A Music Adventure

       Have you ever considered going to an adult fantasy camp? I did a quick google search and found a Space Academy, a Culinary Camp, a Post-Apocalyptic Camp, Mountaineering for Women, Rock ‘N Roll Fantasy Camp, and even a Wizarding Weekend. Which would you choose?

       Last Friday, I attended my own music fantasy camp: I played trombone with Denver and the Mile High Orchestra at my church. If you aren’t familiar with DMHO you need to go to You Tube right now and listen. They play hymns and other songs, blending big-band jazz with power funk, and they are monster musicians. I first heard them playing at the finish line of the Nashville Marathon in April 2003, and I’ve been a fan ever since.

       They scheduled a concert in our church, and asked three locals - Rabon, Craig, and me - to sit in with the band. I don’t know why they needed more horns. Maybe they didn’t. It could be they were being generous to the local talent … but, I didn’t care. It was a hoot, a joy, a gift to play with them, and I’ve been vibrating ever since.

IMG_4319.jpg

       We received our parts by email a few weeks ago, and the three of us practiced together a couple of times. We started playing together at church as a three-horn combo at least fifteen years ago, and I enjoy every minute. Even practice sessions.

       The gig itself was way more fun than I expected. I started off the night jittery and nervous, praying, “Don’t let me mess this up.” It doesn’t matter how old we get (62), or how many years we’ve played (50), it’s still nerve-wracking to stand beside the big boys on varsity. By the end of the first song, however, I’d moved past nervous into fun.

       For me, the curious part is how we got to this moment. Spiritual journeys are usually long and winding paths, never obvious and never inevitable.

       It started when Ken Hughes (trombone player for DMHO) gave our names to Denver Bierman, leader of the group. One Tuesday last July, Rabon, Craig, and I each got a text from Denver asking if we knew a trumpet player who could play with the band that next Friday in Alpine. I wrote back that I’d pass his message along but was he sure he didn’t need a trombone instead? Craig drove to Alpine and played with them. Apparently he made a good showing because the next thing we knew, there was a concert scheduled in Midland with open places for us. Well done, Craig.

       Ken Hughes is the Ministry Director for Global Missions Projects (led by Camp Kirkland) and that’s why he knew the three of us. Cyndi and I traveled with GMP to Guatemala last December, I played trombone and Cyndi played congas and percussion. And before that, in the fall of 2016, Rabon and Kim Bewley, Craig and Linda Freeman, and Cyndi and I went to Israel with the GMP orchestra. That’s how we ended up on Ken’s list.

       But before that, a dozen FBC orchestra members travelled to east Texas for an Instrumental Convergence, a one-day gathering of church musicians to learn new music, draw energy from each other, and open our hearts and eyes to a larger vision of music for the Kingdom. It was there that we heard a passionate pitch to join the GMP orchestra in Israel. Our three families decided to give it a try. That’s how we got on Ken’s list.

       But even before that, we heard of the Instrumental Convergence because Rabon had been traveling with the GMP Metro Big Band since 2010. His first trip was to Russia, and since then he’s played with them six more times in Europe and South America. He has two more trips scheduled already. The rest of us followed Rabon’s lead and jumped aboard the GMP train. That’s how we got on Ken’s list, and how we got to play with Denver last Friday, we followed Rabon.

       So many adventures happen like that. Somebody is brave and takes a step forward, a couple of more people follow along, we’re brave together, and next thing you know your life is permanently changed. Your vision for musical ministry is blown apart, and you’re playing killer music with powerhouse musicians in your home church with your wife sitting on the second row radiating joy and pride.

       At least, that’s how it was for me.

 

P.S.      The story continues. Rabon is going to Cuba with the Metro Big Band (part of GMP) in January, and our gang of six are traveling to Hungary in May. I can’t wait to see what’s next.

Everything We Need

       Last Saturday I was blessed to join my friend David hiking in McKittrick Canyon. The canyon trail is famous for two things: (1) it’s the only easy hike in the Guadalupe Mountains National Park, and (2) it’s surprisingly, brilliantly colorful this time of year.

       In general, nature couldn’t care less if we enjoy the view and it makes very little effort to carve an easy path for us. But McKittrick Canyon is an exception, a gift from God.

       The hike is about seven miles round trip and is easy enough for young families. There were plenty of youngsters on the trail last Saturday, and even a few hikers older than either David or me, if you can believe that.

       This was meant to be a larger hiking group. I had twenty on my list last Monday, for a sixteen-passenger church bus. But what I knew would happen happened, family life took its toll, and one by one people dropped off the list, all with good reasons – weddings to attend, soccer games rescheduled, illness, tickets to a (losing) football game. My list had deteriorated down to two hikers by Friday, and that included me.

       Life is all about choices, and we’re continually choosing between good options. As adults, and as parents, we have to consider the whole family when choosing how to spend our Saturdays, so I wasn’t disappointed. But I had a choice to make, too. Should we go with only two people, or cancel the trip? The canyon is 3-1/2 hours’ drive from Midland, a 7-hour roundtrip, and we all have plenty to do on a Saturday.

