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“There are two sorts of traveler.  The first sets off in the general direction of the destination and is quite happy to figure things out on the way, to read the signposts, ask directions, and muddle through.   The second wants to know in advance what the road will be like, where it changes from a country road to a busy multilane highway, how long it will take to complete the different sections, and so on.”  N.T. Wright – Simply Christian

All roads lead to Portland, or so it seems.   Likewise, all roads must lead from Portland, for you can’t get much farther from here when you are there.   I hope that makes some sense, or at least will when I’m done.

Portland was established in the mid 1800’s near the end of the Oregon Trail.   It was named, by definition I assume, as “the land of ports”, a place where rivers come together, and where ships (and people) come and go, delivering their cargos, their freight, and their baggage.   They might ultimately leave Portland feeling lighter, or perhaps they take more with them as they go.

I had long heard of Portland but never visited there until about 15 years ago.   Then, for the better part of 10 years, it almost felt like a second home.   After that, it was time to leave.   More on that later.

This Christmas holiday, I’ve been blessed to have time to do more than just a little bit of reading.   Courtesy of an Amazon gift card, my interests and inquiries led me to two books: “Wild”, and “Packing Light”.   Neither was quite what I expected, both in what was similar about the books and the authors, and in what was different.

Each book is a story about a young lady 26 years of age searching for something more in life, and choosing to take a daring journey to help them find it.   The first was from Minnesota, and ended up in Portland.   The second was from Portland, but ended up in Minnesota.   Ironic?   I think not.   Each tells a story about our journeys, what we take with us, what we leave behind, and what we pick up along the way.   Each talks of friendship, and the role others play in our lives.   Each tells a story of faith, the lack thereof, or where we place it.

Back to Portland for a moment.   Portland (and the surrounding areas) is the home of many good friends, and of Powell’s books, Columbia Sportswear, and organic food.   Each of those people, places, or things has been a big part of my life, my thoughts, my hobbies, and resulting actions and attitudes these past few years.    And, Cascade College.   Portland is the forever home of the former Cascade College, and I have a baton, and a large framed picture of Mount Hood at sunset to prove it.   Each tells a story about our journeys, what we take with us, what we leave behind, and what we pick up along the way.   Each talks of friendship, and the role others play in our lives.   Each tells a story of faith, the lack thereof, or where we place it.

Wild – From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail is the story of Cheryl Strayed,  a young lady who lost her mother, made mistakes amidst her grief, and set out to find herself.   She had no experience as a long distance hiker, and the trail was little more than “…an idea, vague and outlandish and full of promise”.   The book was a real page turner, a fact that was emphasized all the more by my accidental choice of the large-print-edition when I ordered my copy.   And yet, when I finished this read, there were but a mere one or two “dog eared” pages, a symbol marking when I was particularly moved by words and phrases I wanted to remember or repeat.    This book has its shocking moments, and is not for everyone, so caveat emptor.  What I came away feeling was joy for Cheryl at her completed journey, and the life she has made in the twenty years since.   I came away with an appreciation for the Pacific Crest Trail, and as a Christian man named Albert, her pack-lightening trail mentor said about his time on the PCT “…now there’s something I’d like to do before I go to meet the Lord”.   OK, for me, it may mean a slightly smaller pack.   And, I may not take the full 1,500+ mile excursion that the book describes, but I  also don’t plan to set out alone, as did Cheryl.   I look forward to hopefully being on the trail with a friend or two, and to walking the miles together with my God.

Packing Light – thoughts on living life with less baggage is the story of Allison Vesterfelt, a young lady who had a neatly orchestrated life, but knew she was missing something.    She had no experience as a long distance traveler, but chose to leave almost everything behind to see the country and find what she was missing.   She left almost everything behind, except a big suitcase, a back seat full of “treasured belongings”, a good friend to accompany her on the journey, and her faith in God.   At the end of this read, I found just the opposite of my “Wild” experience completed just a day or two prior.  I have “dog eared” no less than 30 thoughts and quotes from Ally’s book.   Suffice to say, I’m not packing light when it comes to what I want to take away from this read in the form of thoughts, quotes, and remembrances.    And yet, I’m no more impacted than by what Cheryl had to say about things that cross our path.

Each tells a story about our journeys, what we take with us, what we leave behind, and what we pick up along the way.   Each talks of friendship, and the role others play in our lives.   Each tells a story of faith, the lack thereof, or where we place it.

Back to Portland for a moment.   “The land of ports” is a symbolic place for each of us.   We drop our heavy loads.   We take a rest.   We enjoy the beauty of the creation around us.   We celebrate our achievements, and grieve our losses.   We re-stock our packs.   We cull our baggage.   And, ultimately, we pick up our next load, our next set of objectives, our next destination, and we start the journey anew.

