Lessons I Learned in the past 24 hours – Be Flexible … Be Alert … Humor … Hiking … Hollowness
These insights are longer than normal. I normally would break these down to multiple days, but so much has happened in the past 36 hours, I just want to get it down. Read one section, return later. Grab a coffee, read them all. Or wait for the Spark Notes that will be published posthumously.
BE FLEXIBLE – They’re calling for rain. Rain. No, not gonna happen. I planned this week. I have a schedule to keep. And Friday I was going to hike Hot Springs National Park, That meant departing the great Commonwealth of Virginia and driving to get their late Thursday night. But with rain, cold rain at that, I had to adjust, refocus, change, improvise, adapt, and overcome. So, I left late Wednesday evening and headed west. I prefer daytime driving, but the key to this lesson – be flexible.
Flexibility isn’t always easy for me. Literally and metaphorically. I have a weird medical condition that is fusing my spine, so I’m not the most flexible guy. And I swear this condition is impacting the way I live at times – I sometimes am way too stiff-necked and arrogant and myopic. I don’t like it when my favorite restaurant changes the menu, or they switch actors for a character mid season (come on, we all know the best Dumbledore was Richard Harris, and Sean Connery the best Bond), or I don’t like it when ____________ (insert a hundred other things.)
Wisdom. We need wisdom to know how to react. Sometimes we need to be the Willow tree – bending, limber, blowing with the wind. Sometimes we need to be the Oak – firm, vigilant, standing firm in our values.
Society today is crazy. It is changing so quickly. And sometimes that demands for us to be flexible and adapting for the best. Yet other times it demands for us to push back, stand firm and not be gullible or yielding. Where do we stand firm? Where do we bend?
My foundation is not the stand I take, for that often changes – my foundation is the Word of God. Where it is clear, we stand firm. Where it is grey/not clear, we pray for wisdom. If the winds of our time blows me over, I can rest at peace knowing I stood firm in the never changing Word of God.
Willow or Oak? Oak or Willow? As long as it’s planted in the foundation of the Word, I will be okay.
BE ALERT – So, I adjusted and left early. Night driving demands a higher level of alertness. I saw cars driving the interstate with no lights on. I had to pay attention to the gas – less places open to stop. And this trip, I have a very heavy piece of Oak in the back of my 4Runner. Did you know Oak smells? I feel like I am hiking in the woods while driving. Weird. Well, those heavy slabs of wood mean caution on turns, don’t slam the brakes, etc. Shifting weight is not cool.
My father once was traveling from VA to NC with stacks of books in the back of his Ford Fairlane; and at the first red-light, he braked a bit too hard. The books shifted forward and moved the back of his seat forward. The rest of his 6 hour trip was leaning forward, crouching over the steering wheel.
Be alert. But this means alertness for positive and negative.
Shortly after sunrise, I was coming upon a FedEx truck that was driving … well, like a drunkard. He weaved, causing a bit of whiplash on his attached load, he drove in the emergency lane, crossed the line and I was just waiting for a disaster. I gave ample room for this vehicle. He probably drove through the night and was tired. Be alert.
But I also want to stay alert to see the beauty, the unusual, the memory moments. Like the crop duster who was working the fields next to the highway. This time he lined up on the highway in front of me right before he swiftly banked and did the crops. It was a cool move and I started imaging a WW2 torpedo bomber in the Pacific. Or stay alert to see nature and wonder and God’s artistry. I’ve travelled I-40 many times, so one has to stay alert for things missed and wonder around them.
This means we need to stop just walking through life missing the beauty, missing the splendor. Smell the roses. Take it all in before you rip out the phone to take a selfie. Be alert.
Have a Sense of Humor. Maybe it’s just me. But I enjoy looking at life a little … Whimsical? Childlike? Hippieish? See a water puddle – I jump and splash. I see people react unusual – I imagine they are alien pod-people that are adapting to humanities norms. I see the crop duster – I think of WW2.
