Two Roads Diverged


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As I am wont to do, I got up and went for a hike on Green Mountain last Friday morning.

I’ve really made a daily hike a priority lately, as a way of keeping discipline while I’m not working, getting some exercise, and having a regular quiet time for prayer or meditation.

That last one is an interesting one. I talk to God a lot on the hiking trail. Sometimes He shares things with me. And sometimes He uses the trail itself, the hiking experience, to teach me things.

There was the time I got on the trail later in the day that I realized, later in the year than I should have, and it got dark while I was still in mid-hike. And on a cloudy night under the tree cover, that’s pretty dark. The trail disappeared into darkness pretty quickly ahead of me, and for a brief moment, I was afraid I was lost. Worst-case scenario, I could have just pointed in the right-ish direction and followed the road noises when I was close enough, but cutting through the underbrush is nasty when you can’t see it. Thankfully, I realized that, while visibility was pretty limited, I could see the next step or two. And, ultimately, that’s all I needed. And, yes, the application for my life was pretty blatant. Stop worrying about the path you can’t see; take the steps you can.

Another time, I hiked in the snow, and lost the trail. I walked on in the direction I thought it was heading, but couldn’t find it again. I tried again, and again. No luck. Finally, I gave up, and turned around to go back. When I did, I saw two trails ahead of me. The one I’d came from, and the way that I was trying to go, which had doubled back at the point the snow obscured it. The message was a little esoteric, but no less fitting for the time — just because you think you’re going forward, it doesn’t mean you are, and sometimes you have to go backward to move on.

The day before the story I’m trying to get around to telling, I’d had another of those hikes. It had started sprinkling. I’d hiked in the rain a few weeks earlier, and had loved it, and so even though I was done and back in my car when it started sprinkling, I got back out and started the trail again. I prayed for some real rain. I decided that I would hike to a certain point, and if it still wasn’t pouring by that point, I would turn around and head back. So I started onto the trail. And it kept sprinkling half-heartedly. And I got about halfway to the point I had decided on, and stopped. I continued to pray for real rain, but all I got was some impressive thunder and unimpressive sprinkles. I was about to turn back. But, as I was about to, I stopped myself. No, I had said, regardless, I was going to keep pushing on to that point. So I did. And it kept sprinkling. But, as I neared that point, after I would have been off the trail if I’d turned back, it started raining in earnest. Beautifully and gloriously. It was an amazing hike. And one I would have missed if I’d given up on rain, given up on my prayer when I was first tempted to.

So, finally, Friday. I was hiking. And I was a little ways into the trail, when I noticed a divergent path. I’d never seen it before. In fact, though I found it again easily and took it a second time Friday, I’ve not seen it since, though I’ve not been really consciously looking at the right time, apparently. It was fresh, laid out with dirt but still rough. There were no official signs yet, but there were orange ribbons tied to trees along the way. So, of course, I followed it. I wanted to know where it went, if it, in fact, went anywhere yet.

And, sure enough, after following it for a bit, the trail ended. There was dirt, and then there was grass and underbrush. But as I turned around to go back, I noticed more orange ribbons tied to trees. So I followed them. At one point, I thought they ended, but, again, spotted them continuing onward at an odd angle, and kept going. Finally, they stopped again. I looked, every way I could think of, but no more ribbons. As I was about to turn around, I looked down — trail. Not fresh trail, worn trail. Looking around again, I realized that I knew exactly where I was.

Right now, with my job situation and other things in my life, I’m off the trail I thought I was following. I’m on a new path, and one that’s not marked particularly well. Friday, I had a choice of whether to follow that trail. In real life, I don’t.

But sometimes, that unmarked trail still takes us where we need to be.

On A LOST Highway


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I loved LOST.

I loved its ability to make you wonder.

OK, we know there ARE polar bears on the tropical island. But exactly WHY are there polar bears on the island? Everything was presented matter-of-factly, leaving the audience to wonder exactly what made the highly improbably possible.

And that’s why I love the car on the mountain.

