Peace in the Present…

One morning this past week, as I was beginning my morning routine before heading off to work; I was sitting outside on the back patio drinking a first cup of coffee. I woke up a little early, so my mind was active for some reason. In recent years, my mind is slower to get running in the morning, and slower to shut down at night. On this particular morning, however, my thoughts seemed to be reaching out for….something.

There is a cat that usually meets me on the back patio. My neighbors told me the cat was part of a herd of cats fed by the woman who lived in my house previously. Some of them were feral cats that she fed in a little workshop which borders the patio on the left. She cut a hole in the door to install a cat door, and left food inside for them to eat. Although this seems nice at first glance, once she moved, she left them without the food source they had come to depend on. The last time I saw the woman, she asked if I wanted to continue the practice. I responded, “No. Although I love animals, my life style doesn’t allow me to be a good pet owner.” So she put a piece of plastic in the door, to obstruct entrance to the space.

(Eventually, I found another reason not to keep feeding those cats. I bargained with the property manager to allow me to clean, and re-paint the interior of the house as long as I could choose the colors. I had help with both the cleaning and painting. My sister and brother worked with me to get the house ready for me to move. One task that I accomplished on my own was removing the carpet… It was a heavy Berber carpet, and it STUNK from cat urine! The lower parts of the walls bore the stains of male cats spraying their territory. By the time we were finished cleaning, I was CERTAIN I made the correct decision about feral cats outside!)

The cat that meets me when I go out on the patio, is interesting. Reportedly, it was born in my house. That is easy for me to believe, because the manner in which it first approached me was as an offended owner of the house. All the other feral cats eventually left the yard (someone else in the neighborhood started feeding them), but THIS cat walked into the yard, and immediately began to yell at me! I had to respect that, so…..I eventually began putting cat food on the patio in the morning.

Yeah…

I know…

I’m a sucker for anything showing pluck!

Now, part of my morning routine encompasses putting food out for the cat…which also becomes food for birds….and the occasional opossum and raccoon at night. On this particular morning, as I was drinking my coffee, a dove flew down and lighted on the roof of the house no more than ten feet away from me.

Four years ago, shortly after I moved into the house, I noticed the yard seemed to be a haven for doves. At the time, I was attending an online master’s degree program in Spiritual Formation from George Fox Evangelical Seminary, and my vision for using the degree, was to become a Spiritual Director and develop a program for Spiritual Formation specifically for the pastoral staffs of churches. The presence of the doves in my yard spoke to me about the house being a place of peace for others as we learned together how to experience and pursue Shalom. One day, when my brother was there the doves returned. I said to my brother,

“I want this house to be a place of peace for other people.”

My brother responded simply, “I am hoping it will be a place of peace for YOU!”

In the succeeding years, I have found this statement to be both insightful, and prophetic.

Prophetic, not in the sense of telling the future, but in the biblical sense of confronting people with Truth which is dissonant with their current perceptions, actions, and life.

Ok…

Back to the dove on the roof…

I began to talk to the dove, telling it that it was safe, and that I wouldn’t hurt it…

…and eventually, a second dove lit on the roof next to the first. The two moved impatiently upon the roof while looking at the patio and the grass next to it, as if seeing all the insects in it…..food. Finally, the late-comer lept softly down onto the patio, and began feeding on the grass seed, or insects, on the concrete. At this point, the dove was within five feet of me, and about six feet from the cat which was facing away from the bird and feeding on what I had put out.

Quietly, I spoke to the dove…

“You better be careful… you’re awfully close to this cat!”

When the cat moved, the dove on the patio softly flew upward to a limb of a tree beside the patio and patiently watched me, the cat, and probably the cat food.

At this point, my attention was distracted by a bird sitting on an electric line about 30 feet away.

I thought, “That looks like a dove, but it looks different, too.”

While I fixated on the bird in the distance with features like a dove but also not like a dove…

…the doves closest to me flew away…

Disappointed, I realized how the experience felt like a metaphor for my life to this point.