       However, I didn’t want to cancel. I’ve already bailed on one hike this year for the same reason and I didn’t want to do it again. I also knew David had been planning for this for a long time. Besides being a great friend and fellow Bible teacher, David is in long recovery from a near-fatal heart attack … so severe his medical records say he “recovered from sudden death.” Back in the old days, before his attack, David joined us on much more difficult hikes to the summit of Guadalupe Peak. I wanted to be part of his return to the trails.

M1.jpg

All About the Colors

       The best time for hiking McKittrick Canyon is actually a small window in time – the end of October and early November. That’s when the changing leaves offer the most vivid and striking colors. In the middle of the arid desert mountains, the canyon surprises hikers with oak trees, ash trees, and bigtooth maples. It’s a pretty place to be any time of the year, but in the fall when the leaves change colors, it’s stunning. The bright yellow and dark maroon leaves stand out against the gray-brown landscape, and it’s beautiful.

Staying Balanced

       At one of the water crossings (there were two and we crossed them both twice) we waited in line for the one set of stepping stones. A hiker was struggling to hold her balance as she tiptoed across the rocks, swaying from side-to-side like a beginning tightrope walker. Fortunately, she made it across. She didn’t fall in. She didn’t get wet. The curious thing was she had a trekking pole in her hand which she held aloft for balance. If she had planted the pole on the bottom of the stream with each step, used it as it was designed, her journey would have been much quicker, safer, and less frightening. I considered hollering to her about using her pole, but no one wants unsolicited advice while working their way across a stream.

       I wondered how many of us struggle through life trying not to lose our balance and topple into the water, when we’re holding in our hands the very thing we need to make the trip stable and safe.

       The same situation appears in the movie, A Walk in the Woods, when the two senior-in-age-but-not-in-experience hikers, Bryson and Katz try to cross a wild river. They both end up losing their balance and falling into the water, backpacks and all. Every time I see that scene it’s all I can do to keep from yelling at the screen (Cyndi would say I occasionally do yell), “Use the trekking poles you have strapped to your backpacks, you fools! Why carry them all along the Appalachian Trail if you don’t use them when crossing a river?” The two hikers could have stayed dry had they used the tools they were carrying.

       We’ve been given everything we need to navigate the rocky streams of life. The Bible says, in 2 Peter 1:3. “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.”

       God doesn’t promise we won’t slip into the water, or slide off one of the rocks, or sneeze just as we are stretching for a long step to the bank and lose our balance, but he promises us everything we need to live a godly life. It’s up to us to use what he’s given, live out his calling, rely on his mercy and grace, believe his promises, and stop leaving them in our backpacks for another day.

M2.jpg

       Last Saturday I enjoyed two of God’s greatest gifts, both of which I need for a godly life. One was time on the trail surrounded by wild beauty, and the other was extended time with my friend David. I tell Cyndi often, “Too many men go through life without one single quality friend, and I have dozens … more than my share.” The hike in McKittrick Canyon was fun, but more than that, it was an honor to share it with David.

       I hope you can join us next year.

 

 

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

Trajectory Changers

       “If you could see your whole life laid out in front of you, would you change things?” (from the movie, Arrival)

trail.jpg

Anniversaries

       I’ve already written how 2018 is an anniversary for me, 40 years since I started running, and 50 years since I started music; and today for some reason I started looking at my timeline, at other “8” years, to see what I could find. (Yes, I have a family timeline that goes back to 1956, and yes it is on an Excel spreadsheet, and yes I am proud of it even if Cyndi rolls her eyes when she pretends to be interested in it.) I wrote these down on a napkin my fine-dining restaurant furnished for note taking:

       1968 – began trombone

       1978 – began running

       1988 – began writing for the public

       1998 – began publishing Journal Entries

       2008 – began post-government life

       2018 – too soon to know

       I didn’t start any of these thinking they would become life, identity, or fulfillment of heart and soul. In each year, I did lots of things, some of them I quickly dropped, others I still do, but none had the defining effect as these.

Trajectory

       I doubt we ever know when we’ve made a life-changing decision, outside of getting married and all that. Most of the events that permanently changed the trajectory of our life were small bumps when they happened. It is only in retrospect that we appreciate what they became.

       For example, I didn’t start playing trombone in 1968 because I intended to live a lifetime in music. I was in Kermit Junior High School, and my choices for electives were shop, choir, or band. I chose band. It took years before anyone thought I might become a musician. I wasn’t very good.

       I didn’t start running in 1978 thinking it would become part of my identity, much less the title of my first book. Nothing in my life up to that point would have encouraged anyone anywhere to think I would ever do anything athletic. I started running out of desperation, hoping to win the heart of a girl. But I never stopped running, kept running, did a few marathons, added cycling, hiking, and backpacking. It’s true, I also got engaged to Cyndi in 1978 and maybe you think that should be my marker for the year, but in retrospect engagement seems more inevitable than running.

       My first writing for public readership was in 1988 when I became the president of the Permian Basin Road Runners Club, and one of my duties was to write a column for the monthly newsletter. I learned I loved to write stories about running and racing and traveling and suffering, and that I could make it funny and entertaining. After my term as president ended, I volunteered to become the newsletter editor so that I could keep writing stories for other people to read. I didn’t want to stop.

