Ride of Blessing and Contributions

I rode my bike yesterday for the first time in three weeks. I’m not recovered enough to go for a hardcore, gonzo, killin’ it ride; but I was on two wheels, feeling the breeze caressing my face and seeing the sights of a sunny Saturday. Large volumes of people were milling through the parks. There was a walk-a-thon promoting a cure for Alzheimer’s, some sort of dog rally and a bunch of others like me going for a pleasant ride, run or stroll.

What a blessing. I don’t typically take being on my bike for granted, but it did get me thinking about how many other things, or even people, I do take for granted. It’s funny, and sort of sad, how a loss of something is the spark toward thankfulness and a deeper awareness of other people’s needs. Some people of course, allow hardship to make them bitter; but still, we all have a choice to either let the hardship better our character or to shrink it.

So, while on my bike and being attentive to my surroundings, my mind also seems to almost float, like it’s been freed from a cage of inactivity. In this freeing feeling a dawning of understanding broke through over the horizon of my soul. The dawning was a realization that I need to be more intentional about cultivating thankfulness. This sort of intentionality will improve my character while helping me be more of a blessing to others. It will also provide power in staving off any root bitterness from taking hold in the soil of my soul (see Hebrews 12:12-17).

1 Thessalonians 5 says:

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (vv. 16-17).

It’s easy to be thankful while on my bike riding over a brand new sparkling bridge spanning a

Bike bridge

My bike with the Willamette River in the background.

gurgling creek. But have I have been thankful in the depth of mental or physical pain, or in work frustration or family tension? As I ride with the sun warming my face and with my quads cheering on the beauty of each pedal stroke, I become more mindful of my lack of thankfulness when I’m not experiencing such a blessing. It’s just one more reminder that I’m a work in progress; thankfully, God is patient with me!

 

 Contribution

As most of us, I am deeply aware of the ravages happening in the wake of two raging hurricanes slamming into our brothers and sisters. Please pray for these people and for these tragedies to somehow turn hearts to God and not away from Him. Also, if possible, please consider contributing to one of the many good fund-raising efforts or even volunteering to help if possible for you to do so.

God, please help them!  

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Autumn Reset

Why is it I feel the need to do a bit of reset? I don’t know. Maybe it’s because there is a slight chill to the early morning air or that the leaves are starting to turn into glorious displays of color. Or that eating dinner outside now requires us to get bundled up. It could also be because it’s a new school year and also, for the most part, new ministry years for churches.

All of this inspires Janey and me to change how we maintain fun and sustainable approaches to healthy living. Yes, we strive to eat as much fresh organic food as possible. We look for cruelty free meat and eggs and grass-fed, hormone-free beef. We are also thankful that such food is available and that we are able to purchase it.

 

What’s Missing?

But still, there’s need to change a bit. If you’ve been reading my blog, you know that I’ve greatly changed the way I approach cycling. Now my cycling is more Urban Adventure Riding rather than going for long rides out into the country. Part of the change is to accommodate the fact that the roads are just dangerous out here. Another reason is that typical road bikes don’t really fit my spine very well, but the hybrid bikes do.

One way to compensate for the dangerous roads is to ride into the danger; so rather than the long rides into rolling hills and farms, I now commute to and from work and sometimes church. I take the bike grocery shopping and to doctor’s appointments. And my leisure rides are usually all under 20 miles but include a couple of massive hills. All these rides provide for more interval-type riding (riding hard for bout 30-ish seconds, followed by coasting or light pedaling); which is supposedly a healthier approach to working out, especially as we age (see Drs. Josh Axe, Joseph Mercola and Michael VanDershcelden). But the rains are coming; and no matter how hearty I like to think I’ll be, the reality is that riding in the rain isn’t just miserable, it’s even more dangerous. So, what to do?

 

So, How’s it Done?

Well, what we’re doing is adding more interval-based workouts into our routines. This requires us to change how we use weights and how we approach our aerobic workouts. It also helps to stave off boredom, continues fueling our desire for healthier eating, and it is opening opportunities for us to work out together!

So over the last several months we have acquired an elliptical trainer and a high-tech exercise equipstationary bike (check out Nordic Track to view the products). We have various barbells, kettlebells, and tension bands.  We also have a few workout DVDs. And we’ve arranged space in our home so we don’t have to rely on going to the gym. So getting to our workout is no more than few steps away or just out of our front door.

 

But Why?

You might be asking yourself why? Well, we have some good reasons; at least to us they’re good reasons. First, there’s health reasons. Heart disease is on both sides of our family. Most of my relatives died from some sort of heart disease; and I was born with a defective heart valve. Plus, my spine is compromised and one of the best things to do for it is to remain active; not letting the chronic pain stop me but to instead confront the pain with natural remedies found in food and exercise.

