Redline

redline
I didn’t make a resolution at the new year, but my impromptu January commitment is holding strong. Sure, it’s just the end of February but isn’t life more the myriad of small wins than a few championships?

What I’m staking victorious claim to is two months (so far) of regular exercise. Granted, putting club membership money on the line has been good motivation. Even so, I’m beginning to reap the first fruit from a disciplined care of my aging flesh and bone.

As part of my workouts, I’ve assimilated to the exercising hoard by stuffing ear buds into my auditory canal. It seems relational isolation is required for physical fitness. I’ve capitalized on this fascinating dynamic by listening to podcasts of all types. While listening last week, I nearly stumbled in full rotation on the elliptical (if that’s even possible) when I heard this statement: “It’s not what you do that burns you out; it’s what you don’t do.” (Christine Caine, founder of the A21 campaign and Propel Women)

What? Do more to not feel like I’m doing too much? How contrary. How surprising. How paradoxical. How…true?

My thoughts plunged deep with introspection. I hardly heard another pod-casted word.

I’m typically a steady worker with decent energy. A fast-paced plodder, you might say. But for a while now, I’ve wondered if I was beginning to redline.

My passion lacked sparkle. Desire was AWOL. Energy was down to the dregs. It seemed burnout was nipping at my heels.

My self-help response was to apply new techniques. Re-structure my work and home life with a fresh system of time management. Same stuff in a better way — surely that will fix things. And for good measure, I’ll add more personal pep talks, reduce carbs in the diet, and exercise. After all, I was doing good things and being productive. Surely my “possible” burnout was because I’m not doing things the right way. Just tighten the belt and suck it up. You can do this!

Yet, I can’t escape that statement from Ms. Caine.

Might she be right? Could my feeling of frantic tiredness stem not from doing too much in wrong ways but from not doing the right things? It’s hard to imagine adding anything, but maybe what’s missing will enliven my living? What must I do so I can do all that I should be doing?

Thomas Merton said, “Your life is shaped by the end you live for. You are made in the image of what you desire.” (Thoughts in Solitude, p.49) Hmmm. What is the shape of my life? In this moment, where am I headed? For what purpose did I rise this morning? My thoughts, words, attitudes, and actions are shaping me into…what? My answers craft the curbs which bound my do’s, and don’t do’s, and must do’s.

I can’t self-manage to stay below the redline. None of us can. There’s no prescription for “doing life.” But, as a Christ follower what I must do is center my desire on being conformed to His image. That purpose will shape my affections and wisely guide me with deciding what stays, what goes, and what get’s added in the day-to-day. In that, there is freedom — and rest.

How about you? What’s the end toward which you’re living? What are your shaping influences? Does joy string your activities together, or do you go from here to there thinking, “glad that’s over.”

Our lives should be full, but not frantic. Spend this day pondering the privilege of life and the Person who gives it. Then get busy enjoying Him in every purposeful moment.

The Lunch Lake Challenge

Lunch Lake – Gros Ventre Wilderness, Wyoming

This year my July 4th celebrations were light on fireworks, grilled meat, and sunburn. Instead, at 7am on the day of our nation’s birth, I willingly embarked upon a 26-hour ride to Jackson, Wyoming. This cumbersome, but necessary travel was the starting point of a nine-day backpacking adventure in the Gros Ventre Wilderness. That experience, which I shared with one of my sons and four other fathers plus their sons, was spectacular. It was an expedition ripe with physical, emotional, and spiritual challenge.

For example, first day on the trail I met an acquaintance from 14 years ago — Mr. Altitude Sickness. Like our last meeting, he gut-punched me for 18 hours straight. Physical challenge? Check.

With that ominous beginning, I was a bit unsettled. My personal sea had waves building. And then it roiled when we pursued a shortcut that wasn’t, had water filters that didn’t, and marched naively into mosquito hordes strangely similar to the zombies of World War Z. With an emotional tsunami cresting, I had to call upon my small reserve of positivity, desperate to keep my self-talk 51% free of grumbling, complaining, and murmuring.

