Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Beauty of the Trail

I grew up surrounded by the forest, mountains, lakes and a river that flows through the town I call home. I always loved spending time out in the wilderness and the older I get the more I feel drawn to the winding trails and the solitude of what I consider one of the most peaceful places I know.

This time of year there are very few people on the trail and the stillness that surrounds me is incredibly comforting. The only sounds I hear are the faint jingle of Boz's collar, the occasional chattering of a squirrel that was most likely disturbed by said dog, the wind rustling through the trees and the sound of my footsteps as I make my way along the trail that is covered with fallen pine needles and Aspen leaves.

The leaves from the Aspens fall all around me as if they are being dropped from the heavens, and for a few hours, I watch the lazy river flow by, breathe in the crisp air and enjoy the colors of fall as if they were put there especially for me.

Yesterday, I made my way around one corner of the trail and I saw a flash of incredible color that went from red to orange, to gold and green. As I inspected it more closely, I realized that it was a part of an aspen tree that was in full fall color and had fallen. Recently.

Curiosity got the better of me and so I made my way down the steep rocky slope to get a better view. The moment I laid eyes on the base of the tree a smile crept over my face and two words escaped my lips as I looked down at Boz. "Dang beaver."

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

If you'd like to read the rest of the story, please head over to Texas and visit my good friend Katdish, who has been cool enough to allow me to guest post. And if you need some humor today, I suggest you stick around her place because there is no shortage of it. I. Promise.

Monday, November 9, 2009

What Faith Can Do

I believe in the moments when God speaks to us through music and there is someone who needs to hear this song because life is pretty overwhelming and fragile right now. I don't know where you are or what's happening, but God does and He really, really cares.

Everybody falls sometimes
Gotta find the strength to rise
From the ashes and make a new beginning
Anyone can feel the ache
You think it’s more than you can take
But you are stronger, stronger than you know
Don’t you give up now
The sun will soon be shining
You gotta face the clouds
To find the silver lining

I’ve seen dreams that move the mountains
Hope that doesn’t ever end
Even when the sky is falling
And I’ve seen miracles just happen
Silent prayers get answered
Broken hearts become brand new
That’s what faith can do

It doesn’t matter what you’ve heard
Impossible is not a word
It’s just a reason for someone not to try
Everybody’s scared to death
When they decide to take that step
Out on the water
It’ll be alright
Life is so much more
Than what your eyes are seeing
You will find your way
If you keep believing

I’ve seen dreams that move the mountains
Hope that doesn’t ever end
Even when the sky is falling
And I’ve seen miracles just happen
Silent prayers get answered
Broken hearts become brand new
That’s what faith can do

Overcome the odds
You don't have a chance
That’s what faith can do
When the world says you can’t
It’ll tell you that you can!

I’ve seen dreams that move the mountains
Hope that doesn’t ever end
Even when the sky is falling
And I’ve seen miracles just happen
Silent prayers get answered
Broken hearts become brand new
That’s what faith can do
That's what faith can do!
Even if you fall sometimes
You will have the strength to rise

Thursday, November 5, 2009

When Church Makes Me Feel Uncomfortable

On Sunday, as I sat in church at the 8am service, listening to the pastor speak, I became totally uncomfortable. In fact, I was downright convicted and honestly, I can't stand that.

I mean church is supposed to make me feel good. I put on my Sunday best (which in Bend means jeans with no holes, at least not BIG holes and only wearing flips if you're toenails don't make the person sitting next to you cringe), sing some feel-good worship songs, tithe, greet the others around me and then sit down and listen to the pastor speak on being a better Christian and growing in Christ.

I knew I was in trouble when I saw that the message was on sacrifice and the pastor would be talking about the widow who gave her last two coins; giving out of her poverty rather than her wealth. (Luke 21:1-4)

I've heard comments from several people that they are tired of hearing sermons about sacrifice because they have nothing left to sacrifice. And Saturday night, I would have agreed with them whole heartedly, but today, I'm on the other side of the fence in regards to sacrifice.

