How Do You Figure It Out?

       It’s still snowing in Colorado, which makes be a bit nervous about my summer plans. Most mountains across Colorado have measured 8-12 inches between Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning. And they expect it to continue through the weekend.

       I’ve already pushed my spreadsheeted-hiking-schedule for the 480-mile Colorado Trail trek one month on account of the record-breaking snowpack. If I push it another I’ll risk bad weather on the other end of the trip. But I’m not changing my plans again unless I’m forced to. Conditions are never perfect for anything, especially for outside anythings.

       I started working this particular dream in 2016 after a successful trip up Guadalupe Peak proved my new titanium knees could be trusted. The more I used my knees, the more I resurrected old dreams I’d shoved to the back of my mind.

       I spent the last two-thirds of 2016 reading books and blogs written by through-hikers, making notes and lists. I spread the word among family and friends that I was committed. Then, in January of this year, I started getting nervous about the whole thing. It kept awake at night worrying about what’d I’d eat, could I set up camp in the rain, how would I respond to hiking by myself day-after-day, would the altitude make me sick, what if I got hurt and couldn’t hike out, and, well, was I being stupid.

       And then the snow reports came out and the Colorado Trail Foundation recommended strongly that no one should begin a through-hike before mid-July, meaning not only did I now have something new to worry about, I also had to either rethink my schedule or cancel the trip. Cyndi quickly stepped in and discouraged any talk of canceling. Thank you.

       Once I decided to begin hiking a month later, reversed my direction, and left my finish date flexible, I started feeling better. And by the end of February I was past the anxiety stage and into the workman stage. As in, let’s make this happen; just work the problems. My anxiety always decreases when I start making lists.

       The truth is, for me, planning is often the most fun part. Working out routes, picking gear, all that. I wear Cyndi out talking about my lists and showing my spreadsheets and maps, but I love it. The downside of all that preparation is overplanning and overthinking (otherwise known as overworrying).

       It finally occurred to me that most of my detailed answers, the specifics of the perfect system I was going for, couldn’t be worked out ahead of time. I had to figure it out on the trail.

       All of this is way easier to type than it was to do. It’s taken my entire life to learn how to begin a project with the goal of “start and see what I can learn along the way” instead of waiting until I knew all the answers.

Creative genius Twyla Tharp wrote, “I began to see that overplanning can be as pernicious as not planning at all. There is an emotional lie to overplanning; it creates a security blanket that lets you assume you have things under control, that you are further along than you really are, that you’re home free when you haven’t even walked out the door yet.” (The Creative Habit)

       None of this concern should be a big surprise. Once we finally make up our minds to engage in a dream, that’s when the real uncertainty begins. Analytics like me tend to deal with fear by planning; we may look courageous when in fact all we’ve done in minimize our risk. At some point we have to hoist the pack and start hiking. That is, if there is a path through the snow.


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

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What Sort Of Story

       On our first hike up Guadalupe Peak, October 2003, it was just Cyndi and me. We were at the top enjoying lunch, looking through the log book, reading comments from other proud hikers, when I asked Cyndi what she would write. Her eyes twinkled and she quoted Sam Gamgee: “I wonder what sort of story we’ve stumbled into?” We had no idea we’d still be hiking this mountain fourteen years later. It turned out to be a big story after all.

       Last Saturday we hiked the Peak again, this time with eighteen Iron Men and family. The hike was as hard as ever. It never gets easier. I kept asking myself the same question, which is the same question we were all asking ourselves: Why am I still doing this?

       Climbing to the top of a mountain is a satisfying experience. There is a definite goal to achieve, and the goal is easy to evaluate. But hiking to the top of this particular mountain is not easy. The first hour is hot and steep and hard, a series of rocky switchbacks that gain elevation step after step. It is enough to send most casual hikers back down to their car. All you can do is put your head down and keep moving. There is no quick way to the top, no shortcuts, no secret passageways for people who buy the expensive tickets. You can’t conquer the Peak by reading or studying or going to workshops; you have to hike with your own two feet, and it is hard work.

       Kathleen Norris 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.” (Dakota: A Spiritual Geography)

       Maybe that’s one reason why I like taking groups up Guadalupe Peak, it’s a metaphor for how we achieve the most valuable things in life. It’s hard and long with no shortcuts or quick fixes.

