18
Oct
21

The Voice Speaks!

“Are you edgy?”

There I was… out in my back yard the other day, tidying up some ragged borders with my battery-powered string trimmer. 

That’s when I heard The Voice… 

… And The Voice seemed to be asking me a weird question.

“Are you edgy?”

I paused in my work and looked around. Who had spoken? And what did they mean by that?

For the life of me I could not locate where The Voice had come from. But I knew I had definitely heard it, loud and clear. And to deepen the mystery a little and add some intrigue, I recognized that it was a woman’s voice. 

As an avid student of the Bible, I have read numerous accounts of heroes and heroines of the faith who heard the disembodied Voice of God… usually inviting them to undertake a Great Quest. Noah and the ark, comes immediately to mind. There is also Moses and the Burning Bush… or Paul on the Damascus Road, just to name a few. 

And every time I read one of those stories – or others – I ask myself the same question: “When will it be my turn to hear the clear, distinct voice of God steering me on to The Path I need to be following?”

So, score one… I finally heard The Voice. But also, bummer… the words I heard made absolutely no sense to me at all. Why couldn’t I have heard something like, “Set my people free!” (Exodus 3:10), or “Go preach the Word all over the Fertile Crescent area and start, like, a zillion churches,” (Acts 9ish). 

All I got was this stupid question: “Are you edgy?”

But let’s stop and think about that for a moment instead of complaining. Maybe this is EXACTLY the message I need to hear from God right now. Maybe God has watched me as I have sort of oozed into retirement, goofed around with a hodge-podge of volunteer activities, taken naps in the middle of the day, and been thoroughly unimpressed. 

Maybe my own, personal, Russell Brown-specific Burning Bush moment is meant to be a CHALLENGE! Maybe it is meant to wake me up somehow! Maybe God is saying, “Hey! Lawn Jockey! I didn’t call you to collect your pension and pretty up your yard all day while gaping at the beautiful mountains and the aspen trees! I called you to get out there ON THE EDGE! As long as you’ve got breath and health, I expect you to actively USE the gifts and graces I gave you to help build my KINGDOM! 

“So get out there, bub! Go make a difference! 

“Um, excuse me?”

I heard the voice again. Only this time I was facing in the right direction. It seems the source of the voice was my neighbor across the back fence. She had been momentarily obscured by the nine-foot-tall hedge between our yards, but now I could see her standing there, quizzical look and all.

Suddenly I understood. 

She looked at me and said, “I heard the noise from your yard and was curious what it was.”

OK. I get it now. My neighbor heard the noise from my weed-whacker and called out to me to ask if I had been EDGING

“Oh! Yes. Yes, I am edging. Sorry… did the sound bother you?” I asked.

“Oh no, you’re fine. Sorry to interrupt,” she replied, and then turned and went back into her house.

So… not the Voice of God after all. Just a neighbor wondering what all the commotion was. Not to worry. 

And with that, I returned to my chores, confident that God had definitely NOT used the voice of my neighbor to spur my soul and ask me challenging questions about the direction and purpose of my life. 

As if that would ever happen…

Abundant blessings;

13
Oct
21

Am I Really a Male?

By all outward indications, the answer to the question posed above is a resounding, “YES!” 

Hmmm…

The inward benchmarks (e.g., the sum of my urges, drives, thinking, and worldview) also seem to point in the direction of an affirmative response.

But lately I’ve started to wonder…

Last week I showed up for a training session for a new volunteer activity I am taking on. The activity involves telling stories to children in elementary schools in this area. It seems to be a good fit with my skill set as well as being a great way to bring a little joy and connection into our stressed out, beleaguered classrooms.

There were six new storyteller trainees in the room… I was the only male.

The same thing used to happen when I attended work-out classes at our gym. In a room of 30 participants, there might have been three other males… tops. 

In the midst of the heated presidential election last year, I wanted to help register new voters. After much searching, I found that the only organization actively working on that goal was the League of Women Voters… 

So, I joined!

