Relax. You’re on Beach Time.

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The photo above shows a sign I keep on the pantry door of our little Casa Azul in Puerto Cayo, Ecuador. It has a purpose. Probably not the one you think.

On the exterior, I can be just about whatever you need at the moment. Extrovert? It’s not my natural style, but I can play it well enough just about any time if that’s what you need. I made a good part of my livelihood as an adjusted-style extrovert. Curmudgeonly hermit-like introvert? Yes, it comes quite naturally, thank you. Business guy in suit and Johnson and Murphys? Sure, no problem. Country farmer with dirt underneath his fingernails. Even easier.

On a positive note, my bougainvillea is looking pretty good for such dry conditions.

On a positive note, my bougainvillea is looking pretty good for such dry conditions.

But my comfort zone is being my own boss making enough money to pay bills and travel a couple of times a year, and focusing on whatever my limited attention span is interested in for the next few months. I don’t mean that in an egotistical or sarcastic way. In fact, up until not so long ago my proclivity to boredom was the think I disliked most about myself. But during the last year it’s a simple truth truth I’ve accepted – even embraced – and knowing who I truly am, supercedes most, but not quite all, things these days.

I’m no longer caught up in things like image, public opinion, social status, or chamber of commerce award banquets. I just kind of like to be my own guy. Is that so wrong?

It’s easier some places than others. If nothing else, Ecuador has taught how to chill every expectation.

There’s a radical and immediate shift in time somewhere between Arkansas and Ecuador. I’m a high-strung traveler, anxious on airplanes, exhaustively pro-active in heading off unwanted potential surprises, hyper conscious of where everything is all the time. Travel Mode begins the night before a trip and doesn’t end until wheels down at whatever destination. It took me a while to learn that wheels down in Ecuador means time moves sideways into a different dimension.

High-strung doesn’t work here. And you’d better lose the attitude fast if you don’t want to drive yourself and everyone around you nuts.

I recall the time a carpenter finally showed up at the house a week after the initial appointment. He came in, surveyed the work, and immediately left because he didn’t bring his hammer. “Back in an hour,” he said. It’s always, “back in a hour, or tomorrow, maybe.”

The time three guys made an emergency call to save us from raw sewage overflowing a septic tank onto our back yard? You don’t even wanna know.

We have a water shortage here. Sometimes you’re lucky enough to get it through a municipal line. Other times, you call a tanker to fill your cistern. Need a shower desperately? The tanker guy will be there when he gets there.

Sometimes I’ll hear people talk with a wistful romanticism about their travels to exotic locations such as Cancun, Fiji, Madrid or maybe Puerto Vallarta. “Time stands still,” they say, dreamily imagining a life with so many umbrella drinks.

Maybe so, but in Ecuador, time gets turned upside down and “beach time” isn’t always the most romantic thing in the world. The key word in the sign on my pantry is “Relax.”

Tranquillo.

It isn’t perfect, but life is good in Ecuador.

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Day 3: Nate and Faith Walter

Published today on my companion blog, noteaday.com

Note A Day

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Dear Nate & Faith:

It was such a pleasure meeting you both in Santiago de Compostela last November. Lucky for us Dana made us keep searching the narrow, crowded streets, and that we finally came upon you at Pilgrim House.

I had my reservations. Not sure why, but I did. I thought Pilgrim House might be some mystic out-of-the-way place, the smell of incense burning from the back, full of strange people I wouldn’t connect with all discussing their karma and listening to tracks of buddhist chant music playing about. I’m not sure why I presumed that, but I did, and not that it would’ve been the end of the world. It’s just not my comfort zone. Of course, to my great pleasure, it wasn’t, and to our great fortune, we had the pleasure to meet you both.