       Another reason I’m attracted to the Guadalupe Mountains is the view. It is spectacular - breathtaking in its raw unconcern for the hiker. As you stand at the summit and gaze across the desert for a hundred miles, there is nothing visible that’s friendly to man, nothing that cares whether or not humans cross. It’s complete, self-contained, and stingy, offering no comforts to sooth a human being. Oddly enough, it’s that very indifference that speaks to my heart. From Barbara Kingsolver: “Looking out on a clean plank of planet earth, we can get shaken right down to the bone by the bronze-eyed possibility of lives that are not our own.” (Small Wonder)

       Here’s another reason: Hiking these desert mountains reminds us that we can push through almost anything hard, difficult, or painful if we have a compelling reason to not give up. During the last 25% of the hike when we’re all exhausted, our feet are sore, we’re dehydrated and long out of water, and we can see the parking lot way down there but there is no short cut back to the bus and there is no faster way down the mountain. Even then we keep moving.

       Later, once we are all off the mountain, settled into our seats for the long drive back to Midland, the bus buzzing with stories, injuries, photos, and hearts joining together. That part of the trip is one of my favorite moments of the day. Sharing our stories makes us brothers.

       We often say “without a scar we don’t have a story.” It is in the disasters, the injuries, the surviving, that our character is revealed and a simple set of facts morphs from timeline to story.

       One of my favorite writers, Jonathan Katz, wrote, “I am coming to see life as a series of paths, some literal, some emotional, some in the nature of life – marriage, divorce, work, family. These paths take all of us to different places. Paths are important, they are the symbols of our lives, they mark the passages of time, they take us out of our lives or, sometimes, into it.” Since that October day with Cyndi in 2003, the trail up Guadalupe Peak has become one of my most important paths. Again, from Barbara Kingsolver, “We need to experience a landscape that is timeless, whose agenda moves at the pace of speciation and glaciers.” (Small Wonder)

       This I’ve learned: God speaks to me most often when I’m moving and when I’m vulnerable. Dirt trails have become a big part of my spiritual journey, and being on top of mountains helps keep my eyes open to the larger, wider, wilder world.

       At the bottom of the mountain, I thanked God for keeping us safe, for giving us the desire and ability to do this, and for giving us one more turn. I’m grateful that it’s his story we’ve stumbled into.

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

It Wasn't For Me

The University of Texas Permian Basin English department recently received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to conduct a variety of programs that ultimately aim to publish West Texans’ personal experiences from the boom/bust cycle of the oil and gas industry to be shared on a website for the sake of research and to simply get firsthand stories on the record. This is what I presented at one of their readings on May 10.

      One December evening, just last winter, I was about two miles into my three-mile run when I heard the voice in my head say, “It wasn’t for you.”

      I had been listening to a podcast about trail running, and the speaker was discussing how our fear of failure controls so many of our thoughts and actions. But like it happens so often, the story I was hearing wasn’t the story my brain landed on. Suddenly I was back to 1986 and a story I’d been telling myself for 30 years: “You weren’t good enough.”

      In 1986 I was working in Midland for a major oil company as District Engineer, a job I was proud of and a job I loved. Business had been booming, still riding the wave of the energy crises of the 1970s when oil reached a peak price of $35/bbl, the equivalent of $102 in today’s dollars. It was a great time to be in oil and gas. Until suddenly, it wasn’t.

      In a moment, oil prices went into worldwide freefall, eventually dropping to $8 per barrel and wreaking havoc on all of us. In Midland, companies were going bankrupt sequentially, which in turn caused six banks to fail.

      And then the unthinkable happened, the flagship bank and pride of Midland Texas, First National Bank, failed, in spite of holding $1.3 billion in assets.

      The FDIC was so busy in Midland liquidating banks and businesses they set up shop in a building near Clay Desta, now known as the Apache Building, but people like me who survived that era still refer to as the FDIC Building. The FDIC eventually became Midland County`s third-largest employer.

      I had friends all over town who were laid off, or lost their businesses. Every Sunday at church we heard the update: who was looking for work, who was in trouble, who was moving away. One of my best friends, a geologist, got a job slicing meat at Albertson’s, so he got to keep his house.