The one group I have joined in the last two years that was all men was a book club. And – can I level with you here? – it was not all that enjoyable. When we gathered, I found lots of posturing and competing to see who had the best insight into the author’s meaning.

It seems to me that everything I am drawn to – in terms of groups or activities or outreach – is dominated by WOMEN! I am also a churchgoer and every piece of research that has been done in the last 30 years will tell you that many more WOMEN attend church than men. 

To that point, a recent ABC News/Beliefnet poll showed that 44% of the women surveyed reported that they attend church weekly vs. 32% for the men. In the Catholic church, the divide was even wider with 49% of women attending weekly vs. 26% of men.

So maybe the question really isn’t, “Am I actually a male?” Maybe the better question is, “Where are you, my brothers?”

All of this makes me ask:

  • Is it a uniquely female thing to volunteer to serve your community?
  • Is it a uniquely female thing to exercise with a group vs. on one’s own?
  • Is it a uniquely female thing to seek to care for one’s spiritual health in a communal setting? 

If the answer to any of these questions is, “YES,” I would also like to know, “Why is that?”

It really doesn’t bother me to show up in a room full of women. I think you all are – on the whole – intelligent, caring, energetic, and very open people. In a group of women, THINGS GET DONE! And quite often FUN is had along the way!!

I am sure there are multiple sociological studies on this topic that shed insight onto my question. Someday I might look one up and read it.

In the meantime, I guess I will just keep showing up, following the leading of the Spirit, and celebrating the people that show up there with me… whichever gender they are.

But before I sign off, I need to ask: does anybody have a good recipe for beef stroganoff you’d like to share?

Abundant blessings;

11
Oct
21

A Strange Set of Tools

I’ve got this dilemma on my hands. Maybe you can help me with it.

On the one hand, I don’t like to fail. I mean I REALLY don’t like it. At all.

At the same time, I really like trying things I haven’t tried before.

Therein lies the dilemma. Because the things I try are new to me, I am highly likely to fail at them… at least at first.

Last winter, for example, I decided that a fitting way to engage the wonders of my newly adopted state of Colorado would be to get up on a pair of skis and head down a snowy slope. 

Because hey… EVERYBODY out here skis. Even little babies.

So, I rented some skis and boots and bought goggles and ski pants and found myself an instructor. After an hour of struggling and straining and falling and failing, I decided skiing probably wasn’t for me. God – in God’s infinite wisdom – gave me feet that point toe-outward. Standing correctly on a pair of skis really requires toes that point INWARD… or at least point STRAIGHT.

So, there we had SNOW SPORT FAILURE #1.

Which led me to my next adventure. As I looked around there on the mountain, I noticed that snowboards seemed to accommodate people with feet like mine a whole lot better than skis did. So, it was back to the rental shop to be outfitted with a SNOWBOARD!!

Another hour of falling and flailing and sweating and swearing and I was ready to declare myself a miserable failure at snowboarding. That led me to admit to…

… SNOW SPORT FAILURE #2.

It is embarrassing and more than a little depressing to start looking back and cataloging all the false starts, missteps, bumbles, fluffs, and swings-and-misses I have racked up over my considerable years on this planet. 

Thanks to my clumsy efforts, toes have been stubbed (mine and others), feelings have been hurt, opportunities have been squandered, and lives have been damaged.

And it now appears that Joan and I together will add “failure to become passionate RV owners” to that growing list of failures.

I know, I know. I hear the voice of Bill Gates saying, “It’s fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.” And right beside him there is Albert Einstein (who failed MASSIVELY before changing the history of quantum physics, I’m told) saying, “You never fail until you stop trying.” 

I know all that rah-rah, motivational stuff. I’ve preached it a thousand times to eager, listening ears.

But it isn’t until I turn my gaze to the cross that I really, truly understand the divine power found in failure. You see, God decided to become flesh for the express purpose of re-orientin the hearts and minds of human beings. Jesus came to live among us as the incarnate Word of God… here to facilitate the kind of spiritual transformation that stone tablets could not. 