       By 1998 I was hungry to write about spiritual insights, but I didn’t have an outlet. And then through a set of unfortunate events I started emailing essays to friends, which soon became my weekly Journal Entries, which now exist in the form of these blogs. I love writing. I love telling stories. I love sharing what I learn. In fact, love might not be the best word to use – maybe compelled, or obligated.

       2008 was the beginning of my post-government life. After 12 years serving on the Midland City Council, I lost an election and was tossed out onto the street. I had to redefine adulthood for myself. What would I do that was important? Where would the weight of my life be applied? Now, our lives are so different – careers, ministries, dreams – it feels like 2008 was the beginning of Grownup Version 2.

       So many things change the trajectory of our life, things we never planned, things we never saw coming, things completely out of our control or influence. However, if we want to make big changes in our lives, if we want to reboot our habits, we should intentionally move toward potential trajectory changers … let them do their work on us … and see what happens.

       I recently posted a question in my closet/man-cave, one that I learned from James Altucher, “I wonder what my life would be like if I started doing all the things I’m afraid to do?”

       So last spring I made a list of things to try. My plan was to commit to them for 40 days and see which ones stuck. It was a bold move for me to dive in before thinking and planning to exhaustion. I call it speculative immersion, which for me means to enter the space and let the experience, or atmosphere, or scenery, or ambiance, or history, or whatever, change me however subtle it might be. See what happens. “I wonder how different I will be after I do that?”

Big Question

       How do I answer my opening question: “If you could see your whole life laid out in front of you, would you change things?”

       No, I wouldn’t change anything. God used my mistakes to shape me; who knows what catastrophic decisions I might’ve made in their place.

       However, I don’t mind taking a crack at changing the future, though. Care to join me?

 

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

 

On the Roof

       It all started with water dripping from the ceiling in our guest bathroom. We knew it came from a leak in the roof. It only dripped during heavy rains, and we don't have any plumbing in the attic above this bathroom.

        Fortunately for us, it seldom rains hard in west Texas, so the drip remained tiny and the damaged sheetrock minimal. Unlike the time we returned to our mobile home from a two-week trip only to discover an acoustic-type ceiling panel sagging several inches like a ready-to-burst-any-minute upside down balloon. This time the leak wasn't as potentially catastrophic.

        After Cyndi pointed out the dripping ceiling, and then pointing it out again, and once more because sometimes I’m slow to engage in a project I don't like or didn't plan myself, I shifted into my home handyman mode, which is to wait a bit longer allowing the problem ample time to repair itself. When that proved unsuccessful, I considered climbing up on the roof to identify any obvious damage but remembered the risk of Cyndi finding out.

       When we first build this house and realized the roof would be too steep for someone like me to stand on, I suggested installing a giant eyebolt at the apex. “I could thread a rope through the bolt and belay myself when on the roof,” was the idea I suggested. Cyndi quickly batted that plan away and said in her sweetest voice, “I don't want you to ever go up on the roof. I need you to hang around a few more years.”

        I mostly obeyed until one December evening when I noticed a dozen Christmas lights along the eaves were burned out. They were scattered, meaning I'd move the ladder too many times to replace them, so I convinced myself climbing up on the roof was the smartest fix. However, as soon as I tried to stand on the slope I realized how much I'd underestimated (1) the height of our house, (2) the steepness of the roof, and (3) that Cyndi was probably right about staying off.

        I laid down flat on the shingles, my head and arms toward the eaves, doing my best military belly crawl from bulb to bulb. When I dug into my pocket for the last bulb I slid downward about two inches, enough to get my attention, enough that I could now peer over the edge. It occurred to me if I kept sliding the best outcome would be crashing headfirst into the thorny rose bushes, and the worst would be to bounce from the rose bushes onto the brick planter. I quickly replaced the bulb and climbed down and didn't mention the project to Cyndi, figuring she was smart enough to figure it out on her own.

roof.png

        So last week I met the insurance appraiser, a fine young man, younger than either of my own children yet surely competent and experienced, who said the shingles all looked acceptable and the water was probably leaking through an aging and outdated bathroom vent. He composed a detailed ten-page itemized cost estimate which totaled to about 20% of our home insurance deductible.

        I mentioned my project to the Iron Men on Thursday morning, along with a plan to climb up and pump a can of sealant into the leaks. I asked Cory, head physics teacher at Midland High School, to have his class calculate the coefficient of friction and recommend what I should wear while on the roof to minimize sliding risk. He said, knowing his class, they would recommend a Speedo.

        Chad, owner of a commercial lumberyard who works with builders all day every day, asked if I planned to work up on the roof all by myself. He used that same incredulous expression I've seen at home which communicated (1) he thought it was a bad idea, (2) I was a fool to consider it, and (3) he might've talked to Cyndi already.

        Later that same day Chad texted the personal phone number of the roofer who installed our roof ten years ago, along with this advice, “It's not expensive for his guys to fix a small vent.” When I showed the text to Cyndi, she beamed with approval, confirming my suspicion of, if not conspiracy, certainly collusion with Chad.

