Change is in the Air

fall-4069797_1920.jpg

Change is in the air–you can feel the cooler wind coming after the August heat. Time to decide what we value.

In Proverbs, the spirit of Wisdom says,

“Listen to what I say, and treasure my commands. Tune your ears to wisdom, and concentrate on understanding” (2:1-2).

What we treasure will determine how we use our time. Would you join me in deciding to order our schedule around God’s commands, rather than ordering God’s commands around our changing schedules?

What we tune in to will determine what we hear. Let’s tune our ears to wisdom, not just the world’s options.

A Lesson from Joe

camels-3721290_1920.jpg

Several summers ago, I quit a cycling journey and found myself sitting 121 Miles from Yellowstone waiting for a ride to come pick me up. This difficult journey offered many lessons. Some lessons had wounds to match.

I learned my loaded bike couldn’t traverse gravel; road rash on my hand was proof.

I learned bees nest under electric hook-ups at campgrounds; swollen fingers and a cracked iPad were evidence.

I learned pitching your tent on green grass in the desert isn’t the smartest thing to do. The lush lawn of the community park of Carey, Idaho was an attractive place to camp. The kind lady in the neighboring restaurant suggested I camp there; others I chatted with affirmed her suggestion. Scoping out the scene, I noticed a pavilion with locked restrooms. A posted sign provided names and phone numbers of people who could unlock the door. No one picked up the first number I called. The second name on the list was Joe. Joe answered and said, “I’ll be there in 15 minutes.”

A John Deere tractor pulled in the driveway; perched atop was a short, tubby, older gentleman wearing a cowboy hat.

I thought, This must be Joe.

Dismounting his green, mechanical steed, we shook hands and exchanged small-talk as Joe unlocked the bathroom door.

Before he left, Joe gave an appreciated warning, “The sprinklers on the west side of the pavilion come on at 9:00.”

I looked to my left and saw the sun setting on that side of the pavilion, looked to my right and saw my campsite, and replied, “Well, I’m on the east side.”

Joe didn’t say a word.

With dusk approaching, I set up my tent, made my bed, laid across my sleeping bag and marveled at the pink and orange hues painted across an ever darkening blue sky behind the mountains I would be climbing the next day. I quickly fell asleep.

“Psh, Pshh, Pshhhh, Pshhhhhhhhh.”

My eyes slowly opened. Emerging from the cloudiness of a mind shaking off sleep was the thought, There’s the sprinklers Joe was talking about. A dull remnant of light from the descended sun allowed me to see jets of water shoot across the lawn on the far side of the pavilion. I went back to sleep.

“Psh, Pshh, Pshhhh, Pshhhhhhhhh.”

I jolted upright. No sun was needed to reveal the liquid mine field that surrounded me. The cold rush slapping across my face proclaimed, “Joe didn’t tell you the whole story!!”

About every ten seconds two jets fired across my tent. A lull followed as they made their rounds. Clad only in my boxer-briefs (don’t judge–I was sleeping in the desert!), I rolled out of my tent like a soldier in a battlefield. Standing up, my timing was obviously off as water shot across my face. Stunned, I shook my head and began prancing around the wet lawn. Juking left and right in a futile attempt to remain dry, I first relocated my bike and gear.

I then un-staked my tent and pulled it to dry ground. Unzipping the flap to crawl back inside, suddenly everything was bright. My hunched body froze and my head turned to see two glowing orbs. Headlights illuminated my fluorescent white skin. Like a raccoon I scurried back inside.

My now wet sleeping bag squished under my back. I breathed deeply. My body shivered as my mind tried to interpret everything that had just happened. Hearing the crunch of gravel I sat up, peeked out the window-netting, and saw a black truck drive away.

All was quiet except for the swoosh of the sprinklers.

I wondered, Who was that?

Maybe teenagers. There can’t be much to do in Carey on a Wednesday night!

Then a slightly troubling, but equally amusing thought hit me.

Joe!

I imagined him erupting with great big, belly laughs exclaiming to his wife, “Told you we were in for a show tonight, honey!”

Difficulties teach lessons…Here are a few I learned on my journey:

  1. There are some things in which we should persevere, no matter the cost. The gospel is worth sacrifice. People are worth persistence. Not everything however falls into this category. Sometimes persevering only magnifies our strength; it doesn’t glorify God.

  2. Change isn’t easy. Just as it takes time for muscles to adapt so it does for the mind–there will be soreness.

  3. In the beginning God made man, but then He gave him Eve. We weren’t created to be alone. We were programmed for companionship. Moses had Aaron. Paul had Luke. Jesus had Peter, James, and John. Frodo had Samwise!

