“Obnoxious!” Really?

“Obnoxious,” he said riding by me from the other direction.

High vis“Well, at least you can see me,” I mumbled under my breath. And that’s the point; every wise cyclist knows that the first most important thing about riding is being seen. Drivers in fast cars and big trucks run into that which they cannot see. Thusly, I dress in the high-vis gear pictured here. Okay, so it’s not the most attractive outfit, but ya gotta admit—it catches your eye. On top of the high-vis attire, I also have a bright, flashing headlamp and two bright, flashing tail lights (called torches in the bike biz).

So, how dare he call me obnoxious, especially as we’re both riding on paths shared by pedestrians. Why, I’ll have you know I’m riding wisely and safely; not like him, he had no lights and was wearing dark clothing that was even adorned with my undergrad alma mater—sheesh! But I’m visible.

Mom’s with baby strollers see me, couples with gigantic mastiffs or teensy poodles on leashes see me, and, obviously, other cyclists see me as well. This means no accidents, everyone leaves the park as whole as they arrived. But rather than trading insults, we usually exchange pleasantries like “hello” or “what a beautiful dog” and so on.

Obnoxious indeed!

But then again, maybe he’s right. No, I don’t mean about my on-bike wardrobe, but more along the lines of my thinking. I definitely had obnoxious thoughts about him after that ride-by insult. I compared his poor example to my good example. Then I got to thinking how I often I view certain bumper stickers as obnoxious; or certain body-adornments; or even some t-shirt slogans. Yes, I instantly judge others just as easily as Mister Dark Rider judged me. And that’s obnoxious. I don’t even know these people, I don’t even know Mister Dark Rider. I don’t know their backgrounds, their hurts, their fears, their successes or their failures. I just snap judge them based on some sticky paper attached to their rear chrome. Yes, I’m well aware that people intentionally put bumper stickers on their cars as a statement, often to rile people up; but what led them to feeling justified emblazing that message for all to see? I have no idea.

Another thought occurred to me later in the week. It was easy for Mister Dark Rider to see my “light” due to the high-vis gear. But does the Light residing in my soul by way of the indwelling Holy Spirit shine out as easily? When others see me to do they see Jesus? Do people sense the presence of the Lord in my life?
Jesus said in the Beatitudes that,

“You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill that cannot be hidden. … Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”
—Matthew 5:14 & 16

Maybe God meant for Mister Dark Rider to stir up some deeper thoughts in my soul. Maybe this was a way to allow the Holy Spirit to shine His light into the deeper, darker corners of the closets of my soul. Maybe the Lord was showing me what he wants to work on next.

Could it be that God wants me to be more sensitive to how quickly I judge others on little things like bumper sticker and t-shirt slogans? For behind these little cultural artifacts are hearts and souls that are dear to the heart of our Father. Perhaps the Lord used Mister Dark Rider as a way to move my thinking into a more eternal realm. Each soul, whether draped in high-vis gear or festooned with slogans, are souls that have eternal destinies. Am I helping these souls to consider salvation in Jesus, or do I drive them away?

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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!

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!

The Doctor, the Broccoli and the BP

“Do you ever relax,” asked my doctor.

I hate this question. Of course I relax, well…sort of. But when she asked her question a mini explosion of memories burst onto the viewing screen of my brain.

 

Cue Memory Sequence

Way back in 1987-ish, I was a safety and wellness officer for a large state agency. One of my biggest projects was working with a team of people to bring in a wellness fair to the basement hallway and adjacent conference rooms of our building. We had blood pressure screening stations, blood-iron testing stations, nutritionists (such as they were back then), height/weight presentations, exercise tips and so on.

And wouldn’t you know it, it was then, in the hallway crowded with coworkers that I sat down at the blood pressure station. Granted, I figured I had nothing to worry about because I was already eating large quantities of raw food before eating raw food was cool, I ran umpteen miles a week and I had a road bike with lots of recent miles on it. What’s to worry about?

blood-pressure

The nurse dutifully cuffed my left arm and began squeezing that oblong tube-like thing. With each whoosh-whoosh the cuff tightened on my bicep. More whooshing and more tightening.

