Getting Up Early?!

Saturdays I like to sleep in, wait till the sun comes up blazing through the window and Janey has the coffee going. But not today, nope; I had an early morning meeting at the church. Well, it wasn’t that early, it was at 8 AM, but that’s 8 AM on a Saturday. Did you know that ‘Saturday’ is Latin for ‘sleep in?’ Okay, it’s not, I’m just kidding; but that’s usually what I do on Saturdays, I sleep in.

Now I am aware that both medical and fitness experts encourage keeping the same go-to-bed and get-out-of-bed times throughout the week; whether it’s a weekend or not. I’m sure that’s good advice, even though I don’t follow it. Today I did, and I actually notice a difference.

 

5:30 AM on a Saturday????

I got up at the same time today as I do on Monday. I had my typical morning routine—sunrisequite time, coffee and bathing—completed by 7 and was on my bike by 7:10. Heading out of my driveway and turning west I was met by a low-slung sun, slowly rising over the Cascade Mountains. The air was cool but not cold, and there wasn’t a lot of traffic.

As the day progressed, we had the meeting, I hung out with some friends, I had my workout, lunch and a bit of family time all completed by just shortly after noon. Then…I can’t believe this….Janey talked me into going to—I hate to say it—CostCo (mind you, I’m not a cheap CostCo date)! Afterward (and after a little sticker shock) we went on and bought some grass-fed beef to throw onto the barbee this evening after sitting in my own recipe of fresh oregano, garlic, olive oil and Tabasco marinade. And then I dove into some hammock time with the newest Sunset magazine, reading about Joseph, Oregon (a place I have a hankering to return to).

 

What’s the Big Deal?

Because I usually get up later on Saturday, I feel rushed throughout the day. Gotta rush the workout; gotta rush the chores; gotta rush dinner prep, and then force myself to relax. Nothing’s at a manageable pace and soon I become frustrated because I feel like I’m running out time. But not today. Today I’m actually functioning in a more human pace; I’m even naturally relaxing and not even feeling guilty about it; which, as you may know, is somewhat of a foreign concept to me.

 

To Continue or Not to Continue…

Now I’ve gotten a little peek into why maintaining the same to-bed/get-up routine is beneficial. I’m sure there are some well researched and documented reasons around circadian rhythm and emotional stability; but it’s more than that. It’s a victory; minor perhaps, but still a victory. Stephen Covey once wrote that “if we put mind over mattress and arise early in the morning, we will earn our first victory of the day” (Principle-Centered Leadership, 1991, p. 49). I like the phrase mind over mattress and express that to myself on many a work-week morning; and sometimes it actually works.

Maybe this also an aspect of what Scripture is referring to about redeeming the time:

See that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time.

—Ephesians 5:15-16a

Who knows, maybe I’ll do this again on another Saturday in the future.

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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.

Mourning, Anger and Compression Socks

 

This has been a weird week, both personally and nationally.

All of the killings that have happened in our nation are numbing and tragic. Regardless of my political leanings, or thoughts on the 2nd Amendment or attitudes on activism; American families are in mourning and in need of my prayers. This is part of how I love my neighbors (Matthew 22:37-40). Our nation is in need of my prayers. God help us!

 

The Anger Part

SocksI was on my bike ride yesterday when I was pondering all the mourning. As I entered onto a very busy street with a debris-strewn bike path, some dude swerved into the bike lane so his buddy could stick his upper body out of the window to scream at me. It of course startled me, and thankfully they didn’t hit or grab me, but as they sped away, I started fuming. I even yelled at them, and no, I didn’t say “thank you!” I am glad I kept both hands on the handlebars so I didn’t flail around any hand gestures that could’ve caused me even more trouble.

But as their car faded from view and I started climbing one of West Salem’s many hills, I marveled how quickly I went from mourning to anger. Yes, what those people did to me was dangerous and stupid, but I allowed them to disturb my soul. Then I started realizing how I allow a lot of other things to disturb my soul as well.

Sure, most of what is in the news is bad, but typically, we only see what the news wants us to see. We actually have to work to see the positives in life. But even amongst all the sadness and tragedy, there is still beauty. Just look around and marvel at the joy that surrounds us. Even as we pray for more of God’s presence and peace in our own souls and throughout our nation, we can at the same time be thankful for our families, flowers, birds, bikes, and so on.