      In the middle of all this terrible news, I got a phone call from the Vice-President of Production in Tulsa, asking me to consider taking a transfer to our office in Rio Vista, California. While friends were losing their jobs, I was being offered a promotion.

      On paper it was a parallel transfer, equivalent to the job I already had, but with respect to budget and activity and company visibility it was a big opportunity to step up the corporate ladder. It would be a high-profile position with unlimited opportunity to keep moving up, and I was honored to be offered the chance.

      Cyndi and I traveled to Lodi, California (made famous by Credence Clearwater Revival, “Oh Lord, I’m Stuck in Lodi Again”) to look around the town and meet my future co-workers. The main two things we noticed were the nonexistence of edible Mexican food, and the shockingly high real estate prices. It was frightening. While the housing market in Midland had collapsed, the market in central California was booming.

      We couldn’t afford anything in Lodi that was a place we’d want to live in and raise our six-year-old son and three-year-old daughter. In addition, we couldn’t sell our house in Midland for enough to pay off the mortgage. Real estate prices had fallen so quickly we were $30,000 upside down in our mortgage. It would’ve taken us a lifetime to recover from a financial hit like that.

      However, in spite of all that, we were looking forward to the change, and doing whatever we could to make the details work out. I was so excited about the opportunity in California I didn’t understand the long-lasting economic price we’d have to pay.

      To prepare for the move we’d sold our extra car, which wouldn’t have passed California emission standards, and Cyndi had quit her job. We’d attended several going-away parties and even accepted gifts. We were ready to go.

      Until the end of May.

      I was in a quarterly production meeting in Seminole, Texas, when the Regional Manager pulled me aside and told me my transfer was going to be delayed for a while. He said the VPs in the meeting didn’t really know who I was and it would be a good idea for me to hang out with them and try to make a good impression. I was stunned. I’d planned to leave for California the next day. Only now I was supposed to enter some corporate fraternity rush to make a good impression to earn the position I’d already been offered and that I was clearly qualified for. It was humiliating.

      The delay stretched across the summer leaving us feeling homeless and unneeded. I had little to work on since I’d passed my projects on to the other engineers in the office. Every week I’d hear the same thing from the Regional Manager, “Not yet, we’ll let you know.”

      Finally, four months later, in September, the Regional Manager told me the entire transfer had been canceled. The future was over. When I asked him why, and did I do something wrong, he just looked away and wouldn’t answer. All I could get from him was a mumble about eight-dollar oil. I knew that was part of it, but not the entire story.

      Months later I understood that my transfer was caught up in a battle between two Vice Presidents, and my guy lost, He retired a few months later. But I was left to assume it was all my fault. I didn’t measure up in the eyes of senior management. I wasn’t good enough as an engineer. I would never be one of the big boys, one of the cool kids.

      Cyndi and I had said goodbye to so many close friends it was embarrassing to still be in town. People saw us at church and asked, “Are you still here? We thought you’d moved.”  Today, when we look back on those years, our closest friends after “the move” were different people than from before. It was too awkward to reconnect and start over.

      I never really recovered. After that day I didn’t work as late, or work as hard as before. My imagination and creativity – my best assets – went to other ventures outside my job. I still did good engineering work, but it was at 75% instead of 120%.

      Why did I give up? Because the way I saw it, I got my turn and did my best and I was smart and funny and clever, but I got slammed by the company. They took away the offer and gave it to someone else. When I realized my best stuff didn’t have a chance to succeed, I relaxed and quit playing along. In that moment I lost interest in the corporate game.

      And here’s another thing. My friends were losing their jobs, but I was still working and well-paid. I had a bit of survivor’s guilt, so I kept all my pain and disappointment inside. It didn’t seem manly to complain about a missed promotion when my friends were losing their homes.

      I continued working for the same company until they sold all their Midland assets during the 1994 oil price downturn and I was laid off. I was unemployed for the next two years.

      Since then I’ve continued to work in the oil and gas industry in Midland, as a contract engineer or engineering consultant, for a dozen different companies. I love living in Midland, and working in Midland, but I have no desire to move up anybody’s corporate ladder.

      If you’d’ve asked, I would have told you I had outgrown the resentment that came from that career-changing incident.  That my worst day was long behind me.