Thank you for being so kind to us, for washing our clothes…

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2016: My Year-End Review – Filters and Anchor Points

(Blogger’s Note: This is the last in a series of posts looking back at 2016, and ahead to the new year. Thank you so very much to everyone who read the posts at Pilgrim Strong this year. Your encouraging comments and friendship are so much a part of what’s real in my life. We really are “just walking each other home.” May the Lord bless and keep you. May He make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you. May He lift up his glorious countenance upon you. And give you peace. I hope you’ll join me for a new and different kind of writing adventure next year at noteaday.com. )

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When the final numbers come in, these are the likely top 10 movies of 2016:

1) Finding Dory
2) Captain America: Civil War
3) The Secret Life of Pets
4) The Jungle Book
5) Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
6) Deadpool
7) Zootopia
8) Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice
9) Suicide Squad
10) Doctor Strange

Notice any trends? It’s all fantasy. More and more every day, we’re living a very real life in a make-believe world driven by fantasy and conflict. We’re losing touch with reality at unsurpassed momentum. And so many of those whose public professions you hear about making things great again, are really just driven by self-serving motives best advanced when you’re kept in a fog. I’m imploring you not to be part of the shell game.

It’s never been more important that we take responsibility for ourselves, especially as it relates to how we formulate important, fundamental opinions. To a great extent, civility’s survivability depends on how successful we are in knowing what we believe, and why.  I’m challenging you to be as shrewd as Kido the cat as you face the bait-and-switch shell game ahead in 2017.

You watched that video didn’t you? Admit it. I knew you couldn’t resist.

In 2017, please don’t let your reality be based on people or media conglomerates or commercial businesses whose self interest is to manipulate every part of your brain. Just say no.

You can help yourself with two things: filters and anchor points. These are my working definitions:

Filter – methods, personal experiences and hands-on techniques you can use to sift fantasy from reality; lies from truth.

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Anchor Point – a solid, unwavering, fixed point of reference reminding you of your identity, purpose, and direction. A practice creating a north star-like quality.

I think a lot about those two things this time every year. Isn’t it wonderful how every 365 days, we sort of get to imagine new beginnings, second chances, and do overs?

On pilgrimage in Spain this year I felt the strongest calling to make 2017 a time when I’ll take my eyes off myself and be ever-aware of the motives behind my actions. In 2017, I’ll launch a new blog designed to do just that. (You can sign up to follow that blog by email here). I’ll travel a lot – it’s high on my priority list for understanding a world outside Jonesboro, Arkansas. There will be an extended adventure/walk somewhere, most likely on the first one-quarter of the Appalachian Trail or the John Muir Trail, and I’ll walk upwards of a thousand miles getting ready, and actually doing it. I’ll start fishing again. I love fishing, and have missed it for years. I’m going back to stand in cold streams and feel the thrill of a taut, jerking line. And I want to spend a lot of time thinking about how my giftings can help others. Those are some of my plans for the new year.

In all the things I’ll do, I’ve resolved to do them with more vigor, deeper passion, greater gusto. I want to take deep breaths of fresh air, stand in awed amazement at breathtaking vistas, listen intently  to birds singing at the dawning of a new day. And I never want to stop having laughable dreams. They’re among my greatest personal anchor points.

As we close out this frenetic year and look to a clean start, I wanted to share with you some possible ideas for thinking about your own filters and anchor points.

FILTERS

  • When it comes to social media, learn to recognize bait, and just don’t take it. It’s easy enough to spot certain trigger words that immediately create ascreen-shot-2016-12-24-at-5-53-20-am “we vs. them” forum. Don’t get caught up in the false idea that your participation in these discussions advances some convicting cause or that you’re making a difference. You’re not, and no one’s really listening anyway because everyone’s talking and thinking about what they’re going to say next. Don’t take the bait.
  • As a general rule for social media, limit your time there, and don’t use it as a babysitter for your boredom. I have a lot of work to do here.
  • Limit your time watching television. I haven’t watched network news in almost 80 days and life is better. The world isn’t nearly as bad as they’re telling you.
  • Resist the comfort zone you perceive in being around people just like you. Yesterday, I received the nicest note from a man who’d read one of my blog posts in this series and he asked for some clarification on a religious matter I’d raised. We had a wonderful genuine exchange about some things on which we disagree, and yet further advanced the respect we have for one another. Isn’t that so refreshing?
  • Do your best to look at situations through the eyes of others, and realize that very few things are truly as they seem. There’s usually much more to the story.
  • Be proactive, not reactive. And calm down, for crying out loud.
  • Resolve to listen more than you speak. Be present. Again, I speak to myself.
  • Don’t take yourself too seriously. I’ve laughed at myself more in the last couple of years than in all the rest of my life combined.