And yet, what happened? After three years of wandering the Galilean countryside, healing, preaching, feeding the hungry, raising the dead, and bringing hope to the hopeless, Jesus was arrested and executed for his efforts. He was pronounced guilty of rebellion by Rome and heresy by the Jewish religious leaders. 

In other words, his mission failed. 

It failed, that is, until the redeeming, restoring, overwhelming power of God stepped in and turned that apparent failure into a fresh new beginning for human history. 

And as the Genesis Creation story reminds us, from chaos, God made a universe.

From dust God made us.

So we should remember that from the ashes of failure, God can build something new, unexpected, fresh, and life-giving. 

In a very real sense then, the broken pieces of today’s failure just might be the strange building blocks God is looking for to build something new in your life. 

So, keep trying. Keep failing. Keep giving God new tools to work with.

Abundant blessings; 

04
Oct
21

Augmenting the Toolkit

King Solomon… with head shown actual size.

Of all the tools that currently reside in my personal Toolkit of Life, the one that seems notably lacking is the one called WISDOM. 

In my better moments, I’ve been called clever, or bright, or intuitive… once someone even called me sharp. But danged few people in my life have ever accused me of being WISE. 

This struck me as a serious deficiency in my Tookit. I mean, when you get to be my age – especially with this new, grey beard I’ve grown – WISDOM should be something you should regularly expect from me. Shouldn’t it?

And so, to shore up that weak spot, I picked up my bible and turned to that timeless book of wisdom – allegedly written by one of the wisest people who ever lived – the Book of Proverbs.

I read the first three chapters and then put it down… somewhat frustrated by what I found there.

In case you aren’t familiar with chapters 1, 2, and 3 of the Book of Proverbs, let me quickly summarize the three lessons I found there:

  • Lesson #1 – Wisdom is good.
  • Lesson #2 – Go get wisdom.
  • Lesson #3 – Avoid un-wisdom.

Excellent! Thanks for that insight, Proverbs. Problem solved!

But risking a moment of seriousness here, I DID find it very helpful to be reminded of the supreme importance of the acquisition of WISDOM in life. Turns out it is a whole lot better than, say, the acquisition of Facebook “friends,” or LIKES, or shares of a blog post you wrote one day. 

The thing that really intrigued me though was the concept of “unwisdom.” Of course, the bible never uses that word. It speaks of “foolishness,” or “complacency,” or perverseness,” or “deceit,” but the idea is the same. In its disquieting, patriarchal way, the Proverbs author equates unwisdom with a “loose woman” and warns the reader not to be seduced by her “smooth words.” (Proverbs 2:16, NRSV). 

“Stay away from THAT STUFF, and seek the OTHER STUFF,” is the main message here.

And so, I wondered; where do I encounter the allure of “unwisdom” in my life? And how successful am I in avoiding it?

POPULAR OPINION might be one of those seductive sirens. I’m talking about those concepts everybody knows are true and no one dares publicly question… such as the proposition that money makes us happy, or bigger is better, or that GETTING something is always better than GIVING something. For the biblical, counter-cultural rebuttal to each of those nuggets of popular opinion “wisdom,” I direct your attention to 1 Timothy 6:10, 1 Kings 19:12-13, and Acts 20:35 .

CONVENTIONAL WISDOM is another, related, suspect. Heck, it even has the word “wisdom” in its name! Conventional wisdom is that voice that tells us to be strong… to be independent… to be utterly invincible in the face of life’s challenges. And yet if we pause just for a moment, we see that the Man who drew the dividing line between B.C. and A.D. in history was a sacrificial servant. He willingly gave up EVERYTHING, including his very life, on behalf of others. In fact, in 2 Corinthians 12:9, the Apostle Paul quotes from a conversation with God in which, “’…he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’”

And so then, what about those IMPULSES that can seem to take control and rule one’s life from time to time? Are impulses an example of the unwisdom we are admonished to avoid? 

