A Vacation Learned

Sunset_2016

Sunset from the Inn at Spanish Head

Like most people, I love the idea of a vacation. It’s a time to get away, do some out-of-the-ordinary things and to…relax. Just the thought of relaxing spurred the following thought:

 

We’re on vacation,

still safe away from home…so…

lower those shoulders!

 

Most of my life I’ve heard that I’m either wound a bit tight or just too intense. I honestly don’t see it, but even my doc told me I need to learn to relax. So this vacation I wanted to relax a bit. But how do you relax when there’s so much packing, unpacking, packing again; traveling; food stuff; and all those activities? Plus I wanted to have some stellar alone-times with God; just me, God and prayer. Then I could really hear his voice.

But I’ve learned a few things along the way and finally applied that learning this last two weeks.

 

Applied Learning

If I am so focused on the next task, then the current moment slips away. How many “slipped-away moments” need to occur before the vacation itself actually comes to an end? Also, if I’m expecting to hear from God only in special, contrived moments; it’s most likely that I’ll miss His voice altogether. How is this overcome?

Francis Schaffer states that “growth…like all things in our life, [is] a moment-by-moment process” (True Spirituality, 2001, p. 157). Overcoming the inability to relax boils down to the intentionality of living in the moment. Where’s God? In the moment. What matters most now? That which is in the moment.

For instance, hiking is more enjoyable when I am taking in the sights, sounds, and smells of the moment. Plus I can better enjoy the physical effort of my body working hard to carry me to the next step, then the next, then the next. Rather than being solely focused on getting enough steps on my pedometer, or reaching a specific mile marker; the hike is more enjoyable when I stop to watch a honey bee working on a purple lupine. Or when I ask the fly fisher if he’s caught anything or simply feeling the warmth of the sun’s rays radiating on my chest. Before I know it my mind is relaxed, work worries have dissipated as the morning mist on the river and suddenly I sense the presence of the Holy Spirit. I’m in the moment and God is with me…in the moment. Jesus even lived in the moment and taught His followers not to worry but to trust God instead (see Matthew 6:25-34).

Then there’s the time around the campfire with Grandpa and Caleb. We’re all in the moment just chatting about whatever strikes our fancy. Or the moment right before we mash through a Class 4 rapid at Box Springs on the Deschutes River; we’re all looking at each other with smiles mixed with thrill and fear. We’re all thinking the same thing, “I’m not falling out!” Then there’s flying a kite on the sands of Lincoln City. The family is together, each taking turns flying our multi-colored kite.

What do these moments have in common? They are shared moments. We’re not all sitting

BB_Simmit

The Three Sisters seen from the summit of Black Butte

around fretting about packing or about what’s for dinner; we are instead enjoying a campfire, or a white-water raft trip or family time at the beach. These are the moments that make a vacation. And these are the vacations that build memories, happy memories. Like climbing the summit of Black Butte with my ten-year-old and drinking in the spectacular view together. Or watching the humpback whales feeding just off the coast line while we’re having dinner. Or watching the sun setting in the Pacific Ocean, hoping to see the green flash. Or listening to Grandpa telling us stories from his past.

 

I’m Just Starting to Get It!

I’m still learning of course, but at least I’m finally beginning to understand how to “do” vacation. It all rests in the moment. And it’s funny, when I live more and more in the moment, I fret less over the future, I actually feel relaxed…and, yes…my shoulders do finally lower!

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Pine Cones and Simplicity

Pine Cone

Here comes the Pine Cone fleet! 

Spending time in the wilderness always resets my life a bit. It’s not always relaxing but I usually come away with either a clearer understanding of something or experience something brand new. Last Thursday morning was a combination of both.

 

Thursday Morning with Caleb

I was having my early morning quiet time while sitting on the bank of the Metolious River; Caleb, our ten year old son, was with me. I was busily praying and journaling when I noticed him tossing pine cones into the water. Their buoyancy fascinated him as did the quickness of them being carried away by the current. In no time, he was gathering armfuls of them, throwing them in at the same time and then following them by running down the bank as they floated away. Watching him I wrote in my journal:

“Caleb is playing a pine cone fleet game. He tosses them into the water and watches them ‘race’ through the channel and through a vegetation tunnel and out the other side if they don’t get stuck.”

He was having great fun just collecting, tossing, racing and watching pine cones flowing away in the river. I marveled at the simplicity of it. As most American kids his age, he has a computer with some appropriate games on it, he has a Wii U loaded with Lego City Undercover and we recently got him a smart phone (the Weather.com app is his favorite). So the kid is definitely “gadgetized,” but on this Thursday morning he was unplugged and loving every second of it.

 

“Light Bulb”

I was struck by the simplicity of his game. It wasn’t complex, the parts were easy to find and already assembled, and there was only one rule: which ever pine cone got to the finish line first, won! Simple, basic and fun.