It's no secret that millions of Americans are in a financial mess and I'm right there with them. There are nights that I wake up in a panic as a result of the economy, plummeting home values, more outgo than income, bills, feeding teenagers and having enough money to put gas in everyone's car.

But what hit me as I was sitting in church was that I am really not that uncomfortable. I still have gas for my car, unlike the single mom, who lives 35 miles from town, works at Taco Bell to support her kids and come Sunday doesn't have enough money to put gas in her car to get to church.

And I still have income with benefits unlike the family who was living off of unemployment until it ran out and now is struggling to buy macaroni and cheese to feed the kids and only turns the heat up when absolutely necessary because they can't afford to pay their heat bill.

It was then that I started to squirm, but it was what the pastor brought up next that made me feel downright uncomfortable. He shared a portion of an email that he had received from a member of the church and it basically said, 'If someone gave me an envelope with $5,000 dollars I would be ecstatic. What if someone gave me an envelope with a ticket to heaven?"

And that was all I heard for the rest of the message because in my heart, I knew that $5,000 would relieve a great amount of stress for the moment and my humanness wants instant gratification whether or not there is a question of eternal gratification.

I spent the rest of the day thinking about sacrifice and what it really means. Websters will tell you that sacrifice is something given up or lost, but the Bible tells me it's something gained. I believe that what we gain is an incredible understanding of love. You see, when we sacrifice, as in 'our last two coins' sacrifice, we understand what Jesus gave up for us which was everything. When we look at it is losing something, the only thing we lose is the opportunity to love through our sacrifice.

I know that I can do without $40 in groceries to put gas in a single mom's car so she can get to church with her children. I know I can find the means to give a family a weeks worth of decent meals and then some. I really don't give out of my poverty but my wealth. And as 'poor' as I feel, I have much more than many of those around me and I know that I need to do more for those in need.

I had breakfast with my parents after church and we decided that instead of a big Thanksgiving spread, we would, as a family, serve dinner to those in need. I have also spent the week coming up with ways that I can truly sacrifice and be a blessing to others who so desperately need it.

And I don't want it to be a few weeks of going without a Starbucks coffee type of sacrifice. I want to develop a habit of really stretching myself for others every day and learning the true meaning of love through sacrifice.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Like Drinking From a Fire Hydrant (by Billy Coffey)

My family and I are gathered on an outcropping of rocks high in the mountains, wondering at the stars. An unusually warm winter’s night has given us the luxury of this little excursion, and we’ve been rewarded with the sort of natural scene that sucks in your breath and makes you exhale in a long, slow whistle.

Planets dance above our heads, stars glimmer, and each of us take turns wishing upon the occasional meteorite. Orion stands guard at his post near the horizon, his belt cinched and shining. The Big Dipper looks as if it’s pouring the Milky Way upon our heads. The heavens are arrayed in a perfect sort of chaos, as if God has sneezed a miracle.

My son gazes up and wonders of rocket ships and aliens. My daughter? Angels and celestial playgrounds. My wife is wondering why we don’t come up here more often, because we should.

And me? I’m thinking about a dog I met last summer.

Late July. No rain for weeks. The air was so hot and humid that it made you walk with your back hunched.

Standing at the bottom of a hill in town, minding my own business, there came a sudden and steady stream of water toward me. Then more. And more. Surrounding my feet, inching up my shoes to almost the ankle.

A walk up the hill confirmed the source of this minor miracle—four firemen had cracked a hydrant. “Testing things out,” one told me.

As I stood there and kept them company, a neighborhood dog ambles up so I could scratch its head. Tail wagging and tongue drooping, he sniffed and snorted and paced, as if confused by the dichotomy of an abundance of water and the lack of means to acquire it. The firemen, lost in the duties, paid little attention to the dog. I, however, did.

I knew what the dog was going to do.

More sniffing and wagging and pacing. Then, in a desperate attempt to satisfy his thirst, the dog stuck his tongue into the gushing water.