We have the impulse to EAT, for example… an impulse that can lead very quickly to gluttony, obesity, and poor health. On the other hand, if we ignore this impulse completely, we will surely die. And dying would very quickly curtail our usefulness to the world.

What about the SEXUAL impulse? As we have seen, this is an impulse that has caused incredible damage to humans over the centuries. And yet without the sexual impulse, life on this planet would grind very abruptly to a halt.

Certainly, unconstrained impulses can lead any of us into areas of great harm. But I am not convinced that impulses – in and of themselves – are all bad. They just need the application of a lot of WISDOM to keep them in check. 

And so, the quest for wisdom continues. 

Maybe the best thing to do at this point is to ask the age-old question: WDJD… “What DID Jesus Do?” and then follow that example. 

Now THAT would be a truly wise move, wouldn’t it?

Abundant blessings;

30
Sep
21

Whose Team Are You On?

Tom* really knew how to get my goat.

Even though – as his pastor – I did my level best to keep my political opinions and leanings tightly under cover, Tom thought he had me pretty well pegged. He would use every available opportunity to wave his political flag loudly and proudly.

The Thursday morning Men’s Bible Study was the venue where Tom really cut loose. He and I and 8-10 other guys gathered at 6:30 there in the public dining area of a nearby supermarket to eat, pray, study scripture, and yak.

But mostly to yak.

The yakking started the minute any of us arrived and kept going, non-stop, until the morning’s designated leader cleared his throat, tapped a spoon against a coffee cup, and reined us in. 

Tom’s greeting almost always consisted of some version of the question, “So did you hear what your boy said yesterday?” The phrase “your boy,” of course, was meant to refer to any political leader who stood on the opposite side of the debate from where Tom pitched his tent. 

I usually played my part and dutifully replied, “I don’t know… who are you referring to as ‘my boy,’ Tom?”

And so it began. The thing is, Tom was exactly right. He and I did stand on diametrically opposite sides of the political fence. And his zings and jabs almost always landed… though I tried my best not to let my exasperation show.

In most other settings, people like Tom and I would have sized each other up, written one another off, turned around, and gone back to hanging out with “our kind” of people… you know, people who voted the right way, thought the right thoughts, and listened to the right newscasts. 

Fortunately, Tom and I had another identity… an identity that drew us together. An identity that forged a bond strong enough to stand up to the fickle winds of the ever-changing political weather.

You see, Tom and I were also brothers in Christ. We each jealously claimed the identity conferred on us at our baptism… people created in God’s holy image, set aside, blessed, loved, and forgiven by the Creator of All That Is. 

We also knew that this deeper, DNA-level identity conveyed a deeper, much more important truth about each other than whether we were red-staters or blue-staters. We knew that this identity is the lifeboat that would carry us through even the most treacherous storms of life. 

It was the sacred link that allowed us to exchange a hearty man-hug and say, “Love you, man,” as we wrapped up and went our separate ways every Thursday.

Thinking back on those Thursday mornings years ago made me wonder… as I look out and watch people draw lines, throw rocks, hurl insults, and disparage ancestries… when will we wake up? When will we finally see one another as the brothers and sisters God created us to be? Why are we so intent on choosing sides, vying for supremacy, and being the one who comes out on top?

As Bob Dylan said, “Where have all the flowers gone… long time passing. Where have all the flowers gone… long time ago.”

Or as the Apostle Paul said, even more fittingly, “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.  Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.” (Romans 12:9-13, NRSV).

Abundant blessings;

* Not his real name

21
Sep
21

Testing… Testing…

Fall is many things.

Fall is cooler weather. Fall is turning leaves. 

Fall is back-to-school, pumpkin spice EVERYTHING, football, turning leaves, wardrobe revision, Halloween, the end of mowing, and the roll-out of next year’s new auto models. 

But most of all, fall is a TEST

Fall puts every one of us to an unerring litmus test… revealing us to be either 1.) a backward looker, 2.) a forward looker, or 3.) a liver in the moment(er). 

Which one are you?

