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Child of God. Husband. Father of four. Pastor. Triathlete.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Chicago Marathon 2015

2015 marks my fifth Bank of America Chicago Marathon (pardon the corporate name), fourth as a Nike Pace Team member, and tenth marathon overall.

Quite honestly, the marathon this year was superfluous--a pleasant excuse to go to Chicago with my lovely wife without children. Now, to be clear, I love my children dearly. However, Julie and I have far too seldom gone away just the two of us. We don't even do date night very well or regularly. Suffice to say, I was eager to simply flee to the big city with her.

A recurring pattern seems to have developed in regard to my going away: an intense busy-ness in the days preceding departure that leaves me nearly wrecked physically and emotionally. In this instance, it was the usual litany of sermons and meetings, coupled with the children's busy-ness, compounded by the casualties of their friends, every one of them (so it seemed) succumbing to the agony of illness and likely to have infected our own children. Anxieties were high all around.

Thursday morning finally arrived, at which point we packed up, got the kids to school, and hit the bricks. This was what Julie and I had been so eager for for so many weeks: to get away, just the two of us, and to be engaged in a "we can't turn back now" commitment to the weekend, trusting grandparents (and God's gracious help) in ensuring that all would be well at home in our absence. We got as far as Sioux City before Starbuck's beckoned. Coffee and breakfast sandwiches procured, we talked mostly, accompanied by the usual array of musical genius (Jim James, Edward Sharpe, The Head and the Heart, et al), and NPR news. The drive to Des Moines was pleasant, as anxiety was peeled off, layer by layer, mile by mile.

In Des Moines, we settled on The Juice Company (Roosevelt neighborhood) for a quick lunch-on-the-go of smoothies and Clif Bars. Filling up on gas in the West Branch area, Julie took over at the wheel while I settled into the heavily reclined back seat for Mad Max: Fury Road. It was outstanding, though watching the moving whist driving in a car was perhaps a bit too real. In any case, it got us quite a way east on I-88.

Finally arriving in West Chicago, we made a quick stop at our friends, Kay & Clem, to visit and pick up a package. After a swat on the ass from Clem to Julie, we hustled to Geneva to meet our friends Kevin and Mary. Dinner at Preservation Wine & Bread followed; a top-ten-all-time meal of small plates and two bottles of exceptionally good red wine. Only slightly lit, we made our way back to West Chicago for a quick visit to Shane & Wendy. Finally, well past our bedtime, we arrived at Will & Esther's for more talk and a terribly late bedtime.

Friday morning, I donned my Nike gear, Julie donned her shopping clothes, and we hit it for downtown. The trip from Wheaton to the city was familiar to us; we made it hundreds of times while living there. It was a joy to turn on WXRT and reminisce. At State Street, I dropped off Jule and made my way to McCormick Place for the marathon expo. Agonizing over the outrageous parking ramp fees, I parked and made my way in, soaking up the buzz of race weekend. I picked up my packet, made a quick spin through the hall, visited with my former triathlon training partner Andy (who works for Nuun), and eventually settled in for my three hour Nike Pace Team shift. The first hour was miserably slow, but it was fun to visit with folks, especially the first-timers, and the final two hours went quickly. Shortly after 3:00 p.m. I raced to the van, dodged traffic to State Street, and rendezvoused with Julie. We drove to Streeterville, found a parking spot, and made the short walk to the Museum of Contemporary Art. We had all of one hour to survey this museum that I had long wanted to visit, but always found to be a distant second to the Art Institute. It was, for the most part, a disappointment. The 8th Blackbird display and nice man behind the desk who gave us a student rate and restaurant recommendations were the highlights. An hour was more than enough.

After the museum and no small amount of deliberation, we made our way to Francesca's in the old Seneca Hotel for dinner. It was inspired: quiet, well-appointed, good food, and good service. We shared a salad, entree, and dessert, all of which were outstanding. After our leisurely meal, we made a quick stop into Macy's at Water Tower Place to look for a denim shirt for Sophie. I hadn't been department store shopping in a long, long time. It was fun. People were out in force, and it was a classic Friday night vibe.

