A weekly blog about relationships, belief, and personal growth, written from a position of hope.
Within one hour of arriving at our campsite a bear decided to stop in for a visit. We had heard the stories, knew the likelihood of an encounter, and even saw the “you are now entering bear country” sign at the trailhead. No amount of preparation makes it any less scary when you’re staring a 500-pound bear in the face.
The bear was running towards us, and we didn’t notice until it was forty yards away. When we realized what was happening, our reaction scared the bear away. I think it was more interested in the food we were preparing than mauling us. Even still, the image stayed seared in our mind the whole trip, and falling asleep that night wasn’t the easiest.
Yellowstone was my first endeavor with backcountry camping in bear country. It was unlike anything I’ve done in terms of wilderness. It’s truly a massive and beautiful park, and there were moments, much like I described about being in Ireland, where I had to remind myself this is real.
My phone was useless, other than the camera, for most of the trip. Once I knew the “No Service” indicator wasn’t going away, I switched to airplane mode, and with that all of the constant stimuli of phone calls, text messages, emails, notifications, and social media went silent.
We were fortunate enough to be camping within forty yards or so of a river, but even with that convenience every single ounce of water we drank had to be filtered. Firewood had to be constantly gathered. The next meal always involved bringing bear bags down from the trees. Nothing was as easy as being at home.
I realized throughout most of the day we did two things. We spent time on necessities: food, water, fire. We spent time together as friends. It was that simple. And you know what I realized? Time didn’t fly by. The day never got away from me. In fact, there were multiple times I thought it was 2pm, only to realize it was barely 10:30am.
I don’t think we realize what our busy schedules and technology do to our brains. They’re creating a self-induced, anxiety-laden time warp where we miss the simplest and richest aspects of our existence. I’m grateful I’m not at risk of dying from the common cold like the early settlers, but I also think we’ve acquired a new sickness they weren’t at risk of.
We weren’t built to maintain the pace many of us keep, and you don’t realize how ridiculous the whole system is until you’re outside of it. Maybe I’m just nature-drunk and sound like I read Walden recently, but I truly think my conviction is legitimate here.
The last night we were there we stepped away from the fire into a nearby opening to look at the stars. With zero light pollution, the stars were clearer than ever before. We could see the faint light of the Milky Way and could easily pick out constellations. It was a moment of awe I’ll carry with me always.
I can’t fly across the country to a national park every weekend, but I can turn my phone off and drive one mile to Moss Rock Preserve. Disconnecting, seeking moments of wonder and awe, returning to the simplest parts of life—it’s the antidote to this busy-sickness we’re creating. I know I need it, and I would venture to say you probably do, too.
Love God and love your neighbor—Jesus made it pretty simple. He didn’t make it easy, though. Loving God includes having faith, which is confidence in things hoped for and the assurance of things unseen. And guess who our “neighbor” includes? Our enemies, too.
Simple, not easy. At times they almost seem like impossible things—faith and enemy loving, that is. Believing in the midst of tragedy that God is working for your good can almost feel like a bad joke. Forgiving someone who hasn’t asked nor feels any remorse for their wrongdoing can feel downright counterintuitive, even unjust.
But much of the beautiful, mysterious aspects of life are just that—counterintuitive, irrational, illogical, nonsensical, absurd, unfair, illusive, confusing, backwards...
The phrase “few will find it” we hear Jesus say when referring to the small gate and narrow road makes a lot of sense when you think about the counter-cultural, upside-down path of grace. Receiving what you do not deserve in a post-enlightenment, post-scientific revolution, modern society can sound kind of whack.
But it’s what we need. It’s what I need. It’s the timeless paradox of what’s high is low and what’s low is high, to be first is to be last, death brings life. It creates a serious tension, a tension we are forced to reckon with as we clash with a world that pushes back.
I’m at a phase in life where supernatural ideas are met with much more skepticism, fiction is even harder to read, and loving my “enemy” seems like an impossible endeavor. But I persist, I continue to try to dream, to hope, to believe in impossible things.
The impossible moves us forward, out of our own hangups and failures, out of the darkness, into a light that’s always been beckoning, since the beginning of time.
I noticed the guy in the lane next to me was yelling at the car behind him while we were stopped at the red light. I looked in their direction to see what was going on when the guy noticed me looking. He then proceeded to shout at me too. Intrigued, I rolled my window down. Surely this shirtless fellow had something important to say.