  • Do you feel the approach of fall and wail and gnash your teeth, bereft over the fact that you can tangibly feel summer slip-sliding away?
  • Or are you the one who reaches into the drawer to grab that extra T-shirt while intoning, “Welp… looks like winter is just around the corner! Buckle up!” 
  • Or do you revel in every pumpkin-spiced moment of this ephemeral gem of a season?

Personally, I love fall. I love the riot of color, the ramp-up of activity, the cool evenings, and the comfy days. I love the beginning of football season and the wind-down (for fans of the Kansas City Royals such as me) of baseball. And now that I’m retired, I love the fact that fall means kids are back in school, allowing Joan and I to travel to popular places without battling such huge crowds.

For all its perfection, though, fall always seems to come to an end WAAAAAY too quickly. I’ve lost track of the number of times I have heard myself moan and say, “Gee whiz! It seems like we just went straight from summer into winter this year, with nothing in between.” 

What do you think; is it possible that fall is so sweet because it is so short

A little bit like this present, advanced stage of life, methinks. 

All of us feel the tug-of-war that pulls us between the temptation to agonize over our past faux pas’ and our titillating hopes and dreams for the future. We older folks probably lean more to the former than the latter I imagine.

In rare moments of self-awareness, we reluctantly admit that neither our past nor our future is accessible to our influence. Yet despite the force of this searing insight, it is still not enough to keep us from overlooking and discounting the treasure laying right HERE at our feet. 

And just like the fleeting season of fall, we suddenly turn around and realize it has all gone **POOF!** and disappeared in a big puff of smoke. 

There is nothing you or I can do to slow the inexorable march of the hours of the day, the seasons of the year, or the rapid advance of our own mortality. 

What we can do, though, is breathe deeply, savor richly, and give thanks to God for the beauty of this immeasurable moment called LIFE. As the psalmist so eloquently reminds us, “The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children — with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts.” (Psalm 103:15-18, NRSV).

Happy Pumpkin Spicing, y’all!

Abundant blessings;

14
Sep
21

My Own NGH List

Ninjas ASSEMBLE!

Last night the newly-crowned, 15-year-old champion of the show, American Ninja Warrior gazed earnestly into the camera and assured me, “Hey! If you can dream it and work hard, you can do ANYTHING!”

REALLY?” I replied, reaching to my left for another handful of popcorn, noticing the twinge in my shoulder as I did so. “You honestly think so?”

But hey… you have to love the kid’s heart. He started out with nothing but a dream. 

And then, with a lot of dedication and special training equipment (like his own custom-built Salmon Ladder, Jumping Spider, and Warped Wall), he took his nimble, 15-year-old body and trained it into championship shape. 

But as I sat and snacked and listened to earnest young Kaden speak, my NGH list expanded by one.

“NGH” is shorthand for “Never Gonna Happen.” [Or if you want to be a little more grammatically formal, call it the NGTH List; “Never Going To Happen.”] 

This is the list I keep of the things that are CLEARLY never going to happen in my lifetime. Despite Kaden’s heartfelt pep talk, I knew that becoming the next American Ninja Warrior is light years beyond my personal radar screen. 

It’s NGH… Never Gonna Happen.

Just like my dream of playing in the NBA. NGH. Or climbing Mount Everest. Also NGH. To this list I should probably also add my childhood fantasies of becoming a firefighter, or a policeman, or game show host.

NONE of those are Ever Gonna Happen.

On one hand, I find that moving things onto my NGH List is a very liberating exercise. I mean, if I keep on believing that the day will come when I finally learn to fly a plane, or become a ventriloquist, or sculpt Joan’s lovely image in marble, I invite nothing but frustration and disappointment the longer those goals remain unachieved. 

Moving that kind of stuff onto my NGH List frees me up to discover more reasonable, age-and-ability-appropriate sources of fulfillment.  

On the other hand, I have to ask myself; “Is a rapidly expanding NGH List a sign that I’ve thrown in the towel? Given up? “Settled?” Ceased dreaming?”

