Category Archives: Joy

Rocks

On the last evening of my hike I struggled up a rugged overgrown trail towards a high ridge.  I had left the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) that afternoon for a side trail.  The new trail would eventually lead me to a trailhead where I would meet my brother and sister, but the word “eventually” was taking new meaning.  The trail had not been cleared of fallen trees in several years and brush had overgrown sections.  Whereas the PCT was known for its overuse of switchback (making for longer, gentler climbs and descents) the new trail was what I called a “billie goat trail.”  It climbed straight up the ridge, as if made for billie goats and not humans. I missed the PCT.

09-0816-methow-pass-north-editedIt was about 6 pm when I reached the top of the ridge and found a place to plop down.  The spot was semi-flat and a potential camping spot for the night.  I decided to make dinner and then decide if I would camp or hike further.  The rest and food restored my energy level and I decided to push on. “There will be another camping spot on the next ridge,” I thought.

As I walked down the trail into the next valley, I encountered a solo hiker, only the second party I had encountered since leaving the PCT.  We chatted for a moment.  He was climbing to the ridge top to take some pictures of the evening sunset and had set up his tent in the small valley towards which I was headed.   “That’s the last water source before you reach Devil’s Basin.  There are a couple of open campsites there if you want to stop.”

I hiked on down to the small stream and refilled my water bottles.  I saw his tent, but no other campsites were visible from the trail.  There was still an hour of sunlight and I prefer to camp high for the morning vistas, so I pushed on.

The trail to this second ridge was gentler, but when I reached the top there was no obvious campsite.  The trail was built into the side of the ridge with no level spaces in view.  Darkness was coming on and I kept hiking, hoping that I would eventually find a workable spot for my tent.

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The trail up the scree field in the morning light

Earlier I had heard that the trail had a tricky spot.   The trail climbed a third ridge but made the climb through a scree field.  A scree field is a collection of loose rocks, smaller than footballs.  Imagine climbing a pile of rock and gravel.  Now I was approaching the scree field and saw no visible trail.  Darkness was deepening and I did not want to climb the field in the dark, even with a headlamp. No level spot was visible around me.

So I did the only sensible thing.

I camped right on the trail in the midst of the rocks.

It was not totally level, but it worked for one night.  I had a new air mattress that would smooth the rockiest ground.  I set up my tent, inflated my air mattress and crawled in for the night.

Throughout my hike, I embraced the serenity prayer.  First to be at peace with whatever I encountered; to have serenity about the things I cannot change, such as lack of camping sites.  The second was the courage to change what I could, which was my attitude.  Instead of despairing that I was camping on rocks, I saw it a new adventure, a test of my camping skills.

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Tent, air mattress, jacket and pack in the morning.

Though I would not recommend camping on rocks, sometimes it’s the only choice.  In the morning I was rewarded with a spectacular view.

If you would like to see a video of the trail and campsite, click to my YouTube video
Night on the Rocks

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The Super Bowl of Emotions

Cam Newton dab

SEATTLE, WA – OCTOBER 18: Quarterback Cam Newton #1 of the Carolina Panthers celebrates. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

One of the story lines leading up to the Super Bowl was the enthusiastic play of Carolina’s quarterback Cam Newton.  Every time he scored a touchdown he had a special dance that he enjoyed performing.   Some people took offense at his display of exuberant emotions, but others saw it as a part his passionate personality.

Cam Newton sulking cmp

Sunday showed a different side to Cam.  He barely responded to questions from the media after the loss.   He was clearly in a lot of emotional pain and he walked out of the news conference early.  He was not the model of what many would call a “good loser.”

I am writing about this not to drawn any moral judgment to Cam Newton, but rather to how emotions can rule our lives.  Cam Newton strikes me as a person who rides the roller coaster of emotions to the fullest extent.  When he is happy and excited, he revels in the emotion.  When he is disappointed or crushed, he let it all hang out.

