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Thoughts While Biking on an Early Summer Morning

I was on vacation last week with my family, tent camping beside the Greenbrier Trail in Pocahontas County, West Virginia.  Saturday morning I woke up early, grabbed my bike, and started riding.  Twenty one miles later, I was none worse for the wear, and I pondered how my simple experience of an early morning ride was a reflection of a life well lived.  I scribbled down some short thoughts on my Iphone, and they seemed to ring true.  Here are some of the thoughts & scenes from that morning ride:

Set Goals

Before we had even arrived in Pocahontas County, I had set a goal of ”I want to bike to Marlinton.”  I wasn’t sure how realistic a goal it was, but I went ahead and set it anyway.  If I had not set the goal, I wouldn’t have biked 21 miles. 

Every self-help book will tell you the importance of setting clear goals, but I still don’t follow this advice often enough.  We achieve so much more in life when we have a definite, measurable goal than when we simply have a vague idea. Always, always, always, have at least one doable goal that you can make progress on every day. (My goal for today?  FINISH WRITING THIS POST!)

Seize Every Moment

We’ve all heard the famous phrase, “seize the day,” but it is just as important to seize the moment.  Every moment of our life is meant to be fully lived: there are no trivial days, there are no trivial moments.  As I biked along, each moment brought something new if I was willing to look for it— a new flower, a new sound, a new vista.  I was surprised & delighted over & over again as I traveled the miles with an open eye and open heart.

Right now, this very moment, you are alive in a wondrous world. Live expectantly.  Seize every moment.

Take the Long View

Although we must seize every moment, we also need to take the long view.  There were times along the trail where I would stop & look back from where I came and look forward to where I was going.  I enriched my travels by keeping my present in the perspective of my past and my future.

So it is with life:  the joys and the struggles of today are best understood in the context of our entire life.  The simple joy of sharing a meal with friends is enriched by remembering the entire history of the relationship in the context of the now, while many an argument and frustration would be lessened by stepping back and seeing the big picture.  Add wisdom and depth to your life today by taking the long view.

Pay the Price

One of the most basic lessons we learn in life is that there is always a price to pay.  In order to enjoy the beauty of the river, I had to pay the price of getting out of bed, of renting a bicycle, of expending energy, of spending a few days sore.  That was the price of admission to what I experienced.  I knew the price, and I was willing to pay it.

There is no free lunch.  Anything we achieve or experience comes with a price.  That is not a bad thing; that is simply how God designed the universe.   The important thing to remember is not if there is a price to pay, but what the price is, and our willingness to pay it to achieve what we want in life.

Look for Beauty

As I biked, I started looking for wildflowers pictures to snap with my iPhone.  I thought I might be able to get a dozen if I was lucky.  But the more I looked, the more I saw, and by the end of the day I had found over three dozen different species scattered along the trail.

The moral?  Don’t pass by beauty.  There is so much beauty everywhere if you are willing to look for it, and the more you look, the more you will see.  It’s so easy to just live our busy lives without stopping to experience beauty (as this post I wrote in 2007 pointed out.)  Look for the everyday beauty in your life today.

Don’t Let Opportunities Pass You By

Although I took pictures of dozens of wildflowers as I biked, there were two flowers that really stood out to me: 

The two that I didn’t get.

There was an orange one, and later a red one.  With both of them, I thought, “Gee, I’ve taken a lot of pictures already, that’s a beautiful flower, but I don’t want to fall behind schedule, I’ll have a chance to take a picture on the way back or find another one.”

Yes, you guessed it:  I didn’t find another one of either species, and try as I might, I couldn’t spot them again on the way back.

Life is like that too.  There are so many opportunities, big ones and small ones, that we put off, casually assuming there will be another chance later.  Sometimes we get another chance, but often we don’t.  Don’t let opportunities pass you by.

Take the Road Less Traveled

That early morning bike ride was taking the road less traveled– literally.  I saw a grand total of one other person on the path the entire ride into Marlinton.  There were plenty of people catching some more Zzzz’s or watching television that morning, but I took the road less traveled by, and that made all the difference.

What do you look back in your life and particularly cherish?  I would wager that quite a few of your most cherished decisions and experiences fall into the category of the road less traveled.  Keep that in mind as you plot your course today.

