Joy and trekking poles

In the midst of a wonderful day yesterday, I learned two things that are, I think, not unrelated. The day started in the mountains with a hike I’ve looked forward to for a long time, and ended also sort of in the mountains with something I rarely make time for. I want to talk about the sort-of mountain ending first, then I’ll get to the morning’s mountain fun.

The day ended with an almost three-hour movie – a big ask, even for movie buffs. But, as a project for our church, Laree and I watched A Hidden Life. Set in the mountains of central Austria, it is the story of Franz Jaegerstaetter, a farmer who refused to sign an oath of loyalty to Hitler in World War II. At least the setting – the mountains of central Austria – was beautiful. Here’s what a reviewer had to say:

Terrence Malick’s “A Hidden Life,” the true story of a World War II conscientious objector, is one of his finest films, and one of his most demanding. It clocks in at nearly three hours, moves in a measured way (you could call the pacing “a stroll”), and requires a level of concentration and openness to philosophical conundrums and random moments that most modern films don’t even bother asking for.

The review goes on to say, “There’s an unexpectedly elating quality to the red-faced impotence of Nazis screaming at Franz while he’s bound up at gunpoint, cursing him and insisting that his protests mean nothing. If they mean nothing, why are these men screaming?”

Beyond elation, the movie made me think of joy. I suppose this is an unusual claim for an epic tragedy, yet there was a sort of joy in both Franz and his wife Fani as they followed the path God called them to. I say joy because God’s call seemed crystal clear, even as it invited them to make many agonizingly hard choices. This clarity enabled Franz, while a prisoner, to say to his lawyer, “But I am free.” And in her final visit, Fani was able to say to her husband, “I am with you, whatever you do.” A clear sense of following God’s call is bound up in a deep joy that exists even in the midst of (underneath?) great suffering. Sometimes joy includes elation, and sometimes it does not. But it remains joy nonetheless.

This joy is a cousin to what I experienced earlier in the day, when I went for a hike in the mountains with my friend Sue. No, the hike didn’t involve life-threatening consequences, and the most challenging decision of the trip was deciding whether to order Coke Zero instead of Diet Coke at lunch. Still, the sense of God’s presence, and the joy that springs from it was hard to miss. Suffering was absent (it was sunny, not too warm, and blessedly bug free), making the joy that always lies underneath easy to find, and the troubles that surround it easy to set aside.

And finally, a footnote. One important thing I learned while hiking was the benefits of trekking poles. I’ve never walked with them before, and Sue was kind enough to give me her extra pair. My goodness – I had NO IDEA how helpful these little collapsible sticks are – they saved me (more than once) from tripping, falling, or tipping over. So, not only did I have the joy of hiking on a beautiful day in a beautiful place, I also received and learned to use a critical bit of hiking gear. Thanks, Sue!

Notes from the surgery corner

Today was my first ride outside in over two months.

I rode the Grandview loop with my friend Cheryl – a whopping 9.75 miles, at a tolerable (under 15 mph) pace. It felt just fine.

This is the first and last post of a series I was going to do called, “Notes from the Surgery Corner.” The series would have started earlier this year, when my surgery was scheduled and my spot in the spin room became the surgery corner.

In the before times, the spin room was like church. The regulars had their usual places, and the surgery corner moved around depending on who was having what done. In these viral times, the spin room is a lot less crowded. Even so, we’re still in our regular spots (more or less), and the surgery corner finally came around to mine.

A spin CD from the before times

But then, who wants to read a blog post about somebody’s impending surgery. Right? So I didn’t write that post.

Then I thought I’d start the series after the surgery took place and recovery was underway. But I was too tired, and besides, nobody wants to read about stitches and staple removal. So I didn’t write that post either.

A photo from the hospital window

So now, that I’ve got the all clear to do whatever I can comfortably do, I finally have something to say that people might want to read about. I’m getting back on my bike – inside for a while now, and outside for the first time today. That’s a post worth reading!

Bob on the trainer

And the surgery corner? My spot in the spin room is still there, but it’s back to just being my spot. For now, the surgery corner has disappeared.

The (former) surgery corner

Why are you here?

It strikes me that answering this question might be the key to a life well lived. I don’t mean the version I ask myself when I get to the basement and can’t remember what I went down to get, but the version that asks, “What’s the purpose of your life just now?”

The interesting thing about this question is that the answer changes over time, even as the question remains the same and NEVER GOES AWAY. I suspect it’s one that can’t be fully answered – at least not in this life. Instead, we spend our lives asking and answering it at periodic intervals (probably less often than we should). This can be a challenge if one thinks of figuring out the answer as “work.”

But what if finding the answer isn’t meant to be work? What if “figuring out” the answer is the wrong way to think of it, and life’s task is really to discern a response? And what if discernment just means accepting what shows up, allowing life to unfold as it will, and noticing things along the way? That’s not work!