       That is, until one dark night last December when I understood this 30-year-old story was still haunting me.

       But that wasn’t the end of it. When I heard those words in my head, “It wasn’t for you,” it did more than take me back to 1986. It also opened up my eyes to the different life I now live.

      And in that moment, in that instance, as I was running west alongside Mike Black’s long fence on Mockingbird between Alysheba Lane and A Street, I finally realized the answer to my story from 1986 was not the one I’d been telling myself for 30 years. I had been wrong. I was not held back by a short-sighted employer, as I’d thought, but I’d been set free. The promotion I wanted, the opportunity I craved, might’ve been a good career move, but it wasn’t right for me. It wasn’t the best future for our family.

      Here’s the thing. If the job had worked out and we’d made the move, odds are I would be an upper-level manager today in that same major oil company, pulling down big dollars, living in a giant house, and spending lavishly on my lovely wife.

      But what would be the effect of our lives besides oil and gas? Where would our lasting impact be? Where would our significance be?

      That December night, during my last mile running toward home, I looked back at the important things in our lives that we would have missed had we made the move to California in 1986.

      The ministries we are involved in today would never have happened, and neither would the life-changing effect on people around us.

      The twelve years I spent in city government, and all the amazing projects I helped work on, would not have been possible had we moved.

      The true story was this: I hadn’t been jilted by my company. I had been saved by God. The corporate climb wasn’t for me. My place was to stay in Midland and invest in the people entrusted to us. I could never have made that decision on my own, I needed God’s intervention. I needed to be set free.

      That’s what I heard one night last December while running. The oil bust of 1986 changed my life. Made it better.


Finishing Well

       Do you ever wonder about finishing well? It’s been on my mind lately, which might explain why I screeched to a halt last Friday while reading this verse from my Daily Bible: “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom”. (Psalm 90:12, NIV)

       This is actually one of my favorite verses. I’ve spent time numbering the days of my life as a fun exercise, but my list only accounts for days in the past. What about days yet to come?

       Most of my life I’ve accumulated stuff, career, and attention; now I want to spend the rest of my years deaccumulating.

       We recently participated in a multi-family garage sale where we deaccumulated a significant pile of stuff. We sold furniture, backpacking gear I once thought was important but now consider clumsy and heavy, old pictures of windmills and owls, bags full of screwdrivers, wrenches, and pliers. We donated a full pickup load of clothes to the Baptist Crises Center, and we distributed several sets of dishes and kitchenware to younger generations in our family.

       Getting rid of what you’ve had a long time, or what once belonged to your parents, is not easy. How do you decide what to keep? Our rule-of-thumb is to discard everything that has no provenance, no story. Keep nothing merely because it’s pretty.

        About two weeks ago, in a podcast interview, I heard someone comment how it takes a while to deaccumulate - maybe longer than it took to accumulate in the first place. She gave as examples: unwanted pounds, anxieties, burdens, distractions, shame, prejudices, injuries, or fears.

       The podcast interviewer asked, “Why bother deaccumulating at all?”

       For me, the answer is a quote by Leonard Sweet, "The deeper I go into my spiritual life, and the more years I use up, the more important "finishing well" becomes.” Deaccumulating and finishing well, go hand-in-hand.

       I once attended a conference where the key questions was: How would you change the next five years of your life?

       My first reaction, of course, was that it’s impossible to change something that hasn’t happened yet. But I knew better. My next five years is already laid out in front of me if I keep living the same way I live today. Now is the time to consider deaccumulating what I don’t want to be carrying five more years.

       And yet, I have no desire to live a stripped-down minimalist life. One of our go-to movies, The Bourne Supremacy, has a heartbreaking scene when Jason Bourne burns all the evidence of his girlfriend and their life together, making it harder for the bad guys to find him again. He wanted to disappear.

       I’ve watched this scene many times, and it always makes me sad that he destroyed the traces of his life. It’s the opposite of how I want to live. I want to leave lots of evidence. I want to use the stories of my life to tell what God has done for me.

       But how do I decide what to keep, and what to discard for the future? There are a few things I’ll always be accumulating: ideas, observations, and connections, stories.

       In the Living Bible translation, the Psalmist asks God to help us to spend (our days) as we should. That’s a good prayer. It would be a shame if the most important things in our life are all in the past?