It’s far and away the most interesting thing on my hiking trail — a dilapidated white car, sitting several yards off of the Sugartree Trail on Green Mountain in Huntsville.

It makes no sense at all. Having walked the area many many many times. I have no idea how it got there. And, “how” aside, I have no idea why it got there. It’s completely random, and possibly the closest thing to a LOST mystery I’ve experienced in real life.

I’ve tried treating it as a writing prompt, trying to come up with a backstory that would make it make sense. And I struggle to come up with anything I really like, anything I could really believe, that doesn’t involve someone putting it there to make people wonder why it’s there.

So, after years of walking past it, I remain as clueless as I was the first time.

And, in the age when my “Pocketful of Omniscience” iPhone can give me the answers to just about any question I can think to ask instantaneously, I love the car on the mountain for reminding me that there are some things I just don’t get to know.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Forest For The Trees


This is the latest in my series of blog entries taking a fresh look at a variety of topics over the year. I’ve set up a page on the blog explaining the project and linking to my entries. This post’s topic is “Forests.”

I wanted to do better than my post a couple of weeks ago about Gardening, which was the single worst post I’ve done in this series, but I genuinely had nothing to say about gardening. It’s just not a very me subject.

That post was so frustrating that I was automatically frustrated when I saw that the next topic was Forests, which initially struck me as little better than Gardening in the me-having-something-to-say-about-it area.

My first thought was basically, I have no experience or thoughts about forests that I can write about.

Somewhere in there, Heather offered to write a guest post for this topic that would, in fact, have been awesome, but she also said that she wasn’t going to be able to write it in anywhere near the time I needed to get this series wrapped up anytime soon, so I had to pass, but I really hope that she writes it on her blog, because, as I mentioned, it will be awesome. (I also hope she’ll make good on her guest-post interest before too long.)

My third thought — OK, what else can we do with “forests.” Something figurative? Metaphorical? Hmmm. Forests. Forests. What’ve we got?

Well, there’s the whole “can’t see the forest for the trees” cliché. Anything there? Hmmm.

Hey, wait, what exactly is a forest? Pull out the iPhone, open Dictionary.com, type in forest, and — “a large tract of land covered with trees and underbrush.” So, when you’re walking through an area that’s basically nothing but trees, that’s a forest? Like all those hours I’ve spent in the last couple of years doing exactly that? All that time has been in forests, and I’m sitting here saying I don’t have any experience with them?

I would like to think of myself as the sort of person who is good at metaphorically seeing the forest for the trees. Having the realization that I can’t even do that literally was a rather good wake-up call.

An Ill Wind (Katrina Musings)


(I originally posted this on my blog last year; I’ve updated it slightly for this year.)

Me, at the Walls of Jericho

Me, at the Walls of Jericho

I feel a bit guilty for enjoying the experience.

I remember being outside that night. I remember the wind and the rain. I remember how glorious it was — the storm was the embodiment of the raw experience of being in nature, with all its power and majesty. I remember the feeling of the driving wind and the pouring rain, and it seeming glorious. I remember enjoying it.

Elsewhere, people were losing their homes. Elsewhere, people were dying.

That night was Monday, August 29, 2005. The day that Hurricane Katrina made landfall. Five years ago today.

Five years ago, Katrina was the most remote thing in the world. Sure, it was a big deal, but not one that affected me. It was a tragedy, but that tragedy was other people’s problem. When I realized where the wind and rain had come from, I felt somewhat guilty that I had enjoyed something — the remnants of Katrina that blew over Huntsville — that had caused such devastation elsewhere, but that was it. It just wasn’t part of my life.

I first felt the wings of the butterfly that weekend, in the smallest of ways, and, looking back on my attitude, the pettiest. We had made plans for friends in Jackson, Miss,. to come visit that weekend. Given the situation in Jackson, which was still without power and would be for a while, where gasoline was a precious commodity when it could be found at all, and where people were, even that far inland, dealing with substantial damage, my friend decided not to come to Huntsville, and to try to help out there instead. And I, I’m ashamed to admit, was annoyed by the inconvenience. In my defense, I still didn’t get it; still didn’t understand the scope and magnitude of what had happened.