Sometimes, what I’ve called the discernment way of answering the “Why are you here?” question can be an excuse to avoid hard things and work that needs to be done. I get that. Yet I’m increasingly convinced that there are times when “why are you here,” is an invitation to stop trying, trust the process, and allow and accept what is.

Love is not love…

You likely know the old saw, “Love is not love ‘till you give it away.” You might have heard it growing up – at church, at school, or at home. When I was a kid, I heard this regularly – often it came out as, “be nice, Lynn!” And once I became a mother, I said it regularly.

Here’s something you might not have heard as often, but which is equally true. Love is not love until you accept it. And, for me anyway, this truth turns out to be a lot harder to live by than “be nice!”

I’m not saying that giving love is easy. Lord knows, I give things besides love most of the time (just ask anyone I’m related to). Still, many of us are told from a very young age that our purpose is to serve, and to help others. I grew up (and still remain) in the Lutheran church, and our version of serving and helping comes out like this. God’s call to every believer (that is, our purpose or vocation) is to love and serve the neighbor. True enough. And yet, is there not a role for the receiver of love and service? Does God not call believers to accept the love and service of others? And is the work of accepting not equally important – in the same way as inhaling is just as critical to life as exhaling is?

I don’t know about you, but I find accepting love way more challenging than offering it. Maybe this is because what I offer to others isn’t really love, but something else. Or maybe it’s because accepting the love of those around me feels selfish, and “not nice.” Maybe it’s because accepting gifts freely given means admitting to having needs. Hard to say – likely all of these contribute.

So here is my challenge. I want to practice accepting God’s love, as it comes to me directly from God, and as it comes to me through those I encounter (especially my friends and family). Just as life gets a whole lot better when a person learns to inhale with as much skill as they have at exhaling, I think life will be better when it’s as easy for me to accept love as it is to offer it. Let me start here. To my friends who are reading this, “Thank you. I accept.”

Today’s other word

Today is Saturday. For my retired friends, it’s Saturday #6, but for me it’s just Saturday. The sky is yellow from smoke, and so I won’t be heading out to ride. This has given me some extra time, so I thought I’d resurrect an old theme – the Other Word of the Day (OWOTD).

As a reminder, the word of the day is ALWAYS “safety.” This seems especially appropriate today, when heading out to do anything might lead to respiratory damage – if the smoke doesn’t cause it, a virus might. And, depending on where you go, you might avoid smoke and the virus, and still be affected by tear gas or pepper spray. Although I hope not. So many ways life these days is unsafe.

Yet every day is different, and while safety remains a constant, other words sometimes seem important. Such is the case today, when my other word happens to be thanks. Not gratitude (too fancy) or thankfulness (too noun-like), just thanks.

Thanks is usually followed by “for,” and happens when somebody has done something nice and you want to express appreciation. Like, “thanks for the flowers, Sue, they’ve brightened my week!” or “thanks for the lunchtime visit, Laree, I so appreciate our time together.”

Today’s OWOTD is thanks, without “for a particular nice thing”. Thanks for breath and another day. Even if it’s risky to breathe outside, and we face another day inside with the windows closed. Thanks for the seasons. Even if September is here and back to school doesn’t look anything like it’s supposed to. Thanks for our world. Even if you can hardly open the paper without getting mad at something in the news. Even then. Or maybe especially then.

Today’s OWOTD is thanks. For all of it. It’s an attitude, maybe. And a gift.

Once in a lifetime

Today marks the end of “welcome back to fall semester” meetings. Thank goodness! I suppose I could complain about having to sit in two days of meetings when all I really want to do is get ready for class, but that would make for a boring blogpost. So instead, I’d like to talk about the end-of-the-workday television shows I’ve watched this week.

Yesterday, I watched game 6 of the playoff series between the Dallas Stars and the Colorado Avalanche. This is round 2 of the Stanley Cup championship. The one that’s played every spring from April through June, more or less. Some people say it goes on forever, but NEVER would it last to September!

From Wednesday’s game 6

Today, I’m watching the Tour de France. Yesterday, in stage 5, Julian Alaphilippe lost the yellow jersey because he received a water bottle with fewer than 20k to go. This was an illegal move, and cost him a 20-second penalty – enough to move from first to 16th. This is big news (in the cycling world, anyway). But it’s supposed to be big news in JULY, not September.

Took that water bottle too late…

The sports world has been turned upside down this year. Events have piled up on each other so much that networks can’t cover everything. Phil Ligett is mentioning the season premiere of the NFL alongside the Kentucky Derby (which is usually run in May). Who knew that we’d missed so much in the last 6 months?!