I have often become so…

distracted…

fixated…

obsessed…

by a shadowy future, that I miss out on the beauty closest to me.

I often ignore and neglect the gifts of the moment in my pursuit of a fantasy built by an unhelpful definition of perfection, and the comfort I believe will be…

…in the future…

I don’t like this habit…

I am robbed of the present by this habit…

Now…to be fair…

Dreams and visions are not bad.

They help us imagine how the world could be.

That can be a VERY good, and generative, perspective…

But…

Dreams occur when we are asleep…

and visions occur when we are transported out of the present…

So, in some ways, dreams and visions are a criticism of the reality of the present, and when we are transfixed by them, our mindfulness of the present can be distracted so that we are blind and deaf to the ways God comes to us in THIS moment!

So…

What can I do differently?

What can WE do differently?

We can:

Observe our peace…

It would be easy to say that violence is the opposite of peace, but that’s too easy. As I have thought about it, I have come to believe that being numb is the opposite of peacefulness. Peace does NOT mean the absence of conflict. Peacefulness is a process which involves a recognition of conflict, and a determination to look for generative and sustainable resolutions to conflict. Living peacefully is a way of seeing and living life in a way that acknowledges all the tragedy in the world surrounding us, chooses to embrace the uncomfortable emotions we feel in response, and learns to find God in the midst of it all. Often, our best way through conflict, or tragedy, is to wait…

Stop…

A good practice is to allow the emotions and thoughts to wash over us without trying to deny, numb, or ignore them. I realize that some people during crisis events must act immediately in order to protect others or themselves, but eventually there needs to be a time we acknowledge how these events have affected us personally. We need to carve out space to “feel what you feel.” I’m not saying that life will stop to wait on us, but we must realize that what we feel is a biological part of being human, and denying them will NOT stop them from being expressed in a physiological way. Acknowledging our own emotions is a step of trust, in ourselves, and in God.

When I am conscious about my life, I notice how often I try to run from my feelings by numbing them rather than acknowledging them, feeling them, and soothing, resolving, or expressing them. If I numb them, they don’t go away. Often, they sneak out when I least expect them, which can be embarrassing, given the circumstances. Peace invites me to let down my guard, become honest about and identify what I feel, and in vulnerability, express them.

Look… 

Its amazing how often I miss seeing things that are right in front of me. I have always used the metaphor of a bulletin board when I talk about becoming more observant of our life. A bulletin board is a tool used to communicate something visually to people. However, it is my experience that a bulletin board, because it is so “normal” becomes part of the wall. Often, I view it as part of the visual blah, blah, blah of an external space, such as in a break room at a jobsite. So, that which is meant to communicate important information is ignored, because I am pre-occupied with something else. If I am not careful, I can become so pre-occupied with the visual cues in the world…

the media…

an angry driver…

the sameness of my physical surroundings…

that I miss entirely the beauty and significance of the gifts I have been given:

health…

a job…

a home…

family…

friends…

the world around me…

To guard against this, I have to find ways to slow down my constantly shifting gaze. Photography is one way I do this. When I have a camera in my hands, I slow down and take in the world around me, not just to absorb and enjoy it personally, but also to capture an image of what I see in order to share it with others, as well as with myself at a later time. When I view one of the images I have captured with my camera, I am reminded of the experience of that moment, and I am thankful…again. This tool has helped me recognize the beauty when my hands are empty, too. I see everything with new eyes and in greater depth, so that I feel part of the world around me. I realize that I am in the picture.

Listen…

I have found that in order for me to hear another person, I need to attend to them…I need to give them my attention. In fact, I have instructed my sister…who I also works with…to wait until she can look me in the eyes before she tells me something.