I think I was 19 years old when I first uttered the phrase, “Someday, I’m going to write a book.” Today, at nearly 70 years, that dream remains unfulfilled. 

Please understand: I’ve started several books. One even grew to a little more than 11,000 words. 

Each time, however, I have abandoned the effort as I became overwhelmed, discouraged, lost, or disappointed with the sub-standard quality of my effort. But then I pick up someone else’s printed, published work, and become simultaneously inspired and intimidated

And yet, despite the internal turmoil this causes me, I am still not willing to move “Write a book” onto my NGH List.

Ultimately, I (and probably all of us) must look soberly at our goals and ask the question, “Is this quest ‘of God’? Or is it just me and my idle fantasizing?” Another way of asking the same question might be: “Is this THING part of my divinely-appointed PURPOSE in life? Or not?” 

If the answer to that question is YES, nothing should stop you from carrying it out. If it is NOT, you should waste no time adding it to your own personal NGH List

I take a measure of comfort from the Bible’s story of the Israelites. Their divinely appointed purpose (recorded in Genesis 12:3) was to be a set-apart people through whom God would bless all of Creation.

But to get there, they had to endure 400 years of enslavement in Egypt, 40 years of wandering aimlessly in the Sinai wilderness, and then untold months of vicious, mortal combat before they finally “arrived.” I am sure most of them wanted to put “Be God’s Chosen People” on their NGH List at around year six of their time in Egypt.

And yet, despite all the delays, all the setbacks, all the disappointments, and all the dead-ends, God’s purpose for the Israelites was ultimately fulfilled. As the prophet Isaiah reminds us, “… but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:31, NRSV).

Today, no matter what new things are being added to YOUR NGH List, take heart. Wait on God. Renew your confidence that God has a purpose and a path for you.

Abundant blessings;

03
Sep
21

What do you know?

Photo Taken In Kln, Germany

“Look at this,” Joan said as we drove to the park the other day. “According to this FitBit report I just received, I had more average steps per month last year than this year, a higher average heart rate, and got 8 minutes more sleep per night.”

She paused a moment, pondering. “You know… I’m not really sure I need to know all of that right now.”

“Well, sweetie,” I replied… ever the sage. “You know what they say, ‘Knowing is always better than NOT knowing.’”

In return, I received the well-deserved – yet incredibly loving – eye roll.

In the grand scheme of things, it was just another one of those silly spousal exchanges that happen all the time. 

NBD, right? 

But in the silence that ensued, I couldn’t help but ask myself; “IS IT though? IS knowing always better than not knowing? And who is this ‘they’ that seems so cocksure that it is?”

By nature, and nurture both, I am strongly biased in the direction of knowing. My parents were both fierce advocates of learning and and knowledge and being informed. Right up until he died in January 2017, my father was on top of every relevant event in his community, state, nation, and world. You had to stay on your toes around him because a mandatory current events conversation was a part of every family gathering.

Lately, though, I wonder. 

What I mean is, I wonder about the toll “being informed” takes.

I also wonder what difference it makes that I know the exact, up-to-the-minute COVID death tolls, or the precise margin of victory for the Tennessee senatorial primary, or how many acres have now been burned by the Caldor fire, or the concise number of Americans left behind in Afghanistan, or the minor league ERA of Royals pitcher Joel Payamps, or how many angels can REALLY dance on the head of a pin?

I can easily find answers to ALL these questions right here in my comfy, Fort Collins living room…

… and then do WHAT about any of them, exactly?

Two and a half years ago, when we first received Joan’s cancer diagnosis, the oncologist asked us if we wanted to know what stage it was. Because that’s the question everyone asks, isn’t it? 

“Ooooo! That’s too bad. What stage is it?”

But we said, “Nope. No thanks. Let’s just get busy getting it treated.”

And that’s just exactly what we did. And today, praise God, after surgery, chemo, and careful monitoring, Joan is now in complete remission. Hallelujah!!

