The Power of Fear

      The scariest thing about rappelling isn’t dropping over the side of the cliff. The equipment is simple and procedures are easy. All you have to do is clip in and step off the edge. Not that that dangerous or difficult.

      No, the scary parts are the questions inside your own head: Can I do this? Will I chicken out at the last minute? Will I be the only one to fall off? Will I be the only guy to bust my head? Will I be the one who freezes halfway down the cliff and the belay-guy has to rescue me?

      I recently attended a men’s retreat in Colorado at Bear Trap Ranch, and we spent one afternoon rappelling off a 120’ cliff. It was great fun.

      It was also scary, that is until it was finally my turn and I went over the edge. Then, it felt like flying. I fed the rope at a steady pace like a big boy, making my way down the mountain with beautiful bouncing steps. (At least, that’s how I want to remember it.) Fear turned into joy and I wanted the cliff to be even taller. I wanted it to last a long time. I wanted to go forever.

      Later that afternoon in the safety of my own bunk I read the Bible story from Luke 24 about two people who spent a day with Jesus while walking down the road to a village called Emmaus. One was named Cleopas; the Bible doesn’t tell us the other person’s name, but I think it was Mrs. Cleopas. The story took place immediately after Jesus’ death and resurrection, when Jesus’ followers were still hiding in a room with the doors locked. They were afraid the same people who had killed Jesus would come after them.

      There is no indication in the biblical account or historical record that authorities were pursuing followers of Jesus, but they didn’t know that. It all happened so quickly and violently the followers of Jesus had no idea what would happen next, so they holed up in a room with the door locked for protection.

      They were locked in, out of fear.

      Curiously, the only ones among them who had personally seen the risen Jesus, saw him when they were outside the room.

      That is the power of fear. It paralyzes us. It keeps us locked in. It causes us to avoid trying scary things. Even when our fears make us feel safe, they keep us from finding Jesus.

      It isn’t easy to remove fear from our life. You can’t just decide not to be afraid. For one thing we put so much energy justifying and defending our fear they begin to feel like logical and sane reactions to the scary outside world. As in, anyone in their right mind should be afraid of what’s happening right now. It’s hard to get around that.

      We have a friend who has watched so much 24-hour news on TV she is afraid of everything. She worries about which roads not to travel, what not to eat, all the evil people in politics, and none of it with personal knowledge. All her conversations are about her fears. It hasn’t always been that way with her. We used to have long intelligent conversations about books and big ideas. She was one of my favorite people to talk to, and now we all avoid her. Her life is so tied up in knots from fear, which has morphed into resentment and bitterness, no one wants to be with her. I suppose all the things she is afraid of have become true in her dark, isolated, small world. It’s too bad. It didn’t have to turn out that way.

      So how do we escape the power of fear? Here’s what helped me when we went rappelling - I wasn’t alone. I was with a bunch of guys and we shared our courage.

      The followers of Jesus finally overcome their fear and went back outside after direct intervention by Jesus. He came to them, appeared in their locked room, and said, “Peace by with you.” He immediately turned their doubts and fears into joy.

      What are you afraid of? Find someone to share courage with you. Ask Jesus to appear, and to set you free.


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

Being the Hero

      It’s hard to remember the exact details from something that happened over twenty years ago, but I heard that during a showing of the movie Apollo 13, at the end when the returning Command Module finally appeared in the sky and radio contact was reestablished and everyone knew the astronauts would return safely and the whole world breathed relief, someone in the theater leaped to their feet, arms in the air, and cheered. The reason I am fuzzy on the details is because at the time it happened Cyndi was tugging on my shirt and saying, “Sit down!”

       Even today, two of my all-time favorite movie scenes are from Apollo 13. I love the scene where all the engineers grab their slide rules (just like my own Post Versalog 1460) to recalculate and confirm the navigational rocket firing coordinates, as well as the scene when the mission controller dumps a big pile of stuff on a table and tells the engineers to build an air filtering device from only those components. Two sides of engineering at its best! As a profession, engineers don’t get many scenes better than those.

