Monday, July 25, 2011

In the dark

"Mother," I said. "I just have to shake out some cobwebs. I'm going for a run. See ya later." With that, I jumped into my running clothes and headed into the night.

Earlier today, Mother and I arrived at the Montrose Writers Conference. The opening session was inspiring with the promise of a strong conference. But still, my travel over the last two days had plucked my last nerve and infringed on my run time. The evening was beautiful, the quaint village streets quiet, the open road begging me to come.

It felt good. Really good. There is something special about night running. It caresses and cradles. It offers a false, but pleasant, sensation of speed. It lures you down the lane, up the next hill, around the curve, soaking in the smell of freshly cut grass, the fragrance of wildflowers, and the crunch of gravel beneath your feet.

But, sometimes it's really dark. Yes, at 10:30 pm one expects darkness. But often, a glimmer of a streetlight or even the moon glow can allow you to see outlines. But tonight, I got to a section of road covered by the heavy drape of tree branches. I couldn't see squat. Not the hidden houses. Not even the edges of the road. I was running blind. Though not a new sensation, it still isn't all that comfortable. I just had to keep moving and trust my feet to feel the way.

It's not unlike our spiritual journey. Sometimes we find ourselves in the dark because we just don't know how the Designer planned out the roads; we don't know the twists and turns. We can't see the caution, yield, or slow down signs. We don't know if there are hairpin turns or roundabout circles. We strain to see anything that would give us some perspective.

I was in a dark place tonight. But as I continued step by step, a strange thing happened. I looked up to see a sliver of light up ahead. I still didn't know where the road was leading but I knew that if I moved to the light, the way would become clear. Soon, I was running free and confident.

Tomorrow, if I run the same road I will better understand where I was tonight. So, let's not fret when we can't see where we are going. Relax. Sometimes God needs us to be content with waiting until tomorrow before we can see where--and why--He has taken us.

It is God who arms me with strength and keeps my way secure. 
(Psalm 18:32)

Monday, July 18, 2011

Grounded and focused

Let's assume you are a "normal" person. You get up around 6:30 or 7, grab a bowl of cereal and savor your favorite joe. Off to work you go. Or, perhaps you have errands to run, kids to cart, and groceries to fetch. Sometime mid-day, you grab something for lunch as the afternoon bids more activity. You might even get in a run. "Ah..." Now, doesn't that make you feel accomplished?

With dinner time approaching, preparations are made, food consumed and as the sun lowers into the horizon, you relax with an after-dinner coffee and some TV or light reading. Soon enough, you glance at the clock and realize that you need to do the going-to-bed dance: wash up, brush teeth and hair (if you have any), put on your jammies. . .all while making mental note about the coming day. In between the covers you slip, clean and content after all the busyness. zzz's come quickly.

Now, pretend you are Jennifer Pharr-Davis. At the young age of 26, you are already an accomplished and well-respected athlete, writer and speaker. You have hiked the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), the Long Trail, the Appalachian Trail (AT)twice-setting the women's world speed record in the process-and many other long, multi-day, multi-week adventures. But now, you decide to go after the overall AT speed record (read that, the men's record). Two years in the planning, you build a clandestine plan, letting few in on the secret. You must cut at least nine days from your previous best. A bodacious goal, if nothing else. But now the time has come.

You stand atop Mt. Katahdin at the northern terminus of the AT. Southward you march, traversing the rocky, rugged peaks and deep valleys. You are on a mission. You have a purpose. Every thing has been planned out and you dare not waste a step or an ounce of energy. To complete your self-assigned task, you cannot falter even for a day or your dream may collapse. Hike. Hike. Hike. You must overcome excruciating pain and overwhelming obstacles. Your world suddenly becomes very small; your steps pre-determined and mind focused.

But what does that really mean? It means that while most "normal" people sip their steaming cup of coffee, you will have already been on the trail, in the dark, alone, for two hours. It means that by the time others arrive at work, you will already have many miles on your feet. Now hike to the next road crossing. Sit. Put your feet up. Eat. Drink. Review the upcoming section. Have your pack filled. Stand up. Start again.

By the time "normal" people eat lunch, you will still be hiking hard with another ten hours to go. But you dare not think in those terms. It must be section to section. Road crossing to road crossing. Ridge to valley and back to ridge. And when it gets tough, it's tree to tree, repeated countless times in a day; every day for 40-some days. There is no option to take a rain delay or a siesta in the shade. You must push on.

When supper rolls around, you revolt at the thought of more food. You have been eating and drinking all day. Having to consume 6000 calories is no fun. Chewing takes too much energy, everything tastes the same. But still, you force feed yourself because motion is impossible without fuel.

There is no evening news or TV for you. You have, as Robert Frost so eloquently stated, "miles to go before I sleep." Instead, as the sun dips below the farthest peak, you have more mountains to conquer. The woods become surreal, the last, lingering rays playing tricks on your eyes. Yet, you hold off pushing the on switch of your headlamp. The noises of the forest escalate. A deer snorts and runs off. You become in tuned with the birds as they sing their evening songs, the crickets as they chirp, the chipmunks and squirrels as they scamper, and yes, as the mama bear growls. The darkness envelopes; it embraces. You are alone in a vast and wooded space. Sometimes you take it all in. Sometimes you shut it out. You move relentlessly forward.