We learned what we needed to learn and no more. We did not drive ourselves crazy amassing all the “what if?” and “why?” and “why not?” scenarios floating around. We – and our family, friends, and medical specialists – got very tunnel-visioned and prayer-focused and plugged doggedly ahead.

Our approach was an attempt to mirror the unique brilliance of the line, “And give us this day our daily bread,”(Matthew 6:11, NRSV), that Jesus offered us in his perfect prayer template. 

Such a powerful phrase. Jesus here seems to be suggesting that we not spend a lot of energy fretting about anything more than the needs of THIS day. Just like the manna from heaven the Israelites enjoyed… God’s provision will always be sufficient for right now

A little later in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says the same thing to the assembled crowd in a slightly different way. He says, “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” (Matthew 6:34, NRSV). 

They say what you don’t know can hurt you.

But sometimes I wonder if what we DO know can hurt just as badly.

Abundant blessings;

31
Aug
21

Thank you, Von Trapps

Last week – in fact, one week ago today – I climbed a mountain. 

Literally.

The name of the mountain was Horsetooth Rock. One look at it will explain where the name came from. Horsetooth is not a huge, hulking mountain. In fact, it is rather modest by Colorado standards, checking in at a mere 7,500 feet tall. 

For me though, it was tall enough. As in, at several points along the way I thought there was a good chance I might fall over and die, leaving my carcass to be picked over by the buzzards.

But I didn’t. In fact, I made it to the top, rested, and then made it all the way back down.

Along the way I learned some life lessons… a couple of which I have already made note of in this blog postand this one, in case you missed them. 

My original idea was to compose a separate, new post for each of the lessons I learned on Horsetooth. Instead, I think I will use the rest of this space today to hit the highlights of ALL the lessons so I might move on to bigger and better topics. 

 Without further ado, then, may I present;

Lesson #3.) CLIMBING AIDS ARE YOUR FRIENDS:

In my first “Lessons from Horsetooth” post, I included a picture of my left foot. There beside my foot you might have seen the shadow of a “trekking pole” … or hiking stick to the uninitiated. There weren’t many other people climbing Horsetooth that day who used poles or sticks to help them, so I felt a little bit like a softie. But honestly, that pole was an absolute life saver. So it is in life. Sometimes we need a little climbing aid, or a leg up. We might think it makes us look a little feeble to, for example, stop and ask directions, or ask for help, or own up to our weaknesses. 

If that is the way you feel, GET OVER IT! We all need a little assist now and then. Recognizing that need is a strength, not a weakness.

Lesson #4.) TAKE BREAKS. LISTEN TO YOUR BODY

Remember: as you live, you are not competing with anyone. There are no ribbons for reaching your particular summit before others reach theirs. When your body (or your mind, or your spirit) tells you it is time to stop, sit down, and rest, DO IT! In addition to renewing yourself, you will provide a valuable lesson to everyone who sees you stopping and resting. They might even follow suit! 

Lesson #5.) CULTIVATE FRIENDSHIPS ALONG THE WAY

When I finally got to the top of Horsetooth, I met a guy who was already there. His name was Chris. Chris and I started talking about the climb, the view(s), the fantastic weather, and our previous climbing experiences. According to a couple of patches on Chris’ backpack, I saw that he was an Afghanistan War veteran. So we talked about the war and the U.S. pullout. After discovering Chris was also an avid fan of the San Francisco 49ers football team, we had material to discuss for the entire trip back down. (And yes… he is still stinging from Super Bowl LIV). The rapport and camaraderie between us made the descent almost pleasant.

The same is true about our life journeys. When we choose to walk them alone, we find that every challenge along the way is a lot more difficult, the joys aren’t quite as joyous, and the questions dwell and nag at us a lot more.

 Companions lighten every load and heighten every celebration.

“Look mom! I’m on a mountain!”