        Well, I met the roofer yesterday. He needed all of ten seconds to diagnose the problem and agree to repair it. He nodded his head in that experienced way telling me I was smart to call him.

        And so, what do I learn from all of this? Maybe that even after 62 years: (1) some decisions aren't easy, (2) that it is hard to not assume I can do everything myself even if I don't want to, or (3) that being a responsible grownup is a constant struggle.

        Or, it could be the lesson I’m supposed to learn is that Cyndi is always right and I should do whatever she says. Whether that’s true, or not true, don't tell her I mentioned it. I’m counting on her not reading all the way to the end of this. She doesn't need to know everything.

  

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

Paluxy Pedal

       Is it always true the hard things are the most fun? Is that how it works for you?

       Last Saturday morning I cycled the Paluxy Pedal 60-mile bike ride, which is famous, they say, for several extreme climbs (at least in the context of Texas). The hardest is named The Wall, at 19% grade. The website carries this quote: "The published grade at The Wall is 19% - that must be an average. Every year I ride, my GPS shows a section at 24% for a few hundred feet. Don't be too embarrassed if you walk it - you will have plenty of company."

paluxy.png

       Here’s the truth: I rode the first third of The Wall but had to bail out and push my bike the rest of the way up. I was standing on the pedals and gasping for air, knowing I couldn’t make it to the top without eventually toppling over onto the pavement, an embarrassing outcome I hoped to avoid.

       We’d been climbing steep hills all morning and by the time we got to the big one at mile 45 my legs were too dead to ride up all the way. However, The Wall was steep enough, and I’m flatlander enough, I doubt I would’ve done much better with fresh legs. Maybe if I’d been on a mountain bike with a set of granny gears. Maybe if I were twenty-five years younger, or better, twenty-five pounds lighter. Maybe if I knew what I was doing.

elevation.png

       It was a fun ride. The route was beautiful, along winding tree-lined roads that snaked through green north Texas hills. The only flat places were bridge crossings.

       Since it was October I’d expected the morning to be cool enough for long sleeves, so I wore my new Cyclefest jersey. But since it was Texas, I got hot and regretted my choice. Still, I heard from several riders who’d been in Ft. Davis this year.

The Resistance

       During the early miles the voice of resistance in my head kept a constant chatter about how I should turn back before it was too late, taking one of the shorter less-vertical cut-offs. As my friend Frank used to say, “Let’s don’t and say we did.”

       I’m familiar with that voice because I hear it during the beginning miles of every big bike ride, and I used to hear it during the early part of every marathon. At least being familiar with the voice helps to ignore it. Knowledge trumps fear.

       The curious thing is I don’t hear it later in the ride (or run) when the serious hard work takes place. I only hear it in the early miles. Later, when climbing, which is when would’ve expected to hear discouraging words, the voice is surprisingly silent. I wonder why? Does the effort and concentration crowd out discouragement from my brain? Or is it because by then I’ve invested too many miles to quit?

A Great Day

       I traveled to Glen Rose to ride all my myself because a year ago our family bought a house on Lake Granbury, which we mostly rent on Airbnb but occasionally enjoy ourselves. Last June I spent an afternoon checking out Granbury bike shops to learn the good places to ride, and someone recommended the Paluxy Pedal. “You need to experience The Wall,” he said.

       Afterward I didn’t have time to stay for the post-ride party, which was all consumed by the 38-mile riders by the time I finished anyway. I had to leave for Midland right away since I had Sunday morning responsibilities and I was supposed to pick up Cyndi at the airport in Midland that evening. Driving home by myself I listened to Science Friday podcasts all the way, learning about human interactions with robots, fossil hunting in Utah, Martian habitat simulation in Hawaii, new solutions to light pollution, particle physics, paleontology, and microbiomes.

       And even better, I got to spend the afternoon in the rain, which always makes this West Texas boy happy. Except when driving I-20 among the giant herd of big-rig trucks. It rained so hard west of Abilene traffic slowed to 40 mph (at least the smart ones did). I eventually pulled over at a rest stop to wait for the blinding rain to pass. I knew Cyndi would be disappointed if I was engaged in a multi-vehicle accident and missed her at the airport. Fortunately, her flight was delayed by the same storm, so I had plenty of time to work with.

       It was a great day. Thank you, Carroll, David, David, and Mark for convincing me to try cycling.  Thank you, God, for keep me safe, for giving me the heart and desire to ride, and for one more turn doing the things I love.

       And, I have to go back next year. I owe The Wall another attempt.

  

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 share this with someone you think will appreciate it. And encourage them to subscribe. Thanks!

A Peak Experience

       Early Monday morning, Labor Day, Cyndi, Clark, and I left Williams Lake (11,040’) and hiked down to my pickup at the trailhead, put on clean dry clothes, and made the long drive home, about 500 miles – Taos, Santa Fe, Roswell, Plains, and Midland. Nathan, Alyssa, and Jeremy were ahead of us in a second truck.