…and then text it to me…

There is noise all around me. And much of it becomes “white noise” that I tune out. There is also noise in my head…my thoughts…which can compete with what I hear from other people. Peace invites me to listen both to my life, and to the natural world, because in so doing I often find the presence of God. One practice which can help me develop the skill of listening is engaging music, either in the hearing, or in the doing of it. I often put on headphones and lose myself in music. I become part of it, and it becomes part of me. My emotions eventually find a resonance with the style to which I am listening.  It is similar when I venture into the natural world, and listen…really listen. It is in those moments that I hear the music of God, which speaks to me on the level of my soul, and it is renewed with peace.

Protect our peace…

Boundaries…Honestly, I haven’t been very good throughout my life at either identifying what boundaries are or what I need them to be in my life. In the past 5 years or so, I have begun to understand the concept of boundaries in relationships. I now realize that boundaries are different than obstacles. When we construct obstacles in our relationships, we are essentially running away from intimacy and trust while running to isolation and distrust. Constructive boundaries in our lives actually allow us to be more available in the present to people, tasks, and activities we care about. A personal boundary is something we set and acknowledge which communicates how we choose to live. They are choices that communicate self-respect, and ways we want to be treated by others. For me, setting boundaries is difficult not because I am unwilling to defend them, but because it is hard for me to identify the need for one, and where it needs to be placed.

I am a preacher’s kid, and in my family, other people always came first. ALWAYS! The theological perspective within which I was raised pretty much sanctified the concept, even though Jesus set clear boundaries in his own life and ministry. As an adult, I often said “yes” to something that I really didn’t want to do, then felt aggravated at the person to whom I said “yes”! This was true in my personal life, as well as career. Eventually, I learned how to say “no” in my career, as well as to stand up for myself when I felt something was unfair. In my personal life…especially my marriage…I never really did. This could have been one of the reasons it was so unsatisfying to both of us, and ended in divorce.

Protecting our Peace means not choosing to place ourselves into circumstances in which we are treated with disrespect, nor to associate with people who treat us with disrespect. Although we may have to be associated with those types of circumstances or people for short periods of time or in events which occur outside of our control, the choices we make on a regular basis protect our peace when we live treating others and ourselves with respect.

Embrace peace in the present…

Sometimes I fight myself, and my expectations of myself. For instance, it is Saturday as I write this. This morning, I wanted to do several things:

Go to the gym– I have a sore shoulder, and I need to do some strength training with it.

Clean the house-I have found that I feel calmer in an orderly personal space, so when I have put off cleaning the house for awhile, I realize I am running from something, so am punishing myself by letting my space become disorderly.

Do yard work– I enjoy this, for the most part, but especially enjoy the way it looks afterward and the feel of my body with dirt under my fingernails.

Budget– I hate money…..

So…what did I do this morning? I came to Starbucks and began writing. It’s now 4:40 in the afternoon, and my day is almost over. I am feeling a mixture of emotions, and not much peace! What I am trying to do right now, is embrace the process of writing with the hope that, once I publish it, other people might find something in my experience they recognize, or that it stirs their thinking in ways that promote growth and living in healthier ways.

And…

Quite honestly….

I mostly hope someone likes it….

I also realize that once I am through with a piece of written work, I feel very peaceful about having written. Right now…that peace is what I will embrace as a gift from God. I also will embrace it because I will remind myself that it takes courage to tell pieces of your story, as well as your thoughts about it. Embracing one’s own voice is a way of embracing peace, and when I neglect to write, I am instead embracing the fear that the value of my life experience and what I am learning has no value. Because embracing peace also means embracing growth and sharing that growth with other people.

Release our peace into the world…

Peace isn’t a commodity we buy and then horde. Peace is shared. When we embrace a life of peace, we release it in the process of embracing it. Whether we realize it or not, the people around us know if we are at peace or not. Sometimes even better than do we! As I wrote previously, peace doesn’t mean the absence of conflict, and it also doesn’t mean there will be no struggle. Peace and struggle co-exist…personally and collectively. Peace means that we will fight. Personally, my most common combatant is myself. I often fight with fear, and shame, and isolation, and pride, and ignorance, and anger, and impatience, and body image, and addiction, and….numbing…

Yet what I keep coming back to, are the words of Jesus:

“In this world you will have many problems, but take heart! I have overcome the world!”