Enjoy the Ride

I set out to reach a goal: bike to the town of Marlinton.  There were two ways of reaching the goal:  I could enjoy the ride, the sights & sounds, the feel of wind on my face, the anticipation of what was around the next bend.  Or I could have dreaded feeling sore, frustrated over my lack of progress, thinking about how I could have stayed in bed, focused on how slow I was going, or a dozen other negative thoughts. 

Guess what?  I would have still ended up in Marlinton either way.  Both ways reached the same goal, but would have been dramatically different experiences.

The lesson?  We all will end up at the end of the trail someday.  We all will die, no matter what we do or don’t do.  The only difference will be, will you have enjoyed your ride?

Not Everything Helpful Must Be Profound

 As I sat down beside a railroad bridge to record my thoughts, a voice said, “Take the long view?  Set Goals?  That’s not very profound!  That’s been said a million times!  That’s not worth writing about!”  And I wondered whether I should write about my ride at all.

But then I thought, sometimes I chase after these huge profound incredible mountaintop insights or experiences, when often I just need to look for the little things that do make a difference.  Sometimes I think that if I can’t write something or say something or do something that is radically mind-blowing, than what’s the use of doing anything at all.

I think that’s true for all of us.  Just because we can’t do something earth-shattering, just because we can’t heal all a person’s wounds, just because we can’t be profound we end up saying or doing nothing at all.  Sometimes that person in need doesn’t need the profound, they just need a simple word or act of kindness or encouragement.  Be that (not profound) but helpful person to a friend today.

Make Memories, Savor Them, & Share Them

Finally, this little creative exercise reminded me of the importance of making memories.  We all need to reflect on our lives, to remember what is really important, to write down what God is teaching us, to take pictures of beautiful things, to make time for the people who we love.

Not only do we need to make a memory, but we need to savor those memories, to linger & fully experience the joy, to come back to them again & again & be grateful.

Lastly, we need to share our memories.  Share the wonderful gifts of God’s grace in your lives with others, and you multiply both your happiness and theirs.  Purpose to make a memory this week, savor it, and share it and watch your life grow.

Beauty Born Out of Adversity

One of the most widely photographed trees in the world was the Jeffrey Pine on the crest of Sentinel Dome in Yosemite National Park.  Its beauty was made famous by the legendary Ansel Adams in 1940, and was photographed & enjoyed by thousands until it died of drought in 1977.

Many say that its rugged beauty was the result of centuries of harsh winds, frigid winters, and dry summers, that its was a beauty born out of adversity. But I would argue differently.   It was not adversity that produced the beauty of the tree— it was the response of the tree to adversity.  Over the centuries, there may have been hundreds of seedlings sprout on that rocky crag, but only one survived, yes, not only survived but thrived and became a source of inspiration.

What was the difference?  How did that tree respond to its adversity?  And how can we respond to the adversities in our lives?

First, the tree found a secure footing and stayed rooted.   This tree dug itself into the great stone mountain, so much larger & stronger than itself.  As long as it stayed rooted in the rock, it was immovable, no matter how fiercely the wind blew.

Jesus said that we could be the same way.  In the parable of the two builders in Matthew 7:24-27 He said that only the house built on the rock was able to withstand the storm. Just like the tree & just like the house,  we can withstand the storms of life as long as our roots are firmly planted in the solid rock of Christ’s teachings.

Second, the tree kept growing despite the hardship.  In the book Mindset psychologist Carol Dweck concludes that successful people share a “growth mindset,” a basic life outlook that says that life is about growth, no matter the challenges.  As the old saying goes, life consists not in holding good cards, but in playing those you hold well.  That tiny seedling on Sentinel Dome hundreds of years ago did not hold “a good hand,” but it played its hand well. So can you, if you refuse to stagnate, if you continue to learn & change & fight & grow no matter what.

Third, the tree drew its life & strength from daily exposure to the sun.  That tree could have decided, “This wind and snow is too much, I’ll build a wall all around me and a roof to keep out the cold.”  If it had, it would have died, for trees need sunlight to survive.  In the same way, we are sometimes tempted to wall ourselves off in our hardship, from others, even from God.  But only by daily looking to Christ & abiding in His light can we draw the strength to live & grow & flourish in this all-too-often harsh world.

Do you want to have beauty born from the adversity in your life?  Then remember to stay anchored and rooted in Christ, keep growing, & draw life & strength daily from Him.

