Categories
Adventure Dogs Perspective Pets

The Interruption IS The Plan

I have my plan to write and post a significant piece of the book every weekend and it’s a good plan. It helps motivate me and focuses my energy. It lets others know what to expect. But that assumes I was right in my plan all along, and that’s not the way the best parts of life seem to work. If I am paying attention, the interruptions are often better than the plan.

The God of Surprise

If I had everything figured out in advance, that means I know what I’m doing. Obviously, this is not the case. I have to leave open the possibility that God is trying to tell me something. I have to listen for his voice. I have to admit that I have a lot to learn. This seems like humility, and I suppose it is, but there’s something much more fun about it.

It’s an adventure. It’s a new road that appears over the hill. It’s a new book from my favorite author. It’s a surprise party. It is the unexpected appearance of an old friend.

This last one is, in fact, what happened.

My phone dinged and I checked my messages, expecting another communique of domestic bliss, like, – pick up some milk. Instead, it was a text message from the other side of the world. My friend, who shall remain somewhat mysterious due to his occupation, was going to be in town this weekend and was looking for a place to stay.

I quickly responded and all my well-considered plans were abandoned.

I have been called spontaneous, impulsive and mercurial. I made that last one up. I don’t know anyone who uses the word mercurial in real life but it sounded better than rash or flaky. I might even have earned the reputation, even though I’m generally dependable. But, for all my stalwart reliability, there is one great truth I have learned.

Good Things Happen!

While we have trained ourselves to expect the worst, good things happen all the time. And if I’m not on the lookout for them, they just slip away.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen a beautiful sunset or a startling moonrise when I had other plans. When I look around to see who else is sharing this spectacle, I usually find people with their heads down, driving or looking at their phones or sitting in their offices. And then the moment has passed.

Or perhaps my dog whines and nuzzles at my elbow and, against my better judgment and schedule, I relent and take her for a walk.  This one nose-nudge sets in motion a glorious walk on a beautiful day that I had previously ignored. Think about it. How many spectacularly beautiful days does one get in life? And how many have I missed sitting in a darkened studio?

Accidental Plans

What I have discovered is that few people ever end up where they planned. Success awaits somewhere along another way. We back into it or stumble upon it or get nudged toward it by someone who loves us. A friend of mine stumbled upon his extremely profitable career this way.

His wife thrust a paper in front of him and said, “This is perfect for you. If you don’t apply for this job, I’m never cooking for you in this kitchen again!” His answer?

“She’s a really good cook, so I applied and got the job.”

Another good friend of mine changed his life, followed his dreams and started a company all because of an Uber driver he met when his truck broke down. When I asked him what was wrong with his truck he replied, “I don’t know. It was always breaking down.” But this time the breakdown was a blessing.

Someone Else’s Plan?

So maybe our best life strategy will be planned by someone else. Or triggered by a text. Or instigated by some encouraging comment.

While we have our dreams, we honestly don’t know what we easily do that’s valuable to other people. It’s not valuable to us because it’s so easy. Or we devalue it because it’s fun.

In this case, the only way to discover our unique gift is for someone else to tell us. We’re too self-focused to see it. It looks backward in our mirror.

A Great Time

I can’t claim to have had a life-changing, career-starting time this weekend but I know one thing for sure. I couldn’t let the opportunity pass.

We had long, rambling conversations. We ate good food. We shared old memories. We reflected on the state of the world from an expanded perspective. We had a great time.

We probably won’t see each other for several years, though he invited me to stop by anytime I’m passing by the other side of the globe. I laughed. He laughed. But he repeated the offer when we said goodbye.

Who Knows?

Until that moment, the thought had never crossed my mind. But now I know that it’s a possibility. There’s a tickling in my brain at the prospect. There’s a bit of wonder at what life might bring. Could there be more to it than imagined? Maybe it’s better than I dreamed.

My small ideas in my small room seemed to have stretched themselves and shaken out the kinks. My small idea of God might have enlarged. A beautiful sunset could be waiting outside right now.

But I’ll never know unless I go and see . . .