       A few years ago our Iron Men group took on a project to make a list of 100-Life-Goals. We each made our own list; I now realize it was my first attempt to move beyond numbering the days of my past and begin numbering the days remaining.

       I am now wondering if I should add a part two to my list of 100-Life-Goals: “100 Things To Deaccumulate.” What would you put on your list?


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

Are You a Hand Holder?

       Cyndi and I are hand holders.

       Well, at least I am. I suspect Cyndi mostly puts up with me. I am a lucky man.

       I can’t sit within arm’s length of her without reaching out to her hand. To be honest, it’s one of my disappointments with our current assignments during worship service at our church. Either we are both playing in the orchestra, which isn’t conducive to handholding, or Cyndi is working in the media booth and both her hands are too busy to hold.

       I’m not sure why this is such a big deal for me, but its deeply rooted. Whenever I take the Love Languages quiz my top answer always comes out Physical Touch; I think for me it has more to do with security than affection. I find the world safer and friendlier when we are holding onto each other. Having Cyndi within reach gives me the courage to take on whatever the future brings.

       The reason this has been on my mind is because I read about hand holding in Psalm 73, a psalm about doubt and insecurity, rescue and restoration. Verse 23 says, “But even so, you love me! You are holding my right hand! You will keep on guiding me all my life with your wisdom and counsel;” (TLB) It’s one of my favorite images of God.

       And then I read another of my favorite passage about hand holding, in Psalms 37: “The steps of a man are established by the Lord; and He delights in his way. When he falls, he shall not be hurled headlong; because the Lord is the One who holds his hand.” (37:23-24 NAS). The Psalmist doesn’t promise that we won’t fall, but that that God will keep us from being hurled headlong. That is good news.

       One Sunday morning several years ago, as our family drove through the parking lot on the way to lunch, we saw my friend Scott walking with his wife and little daughter. Scott is an attorney who is about 8 feet tall. He is so tall no one really knows how to measure him. (One time my daughter Katie was trying to see who was taller, me, or my son, Byron. Byron told her, “You are jumping to see the tops of our heads. I don’t think that is a very accurate way to measure.”)

       Here’s the thing. When we saw him that Sunday morning he was holding the hand of his daughter, a toddler just learning to walk. Scott was bent over sideways at the waist in the most awkward position I’ve ever seen so that that his long arm could reach down far enough to hold his little girl’s hand. I can’t imagine how he walked ten steps that way, much less how he made it across the entire parking lot. I would’ve thrown out my back and spent the afternoon in bed.

       It was a great picture of how God holds our hand. Just like that little girl walking proudly we think we’re making our way through life on our own. And, like the little girl who was tripping and stumbling as she went, we don’t fall, or as the psalmist wrote, we aren’t hurled headlong, because someone bigger and stronger is holding our hand.

       Well, I was going to write more about this, but I’ve been away long enough. I need to hunt down Cyndi and get close enough to hold her hand. It’s the best antidote for me for this scary world, and I cannot get enough.


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

You Can Change the Future

       “What were your dad’s last words to you?” is a question I’ve heard a lot in the past two weeks. There is an implied expectation last words will be profound.

       Here is the last exchange I had with my Dad when I could be absolutely certain I understood what he was trying to say: “How do you feel this morning?” “I feel great!” (He was propped up in a hospital chair, couldn’t open his eyes, couldn’t swallow, yet not complaining.) “What have you been doing all morning?” “We had a volleyball tournament. Our team won.”

       The answer to the last words question? Dad was cracking jokes, making people smile, not complaining, and enjoying what he could of the life he had left. That’s how I want to go. It seems profound to me.

       I had lunch with my Dad at least once a week for the past five years, and while we often said nothing to each other, like men tend to do, we never ran out of things to talk about. I am content that he and I said everything that needed to be said between us. There was nothing left to settle, explain, justify, defend, or forgive. We just had fun together.

       For most of my life I saw my Mom as the biggest influence on my life. I followed her structured life, her love for reading, her search for quiet and solitude, her temperament, and her personality.

       I saw music and humor as coming from my Dad, but little else. However, the more I’ve listened to stories and comments from friends over the past weeks, I’ve realized Dad’s significant imprint on my life. Even though we were very different men, I am grateful for what I have of my father in me.

