Nine Stories from Hungary

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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



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

Hearing God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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



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

Better Than Anything

      Cyndi and I were in our kitchen Sunday evening eating nachos and talking about the music we should be practicing for our upcoming mission trip to Budapest. I was having trouble downloading one of the songs, Almost Like Being in Love. I knew we had a great arrangement and I wanted to listen to it, but for some reason my iTunes was pitching a fit.

      Cyndi, who was less interested in my computer problems (since she’s been having plenty of her own) than in the song, started humming, and asked, “Am I on the right tune?”

      “No, you’re singing Better Than Anything.”

      Mentioning that song was the trailhead down a path of favorite memories. We’re even more likely than usual to make that trip nowadays because this year is a big round number for us. Our 40th anniversary is in July.

Better than sailing at midnight
Better than diving for pearls
Better than skiing in Aspen
Better than feeding the squirrels
Better than finding a horseshoe
Better than losing your head
Better than anything thought of
Better than anything said
Better than singing right out loud
Or being spotted in a crowd
Better than anything except being in love


      We don’t have any songs that were ours when we were dating. We’ve claimed several since we married, but none from the early years. Better Than Anything comes close and would certainly qualify if it were easier to dance to. It was written by David Wheat and Bill Loughborough, and first recorded in 1963. But the version we fell in love with, fell in love over, was from an Al Jarreau album, Look To The Rainbow, from 1977.

Better than four sets of Dizzy
Better than Count Basie's band
Better than Rollins and Coltrane
Better than being on the stand
Better than Ella Fitzgerald
Better than Miles' latest news
Better than Bill Evans' ballads
Better than Joe Williams' blues
Better than hearing Lady Day
Or checking in at Monterey
Better than anything except being in love

      Of course, nothing goes undocumented, so even as we reminisced I posted the lyrics on my Facebook page. And music does so often, it pulled in someone else. Our friend Rabon told me that just seeing my post took him back to his sophomore dorm room.

      Music finds you; music slips through armored scales and straight into our heart. Rabon’s memory stirred up my own.

Better than Lucy and Desi
Better than Route 66
Better than Kildare and Casey
Better than Quiz shows all fixed
Better than Huntley and Brinkley and
Singing with Mitch
Better than Hitchcock and Karloff and
Flicking the switch
Better than movies late at night
Or watching Emile Griffith fight
Better than anything except being in love

      Here’s my story: I bought the Look To The Rainbow album when I was in college, after hearing Al Jarreau on The Tonight Show. When I came home after the 1978 spring semester at college, I Invited my friend and fellow musician, Rick, to come over and listen to it and dub it onto cassettes.

      It was a ruse. What I really wanted to do was distract myself. I had been home for only a week, but I was depressed (cratered, miserable, and gloomy) because the girl I planned to date all summer had, due to my own inattention, been dating a track-and-field jock. I was certain I’d blown the best chance I’d ever have. She’d found someone else.

      And then, I think it was a Monday evening, Rick came over. When I opened the door and saw Cyndi standing right beside him, everything changed. She had an armload of textbooks and planned to study for finals while we listened to music. I don’t know whose idea it was for them to come together; I didn’t care. I realized this was a new beginning. She came back. We’ve been together ever since.

      The gift of music; it’s better than anything except being in love.


P.S. Here is another version of the song, with Natalie Cole and Diana Krall.


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

Practicing Faith

      Do you enjoy practicing? As in, music, or dance, or sports … those are the categories I think of most when I hear the word practice.

      Erwin McManus wrote (in Wide Awake), “You can’t just sit back and hope that the life you long for will simply come to you.” Anything worthwhile is hard work and inconvenient. It takes practice.

      When I was in college I fell in with a group of leaders and students that taught the value of spiritual practices. It was what I needed to hear and do, so I joined right it. At the time, for me, that meant scripture memory, bible study, teaching, and group worship.

      As I got older my list expanded. To my surprise, running became a spiritual practice even though spiritual pursuit had no bearing on why I started running in the beginning. It’s as if God saw me doing something on a regular basis, in a systematic way, and decided to join me. In my new post knee-replacement era I’m walking instead of running; I expect walking will become a spiritual practice in the same way that running did, but only time will tell. Maybe cycling, also.