“I’m a redneck! I’m from Alabama!” He proudly shouted. I didn’t know whether to laugh or not. He had that “I would hit somebody over an Alabama football game” look in his eye, and I wasn’t sure if this was a joke or if this self-proclaimed redneck was actually looking for a scuffle. The light changed, and our exchange ended as the truck sped off, crossing three lanes of traffic and turning down a road I wasn’t traveling.
There’s something to be said about what someone calls themselves, or people who feel the need to announce something about themselves. I’m always a little wary of any title or description someone self-assigns. I saw a bumper stick once that said “HUMBLE.” Really? Doesn’t that kinda contradict the whole idea?
Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Who you are speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you say.” This quote gets me every time, because one of my fears is being disingenuous. For someone to read my blog then experience my life and see incongruity would be utter failure in my mind.
I heard Derek Webb describe the word “Christian” once as we use it in popular culture. He said if it’s used to describe anything other than a person then it’s a marketing term. Words like “Christian” that imply some sort of value always make me skeptical of the one using them.
I guess what I’m getting at, is the older I get the more I want to be shown than told. Who you are is going to speak louder than what you say, anyway. And be careful, especially if someone’s description of themselves could be a manipulation of your trust. At the very least, it might just be an announcement of their insecurity or pain.
So from this humble, Christian, Bama fan—Roll Tide, y’all!
I woke up really early yesterday, made coffee, and walked to the end of the pier. As I stared at the stillness of the lake I took in the tranquility that’s nearly impossible to find anywhere but nature. My phone rested next to me, its service spotty enough for me to remain uninterested.
I’m actually glad there is no service or WiFi for backup there. It’s forced detox from the never-ending stimuli of a smartphone. They’re definitely convenient, and I can’t imagine working or communicating without one, but this is a sanctuary from the endless notifications, messages, calls, and information.
I heard something move behind me and looked to see a tiny turtle joining me to welcome the day. A heron swooped in and perched on the pier opposite of me. The breeze blew, and I had yet to feel the heat that’s sure to come later in the day. The morning still had enough chill to periodically bring bumps to the back of my arm.
I tried to let my mind go blank, to not think about anything specific, to simply be present. I was reminded how incredibly hard that actually is. Most days require my mind to be like a web browser with 36 tabs open.
To sit and just be aware, without an inner dialogue, with no self-talk, no scripts, no worries, no quiet insecurities, nothing to be anxious about, not wanting, nothing—it’s really challenging.
It is absolutely necessary, though. It’s like starting a diet or a workout routine and not realizing how terrible you actually felt before you did it. In the same fashion, finding true quiet is not easy to start or sustain but reaps huge benefits once the discipline sets in.
I have nothing monumental, existential, or world shattering to offer this week, other than a brief testimony and encouragement to get outside and get off your phone. I actually feel great today, and that wouldn’t be so had I not hit the reset button. Now, back to those 36 tabs I had open...
Those who go first sometimes leave a map for others to follow. Like markers along the road, we come across the path others have forged. As fellow travelers, we do our part to keep the road clear and offer any insight or direction for those coming after.
In our personal Iives we leave identity markers. The things that shaped up, the spaces we created and occupied for a time—they become rest stops for others on the same journey.
I was listening to an interview with Audrey Assad, and she put into words what I’ve always felt about the aim of my own life, particularly in writing the blog:
“I see myself as someone who is building rooms for people to sit in in different spots on their journey, and every time I go through something I build a room around it, and then I walk forward and build another one, and people who come after me can use those spaces.”
The worst place to find yourself is not a different place than you were before but a lonelier place. As we grow and change we often find ourselves emotionally or spiritually homeless. I love Audrey’s picture of rooms to occupy as you move forward.
I think of cabins built by early settlers and left for the next pioneers to occupy as they ventured further into the unknown. I imagine days, weeks, months of hiking in the wilderness, family and belongings in tow, wondering what refuge your seeking will find.
I think the metaphor of creating and leaving space for others might be one of the most meaningful objectives we can set for ourselves in life. What better way to love your neighbor than to house them when they’re homeless? Keep building rooms, my friends. We will all need a place to stay at some point or another.
You haven't missed your calling
From where I sit in this hospital waiting room
Accept the invitation to live
The lighted window
It was worth it
The subtle sounds of a life together
Made for the now-what
When holidays are hard
Sharing in our suffering
To my doubting friend
Ten years down the road
How long, Lord?
A season of doubt