       We spent the previous two nights at Williams Lake, and it rained all night the second night. It was cold, but never got down to freezing. I was proud of Cyndi – I know she was uncomfortably cold the entire time the whole trip. From parking lot to parking lot. For the rest of us the climb up to Wheeler Peak at altitude was the hardest part of the trip. For Cyndi that was the easy part … the cold was hardest on her.

       This was our first ascent of Wheeler Peak, and it was grand. The trail from Williams Lake to the summit is about five miles round-trip, and is ranked as a steep and difficult class 2 trail, with the final 1.5 miles a series of switchbacks that crisscross a rocky scree slope.

       The rocks never felt dangerous, even if the trail was often uncomfortable and slippery. It was well-maintained and not as dicey as I expected after reading online trail accounts. There were lots of loose rocks covering the trail. It must require constant attention from the Park Service to remain passable. As Lawrence Gonzales wrote, “All mountains are in a state of continuous collapse.”

Wheeler.jpg

       We spent about thirty minutes at the summit: taking photos, eating lunch, signing the log book, and laughing at the college guys who lost the trail and scrambled straight up the scree slope.

       At 13,161 feet above sea level, Wheeler Peak is the highest mountain in New Mexico. Located in the Sangre De Cristo range, it stands guard over the southern end of the Rocky Mountains, inviting all to enjoy its status.

       For years, the Truchas Peaks, located south of Wheeler Peak, were considered the New Mexico highpoint. In 1948, a survey was conducted by Harold D. Walker which confirmed Wheeler Peak is the highest point in the state.

      We started down at the sound of approaching thunder, moving slowly at first. Most mountaineering accidents happen during the descent. It pays to be careful.

       Descending is technically more difficult than ascending. During the climb up, your foot is planted before your body weight is shifted. The opposite is true on descent, and it’s less stable. Descent is a controlled fall.

       We made it back to camp just as it started to rain and hail. So we all got free naps in our tents while waiting out the storm. Later, we talked about a term I read in Scott Jurek’s book, North:  Elective Suffering. The idea that we put ourselves though some very hard things simply because we want to. We’re lucky to live lives that allow this, with enough discretionary time and money. So why choose to use that gift to hike and tent-camp in the cold and wet. I don’t know, except to say there is value in elective suffering. There is the joy of success, a sense of accomplishment, and camaraderie of shared experience.

       But beyond that, there is added value in going beyond the casual effort. It amplifies the focus and risk and spiritual connection.

       Backpacking connects me to God. Even more than hiking. I love all the day hikes we do, but they connect me with people, especially other men. Backpacking is different, maybe because there is usually more risk involved, more uncertainty, more opportunities for things to go wrong, more ways to be miserable for a day or two. And that risk, along with the isolation of the outback, opens me up to God, focuses me in some way, reduces my mental chatter,

       I understand that no one has to climb mountains to experience God. In fact we shared the trail last Sunday with dozens of hikers who never thought about God even once all day.

       And yet, there is something spiritual about elective suffering.

       Richard Rohr wrote, in Falling Upward: “For me, this is what makes something inherently religious: whatever reconnects our parts to the Whole is an experience of God, whether we call it that or not.

 

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

Decluttering

       Friday morning I found a box at my front door containing a new pair of Wrangler Relaxed-Fit black jeans, which in my present phase of life have become my standard dress pants. I ordered them online because whenever I look for jeans in Midland the men’s sections are full of glittery fashion jeans with skinny legs designed for European waifs that sell for $100. I’ve opted out of those.

       However, buying a new pair meant I needed to move the old ones out of my closet and into the giveaway bag. This is a discipline that must be maintained for closet equilibrium and protection of the planet. If you don’t move stuff out when you bring new stuff in, before you know it, they are making TV documentaries about you.

       To be honest, I’m good about cleaning my closet on a regular basis. When I hang up a shirt fresh from the laundry I put it at the front of the line, so my clothes are sorted by frequency of use rather than color. That means if a shirt remains at the far end of the line for a season or two, it is time for it to go. I don’t throw the clothes in the trash, of course, I give them away. (I suppose I could sell them, but I find garage sales almost as irritating as clutter.)

       Putting two pairs of old black (now dark gray) jeans into the giveaway bag started the process, which I knew would happen, and by the time I was finished I had filled two large plastic bags with clothes. They are now destined for the Baptist Crises Center. I’m sure they’ll be worn more often in the future.

       Pruning my closet is an easy chore. I have dozens of hideaways full of stuff, and they are harder to declutter. I’m not good at distinguishing between the debris of the past that should be discarded from the building-blocks of the future that should be saved. I often spend too much energy worrying about whether to throw out something that has been part of my life, only to be surprised how quickly I learn to live without it once it is out-of-sight. And afterward it feels like fresh air, like I’ve finally stepped into the clearing. Author Gail Blanke wrote this in her book, Throw Out Fifty Things: Clean the Clutter, Find Your Life, “I don’t think we pay enough attention to the lighter, prouder feeling that comes from cleaning stuff out of our lives.” Well said.

       I read this book back in January 2011, and intended to make it an annual project. Alas, I haven’t. Maybe this closet project will put me back on track.