ANCHOR POINTS

  • Be someone’s cheerleader. Younger, older, it doesn’t matter. This is SO important. One of the things I believe most about life is that we’re at our very best when we’re cheering for others. I have a few specific people already picked out for 2017.
  • Do some very difficult things all ALONE. I’d never discount the immeasurable value of sharing life experiences with a loving, trusted partner, but some of my most profound anchor points also come from times when it was just me, mentally and physically depleted, and when I had no idea what came next.

“You can’t accomplish ANYTHING without the possibility of failure.” ~ Gary “Laz” Cantrell, founder of the Barkley Marathons, the race that eats its young

  • Meditate regularly on why you believe what you believe. The ability to answer this simple question is important for you and everyone you touch.
  • Keep an understanding inside your head that the current world economy is driven by fear and conflict. Don’t be afraid. Is it any accident this phrase is mentioned 365 times in the bible?
  • Consider a daily journal and the lasting power your written words can have on your outlook.
  • Develop some new hobbies that actually require a lot of time. I mentioned fishing as one I’ll bring back next year. And I love watching Bob Ross videos and trying my hand at painting, even though the outcome is always laughable.
  • Read. Pretty simple.
  • Do some good deeds that remain a complete secret. Don’t tell anyone.
  • View life through the lens of time. So much of my thinking now is shaped by the realization of how short my time is on earth.
  • Invite people into your home. I think this is so important, and it’s such a shame that the “dinner party” is less a part of society than it once was. We’re designed for communal fellowship. Three years ago we began hosting a New Year’s Day Feast for as many friends as we can get to come. I love this day, and it gets my year off to a great start surrounded by people I care about. In fact, I’m planning the menu this morning for our fourth annual event.

In fact, it’s time to go do that now.

Happy New Year, everyone.

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2016: My Year-End Review (Part 3 of 4)

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(Blogger’s Note: This is the third in a series of posts reflecting on 2016, and looking ahead to challenges in the new year. Tomorrow in the final post, I’ll share some thoughts about ideas and approaches we can adopt (filters and anchor points, if you will) in what I view as a post-truth world).

What a year. My, my, my, 2016. What got you so stirred up?

During the last three days I’ve written about personal observations and takeaways from 2016, and the foreboding potential for the “perfect storm” I think it creates next year. Never before have we been better poised for a complete unraveling of a civilized society. No, sadly I don’t think that’s a dramatic overstatement.

We’ve been told the following:

“Unfortunately, there are no longer any such thing as facts.” ~ political surrogate Scottie Nell Hughes

“You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of (the president elect’s) supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? …  Now some of those folks — they are irredeemable, but thankfully they are not America.” ~ Hillary Clinton

“Look at that face.” (a negative reference to opponent Carly Fiorina) ~ the president-elect of the United States.

Seriously, how did we go so low, so fast?

One of the most important revelations occurring to me in 2016 is this: At a certain point in life we’re responsible not only for what we say, but what people hear. This requires looking outside and beyond ourselves – more practically – taking our eyes off ourselves.

Yesterday, I wrote about what I see as six of the most serious circumstances that weave together and create the most ominous set of domestic challenges in my lifetime. I believe they are the new invisible enemy of American society. You can read that post here.