I’m also a bit embarrassed to admit that the next time Hurricane Katrina blew into my life, it was in a positive way. My then-wife Nicole got a job on a state contract working with Katrina evacuees in north Alabama. These were people who had been transported out of New Orleans; basically, they all boarded a bus, and were driven up Interstate 65. Along the way, they were dropped off basically randomly based on how many people could be housed in a given location. Based on the luck of the draw, they might end up somewhere like the cities of Birmingham or Huntsville, or they might end up in a small Alabama town somewhere like Cullman. Nicole’s job was to help those people adjust to life after Katrina, either by helping them get settled in Alabama or by helping them move back home. (I joked at the time that her job was to go around and be Tom Petty for her clients: “You don’t have to live like a refugee.”) It was a good job for her, and a contract that paid rather well.

The next significant time Katrina and I crossed paths was in October 2006, when I visited Stennis Space Center, the first time I’d been to the coast since landfall. It was very odd seeing the changes in Biloxi and Gulfport, where I’d visited several times during my Mississippi days. In some ways, it was hard to believe it had already been a year, in others, it was hard to believe it had only been a year. Some buildings looked like they must have immediately after the hurricane, while others (like, of course, casinos) had impressive new structures designed and built from nothing post-Katrina. It was interesting talking to people at Stennis about how their lives had been, and continued to be, different after Katrina.

Katrina would arguably affect my life substantially at least one more time — the hurricane played some role in my ex-fiancée Susanna moving from her family’s home in Louisiana, and thus very possibly some role in her ending up in Huntsville. Without it, who knows whether we would have ever met. And the wings of the butterfly keep flapping …

So why did I start this post with a picture of me hiking? In the picture, I’m holding a hiking stick, one I bought in May 2006 in Jackson, Miss. I was on the only week-long vacation I had then ever taken in my career, the time and money for which were made possible by Nicole’s state contract job. In an independent coffee shop there, I saw the stick for sale — handcrafted from wood felled during Hurricane Katrina. Given the circumstances that had led to us being there, we just had to buy it. At the time, it was just a memento. I never used it as a hiking stick until last April, when I went for my first real hike, a week after Susanna called off our engagement — the wake of a further ill wind that Katrina had helped blow into my life, years later.

The stick is a reminder — of Katrina, specifically, and all the ways it touched my life, and, in general, that no man is an island, of how something that seems completely remote and unconnected can end up changing one’s life in ways you could never anticipate.

And that even when the winds and rains come, it doesn’t mean it can’t be glorious.

Gift of Tongues


This is the latest in my series of blog entries taking a fresh look at a variety of topics over the next year. I’ve set up a page on the blog explaining the project and linking to my entries. This post’s topic is “Your Taste Buds.”

This week’s topic is “Your Taste Buds.” Next weeks’ is “Your Waistline.”

Really, that’s probably enough of a post right there.

The two are very much related. I’m a sensualist to a fault. I enjoy feeding the senses. In some cases, that’s not a problem; my love of aural pleasure in the form of good music, for example, has caused me no major difficulties in life that I recall. In other cases, it’s more of a problem. My love of good food has made me the man I am today, weight-wise.

Ideally, I need to do better to balance those things. I love the experience, for example, of a hike, for related reasons. I love the sights, the sounds, the tactile interaction with nature. If I loved hiking more and good food less, that might be a bit healthier. Sadly, to be honest, I’m reaching the point where the one is impinging on the other; I’ve put on enough weight lately that the hike experience is not what it was back in the winter, and that’s very unfortunate.

I wish I had greater insight for this post, beyond I should eat better and exercise more, but, really, that’s kind of where I am right now. When I heard the topic, those are the thoughts that came to mind. So, if anything, this is a public confession. I need to stop being a slothful glutton, and get myself back in shape. Hopefully I’ll remember that, and this post, the next time I’m tempted to make a pig of myself in front of my blog readers. Feel free to point it out to me.