       Why bother? Well, for one thing, here is a photo of a throwing-out project I undertook when moving my parents from Hobbs to Midland. This was one of at least twenty similar loads. I hope to avoid this in my own future.

donate.jpg


       But a more important reason for decluttering is that it quickly moves beyond the physical into the rest of life. We begin to ask, what about the clutter in my mind? What about old regrets and resentments? What about those five-year-old to-do list items I haven’t finished yet?

       How do you decide what to throw out (knowing full well I’m not talking about black polo shirts)? Gail Blanke writes, “If it weighs you down, clogs you up, or just plain makes you feel bad about yourself, throw it out, give it away, sell it, let it go, move on.” She refers to all of that as life plaque and says we should routinely clean it out just like we regularly get plaque cleaned from our teeth.

       Pruning takes courage. There is a saying among backpackers: We pack our fears. We tend to carry too much stuff, both in volume and weight, because we are afraid of what might happen and want to be prepared for all contingencies. But all those extra items make the pack heavier and the journey harder.

       I’ve been thinking, and writing, about how to best live this third quarter of life - I expect continual pruning to be a major theme, throwing everything over the side that no longer matters to me: old habits, disciplines, goals, dreams – those ideas that defined who I used to be, but not who I want to be. I’m sure I’ll continue to bring new ideas and dreams onboard (maybe even new jeans) even as I’m lightening my load, but I want to streamline my passage.

 

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

Sacred Rituals

       Friday morning, Cyndi and I woke up together, after two snoozes on the alarm, and we immediately made the bed. It’s something we seldom fail to do no matter how busy our morning. I think we’ve made the bed every morning since we first got married. We even make the bed when we know our housekeeper will come and change the sheets later in the day; we’ve been known to do it when staying it in a hotel room. It seems important to maintain the practice.

       Occasionally, like last Friday when we get up at the same time, we make the bed together, one on each side of the bed. That is the exception, however. Mostly one of us does it by ourselves, whoever gets out of bed last.

bed.jpg

       I doubt I ever made my bed when I was a young boy. I don’t remember even noticing, much less caring about it. It became a habit for me, and also for Cyndi, when living in a dorm room in college, when all of life happened inside that small cramped space and a messed-up bed made the space seem even smaller.

       The practical reason we make the bed every morning is because it’s so much more pleasant crawling into made bed at the end of the day than to crawl into a mess of sheets and bedspread.

       The spiritual reasons for making the bed? It’s a small move toward consciously being present, noticing and settling our surroundings. It’s one way to take ourselves seriously, and an attempt to shape the day by starting it off with structure and aesthetic.

       Lately we’ve adopted a new wrinkle, so to speak, in our habit of bed maintenance. Whichever one of us goes to bed first, before we climb in, we remove the show pillows and turn down the sheets on the other side to make it easier for the other person. It’s a welcoming gesture, I suppose. And if Cyndi crawls into bed first she usually also turns on my reading light.

Text Divider.jpg

       Leonard Sweet wrote in Soul Salsa about the “rituals of our lives that help us grow our own souls by modulating the mundane into the eternal.”

       I showed that quote to Cyndi and asked if she thought we had any rituals? Making the bed was the first thing she thought of. We probably had more rituals back when Byron and Katie were younger and lived at home with us. We certainly had a more predictable routine. Nowadays our rituals are mostly about taking care of each other.

       Besides making the bed, we thought about this: when either of us leaves the house, we don’t just yell “goodbye”, or leave and expect the other of us to know. We find each other and kiss goodbye, even if only making a quick errand run to the grocery store. Maybe one reason is because we are fully aware of the dangers in our world and how something sudden and fatal could happen to either of us so we what to at least have a last kiss goodbye. But I doubt this is the main reason. We aren’t that fearful or fatalistic. I think it has more to do with acknowledging the importance of each of us in the other’s life, of recognizing existence, saying, “Yes, I see you.”

       I don’t know if this is a ritual, but I’m crediting it as one: I won’t, that is to say I can’t, walk past Cyndi, whether in a crowded hallway or an open room, at home or at Rosa’s or at church, without brushing against her, dragging my hand across her back or her bottom. I try to be subtle and I doubt many outsiders notice it, but I do it every time. Why? I’m touching base; tagging up; reminding her I’m close; even more, that I notice her. I’m saying: I see you and I’m drawn to you and I’m still hot for you.

       Here’s another: we eat at least 99% of our home meals in the kitchen, with no distracting TV, even if we’re just eating a quick sandwich. Only occasionally will we eat in front of a movie, or a ballgame, or our laptops; a dozen times a year at most. I’ll admit that some of you who know us are shaking your head and wondering: When are you at home and NOT eating at Rosa’s or Jason’s. That would be an accurate observation. I don’t think we have any rituals for restaurants.

       However, I would add that Cyndi and I pray before meals, whether in public or at home, a practice we both learned from our families and it is definitely a sacred ritual. It’s a pause to recognize God as Lord of our lives and giver of all things, and acknowledgment we have been blessed.

       Sometimes when we are eating with other people who don’t have the same praying ritual, we will look at each other and let it pass. It isn’t our desire to make our companions feel awkward or uncomfortable. But just last week we were having dinner with a friend in San Angelo and she wouldn’t let us pass. She said, “Oh, you two always like to ask a blessing for the food, don’t you,” as she grabbed our hands.