And finally…

Lesson #6: THE TOUGHER THE CLIMB, THE SWEETER THE SUMMIT

Almost anyone you asked would tell you that climbing Horsetooth Rock is NBD… no big deal. For little, ol’, spindly-legged me though, it was RUGGED. I wanted to quit at least 20 times. After one quarter of the way up, my heart was beating loudly in my ears and my back was really giving me trouble. There were times I said, “OK, that’s far enough. Time to go back.” All of which meant that when I finally made it to the top, I was BURSTING with pride and joy at having made it. 

Keep that in mind the next time you are slogging through an oatmeal swamp, battling hornets, and carrying a 50-pound pack on your back in 112-degree heat: It is going to be SOOOOO SWEET when you finally get where you’re going.

In the middle of the very worst part of their exile experience, God spoke to the Israelites through the prophet Isaiah and told them, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” (Isaiah 43:2, NRSV).

And here is the best news of all: God says exactly the same thing to YOU in the middle of your worst day/week/year. 

And so, as the Von Trapps said so musically; “Climb every mountain! Ford every stream!”

Abundant blessings;

27
Aug
21

Strong Shoulders

Horsetooth Rock at sunrise

Earlier this week, I proudly puffed out my chest and told you about my singular achievement of climbing the famed “Horsetooth Rock” here in Fort Collins, CO. It took me about two hours of climbing to reach the top… 30 minutes of sitting down and basking in the sun… and one-and-a-half hours to get back down.

Although Horsetooth is considerably smaller than any of the 58 “fourteeners” in this state, it was still a challenge for my nearly 70-year-old legs and lungs. I was tempted at several points to stop, look around, and say, “OK… that’s close enough. Time to head back down.”

But I didn’t!

Yay me! Right?

But here is the thing; at just about every step along the way, I was reminded that I did not accomplish this legendary feat all on my own. First of all, the fact that I was following a TRAIL meant that someone else had gone before me and blazed that trail. 

Those unseen saints also thoughtfully installed some strategically placed BENCHES along the way… benches I never passed by.

Then, at a couple of places along the way, the trail became very steep. And wonder of wonders, those same unseen ancestors were compassionate enough to install wooden steps (shown here) and carve footholds in the sheer granite face. 

But guess what else? Not all my aides-de-camp on this trip were invisible! My sails also received an extra puff of wind from a few flesh and blood people I met along the way. There was the older gentleman who was coming back DOWN from the top just as I was getting started. 

Just the sight of him spryly descending helped lighten my load. 

Then there was that young couple (he: shirtless. She: in sneakers. They: not even carrying water) who, when I called out, “You two make it look too easy!” replied with, “Oh no… we’re struggling.” 

(Yeah… right.)

Isn’t that true in life, too? Don’t any of us who make some kind of noteworthy notch in our belts almost ALWAYS stand on the shoulders of others in order to do so? 

I can’t even begin to count the sets of shoulders I have climbed on to be where I am today. On my parents’ shoulders I learned about how a couple is called to submerge THEIR wants and needs below the wants and needs of their children… time and time again.

On my father’s shoulders I learned about the courage it took to make a radical professional restart and follow a higher calling.

My mother’s shoulders gave me the vantage point to see the importance of connecting with the world outside my town’s, my state’s, my nation’s borders. She also showed me what it meant to love the written word.

My junior high friend Kirk’s shoulders were just high enough to help me see that it is possible to take your faith in Christ seriously and not be a complete social pariah. 

And so on and so on… ad infinitum.

Even though the story of the children of Israel is a story filled with struggle, captivity, violence, disobedience, and despair, there was always a faithful remnant who remembered and celebrated God’s promise. In their darkest moments of exile, they were able to look back and see the shoulders of faith they stood on and take solace. 

That is what allowed David to bow his head and write this psalm: “Then we your people, the sheep of your pasture, will praise you forever; from generation to generation, we will proclaim your praise.” (Psalm 79:13, NRSV).

Take a moment and think about all the different sets of shoulders YOU stand on today. Name them by name. Make a list of how they helped you. Offer a silent prayer of thanks for their sacrifice…

… and then go out and offer your shoulders to someone else.

Abundant blessings;




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