Second, we are the temple of the Holy Spirit:

Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?

­-­1 Corinthians 5:19

I know that my time is in God’s hands, but that’s no excuse for not taking as good of care of myself as I can. Dr. Gary Smalley states that “many people react strongly (at first) against the idea that in order to enjoy healthy relationships, they first have to keep themselves healthy” (The DNA of Relationships, 2004, p. 114). So taking care of ourselves is not selfish, but is instead assisting the indwelling empowerment of the Holy Spirit to be a vital and positive life-source for those around us. And frankly, my base workout now-a-days, alongside cycling, is walking—simple, everyday walking. This is doable, it’s sustainable, and, thankfully, it’s enjoyable!

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.

Bike Tipping and Humility

Bike cageOne of humanity’s most noble character traits is humility. This same character trait is sorely missing from much of our culture. Even Jesus “humbled Himself” (see Philippians 2:8). But somehow humility seems elusive. I was bluntly reminded of this just yesterday at a stop light.

I commuted to work yesterday on my bike, my brand new shiny hybrid Trek Allant 7.4. Yep, look at me commuting, reducing my carbon footprint and improving my fitness. Ha, I’m not in a metal box spewing emissions; nope, I’m using pedal power. (Forget the fact that I drive 99% of the time!)

 

Timmmmmbeeeerrrrr!

It all started at the last intersection before my building. I’m rolling up to a stale red light at Summer and Union streets. I’m looking at the light hoping it’ll turn green in the next nanosecond. Keep in mind that both of my feet are securely clipped tightly into the cleats on my pedals, and since they are still new, getting my feet out of the cleats quickly is difficult because they’re not broken in yet.

So my forward momentum is all but stopped. Suddenly I find myself desperately trying to uncleat. I’m jerking my right leg in vain efforts to get the cleat to, well, uncleat. Now my bike starts wobbling. But with no forward momentum along with the jerking of my right leg, my brand new shiny bike begins lurching sideways.

Oh yes, that old familiar feeling of losing balance came rushing back as the ground came rushing up. That nanosecond mentioned above was my inglorious tumble onto the curb (ouch!) and grass. And of course it was next to two buildings with a thousand occupants each along with a busy intersection. I’m sure those that saw it all happen thought the same thing as I did, “What an idiot!”

And I’m sure it was humorous. Funny how in mid-tip both of my feet just uncleated and Bike fall.jpgflayed out in different directions; looking somewhat like Charlie Brown when Lucy pulls the football away from him: limbs flailing followed by a big thud. The big thud was my right shoulder on the grass and my right knee on the concrete curb.

 

Okay, just get up and act like nothing happened

On top of all of these clumsy theatrics, I had to be at a meeting in less than ten minutes. And it was a meeting I was facilitating. So I couldn’t just lie there, I had to get up, get back on my bike, get to work and get the meeting started. So that’s what I did. As an old song lyric states, I got back up and brushed myself off and hopped back up on the saddle.

Well, the meeting was a great success and thankfully I didn’t show up bleeding. My bike received no dings and my knee is only slightly swollen today (I did eventually have to ice it.) And, most of all, my fused neck is still fused!

 

Holier than Thou…Not!

Honestly, I don’t perceive myself to be a creature of self-absorption. But I do have periodic run-ins what that little monster known as ego (aka pride). Even as I was supremely embarrassed by my little mishap yesterday, I find it quite humorous. But it also reminds me not to entertain attitudes of grandeur; what is often referred to as being haughty or conceited.

I am a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17-21), that makes me cool in God’s eyes. But this “coolness” is purely because of God’s grace and mercy (Ephesians 2:1-10). Commuting on my bike doesn’t make me cool, neither does my attire or my paycheck. Christ makes me cool. At least to God I’m cool due to faith in Christ (Romans 10:9-10).

So the next time I start thinking I’m all that because I’m commuting, or have a cool bike or trendy new clothes, I’ll remember this bike tipping incident along with the embarrassment and my swollen knee. Hopefully this will help me thwart that little ego monster. But I do hope to remain upright!

Tissues of Praise?

Tissue_Box

I feel crummy. No, not crumby like I’m shoving fistfuls of saltines in my mouth. Crummy as in miserable, as in puny, as in…sick. Yep, sick. I can’t tell if it’s a summer cold or monster allergies or a combo platter of both. What I do know is I’ve gone through boxes of tissues. And when I ran out, I used paper towels (which I highly DON’T recommend!).