Categories
Blog Featured Latest Nature Politics Prayer

Reflections On The State Of The Union

Woke

I woke up this morning a little after 3 AM to meditate on life and the state of the world. Who knows why? These things happen. After a while it was obvious that I wasn’t going back to sleep, so Nessie and I decided to investigate the refrigerator. You know, just for a security sweep. It pays to be aware. And that’s when I noticed.

Thanks to a (wonderful) neighbor who keeps his exterior lights set on nuclear wasteland all night, we sleep with shades and blinds drawn because the pulsing patterns of blood vessels through your eyelids get annoying when you’re trying to sleep and my solar eclipse sunglasses always fall off. Anyway, as I walked into the kitchen I realized my iPhone flashlight was no longer necessary.

Outside was beautifully illuminated by a pale blue light. In spite of the fact that I was ill-clad and the temperature was 27°, when I opened the patio door for Nessie I leaned out to take a look. What I saw inspired me to forgo the everpresent iPhone camera and reach for larger glass. The result, unfiltered or processed, appears above.

This, of course, only hints at the beauty of the scene as the entire countryside was reprocessed and filtered by God’s Photoshop and the world was viewed anew, colors muted, in crisp shades of blue. Breathtaking. Peaceful. Mesmerising.

Did I mention 27°?

If it weren’t for the temperature/clothing issue, I would still be out there. Instead, my oh-so-awake brain led me to my computer to share the moment with you and a comment.

You see, my Facebook was alive with politics and I am usually all in but the perspective of that moon held my focus. The sun is an essential miracle that drives the engine of life from a carefully measured 93 million or so miles away. I could go on. And have. But the moon. That’s a different story.

Scientists say that without its gravity stirring the world’s oceans that life would cease to exist on this planet but that doesn’t account for the beauty of the scene before me. The reflected light of the sun could be written off as a simple result of geometry but the awesomeness of the sight cannot. The fact that I was here at this time, in this place, to see it and had the capacity to experience the wonder of it all cannot be ignored.

I See God

I see intent and design beyond mere need. I look up into the night sky and see the universe turning silently on invisible bearings, never disappointing, far beyond the scope of my imagination. The delicate balances are, thank God, beyond the reach of human touch, for we would surely wreck it just to see if we could.

No committee on the moon had to stay up and make sure it remained full all night. No government regulations were required. No mewling college students or pontificating politicians were needed. No reporter thought to remark on the state of the moon or commented on the hand-wringing need for more light on some days and the unfair abundance of beauty on others.

God takes care of the theater and lighting and stage upon which we strut. We simply assume it is our destiny.

But such a tiny troupe on such a magnificent stage should give one pause, don’t you think? I am reminded of the story of a friend who told me his life was entirely changed on the night he looked up in wonder and simply said, “Thank you for the moon.”

 

Categories
Latest Nature

Tree Glow: The Wonder Where My Day Begins

One of my favorite moments of the day is when the sun rises to just below the horizon and the rays first touch the treetops but I am still in the shadows. It happens so quickly that it’s almost like live-viewing a time-lapse video. I imagine that I can feel the earth turning beneath my feet as the cosmic machinery moves. The sliding angles are set from 93 million miles away and the sun-tipped branches glow like candles.

I am small and the birds begin to sing.

I did not create this. I am barely able to grasp this. Even now I am a child mesmerized by the turning of a brightly-colored toy whose mechanisms I cannot imagine. My wonder is my worship and I believe God watches my eyes widen and my breath catch and smiles.

Categories
Featured Nature

Breakfast Surprise

Suzie woke with the alarm and immediately asked, “Do you want McDonald’s for breakfast?”

“Sure,” I answered. It was a no-brainer. Suzie works hard and rarely indulges herself, so when she votes for fun the answer is obvious.

This picture was taken out my window where we parked to eat. Swallows skimmed between the taller stems but otherwise not a breeze whispered, not a straw moved. The sun in its golden hour bathed the scene.

It turned into a beautiful nature moment that I thought I’d share with you. Sometimes the smallest thing can fill you with energy to face the work of the day.

Categories
Featured Nature Spiritual

The Light Unseen

The night sky is filled with light. Filled with it!