As I set out with my friends and my beloved Little Frau toward 2014, many things dot the horizon.   A wedding (lightening one pack, and adding weight to another), new objectives for my company and career (shedding excess weight where I can, and acquiring lighter, more nimble tools), and of course being prepared for the occasional rattlesnake or moose that appears on the path before me. (something Cheryl and I almost have in common).

I look forward to walking with my God each step along the path.

Who knows what lies before us?   I said ‘no’ to a wilderness  trek experience with a good friend almost 25 years ago, but stand eager and ready today with plans we are making to live that moment, now with a few of our almost grown children (the more adventurous, not-yet-married ones).   I’ve even got the overloaded (but ever shrinking) pack to prove it.

…you can’t get much farther from here when you are there.   I hope that makes some sense, or at least will when I’m done.

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” It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…”

It was 2:00 in the morning.  For whom did the bell toll?   It tolled for me, and for a few of my friends.  While they are the closest of kin, in moments like these, I prefer to call them friends.  Friends stick together.  Friends endure hardship, together.

In this moment, we three were awake.   Our senses were heightened, while our bodies, our brains, and our spirits were tired.  It had been a hard 24 hours, and we were merely witnesses to the hardship.  Much like the earlier quote from Charles Dickens, this early Thansgiving hour was both good and bad.  Accordingly, every tick of the clock, every chime of the bells, and every chirp of a bird served to keep us awake.

One of us sought and hopefully attained a little rest.  As the remaining two of our threesome settled in, we chuckled briefly over pictures of a rabbit wearing silly hats, and then it happened.  Our stomachs collectively began to growl.

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What followed were clandestine moments of relocating clocks and searching the freezers for Blue Bell.  They say it is the best ice cream in the country, and I think they are right.   The night light glow on the dimly lite smile on my young friends face was all I needed.  We were together, and we were happy.   And the fat content in that ice cream put us both to sleep.

In moments like these
I sing out a song,
I sing out a love song to Jesus.
In moments like these
I lift up my hands,
I lift up my hands to the Lord.

Singing I love You, Lord.
Singing I love You, Lord.
Singing I love You, Lord,
I love You.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, indeed, as most times are. And I would not trade them, or my dear friends, for the world…

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I woke up this very early morning thinking about several weighty things.

In the midst of it all, wrists deep in a load of dishes in need of cleaning, a song came to mind. Little surprise in that. Fancy meeting you in the purple stew, indeed, to quote a phrase.

It very much falls in the category of “we don’t sing that one, anymore”. Little surprise in that, as well, and it’s sad.

Anyway, I could talk,about the song and why I think it came to mind, or I can simply share the thoughts of another who has already done so more eloquently than I likely could, or would. Most likely, I might be guilty of “not mentioning it” at all. See what you think.

Don’t mention it…

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Because, he can’t. The story won’t allow it, and we all know how the story ends.

That is the answer, but what is the question?

“WHY doesn’t the villian just kill the hero, aka, the protagonist, and get it over with?”

Just because.

He can’t.

The story doesn’t go like that.

I was watching (again) the first movie in the Iron Man series yesterday with my extended family. As the great deceiver in this story, the good guy turned bad character played by Jeff Bridges, appears to rip the heart out of hero Tony Stark, I was silently asking myself why the villain didn’t just kill him and get it over with.

Just because.

He can’t.

The Author of the story didn’t write it that way.

It may sound simple.

It may sound naive.

Watching the story play out like it often does causes us to feel anxiety, and even pain. But we know the good Guy wins in the end.

It is classic and timeless story telling. I would almost suggest it is imbedded in our DNA, which has been decaying since shortly after the dawn of time. And yet, it remains, and it holds true.

Don’t get me wrong. Watching chapters in the great story, which are lives merely appear to be, is not clean. It is not easy. It certainly is not without pain. Watching the tornados of last week is a case in point.

One only need to read Revelation chapters 12 and 13 to experience that yet again.

And yet, the aftermath of each conflict brings the good guys one step closer to victory.

Revelation.14:12-13: “This calls for patient endurance on the part of the people of God who keep his commands and remain faithful to Jesus.13 Then I heard a voice from heaven say, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.”“Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.”

Amen. Lord, come quickly, Hallelujah. In the meantime, we will hold on, staying true to our parts in the story.
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I have this friend. No, my friend is not him. But, my little friend might have snagged herself a role as an extra in several scenes of a movie starring somebody who resembles him. I digress.

Said friend excitedly started her day early yesterday headed for a set destination and an expectation of spending a few hours getting filmed before returning home. Hours later, My Little Frau, aka “Mama”, dispatched herself on a relief mission to take some food to our little friend. As this friend returned about midnight, we heard tales of heat, hunger, sunburn, and an occasional WHM sighting. And, she gets to do it all again today. She remains excited to be engaged, but her experiences are not at all like she expected.