It started hurting when she finally released it. There was a hissing sound and my bicep was free to breathe again. Then she gasped!

“Your blood pressure’s high. We’d better try this again.” This was all before health privacy, otherwise known as HIPAA, became all the rage, so all of the employees in the hallway turned their heads and gawked: their wellness officer had high blood pressure? Oh horrors, say it ain’t so! But, yep, it was so. And it’s been so ever since.

 

Off to the Doctor

Shortly after this gasping occasion I saw my doctor (I had a different doctor back then, before he killed himself falling off a tractor). He had me come in to his office in regular intervals so he could measure my BP in a supervised fashion. It was always high. Nothing affected it; and besides, there’s only so much raw broccoli a person can eat in a day. So he gave me the bad news: “I’m putting you on BP medication.” And there I’ve been ever since.

Ninji vegNo amount of exercise, raw fruit and veg or strictly vegan diets has lowered it to where medical science presumes it should be. Over the years I’ve tried meditation (both biblical and unbiblical kinds), dynamic stretching (what some might call yoga), deep breathing, progressive relaxation, listening to soothing music, and on and on and on. Still high. So guess what, I take BP medication. And I still eat lots of raw foods and workout every day and practice other relaxation stuff, but without the meds, my BP is high. Go figure!

 

Back to the Question

What’s that have to do with my doctor’s question about relaxing? Because this appointment was my “semi-regular” quarterly BP check-up; and yes, it was high…again.

“Are you still taking your medication,” my doctor asked, accusingly.

Of course I am, do you think I’m an idiot? Well, I thought that, I didn’t actually say it. I just sullenly said, “Yes, I’m taking it…every day!”

“Well,” she said, tapping away on her health records tablet. “I guess we’ll just have to up your medication.”

Yippee skip. She said she understands that I take care of myself, I eat right, exercise properly (if not overdo it sometimes) and my personal life is not in chaos and I actually really enjoy my job. In other words, there are no activities to add into my life or stressors to start avoiding. So there’s really only one thing left to do—up the meds.

Now I am a little ashamed I have to take these meds. After all, as I explained, it’s not like I’m Jabba the Hut, wallowing away with my head in greasy potato chip bags while glugging large volumes of sugary goo. If anything, my BP should be low. But truth be told, I was born with a bit of heart defect and my cardiovascular system has never been what one would call normal.

Over the years, many of my relatives have died because of some sort of cardio disease. Even the recent death of my Mother was due to a “cerebral vascular accident” (that’s code for a stroke). She had several other strokes in her life, as did Grammy and her father (what would have normally been my Grandpa); he dropped dead at 35 with a massive heart attack, Mom was only three when it happened. I was born with heart valve defect. So this cardiovascular stuff is real and high blood pressure can indeed have deleterious effects; particularly when you already have a defective heart. So whether I’m ashamed of the meds or not, I take them faithfully every day. Yes, I grumble about the indignity of it, but really, thinking I can control it alone is nothing more than sheer stupidity or pride—or both.

So I am thankful God has given us people with the smarts to diagnose problems and He’s given others the smarts to help take care of them. So I eat lots of raw veg, ride and walk lots of miles, eat other healthy things…and take my BP meds. And maybe, by God’s grace and the resources placed around me, I can continue living a healthy lifestyle for decades yet to come (unless Jesus comes back before then).

BroccoliBut it’s time to go now, I need wrangle a couple of heads of broccoli.

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!

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.

Cycling, Worship and Jesus

Trek Bike“I went to the ocean, took my shoes off, started to run [or cycle], and invited Jesus to come along. … All I had to do was invite Him.”
─John Ortberg, The Me I Want to Be, Kindle location 2783

“Cycling is like sailing on land, the wind, the oneness, the freedom!”
─Journal entry

It’s been over 18 months since my last neck surgery. Eighteen months of recovery, of trying to see what my body can and can’t do, and saving money for a new bicycle. Yes, a new bike; a Trek 1.5 to be exact.