This is such a sharp contrast to what I learned growing up.  I was taught (in both overt and in subtle ways) that to show any emotions was not appropriate.  I came out of a stoic Norwegian culture that emphasized staying in-control.  It was not appropriate to ride the roller coaster of emotions; keep an even keel and a pleasant smile.   Don’t let my highs get too high, nor my lows too low.

What I have come to discover is that neither path works very well.   I have at time chosen to ride the emotional roller coaster, but the ride can overwhelm my inner being and good judgment.   I have done and said some rash, harsh things to friends and family in “the heat of the moment.”   I have allowed self-pity to rule my days in destructive ways.

But to ignore my emotions can be just as destructive.  To bury my anger or ignore my disappointments can be just as destructive.  They tend to cause internal stress that calls for attention.

More recently I have practiced a middle way.   I acknowledge whatever emotion I may be feeling: anger, disappointment, hope, joy, fear, sadness, but I do not let it rule my judgment.  I observe how the emotion may be affecting my body, my breathing, my outlook, but I hold it at a distance.  The emotion is certainly real, but it is not in control and it will dissipate over time.  I step back and observe what my “reactive behavior” might be and discern whether that behavior would be helpful in the long run.  It usually will not be.  I don’t bite my tongue, but I certainly hold my words for a moment.

This is a practice of mindfulness.  I imagine it as part of my dressing myself in Christ.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. (Col  3:12)

How do you handle your emotions?

Resigning from Resurrection

Monday I resigned as Lead Pastor of Resurrection Lutheran Church.  My last Sunday will be October 25, 2015.  You can see my letter of resignation here.

The path to the decision was a long and winding one.  (The twisting path was also a partial reason I have not posted on this blog for six months.)  It was not made suddenly or without prayer and conversation.    Though there have been many contributing factors,  three key events shaped my decision.

Retreat CenterThe first was an eight-day silent centering prayer retreat in June.   Though it was held at a non-descript  wooded camp, the experience was life transforming.  The silence time of prayer and reflection helped solidify my longing for contemplation and deep prayer.   I had a couple of profound experiences that I need to write about in future posts.  I want to go back.

18395_10153362640945266_2272565119671433986_nThe second was the five-day ELCA youth gathering in Detroit in July.   Thirty thousand youth packed into Ford Field, praising, dancing, singing in the joyous, raucous Spirit of Christ.  There were times when I felt like I was 17 years old again, swept up in the celebration.   It was a powerful trip for me, the three adults, and ten youth from Resurrection.

Taken together, the silent prayer retreat and the youth gathering, could be seen as two ends of a spiritual spectrum.  One end  is the quiet, contemplative Spirit of God, “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him.” (Psalm 37:7) The other is the joyous noisy  Spirit of God, “You will take up your tambourines and go out to dance with the joyful.” (Jeremiah 31:4)

Both are good and healthy, but they rarely live together in the same tent.

Still Dance SpectrumThe two are significant in that I see my own spirituality moving towards the quiet, contemplative end of the spectrum, while I see the needs of Resurrection’s spirituality is for the joyful dance.  Neither is better than the other, but they were not working together within me, especially since I am called to be the leader.   Thus for months my own spirit has been restless.

The third event was a private conversation with two trusted leaders of the congregation.  They initiated the conversation in a caring environment.  During the conversation they asked me was a simple, yet profound question, “Do you feel like you still fit at Resurrection?”

praatgroepenLike a skillful politician I hemmed and hawed and dodged the question that evening.  But as I drove home from the conversation, I realized in my heart-of-hearts that I no longer fit.   It was a blow to my ego.  I wanted to be in control, yet I was not.  I wrestled with the question all through that night and several afterwards.  Yet I woke up each morning realizing that the answer was the same.  It is time for me to leave Resurrection.

In the next couple of days, I will post on what my plans are for the future.   For now it is sufficient to say that I am both sad to leave a fantastic congregation like Resurrection and at peace with listening to the call of God’s Spirit.

I have been reflecting on these words from Parker Palmer’s Let Your Life Speak.

Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you.  Before you tell your life what truths and values you have decided to live up to, let your life tell you what truths you embody, what values you represent. (page 3)

The Lap of God

Nearly forty years ago my wife-to-be introduced me to an image of God that has shaped my life ever since.  She wrote me a letter in which she described how God as king invited me into his great heavenly throne room. She described the room as filled with the beauty and wonder fit for a king and how at first I felt overwhelmed.  God then encouraged me to come right up to the throne (like a small child approaching his beloved parent).  With great love and warmth, God’s mighty arms picked me up and placed me on his lap, where I am safe, warmed and filled with love.

I think of that image each Christmas when we read from the beginning of John’s gospel and the coming of the Word of God, Jesus.

But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, (John 1:12)

Madonna and JesusI also imagine the inverse of the image when I read the Christmas story of Luke, when Jesus is wrapped in clothes and laid in a manger.  I don’t think the infant Jesus spent all his time lying in that manger.  Like any proud parent, Jesus was held in the lap of Mary and Joseph.   Not only are we invited to sit in God’s lap, but God invites us to hold his son when we hold a child of God in love.  As Jesus reminded his followers in his parable from Matthew 25,  And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

The image blazed with light again this past Sunday when I worshiped with my son and daughter-in-law at Christ Presbyterian Church.  Their evening service, called the Table, normally has communion, but for the fourth Sunday in Advent they had a candle lighting ritual instead.   On the platform steps there were placed over a hundred small votive candles and lighting sticks.  We were invited to come forward and light a candle as a sign that we are “waiting” for our savior.   I lit a candle with the rest of the family, but I noticed that my son did not return to the pew afterwards.  A few moments later my wife nudged me and pointed to the candles.  My son had returned to the sanctuary with our 2-year-old grandson, Jack.  My son was helping Jack light a candle.   Afterwards he and Jack came back to the pew and Jack opened his arms for me to hold him.  As we sang a Christmas carol of Emmanuel, God with Us, I felt tears of joy and grace fill my eyes and flow down my cheek.   I was being held in the lap of God, even as I was embraced by a tiny child of God.  O the wonder of God’s grace.

My wife Carolyn and I hold in our laps two children of God, Grace and Jack.

My wife Carolyn and I hold in our laps two children of God, Grace and Jack.

May you be held by the love of God in this Christmas season.

Rejoice in the Lord Always

Yesterday I preached on a favorite verse from Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi, “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice” (Phil 4:4).  I memorized the verse as a simple song in high school and I continue to use it as a prayer mantra as a I run.   Joy is an attitude that I seek to encourage in various ways (Four Lessons for Joyful Habits).

Joy is often confused with happiness, but I think there are some critical distinctions.    I used Pharrell Williams music video to help introduce the contrast between happiness and joy.

The video is a lot of fun; various people, in all shapes, ages and sizes, dance to the song.  However I do struggle with one phrase Pharrell makes, “Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth.”   I wonder how such an ephemeral feeling like happiness can be considered the truth.   Like all emotions, it comes for a brief time and then fades, replaced by another emotion, like disappointment, grief, boredom or anger or contentment.  I think of truth as having a more lasting quality.

Like many emotions it is often triggered by circumstance.  I used a metaphor yesterday in which I described how different people approach a vacation day at a Minnesota lake.  A fisherman is happy with overcast skies, cooler weather and a bit of chop on the water, so the walleyes wouldn’t see the boat.  A water skier likes perfectly smooth water and bright sunshine. And a sailor likes a stiff breeze to fill the sails of the boat.  Each prefers different circumstances to enjoy their sports.  And no one is really happy with a series of violent thunderstorms moving over the waters.

Joy is not dependent on circumstances.  Paul states that we are to rejoice in the Lord.  Joy is the knowledge and trust that I am surrounded and held by God’s grace and love, no matter what the circumstances.   To push the lake metaphor a bit, joy is sinking beneath the surface circumstance (whether bright sunshine or stormy waves) into the peace and calm of Jesus’ love.   The calm, warm water surround and supports us no matter what may be happening on the surface above.