       Why am I writing about a space mission that took place in 1970? Because Captain James Lovell, 88 years old, commander of the real Apollo 13, spoke in Midland this week. He was amazing. Even when telling a story he’s told countless times since 1970, he held the audience tightly.

       During the question and answer time, someone asked how Apollo 13 changed him. He said, “I don’t worry about crises.” And then he added, “When crises occur, you just do the next important thing, solve the next critical problem, and depend on your team.”

       One of our most basic human desires (well, at least for men) is to do something epic and heroic. And we all have stories from our life when everything went terribly wrong yet we lived to tell the story. Apollo 13 is more famous today because of its heroic survival than it would be had they successfully landed on the moon.

       Lovell said whenever he speaks, no matter where he is, he hears a similar story over and over, and never gets tired of it: “I was a youngster fascinated by space travel, so I became an engineer, and I’ve practiced engineering for 30 years.

       Yes, Captain Lovell, that’s my story as well. I too was captured by space and rockets and astronauts and a very young age. I heard astronaut Ed White speak in San Antonio the summer of 1965. He was fresh from taking America’s first walk in space. My grandparents took me to the outdoor ceremony so I could see him and hear him. I don’t remember much about it except that it was very hot and humid and the crowd was huge and much taller than me. My grandfather had given me a cardboard periscope about 24” long when extended, and I used it that day to watch Ed White make his speech. It was very cool, and from that day forward Lt. Colonel White was my guy.

       I was nine years old. I’ve been an engineer for 37 years.

       They asked Captain Lovell which was harder and more stressful, being an astronaut or a CEO (something Lovell has been at least twice). He said being an astronaut is easier. It might be more intense, but there is a beginning and an end to each mission, then it is over. A CEO has to make hard decisions and solve daily crises for months and years

       So in our desire to be the epic hero we can take Lovell’s words to heart. The real hero is someone who makes good decisions, solves the next problem, and depends on their team, day after day for a lifetime. Maybe you and I won’t go to space, but we can all be heroes.

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

A Change is Gonna Come

Where do you go to work things out? Where do you go to understand daily life?

There is a Bible story about the Apostle Peter that took place after Jesus’ death and resurrection. It says, Simon Peter, Thomas, Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together.  “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, (John 21)

The question is, why would Peter want to go fishing at a time like this? Was he reverting back to his previous life so soon after seeing the resurrected Jesus?

There are a lot of possible reasons for the fishing trip, but I wonder if the guys were merely going for comfort food, so to speak. Maybe they worked out their issues and problems and talked about the future better in a fishing boat than in the safe room where they’d been hiding.

I’ve had men tell me all sorts of private things while on a mountain trail together, as if the shared effort between us earned the privilege and safety to talk. Could Peter and his guys have been looking for that? Could they work out all that had just happened to them better doing something hard, something familiar, with their closest allies? Maybe they needed a conversation they couldn’t have in the safe room in front of everyone else, in front of the women.

One place where I go is an annual retreat called Base Camp Gathering with The Noble Heart Ministries at Bear Trap Ranch, in the Rocky Mountains just west of Colorado Springs. I have attended this event every fall since 2012, and this week I’m going again.

I always go to Base Camp with a heart full of questions about life and ministry and what to do next. Remarkably, even though I don’t come home with something as tangible as a bullet-point list of action items, I always leave with a sense of what to do next.

I know from experience if I go somewhere different, away from my regular haunts, I’ll notice different things and think different thoughts. I learned a formula from Mark Batterson, ΔPL + ΔPA = ΔPE, meaning a change in place plus change in pace equals change in perspective. It works for me even when the new place is not exotic or far away. The smallest changes in pace and place can trigger my imagination.

The questions on my mind this year are about ministry and timing. What should my teaching ministry and men’s ministry look like during the next few years? I don’t expect to stop doing either one, but there are beginning vibrations in my heart that change is coming. Does it mean a different teaching assignment, or deeper involvement, or doing more outside adventures, or turning more over to other leaders? I don’t know, but I’ll be listening intently while in the mountains.