I’m not talking about the moon or stars or planets or milky way. I’m talking about blazing, powerful light. But we cannot see this powerful light because there is nothing to reflect it.

Think of it. All of the sunlight from the brightest summer day to the whitest winter snow is contained in the evening sky. But it’s just passing through until it hits the Moon or Venus or the earth’s atmosphere.

Until then we are in the shadows, hidden from the sun and blind to the powerful light racing through the vast space above.

But now we know it’s there – light, unhampered by the darkness, it’s power and beauty undiminished by it.

In truth, the darkness we fear, which seems so solid and forbidding, is really nothing. The light takes no notice of it at all. It simply races on until it finds something with enough substance to reflect it’s glory.

In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
John 1:4
Photo: Nocturne by Leo Grübler via Flickr
Categories
Encouragement Exercise Featured Health Nature Uncategorized

The Power of a Perfect Day

A Day That Couldn’t Be Ignored

This morning I decided to treat myself. I really should have worked and written all day but it was an amazing morning. Amazing! On the first day of August at 8AM it was 62 degrees and cloudless.

If I could have ordered a day in a catalog it couldn’t have been better. But to have such a day surprise us in the middle of a long, hot summer made it more precious, a gift too valuable to waste.

Easy Optimism

On such a day anything is possible. Nothing is too far to reach. You can achieve miracles. You believe in the beauty of life, the victory of good over evil and that love will triumph. The idea of sitting in a messy office all day was the only impossible thing I could imagine.

Unfortunately, I was alone. Suzie had to work. My son was busy. Whatever I was going to do it would be solo. I don’t really mind being alone. It gives me time to think, time to let my mind unwind and spin easily.

Having such a beautiful day all to myself, however, I was going to have to work hard at not feeling guilty. Okay, maybe not that hard.

The Revelation

So much has been written about the restorative power of being in nature – the anti-depressive quality, the stress relief and health benefits of activity – that I shouldn’t have to mention it here except for one thing. Invariably, consistently all of those studies leave out one thing:

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.
~Jesus, Matthew 10:29 (NIV)

They will never, ever mention God.

If you connect the vast complexity and detailed co-dependancy of nature with the powerful creativity and care of the Creator then nature is infused with the richness of purpose and meaning. The benefits are multiplied.

Adventure Time!

I headed out in a direction I hadn’t been in a long time to explore. I took Lewisburg Pike out of Colombia with a vague plan to find the state park Suzie and I had seen once years ago. As I marveled at the brilliant sky and lack of humidity, I rose through a set of ridges. Just beyond a bridge over a deep gorge that intrigued me, I saw a sign proclaiming Stillhouse Hollow Falls State Natural Area.

That’s all the information I needed to stop. At the trailhead I found a map and signs indicating a short walk and two trails but I knew better. The sign didn’t show the 175 feet of elevation change. It was like hiking seven tenths of a mile down a seventeen story building . . . and back up.

The last sentence combines both bragging and complaining, each equally being the explorer’s favorite pastimes.

But was it worth it? A 75 foot, crystal-clear, ice-cold waterfall on a perfect day? I think so . . .

The Day’s Rewards

I didn’t worry. Nature turns off the worry button.

I didn’t get angry – not even at the news. You know the news. I didn’t even think about it.

I exercised and I didn’t even mind! Two miles and a 17 story building worth of up and down means I’m sore today but it was far more fun than the gym.

I saw wildlife: some beautiful spider webs, a tiny praying mantis, a baby brown thrush from two feet away and a squirrel. Nature is full of surprises.

I was reminded that God is in charge of all, no matter how I fail. I was left with a peace and joy that have lasted long enough to crank my stress levels down and let my faith shine through.

I was pulled outside of myself and my spinning brain and my small perspective. My problems got smaller with the bigger perspective. I can close my eyes and go back there in my memory knowing that the real thing is out there right this moment, waiting for me to return.

I can’t wait . . .

 

Categories
Blog Change Dogs Endurance Featured Pets

If It Was Easy . . .

*Please note – I started this post last Saturday and couldn’t finish.