      And my list of spiritual practices has continued to grow. Most of my hiking and backpacking is in pursuit of God, and I expect to hear from him on the trail.

      Writing has certainly become a spiritual practice for me, helping me learn what God is telling me, setting it in my life, allowing me to work out my theology and understanding. Writing also allows me to tell the story and share the lessons I learn. It is in those stories that I see the real work of God.

      But there is more to this than modifying our behavior and reshaping our heart. The Apostle Paul wrote: “But I discipline body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.” (I Cor. 9:27, NAS)

      What specifically did Paul mean when he said he disciplined his body? I doubt Paul went to weight lifting classes. Was he a runner: He certainly referenced it often in his writing? He also mentioned boxing; do you think he was into boxing? In the NLT translation of the Bible, the verse says, “I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should.”

      We don’t know what disciplines Paul engaged in, but he was a man who believed in spiritual practices.

      But even more mysterious than Paul’s workout discipline is this: what did he mean that he would be disqualified?

      Disqualified from what? Preaching? Writing? Traveling? Mentoring? Was he afraid he might lose his turn, or people would stop listening, or maybe he’d die too soon?

      It’s unsettling that I could be disqualified from teaching because of the way I take care of my physical body. I don’t want to be disqualified because I was too soft or too lazy to treat my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. So I keep practicing.

      Here’s the thing. I’ve learned that if I do the practices: read from my Bible every day, read spiritual books, pray, find time for solitude and searching, share and teach what I’ve learned, memorize and meditate, get around other believers and let them influence me, listen to good teaching and preaching … and all that; well, if I’m true to the practices, God speaks to me. Through constant practice, Christianity makes sense beyond my rational mind; it makes sense in my heart and soul.

      Spiritual practices don’t earn us an audience with God, or mark us as serious disciples, but the process of repetition changes us, changes our heart, changes our motives, and changes our character, to be more like Jesus. Spiritual practices don’t attract God’s attention, but they focus our own attention toward God. They open our ears

      How about you? What are your regular spiritual practices? How do they help you know and understand God? 


I’ve been pondering the phrase, Practicing Faith, for the past year, ever since I heard my friend Rabon give a talk with that title at our annual Iron Men retreat. But it goes back even further; I’ve engaged in spiritual practices since I was in college, being guided by Max Barnett and the Baptist Student Union at the University of Oklahoma. I’m publishing this piece, which I wrote a few years ago, because it speaks directly to my own heart and my current journey on the trail.


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

What Sort of Story

      Two weeks ago, we joined the FBC Iron Men to hike Guadalupe Peak. Again. It was my twentieth time on top.

      In honor of that, I dug out this blog post from our first time to the summit, Cyndi and I, in October 2003. When reading this, I was surprised how little has changed. Even sixteen years older and twenty hikes later, the questions of life and living are still the same.



      It was a hard, uncomfortable sleep, and I tossed and turned all night long.     I was dreaming on-and-off that God was speaking to me, feeding me long scripture passages that I was supposed to absorb and memorize and then filter out His specific direction for my life. The dream should have been encouraging since I am always hoping for direct communication from God, but instead it was unsettling. In my dream I kept going through the same verses, over and over, because I couldn’t remember them. I was so nervous that I would miss an important word or two I couldn’t relax and listen to the whole message. I can remember waking slightly, rolling over in the bed, and reminding myself to renew my efforts and concentration because this was very important, and I shouldn’t blow it.

      That same day I had been suffering from slight heartburn or something, but in my dreams, it turned into a low-grade heart attack. I can remember telling myself to listen to the words from God very closely because with a heart attack coming on, I might not get another chance. No wonder I was tossing and turning.

      Now that I’m awake, I can remember the stressful parts of the dream, but none of the actual message from God. (That’s probably why God doesn’t speak to me through dreams, or least why He hasn’t so far, because I never remember any details.) I don’t think last night’s dream was a direct message of God’s will to me, but I do think it was an insight into my own spirit – about how I get all tied up in knots trying to find the correct answers to life, to the future, to marriage, to love, to running faster, etc. I want the answer. I want the secret key that unlocks all the mysteries. I want the magic phrase that opens it all up to me.