Text Divider.jpg

       Maybe it’s presumptuous to equate making the bed or kissing goodbye with rituals of our faith, but I feel like they are. For Cyndi and me, our biblical faith is tightly woven into our faith in each other. Sweet wrote, “The challenge of discipleship is to make one’s own life a sacrament, a sign of love and grace, a sacred gesture inserted in a world flaunting other gestures.” I believe our small gestures are indeed spiritual practices, disciplines we stick to so our hearts stay soft toward each other and toward God.

       How about you? What rituals do you have at home?

 

“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 share this with someone you think will appreciate it. And encourage them to subscribe. Thanks!

Third Quarter

       Once again, I laid in bed wondering: Do I really wanted to get up and go for a long ride on my bike or stay horizontal for a bit longer? The truth was, I wanted to have already ridden, have it behind me, be proud of my accomplishment, relish bragging rights, and like that. I just didn’t want to get started.

       But I knew I was good for at least thirty miles, so why not go now. Most of my long rides start out this way – commit to the first half and see how I feel while I’m riding.

       I rolled away from my house at 8:30 am, surprised how cool it felt. The temperature was in the low 70s, unheard of for August. Even the wind was minimal. Why did it take me so long when this was perfect summertime riding weather?

       For the first two miles I was king of the road. I was amazing. I expected a call from Team Sky. But then I noticed more pebbles and ridges from the pavement than I should have. Flat tire. I slowed down and pulled into a paved alley where I could work without being in the street and seen by too many who might want to help.

       I quickly flipped my bike over onto handlebars and saddle, pulled the back wheel trying to avoid the grease and grime from my chain. I unzipped my under-seat bike bag and everything fell out. A new tube, a CO2 canister and pistol-grip, my small tool kit, some spare change, a pair of folding reading glasses, and something else I don’t remember.

       The tube went in perfectly and quickly, and I was proud of my dexterity, now wishing someone was there to observe and report. But when I tried to inflate the tube and tire, the plastic pistol-grip broke and the CO2 canister emptied explosively in my hand. (I used the word explosively as dramatic effect. It was a loud and surprising release, but not dangerous or as scary as I would’ve thought.) Luckily, I had my small six-inch back-up hand pump with me, and I used it to put in just enough air to ride back home.

       Back in the garage I used my floor pump to put 90 psi in the tire and tube, made a quick pit stop, reset my bike computer, put a new tube inside my bike bag, took a photo of my broken inflator and texted it to Cyndi since nothing in the 21st-Century goes undocumented, and rolled away again. It was 9:07 am.

       I didn’t have my second flat on the same wheel until four miles from home, somewhere along Mockingbird. I used my hand pump to add about 20 psi hoping I could get back home again, but as soon as I crossed the street and turned east I was flat again. I knew I had to change the tube. I was slowing down looking for a safe place when another rider pulled up behind me. “Looks like you’ve got a flat!”

       “Afraid I do.”

       “Well, pull over and we’ll fix it right now,” he said as he pulled over in front of me leaving me no choice but to stop immediately. I barely had time to unclip my shoe and avoid tumbling over into the barrow ditch. He was determined to rescue me. I don’t know if he thought I couldn’t do it myself, or if I was too lazy or too old, or if he was just the sort of guy who helps everyone with everything whether or not they want or need it. At least with two of us standing beside the road we made a larger image for passing motorists and decreased the likelihood of being swiped by a car.

flat.jpg

       I ran my fingers through the tire and discovered a very small yet persistent thorn that I’d picked up somewhere, an unusual occurrence for me. It had probably caused both flats. I should have found it the first time. I extracted the thorn, installed the new tube, he pumped up my tire with the small hand-pump, and I was back on the road to my house. When I got home this time I put my bike away. I was mentally disengaged. Done. Ready to move on to the next task of the day.

Text Divider.jpg

       Back when I was in high school band and playing for football games, we’d play through our entire catalogue during the first two quarters, challenging the opposing band to better us, helping the cheerleaders with their cheers (when we weren’t making fun of them for not having rhythm). We worked hard at our job, which was to entertain our own fans and influence the outcome of the game by playing loudly whenever the other team had the ball.

       And then during halftime when most people left the stands to get a drink and a snack and go to the bathroom, we went down to the field and marched our halftime show that we’d been working on for weeks.

       But the band director usually gave us the third quarter off. He released us to go below the stands and enjoy a break. We’d earned it. We’d played well and loud and hard during the first part of the evening and now it was our time to relax.

       I’ve been working on my next book, and thinking about living in the third quarter of life, which is most-often defined as ages 50-75. I’m now at the midpoint of that interval, and happy about it. It’s a good place to live. But unlike my marching band days, I want to spend my third quarter playing instead of going below to relax.

       In his book, The Well-Played Life, Leonard Sweet proposes the big questions for each phase of life, and his third quarter questions are: “How can I become a master player and world changer? How can I be a coach to others? How can I be a healing presence for Christ in the world?” That’s where I want to play – within those questions.