Of course there’s a lot that we’ve lost over the last six months, most of which matters way more than sports. Yet I use sporting events to position myself in the year – celebrating the end of spring semester with the Stanley Cup playoffs, enjoying the most relaxing month of the year with the Tour de France, getting ready for the school year alongside the NFL season premiere. Now that they’re all mixed up together in a single month, I’m not sure how to feel.

This all makes me think about the Talking Heads’ classic – Once in a Lifetime. The lyrics talk to the discombobulation of these days. “Letting the days go by…You may ask yourself, where does that highway go to? And you may ask yourself, am I right? Am I wrong?”

It’s hard to know, isn’t it. In the meantime, my recording of the Tour stage 6 is entering the final hour. And tomorrow brings game 7 of the Stars-Avs series. “And you may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?” Indeed.

Don’t let racing spoil the ride

Last Sunday, I went out to ride the Yelm-Tenino trail with my friend Cheryl. We rode 50 miles – over 40 of them on a nice flat paved trail. So a lovely, socially-distanced outing that turned into a Sunday ride.

Riding near the Yelm-Tenino trail…

While we were stopped at a park in Tenino, we noticed another rider in what I call a super suit. You know, the skin-tight outfits that look to be painted on, and (in my humble opinion) shouldn’t be worn by anyone over 35. He had a number pinned to his side, which we assumed he’d forgotten from some long ago organized ride. (Remember those?) When he got on his bike, I noticed it was a time trial bike with a disk wheel in the back. From what I’m told, disk wheels are not for the faint of heart – I’ve never ridden one, but have seen a gust of wind from the side knock the pros (and their bikes) over.

This man is a pro racer, and can wear a super suit and ride a bike with a disk wheel.

So, Cheryl and I are wondering who this crazy poser is, with his too-tight suit and his $5,000 time trial bike with a disk on the back, when we see another similarly dressed guy. Ok. Must be a race. Cheryl asks poser #2 what’s going on, and he tells us that there’s a 40-kilometer time trial that starts and finishes just up the road. Aha! So they aren’t posers after all – they’re racers.

As we are getting ready to set off again, we see poser racer #3, who asks if we know where he can get some water. We do know, having stopped here many times over the years, and point to a building about 100 yards up the trail. He rolls along beside us, and as we part ways, he says, “Don’t let racing spoil your ride!”

I think this is an excellent metaphor, and not just for cycling. I ride because I love riding – knowing the roads around home, moving through the landscape at a pace that lets me really SEE it, feeling my legs spinning circles, having enough time with my friends for a real conversation about things that matter. Sure, I miss preparing for organized rides, and it’s nice to have a goal to train for. Yet, what I’m reminded of this summer is that just riding can be its own reward. And that just riding has a lot to recommend it. Especially when it isn’t spoiled by racing.

From an organized ride that was not spoiled by racing!

Continuity

One of my riding friends just texted me with some non-viral good news. This was such a welcome relief, and a wonderful reminder of life continuing even now.

It’s been interesting to see how life continues – we had pizza for dinner last night. As usual, this was one of the three times out of four that we got Round Table instead of Cloverleaf, because the boys like it better.

And still, life has become so very different. Jason had to wait in line for 45 minutes to shop at Costco – and we celebrated the toilet paper and Kleenex he snagged way more than we should have.

Today is Palm Sunday. I’m going to virtual church with my Mom in Oregon (thank you, Zoom), because the livestream that comes from my own congregation takes more bandwidth than we have here at home. I’m glad to see people I know from the church I grew up in, and also sorry that I’ve seen almost no one from my own congregation. These restrictions have helped me find connection in places I might not ordinarily, even as I struggle to maintain connection in some of the usual places. This is a loss, and a gain. What will it be like when the restrictions are lifted?

And now we head into Holy Week. This will be very strange indeed. Holy Week is already stressful, as we remember the Last Supper (this year, without physically taking communion), commemorate Good Friday by “staying home” from work (classes don’t meet at PLU on Good Friday), and Easter Vigil, which would normally be spent with one’s church family waiting through the dark hours. How can any of this be done remotely? And given the shuffling of community I’m experiencing, with which church community should I plan to go through this week? Do I continue to invite myself to my Mom’s congregation, or wait to watch the recording that my own congregation leaders produce? Or both? Or neither? It’s hard to know what is the right thing to do.

These are hard times.

Random Thoughts

When our boys were young, most days right around dinnertime they’d pop off with whatever thoughts crossed their preschool minds. We took to calling this “random thoughts” hour, and I came to look forward to it, as it gave me a window into how they saw the world.

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I’ve had a blog post rattling around in my head for a while now, but every time I sit down to write it, all that comes out is random thoughts. I’m writing today in hopes that getting these out of my head and into the blog might make way for something more coherent.