       I have been blessed in the best way possible: both my parents loved me, were proud of me, and believed in me, every day of my life. My mom bragged about me even when she was living in the Alzheimer’s Unit. Even when I wasn’t sure she remembered my name, her eyes would light up every time I came close to her. And my Dad continued to tell stories about me to his friends all the way to the end. I know this because those stories have been coming back to me lately from those very same people.

       I realize maybe that wasn’t your life. Maybe you never had that sort of relationship with your parents, or with any of your family.

       If that’s your story, I’m truly sorry. You cannot change the past, but you can change the future. You can give your children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and generations you will never meet a new story to tell. You can change your family’s future by deciding to love unconditionally, respect unconditionally, and believe unconditionally.



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

Packing Stories

       We’ve spent this past week packing and moving my Dad’s apartment. It’s the sort of thing all families have to do occasionally, one of the final steps in saying goodbye. My Dad passed away last Friday, March 31. He was 88.58 years old.

       It would’ve been a much bigger task had we not moved my mom and dad from Hobbs to Midland in 2011. They’d lived in Hobbs for 42 years, which means they accumulated a lot of stuff. I made dozens of trips back and forth from Hobbs, hauling boxes.

       Since their apartment at Manor Park didn’t have room for most of their furniture and belongings, the bulk of it ended up in my garage and attic. Deciding how to handle all of that was not a small problem. I still have a lot stored.

       This time all we’ve had to pack was the bit of furniture and odds and ends he needed to live, and my Dad didn’t need much. Most of what was in the apartment was what we moved in for him in 2011, and it was mostly in the same place where we first put it.

       Well, except for a significant collection of Southern Gospel CDs, DVDs, and VHS tapes that his sister, Betty, brought for him to enjoy. I packed at least eight banker’s boxes full of those. We are expecting Aunt Betty to take them back home with her.

       We found …

       Clothes belonging to my Mom that had been in the same dresser drawers for at least ten years. Apparently, Dad didn’t need the space.

       Clothes belonging to my Dad, all completely worn out. He wasn’t the sort to pay attention to details like clothes, and he only bought more when someone told him to. Except for cycling gear, that is. He had several jerseys and shorts. None of us ever saw him in shorts until about three years ago; then, they became all he wore.

       An assortment of magnifying lenses and devices, a variety of hearing aids, all things he added to adjust to the changes in his own body during the past years

       A handful of doggie sweaters for his little jumpy dog, Lucy. Growing up, he never even allowed dogs in the house. They lived in the backyard. Now, not only did Lucy have free run of the inside, but she had sweaters.

       Boxes of notes and records from his twenty years of genealogy research. I found a cousin who will take these and make sense of them. Whew!

       An N-scale model train kit that he got for Christmas. He was hoping to reboot his hobby of train driving, but his eyesight limited his ability to do detailed work more than he anticipated.

       Ski clothes laid out ready to go on the First Baptist Church Men’s Ski Trip. He was planning to stay warm. I found six complete pairs of long underwear in his suitcase, all for a three-day springtime ski trip.

       Of course, moving is more than boxing belongings. It’s about stories. The stories we tell over and over, the stories we keep in our heart, the stories we cherish to remember people we love, and the stories that define us. All of those stories are linked to the artifacts we keep around us in our home. So when it comes time to move, it is a process of editing and filtering stories, not just thinning the load. It is never a small thing. It is a nontrivial process.

       I was reminded of the days when life treated my mom and dad more gently, before Alzheimer’s, when daily living came a little easier. It was a subtle lesson on how two very different individuals accommodated each other and leaned into each other for 59 years. How they made space for each other in their crowded lives.

       Packing up someone else’s house is the triage of life - keeping things of value and painfully leaving the rest behind. Not because the past was unimportant, but because life is about the future, about grand ideas and bold plans. We have to make room for what it still to come.


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

It's A Long Story

We’re planning to move my dad into Hospice Care tonight, Thursday, March 30. I don't expect him to last much longer. He hasn't been able to swallow food or liquids in a week, can’t open his eyes, can barely communicate, and wrestles with breathing. He is 88 years old. It's time to let him go home.