Perhaps that is why he has been called the Prince of Peace!

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Sometimes….. FM

Sometimes…

Life opens up in a wonderful way…

Nothing complicated…

Just the simplicity of being fully in one pleasant place.

Like today…

I finished a job in a condo on the beach, overlooking the Gulf…

Driving in my pick-up…

Windows down…

Shirt soaked with sweat…

Cool breeze from the Gulf sweeping through…

Listening to Steely Dan…

Bright sun…

The smell of newly cut grass seducing my senses…

Alive…

Thankful…

Living in Eden…

Using my body to make a living…

Allowing my mind to search…

Think…

Question…

Remember…

The promise of my son and his girlfriend visiting Saturday…

Middle-aged men riding their bikes in colorful lycra….

Hmmm…….

Beautiful women driving their convertibles…

Couples walking their dogs…

“No static at all….”

Unplugged… 15 Minutes at a Time…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5K6_ZtTcMQI

In 1992, Eric Clapton played a segment of MTV’s Unplugged. The album became one of his most popular. The concert included many of his classic hits, but also became a model for a style of music that was stripped down from a preponderance of technology, and delighted in the simplicity of musicians sitting around and just playing. The model was so popular, that Clapton began to include an unplugged segment in most of his concerts after that. Although not exactly true; the “accoustic” instruments were still electricly amplified; the unplugged model points back to an earlier day when musicians would play music with no help from electric amps and speakers.  People listening to these relaxed concerts had to develop keen listening skills, and maintain a perticular concentration to the music’s subtleties. The audience had to stay fully involved in the moment, and that meant the performance was a collaborative effort: the performer not only giving to those hearing his/her music, but also receiving feedback from the others in the room. Kind of like street musicians, who ply their wares and watch for passers-by to stop and turn their attention to the music being played, and away from the distractions of the surrounding noise.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IMyXfdk_Fp8&feature=fvwrel

As the above link shows, not many people are willing or maybe even able, to set aside the distractions of their immediate life to recognise and listen to beauty when it enters their world. It is so much easier to be entranced by our press forward into the urgency we perceive to be necessary. Sometimes, our distractions are less important than necessary tasks we need to complete. Sometimes, the distractions are a tad more frivolous…. like Facebook.

The other day at work, I went outside to take a 15-minute break. It was hot, but the wind was blowing and I really like getting out of the store into the natural (or as natural as JoCo suburbia retail is) world for a little while. I took my phone out in order to check Facebook… also a habit. As I pressed the button for it to load, a question suddenly occurred to me:

“How many more posts about people adding 83 new friends, or telling about their new blog do you need to see? The wind is nice, why not sit down and enjoy it?”

Now I really don’t have a problem with friends adding friends, or marketting their new blog posts… this post will run across your screen if you are one of my Facebook friends… but really… do I HAVE to know that information every free minute of the day? When does habit run into addiction? So I determined to unplug, at least for that 15 minutes. That 15 minutes was like pushing in the clutch on a manual transmission vehicle. It allowed the engine of my mind to disengage with a busy world, and enter a more tranquil one where the wind blew and cooled my body. I could hear the high school marching band practicing nearby. By so doing, I continue the practice of allowing myself to see, hear, and feel the beauty around me.

In the link about Joshua Bell’s Washington, D.C. subway concert, there is one woman near the end of the clip who stands in the middle of the entryway, transfixed by the beauty of the music played by a modern-day master. She knows who the “street” musician is, and stops her mad rush through the world in order to receive the beauty of the Master.

