how God has blessed our life; in this case, that we’ve taken up with this music ministry, that God has opened up our world in this stage of life.

1.jpg

      Story #1: The minute our last concert was over, Friday night in Budafok, I noticed a man making a beeline n my direction. He had gray hair, a brown tweed jacket and black shirt, and walked straight up to me and stuck out his phone so I could read the screen. I suppose he had a translation app on the phone. His screen read, in all caps, CAN I PRAY FOR YOU?. Well, the answer to that question is always YES.

      He put his arms around me and prayed for about two minutes, all in Hungarian so I had no idea what he was saying. I found out later his name is Angel. The pastor said he was a prayer warrior and must have sensed something about me. As far as I know, I was the only one he prayed for.

      Story #2: I told Cyndi toward the end of our second day of playing, I felt like I was moving the line. I was now about 50/50 between playing out of fear of messing up to playing aggressively. The line was closer to 20/80 our first night of rehearsals. Playing this music has that in similar with sports, the tendency for playing not to lose rather than playing to win.

      Story #3: End of the tour, we arrived in Midland about 9:40 Sunday morning, and left the airport driving a Toyota Highlander belonging to my sister-in-law, full of suitcases and horn cases and four people.

      As we entered Loop 250, slowing a bit to avoid a big water puddle, we were slammed from behind by a massive pickup, and sent spinning into the grassy, muddy median. None of us were hurt that we could tell, but the luggage and instrument cases were jammed up in the crumpled back compartment of the car.

      My trombone case showed no evidence of the wreck, but Craig’s case, containing a trumpet and a flugelhorn, was crushed and broken. Fortunately, the horns survived.

      Story #4: Craig and I sat for several hours in Heathrow Airport in London while Linda and Cyndi cruised the duty-free shops. We told stories of how we met our wives, how we fell in love, how we decided to get married, how we got here. It’s rare to have time for telling the sort of stories we don’t usually get around to.

      Story #5: Cyndi and I made two early morning runs, about 2.5 miles each, through Varosliget Park, near our hotel. We agreed that even if we have only one opportunity to run, to feel the landscape and experience the people, it more than justifies the suitcase space taken by running shoes and clothes.

      Story #6: The night before we left on this trip Cyndi was thinking and rethinking her selections while packing her suitcase. We both tend to pack light, so there are choices to make about clothing.

      She looked at me for my opinion, and I started singing, “Don’t go changing, to try to please me, I love you just the way you are.”

      And then it occurred to me - we’ve done nothing but change for each other for the past 40 years. Sorry, Billy Joel, it’s a silly song.

      Story #7: Simple comfort food is the best. Our favorite meal of the week was Hungarian Goulash cooked and served by the Tahitotfalu Baptist Church. It looked like beef stew. It still makes me smile to think about it.

2.jpg

      Story #8: At the conclusion of our concert, the pastor at the Tahitotfalu Baptist Church said another minister in his town told him, “You Baptists have it made; every service is a party.”

      Story #9: On our Thursday morning quick trip to Vienna, we ate hot dogs from a street vendor. That was my second favorite meal of the trip. They reminded me of the puka dogs we’ve eaten in Kauai.

      They impale a baguette on a heated spike, creating a one-inch hole that is toasted on the inside, put in mustard and sauerkraut, and, in my case, a bratwurst. On the train ride back to Budapest we started talking about how to make these back home in Midland.

      Questions: The questions we get from friends and family when returning from an epic adventure like this are the same (mainly because they’re the same ones we ask ourselves): What was your favorite part? What was your least-favorite? What was your biggest takeaway? What were your surprises?

      The older I get the harder these are to answer. The answers come slowly over the next months and years, seldom right away. And even then, they may not come as insights, but behavior changes only other people recognize.

3.jpg

      Possibilities: Maybe the reason our Toyota Highlander didn’t flip when we skidded into the mud was because of Angel’s prayer. Was that what he prayed in Hungarian?

      Maybe the fire and inspiration stirred up by playing with these musicians will motive me for the next ten years. Can I keep getting better?

      Maybe the people who came to our concerts hoping only to hear big band jazz from America left with hearts softened by the gospel presentation. Will they become believers?

      Maybe we’ll learn how to make Vienna hot dogs and Hungarian goulash and stuffed cabbage, allowing us to share our trip with friends back home, and causing our memories to linger forever. When can we go again?

 

 

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

Hearing God

      I was in my best booth in Whataburger, reading and writing, when Dennis came in and sat beside me. He was eating a quick breakfast taquito on his way to the airport to fly to Orlando, Florida for a weeklong meeting. He was deeply involved in a new College-age Community Bible Study group and I guess they had a lot to talk about.

       Before he came in, I had been reading a devotional book from 1 Samuel 3, about the time God spoke to the young boy Samuel. He heard God call to him three times in the middle of the night, and all three times he mistook the voice of God to be the voice of Eli, an elderly priest and Samuel’s mentor.

      Each time he heard the voice he jumped and ran to Eli, “Here I am!” Eli was confused at first, but eventually understood Samuel was hearing the voice of God. He said, “If the voice comes again, reply, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’”

      The devotional writer wrote: “Back in the past of his mind, Eli vaguely remembers that voice – a voice that needs to be identified as we respond to it. … but Samuel has not heard this voice before.”

      I wrote at the bottom of the page in my book: It is our responsibility (as was Eli’s) to NOT forget the voice of God, and to help young Samuels know how to recognize God’s voice.

      When reading these Bible stories, I can’t help but put myself in the place of one of the characters – usually the hero, for some reason – and wonder how I would have responded. Lately, however, my perspective has been changing, and the characters I identify with have changed as well. I used to wonder if I were Samuel would I have recognized the voice of God. Now I realize my Samuel days are behind me. To my surprise I’ve become Eli. My viewpoint has shifted from receiver of advice to giver.

      Which means I, and my fellow Elis, are obligated to help young Samuels recognize the voice of God. Which means we can’t forget the sound, tone, feel, or heart of God’s voice. It is ours to lean in even further.

help.jpg

      I thought it was coincidental, or fortuitous, that I should be thinking about Eli when Dennis showed up. I told him what I was writing about – that we who have been following Jesus for a long time – we Eli’s – have an obligation to share with the young Samuels around us, to help them know the voice of God when they hear it. In my case I see that as part of my role as a teacher and writer. In Dennis’ case with those college guys who are on the edge of their lives and moving into the bigger world of God.

      The problem with my scenario is I feel unqualified to be Eli. I expected more warning before my role shifted. I thought I’d know more answers before landing, surprised, in the mentor role.

      All the more reason to say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”

       

 

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