So last night, I passed 4 cars in a row and they all had their driver side headlight out. Immediately I thought they were mystical Cyclops and I was on a cursed highway of Cyclops and Ogres and monsters. My driving became a quest; my destination was a safe harbor before me. Monsters all around. What would I do? Especially, avoid the one-eyed, blue-eyed guardians of the interstate. They are out there, lurking.
Have a sense of humor people.
HIKING. It was Earth Day and I got outside. Hot Springs is a nice park. About 6000 acres. A bit commercial being so close to the town of Hot Springs. So the ambient noise was more than I am used to when enjoying Devils Marble Yard or trails along the Skyline Drive. But it was beautiful. However, I had to stop comparing, stop seeing the less than expected and start seeing the beauty.
– The leaves were coming in. Newness of life was returning. It gave a freshness to an old wood forest. Many times I need freshness in my weary bones.
– There were some small colorful flowers along the trail. Purple, red, and a few pink. These little splashes of color were a delight and probably overlooked by many. God’s beauty is often seen in the small details too!
– I startled (or more correctly, he startled me) a six-point buck just mere feet from the trail. A rustling of the brushes alerted me just in time to see him raise his head and dash away. I LOVE NATURE – the surprises, the unexpected, the startling.
– Once I got into the woods, the trail veered a bit. This downward and then back up a little later seemed a bit unnecessary. But I noticed, this veering put a sound wall/hill between the hiker and the town. This was amazing. It made the birds more noticeable, made the isolation greater, and the experience much more enjoyable. What I thought as an unnecessary was truly beneficial. I may not always know what things happen; but if I give it a chance, I might just discover it. Be less critical.
– I saw the foundations of some old stopping points/rest areas. The park is celebrating 100 years in 2021. I then imaged the tens of thousands that might have stopped and enjoyed this respite on the trail, taking in the view, and being refreshed for more on the journey. What legacy am I leaving? My ministry? My family?
There are always lessons along the trail of life. Look for them!
And one last lesson …
HOLLOWNESS. There she was. A majestic older hardwood tree that had blown over. The roots remained intact but the trunk had twisted and been mauled a mere feet above the ground. The tree did not fall completely. She rested at about a 45 degree angle where a sister hardwood had caught her, as if gently caring for her wounded friend. Had I been bit younger, I might have climbed the angled trunk just to say I could do it. Well, I can always say I can do it, but saying isn’t as fun as doing. But I resisted. Maybe it was the caution that the sister tree wouldn’t want to hold my weight too, or that I saw few people on the trail; and if I fell, I might lie there a while. Or maybe I was too tired from the 15 hour road trip right into the 6 mile hike. Doesn’t matter, I just looked.
That’s when I noticed it. The tree, beautifully barked, majestically aged, few flaws … would be an asset to any view outside a home or office window … was not what she seemed. The outside had few blemishes. But the inside – hollow, bare, empty. I am not sure the reason, that wasn’t important to my query. Her downfall wasn’t due to her exemplary example of what a tree was to look like. Her downfall was due to her emptiness inside. The hollowness finally yielded to the weight of what looked like faking perfection.
I look out at people, even those that attend and listen to my homiletical expertise every week (jk, I always need God’s help to overcome my shortfalls) … back to point … I look out and sometimes I see people that look like they have it all together. They look like what a person should look like. But inside, deep within, they are hollow and hurting. They are desperately in need. And those that look at them are clueless. Sometimes the people themselves are clueless.
They wait too late to get help and they tumble over and fall. Oh, we try to hold them up, we compassionately will bear their weight and try to show love and aid in restoration. In the end, the hollowness inside is just too much. Real healing isn’t fixing up the outside, making us look all pretty and well adjusted. Real healing is from within, starting at our hearts, hearts that need total replacement.
That’s what God does.
Real change starts from the inside out. If you are hurting, reeling from a hollowness within – He can heal, He can renew, He can help. Let Him.
And praise God – He’s started that on me – and He’s not done with me yet.
So ends my lessons from Day One. Quite a day.