Unplanned Interruptions

Today I bandaged a dog’s foot. It was not my plan.

Daisy, my nervous, tiny, loving, competitive, unobservant, endlessly shivering Boston terrier, got stepped on by my massive, loving, competitive, unobservant, big-footed, rake-clawed, tightly wound Labrador retriever, Nessie.

Though Boston is assuredly capable of winning endless Superbowls, in the battle to get through our back door a decade old pup bred to sit on the lap of a Boston blue-blood is no match for a hound the size of a walrus bred to swim the Labrador Sea in the icy north Atlantic, dragging fishing nets behind.

Competitors, Sisters, Best Friends

It can’t be easy for Daisy living in the house with Nessie, but she doesn’t believe that it’s the size of the dog that counts. Daisy is, in a word, fearless.

She can often be found barking at the back fence at our neighbor’s giant black mastiff. Not just barking but digging in a frenzy while throwing frenzied doggie challenges to the unconcerned bear-sized monster. She wants a piece of him.

Daisy has clawed down chunks of wooden fencing in her pursuit, and if she wasn’t stopped would dig through. I’m certain she would stand her ground between us and Godzilla if the need arose.

But her late night dance at the back door in between Nessie’s lumbering paws did not go so well. She squealed as she got stepped on twice. Last night she bounced right back but by this morning she couldn’t put her left foot on the ground. Closer inspection revealed a nasty gash between her toes. Something had to be done and since Suzie was at work it was up to me.

Ideas Are Easy

My plan this morning was to change the world. I would bound out of bed, work out furiously, get Suzie to work and write something that would make a difference. I would start a business, invent time travel, find the cure for heartburn and take a break for lunch.

Instead, I stumbled out of bed, shuffled my way to the back door to let the dogs out and found that Daisy couldn’t walk.

After debating an emergency trip to the doggy ER, I decided I could probably take care of her paw. I drove to one store for bandages and another for a doggie boot to keep the bandage on. I washed the foot, applied antibiotic pain-killing goo, bandaged and booted a bull-headed dog and fell asleep cuddling her. Sigh.

Spoiled Rotten

I must remember this. There has never been an idea or a dream worth pursuing that didn’t immediately spawn buzzing distractions, urgent interruptions and downright emergencies.

I’ve been spoiled by recording studios. Imagine a sound proof room designed for creating with people turning away distractions at the front door and holding all calls. Cell phones are off. There are electronic locks, intercoms and buzzers to preserve your creative privacy.

No clocks are allowed. People actually expect to work late into the night. Talk is kept to whispers and flashing technology dances at your fingertips. Producers crack the whip and you can really get work done.

Change The World . . . Tomorrow

But out here in the real world I have no dog-bandaging interns. Puppies need love now. So do the rest of us. And there’s the point.

All of my world-changing ideas are a poor substitute for simple kindness and committed love – right now! Not movie love or novel love or internet love but the plain old, everyday, hard-working kind of love that the real world needs: take-out-the-garbage, clean-up-baby-vomit, change-diapers, bandage-the-dog kind of love.

Change The World A Little At A Time

In the end, this kind of love is probably more valuable than the self-glorifying, big-idea, propose-while-skydiving, rent-a-limo, one-up-this, post-it-on-Facebook kind of love.

I know there’s a lot more everyday need.

All things added up, the everyday love that we give yields a lot more real-world results than a few big idea fireworks. Just imagine a world where no one took out the garbage.

Kindness happens one person at a time. It doesn’t trend, make headlines or stadium kiss cams. It’s more powerful than that.

It’s Cumulative

Persistence is the most powerful tool available to mankind. Persistent love is the best application of it.

It adds up every day like God’s version of compound interest. How does that work? Like this.

I can’t change the world in a day. But I can change the world everyday. I just can’t change it very much.

So, the thing that matters the most is not the thing I do today; it’s the thing I do everyday, consistently. All I have to do is do it again.

First = Last

On the big list of world changers my name would probably be close to the bottom. Few people know who I am. I have an average number of friends. I haven’t invented anything amazing. I haven’t discovered any breakthroughs. I don’t have a billion dollars to give away.