Sigh.

365rejects


After missing Tuesday entirely, yesterday was one of those rare days were I actually had multiple candidates for my picture of the day for the 365project. In addition to the picture I used for yesterday’s blog post, I also had hiking pictures and some other fire pictures. Here are samples of other possibilities.

The Gospel of Nahum


“Love is not a victory march
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah”
“Hallelujah”

I really wasn’t going to write this post. One, it’s too big. There’s too much to say. It’s going to be long, for which I apologize in advance. I want to say it’s long, but worth it, so please read it anyway. But I’m not that arrogant. Read it if you want. Or feel called.

Two, I’m bitter. I don’t want to write about Easter. At one point, I was going to be getting married last Easter. The engagement was called off on Palm Sunday, and the path that led to that was intrinsically linked to Lent and the Easter season. I spent Holy Week delving into the despair leading up to Good Friday, I posted scripture each day from that day of the week leading up to the crucifixion. “…if you are willing, take this cup from me….” “Eli, eli, lama sabachthani”

I prayed for a redemption, a resurrection that wasn’t to come, not as I imagined, anyway.

And this year, it’s impossible for me not to associate Easter with that. To be honest, I feel betrayed. And I’ve largely tried to ignore Easter this year for that reason. I haven’t been posting Holy Week updates on Facebook. My church is involved in a Good Friday service tonight that I may or may not go to. On Sunday, I will be in Florida for the launch. I have no plans to go to church. I am taking communion cups and wafers with me, and will celebrate the Lord’s Supper, by myself if necessary. But that’s about it.

So I had no real desire or plan to write a blog post about Easter. But here it is nonetheless. I suppose I can compromise with a Good Friday post instead.

I wanna start it over
I wanna start again
I want a new a new beginning
One without any end
— “Something Beautiful,” Newsboys

It’s impossible for me to recognize that it’s Easter without remembering the events of a year ago. It’s also impossible for me to recognize that it’s Easter without remembering the year that has transpired since. The morning after the engagement was called off, I got up early and went for a walk. It was quite literally the first steps in changing my relationship with my Father. The day before Easter, less than a week later, my pastor invited me to join him for a hike. As much as I write about hiking now, as much as it’s become a part of me, it’s all rooted in that week a year ago.

There were two other iterations of my relationship with Susanna since then, and the scars and growth that came along with that. There’s the dawning of hope of a better future. There’s a period of the closest communion I’ve ever had with my Father. There’s a current period where I miss that close communion desperately.

There’s a rebirth, a year of my life in which I begin to live in a way that I never have before. None of it is what I pictured, but it’s what happened.

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
— It Is Well With My Soul

At the Passover seder I attended Sunday, the messianic rabbi who led the service talked about how he came to know Christ not through the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John, but through the gospels of Abraham and Moses; by recognizing the life of Christ as the fulfillment of the promises laid in the foundations of his Jewish faith.

I wasn’t looking for the gospel at Journey Group Wednesday night, but it found me anyway.

We’d been working through the book of Colossians, trying to wrap it up before starting a new curriculum next week. And we did in fact finish it Wednesday night, with a bit of time to spare. Someone suggested we read something else, something short, before we wrapped for the night, in the time that we had. The obvious suggestions were made, the short epistles of Jude and John, but we’d already done those. Someone suggested doing one of the minor prophets. I threw out, at random, Nahum. I don’t know if I’ve ever even read Nahum before. I knew nothing about the book. But it was the name that came to mind. And, when we looked, it was only three chapters, perfect for what we were looking for.

2 The LORD is a jealous and avenging God;
the LORD takes vengeance and is filled with wrath.
The LORD takes vengeance on his foes
and maintains his wrath against his enemies.

3 The LORD is slow to anger and great in power;
the LORD will not leave the guilty unpunished.
His way is in the whirlwind and the storm,
and clouds are the dust of his feet.