Today, I’m adding to that list of unfortunate 2016 circumstances that may very well establish nonsensical, bizarre behavior and a complete absence of civility as the country’s New Normal. In 2016 we also witnessed the following:

  • We’re living in a “news” environment that wants to “bait” you, much more than it seeks to inform you. Even though the results are long counted and official, have you noticed how the mainstream media just can’t let the election go? The latest completely irrelevant debate is whether Obama would have defeated the new president-elect in a contest between the two. Have you noticed when it’s not the election, it’s black vs. white or christian vs. muslim? When you take the bait, it drives the ongoing conflict, and the conflict is necessary for the media’s survival. Stop taking the bait.
  • Increasingly, we are living with, (and buying into) our own perceived image of ourselves as opposed to who we truly are. It’s part of the evolution of social media, has been going on for years, and it’s the worst possible thing for personal development. A solid foundation of knowing who you are, that in which you believe (and why), and where your truth is anchored, is the key to everything else in life. Don’t lose your ability to look into an introspective mirror. Brand yourself if you must, but cast yourself in refreshing reality.
  • Our convictions have never been more shallow. It’s so easy to brand ourselves as a staunch advocate for this cause or that purpose. Words are cheap. Want to really convince people of your convictions? Go out and get your hands dirty.
  • We love making public declarations of our charitable endeavors. We’re literally shouting our good deeds from the mountaintop. Self-awareness of your motives has never been more important. May I recommend this book as you consider your own motives in the new year?

    A book recommended by my friend Jay Gunter that has really shaped some of my thinking.

    Or just meditate on this: “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.  So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.  But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,  so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Those words are so important to a fulfilling life.
  • The irony of creating a false image of ourselves, and the public pronouncement of our good deeds in a world that’s more accessible and smaller than it’s ever been is that we are lonely. In the absence of deep, meaningful, real relationships, we are crying out for friendship and attention.
  • Also ironic is that in an increasingly small world, our knowledge about the world is shallow. We’ve furthermore begun replacing an intrinsic desire to know more about the world, with our preferred ideas about what we want the world to be. Of all the things in the last election cycle that troubled me outside the public mocking of a disabled reporter was the widely circulated “fake news” article suggesting Pope Francis endorsed the future president-elect a month before the election. Anyone with any degree of world knowledge whatsoever knows a pope would never endorse a political candidate. It would never happen. No matter how much you wish things like this to be true, they are not, and never will be true. If you’re going to “share” news, share responsibly and, quite frankly, know what the hell you’re talking about.  Want an interesting place to begin your world knowledge? I came across this video in 2016:
  • This may stir some people up, no doubt. I don’t understand the obsession we have with national pride and the insistent belief that the US is the best at everything. No disrespect to military sacrifice intended – that’s an entirely different topic, but news flash. We’re not the best at everything. Want to see a cohesive family unit? Go to Latin America. Quality engineering? Try Germany. Extraordinary high standards of living? Norway. We are not the greatest at everything under the sun, and we could learn some things if we weren’t so obsessed with fear, walls, a minuscule fraction of crazy people, and the insistence that we’re the greatest. Personally, I don’t think God looks out and sees borders.
  • By now, we’ve taken enough bait, and allowed the media to lead us down enough roads of conflict that we’ve surpassed the highest levels of intolerance. Our default reaction is now an intolerant one. This intolerance has stifled productive conversation and is a root cause for bringing any greatness we have to a complete standstill. We’ve become a “what about this” or “what about that” society. At the slightest mention of a candidate mocking someone, the next person will say, “well, what about the deplorable comment?” Well, what about it? Both actions were wrong, and neither justifies the other. Stop getting so caught up in a label or a “side” that you can’t see the bigger picture. Talk for crying out loud. If we can’t talk to one another and learn from one another, I hope you like where we are right now, because we’re not going anywhere. This place and these circumstances are your home forever. Welcome to chaos.
  • As part of the obsession with labels and “we vs. them,” we’ve bought into the false idea of things like “binary choices.” If you live in the US, you enjoy freedoms because some magnificent advocates for change preceded you. Advocates for change don’t always get to see the change they valiantly pursue. Look outside the system. The possibilities are endless.
  • A final thought: As long as everything is about who gets the credit, there’s nowhere to go but down.

As I wrote yesterday, this is all way more negative than I prefer. So many of these circumstances you cannot control, but you CAN take responsibility for yourself, and that responsibility has never been more important.

In tomorrow’s final post, I’ll offer some ideas about filters and anchor points that work for me, and that you may also consider for 2017.