You know what has to be done. The mileage you must obtain does not jive with the convenient road crossings or comfy hotels. Rather, you count on your crew to gather tents, sleeping bags, food, water and clothes. At least you will have company for the night. You tackle a few more miles that will cap the day, many times in excess of fifty miles. In a carefully orchestrated process, you sponge off with baby wipes, the scent of those moist towelettes permanently recorded in your senses. You eat your reconstituted hiker meal-in-a-bag, brush your teeth and crawl into the tent set up for you. The alarm will allow for six hours of sleep. No more. No less. You drift off, glad the day is behind, trying not to think of the day ahead.

Though set, the alarm seldom sounds at 4:45 am. Your body clock knows when it's time. You start eating your processed breakfast, mend your feet and slide them into shoes still damp from sweat and the nighttime dew. Then you stand at 5:00 am and take yet another step that leads you closer to Springer Mountain, GA, the southern terminus. You are well ahead of record pace but know you cannot let down. You must persevere. You must know that your quest requires more inexplicably hard work. More perseverance. But more sweet, sweet satisfaction in continuing.


Your goal, however, is more than a record; a record that astounds the mind and seems unfathomable to mere mortals. The journey is about using God-given talent to bring glory to the Father, being a light in the darkness,  an ambassador of all things wonderful and wild. It is your story to live; your story to tell. So you walk swiftly on. . .and on. . .and on. You are Jennifer Pharr-Davis. No one else could do this.


Post-script: 

This story was inspired by hiking with, aiding, talking and laughing with Jennifer for the last 3.5 days. Jenn, you are an incredible woman who inspires and motivates simply by being. You are grounded in your faith and focused on leading a life pleasing to your God. You are mature beyond your years. I have come to love you and care for you deeply. Thank you for the privilege to serve you in this way.

You can follow Jenn's journey on http://draft.blogger.com/blogger.g?blogID=7411028237459709692#editor/target=post;postID=1108140863421385273 or find her on Facebook.


Thursday, July 14, 2011

Ideas for the home: Coming soon

So many of you seem to be interested in projects done around my house; from giant dandelions painted on the wall and carpets painted on the floor, to massive sunroom do-overs and new fishponds. I am hoping to add a section to this blog to share some creativity and ideas for projects on-the-cheap. Stay tuned...it's coming soon.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Statistics

Statistics are interesting tidbits. Some say that you can make statistics say anything you want. That might be true.

I've been interested in a few stats of my own. Thank goodness for software developers who make compiling stats easy for knuckleheads like me. A click of a button on this blog tells me all kinds of things; how many page views, the most popular stories (and which ones were miserable fails), the URL sources that guide readers to the site, and where those readers are from geographically, among other things. Not sure these numbers are life changers but they are interesting.

Within spitting distance of 9000 blog views, it's hard to believe that so many are reading what I have to say. It's humbling to know that. Most of the readers are from the USA. But who could have guessed that the country with the second most views is Russia. Yes, Russia. That seems strange but strange is sometimes true.

I am thankful to those who are faithful readers and commentators. This blog is an outlet for me and one that I hope will convey truth, put a smile on your face, give a reason to pause, and help us continue on in our lives with purpose, faith and hope.

Thanks again. I'll be back soon.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Spider webs

With the rain last night and high humidity, the morning was slow in awakening, holding at bay the summer sun that beats down mercilessly. The misty morning held dew drops in suspended animation while the wet grass relished the moisture. It was a silent, still world. A world that seemed to be quiet and content.

And then I saw them. Spiderwebs. Huge, complex spiderwebs. At least seven of them spread between some trees in the yard. With the wind gently blowing, they looked like ethereal garden ornaments floating in mid-air. I marveled at their strength to hold together despite the breeze. Even more so, I couldn't believe how some of the webs, suspended gracefully between trees perhaps thirty feet apart, were anchored by single strands of filament to key points on the ground or among the branches. "Was one spider responsible for all this work?" I wondered. Each of the webs seemed to be connected, spanning about 150 feet all together. Impressive.

I wish I would have taken a picture early this morning. Now, with the risen sun having burned off the fog, the webs aren't as obvious. Not obvious, that is, until you walk into one, the sticky threads clinging to your face and hands. But they are still effective. I noticed multitudes of tiny insects had been lured into the trap, only to await their certain fate as the spider closes in for an early lunch.

"Oh, what tangled webs we weave." I suppose that is a lesson to be learned. And yet, that's not the lesson I want to focus on today. I just want to marvel at the magnificent engineering skills of those arachnids. How did they learn to do that? Did their moms and dads have to spend years teaching them to hone their web-building skills? Doubtful. (The average life expectancy of a spider, assuming a kid doesn't smooch it, is 1-3 years.)

An orb web, those complex silky structures with concentric circles joined together with "spokes", take only about an hour to build. The spider can be seen repairing the web throughout the day but will most often build a new web each night. The silk threads are stickiest when new; much better for catching its small prey. Simply amazing. An exquisite creation designed by an exquisite Creator.

Thank you, Father, for your marvelous creation. Each creature, each plant, points to your glory and majesty. But thank you even more for caring for me.  Help me never to forget your love and mercy.

“Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith!"  Luke12:27-28