Created for His Glory

I went hiking yesterday along a section of the Appalachian Trail that led to my favorite waterfall in Tennessee, Laurel Falls

It was a perfect day to soak up beauty and wonder, from wildflowers—
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to sheer rock faces—
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From a gently bubbling stream—
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to water thundering over a 55 foot precipice—
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I hiked along, rejoicing in it all, and thanking God for the glory He displayed in its creation.

But in the midst of that beauty, I was actually admiring and enjoying something even more, something that really blew me away:

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My three not-so-kids anymore kids (along with two more friends). As I saw them climbing over ledges and up and down hills, laughing, talking, singing, I thought that even though God reveals Himself through the beauty and majesty of nature, He reveals Himself even more through His children. Isaiah 43:6-7 says,

Bring my sons from afar
and my daughters from the end of the earth,
everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made.

They possess a glory far above even the fairest flower or most majestic waterfall, for each one has been created in the very image of God. God has made each one of them, each one a unique, precious, fantastic creation, for His glory and my joy.

For all my pics from the hike, click here.

Joy in the Journey

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Thursday our family went on a little hike in Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the Alum Cave Bluff Trail. Perfect spring day to listen & look at the cool mountain stream, the cascades and waterfalls along the way. We went up to Arch Rock and back, about three miles. All the pictures that I took are here.

There’s a quiet joy during the moments when you realize that your kids are growing up. My youngest led out during most of the hike and didn’t even get winded. I remember the hikes when he was in a backpack carrier— and now he’s leading. Although the Apostle John was using the word “children” metaphorically, my mind thought of 3 John 1:4—

I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.

There is a joy to see my children walking in truth, walking with God. There’s a joy when we see all our loved ones and friends walking with God. Michael Card wrote of this in an old song that I treasure:

There is a joy in the journey
There’s a light we can love on the way
There is a wonder and wildness to life
And freedom for those who obey

May you have joy in your journey as you walk with God today.

Bartholdi Park

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This peaceful spot is in Bartholdi Park, one of two parks that are within sight of the United States Capital.  More pictures can be found here.

Natural Bridge

 

Still Round the Corner
This verse was inscribed on a rock face near Natural Bridge, VA where we stopped on our way to a family vacation this week at Washington DC and Williamsburg. More photos of Natural Bridge can be found by clicking here

The Devil’s Backbone

No, this isn’t a cheap shot at making taking a hike spiritual, this was actually the name of the trail that my son Andrew and I hiked today— 4 miles of rugged East Tennessee goodness!  Come to think of it, maybe you feel the devil is on your backbone by the time you finish hiking it up and down the ridges with a loaded pack.

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To see all the pics taken on my iPhone click here.

Laurel Falls

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Took a five mile hike yesterday to Laurel Falls, a spectacular 50 foot plunge nestled deep in a Tennessee mountain gorge.  Besides geting out in a beautiful place, I was anxious to try out my new camera. All of my pics can be found here.  While I was hiking, I also used my new camera to listen to a John Piper sermon, check some stock quotes, see the weather report, look at a satellite map of my location, surf the web, read some Bible verses, and, oh yea, talk to a friend.  What the heck kind of camera can do all that?  Well, this kind can.

A Little Refresher Course on God’s Power

IMG_2410.JPGThere are multiple stories in the Bible where someone got a little refresher course in God’s power by an encounter with the force of water (Exodus 14; Psalm 107:23-32; Jonah 1; Matthew 8:23-27; Acts 27). I thought about those stories when I stood a few feet from Abram’s Falls in Smoky Mountains National Park.  You see, hear, & feel the force of the water, force that has been blasting for thousands of years by God’s design, to be a reflection of His power. It does one’s soul some good to just spend some time listening to God’s creation testify to its Creator(Psalm 19). For a few more pics of the waterfall and the trail to it just click here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Trail Less Traveled

IMG_2396.JPGVacationing in the Smoky Mountains and visiting the Rockefeller Memorial at Newfound Gap, my oldest son said, “Look, is that a trail?”  And behind the stone monument there was a unmarked trail tracking up the ridge.  So the four of us went traipsing up this trail for a few minutes.  And what was fun was thinking, “Has anyone been up here in a week? a month?”  And knowing we were less than a hundred feet from the Appalachian Trail with its hundreds of hikers, and this was actually a more interesting hike than the Newfound Gap section of the AT.  Pretty cool.  That’s one thing I want to teach my kids, that God often wants us to take the trail less traveled, the narrow road vs. the wide way, as we journey along in life.  For some more pics click here.