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2016: My Year-End Review (Part 2 of 4)

(Blogger’s Note: This is the second in a series of year-end blog posts focusing on milestones and challenges in both the old year, and the new.)

“Never get into a fight with a pig in the mud. You get dirty, and the pig loves it.” ~ unknown

It’s not easy to say something that’s practically contrary your very nature, so at the beginning I should first say this:

I have peace. Never have I felt less conflicted about priorities, truth, and the pursuit for growth. And I wish the same peace for you.

Because it happened to me for three long years, and because I’ve lived up close and personal with chronic depression, no one hates a gloom-and-doom outlook more than me. At the slightest hint of gloom and doom, I run. So, there is no great pleasure in the paragraph that follows:

The New Year forebodes the makings of a perfect storm. It reveals a potential like never before to rob us of the things we’ve always claimed as important – things like civility, truth, kindness, charity and an overall goodwill toward humanity.  screen-shot-2016-12-28-at-5-46-09-amIt has the potential for a complete societal reset, destroying decency and bringing new vigor to a shallow, watered-down life of meaningless, labeled identities. And if the New Year takes us there, further than we’ve already gone down that path in 2016, it’s a long road back home. The Prodigal Son had to walk that road when he found himself wallowing with pigs.

Cults have thrived on less well-developed story lines than the one already coming together for 2017. And lest I remind you of a place called Jonestown in 1978. It didn’t turn out well for those who got caught up in the story. There was a devastating metaphor that evolved from that tragedy. It’s now known as “drinking the Kool-Aid.”

Whether you realize it or not, whether you want to believe it or not, even if you immediately deny it as true, as many will – it is true. We’re ripe for a breakdown. I hate writing those words from which I’d normally run.

All this comes not from some lingering frustration over an election, not from loyalty to any polarizing labels that dictate false ideas like “binary choices,” not from any agenda at all, but rather from my own experience in public service and a lifetime of working in, and studying mass media communication. And if you know me, I’ve been writing with melancholy about a deteriorating media for years.

Everything I’ve seen and experienced in the world of public service and mass media points to six foundational components that warn of a seismic societal shift. There are many others and I’ll write about those tomorrow, but the six that follow are critical:

  1. New leadership in the United States is gifted at mass media manipulation like no leadership we’ve seen. Void of substance, it’s based on a keen understanding of bait and switch techniques and preys on demographic vulnerabilities and emotions that couldn’t be further removed from our best interests. It’s the ultimate exhibition in distractive technique. The product, just as intended, is polarizing conflict and division.
  2. By and large, mainstream media lost its objectivity 20 years ago when the economics of survival dictated the need for demographic-directed programming. Pure, pristine news coverage that allows consumers to evaluate world affairs for themselves is long a thing of the past. What mass media now requires is the perpetuation of an ongoing, drama-infused, conflict-driven story. And it needs you to keep watching.
  3. The two circumstances above create a parasitical relationship as never seen before.  screen-shot-2016-12-28-at-2-28-59-amWhile the leadership and the media want you to believe there’s a dramatic, enemy-like tension between them, nothing could be further from the truth. Each feeds off, and perpetuates the other. They are bed partners. Don’t play into the false narrative of their check and balance system. This dysfunctional relationship is the most dangerous thing, foreign or domestic, the US has ever faced. Truth is, it’s the new enemy.
  4. Self-centered, self-interest is now modeled for us at the highest levels. Do you know what creates big changes over time? Exposure. The more we’re exposed to certain behaviors, the more acceptable and adoptive they become. Modeled behavior shapes both the good and the bad, and can do so in big numbers.
  5. If you love words as I do, you might notice two rapidly growing trends: (1) the shifting perceived definition of words that have generally been foundational to an American society (e.g. evangelical, Christian, marriage, truth, man, woman, gender, sex, etc.); and (2) a new kind of empty language aimed at diffusing certain historically narrowly defined truths  (e.g. May the Universe send you light, love, positivity and special vibes today.) These new definitions and the new evolving language speak nothing of substance outside a desire to be gods and goddesses of self. It’s thus consistent with the modeling cited above.
  6. We’re having great difficulty distinguishing patriotism from religious fervor.