4 He rebukes the sea and dries it up;
he makes all the rivers run dry.
Bashan and Carmel wither
and the blossoms of Lebanon fade.

5 The mountains quake before him
and the hills melt away.
The earth trembles at his presence,
the world and all who live in it.

6 Who can withstand his indignation?
Who can endure his fierce anger?
His wrath is poured out like fire;
the rocks are shattered before him.

7 The LORD is good,
a refuge in times of trouble.
He cares for those who trust in him,

8 but with an overwhelming flood
he will make an end of Nineveh ;
he will pursue his foes into darkness.

9 Whatever they plot against the LORD
he [a] will bring to an end;
trouble will not come a second time.

10 They will be entangled among thorns
and drunk from their wine;
they will be consumed like dry stubble.
Nahum 1:2-10

The first thought we discussed: At first reading, there seems to be a sudden switch at verse 7. All this talk about the wrath of the Lord, and then, all of a sudden, He’s good and caring. What? But then you reread it, and realize the context of verse 2-6. We all heard them, at first, as a threat. This is the judgment of the Lord, that will be visited upon those who fall short of His will. But after rereading, having read through verse 7 and beyond, you realize — it’s not a threat, it’s a promise. Verses 2-6 describe the Lord who stands not against you, but with you, the promises of protection He makes. This God at your side, His way is in the whirlwind, He makes rivers run dry, the mountains quake before Him; who can endure His fierce anger? Not a bad ally to have.

But there’s another realization that came along with that — “the Lord will not leave the guilty unpunished.” This particular passage is a promise to His people, but that doesn’t change the truth of what it described here. This is the wrath of a mighty and righteous God that is delivered against unrighteousness, a wrath that is poured out like fire, shattering the rocks before Him.

This is the price of my unrighteousness. A price to terrible to comprehend. A price that, literally by the grace of God, I don’t have to pay.

Because, everything described in that passage, the great and terrible power of the judgment of a mighty God, rather than being poured out on me, was poured out upon His own beloved and only begotten Son instead. The passage describes what Christ endured for my trespasses.

The Gospel According to Nahum.

“Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!”

If you ask for my forgiveness
If you call my name I will come
If you ask for my love I will give you some

Some day I know you will understand
Some day you’ll finally realize
What you’re doing to yourself

We’ve been dancing to that same old song
Over and over again
I want to be your lover
I don’t want to be your policeman
— “If You Ask,” Lori McKenna

Easter a year ago seems, at times, a lifetime in the past. Easter two years ago? An eternity.

But that day two years ago, God gave me something precious. He gave me a picture of grace, broken down to a level even I could understand.

I became a Christian, I was “saved,” 22 years earlier. But it was on that day that I came to know Christ.

I’d been growing toward relationship with him gradually over the eight or so months prior. In the wake of my separation from Nicole, everything I believed, everything I “knew,” fell apart. Where had He been? How could He have allowed this to happen? I never stopped praying, but I stopped asking for anything. If He really cared about my prayers, I wouldn’t be in this situation. My prayers were simply checking in with Him, telling Him what was going on with me. There was almost a hint of bitterness, an echo of the old Tesla song, “Signs”: “Thank you, Lord, for thinking about me; I’m alive and doing fine.” Well, other than the “doing fine” part.

It was my sister-in-law, Erin, who brought me beyond that. It was such a simple thing. She told me she was praying for me. Now, I had no clue how God felt about me at the time. I had a hard time imagining that He cared about my prayers. But I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that God loves Erin. I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that He cares about her prayers. So if Erin was praying for me, well, then, whether He wanted to or not, He had to care about me. So He and I kinda started talking again.

I got to the point where I was willing to ask Him for things again. And that’s what I was doing on that Easter.

Specifically, I was asking for a second chance. I was divorced. I had screwed up. In a lot of ways. And I wanted forgiveness. And I wanted to be able to move on.

I asked Him to wipe clean the slate, so that I could have another shot at happiness.