Was there any room left for spiritual growth? Of course. The physical and emotional struggles were simply setting the stage. Loosening me up. Tenderizing my heart. So on day three, when I was ready to listen to my Father in Heaven, what he confronted me with was surprising.

God challenged me to rest.

Not rest from hiking or noisome, blood-sucking insects. Rather, a break from the routine. An intentional pause. A time to reflect, regroup, and re-create.

Sure, I desire rest. Yet it’s conspicuously absent from my schedule. Why? Good question. Neither my job nor my kids nor a long list of projects prevent me from a time-out. So what does?

Me.

I’m my biggest obstacle to rest. At times my choice to crowd out a day-off dips into the realm of disobedience. God has told us the best way to live — a day to refresh for every six of work. That rhythm is good. Good enough for God, even. So in His providence, God took me out of my routine via a backwoods adventure to show me my unbalanced life. He spoke with gracious firmness about my need to regularly stop, take a break, and refresh.

So I got busy at resting. Right there, at 9220 feet alongside a lake filled with snowmelt. A lake named Lunch, that provided a bounteous feast of relaxing, restful moments. Moments of joyful wonder at the creativity of my Creator.

The poem below got it’s start during those too-short hours spent in restful recreation at Lunch Lake.

——————————————

Lunch Lake

Stop.

An alpine oasis.

Rest, and dwell.

Skies of peacock blue,
blemished sporadically by orphaned tangles of cumulus moisture.
An ocular playground.

Heat, cool, repeat.
Mountain-fed convective gusts ripple-away the lake’s placidity.
Translucent water blushes to turquoise in its excitation.
Cold water.
No, frigid.

Winter snows yet taunt old Sol, King of July,
wringing existence from every sheltered and shadowy recess.
Triangle and Darwin Peak
(normal and ironic namesakes) preside authoritatively.
Fields of shale skirt the majestic up-risers,
a harsh and appropriate adornment.

Flowers.
Tenderness cohabiting with ruggedness.
Fire orange clusters.
Yellows — bright and pale.
Purple spires and delicate bells.
Five-petaled phlox,
creeping with spring-fresh whiteness.
Sedum, azalea, and Daisy-like forms.
All anxious start-ups,
desperate to live, die, and live again —
they hope.

Waterfowl — him and her —
the lake’s ruling royals.
With graceful precision they turn an ancient dance,
a tense but trusted interplay.
Air, water, air.
Distant then close.
Aloof then intimate.
Disagreement.
An audible burst resets the hierarchy.
They glide with majesty, paddling with purpose —
together.

Sunset orange and thundercloud gray,
resilient lichen thrive on rock-faced scarcity.
A silver-dusted green-colored cousin nestles among familial associations
completing a calico palette.

Sage brush,
gnarled and dry,
scraper of legs,
sprinkled like powdered sugar upon un-forested landscape.

Evergreen.
Everywhere.
Rod-straight. Leaning. Scorched. Dead. Cone-laden.
The wind presses densely needled, short-armed limbs,
affecting an undulating swell through the coniferous community.
Toneless, peaceful waves of mollifying noise traverse hilly contours,
compliant to the wind’s irresistible agenda.

Active in rest.
Re-creating in the created.
A happy voyeur,
I sit.