I’ve written a lot lately about our need for information filters and anchor points. They may be the two most important foundations for a meaningful and happy life in 2017. Never has the simple idea of “responsibility for self” been more important. A new world demands that we rededicate to some basic, yet important decisions to help us guard our hearts and our heads.

In the next two days, I’ll expand on the challenges I see in 2017, and some practical ways I believe we can anchor ourselves in the blowing winds of a post-truth world.

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2016: My Year-End Review (Part 1 of 4)

(Blogger’s Note:  This is the first in a series of reflections on 2016. Today’s post recounts some personal milestones. Tomorrow will highlight some big-picture things we all witnessed and experienced.)

Name seven awesome things that turned 50 in 2016.

There was Astro Turf, Doritos, Fresca, the Toyota Corolla, the Super Bowl, Star Trek, … and well … Your’s Truly.

Fifty years. My Lord.

Because such a milestone was just around the corner I was already thinking a lot about 2016 this time last year. I wanted to experience significant things, real things, even make a lasting mark this year. I hoped to have tangible achievements this year. Here’s how the year fared:

  • More than anything, I’d hoped to publish my first book. The experience of walking across Spain in 2015 was filled with incredible stories, both
    The personal sell (stamp) I created for letters and whatnot. Design credit: Hanne Pelletier

    The personal sello (stamp) I created for letters and whatnot. Design credit: Hanne Pelletier

    internal and external. The transition from journalist to literary author was astoundingly more difficult than I imagined. Good writing in one place does not equal good writing in the other. That was my lesson. The draft for #PilgrimStrong currently stands at about 50,000 words and is just a few chapters from completion. Decisions about the direction for the completed draft remain, but are much clearer than they were months ago. It truly is a marathon writing a good book, and I insist this work be the best it can be. Balancing patience with peace was a huge lesson this year.

  • In a completely unplanned moment, Dana and I booked another October trip to Spain so she could share in the pilgrimage experience I had a year earlier.  Together, we spent 30 days walking some 275 miles with a backpack and pair of shoes. I believe marriages need big experiences like this where you share intense time together and really depend on one another. Times like this become anchor points in a marriage and they hold things in place. When you share something together that’s hard, fun, adventurous, seemingly impossible at times, and completely laughable … well, you’ve really done something together. Sharing the pilgrim experience with Dana is one of the highlights of my life.
We made it!

We made it!

  • In April, I attended my first real literary conference in Asheville, NC and pitched my book to eight different reputable agents. The process is much like I imagine speed dating. It’s an interesting experience selling an idea you’ve poured your heart and soul into for months when there’s five minutes on the clock. Even though no one offered me a million-dollar contract and begged me to write another book, (that’s what I wanted, ha) I count it a successful trip.
  • We joined a church in April which was kind of a big deal. That might surprise people who are familiar with much of the way I express myself in writing, but truth is I’ve had a fairly volatile relationship with church (i.e. what we’ve made of church) over recent years. In fact, I’d just about given up, concluding church wasn’t really necessary for the kind of life I wanted to live. I was wrong. We’re thrilled with the mission of The Rock of Northeast Arkansas. It’s a bible-based church focused on the deity of Jesus and the Great Commission. The leadership is humble and transparently real. I could say so much about this, but will end with the sentiment that I’m just so happy we didn’t give up on church.
  • It was another year when by way of more wisdom than I once had, I let several ideas go. That’s so hard for people like me. When you have an idea that you’re passionate for, it’s difficult not to engulf yourself in that idea, full steam ahead. But I have the battle scars to show you it’s not always the right thing. Once again, I passed on the food truck idea this year. God closed a door that I honestly thought was the real thing when I had a vision for a Spain-like neighborhood cafe just two blocks from our home (I recently wrote about that here). We looked at a small hotel for sale in a “resort town” about a hundred miles from Jonesboro, and I even made a serious call to a culinary school, but they weren’t accepting students for the spring semester. As you see, there’s a theme in all that, and it’s a belief that’s been refined from time traveling abroad. Much as writing does, I believe in food and hospitality, and how they can be used to perpetuate certain callings. Life is literally lived out in Spanish cafes and bars. Those ideas aren’t going away. It’ll be interesting to see how they play out this year.
  • On the topic of traveling abroad, I spent 82 days outside the United States in the last 12 months. Outside my faith and family, it’s the single thing I love most and radically shapes how I think. Up next is Ecuador for four weeks with wheels up on January 13.
  • The friendships we’ve created through travel really grew this year – not just on-the-ground friends, but those with whom we’ve made
    Coffee with new friends in Santiago - Steve, Darla and Andrew.