But I have as much love as anybody. And I have today. Fortunately, in God’s economy cash is not king. Instead, love reigns supreme.

Added up over a lifetime, that’s the investment that counts that most; it’s what matters.

Daisy’s example

That’s why I smile at my little terrier barking at my neighbor’s mastiff. It looks comical, like she’s taking on too much, but she’s not.

Her method is my example when facing big, scary problems. She knows fear is not an option. She knows it’s not the dog who barks loudest that matters, but the one that barks longest. She knows that silence never wins; persistence does.

Truth needs a voice.

Update

It’s been two days since Daisy’s foot was hurt. She’s curled up on the love seat, not because she’s hurting, but because the mastiff is banished back inside his house.

She pulled off the boot and bandage the next morning. I re-bandaged for one more night. She’s not the only stubborn one.

Now she’s running around like nothing happened. Time for me to get back to work.

The world won’t change itself . . .

Daisy's Favorite Place

Categories
Adventure Blog Dogs Encouragement Featured Never Give Up Pets Success

Knowing My Limitations In 2014

Nessie’s Limitations

It’s hard to know your limitations. Nessie is a good example. She is a chocolate Lab mix. We’re still debating about the mix part. Some days I think it’s German Pointer. Today I’m convinced it’s antelope.

It was a beautiful day and, at one year old, she needed to burn off some steam. She has plenty of steam. She ran circles around me, racing and leaping, smelling and chasing for around three miles before she slowed. Just in case you were wondering, I did not go that far.

For every step I took she bounded ten. She slowed to plough into a bracing stream and later a soggy bog. She frantically pursued, but did not catch, a black cat, a random assortment of birds and a large, unperturbed bull.

Reaching Her Limit

Nessie finally slowed to a steady lope and then sat down – done, over, exhausted. Or so I thought. In reality she was just waiting for me and scanning for her next target.

After a solid four count, she was off. Her exhaustion was only a fantasy on my part.

Puppies Know No Limitations

Puppies will use their last reserve. You have to watch out for them because they won’t stop until they reach it. I once ended up carrying her for miles down a mountain trail because she hit her limit unexpectedly.

But that was months ago. Her one-year-old limits haven’t been challenged by me any time recently. Now it’s awe-inspiring to watch her run. Speed with abandon. People comment on it.

Limitations Move

A dear friend of the family rescues dogs when he’s not treating cancer. He has a theory:

“People say Labs need to exercise a certain amount every day to stay calm.
I say you’re only training them for longer distances.”

The reason puppies hit their limit is because they don’t know where it is. It keeps expanding. Yesterday’s limit is today’s warmup.

A long-term, determined commitment leads far beyond one day’s limitations. The only way to find out where the wall stands today is to reach it.

False Limitations

Far too often we don’t even come close to reaching our limits. We stop before we even break a sweat and settle for last year’s limitations without thinking.

Or maybe someone else sets your limits for you, flagging you down, warning you to be cautious, threatened by the ease of your progress.

That’s not the way we do things around here. It’s never been done before. Better stop before you get hurt.

Good Enough

We stop without ever catching a glimpse of our potential, content that we’ve done more than expected, feeling like we’ve earned a break.

I do not know which is worse – letting someone else decide our potential or stopping before we can discover it for ourselves. Either way we are left with the distant hollow echo of what we might have been.

Fear Of Failure

From hard experience we know that failure hurts. It’s embarrassing. It’s hard to bounce back. We pay a personal price. But we learn from it.

The silent price of staying firmly in our comfort zone is permanent ignorance of what heights we can achieve. In the long run, this is far more corrosive to the soul.

It would be better to fear stopping one step away from success, giving up too soon, being less than we were made to be.

Knowing My Limitations

So, for 2014, I have determined my goals. I do not have a resolution but instead I determine to be resolute.

I will push until I find out where my limits are and then push to expand them, to grow bigger than my training has allowed before.

Like Nessie, I will daily test my limits to see where they are now.

Because the only way you can truly know your limits is to reach them.

Nessie’s Nose

As I hit save on this post, Nessie’s cold nose hit my elbow. Tail wagging. Eyes glowing. Ready for more.