Therein lies a great metaphor for life. We never know what to expect. We have no promises. And yet, the opportunity to go about each day pursuing our plans, goals, and dreams keeps us going……

Pardon the interruption there. I had to go outside and squeeze my car into the garage to avoid what appears to be a rapidly approaching hailstorm. Again, I digress, but hopefully you get the point. I wasn’t planning for that anymore than we planned for the devastating tornados of earlier this week that have impacted so many both directly and indirectly. And yet, life goes on, and we are happy to be a part of it.

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. James 4:13-14

So, this film remains “not yet rated”, and yet we know how the epilogue will appear. We win, so long as we keep running the race set before us.

Give that bell another ring today, little friend. WHM couldn’t do it any better than you.

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What is killing you?

No, I didn’t just call Neil Arter a monkey, but if I had, it would have been a complement, for I have been imitating him in some ways for a while now.

As I’ve said before, it was Neil and his posse that coerced, if not forced, me to participate in my first ever OKC Memorial event three years and four races ago. I quickly caught the bug, and have done a few more events since then. Mostly, I’ve tried to just be more active.

Yesterday was my 4th time in this specific event, and I was not alone. After completing it with my family, some of us walking, and others running like the wind, it was great to reflect on something Little Frau had said to me in the car much earlier that morning as the six of us headed toward Downtown OKC: “This is your deal”. She was right, but it was great to have some with me, both those who had been coerced, and those who were becoming fellow imitators.

As we arrived at church later that morning, the lesson was entitled “Monkey see, Monkey do”, and was all about becoming imitators, and encouragers.

Ephesians 4:1-3: Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.

Ephesians 5:1-2: Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God.

Philippians 2:1-4: Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate? Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose. Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.

I don’t have it all figured out. I need to be better about taking care of my health, both in level of activity, and in what I consume. I need to be a more diligent student of the Word. I need to be better about taking care of things, whether it be my lawn, my car, what I say, or otherwise. And, I need to let my kids (and others) see me doing it. Hopefully they will be encouraged to imitate the same.

The first time I participated in this Memorial event, there were two of us. By the next time, there were still just two. Two times two is four. By the third time, there were four of us running. Four times four is sixteen. This time around, there were five of us running. Five times sixteen is eighty. Fourscore, indeed.

Four. Score. Yes, I think we did. We have the medals, muscle aches, and memories to prove it. I hope we continue to run to remember. And to imitate, for whatever is killing us, we can help each other by word and deed.

Just like Neil does. Monkey see, Monkey do. Yes, I just called myself a monkey.

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Resolve versus rhetoric: what would you do?

WWJD? What would be out of character, for him, or for me?

Yes, I played that card.

There has been a high volume of emotional response to the Connecticut tragedy, in both of the medias, the Industry and the Social. “Guns are the problem”. “Guns are not the problem”. Which is right? Does it really matter?

When you’re weary
Feeling small
When tears are in your eyes
I will dry them all

Simon and Garfunkel may have penned those words, but I can hear Jesus sing them just the same. In a hostile situation, what would Jesus do? I’m sure violent scenarios played out in first century Judea, with Roman occupation, poverty, bands of robbers, etc, and He may have been in the neighborhood at the time. Would Jesus have brandished a weapon to save the day? The Gospels do not tell us of such incidents, save Him disarming the band ready to stone the woman “caught” in adultery, and we know how that story played out.

WWJD? What would Jeff do? I own a firearm or two, neither of which I have ever fired. They were gifts from a friend. I’ve fired other weapons in the past while hunting, but have never really been a “gun guy”. So, the question, WWJD? What would Jeff do? I’m in a mall with my family, and someone starts shooting. Choosing to not have a permit and not have a gun strapped to my calf is defining point #1.

Paul said “to live is Christ and to die is gain”. If I believe that, and I believe my family and friends are ultimately in a better place in Heaven than here, what would I do? In the words of our mythical Star Trek friend, Lieutenant Worf, “perhaps this is a good day to die”.

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Don’t get overly lost in the analogy, and I pledge to do the same. I believe Americans have the right to bear arms, among other things. But, I also believe we are ultimately citizens of a Kingdom far greater than The United States of America, and just like “Cowboy Worf” is out of character in the picture above, we might be the same as gun drawing followers of Jesus.

If faced with the choice, I would stand to defend or shield my family or friends, but if that is my time to be called home, and possibly theirs as well, then the gain will have been ours.

Like the song says:

I’m on your side
When times get rough
And friends just can’t be found
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down

Who knows: Worf might have said it just the same…(and I promise, this picture was already on the web, and not of my own doing…)

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