 

Missed Meetings and Canceled Dinners

I’ve missed two days of work containing six different meetings. I’ve missed two important and exciting church meetings (yes, I do find them exciting—weird, I know). I missed my oldest son’s band’s Friday night concert. We canceled a small dinner party for tonight and I have to reschedule an invite to the shooting range. And I’ll probably miss church.

I know…waaaahhhh! Still, I’m frustrated. I carefully planned my schedule, color-coded my appointments on my Franklin Planner and set alarms on my cell phone. But all for naught. I fear people are disappointed in me or think I’m wuss. I eat tons of raw fruits and veggies, exercise, get moderate rest; I live a healthy lifestyle. What’s going on?

 

Who Really Holds Tomorrow?

Part of what’s going on is realizing that healthy living is not to become a prideful badge of honor. I’m still in a broken body in a broken world and am susceptible to whatever crud is going around. When I don’t get the crud, I ought not to be praising myself for my healthy living, but instead praising God for sparing me from the crud. When I get the crud, as I have now, I need to praise God that He allows me to draw breath at all—especially since much of my past hasn’t been filled in glorifying Him. Mercy and praise should be my thoughts even as I again empty my schnoz into yet another tissue that frays on my whiskers.

Moreover, God doesn’t promise me tomorrow—He promises me an eternal destiny forevermore with Him. My tomorrow could be in Heaven. Or it could be another day of sniffles and fraying tissues. Or healing.

And in spite of all my planning, color-coding and alarm-setting; God is the one holding tomorrow:

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.”

–James 4:13-15

Plan On…But Pray First

So James does not discourage planning, but he does remind us to remain mindful that God is ultimately in control of all things and does indeed hold our lives in His hands. Planning is good; prayerful planning is even better. Humility then, may be the catalyst for authentic prayerful planning.

So while I’m bummed my schedule has been so severely impacted and I’m equally as bummed to be feeling crummy, I am grateful for the reminder that no matter what my plans or my healthful lifestyle are, God is the One that is central to my life and being. Keeping this in view will allow me to live more freely in the Lord and, frankly, have more grace to others when they can’t show up to meetings or have to cancel dinner plans.

Next week I’ll return to themes more theological, but for now—I’m out; gotta go blow my nose!

Cycling to Sisters and: The Why

Miller_tour_1

Climbing up Tombstone pass, portions of which pitch to a ten percent grade, causes one to ask the question: why am I doing this? My lungs weren’t exploding but my quads were. Even though I had already put in nearly 1,000 base miles, I had not trained for hills this big, especially in the altitude we were moving into. Again, the question, why?

 I don’t know.

 The day before Tombstone, we had ridden from Keizer to Sweet Home, about 58 miles and change. And of course, there were hills, big hills; but nothing like Tombstone. In fact, it was uphill for 40 miles from Sweet Home to the top of Tombstone, 11 miles of it between six and 10 percent in grade. What am I trying to prove?

I don’t know.

Maybe it was the thrill of the adventure, the challenge of pushing my body beyond anything I’ve done in 25 years, or maybe it was the fellowship with friends or the scenery, or wanting to see how far I could push my triple-fusion neck. Maybe it was a combination of all the above. Maybe I need to see a doctor.

 Before the trip even began I thought maybe I’d get some nice quality prayer time while spending hours in the saddle. But that didn’t happen. I was suffering too much to truly pray other than pleading for help up this massive mountain that seemed to head straight up into space. I prayed I wouldn’t get hit by the many cars speeding by. I prayed my dizziness wouldn’t all of the sudden cause me to veer into the speeding traffic or off the side of the gravelly canyon. Oh yes, I prayed, it just wasn’t the prayer of solitude, but more the prayer of panic. Why?

 I don’t know.

 But I made it. Granted, I didn’t turn a pedal on every mile but I rose to the primary challenges while also being humbled—humbled by the hills, humbled by my slowness, and humbled by the loss of former physical abilities. I am not 28 anymore and I do have a compromised spine. I also have a loving God that allows me to participate in such endeavors.

And perhaps this is the answer to the why, deepening humility while also, as ironic as it sounds, deepening my gratefulness to God. I did draw closer to Jesus if only in recognizing that, yes, He was with my in the terrifying descent down the Santiam Pass and into Sisters. He was with me on the last arduous climb the day after Sisters where I swore I’d quite riding (although I was riding less than 24 hours later after we got home). He was with me as I was so dizzy I could hardly keep my bike in a straight line. And He is still with me now, even after such a quest; a quest I didn’t need to do other than verifying to my own soul that, yes, even now, I am alive, I am well, but even more, I am alive and I am living life, not letting life live me.

 That I do know.

