Blog Emotional Spiritual

Being There

We spent yesterday in a hospital with family. It was all too familiar, except this time we were there for someone else.

With all of our experience there was very little we could do. We have no medical expertise. We can perform no miracles. We cannot make the pain of loss go away.

But still we went. That we could do. And we prayed. And hugged.

We were accosted, annoyed and crowded by strangers. Nurses interrupted prayers and held loud, laughing conversations just outside the door. Doctors held out no hope and impatiently summed up test results. There were papers to be signed by one suddenly responsible for another who could make no legal decisions due to anesthesia. Rings were taken off for surgery and held.

The waiting room was set to meat locker temperatures. News was on the television, as if anyone there really cared what happened in the rest of the world. Conversations distracted from the impossibly slow clock.

It was all familiar.

People were courageous. The horrible day was faced. Outcomes came. Heroes rose to the occasion. Tears were shed. Food was eaten. TV was watched.

It could have been worse. Not the outcome, but the way it was handled. No one got drunk, threw punches or had searing arguments that would never be forgotten. No one was left alone to try to put the pieces of a shattered life back together. No one panicked. No one was sued or arrested.

What could have been worse wasn’t. All because someone was there. Condolences were exchanged. Pain was shared. Notes were written. Facebook messages were posted. Phone calls were made. Prayers were lifted.

It was painful. And it always will be.

It would have been easy to declare, as some of our friends and even pastors declared to Suzie and I during our time of trouble, “I don’t do hospitals.” But we learned the hard way how much it matters. We learned who our true friends were and who we could count on in a pinch. We learned how cold a waiting room can be with no one to share it.

We will never forget the people who drove all night for us, kept our children, shoved money into our hands and ordered us to eat. We will never forget the prayers and advocates and encouragement.

So, here’s a note to myself.

When it hits the fan in the middle of the night, during an important meeting, while a great game is on, when dinner is waiting, in a distant place, when you feel inadequate, cold and helpless, when V.I.P.s are annoyed and it’s all on the line . . . you make a difference.

Be there.

Adventure Blog Nature

We Call It An Adventure

Ideas are easy. Even creative ideas. What’s hard is moving them to reality. To do that takes the courage to change something. Why does that take courage? Because . . .

Even in the dark with my eyes closed, I knew she was wide awake and staring at the ceiling. Don’t ask me how this happens but after thirty five years of marriage I just know things.

“Hey,” I mumbled.

“Hey,” she answered crisply. Confirmation.

“Are you awake?”

“Yes . . .” Her tone that indicated there was more.

“Are you ready to go?”

“Yes.” This time her voice had a smile in it and she pulled back the comforter.

This was a surprise to me because last night she wasn’t quite up to what we had planned today. Sometimes she gets anxious before one of our trips. But given where some of our adventures have taken us, it’s a legitimate fear.

This one took us over a mountain in the Smokies down a one lane dirt and rock ribbon with precipitous cliffs and no guard rails. We had to wait half an hour for a crew to backhoe the road back onto the side of the mountain after rain washed it out.

Was it worth it? One of my favorite days – ever.

The goal was elk. But at 6:00AM it was a fuzzy goal. As the morning progressed it only got fuzzier. Well, make that foggier.

I tried a new highway to avoid the trucks over the ridge cut where there had been a huge, flaming accident the night before. It may have been safer, but there was no Starbucks. Cold caffeine was the only option. Don’t laugh.

But the day got better.

By 10:00AM the sky was clear and crisp. The fall colors were starting to show. The dream was beginning to pay off. None of this could be seen earlier from the snuggly dark of our bedroom. We had just taken a shot.

When we finally reached the Cataloochee Valley there was not an animal in sight. A ranger filled us in on elk lore and assured us that it would be a miracle if we didn’t see a lot of them by late afternoon.

We decided to wait and tried not to think about going back on that one-lane, rocky road, over the mountain, in the dark. We took in the sights and didn’t think about the long drive back to our motel in Gatlinburg. Yesterday it had seemed brilliant to book the room at Jack Huff’s but now it was questionable.

All day we heard elk bugling in the forest up the mountains. All day we wondered if we would see anything. All day.

This is what adventure is about. The chance for something extraordinary. The possibility of creating a memory. The effort. The uncertainty. The wondering. We could have gone home with only an empty gas tank. It wasn’t genius on my part that made it work out.

But it did work out.

Words, pictures and video cannot explain the rush of a dominant bull elk, driven by the rut, staring you straight in the eye and bugling a hair-raising challenge. Taller than a lifted 4×4 truck, able to take on bears and win, I will never forget his focused stare.

You can learn about elk from wikipedia. You can look at photos or paintings of lush fields and blue mountains. You might even imagine the feel of the wind on your skin, the sound of the breeze in the grass and the insects’ hum.

But the nature you discover is forever your own.

The effort you spend, the time and money, the uncertainty of it all only adds to the value and rarity. Your experience will be different from mine or Lewis and Clarke’s or Daniel Boone’s or Sacagawea’s.

But you are equally an explorer.