We decided to following this short shopping excursion with a trip to the north side and our favorite jazz club--The Green Mill. Al Capone's former hangout retains it's Prohibition Era mystique but has evolved into a world-class jazz venue. We arrived to some impossibly gifted dude killing it on a Hammond B-3 organ (more blues than jazz), and decided to stay for drinks (old school) and The Lawrence Hobgood Trio. After a long day, we were tired, the drinks were making us sleepy, and as the crush of people increased in the small venue the warmth became stultifying. We gutted it out, however, and were rewarded with a nearly euphoric musical experience. It resulted in our joy and three disks purchased to the tune of $45 (no small amount after a $30 cover charge and expensive drinks!). Finally home, we once again stayed up way too late talking with Will & Es, finally getting to bed around 1:00 a.m.

Saturday was glorious. We slept late. Julie and Es went shopping. Will and I drove his new Jeep to Egglectic (a past favorite haunt) for breakfast, and then to REI for gear (me: looking; Will: buying). Back home, we reclined on the couch for chips, hummus, and football (Michigan v. Northwestern in the Big House; both Will and Es received advanced degrees from the Evanston school). The entire afternoon was one of great rest. In the evening, Will and I ran to Magliano's for carry-out, and after dinner and more sports (this time, game two of the Cubs v. Cardinals in the NLDS), I packed up and hit the sack.

I didn't sleep exceptionally well, but I seldom do the night before a race. I woke up at 4:00 a.m. for coffee and a bowl of granola, followed by ablutions and dress. Julie, Will, and Es were also up, and wishing goodbyes I made my way solo into the city (they would follow later). The drive in was serene. I prayed. It was cool, but pleasant. I parked in the Grant Park underground lot and made my way to the Nike Pace Team tent by Buckingham Fountain. Many were already gathered, and I quickly settled in to bling my pacer sign and straighten my uniform.

After praying (my first for the group of 100), we hit the streets to assume our positions in the starting corals. Rich, my longtime pacing partner, and I were again the 3:35:00 team in Coral B. We assembled our troops and enjoyed the immense energy of an early morning start on Columbus Drive in Chicago with 44,998 other committed souls. At 7:30 a.m., we slowly made our way to the starting line, and from there took off at a brisk pace (8:12 miles) with hopes of ending 3:34:30 later at the very place we were starting.

The course takes you on a winding path through the Loop, into River North, and alongside Lake Michigan (generally) north towards Lincoln Park. Up north, we turn back west, and begin the long trek back into the city. Julie found me at miles 5 and 10, encouraging my spirit and showing incredible brilliance in fearlessly navigating the city's public transportation solo. We had a good, generally quiet group (Tom from New York; Thalicia from Chicago; Katerina from Spain; Dmitri from Moscow), and the crowds were able to occupy our attention over the first 11 miles or so. Back in the city, near mile 12, my left knee developed a burning pain that I'd never experienced before. It was nearly debilitating, but I figured I could run through it. Thoughts of enduring the pain for another two hours was, at that point, unthinkable. I prayed.

By mile 14, it had largely dissipated. By mile 15, it was gone, though a new discomfort had crept in: simple fatigue. My legs were beginning to feel heavy and my body was burning: it was uncharacteristically hot and windy. Furthermore, miles 15 to 20 are generally the most difficult and unpleasant of the race, in terms of both neighborhoods and point of the race (the discomfort by this time is nearly unavoidable and multiplies quickly). Dmitri theory of physics that in heat, miles expand was becoming unpleasantly true. It was quickly becoming gruesome for me and most everyone else.

I continued to look ahead to mile 23, at which point I would once again see Julie. After seeing her, I regrouped. Just in time, as it turned out, as my partner Rich was beginning to succumb to the heat and exertion. It was a great example of carrying each other: he carrying me over miles 19-22; me carrying him over miles 22-26. The final three miles of the race were less unpleasant than previous years, however still quite agonizing. We had a tailwind and the hope of a finish squarely on time--3:34:30. We raced over the line at exactly 3:34:34, and were joined by grateful members of our group, many of whom would use the race (and outstanding time) as a ticket to the Boston Marathon in April. It was a great success, and a joy to be a part of so many people's aspirations.