My outlook on the future has changed significantly in the past twelve months. So many things I’d given up on as lost opportunities (such as running, hiking, backpacking, walking with a normal gait, etc.) have been reborn into real and hopeful dreams. Thanks to modern medicine and titanium, all of those are back on my goal list, and my list grows almost daily.

That alone has set my heart to wondering what will be next. How should I take advantage of this reboot? How much longer do I have to do the things I love? How can I use my new dreams to speak into the hearts of young men?

In addition, I just returned from a Labor Day backpacking trip into the Pecos Wilderness with about 15 men, and it was a mighty experience. We had a great time, and I can’t wait to go again. As part of this adventure I planned an attempt to hike to the summit of Truchas Peak (13,102’) as the next step in my year-long incremental knee-testing plan. Not only was it a successful climb, but it wasn’t as physically hard on me as I thought it would be. In fact, I looked back in my journal from the last time I did the same hike, in 2009, and I think I had an easier hike and quicker recovery this time than then. It opened my eyes to a brighter outside future.

It occurred to me I must not waste this second chance at influence. I should plan more frequent group backing trips during the year, making it my goal to get outside with more men more often. I should also recruit kindred spirits to travel to bike races, and quit waiting for someone else to take on that responsibility. When God gives us a burden, he is also giving us the assignment.

What about you? Do you sense changes ahead? Sometimes all it takes to glimpse the future is let go of certainties. Are you willing to open your heart and mind to big changes?


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

A Second Chance

“How do your new knees feel?” asked, well, almost everyone around the campfire.

“They feel great. They feel like I got a second chance.”

It was Sunday afternoon and Clark, John-Mark, and I had just arrived from a successful climb to the summit of Truchas Peak. We were right behind four young flat-bellies who hiked ahead of us.

I was tired. No, I was whipped. I felt all of 60 years. But more than anything I was happy and proud.

A year-and-a-half ago I had pretty much given up on hikes like this. I just didn’t have the stamina, or the knees, to keep it up. And then I got a second chance.

Truchas Peak is located in the Pecos Wilderness in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, about 20 miles north of Santa Fe. For some reason it’s seldom visited, isn’t even covered in the books "50 Hikes in New Mexico" or "100 Hikes in New Mexico".

It’s a difficult hike. We started at Pecos Baldy Lake (11,000’) and hiked four hours up to the Peak (13,102’). The final push to the top was a scramble on boulders and loose talus. I suppose a missed step or slip would produce at best a 100’ face-down slide, or at worst an end-over-end tumble to the bottom, but it didn’t seem that dangerous at the time. Maybe the lack of oxygen clouded my thinking.

I used to tell people I was built for tug-of-war, not distance running. I usually said this while bent over, hand on knees, gasping for air, after finishing a distance race. But I’ve come to understand that running and hiking are not just things I do, or even what I’m good at. They are a privilege; a gift.

They are also thin places for me. I seldom draw inspiration from a stunning view I drove to; somehow I need to earn it. For me it’s not the view but the effort, the process, which opens my eyes and heart to God. My stories tend not to be about finding God in nature, but finding God on the trail.

And I like touching the top of mountain peaks. For one thing there is the feeling of accomplishment; you know when you’ve reached the end. And after a head-down stare at the trail that goes on for hours, the sudden break into the clear at the summit feels liberating. Your perspective changes immediately. The whole world looks different than it did just moments before.

For years I identified with the term Peregrinatio pro Christo. I loved the idea I was a lifelong pilgrim for Christ, always learning, always searching, never completely arriving, but growing deeper and wiser and wider and more graceful and loving, moving further up and further in. My many solo backpacking trips fed this yearning for pilgrimage.

Now, however, I realize being a lifelong pilgrim is not enough. Merely searching for God is too small a life. My heart’s desire has changed from being a pilgrim to being a guide. I don’t want to journey alone. I want you to come with me to the high country. Together we’ll grow and live a deeper, richer life with God.


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


Loading My Gear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

The Trail to Change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Digging Deep Roots

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why is it so hard to keep moving?

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

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

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

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

Do You Need Help?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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