  4. God doesn’t want me to be unsettled, anxious, worried, or fretting. He wants me to have fun, to be happy.

  5. If you’re miserable, then something’s gotta change!

  6. There’s nothing wrong with needing enjoying people.

  7. Abundant Life (Matthew 16:25); Sacrifice (John 15:13); Love (1 Corinthians 13); Generosity (1 Timothy 6:18-19).

  8. Our love is a bottle rocket. His love is a mega fireworks show. (Thought after seeing someone watching some rockets shot from a yard while behind them a city-wide fireworks show was in full swing).

Oh yeah…one more lesson. Don’t camp on green grass in the desert.

Thanks Joe!

121 Miles from Yellowstone

graffiti-679188_1920.jpg

Sitting in a Love’s truck stop 121 miles from Yellowstone National Park, my mind was racing as I waited for a friend to come pick me up. This was not how it was supposed to go! The plan was to cycle from Boise, Idaho to Yellowstone National Park and then return to Boise. The whole journey should have taken about a month, but now only seven days into the trip, I was quitting. I had failed.

The plans for my journey began about a year prior. Heeding the advice of my mentor I planned a two-month sabbatical after ten years of ministering in the Bronx.

I thought, I need something to do on my sabbatical.

At the time, my interest in cycling was growing, particularly cycle-touring; so, I envisioned a cross-country cycling trip. Over several months I bought a new touring bike, cross-country maps, camping gear, and began cycling any chance I got.

There’s nothing like cycling around New York City. The thrill of riding parallel to impatient cabbies honking their horns, gazing at skyscraper spires towering above London plane elms while peddling the southern loop of Central Park, or riding State Route 9W through hamlets along the Hudson River Palisades are each experiences unique to Big Apple cyclists.

Over those months, my sabbatical plans went through many revisions; practicality whittled lofty goals to an easier yet still challenging journey.

I began that journey midsummer. At dawn I left from a friend’s house in Boise. I looked prepared. Clad in a blue bandana, sunglasses, cycling shoes, and reflective neon-yellow safety accessories I thought, Here I go!

I hadn’t gone a block before my bike started wobbling and I nearly toppled! I wasn’t used to the extra weight of my gear. My brown Trek bike was loaded with two yellow panniers, a tent, sleeping bag, backpack, handle bar bag, two bottles of water, and two water-bladders. I was traveling through the dessert; water was essential.

My destination for the day was about 60 miles south to Mountain Home, Idaho. Boise city streets quickly changed to country roads. The harsh, desert landscape was unfamiliar to me. Brown hills rose above sandy valleys. Shrubs shook as shrews scurried.

Antelope stared cautiously and jack rabbits seemed to jeer, “Try to keep up slow poke!”

Each day was planned around where I could refill water, eat, and sleep. My path took me three hundred miles across Idaho with stops in Gooding, Carey, Craters of the Moon National Monument, and finally Idaho Falls. I camped out at a church, fairgrounds, campground, community park, and RV park.

I encountered other cyclists on journeys longer than mine. One young man had traveled west from Buffalo; another man had come from Virginia Beach; both were heading for the Pacific Ocean.

By the time I reached Idaho Falls, I was tired. Physically, I was fine. However, I was exhausted mentally and emotionally. Mentally, I constantly had to plan my survival. Emotionally, I felt like I was riding through a gauntlet–excitement, intimidation, anxiety, fear, loneliness, and guilt barraged my mind.

The origin of these feelings wasn’t my new journey; I was detoxing after ten years of ministering in the Bronx.

In Idaho Falls, I reached a tipping point. I returned from watching a movie at the theater to find destroyed bags. Squirrels had attacked!

How in the world will I fend off bears in Yellowstone if I can’t handle pesky squirrels?

Mayday! I’m done. Come and get me. Thank God my friend is only a four-hour drive away.

The fireworks in the sky that night from Fourth of July celebrations were at best anti-climactic; at worst, they mocked.

Sitting in Love’s truck stop, my pen was abuzz. As I waited for my rescuer, I logged fifteen pages of thoughts in my journal. Skimming those pages now, I see a weary traveler who needed a break. A traveler who needed to be still. A traveler who needed to not accomplish anything by the end of his day. A traveler that needed to enjoy people without any attached expectations. A traveler who needed to quit. A traveler who needed a lesson in grace.

A traveler who needed to realize that sometimes failure is more of a victory than success.