What a great idea… 15 minutes at a time…

Starry, Starry Night…

Saturday night I stumbled across the singer/songwriter, Alan Toussaint, in concert on PBS. Toussaint is a 60-something, African-American vocalist and piano player. He grew up in New Orleans and still lives there. His songs tell stories. Frankly, I have heard of him, but never heard him before. I only caught the last two songs, but the last one surprised me. Toussaint didn’t jump from one tune to the next, he told a story to the crowd while supplying his own musical accompaniment which helped set the mood from which the story emerged. Although Toussaint grew up in New Orleans, his parents’ extended family lived in the country. The country relatives lived there by choice and love, in spite of not having electricity, indoor plumbing, or running water. They wouldn’t have wanted to live anywhere else, he said.

Toussaint loved the visits to the country. He was the youngest of the family, and as soon as the car pulled up into the dirt driveway, Alan’s door was open and he was running up to a group of folks outside sitting on the porch. When he attacked the stairs, a group of black women would grab hold of him in a collection of hugs, their ample bosoms enveloping his face until he feared he would never catch another breath. Hugs were spread around the entire family. Arriving was a joy! Chairs were brought out from the house. When there were no more chairs, there was plenty of space on the  floor, or on the railing along the edge of the porch.

After everyone was caught up on the news of each other’s lives, the family would eat outside, conversing between bites of goodness. Conversations were filled with barbs of humor lobbed at each other, the severity of tone undercut by a twinkle in the eye.  Pots filled with food seemed to race with the sun to see which would disappear first. Usually the food won, the  stacks of empty pots rising higher as the sun sank lower on the horizon. Finally, younger kids were dispatched to carry the stacks into the house as the adults sank into chairs to watch the sun set and moon rise. A beautiful tale of simpler times spent with family and surrounded by love.

As the story unfolded, I was reminded of my own childhood and my father sitting at the piano, in a not so dissimilar setting, also telling stories accompanied by his own artistry on the piano. The setting of my memory, however, was a scene played out in countless churches across the nation. Dad would weave his own tales of love and family, but my father’s words were specifically about God and his love for us, his children. Both Toussaint and Dad were speaking to the souls of those listening. Both painted pictures which lead each person into a place of peace and contentment, yet which also brought a certain disenchantment with the rapid pace of lives spent in chasing the urgent all the while neglecting the most essential of values.

My memory continued to follow the scene to a night spent in Southeast Colorado, when I was a child. My family was staying with my Aunt Phyllis and Uncle Melvin. They were living on a farm at the edge of a tiny spot on the map, called Campo, Colorado. I loved that farm. Uncle Melvin was a custom harvestor at the time. His family would take a combine, two trucks, a pickup, and travel trailor within which they lived each summer and followed the ripening wheat from Texas to South Dakota. He would sub-contract work for farmers at each stop. On this particular night of my memory, they had parked their travel trailer next to their house, and my family slept in it. My family visited Aunt Phyllis and Uncle Melvin often throughout the years. Our families always enjoyed each visit. My parents and Phyllis and Melvin knew how to share life together. They worked together, joked together, ate together, cried together, relaxed together… They just knew how to share the journey, and I loved it!

One night, we were sitting outside watching the sun set. It was a beautiful night with a slight breaze chasing away the heat of the day. I don’t know who mentioned it, but someone said that it was just too beautiful to sleep inside. So, why do it? Dad decided to get a mattress from inside the house… why we needed a mattress I don’t really know, probably because my guuuurrrrlll cousin, Velda, didn’t want to sleep on the ground…. We brought the mattress out into the yard, got some blankets, just in case it became too cool, and lay down to watch the stars come out and count them. Sometime, in mid count, with the breeze blowing the trees around us,  the blanket of quiet wrapping around us, punctuated  from time to time with the contented lowing of a distant cow or the suspicious barking of one of the dogs intent on frightening off whatever potential intruder had made noise in the dark which only the dog could hear… I fell peacefully asleep….

…Until I was startled into confused consciousness by the voice of my dad and his insistant nudge. Awakening, I realized that the wind was no longer softly caressing the trees, but was bending them over with its force. The stars were gone and a low rumble of thunder  began to build until even the mattress shuddered. You could smell the rain coming. A peel of lightning split the sky followed closely by a clap of teeth rattling thunder.