Random thought #1: Spring is here! Even as we’re supposed to stay away from others, the sun continues to rise every morning, the flowers are starting to bloom, it rains too often (at least here in western WA), and riding season approaches. I could use this observation to make any number of points – we need to prepare for when restrictions are lifted; life continues even in this strange viral world; there is beauty to be seen, even now; look around during this pause. Maybe I’ll make them, but not here. The arrival of spring, in this post, is just a random thought.

Random thought #2: Jason, boys, and dogs are all here in Fircrest. Sure, we get on each other’s nerves, but I’m thankful that we can talk to each other without any electronic intermediation. Again, this observation could lead to any number of conclusions that I might draw in a later post. Or not.

Everyone except Ernie is in this photo…

Random thought #3: The internet and telephone allow me to be in touch with people I care about. In my classes, I used to talk about video calling as an example of a technology that wasn’t worth having, seeing as there’d be nobody to call, and who wants to be seen while talking on the phone anyway. My how times change! While I still don’t like being seen on a phone call, I sure did appreciate seeing all the folks at this morning’s zoom church meeting! And I have very much appreciated talking to friends both near and far.

Random thought #4: It’s hard to see all the ways I’m not in control. So much of life right now is just waiting to see what will happen. This is a real challenge – not knowing for sure what is the right thing to do, or what the world will be like tomorrow or next week or next month. It takes a kind of endurance to keep going with all this uncertainty.

This is not unlike what my friends Helen, Bruce, and Dean face on their trek across the south – not knowing from one day to the next whether they’ll have a headwind or a tailwind, let alone whether the place they planned to stay will be open or not. Still, as far as I know, they’re getting up every morning, packing up their camp, and riding off into the hills (Bruce and Dean), or touristing and scouting out lodging options (Helen).

These three seem to be doing ok. For those of us not on a big adventure, maybe the best advice is to just do the work that lies in front of us. This advice is currently pinned up in front of my desk (courtesy of my son David), so that I am reminded of it every day. Just do the work that’s in front of you. And it will be enough. With that, I’ll end this collection of random thoughts. Be well. Wash your hands.

 

Over the Hill

On the way in to work last Wednesday, it dawned on me that I might be over the hill. I was thinking about how things have sort of plateaued in my life – I’ve been driving to the same building for 15 years, teaching the same classes, working with the same colleagues. There are always new challenges every semester, but I’ve reached that stage in my teaching life where most new situations can be compared to something I’ve encountered before.

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A hill I once rode over

So I started wondering if the term really does apply to me. Being called “over the hill” could be an insult of sorts. I mean, once you’re over the hill, what is there to look forward to? It’s all downhill from there, or so the saying goes. And still, I think I might actually have arrived at over-the-hillness. It seems a good idea, then, to think some more about what this might mean.

The obvious synonym for over the hill is “old.” Think of those birthday cards that you see at the store – the front is black, with the words “over the hill” prominently written in white letters. When you open it up, the inside contains some cheesy joke about hair loss, hearing loss, bifocals/reading glasses, wrinkles, aches and pains, early dinner, etc.

over the hill signs

some of these MAY apply

This, then is one of the ways a person can be over the hill. And if I’m honest, some of these ways might even apply to me. I’ll let you consider which of them…feel free to add your guesses in the comments section of this post.

And yet, the hills in the world around us can be a blessing, can’t they? We climb them in hopes of getting a better view of the scenery, and maybe even a better sense of where exactly we are, and which direction might be the right one to head off in. To be over the hill, then, might mean that one has a better sense of themselves and the direction they’re headed and route they’ve chosen to follow. Perhaps being over the hill means that I know who I am and I know where I’m going? Better, at least, than I did when I was on the way up the hill.

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Then there are hills in cycling. Usually, these are hills you WANT to get over, since there is often a very fun downhill stretch waiting on the other side, assuming you like riding downhill (not everyone does). Can we see life in the same way? I hope so, as it was a big lot of work to get up this hill I’ve been climbing in life and I’d be glad to look forward to a fun ride down the other side. Maybe the trick is to be a little less afraid and learn to like descending.

When I was a teenager, in the rare moments when I wasn’t feeling surly, I would often feel sorry for my Mom. She carried a lot in those years, and to put up with my brother and me (not to mention my Dad, who sometimes acted like just another kid) seemed more than a person should have to do. Especially someone as old as Mom, since to the teenage me, Mom was already well over the hill. How, I wondered, would I manage once I got to be so old and had teenagers of my own? Could I cope with their snide remarks and their not-very-subtle eye rolls and sighs? Now that I have my own teenagers (and am older than Mom was during my teenage years), I see that there really wasn’t all that much to dread. Sure, my teenage children regularly make snide remarks and sigh and roll their eyes. And I love them anyway. If this is what being over the hill means, then I can live with it. Because I get to point my wheels forward and fly down the other side to the next bit of road.