You will see a day like no one else with a perspective all your own. Your feet will sink into God’s green earth. Your nose will catch the scent. Your discovery will be your victory.

And what you find there, only you can tell.


Blog Courage Never Give Up

Still Standing

A journey of a thousand miles
begins by standing.

Standing up is important. Standing back up is even more important. Because the question isn’t what can you accomplish the first time you try. It’s what do you do the first time you fail?

Because no one gets it entirely right the first time.

We learn this first as toddlers. It’s reinforced by life itself to the point that it’s as basic as gravity. What stands up must fall down. We all know this.

But that doesn’t make standing any easier.

This blog, for example, is a continuation of a blog I started several years ago. Then we moved and things got put on hold. When I started back I had a better idea of what I wanted to do. All good. Positive spin.

Then my primary client closed the doors and fired everyone. I started over after changing almost everything in my life.

But not everyone.

Then my mother had health issues and I had to stop and take care of her. Now, I’m starting over – again.

This time Mom lives with us. Life is very different. But we’re still standing.

That’s the point.

Photo by mikebaird via Flickr
Blog Nature Physical Video

Outside of Yourself

I read a study that said walking your dog in nature lifts depression better than the best drugs we have available. If walking your dog helps, then what about walking with these guys? I have more to say about our trip but this is a great start. Do what you can to get outside your own head and experience the world around you. Inside your head can be a scary, lonely, non-inspirational place to live. Encouragement is out there to be found.





Blog Never Give Up

Reason 1.0

You only need one reason to get out of bed in the morning. This is very good news! Because finding your reason turns out to be the most significant thing when it comes to your career, your happiness and, in some cases, your survival.

You see, multitasking is a myth. The way our brains are wired, we can only think of one thing at a time. I know it doesn’t seem like it when thoughts roll over each other and we interrupt our own train of thought so often we can’t find the track. But studies show it’s the truth.

Even women, with their much ballyhooed multitasking ability, are simply shifting quickly from one single thought to another, to another. Mind you, I’m not pretending to understand the intriguing mysteries of the female mind. I’m just repeating the research.

It seems that even you ladies, who can stand interruptions, distractions and group discussions that would give me a panic attack, are simply shifting channels faster than my one track mind. Which is surprising, considering what I do with a remote control.

Be that as it may . . .

Thinking only one thing means we only need one reason, for getting up, for working, for surviving. Needing only one reason turns out to be a great thing. Because during a crisis it’s difficult to think at all. Hormones, adrenaline and fear can grind the most brilliant mind to a halt.

When things are at their worst and we’re not at our best, thinking only one thing is a God send. It’s not the time for a convoluted theological discussion or a treatise on prevailing scientific consensus. We don’t have time to study physics or learn a new language.

We need to keep it simple. We need to find one thing to hang on to, a reason to go on, a thought that can get us out of bed to confront the difficulties.

What’s the thing? It’s different for everyone. It can even change over time. It just has to get you out of yourself and get you going. Maybe it’s your children. Maybe it’s something you have to do. Maybe it’s a loved one. It could be a mission you haven’t completed. Or possibly someone you need to take care of. Or righteous indignation that demands justice. Or faith in God.

The point is to have a reason to keep going, to do the hard thing, to never ever quit. When you find your reason you will also find that you are stronger than you think. You will find that you can do more than you imagined.

So, what’s your thing?

Blog Nature Spiritual

Moon Flowers

“They only bloom at night,” she said. “And only once.”

I had never heard of Moon Flowers, which is not surprising considering the things I don’t know about flowers.

“I think tonight could be the night. I tried once before but I forgot and missed it.”

The fact that Suzie and I were visiting her sister on the only day of the year the Moon Flower would bloom and that I had my new camera with me set me on a mission. I’m prone to that, finding missions. This one was a good one – using all of my limited skill to capture the fleeting nocturnal beauty.

That night the flowers did bloom.

My first attempt failed, and my second and third. I finally got a starkly shadowed, glaringly bright shot with the flash but it didn’t begin to capture the mysterious quality of the white flowers in the darkness. Everyone quickly grew tired of my project and went back inside. The mosquitos helped.

Later that night, unable to sleep, I came up with a solution. Using a tripod, a flash muted with Kleenex and the distant light of two cell phone flashlights, along with some patient help from my indulgent wife, I got this shot.

The next morning they were still blooming due to the clouds and shade of the tall surrounding forest, though slightly wilted. I took morning pictures but I still prefer the night shot.

Night is where these flowers live. I learned that they are pollinated by night moths which are attracted to the white color. Without the darkness and moths they couldn’t survive.

It all happens while we sleep, unaware. It is one of thousands of symbiotic relationships that softly hide in nature. Not obvious but there for the seeing.

You can deny them or ignore them but, sooner or later, their beauty will surprise you. Mysteries lying in wait for the curious. Puzzles hiding from game players. Riddles for the riddlers.

Last night I watched Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close about a nine-year-old boy named Oskar Schell with Asperger’s syndrome. Before his father was killed in 9/11 he started a game of riddles and exploration for Oskar to solve. Never stop looking was their motto. Finding his father’s clues was the journey.