Rest for the Soul While in the Saddle

Trek Bike“All I wanted to do was ride my bike.”
–Chris Froome, Tour de France winner from his book, Climb

“Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
–Jesus, Matthew 11:29

These two quotes, while seemingly unrelated, were pounding in my head with each laborious pedal stroke. I was climbing a hill, more like a mountain, something like a 90% grade, and … okay, it wasn’t that steep but it felt like it should have been! I was attacking the hill at a blisteringly slothful pace, in fact, my cyclometer was mocking me by registering only 1 mph. But I didn’t care, it was Saturday, grad school was done for the semester so I had no homework and I was on the road with sun, shade, wind and hills. I was alone and loving every painful second of it.

I was panting hard and resting in my soul.

The word ‘rest’ in the quote from Jesus can mean an inner quieting, a calming of the internal seas of thought and motion; or as Strong’s Concordance states it is an intermission or cessation from motion. For me, on that hill and most of the time on my bike it is an inner quieting. I often pray as I ride, not just that I won’t get killed by a car or wipe out on the descent, but I also pray thankfulness and worship because I am blessed to be doing something I love. In fact, I even invite Jesus to accompany me on my rides; this may sound silly but it is an intentional action on my part to acknowledge the Lord’s ever-presence. This brings a quietness to my soul.

Part of the quietness is steeped in contentment. I am content on my bike. Even as my friends have nicer bikes and are stronger riders, I am still content doing my best. My bike serves me well and it is the nicest I’ve ever owned (it’s a Trek 1.5). I’ve improved a little bit from last year and my fitness level is pretty high. There’s no reason not to be content, even on the big hills or in unrelenting headwinds; eventually I crest the hills to then enjoy the speed down the other side and strong headwinds often become strong tailwinds, allowing me to cruise at a much faster pace than normal. It’s awesome to be speeding along with little to no effort, it’s like sailing on asphalt!

The word ‘soul’ is really the inner core of our being, the ‘seat’ of all of our thoughts and feelings, it’s also caller our ‘heart.’ So Jesus is saying that in Him the inner core of our being, the very nature of our existence can rest, have intermission, can quiet down as we take His yoke onto our lives. The word ‘yoke’ will be explored at another time, but it has nothing to do with fulfilling works or with eggs!

On the bike I concentrate on the road directly in front of me, or on my breathing or on my pedal strokes amidst my prayers. I don’t have time nor inclination to worry about my future; besides, I need to make sure I am not riding through broken glass or jagged little rocks that litter the shoulders (when there are shoulders). For a brief time I am living in the now, I am actually present with the moment rather than worrying about the future or lamenting about the past. All that is is now, there is nothing else, that is, of course, until I arrive back in in my driveway and see my youngest son playing with the sprinkler in the mud patch that used to have a hedge on it!

Herons Flock? Early Morning Cycling and God’s Surprises

001I glanced off to my right on one of my early morning rides. The sun had been up for about five minutes so when I looked right, I looked right into the sun (I totally forgot that right was also east). This two-lane country road was vacant except for a lone cyclist in a bright red jersey (that’d be me; I wanted to make sure bleary-eyed, under caffeinated drivers saw me). On each side of the road are large cow pastures. In the field on the right was a gigantic sprinkler with big earth-mover wheels. I think it runs off a big water pump in the center of one those round fields you usually only see from the air.

Anyway, standing in the misty spray was a lone and large Blue Heron. Or so I thought. I had to look again, because I love viewing wild life (the natural kind, I had enough of the other wild life as an undergrad—and what little I actually remember is more about mysterious bruises and pounding headaches). I’m fascinated by the bird’s long, slender neck and needle-like beak. Then I saw another one, then another and then…a whole bunch of them! About 20 were gathering in rather loose proximity to each other, apparently all of them basking in the swirling mist of the sprinkler heads. I always thought they were solitary birds. I would have stopped to take a picture but I didn’t want to slow the awesome momentum I had in my blistering pace of 18 mph (all right, I heard that snicker…so I’m not Jens Voight, but I do ride a Trek).

Later on, I told two of my colleagues about this as we were waiting for one of those dreary, late afternoon meetings. Neither of them believed me so they whipped out their smart phones in a race to ascertain the truth. It was sorta like a phone-on-phone High Noon scenario, I can just see Gary Cooper jangling in spinning spurs, whipping out his Android and….oops, I digress. Anyway, Susan won the race and found out that Herons occasionally flock in an effort to round up prey in a Heron-induced circle of breakfast. Apparently they eat rodents from time to time as well. Who knew (except early morning cyclists, and, of course, Google)?

Every now and then I run into one of these fascinating nuggets of discovery. This was something I would have never known had I not been cycling early in the morning. And as a person of faith I could only smile at God’s creativity with all the varieties and oddities of life right here in my own proverbial backyard.