Text Divider.jpg

       I’m not sure how that fits with my Saturday morning ride and series of flat tires, but I should expect more mornings like that if I intend to keep moving. And I’m sorry for being such a grouch when I got help with my flat. I would apologize to my helper for my crankiness if I knew his name. One of the biggest third quarter lessons I have to learn is to let other people into my life more often.

 

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

To Make You Smile

      Cyndi and I married on July 28, 1979, so this summer is our 39th anniversary. A few years ago I realized one way to celebrate 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. So in 2007 I started giving away love songs.

      Music is a deep connection between Cyndi and me. We first met in a band hall in 1973 in Hobbs, NM; we rediscovered each other and started falling in love at a NTSU One O’clock Jazz Band concert featuring Bill Watrous, in Denton, TX, in 1976. We’ve been playing music together ever since.

      Falling in love often feels like 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.

IMG_4018-2.jpg

      This is my 12th 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 this CD and dance with someone you love. It’ll make you smile.

 

What the people need
Is a way to make 'em smile
It ain't so hard to do if you know how
Gotta get a message
Get it on through
Oh now mama, don't you ask me why

Whoa listen to the music

 

PS: If you received this journal by email, and would like a CD, send your mailing address to berry@stonefoot.org.

Or find this playlist on Spotify!

 

1. Do You Wanna Do Nothing With Me?, Lawrence, 2017.

(Clyde Lawrence has composed songs for six movies, and was admitted to the Songwriters Guild of America at age six. Look up the band Lawrence and LISTEN TO EVERYTHING YOU CAN FIND. Amazing.)

2. Love Love Love (Let You Go), Andy Grammer, 2011. “And I think that you should know that I will never let you go.”

3. Kiss Me, Casey Donahew, 2016. “She said, "I've been waitin' on you to kiss me; Waitin' on you to make your move; There's a window open to steal my heart; And I'm waitin' on you to kiss me"”

(The first time I kissed Cyndi, during Christmas holidays 1976, I realized she’d been waiting for me for quite some time. Maybe since that day in the band hall in 1973.))

4. The More I See You, Chet Baker, 1958. “The more I see you, the more I want you;
Somehow this feeling just grows and grows; With every sigh I become more mad about you; More lost without you and so it goes.”

5. Listen to the Music, The Doobie Brothers, 1976.

(All you have to see are Cyndi’s eyes when she hears this song, and you can’t help but be in love.)

6. So Into You, Atlanta Rhythm Section, 1976.  “When you walked into the room; there was voodoo in the vibes.”

7. I Keep Faith, Billy Bragg, 2008. “Listen to your heart and you'll find me; Right by your side, because I keep faith in you.”

8. Take My Love With You, Bonnie Raitt, 2012. “I'll be your talisman; I'll be your lucky charm; Put it in your pocket; Put it in your heart.”

9. I’ll Be Waiting, Walk Off The Earth, 2015. “I'll be waiting here for you.”

10. More in Love With You, Jason Reeves, 2012. “Someday when I'm coming home so late from work, you try to save the day; you'll take dinner out the oven, black as night and set it smokin' on my plate. And I will laugh with you; when you burn my food. I will spend my whole life through falling more in love with you”

11. How Long Will I Love You, About Time soundtrack, 2013. “How long will I love you; As long as stars are above you; and longer if I can; How long will I need you; As long as the seasons need to follow their plan.”

12. Nobody Else, Los Lonely Boys, 2004. “Cause I only want to be with you, Baby and nobody else; Yes the only girl I see is you, Baby and nobody else.”

(We saw LLB in concert in Midland this past year, and I’ve been singing this song in my head ever since)

13. Love Invincible, Michael Franti, 2002. “Touch me in the morning sun, when I feel impossible; Show me what is possible, teach me love invincible.”

14. I’ll Be Your Home, Mindi Abair, 2014. “I'll always be by your side; we'll walk the winding road; I'll bear your heavy load; I'll be your home; And in the darkness of night; You'll never be on your own; Don't have to go it alone; I'll be your home.”

15. Love is the Answer, Rumer, 2015. “Light of the world, shine on me; Love is the answer.”

(Go listen to Rumer. I like everything she’s recorded)

16. I Met A Girl, William Michael Morgan, 2016. “She dances like nobody sees her, I can't believe I get to be here in her world;
I met a girl.”

(Yeah, well, me too)

17. Baby, Clay Finnesand, 2016. “You brighten all my blues; you're my breezy summer afternoon; Though life gets blurry, I can see so clearly when I'm with you.”

18. Modern Nature, Sondre Lerche, Dan in Real Life soundtrack, 2001. “Oh, what a world this life would be; Forget all your technicolor dreams; Forget modern nature; This is how it's meant to be.”

(Occasionally a movie catches me completely by surprise and I can’t stop thinking about it. Dan in Real Life is one of those. I was captured by the depth of everyday life and value of everyday love.)

19. Is This Love?, Bob Marley & The Wailers, 1978. “Is this love, is this love, is this love.”

20. What The World Needs Now Is Love, Jackie DeShannon, 1965. “What the world needs now is love, sweet love; It's the only thing that there's just too little of.”

 

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