We grabbed the blankets, openned the side door of the house and threw them inside. Next, we struggled to haul the mattress against the wind, and tried to stuff it through the door, and replace it atop the boxsprings, so my cousin would have a place to sleep. With big drops beginning to pelt us, Dad and I ran to the comparative safety of the travel trailer… if a trailer can be said to provide safety in a thunderstorm on the plains….

Finally, after the adrenalin began to wane, and some order was restored in our temporary lodging, I tried to go back to sleep, listening as the rain pelted the metal roof and sides of the trailer.

Why does that picture stick in my memory? A feeling of peace and calm, totally enveloped by the canopy of the natural world, but which is unexpectedly dashed by that same natural world. Thunderstorms are part of the rythmic pattern of the nature. Not only do we expect them, but in a given context and place, we hope they pass through. They pour life giving water into parched places. While their power can be scary, they are magnificent to behold. Yes, thunderstorms happen!  And we are humbled.

The other day I rode the bike path which follows the course of Indian Creek. I ride it several times a week, in fact, so I know it pretty well. My favorite place on the trail is a little bench which sits beside the path, overlooking the creek and faces a HUGE sycamore tree. Sitting in front of the bench is a sign which tells of how sycamore and cottonwood trees spread their seeds. The sign also explains that the giant sycamore across the creek was dated to be 200 years old  in the year 2000. So the tree is 210 years old… but will never be 211. A brief but raucous thunderstorm blew through a couple weeks ago and blew half of the tree to the ground. Then another storm this past weekend brought the rest of it down, leaving a jagged stump, about 15 feet tall and roughly 6-7 feet thick. Those are my guesstimates, since the tree is across the creek, in the back yard of a beautiful house, and I haven’t made the trek across the creek to examine it more closely. I am sad it is gone…

Its not gone, however. The wood is still there. 210 years of growth, can be cut up and used for firewood to provide heat for several homes. If the tree were in the forrest, far away from human manipulation, the wood would stay where it fell, eventually rotting and returning its hard earned nutrients back to the soil. As I sat studying the scene, I suddenly noticed just how many sycamore trees there were along the creek. The younger trees most certainly are daughter trees. Just how many trees have their genesis from the seeds this one tree produced in 210 growing seasons? How far away did the seeds travel during the spring floods?

That seems to be God’s economy.

New life…

Growth…

Producing seeds…

Storms…

Injury…

Death…

Recycle…

New life…

All along the way, there is beauty, and nothing is wasted…

A Deep Tree Standing…

This morning I had some errands to run and on the way home, I rode on the bike/running/walking path that follows Indian Creek. There is a favorite place I like to stop from time to time. A bench sits on the bluff overlooking the creek. Across the stream in the back yard of a house that also overlooks the creek, is a huge sycamore tree. I love that tree. In fact, there is a sign in front of the bench detailing how sycamore and cottonwood trees live along streams. (I have blogged about it before.) The tree is five feet in diameter, over 90 feet in height, and is 208 years old. As most trees do, the trunk splits into two or three large branches as it ascends into the blue sky. One of the main branches has a jagged split in it center. Most likely the split is the result of a lightning strike at some point. Aside from that, the tree seems to be in great health. The sign in front suggests it began life in the same year Thomas Jefferson was inaugurated as president. The tree has been a fixture next to Indian Creek since the creek had no name and no bike trail. I’m sure the people getting exercise next to it in the early years, were native Americans.  Although the surrounding topography and civilization has changed throughout its life, it still draws its life-blood from the creek. It’s not a big creek, it’s not the wide Mississippi, it’s not even the Missouri, or even the lowly Arkansas,  but it certainly has supported a large tree.

Its surprizing how the natural world grows beauty in the most unlikely places, using the most ordinary of elements: water, soil, and light. And the beauty isn’t marred by the tragedies endured. In fact the flaws merely enhance the spectacular display. Just as in the tree, the jagged crack from lightning inspires me of the strength of the tree. It endured tragedy which has now become part of its character. The Bible suggests we aren’t unlike this great old tree:

  Blessed is the man
       who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked
       or stand in the way of sinners
       or sit in the seat of mockers.