      Well, the older I get, the more I realize God will not hand me a roadmap or outline or bullet-point list of what He wants me to do. My dream was an insight into my own insecurities, but not a picture of how God will speak to me.

      In his book, “Seizing Your Divine Moment,” Erwin McManus wrote this about following God’s will: “God called Abraham on a journey that took him to the realm of uncertainty.” If we want to follow God, then we need to know that “He calls us out of comfort into uncertainty.”

      I am learning to be more comfortable with the mystery and uncertainty of following God. I no longer expect God to say, “Turn left, turn right, go straight, speed up,” but rather, “OK Berry, stay on your toes and be ready for changes.”



      Last weekend Cyndi and I decided to do something different from our regular pattern. We drove to Guadalupe National Park and hiked to the top of Guadalupe Peak. We had a great time together; it was a fun date. The trail, correctly advertised as “stressful,” was well marked and well maintained and uphill all the way. It was hard work, but it was fun.

      Guadalupe Peak is famous for the view from on top. On the clearest of days, you can see all the way to Mexico, and a huge portion of West Texas and Southern New Mexico. However, clearest of days are rare. There is usually a layer of natural haze, and in recent years, smog from Mexico. On the day Cyndi and I were there, we also had limited view due to low-hanging clouds and fog.

      At the top of the mountain, Park Rangers placed a metal box containing a hardbound journal. Climbers are encouraged to write their names and date of climb, as well as an inspirational quote, poem, verse, or description of their trip. I wrote our names in the book and part of Psalm 139.

      When I asked Cyndi what she wrote, her eyes twinkled, and she quoted from Lord of the Rings: “I wonder what sort of story we’ve stumbled into?” She was thinking about the big picture of our lives.

      Erwin McManus wrote, “If you want to seize your divine moments, you must accept that you are on a divine mission.” If there is one thing certain in our lives, if there is one thing clear, it is that we are in a story bigger than us, grander than we can see, filled with uncertainty and mystery, yet also filled with the hope of God. I doubt we will ever understand exactly what kind of story we’ve stumbled into, and I imagine most of our mountaintop experiences will offer only limited views into the future, but the adventure of following God is exciting.


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

Headwinds, Tailwinds, Uphills, and Downhills

       “Most of us feel we face more headwinds and obstacles than anyone else – which breeds resentment. We also undervalue the tailwinds that help us – which leaves us ungrateful and unhappy.” (Freakonomics blog, 3-15-17)


      “Kites rise highest against the wind, not with it.” (Winston Churchill)


      I resent west Texas headwinds; they’re so much harder to cycle against. I’ve tried to change my mind by calling myself The Windbender in hopes I’ll learn to love the wind, but it hasn’t yet caught traction. Riding into the wind feels undeserved and abusive. Among local cyclists we joke that headwinds are our hills, of which we don’t have any, but that isn’t exactly true. Riding uphill seems more like a challenge to overcome rather than nature turned hostile.

      But what about tailwinds? Any ride into a headwind means, eventually, being pushed by a tailwind. Tailwinds feel like gifts, like flying down the road at half the effort. But they’re also scarier. While I resent the unrelenting resistance of a headwind and the extra energy it requires to ride half as fast, I don’t worry about crashing. I only worry about crashing when pushed by a big tailwind.

      Of course, being worried about crashing doesn’t make me slow down. I’ve earned the free speed, so I intend to enjoy it. Even still, it’s scary. I constantly think about how fast I’m going and how bad I can hurt myself if I crash at this speed and how would I ever explain it to Cyndi.


      One Monday in March 2013 I was flying with a mighty tailwind, riding east on Mockingbird about three miles from home, approaching the hard-right-hand turn at the Garfield intersection, when I felt my back tire go flat just before the turn. I kept riding since I was moving fast, and the corner is not a good place to linger because too many cars cut the tangent.

      As I leaned into the turn, my now-flat back tire rolled out front under me and I fell hard on my right hip. I stayed still in the road for a few seconds because the fall knocked the wind out of me. (I didn’t know that was possible from a blow to the hip.) But I had to move. It was too dangerous to stay on the ground where cars turning the corner would not see me. I slowly and carefully stood up, made sure nothing was broken or bleeding, and carried my bike over to the side of the road.