And if He gave me an answer. To this day, I’ve never experienced the literal, auditory voice of God, but this was as clear a Word as I’d ever gotten from him at that point.

“Sure. Just let me go nail my son to a tree.”

It wasn’t harsh, it wasn’t cruel. It was just matter-of-fact. Because it was what I needed to realize.

I’ll be honest. I’ve never been that impressed with the crucifixion. Yeah, I know it sucked, big time. But as some sort of unimaginable sacrifice? Nope.

Jesus gave His life to save billions. That’s nice, and all, but really? We ask soldiers to give their lives for fewer than that all the time.

And, yes, I realize, if had been only for me, He still would have done it. But even then, a life for a life. And when He gives His for mine, He gets to go back to the whole being-God thing. So how much of a sacrifice is that, really? The scales balance, at best.

But what I realized that day is that He would have done it for one sin. If it were only my divorce, and the mistakes that led up to it, He would have borne the crown of thorns, would have been scourged, mocked, beaten, crucified and killed to pay the price for that. He would have done it for less than that, even.

I wish I could say that realization has made me a better person. I wish I could say that I now live with the knowledge that I require that of Him every time I misstep. But I don’t. Or, rather, to the extent that I do, I still stray. I still require it of Him, even knowing what I require.

What I can say is that it’s helped me understand Him. Who He is. What it is to be loved. Unconditionally and sacrificially. What grace is.

I drive myself crazy
Tryin’ to stay out of my own way
The messes that I make …

I come around all broken down and
Crowded out
And you’re comfort
Sometimes the place I go
Is so deep and dark and desperate
I don’t know, I don’t know

How every day
Every day, every day
You save my life
Every Day,” Rascal Flatts

I’ll close with a story from near the end of the original Holy Week, the story of my favorite prayer in the Bible.

I had a conversation about it, coincidentally, earlier in the week. And then was reminded of it by a post on the Stuff Christians Like blog that captures some of my thoughts on the passage.

It’s right after the Lord’s Supper, and Jesus is talking to Peter. It’s the conversation where He tells Peter the bit everyone remembers, that Peter will deny Him three times before the rooster crows. But before He tells Peter that, He says this, in Luke 22:31-32: “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

The post I linked talks about the fact that Christ knows that Peter will fail, will deny Him, and extends grace in advance anyway.

But it’s the prayer that fascinates me. How would we have prayed for Peter if we were there?

Satan has asked God for permission to test Peter. Wouldn’t the logical thing to do be to pray that God deliver Peter from Satan? “Father, protect Peter from the adversary. Don’t allow him to be tested. Don’t make him go through this.” But Jesus doesn’t pray that.

So the testing is coming. Wouldn’t the logical thing to do be to pray that Peter pass the test? “Father, give Peter the strength to resist temptation. When his desire is to deny, give him the confidence to stand strong.” But Jesus doesn’t pray that, either.

What Jesus prays is that when Peter fails, he come back from it better than he was before. That his failure not shatter his faith, but serve as a testimony to his brothers and make him a better witness for his savior.

And that’s how He loves us.

He knows temptation is going to come. And He doesn’t care. He loves us anyway.

He knows that when it does, we will fail. Not every time, but plenty. And He doesn’t care. He loves us anyway.

And when we do, He’s there waiting for us. Waiting for us so he can pick us back up, dust us off, let us try yet again. So that our faith may not fail. So that we may strengthen our brothers.

He doesn’t expect you not to fall. He just wants you to let Him help you back up when you do.

Pretty amazing grace is how You saved me
and with amazing grace reclaimed my heart
love in the midst of chaos
calm in the heat of war
showed with amazing grace what love was for

You forgave my insensitivity
and my attempt to then mislead You
You stood beside a wretch like me
Your pretty amazing grace was all I needed.

You overcame my loss of hope and faith,
gave me a truth I could believe in.
You led me to that higher place
showed me that love and truth and hope and grace were all I needed.
–“Pretty Amazing Grace,” Neil Diamond