  But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
       and on his law he meditates day and night.

  He is like a tree planted by streams of water,
       which yields its fruit in season
       and whose leaf does not wither.
       Whatever he does prospers.

  Not so the wicked!
       They are like chaff
       that the wind blows away.

  Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
       nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.

  For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous,
       but the way of the wicked will perish.

  Psalm 1

All of us get our share of lightning strikes. There may have been times of drought when our souls seemed to cough with emptiness. But during drought, the sycamore tree’s roots stretch outward while underground to reach new moisture. The tree might not grow in height, but it surely grows in depth just to stay alive. The growth is underground,

 unseen…

uncharted…

but…

the growth in the root system gives greater stability for the tree to grow taller in the next growing season, and in years to come. The same is true for those of us who allow the tragedy in our lives to drive us to unseen moments where we stretch our roots to search for the living water available to our thirsty souls. While our growth is below the surface

unseen…

uncharted…

It serves to prepare us for the beauty to come. Our souls are deepened.

Our wounds develop character;  a trophy to God’s sufficiency…

The View…

The summer after my junior year in high school, my family took a long Fourth of July weekend to travel into the mountains near our home and camp out. My family enjoyed camping. We always used a tent and cooked over a campfire. The natural world was a way for us to reconnect with each other and God as a family. Sometimes we would fish or do some light hiking, but usually, we would just relax and soak in the deep odor of pine, the rustling of Aspen leaves as the wind weaves its way through the jumble of peaks, the chipmunks and squirrels bumming left over crumbs from the last meal, and the quiet you could reach out and touch with your soul as if it were a heavy comforter protecting your spirit from the rush of a metallic, synthetic world.  We would allow ourselves to get in synche with the rythms of the great unrushed creation.

On this particular trip, my family consisted of my mom, dad, brother, Bill, sister-in-law, Margaret,  family friend, Darrell…and Sam our Irish Setter. I’m not sure who it was that found the camp sight, but it was a new one for us. Another common activity for our family was to explore using our car. We sometimes would take a map and just drive, so any of us might have come across the sign for a new, unseen lake and took the turn. I don’t remember the name, to be honest, but I know how to get there. I took my kids there two summers ago to retrace a memorable hike Darrell, Sam and I took.

As a group, probably due to the suggestion of Bill, (he has always been one to explore) we decided to take a short hike shown on a map of the area. This was a short hike, about a mile, and we decided we could do it together. Together obviously meant that Sam would go with us. Sam was my mountain companion while we lived in Colorado. She was my fishing partner when I escaped into the hills during the summer. Sam loved to follow the scents in larger and larger circles until I could no longer hear her and would call her back from the edge of some abys or just short from the skunk of which she was in pursuit.  As our group approached the trail head, we noticed a sign listing the possible trails we could take and their respective distances. One trail that piqued the interest of Darrell and me was one of only 2 and a half miles… only a mile and a half longer than what we were already expecting to hike…. “That’s not bad,” we thought. So after we reached the smaller lake on the initial segment of the trail and the planned destination, Darrell and I decided we would keep going to the next place on the trail….a pass.