I felt quite good as I made my way back to the tent, stretched, gathered my gear, and walked back to the van (and Julie). Together again, we high-tailed it out of the city, stopping in Schaumburg for Portillo's, and made our way home. It was a great trip.

Silence & Solitude 2015

September is the usual time of year for heightened intensity in life & ministry: the kids head back to school, and various ministries are re-engaged or initiated for the first time. It also means reconvening for consistory and classis meetings. Both of these had a special significance this September, as our consistory continues to discern the adoption of amended bylaws (which will presumably have a profound impact on our congregation) and our classis continues to wrestle with both ecclesial and social issues (most notably, sexuality). The first two weeks of September were remarkably intense.

The second week of September also found me preparing the first sermon in a new series, "Be the Church," focusing on the roles and fundamentals of the church, and ultimately pointing to a new vision for FRC. I was anxious. Preparation did not come with any measure of ease or confidence. It was an anxious week leading up to Sunday morning. Furthermore, I was busily trying to prepare for the following Monday consistory meeting, which also promised significant, and sharp, dispute. By Friday, sermons for both Sunday morning and evening were drafted, and the agenda for Monday night was set. Reading the paper (the Tribune, of course) Friday morning, I suggested to my wife that I was in a dark place, close to cracking--I was tired, anxious, and a little hopeless. A window had emerged following the Tuesday evening classis meeting, and I was tentatively planning to spend the next four days in some form of retreat--in silence and solitude at area coffee shops or natural space. These were, in my mind, going to be day-trips only, perhaps venturing only so far as Inspiration Hills (a Christian camp twenty miles from our home). As Julie and I sat reading the news and sipping coffee, she asked about my intentions for this retreat time. I told her that I was less-than-inspired to venture out, suggesting that I perhaps just spend some quiet days near home.

This is the very kind of thing that exasperates Julie to no end. I had just spent most of the late-summer and early days of fall encouraging our staff to take time for self-care, that this is a discipline, and that their health, the health of their families, and the health of the church depended on them exercising such discipline in spending time in silence and solitude with God, to hear his voice amidst the busy-ness and breathlessness of intense ministry. Julie looked at me with a combination of sympathy and frustration: "Why on earth would you not get away?" She asked what would inspire me to get away? My response: mountains. "Then go to Colorado!" Easy. Hope stirred within my breast. I dared to dream for a moment. What if? I had been pressing (based on the counsel of Pastor Bill Hybels) four days of silence and solitude. What if I spent a day driving out to Colorado; two days in the mountains; one day home. All in silence and solitude. It would be a discipline. It would be life-giving. The words of Isaiah 30:15 echoed in my mind: "Thus says the LORD, 'In repentance and rest is your salvation; in quietness and trust is your strength.'" Yeah, I could do this. I would do this. I was exultant. Grabbing my backpack from the basement, I began to lay things out for the journey, hoping against hope that this might actually happen. And yet, there was so much to do and think about before I could go!

By early Saturday morning, in the wee hours of the night, I had convinced myself that this was an exceptionally poor, unrealistic idea: irresponsible, subject to critique if not ridicule, expensive, and...lonely. And the mountains are, at night, a dangerous place to be. And cold. I staggered out of bed and went downstairs for my daily time in the Word and prayer. The lectionary psalms for the morning:
"Hear my cry, O God, listen to my prayer. From the ends of the earth I call to you. I call as my heart grows faint, lead me to the rock that is higher than I. For you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the foe. I long to dwell in your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of your wings" (Psalm 61:1-4).
"Truly my soul finds rest in God; my salvation comes from him. Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken" (Psalm 62:1-2).
High rock and rest for my soul--silence and solitude in the mountains. These psalms echoed in my soul as I set out for my weekly long run--a 19 mile slog on this particular morning, set to blue skies and perfect temps. My spirit soared as I thought about time alone, in the mountains, rejoicing in the theater of God's creation, exulting in his glory, his presence, his Word. I was convicted. I would go.