Why he didn’t simply head to the bottom of the hill and drink there, I don’t know. Some dogs just aren’t that smart. Much like people. I do know, however, that he got more than a mere sip. Water gushed into his mouth and over his face with such force and weight that it nearly drowned him. Good thing there were firemen close by.

That’s what I’m thinking as I look up at these stars.

“The heavens declare the glory of God,” said David. Funny word, that “glory.” Translated from the Hebrew, it comes closer to “weight.” The heavens declare the weight of God.

Now, in this remote place with the heavens above me, I am much like that dog. Longing and thirsty and maybe not so smart. And drowning. Not in the weight of water, but in the weight of God.

Never let it be said that God hides from us. He is as near as a glance out the window, a walk in the park, or a rock to sit on. He pours Himself out in sunsets and rainstorms, in the blossoming of a flower or the falling snow.

As I sit on that rock with my family, staring until my neck aches and my back knots, I am reintroduced to the God I knew before I knew God. My childhood God. The One I spent time with before I knew what the words colored red in my Bible said and meant.

I am fortunate enough to sit in church every Sunday and listen to someone expound upon those words. Fortunate, too, that I can sit with my Bible and have those words speak to me.

But I’ve never lost sight of that other sermon, the one I am a witness to every day. It’s a silent one, ever present, given to believer and doubter alike. One written and composed in the beauty that surrounds us. The silent sermon of God’s glory.

We drink from God’s fire hydrant every day, drowned in the inescapable weight of His power, His creativity, and His love.

If you don't already know Billy Coffey, then you should head over to his website, What I Learned Today and pay him a visit. Thanks Billy for taking time out of your extremely busy schedule of family, writing gigs, blogging, editing a book, being a Redneck and watching the World Series to do a guest post. In appreciation, I am sending all of my mojo to the Yankees.

Monday, November 2, 2009

There Is No I In TEAM

Yes, I know. I have been extremely remiss in posting anything on my blog the past few months but I do have a good reason. Volley. Ball. As some of you know, I coach high school volleyball (it's a second job) and the joke in our house is that come August when the season starts, I throw out a wave as I'm heading out the door and tell my family, 'see you in November.' It's actually not that far from the truth as regular practice days I put in 12 hour days and will work upwards of 15 hours on game days. It's a huge commitment and I don't do it for the pay. I do it because I learn a lot about teenage girls and myself and this year was no exception.

Halfway through the season, one of our Varsity starting seniors lost her dad to cancer. Doug had been fighting the deadly disease for over a year and just after our season games got under way, we received the news that he had days to live. On the morning of our game with the cross town rivals, Doug passed quietly away.

Our Varsity girls rallied around their teammate, visiting her at home that afternoon so they could express their concern and show they truly cared for her. As I entered the main gym after my Freshman game I was astonished to see this young lady warming up with the rest of the varsity players and she was doing so because it was her dad's dying wish that she continue playing volleyball and finish the season. Black ribbons with Doug's initials were in each players hair and while there was a somewhat somber mood amongst the players, there was also an air of determination to play their hearts out no matter what. For Doug. And his little girl.

The gym was packed with people from both sides of town who were there for our player and the rivals had Doug's initials embroidered on their jerseys for the game, in show of support. It was at that moment that they quit being our rivals and became 12 girls who maybe didn't understand what it was like to lose a dad, but were willing to put school boundaries aside and be there for someone who needed them to be.

It was an emotional game with some of the best volleyball our girls played all season. Doug's little girl went out there and gave her best under the circumstances and at one point, us four coaches commented that there was a peace about her that we'd never seen before. I don't know why, but maybe it was because she knew her dad was no longer suffering and cheering her on like crazy from above.

Our team played their hearts out that night and they did it not for themselves but for a teammate who suffered a great loss and they did it for her dad. It was the most unselfish act I've seen by any team I've ever coached.

When the last ball hit the ground and the match point was awarded to the other team, as I looked up at the scoreboard, I realized that the scoreboard may have shown us to be the losing team, but in lessons of life, our girls were the winners.