There are two ways to look at nature:
Either an uncountable series of unbelievable coincidences . . .
Or an endless love letter from a Father to his ever curious children.

Blog Creativity

Until You Try . . .

What do professional Class V whitewater river guides do in their spare time? They rock climb and kayak and whatever this is . . .

Josh Hoppstadter and Summer Wofford  had no idea they could do it. They just thought it would be fun to try and happened to be good at it. This was their 3rd attempt with a total of four hours worth of practice. I have a feeling it would take me a little longer.

They did it for the same reason I first picked up my Dad’s guitar. Or tried the piano. Or moved to Nashville with no firm job. Or left for the mountains with only a fresh dream in front of me. They did it with no proper research and no university training. They did it knowing they could fail completely.

And they didn’t care.

Because they knew, instinctively, that the most dangerous thing a person can ever do is to never try. Because the potential of life is always in front of us. And only the memories we make lie behind. Our defining abilities are imagination and courage. Because, to begin with,  that is only and all that we have.

Blog Nature Never Give Up Physical

Driving Miss Emma

My favorite Starbucks has a view of seven states, a fantastic rock garden and homemade fudge. Or you might say Rock City has a Starbucks.

Why do I like it so much? I’m sure it has to do with our first family vacation to someplace that didn’t have crabs. Maybe it’s the long ago memory of my Dad filling up the gas tank here when it was still a fire hall and gas station. Or it might be the thought of Mom running behind us trying to keep us on the top side of the mountain.

Perhaps it’s the joy of showing my bride her first ever mountains on our honeymoon. Possibly, it’s the mental pictures of my three children exploring here during the many day trips from Nashville. Whatever it was, it started a lifelong love of the mountains and massive rocks.

It also makes a great place for morning coffee with Mom. And that’s something to celebrate.

Just over a year ago, Mom had a rare allergic reaction to the diabetic medicine Metformin. After a long hospital stay, she ended up in a nursing home with full blown dementia . Only my sister’s research into rare side effects led us to try taking her off the medicine. Mom was better in two days. Doctors were surprised. We were thrilled.

A year later, Mom lives with us in the mountains she took me to as a child. My job has been helping her recover, which includes a lot of exercise and nature therapy. There are studies that prove that an unobstructed view of as little as one tree can decrease post-operative infections and complications. I figure, why stop with one?

My own personal experience suggests that great big rocks, swinging bridges, awesome views and Starbucks also have a wonderful effect. Of course, I have much more research to do . . .

Blog Courage Never Give Up

Dead Battery Day

It’s the little things that do you in. I’m all set to climb mountains, write a book, lose 25 lbs and change the world . . . but the car won’t start. Dead battery. Won’t charge with jumper cables. Not a peep, chirp, or moan.

Overheard in the excuse line at the Pearly Gates:”Saint Peter, I would have changed the world but there was this battery.”

Yeah, lame.

So I put my plans on hold, told my emotions to shut up and get in the truck and bought a battery. The rest of the day went to pieces. Nothing I planned got done. Who knows what would have happened if the car had started.

But that’s life.

You usually don’t get to slay dragons and save the village. You do what has to be done and don’t expect an ovation. No glory, no credit, no problem. Take out the garbage. Change a diaper. Mow the lawn. Wash the dishes. All the while dreaming of the great things you could be doing.

And life slips by. Take the kids to soccer. Pass up fries for salad. A few sets at the gym. Do your homework. Check a forehead for fever. Call a sick friend. Work hard for that promotion. Sure coach, I’d love to run the bleachers one more time. Say a prayer. Hold a door. Do the right thing. Nobody’s getting famous.

But sooner or later the dragon finally does show up. And you wish life was boring. You had better things to do than save the village. But something had to be done. So you show up one more time and do what you have to do, just like you did all those days before. And it turns out the dragon wasn’t so big. Or maybe you were bigger than you thought.

Then you go back to the boring life that now seems a whole lot better. And you realize it was all training for the dragon. And that the little things are, in fact, what life is all about. Because life is what happens when the battery goes dead. And how well you handle it.


Blog Nature

Let’s Talk About the Weather

Today is one of those anything-can-happen kind of days. After a long, hot summer and a waft of post-hurricane Gulf Coast humidity, today is a perfect day.

I took a long walk up Lookout Mountain and now I’m sitting on my favorite coffee shop patio. It’s cool, cloudless and humidity free with a slight breeze.

Things have already gone wrong today but none of it matters. It’s just too perfect! I’m happier than my life warrants and I feel like I can accomplish all of my dreams.

So, here’s the question. Where was this Dennis yesterday or last week when it rained torrents?

Nothing has significantly changed with my life. In fact, some details are worse today. But right now, I feel like no problem is too big. I’m unstoppable.

So, does the weatherman really run my life? Am I a slave to barometric pressure? Can a rain cloud really wreck my world?

Honestly, today I could care less!

Weather forecast for tonight: dark.
~ George Carlin