Sunday came and went. It was a hard day, but it went okay. Monday came with all of its busy-ness. While concerned, I was not anxious as I anticipated the evening's meeting. The meeting was indeed intense, but resulted in rather spectacular resolution. Tuesday was filled with meetings, and ended with a long classis meeting. I was home by 10:00 p.m., in time to kiss the children goodnight, pack my bags, pack the car, and write a letter to each of the kids. By 1:00 a.m., I collapsed into bed, setting my alarm for 4:45 a.m.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015
Up at 4:45 a.m. Ablutions. Coffee. Van.
I dressed simply: Kuhl pants, v-neck cotton tee-shirt, Chaco's, Marmot fleece jacket. The back seats out, I had a large area in back with sleeping pads/bag (for an impromptu nap) and gear. Pulling out of the driveway at 4:57, I headed south on Hwy. 75 to Sioux City, then south on I-29 to Omaha. By the time I reached the I-680 overpass north of Council Bluffs, it was a beautiful, cloudless day. I stopped at a Starbuck in west Omaha for coffee and a breakfast sandwich, also quickly filling up with gas. By 7:30 a.m. I was heading due west on I-80. I set the cruise and rested alone with my thoughts and the word of God he has etched in my heart. It was a lovely morning which soon turned into afternoon. I stopped in North Platte for gas and a Clif Bar, and grinded out the final three hours to Boulder. Time slowed down considerably at this stage, and the final hour was rather gruesome. Hungry, disoriented, a bit taken with the lack of oxygen, I staggered into Boulder, marveling again at how much the area between Denver and Boulder has changed over the last 30 years.

At approximately 2:15 p.m. (MST) I pulled into the parking lot of REI in east Boulder. I sucked air, felt feint from lack of food, and felt in my bones the overwhelming cacophony of voices, music, and people after 10 hours alone and quiet in the cocoon of my vehicle. It was unnerving. Trying to focus, I stocked up on food (freeze dried meals, Clif bars, Honey Stingers, gels, chocolate, etc.), toiletries (TP, soap, etc.), and propane fuel for my stove. What should have been fun was rather anxious and loud, but I survived and proceeded to the nearest King Sooper for water, plastic baggies, and Coke. Stocked up with ample supplies, I drove to Pearl St., parked, and walked the mall before settling on a spot for an early dinner. Famished, I settled in West Flanders brew pub on Pearl St. It was a beautiful day to watch people on Pearl St. I ordered a burger, salad, and tea. Feeling refreshed, I leisurely made my way back to the car and headed up Boulder Canyon Road to Nederland, Ward, and ultimately the Long Lake Trail head in the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area. It was  beautiful evening and the aspen trees were popping in autumn brilliance. I parked, went for a short hike, and then settled into the back of the van (my personal RV) for reading and sleep. I was exhausted, and sleep came easy.

Thursday, September 17, 2015
I slept well until about 2:00 a.m., at which point I awoke cold and dreaming of pulmonary edema on the west side of the Continental Divide, with nowhere to go and no one to help me. It was unsettling. I slept fitfully the rest of the night, and finally awoke, shivering, at 6:00 a.m. Still wrapped up in my sleeping bag (though rated to 20 degrees, it seemed to be failing in the 35 degree temps) I fired up the stove and made breakfast: Starbucks Via coffee (dark roast), Quaker instant oatmeal sweetened with a packet of peanut butter Gu gel, and water with dissolved Emergen-C. After quick ablutions, I packed up to accommodate an overnight on the west side of the Divide, at pristine Pawnee Lake: Eureka tent, REI sleeping bag and pad, blanket, Snow Peak stove, meal kit, Arc'teryx Gore-Tex shell, water, and toiletries. I was dressed in Columbia climbing pants, Raab base layer, Kuhl shirt, Marmot fleece, Smartwool sox and stocking cap. My 40 liter Black Diamond backpack was severely tested with this load that surely weighed in excess of 50 pounds.