2014, here we go . . .

 

Photo Credit: Charlie enjoying Scappoose Creek by R0Ng via Compfight cc

Categories
Blog Change Featured Pets Travel

Re-thinking Things

Moved

The move is done. Well, there are still boxes. And the books aren’t in the shelves. But it’s amazing just how many things you can do without when you’re tired enough.

Maybe that’s a good test. What matters when I’m exhausted? What are the essentials? Hmm . . .

Essentials

Glasses. You need glasses. Drinking out of your hand is useless, fabulous opposable thumb notwithstanding. I had to find that box quickly.

That’s what I mean. Life stripped to the essentials, a bare house waiting, what really matters?

Beds are nice. But not necessary, as I proved on the first night in our new house.

The movers didn’t show. Something about a dog bite and an emergency room. It’s not that I don’t feel for him but after picking up everything I own and staring at my wife, Mom and dog in a cold, empty house, I had other priorities.

What we think moving will be like . . .

Beds

The only hotel within thirty miles wouldn’t take dogs. Two signs. One on the door. One on the desk. The night clerk asked. They really must not like dogs.

So, Suzie and Mom got a room while Nessie and I went back to the house. We shared a floor. She alternated between me in the darkened bed-less bedroom and the den where I left a light on. Mostly, she preferred being with me. It was nice.

In the morning my back felt great. The back that just picked up everything it owned. I was surprised.

So, no. Beds aren’t necessary. Dogs are.

A Fence

In the morning Nessie explored her new house and thought a home without furniture was wonderful. More room to run. Then I opened the magic glass wall and let her discover the back yard for the first time.  She thought we’d moved to a dog park.

The fenced yard was  a necessity. Not for Nessie but for Mom.

With a lot of hard work and miles of walking, Mom has recovered from the toxic effects of a drug reaction remarkably. She can do almost anything but leash walking a one-year-old Lab puppy with four wheel drive and a bird fetish is a step too far.

With the fence, Mom can just open a door and Nessie’s problems are solved. Necessities are always attached to people.

What moving is actually like.

Needs Not Desires

Sorting out needs concerning Suzie is more difficult. Not that she’s needy. That’s one of the things I love about her. I want to give her the wildest desires of her heart but the things she desires aren’t things at all.

That turns the Christmas list upside down. It’s not about what I buy her; it’s about how I love her. It’s about who she loves.

That’s harder than things. It requires time and thought. The pursuit of things can actually get in the way. No wonder she’s always trying to throw things away. Even things that I think are important, like that favorite old shirt or that tool for the thing in the place that I might use someday.

Things Are For People

People are more important than things. That’s easy. Use things and love people, not the other way around.

But the practical application of this clear principle is not so clear sometimes. Why do I spend so much time on things? When is a thing important enough to matter? What things are important enough to haul to another city? What things matter enough to take up space in my life?

These questions are easily avoided until you’re standing at the back of an empty moving truck.  In the end, I threw away some things and kept some as essential and stored some to put off the decision. But the priorities became clear.

The people in my life that I love are the reason a thing is important or useless. If a thing helps someone I love then it matters. If not then it’s just cluttering up my truck.

Now, if I can just remember that when I’m not moving.
Photo Credit: quinn.anya via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: paulypics via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: genista via Compfight cc

Categories
Blog Change Featured Nature Recovery Uncategorized

Sneaky Dreams

Some dreams develop slowly, like an old Polaroid picture, too slow to see the change but impossible not to notice. They kind of sneak up on you. And before you know it, you’re hooked.

For example, a writer I know suggested that you just start writing a book without really knowing what it’s about. He said sometime around page sixty or so the novel will suddenly appear in the corner of your mind. Inspiration will unfold until you have he whole picture.

One of my sneakier dreams began with a story about a tree and what it does to us. Not a forest, not a landscape, but just a single tree. It’s a pretty amazing story but I think maybe I’ll let someone else tell it.

Someone like Marsh Hirsch . . .

 

You can also see That Tree on Facebook HERE

Photo Credit: Tree Reflection – Nikos Koutoulas via Flickr