      My whole body was shaking. I decided to try riding home, afraid if I sat too much too soon, I would stiffen up and be done for the day.

      When I got home, I didn’t find any broken skin from the fall, no road rash, and my clothes weren’t torn. There was a soft lump of skin below my right butt, like a mouse below a black eye. By bedtime my right hip was dark purple and the size of a watermelon.

      I’ll skip the rest of the details, except to say I spent the summer making weekly visits to the Wound Management center at the hospital. They finally released me to ride and run in September, six months after my crash.


      “The older you get the stronger the wind gets - and it's always in your face.”  (Pablo Picasso)


      I took my bike on our trip to Durango, Colorado, intending to ride uphill at altitude as much as possible. It was the hardest bit of riding I’d done up until then, but it was also fun to make it to the top. I cannot imagine hauling my bike 600 miles to ride in more head wind. There’s nothing fun about that.


      When I turned west onto Briarwood in the beginning of my daily five-mile run the sudden blast of wind rock me back on my heels. My first thought was judgement day. This was no ordinary wind. This was the sort of wind an Egyptian might have experienced had Pharaoh continued to say “No.” This was wind that brings down nation-states. This was Patagonia wind; sweeping across the surface of the earth like a stiff-bristled broom. I was but a piece of dust about to be swept away by the broom of God. (BDS, May 10, 1999)


      Last Saturday the Iron Men hiked Guadalupe Peak again. For me it was my 20th time on top. I’ve always hiked this particular trail with a group of people, never by myself. Well, that was truer during the first few years. Lately the hikes have become a race to the top which scatters the group and erases the camaraderie. Still, it’s one of my favorite things to do, the group experience and introducing the hike to first-timers, making it worthwhile to do over and over.


      It surprises most hikers that their downhill pace is not much faster than their uphill pace. One reason is because going downhill is riskier. Twists, slips and tumbles are most likely to occur while descending and no other type of hiking causes more wear and tear on the joints and muscles.

      I’m not afraid of falling while hiking up the mountain, but constantly afraid of falling when hiking down. Even though I now have after-market pain-free knees (this was my 4th time at the summit with them), I still baby my knees when going down. It’s one reason I’m so slow; I pick each step carefully.

      Maybe everything comes with a price. Riding or hiking uphill takes effort and energy but pays off in the view and self-satisfaction. Downhills extract payment in fear and risk and danger but pay off in effortless flying.


      “Getting to the top is optional. Getting down is mandatory.” (Ed Viesturs)


      Monday morning, two days after the Guadalupe Peak hike, my quads and my feet were still sore from the descent. By Tuesday I was back to normal, such as it is. Thursday afternoon I was riding my bike into the wind.


      He makes winds his messengers (Psalm 104:4)

      (They were) great and brave warriors …lion-faced men, swift as deer upon the mountains (1 Chronicles 12:8)



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

The Next Thing

      Lately I’ve written often about the advantages of aging. Such as: I’m finally old enough people listen to me; I’m not easily tossed around by fashion trends or political opinions; I go straight for the legacy look in clothing; I’ve learned how to say no; I can choose to be less cranky and more accepting; and like that.

      But the last couple of months have reminded me that isn’t the whole story. There are definite disadvantages to aging, too. I’ve spent more days in bed, sick, since February, than in my entire preceding sixty years cumulatively (well, excluding hospital stays). So sick I missed 5/6 of our annual family ski trip. So sick my cycling mileage has been lower than since I started keeping track. So sick I’m behind on every project I care about. All I’ve wanted to do is sleep.

      Last Monday, I went to the gym to work out, and it was great. It felt like emerging from the fog, on the mend, on the comeback trail. The next day I rode a solid twenty miles on my bike, my best ride in weeks. I was beating my chest from happiness. That evening at Taco Tuesday I would’ve danced all night with Cyndi if only Rosa’s had a dance floor. I was rejuvenated and ready for springtime and action. A fresh start.

      And then I woke up Wednesday morning with a broken toe. Well, that’s what it felt like.