About a six days ago he fell. I found him flat in his back in his kitchen. "Are you OK, Dad?" "I decided to take a nap."

About three weeks ago he had a stroke that slowed his gait even more than it was, affected his ability to balance on his bicycle, and rendered his once-dependable legs weak and unstable. He asked me to get him a walker, which I initially resisted because I wasn't ready to see him with one. For some reason I can't defend or explain I was more concerned with my own feelings of physical vulnerability than his personal safety.

About three months ago I signed up both Dad and myself for the church men's ski trip. It was his idea. He said, "The age limit is 18-90 so I have two years left." "Are you sure you can do this?" "We'll find out."

About seven months ago Dad and I rode our bikes for eight laps around Manor Park, the gated retirement village where he's lived since 2011, in honor of his 88th birthday. I tried to talk him I it riding 8.8 miles. "No way."

About three years ago my Mom passed away after a long slide into Alzheimer's. I drove Dad home after the funeral with a car full of flowers he wanted to give to the caregivers in the Alzheimer's Unit where Mom had been a patient. "It was a good day, Dad." "Yes, it was."

About eight years ago I took Dad 2/3 of the way up Guadalupe Peak. It was a fun father-son day, and I was proud of him for hiking so far at 80 years old, and for knowing when to turn back and hike down. "Hey Dad, this is the first time I've hiked when I was the youngest guy in the group."

About thirty-three years ago my Dad gave me a ride home after my first attempt to run a marathon. I ran about 18 miles before dropping out. He told me he was proud of me. I was 27 and needed to hear that as much as when I was ten. The truth is, I have never known a moment of life without being certain my Dad was proud of me. It is one of God's greatest gifts.

About thirty-eight years ago I told my Dad that Cyndi and I wanted to get married. "We knew that already. What else is new."

About Forty-nine years ago my Dad encouraged me to join the beginner band program at Kermit Junior High School. I am still a musician today because of him. He served as a church worship leader for years, and showed me that music was what grown men did.

About fifty years ago I was with Dad when we both got busted putting an "It's A Boy" sign in a friend's yard after his wife had their first son. I was embarrassed that we were caught in the act. Dad wasn’t. "If it had stayed a secret it would've been a good prank, but he now has a better story to tell his friends ... Do you know what I caught Deane Simpson doing?"

About sixty years ago my Dad enrolled me in the Cradle Roll at our church in Big Spring, Texas. I was only a couple days old and already a Sunday School member. From my Dad I learned what a long and consistent, quiet and unassuming, happy and joking life with God looked like. I've been trying to live up to that ever since.


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

Packing Our Fears

       We pack our fears. Load too much heavy stuff into our packs, just in case.

       It’s the backpacker’s dilemma.

       The more things we’re afraid of, the more gear we pack, and the heavier our pack becomes. If we’re afraid of the dark mountain night, we pack extra flashlights and batteries. If we’re afraid of eating cold food, we pack extra fuel canisters. If we’re afraid of getting rained on, we pack an extra change of clothes. If we’re afraid of getting hungry, we pack extra food.

       Unfortunately, a heavy pack is a danger of its own. It’s exhausting to carry and alters our behavior on the trail by slowing us down, hindering good decisions, and draining our energy.

       The good news is, with more experience we can overcome many of our fears. I’ve learned how much food I’ll actually need on a three-day hike so I don’t carry too much. I’ve learned how many meals to expect from a fuel canister so I don’t weigh myself down with extras.

       Other fears, we just learn to live with. I can suffer through a day in wet clothes so I’ll leave the extras behind. I can survive a night without a flashlight so I’ll leave the extra one at home. I can tolerate heavy hiking boots in the evening around camp so I won’t pack my cushy camp shoes.

       When you first begin backpacking you’re convinced you’re already packing as light as possible. Everything in your pack seems necessary and useful. It takes time on the trail to learn what you need and what you don’t need. It takes miles on the trail to know the difference between what is important for civilized survival and what is merely compensating for fear.

       It’s a learning process, this constant winnowing of fears and gear. It takes a lifetime to get our weight down.

       Last Sunday morning in our Bible study class we discussed a story found in Matthew 19 about Jesus and a rich young ruler. The story begins with the ruler asking a sincere and heartfelt question of Jesus: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” The man wanted to do the right thing, and he asked the right person.