Zombie

Well, it’s over. Our much anticipated time away has come and gone. Slivers of sorrow lined our parting with the sun, sand, shady campsite, copious amounts of indulgent snacks and great times with friends. But we’ve comforted ourselves by scheming a repeat performance next year.
In my last post I ruminated on stress. Those pre-trip musings proved invaluable. This past week I was presented with many “opportunities” to trust God in the midst of tenuous situations. Situations in which I wasn’t getting what I wanted. But God strengthened, and provided. Thankfully, His provision did not require me to shave my legs (read this for context on my leg shaving).
As a parent, I often don’t get what I want. Why? Children. If you have one (or more) you know what I’m talking about. Parental life is a constant outflow. A non-stop providing for little men and women-in-training who need to be clothed, taught, fed, disciplined and loved. Sacrificial care for cherished dependents. As the father of a nicely full quiver of five, my purpose is to give of myself so they might flourish. It’s a privilege. But it often means l don’t get what I want.
Like sleep. A clean car. An uninterrupted conversation. A garage to put my vehicles in. A plump bank account. Sure wish I could increase my debt ceiling to meet my family’s (and my) presumed entitlements. 
The demands of parenting can be taxing. When I’m stretched thin and pummeled by reality, deep-seated feelings of discontent become irritated. This irritation leads to grumbling. Grumbling to self-pity. Then I grasp. Grasp for things I hope will relieve my pain, or at least cause others to acknowledge my pain. To pity me. 
My grasping has a deep-rutted history. When discontent, I habitually back-into old behaviors that lead to over-played scenes of selfishness. Such scenes unfold to a scripted cadence in which I move – zombie-like – through well-rehearsed motions. I spiral down into a self-absorbed, narrow-minded place of neediness. In this zombie state, I’m pathetic. Putrid. Ugly. Even if I could dance like the zombies in Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”, I’m still worthless when dead to myself, and dead to others. 
In her book, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard said, “beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.” Each day, scenes of beauty and grace live on the stage of life alongside the horror of staggering zombies. It’s a stark juxtaposition. 
Moment-by-moment, I’m living a story. It can be a beautiful story. It can also be a tale of the dead who won’t die. When the zombie hoard beckons will I march like Frankenstein? Or, will I cling to this truth: “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” (2 Corinthians 9:8) Abundant grace. Anytime. For anything. No grasping at my desires, just giving from the beauty and grace that flows from a generous Father. 
So, after last week’s Tour de Stress, I’m freshening my senses to beauty and opening my heart, mind and soul to grace. I can’t always get what I want. And that’s how it should be.

Tour de Stress

Peloton. I added that word to my vocabulary this month compliments of the Tour de France. Not sure if I’ll be able to use it in a context outside of bike racing, but I welcome the challenge.
Besides learning a new word, there are other things I’ve gleaned from the Tour. First, I have very skinny legs. Second, I want muscular legs. Third, I will never shave my legs – no matter what. Fourth, European bike racing fans have an affinity for cheering and chasing bikers while wearing Speedos. Sixth, Speedos are obscene.
Watching the Tour, I’ve gained a sense for the danger of professional biking. The crashes can be horrific. I also have a renewed appreciation for the endurance required to ride 150+ KM in a few hours. Those guys are machines.
Endurance has been a theme of late in our home. We’ve been working through a planned disruption. It’s required all of us to be agile with our routines. We’ve had to lay aside personal desires to serve the greater good. It’s been fine. We’ve tarried well. But in the midst of experiencing the abnormal, we’ve also been preparing for our big summer vacation.
For me, vacation prep is a Tour de Stress. A journey filled with mountains and few straight-aways. But that’s reality. Stress is a part of rallying our little peloton. It can be difficult to unify our team when so much excitement and anticipation abounds. My “riders” care little for how many shirts and pairs of socks to pack. They just want to ride. And so do I. But things must get done or we’re going nowhere. That tension requires a special mustering of patient endurance – for all of us.
Of course, the stress-fires get stoked with things like last minute car repairs, finding a dog-sitter, a final mowing of the lawn, a trip to the bank and 42 last minute jaunts to the store. Ah, vacation.
So what do I do? How do I cheer my peloton without deflating their tires? How do I grow a desire to serve, instead of being served? How do I muster courage to squelch the energy I want to put towards having the right number of underwear? How do I strangle nudges toward anger and not demand that I get a break?
Well, life doesn’t offer breaks. Sure, there are times for refreshment and relaxation, but I’m never excused from being a husband and father. From leading, serving and loving. Life’s stresses never abate.
I’m learning anew that in life’s stresses there is opportunity. Opportunity to lay aside my wish dreams. To trust that God has my back. That He can handle my anxieties. That in His strength, I can be a tail-wind for my peloton. That whether I’m stressed or calm, He brings the rest I’m longing for.
Soon we’ll be off to new fun and adventures. As I progress through the stages of my Tour de Stress, I’m keeping my wife’s homeschooling mantra very close:  “Attitude is everything – pick a good one!” I’m grateful for renewed mercies – from God, and my family. And lastly, if I thought it would help, I might consider shaving my legs.