      The big toe on my left foot felt like I had jammed it, or broken it, sometime during the night while peacefully asleep in bed. That scenario seemed unlikely, but I couldn’t deny the stiffness and swelling and pain. All my toes were puffed up like Vienna Sausages. Even worse, my middle toe was bright red, probably infected.

      I hobbled around all day hoping I could bring the pain to submission though strength of will, my usual technique of self-medication, but I was unsuccessful. I just felt old and lame and helpless. This wasn’t the sort of injury I could walk my way through.

      Thursday was no better. I went to Cyndi’s Pilates class because I was tired of doing nothing for two months. I told her I’d try doing any routine that didn’t need my toes. She took great care of me, and it was a good workout, but I was mostly miserable.

      Friday morning, I went to see my doctor. The minute he walked into the room and saw my foot he said, well there is obvious infection in that one toe. But your main problem is gout.

      Bummer. Gout. One of the most ancient of diseases; documented as far back as 350 BC by Hippocrates himself. Now I really felt old.

      What I didn’t tell you earlier was I had expected a diagnosis like that at some point in my life. Seven years ago, Dr. Glass, my podiatrist, found telltale monosodium urate crystals in the joints of my right foot during an unrelated surgery. He said it was ironclad evidence of gout. After that, he asked every time he saw me if I had any symptoms. Not yet, I said.

      But now I have.

      The good news is, by Monday morning, six days after my flare-up, I seemed to be about 85% back to normal. I even walked the mile around our neighborhood ponds. On Wednesday I walked about three miles. Maybe the comeback trail is a real possibility?

      Of course, none of my complaints surprise God. He’s known all about me for a long time now. In fact, Psalm 139 says He planned each day of my life – He charted those days (on a map? a spreadsheet?) – even before I was born. Every moment He knows where I am, and He both precedes and follows me and places His hand of blessing on my head. Who could whine or complain about treatment like that?


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

What Brings Joy?

      I’ve joined a few discussions lately, among friends, about following the advice of Marie Kondo to declutter our lives. Her method of organizing is known as the KonMari method, and consists of gathering together all of one's belongings, one category at a time, and then keeping only those things that "spark joy". Not a bad criterion. It reminded me of something Leonard Sweet wrote in Soul Salsa, “The more you live in place, the more your space becomes silted with artifacts.” Marie Kondo wants to help us remove some of that silt.

      Cyndi and I, at least casually, use a slightly different guideline whether to keep something – we ask, does it have a story. Again, from Leonard Sweet, “Stories sanctify space. If those artifacts come without stories or purpose, no matter how beautiful or expensive they may be, you are turning your home into a garbage dump.” He suggested getting rid of anything that doesn’t have a story attached. The stories the items carry are usually about people and relationships, the most important part of life.

      Where I depart from the Kondo trend is her suggestion we keep no more than thirty books. I am OK with that if you say “only thirty books per author per topic.” Even then, for an author like C.S.Lewis, I might be pushing the thirty threshold.


      I’ve been in the process of arranging and rearranging my books for the past five years, but all I’ve done so far is make a mess. Since I keep adding to my collection, organizing is a dynamic target. I can’t decide which shelves should hold which topics, so I end up restacking my piles over and over.

      And to be honest, this round of organizing is for my downstairs books only. The upstairs books fend for themselves. They should be happy they are still in the house and not given to Friends of the Library. And at least two bookcases of children’s books in our hallway belong to Cyndi, so she has her own organizing project to look forward to.

      British author Penelope Lively was interviewed by Terry Gross of NPR Fresh Air in 2014, when she was 81 years old. Gross asked, “You have a gazillion books, right? Why hold on to all those books? You’re not going to be able to reread all of them. So, what’s your answer for why it is worth holding onto them, knowing that you probably don’t need to refer to most of them, you’re not going to reread them, and you might not get to the one you haven’t already read?”

      I get those same questions myself all the time, often directly, sometimes from the expression in their eyes, more often from my own voice inside my own head. Why do you keep all of these? Don’t you own a Kindle? Why aren’t you using it? Why are physical books important to you?

      Ms. Lively answered, “It’s simply that they chart my life. They chart my intellectual life. They chart everything that I’ve been interested in and thought about for the whole of my reading life. So, if they went, I would, in a sense, lose a sense of identity. They identify me.”