 

Now the Socks

I was reminded of a simple example of joy when I started speeding down the hill just described, my feet were more comfortable in my new compression socks! Silly, I know, but also simple and joyful. The socks help message the calves, wick sweat away better and just add more overall comfort. And they were on sale to boot!

Like I said, it’s been a weird week, and I didn’t mention my CT scan (but that’s another story).

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!

God at 1,000 Feet

God at 1000'

Not even half a mile away from our new home and I’m already climbing a gigantic hill. It goes from 249 feet to 1,000 feet in less than five miles; five very slow miles I might add. Because of other chores that were a higher priority I’m starting my ride in mid-afternoon where the temperature has topped 85 degrees and is expected to reach close to 100.

What am I thinking? I’m thinking about celebrating life, feeling the strain of muscle against pedal, sweat trickling down my neck and back, and catching vistas of vineyards and lavender fields. My lungs ache, my heart pounds, and my legs protest, but my spirit is running free from the shackles of stress, chores and long to-do lists.

Cresting the hill I stop to drink in the view of the lush Willamette Valley: green and brown pastures, towering evergreens and sprawling deciduous trees, manicured orchards, vineyards, and purple patches of lavender wafting a calming fragrance through the breeze. The river winds in long, silver meanders with hawks and a few eagles soaring on thermals high above my head. I take just a minute of pause to snap a picture and thank God that I even get such an experience; yes, world, I am alive and glad for it!

I often recall the short conversation I had with my surgeon on Saturday, January 7, 2012 where she said, just barely 24 hours after operating on my spine for a second time that I may not do the things I used to do. While that statement is true in some respects, especially in running, chronic pain and other things, I still get to ride my bike up big hills that reveal the splendor of a creative and loving God.

So before I begin the terrifying descent I whisper (basically gasp) “thank You, Jesus!” Then I turn my attention to the looming downhill portion of the big climb. I’m not used to such big climbs, which, of course means I’m not used to bombing down such big hills—this brings a totally different type of prayer (but that’s another blog)!  For the moment, though, I celebrate life and praise the God that gave it to me.

A Cognitive Dissonance of Faith

Caleb_bush_treatmentBless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.

—Romans 12:14-15

Blood Cries Out

I feel a little strange today. Right now my youngest son is riding his bike around the cul de sac bellowing like a siren; he’s pretending to be a paramedic. I rejoice at the joyful heart of my child and his innocent imagination. I am also proud of my oldest son as he makes a life of his own in North Dakota. He’s a grown man now that makes his father proud. And yet there is a heaviness in the pit of my soul; it is like a mournful cry rising out of the earth itself as little children like my own are being murdered for their faith. The dust of the Middle East is muddying up in the blood of the innocents. God have mercy.

Dissonance

Amidst this I still have a paper to write for my Old Testament class, on God’s grace, oddly enough. I will eventually get on my bike today to enjoy the countryside, the sunshine and the feel of my body laboring in the love of cycling. We will probably grill up some tasty steaks on the back patio with an avocado salad.

And yet the pit of my soul beckons me to pray..pray for the children, pray for their parents, pray their faith remains strong, and, yes, pray that the murderers wake up to the wrong they reap with their own hands; no matter what they do, Jesus is still Jesus, and they will someday meet Him. I pray they come to faith prior to their meeting. Even so, I pray for God’s justice to reign through all the cruelty humanity heaps upon humanity.

A New To-Do List

How, then, am I to live my life? Do I hang my head in guilt that I’m not suffering as they? Do I pack, leave my family and head into the danger zone? I don’t think so. I think part of what I’m learning about this pit in my soul is the Holy Spirit encouraging me to pray as mentioned above. But He is also using this to remind me to be thankful for the life I am living, to love my sons with all I have, and to protect my marriage and my Bride by not taking her for granted, or having a wandering eye, or by thinking of her as anything less than a dear daughter of the Most High God. And to take care of myself, the temple of the Holy Spirit (see 1 Corinthians 6:19).

I can rejoice and I can weep. I can pray and I can celebrate. I can rebuke guilt and embrace the love of God that washes clean each heart of faith. I can go on with my day with a new motivation to never take for granted the life I live and the people I love and the people that love me.  And I can pray…