    Coffee with new friends in Santiago – Steve, Darla and Andrew.

    acquaintance sharing our experiences online. We’ve connected with so many people in the US and abroad just because of places we’ve been and things we’ve done. If you’re one of those people reading now, I want you to know how thankful we are for that relationship, and how much we truly enjoy the conversations we share with you.

  • It was through one such friendship that I got the unique opportunity this year to submit a video application for a TED talk. I connected with Michelle Burch Coleman, a communication professor and fellow outdoor enthusiast, during my first pilgrimage last year.  When I asked her consideration for a testimonial on my blogsite, we took it a step further and pitched an idea to TEDx Dayton where she coaches speakers on occasion. I didn’t make the final cut, but the possibility, and experience of the early phases in that process pushed my limits in a way that helped me grow. Thank you, Michelle, for that opportunity.
  • Things like gardening and recycling became a much bigger priority for me
    I had almost eight weeks of a garden harvest like this every day.

    I had almost eight weeks of a garden harvest like this every day.

    in 2016. I think it’s just the desire to do things that are real. Meditate on these terrible facts today: In calendar year 2016, US citizens will discard 35 billion (with a B) plastic water bottles. Furthermore, we’ll place 100 billion plastic shopping bags in our nation’s landfills, the total of which required 12 million barrels of oil to produce. Those bags will deteriorate over a millennium.

  • I created a YouTube channel this year where I have lots of videos including this one – a reflection about my first pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago:
  • Got a tattoo -a scallop shell, the symbol of the camino pilgrim. A wise Frenchman told me once, “A true pilgrim never stops walking the path.” Thank you for those words, Jeannick Guerin, and thanks to my friend, Beth Jusino (now my tattoo twin) for graciously letting my copy her creative idea.

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  • Tossed and turned all night on April 16 as we worried about friends in family in  Ecuador when a 7.8 earthquake hit close to home. Our house was spared and our friends and family were okay, but it was a horrific ordeal where thousands lost their lives and  the rebuilding will go on for years. World news barely covered it.screen-shot-2016-12-26-at-2-44-00-pm
  • One of my best achievements this year has been turning off network news. I spent two decades in the news business and love what it once was, yet despise what it has become. I haven’t seen television news in more than 70 days, and my life is better.
  • In 2016, I grew to believe the things I believe even more and with a stronger commitment to truth than ever before.

More on that from a much different perspective tomorrow, and in the following days.

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Praying for a Closed Door

There’s nothing that excites me more than a good idea. And one of the things I’ve learned to guard against is my own propensity to get carried away with an idea that stirs the heart. Sometimes, I can go for months with no such inspiration. In other seasons, the “good ideas” will break and ebb perpetually as waves on the beach.

When an idea evolves to opportunity, it’s often exciting, but perilous ground.

In 50 years it’s become evident when something that feels like a good idea pours into my heart, it’s best to resist a natural urge to go with a gut instinct that almost always wants to bore full steam ahead. Some call it patience, or a process of discernment, or even the kind of wisdom that comes with age. I often call it excruciating agony.

But I’ve made enough of those kinds of mistakes that it comes easier than it once did. Thank God for his grace and freedom that permits our mistakes and wrong turns.

As Dana and I walked the Camino a few weeks ago, I meditated and prayed on two or

I love taking photos of doors across the Camino. It seems they take on a greater meaning to the Spaniards than in other places across the world.