His simple pine cone game got me thinking about faith, especially faith in Christ. How easy it is to complicate it, losing sight of the basic elements of our faith. We over-complicate God’s grace and mercy and certainly over-complicate salvation. We lose sight of the significance of the resurrection and of the ascension.  It reminds of 2 Corinthians 11:3:

But I am afraid that, even as the serpent beguiled Eve by his cunning, your minds may be corrupted and led away from the simplicity of [your sincere and] pure devotion to Christ. Amplified Bible (AMP)

While I greatly enjoy deep theological discussions and writings, I can’t let the seriousness of such discussions distract me from the simple truths. Truths such as it is “by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:9), and that “in Him we live and move and have our being: (Acts 17:28), or the biggie that Paul and Silas expressed to the Philippian jailer: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31).

These are simple, yet profound truths. They are the pine cones in the current of our lives. And the one “rule” to this is faith. There are no set of complexities we must accomplish first and we don’t have to assemble it because it is fully assembled in Christ. We just need faith; yes, even the faith of a child (Matthew 18:1-5 and Mark 10:14-15).

Focused Prayer through Cycling?

I’ve recently noticed how quickly my mind becomes focused when riding a bike down a steep hill at nearly 30 miles an hour. A more intense, laser-type focus springs forth when this descent has me inches away from a rumbling tractor-trailer on my left and a four inch concrete curb on my right. Prayer suddenly emerges when the bike path I’m navigating through is debris-strewn with rocks, twigs, tire-puncturing glass and odd bits of metal. Then, invariably, the light turns red! My mind effortlessly switches to shifting gears, applying brakes and unclipping my right cleat from the pedal (see my post on Bike Tipping and Humility for more on how not to unclip). At the red light I notice my breathing is heavy but my mind is amazingly aware and engaged. I’m awake! I’m alive! And I’m loving life!

 

I Can’t Run?

For some reason, this reminds me of when my neurosurgeon told me stop running; it was like a gut-punch knocking the wind out me. I loved to run. I could pray when I ran; meditate or ponder some complex work-related issue when I ran. Running was also the quickest way to stave off those pesky love handles!

Cycling certainly helps keep me fit and trim, but I can’t just put my shoes on and run. And I can’t ride my bike while lost in prayer or some other deep thought. So I’ve had to adapt.

Cycling requires more preparation and more equipment. But, alas, I’ve been riding consistently since the summer of ’13 when God blessed me with the ability to buy a newer bike that better fit my “newer” neck. I did a lot of riding when I was younger, but gave it up when I started a family. When I wanted to start riding again, I discovered my old bike didn’t fit me anymore, primarily due to neck surgeries; after all, triple fusions have a way of messing with mobility! So I needed a new bike. Granted, it’s not a super expensive bike, but neither am I a super-expensive rider. Do I really need carbon everything and the fanciest gadget that talks to every satellite? No, not really, I’m not going to set any Strava records and I get dropped in every group ride I participate in; so my equipment is very solid, mid-range stuff. Maybe someday I’ll share more details about my specific bits of equipment.

 

A Little Background

long_road.jpgBefore we moved to the west side of town, my rides were typically flat and long; I could get on a long stretch of country road and let my mind sort of zone out. It could wander off in all sorts of different directions.

Living out here though, letting my mind wander even briefly could have disastrous results. I need to stay focused on the long, hard climbs; otherwise, I might slow so much I fall over or simply mentally give up. A wandering mind while urban adventure riding (UAR) could cause me to miss the car pulling out in front of me, or the light turning red or the box of nails spilled in the bike path (yes that really happened).

But what it is also teaching me is to live in the moment. Each moment in UAR can bring opportunities. Opportunities to sprint through the yellow light or climb the big hill in the midst of a bumper-to-bumper traffic jam or to watch kayakers slide effortless under the Union Street foot bridge. And with Pokeman Go, there always fully distracted bi-peds crossing my path! It’s awesome! But it requires me to be in the moment each moment.

 

Living in the Moment and Prayer

This is new to me. I’m always thinking ahead, like to the next meeting, the next vacation, Stay_mind_verse.jpgor even what’s for dinner. I rarely live in the moment. And not living in the moment makes me a terrible listener and it inhibits my prayer life. Training my mind to focus, even if it is through UAR, is developing the skill of “staying my mind.” Look what Isaiah says:

You [God] will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts you. (26:3)

This means that as I focus my mind, or lean my mind upon God, God can work His peace in my soul. Such a stayed mind helps me allow the peace of Christ to fill me (see John 14:27 and Colossians 3:15). Being scattered and unfocused just causes my mind to be agitated or simply distracted. If my prayer life is scattered, then what does that say about my heart toward God? Am I really seeking His kingdom first (see Matthew 6:33), or am I jumping around with a to-do list I want God to fill?  So the skills of living in the moment that I’m learning in my UAR efforts are also helping me in my prayer life. Now when I sit and pray, I’m more intentional about being focused on just God, His character and, of course, His grace and mercy.

Now I don’t think everyone needs to adopt a UAR life, but I do think each of us has something in our lives that we can learn from. Take gardening, for instance. Working the soil and caring for plants has way of slowing and then focusing the mind. Or what about model building, jigsaw puzzles or hiking? If we look for learning opportunities, we may be surprised how many there are in our everyday lives.