A few verses later Paul reminds the church “The peace of God which surpasses human understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:7).  God’s peace (and joy) exists in the place beyond daily circumstances.  Contemplative prayer is a way for me to drop below the daily surface circumstance and rest in God’s peace and joy.   I imagine myself floating in the embrace of Jesus’ love, guarded by the promise of God’s Word.

How do you Rejoice in the Lord Always?

Lord Jesus, teach me to find my joy in you.

 

 

Running Boston in St. Paul

Today is the Boston Marathon, the premier marathon in the United States.  After last year’s horrific bombing, the marathon has become even more significant. Over 30,000 runners have registered for this year’s race. Two of my running buddies, Mike Johnson and Dan Foster, will be running the 26.2 miles and I am excited for them. A mutual friend Tim Torgerson wrote a great reflection on supporting Mike, Dan and the other runners who will be running today.

Dan and Mike stand behind fellow runners Bob and Gary.  All four have run Boston in recent years.

Dan and Mike stand behind fellow runners Bob and Gary. All four have run Boston in recent years.

Mike J and I were talking on the phone and as we signed off I said, “Good luck at Boston, have fun. I wish I was going to be there with you.” Mike’s response was, “You will be there with me.”

For some reason that stuck with me.

I thought about for the next two days. In reality, because of last year’s tragic events and because it is the way running with friend bond, we really are there.

In some way, we are all connected. That is certainly why this Boston is going to be celebrated like none other. It’s the connection that all marathoners have as we strive to do what a majority of people think is impossible or just plain crazy. In addition to being physically challenging , marathoning is a deeply emotional experience. It’s probably for that reason that most runners can’t just do one!

The most important thing I want to say is Good Luck, Have Fun, Dan and Mike. Enjoy what will probably be the most memorable marathon in your career. You are running for all of us.

 

Tim Torgerson running TCM a few years ago

Tim Torgerson running TCM a few years ago

I am reminded of St. Paul’s instructions, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Roman 12:15). Today I am rejoicing with Dan, Mike and the other 35,000 runners at Boston.

Lord Jesus, grant strength and hope to all runners this day.

Four Lessons for Joyful Habits

Today I reached 100.

100 days of consecutive running.

Grandma's 06 smile

During this streak I learned four lessons about healthy habits.

Turn disappointment towards joy

I used as motivation the disappointment I felt last September when I was unable to register for the Boston Marathon. (Read more here. )

My disappointment was the initial start to my running streak, but I knew that such motivation could only take me so far. I knew that I had to have an interior attitude of joy and thanksgiving towards running and NOT simply a “I should do this” attitude. Almost anyone can start a healthy habit or discipline; it is staying the course when the mind/body/spirit begins to resist the habit for a variety of reasons: “I am too busy with work” or “I don’t feel like running today” or “The weather outside is too cold.”

Focus on joy of the habit

527355_10150757438158830_723953829_9331133_942278610_nFor me, running has been a source of joy, especially when I am dealing with stress or disappointment. I enjoy the movement through space (especially if it is outdoors along a scenic trail) or the camaraderie I experience running with friends. I know that not all runs will be filled with joy or endorphins, but many will be.  I need to lace up my shoes and start running to discover if it will happen.

Keep the habit simple and flexible

My running streak did not require me to run huge miles every day. I needed to do at least a mile, but once I got started I usually did more. I averaged 4.1 miles per day.

I also kept it flexible. I originally thought I would do all my running outdoors, but in early December we had some nasty ice and cold so I joined a local gym and did my running on a treadmill. It was not my first choice, but I prefer to be safe and steady.  I still go outdoors when the weather permits.

The joy flows into other areas.

Learning to Pray Anew

Rolling into Prayer

I have discovered that my best time to run is early in the morning. Then afterwards, I allow the joy to flow into my time of prayer and meditation. I have created a small holy space in my home where I have my Bible and devotional reading so that I can easily shift gears and focus my mind on my life of faith in Christ. I am learning to be silent and still, listening for God’s still quiet voice (I Kings 19:12).

I recognize that someday this running streak will end, but for now it has been a healthy habit that bring joy to my body/mind/spirit.

What habit brings you joy?

Lord Jesus, guide me into habits that honor you.