       I picture the man holding his open checkbook and pen, the check already signed, ready to fill in the amount. He was willing to support Jesus’s ministry, or sponsor a wing on the children’s hospital, or give to the temple fund, or whatever Jesus asked.

       However, after quizzing the man about his obedient lifestyle, Jesus surprised him with this request: “Sell everything you have and give it to the poor, then follow me.”

       This was the last thing the man wanted to hear. It spoke to his deepest fears. How could he possibly give it all to the poor? Who would he be if he gave it all away? Who would listen to him if he weren’t rich? How could he do great and mighty things for the kingdom if he himself was poor? Where would the weight and significance of his life come from?

       Hearing Jesus’ expectations made the ruler sad. He had started the conversation with big hopes of doing something grand, but now, all he could do was walk away.

       The young ruler’s backpack was full of fears: the fear that in the end he would be worse off than in the beginning; the fear he would lose more than he gained; the fear of financial insecurity; the fear of a life with no guarantees.

       The man wanted to follow Jesus, but his backpack of fears was too heavy for the trail Jesus called him to hike.

       When fear drives our behavior we are not trusting God for our wellbeing. We have to open our hands to God and release our grip on our own perfect plan for our own perfect lives. Henri Nouwen wrote, “To open my hands is an admission that I am not God, that I am through trying to be God, and that I was not very good at it anyway.”.

       How about you? What is weighing down your pack?


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

Spring Breaks

       We just spent three days skiing in Santa Fe: Cyndi and me, our daughter Katie, granddaughters Madden and Landry, Tanya and Kevin. It was a good trip. The snow was fine for spring skiing in New Mexico, and we skied lots of fun trails.

       One question that came up often during the three days was: How do your new knees feel? In fact I never thought about them until I heard the question. My knees were amazing. They did everything I asked of them without complaint. My 17-year layoff from skiing was a hindrance, but not my knees.

       I am not an athlete. My only native athletic skill is perseverance, which might be better described as stubbornness. In all my sporting pursuits – running, backpacking and hiking, cycling, skiing – I am at the intermediate level at best. Through the years I have learned enough basic techniques so that I can perform at a level that keeps me happy, but I have none of the natural athleticism needed to excel. I’m not complaining; I’m analyzing.

       Skiing used to be a bigger part of our life. Cyndi and I skied together before we were married (the photo is from March 1979, about four months before our wedding, 38 Spring Breaks ago), and we started skiing with our kids when they were very young. For years we volunteered as sponsors for our church youth trips because it was the cheapest way for the entire family to ski.

       But after both of our children graduated from high school, we stopped skiing. We didn’t intend to stop, it just faded away out of view. Until, that is, we realized we had a new generation in the family. It’s remarkable how life is energized by grandchildren.

       We love repeating family traditions and telling family stories, and we hope to pass those down. We even have specific skiing traditions. For example, we eat meatloaf sandwiches for lunch on ski trips. We never eat them any other time. I don’t know why.

       And Cyndi and I sing to each other on the lift and on the trail. Our songs tend to be scripture songs we learned back in the 1970s, and one of our favorites was based on Psalm 3:103 and written by a college friend named Cathy Browning. We sing that song even though we haven’t heard anyone else sing it since 1979. On the trail, I like to sing the Delaney and Bonnie song, “I’ve Got A Never-Ending Love For You,” whenever Cyndi is within earshot, which isn’t often since she usually skies far ahead of me.

       But remembering old stories and traditions is not enough. We don’t want to be those people who live life grabbing for the past. We also want new stories, new traditions, new adventures, with new generations.

       Penelope Lively wrote this about gardening: “The miraculous power of gardening: it evokes tomorrow, it is eternally forward-looking, it invites plans and ambitions, creativity, expectation.” (Dancing Fish and Ammonites)

       Her description of gardening is exactly how I want to live life: with forward-looking adventures, ambitions, creativity, and expectations.

       During one of our lunch breaks I noticed three couples sitting a table near ours; all six were older than Cyndi and me. They appeared to have lots of skiing miles in their legs and they smiled and joked with each other the entire time. I thought, that is who I want us to be. I hope we have dozens of spring breaks ahead of us, and new stories and traditions to gather up.


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


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