      When I look at my shelves, I can chart my deepest spiritual influences through the 1990s, 2000s, and 2010s. I relive my deep dive to understand modern church and how to teach generations younger than me. I see my immersion into running, cycling, hiking, and backpacking. My path to becoming a better writer has two shelves of books. I even have a whole shelf dedicated to learning how to be a romantic husband.

      In his book, What Matters Most, Leonard Sweet wrote, “Just as the kinds of friends we choose decide the kind of person we become and the direction life takes, the stores we relate to most closely structure our identities. Some of the most important choices we make are our companion stories – the stories we choose to live with. It takes only a few basic stories, or what scholars call deep structures, to organize human experiences.”

      I choose to live with books; they bring me great joy. And since I’ve never felt the urge to count them, I’ll just assume I have thirty.


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

Ski Santa Fe

      I’m writing this last week, Monday afternoon, from the La Casa Lodge at Ski Santa Fe, from our annual granddaughter ski adventure.

      We had a great morning skiing. It was cold and snowing, a near white-out at the top. We skied uncrowded trails and short lift lines due partially to the weather and also to the fact it was the first day of Texas Spring Break and tons of people were still trapped in ski rental and lift ticket lines. They should have started early like we did.


      That is, until about 11:00 am, when I started feeling lethargic and queasy. A couple of times I thought I might throw up, so I stayed to the edges of the trails just in case. I eventually skied down to the mid-mountain restaurant and sat with my head on the table for almost an hour. Finally, because people wanted to use the table to eat lunch, I got up and skied on down to the bottom, put my boots and skies and poles in the truck, grabbed the group lunch and carried it back up to La Casa to wait for the others.

      It wasn’t like me. I’m not a great skier, but I tend not to stop unless forced. The only other time I cut a day short like this was when my knees were so bad I was afraid I would hurt them worse if I stayed. But I had both knees replaced that summer and haven’t stopped using them since. Until Monday morning.

      And I don’t remember ever being nauseous while skiing. My fear was maybe this wasn’t the leftovers from a recent cold I thought I was almost over, or maybe this wasn’t some sort of new virus attack. What if it was another altitude attack (which I haven’t had before while skiing), or worse, another dreaded aspect of aging, the slow deterioration of skills and practices I love.

      I’m more than aware of the haunting shelf life on all the things I love to do, and my diminishing input on how quickly they progress. I suppose I should expect these dark thoughts to arise when I’m feeling sick and pitiful.

      I recently attended a Noble Heart retreat called It’s Your Time, about living with significance in the 4th-quarter of life. I prefer to think I’m in my 3rd-third rather than 4th-fourth, but that’s an irritating and nitpicky argument to make, so I won’t. The retreat was about attitude and motivation, and I’m fully engaged in that. I don’t want to back off, stand back and relax, or grow isolated and cranky and opinionated, all real temptations during the 4th-quarter. I want to be poured out like the Apostle Paul, sharing what I’ve learned, giving myself away, until the very end.

      As it turned out, I stayed in town in bed both Tuesday and Wednesday. That put my ski total for 2019 at a half-day, hardly satisfactory. By then I knew the problem was congestion, a nagging cough, and associated brain cloud. That knowledge shifted me from fear of aging to symptom-management. Sleeping all day is my first line-of-defense and default reaction to any illness. My body can’t recover unless I lower the energy level to the lowest possible state and give it space to heal.

      The rest of the family, including granddaughters, had a great three days of skiing. I wish I’d been with them, but their smiles at the end of the day made me almost as happy as actually skiing together.

girls 3.jpg

      Which brings me to today, a week later. Since we returned to Midland I spent Friday, Saturday, and Sunday in bed. By this morning, Monday, I wasn’t completely well, but I knew I was on the other side of the misery curve.

      I’ll be back on the slopes next year, and I hope I won’t jump to such sad conclusions the minute I have a setback. I learned it now takes me longer to recover from a cold in the same sense it takes me longer to recover from a sore muscle or hard effort. That’s an aging effect I can live with, no matter what quarter I’m playing in.