The first segment had been an easy walk through an evergreen forrest, the pathway made spongy by layers of pine needles. As we walked, some talking, others of us content to let our senses expand and take it in, Sam ran, her nose to the ground with tail swinging in long sweeping arcs and long red hair following as a graceful shadow. We reached the lake quickly and spent some time enjoying the quiet near the shimmering water, like a mirror tucked within the majesty of the towering peaks. Eventually, everybody else  returned to the tent, to read or get the next meal ready.  Darrell, Sam and I set off. The trail started out climbing only slightly more than before, but as we continued to walk, the trees began to thin as did the air. We were already at about 9000 feet above sea level, so our breathing was a little heavier than normal. Sam, however, continued to scramble with no apparent effect. Leaving the trees behind, we climbed to the base of a large boulder field which was descending from the summit towards which we were ascending. At this point, the trail began to switch back and forth in zig zags which controlled the angle of incline, but also lengthened the distance of the hike. So Darrell and I decided to climb straight up. The angle of the slope was not steep, yet at such a hight altitude, climbing roughly another 1000 feet in a fairly short distance caused us to take frequent breaks with heaving chests and shaking limbs. All the while, Sam continued to scramble around on the rocks, running 4 feet for every foot we travelled, except  she would follow one scent trail 20 feet higher up the slope, find a better scent trail going down the mountain and follow it until it petered out 20 feet below us. Darrell and I watched her, looked at each other breathlessly and shook our heads, incapable of speech. 

Reaching the pass itself,  we found it to be a fairly flat meadow of alpine grass and vegetation broken frequently with rocks. Foolishly, we hadn’t brought any water with us, and we ALL WERE THIRSTY. Wandering around a little, we found a rock, hollowed out by the elements to create a natural basin in which three or four inches of clear water had collected. Darrell and I each took our turns holding Sam back while the other drank, then we let Sam drink her fill. That water was by far the best water I have ever had, and it seemed to be prepared for just the occasion. 

The trail continued down the other side of the pass until it eventually ended at Grand Lake, a further hike of 10 more miles, but that would be for another time. I followed the trail until it began the first switchback and I was able to peek over the edge to see Colorado’s largest natural lake and the deepest in the United States in the distance. I told myself at the time, that one day I would return to follow the trail into Grand. I have yet to make good on my promise, yet still hope to finish what I started those 32 years ago.

As I turned to the east and walked to the other edge of the pass, I was amazed to see how the mountains unfolded into the prairie of eastern Colorado. Just to the northeast, Denver could faintly be seen through the brown haze covering it in the late 1970’s. It seemed as if the horizon would never stop my view, because I was so high. Magnificent. That must be how God sees through time, His view not obscured by a horizon of limits.

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Last night I was outside enjoying the quiet of the neighborhood. As I leaned on the trunk of my disabled car, I looked into the sky and began to think of the family in which I was born. My parents were wonderful, loving people. They deeply loved God and people. Their relationship with Him was a living, everyday thing. They both worked hard during their entire lives. I was always fed, clothed and had shelter. I now know that we were poor, but I was completely unaware of it. Connie, my sister, says that Mom could go to an empty cupboard and make a meal. I have seen her do it, too. My dad died when I was in college, and one of my deepest regrets is that my children cannot and will not know the same wonderfully secure heritage I knew in my family. As all dad’s, I have made my share of mistakes. There are certainly many actions I would take back if I could. Actions I would take that I did not. But all that is in the past. However, if I could leave my children with only one quality, it would be faith. A deep settledness that God is forever…that He created and still creates…  that He loves them deeply and sees them as beautiful, as do I. And that despite everything,  their dad loves them like they cannot fathom. And that I love God to the  depths of my soul. I believe that God showed us His love for us by giving a part of Himself to die,  taking on our self-centeredness, but that the goodness of His love and nature could not be kept by death. That the original/continual creative power which is His life was reborn as a new man. One who understands our disease of selfishness, yet is able to inocculate us against the effects of our disease upon all we hold dear, and instill a healthy process in its place.

The bible says that God shows His love to up to a thousand generations of those who love Him and walk with him. I have been given a wonderful heritage of people coming before me who have loved God. They haven’t grown disillusioned when life was hard… they understood Gods love wasn’t contingent upon how much money they had, how healthy they were, even in the midst of relational struggles.  They trusted God in spite of personal failures and the actions of others on their lives. I saw my parents do it and have heard and read the stories of  the people from which I come,  living out their faith…their God-given faith… and God has, indeed, shown His love. So through the eyes of faith, I look backwards to God’s provision, love, and blessing in the past.

Now…. it’s time to attack the rest of the trail…