I love taking photos of doors across the Camino. It seems they take on a greater meaning to the Spaniards than in other places across the world.

three ideas that have ebbed and flowed through my heart for a few years now. While each had the potential to fulfill a unique calling I feel toward my own purpose, my relatively new proclivity to patience, and the desire to get it exactly right the next time around have created a kind of extended “holding pattern” that’s been both uncomfortable and peaceful at the same time.  It’s an odd enigma that feels strangely normal now, and pours out of a heartfelt desire to follow what’s most real in my life.

One of those ideas has long involved the acquisition of neighborhood commercial property just two blocks from our home. It’s an ideal place for living out a calling Dana and I both sense in our lives – one of those rare things that comes almost naturally with no effort at all. In the times it’s come available in recent years and when my juices would flow, something always said, “Wait, wait, wait. It’s not your time just yet.” So I’ve waited. I meditated on this circumstance a lot as we walked.

One night on the Camino as we overnighted in Mañeru, a small village just outside Puenta la Reina, I enjoyed the best night’s sleep we’d had since the trek began. The bed was comfortable, the room was absent the stuffiness we’d experienced for the several preceding nights, and the proprietors were kind and gracious. There were even enough spare pillows around to create the nightly nest I’m accustomed to back home. The good sleep brought a transcendent peace.

Less than a handful of times I’ve experienced dreams (for lack of a better term) that were more real than reality. At times, they’ve been as vivid and clear as the most beautiful day in your life. Last year, I wrote about one such experience here. Others, like this one, brought a less resplendent confirming peace that satisfies a restless soul like few things I’ve ever known.

That night, I felt the voice of the Holy Spirit telling me the property back home would be available to me when we returned, and the “time” was now. And it didn’t feel remotely abrupt. It was dream-like, yet not a dream. It sounds weird, but it wasn’t. When I awoke, I said, “okay,” and we walked on. The experience was as real as the blisters I’d been nursing for days now, yet graciously didn’t overwhelm the pilgrimage experience as some profound revelation. It seemed, rather, just a natural, seamless part of the bigger experience. I’d best describe it as “gentle.”

And so we walked on. Ultreia, we say on the camino.

***

Yesterday, 19 days post-camino I went through the regular morning routine of gathering what I needed to complete the daily errands. Our neighborhood is configured in such a way that almost any errand takes me by that property. As I approached, there was an unusual activity that caught my eye as movers emptied the building into three large moving vans. There was another strange sensation as if a surprise that I knew was coming. I’m becoming more accustomed to these odd sensitivities.

My “dream” had come true. The business located on the property was moving to a new location. Maybe it wasn’t a dream after all.

On the spot, it seemed the most natural thing in the world to begin making calls and contacts about the property, like a natural extension of the peace I’d experienced in that cozy albergue bed.

If we pursue this calling, a dozen things will have to perfectly align to make it work. A personality like mine can get easily worked up about scenarios far less involved than this. It would be easy to push things in an excitedly urgent sort of way. I have to remind myself if it’s God’s plan for us, that peaceful sense will remain throughout.

I’m not an eloquent prayer. My prayers are simple conversations with God and I frequently find myself at a loss for exactly what to say in situations like this. In just that situation last night, I recalled a recent conversation with a respected long-distance friend now considering three extraordinary service opportunities all at the same time. Any one of them fits his gifting and unique capacity to make a real difference in the world. As we agreed to pray for one another about some different things, here’s a paraphrase of something he said that seemed the perfect answer to prayer about my own situation:

“So I need unmistakable guidance. When I have asked for such in the past, God has always been so kind to clearly open certain doors and clearly slam others shut.”

The realization brought a reinforced peace that feels so right. If I truly pursue His will, and if He’s in this situation as I want Him to be, and if it’s purposed for His glory and not mine, he’ll close the door shut if it’s not His will. It gave me such peace to know if this opportunity somehow vanishes, it will be Him who closed the door for my good.

“Lord if it’s not right, close the door. Slam it shut. Slam it hard.”

I’m good with that. Anyway, it’s exciting, and all good.

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