My old bike (a 1987 Trek Elance) no longer fit my new triple-fusion neck. But I love to bike. I miss biking. Running just isn’t the same; plus, with a solid rod of bone now banging around in my cervical area running mercilessly batters the few remaining disks I have left. When the run is over my neck explodes in spasms to such a degree I wind up throwing down 600-800mg of ibuprofen, which sorta defeats the purpose of clean living. Then there’s the hamstring issue. And walking, while a great activity is…well…walking. You can’t just go out do 42 miles in the morning like you can on a bike (like the great ride I had yesterday).

But how does Jesus fit into to this? Is my desire to bike detracting from my faith in Jesus? Does Jesus even care if I bike or not?

I used to always live with the mindset that if I wasn’t suffering I wasn’t serving the Lord. Oh brother, how appealing is that. Nowhere in that thinking is there room for God to rain any sort of blessing upon me or those around me. Talk about living with a cloud over my head, it’s like that character Shleprock from the old Flintstones cartoon (yes, I’m showing my age), everywhere he shuffled he was followed by this little dark cloud hovering just above his head.

Yes, I give and serve and go through trials. But holding these things up as some sort of merit badge is not something Jesus condones. What He does condone is entering into His rest (Matthew 11:28-30). Part of the way I rest is on my bike. I recognize it is a physically demanding sport, but at the same time it is a highly rejuvenating sport as well. I get to be outdoors in the fresh air (except when the fields are being harvested or big diesel trucks are chugging by). I get to feel my body working and revel in the fact that I’m physically restored enough to cycle again. All of this points my heart and mind toward Jesus. Why, you ask?

Who created the outdoors? Sure, there are nay-sayers and God-rejecters, but no one can properly explain where the origin of everything came from. A strictly utilitarian universe wouldn’t have as much beauty as the Willamette Valley has; only a God of creativity and love would make such a beautiful place. For instance, the other morning I was on my bike a little before sunrise. As I looked east I saw Mt. Hood in all its majesty way off in the distance. This time, however, the mountain was shimmering with a bright pink aura. It was simply stunning; the sun was directly behind the mountain emblazing it in a pink backlight making it look like Mt. Hood itself was eclipsing the sun.

On other rides I have seen rainbows of flowers in carefully cultivated fields, talked with friendly locals in nearby towns while buying water and thought through a number of difficult work-related problems.

And the fact I’m physically able to do this again is such a blessing I can’t help but pray thankful prayers out loud for anyone in earshot. Being unable to ride for so long has given me a much deeper appreciation for the opportunity to ride again. Sure, I enjoyed riding before, but I could basically ride whenever I could fit one in. When my spine started deteriorating and I could no longer ride, I missed it like an old friend. Riding is a time of solace for me, it’s my time to get away and feel free with the wind and the exertion. I was thankful for being able to walk, but it just wasn’t the same.

However, another important lesson through the season of deprivation is training my mind to be more thankful for what I can do. Stop focusing on what I can’t do and strive to lean more deeply into what I can do. This thinking enables me to be more thankful to God and more cheerful and empathetic with others that are suffering. Through all this time, I recovered enough to realize that with the proper fitting bike, I could get on the road again. Now with new bike, cleated shoes, and my Road ID wrist band I’m on the road a lot these days. This time last year it was only a dream as I watched cyclists streaking by while on one of my walks.

While cycling is a positive hobby because of its fitness benefits it is also a solid spiritual discipline because I celebrate life and praise God while I’m on the bike, even in strong headwinds and malfunctioning cyclometers. Even with quads screaming and chest heaving, I praise God I’m alive…the pain only confirms how alive I am! And I’m thankful…thankful for fitness, for the bike, for a wonderful Bride that understands…and for a God that carried me through the darker spots of deprivation.

It is good to be alive!