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

Too Much Too Soon, Again

      When I heard Cyndi gasp, I was hoping she’d finally noticed my sculpted quads, but no, she was reacting to my feet. They weren’t doing well. My arches, such as they were, had dropped, and my ankle bones were tilting inward. She wasn’t proud, as I’d hoped, but worried.

      I should have known. Cyndi’s concern over my feet goes way, way back. In fact, I once wrote about a potential conversation where I quoted what Cyndi might’ve said: "I've been embarrassed by your feet ever since I saw them the first time. Good thing you didn't wear sandals while we were dating, or I might never have married you."

      The fact is, I’ve had flat feet my entire life. I never paid attention until I started running in 1978, and even then, not until I decided to replace my Stan Smith Adidas tennis shoes – leather with zero cushioning – with a pair of real running shoes. When I did my shoe research I learned how to tell if I had high arches or low arches. It wasn’t hard to decide.

      However, those flat feet served me through nine marathons and over 37,000 miles of running. Nowadays my feet seem to be entering a new chapter of life, a common story with all the rest of my body parts since turning 60, where pieces and abilities wilt and crash regularly. I’ve had to do more research and relearning to keep up and keep moving.


      At the time of Cyndi’s gasp, I was in her studio where she was thrashing me on a Pilates reformer machine under the guise of developing her teaching skills. She usually takes an obtuse direction when trying to change my life knowing how I stubborn-up when confronted directly, but this time there was nothing subtle in her approach. She took charge and set me up with Chris, one of her yoga patrons, an experienced physical therapist, and a fellow cyclist. Chris wrapped my feet with about one hundred feet of two different kinds of tape (Leukotape, and something called Cover-Roll, designed to protect skin from Leukotape). She even showed me how to do it myself. She was great, and my feet felt better right away when I walked around.

      She also suggested arch supports for all my shoes. “Start small and work your way up. It takes time to retrain muscles and bones,” she said.

      I started taping-and-arch-supporting right away, satisfied with my progress and process. I’m always happier when I have a diagnosis and a plan.

      That is, I was happy until I decided to replace the tape which was looking gnarly and ragged. As I pulled it off, I noticed the places where I’d pulled skin off, and even one blister on my heel. I hadn’t noticed the damage before, and none of it hurt until I saw it, then the pain started.

      While I inspected for more damage, I noticed a series of deep blisters on the bottom of both feet, apparently from the overly-ambitious arch supports I had been using.

      I’ve been accused often of trying to do too much too soon, of thinking the regular rules didn’t apply to me and I could do things my own way. Apparently, in this case, I was trying to repair something quickly that took a lifetime to develop. I was too aggressive with tape and arch supports and my feet paid the price.

      Cyndi, who still hadn’t caught her breath from that first glance at my ankles in the Pilates room, was nice about it this time. She even showed appropriate sorrow and concern over my plight.

      So I decided to leave my feet alone long enough for the skin to heal and blisters to calm down. The pause would give me a few days to ponder my habit of solving everything myself, often to my own discomfort.

      And then, Thursday morning, the same day I planned to leave town for the weekend, I felt a hard knot under the ball of my right foot, and thought, what have I done to make this even worse. But when I sat down and looked closely at my foot, I discovered a penny stuck to the skin. The good news: my new problem was imaginary. The bad news: I had already started making plans for a new round of treatment. Sometimes I’m so smart, so intentional, so in-tune, I trick myself and make a big mess.

      I once had a close friend warn about my tendency to solve problems using my own strength of will. He said: Berry, you have the ability to figure out what has to happen, and that's where you have to be really careful. Because you can figure things out, there is a tendency to place God in the situation out of courtesy, but He doesn't really need to be there.” I wasn’t sure what he meant at the time, but in the years following I’ve seen his warning play out in my life over and over. Bummer.

      Now, a week after pulling off the tape and skin, and three weeks after first frightening Cyndi, I’m ready to start over. I’m back home from my weekend away, a Noble Heart retreat near Ann Arbor, MI, where I never thought of my feet even once – well, except when going for a trail walk in the snow. That out-of-mindedness lasted until Cyndi asked how I was doing. “It’s time to resume treatment,” I said. “I’ll be more patient this time.”

      “I love you, Berry,” She said, even with the we’ll-see-about-that look in her eyes.


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