I set off west along the Lake Isabelle Trail, delighting the warmth of the sun as it slowly rose over Long Lake, to my left. As the path rose and I huffed, the quiet of the morning settled in. I was rapturous. The trees whispered in the wind, the aspen popped brilliantly in various shades of gold, and columbine swayed gently as the sun continued its ascent. Over several streams, the path finally diverged two miles in: left to Lake Isabelle and Isabelle Glacier, or right on the Pawnee Pass Trail. I stayed right. As the trail began a serious ascent, I met up with a fellow hiker, the first of the morning. After passing each other several times, we settled into a slow rhythm together. My solitude was broken, but gently. We shared few words initially, besides comments on the beauty of the morning and basic introductory information. His name was Jim Wheeler, a retired physician from Boulder. We continued on together, and my appreciation for the company increased commensurate with the gain in the altitude: I was struggling. Winded, tired, and increasingly nauseous, I was feeling the affects of the altitude, exertion, and poor night of sleep. I was very glad to have a guide who also happened to be a doctor! We continued on, well above the treeline, to the towering Indian peaks as storm clouds rolled in, the wind picked up velocity, and the temperature dropped. I was cold.

We finally made it to the Continental Divide at 12,650 feet. My spirits were quite low, however. I was agonizing over the decision of whether to keep on going over the divide to Pawnee Lake. Jim was turning back at the divide. The weather was not encouraging, I was not feeling well, and my dreams of pulmonary edema haunted my thoughts. I decided to press on, if only to look down into the valley west of the divide and appease my curiosity of what lay ahead. Donning my shell and tightening my pack, I began towards the great gulf that emerged west of the divide: it was a striking, rather intimidating vista, straight down, easing into a straight path to the lake.

The walk down looked great (however scary). However, my concern was not so much in getting to the lake and setting up camp, but rather in how I might be feeling at 2:00 a.m. The path back to the vehicle (should I fall ill and need to get to a lower altitude) was a long hard slog that took much longer than I anticipated--around 5 hard miles--including a hard trek back up and over the Divide. To go to a lower elevation west of Pawnee Lake brought me to...nowhere. I would, in fact, be further into the wilderness in hopes that a mere lowering of elevation (itself a long slog through unfamiliar territory) would alleviate the suffering. Again, all of this was purely speculative, but being by myself, in unfamiliar territory, and particularly in light of how I was feeling presently and the thoughts that occupied my dreams the night prior...I decided to turn around. I actually made it about a third of the way to the lake, and waffled several times on which way to go. Was this an act of trust? Was this fear part of the discipline of silence and solitude? Or, was I to do the responsible thing, especially in consideration of a wife and children back at home? I deferred to the latter, however attached to various misgivings. I turned around, climbed back up and over the divide, and began my descent back to the trailhead at Long Lake.

It was a lovely, however long, hike down. While it always goes much easier and faster when gravity assists, it was still a tiresome walk home. It took forever, and by the time I got back (hallelujah!) to the car, I was cashed. Hungry and tired, I ate a protein bar, drank some Gatorade, and congratulated myself on a good decision. It also afforded the opportunity for me to drive out of the Four Lakes Zone (where I had no cell phone reception) into Ward and a weak signal by which to call Jule. All was well at home, blessedly refuting my overactive and pessimistic imagination of all that could have gone wrong with me out of contact.

On Hwy. 72 heading further south to Nederland, I determined that I would spend the night at Gordon Gulch, a free campground just off the highway. I found what appeared to be a relatively suitable, however uninspired, site amidst the pines of the sprawling, disturbingly arid campground. I staked out the site, and quickly found two concerns: 1) there was broken glass strewn throughout the site, and b) it seemed the cars that drove by eyeing my sight (and settled into neighboring sites) revealed homeless people and scary rednecks. Perhaps this is the type of people the free campgrounds of the eastern slopes attracted. I bolted, unsure of my next steps. I continued south of Nederland, trying another free campground that this time seemed to attract most of the cannabis dealers of the Nederland area. After a long search of various potential campsites (all surreptitiously taken), I aborted as the sun began to set. The idea of another night in the back of the van was not terribly attractive. I continued south, with I-70 as my southern border, and finding nothing in Blackhawk or the vicinity, decided to try St. Mary's Glacier. A hotel was not an option, at least in my own mind, and I ended up following Fall River Road to what my GPS suggested to be the trailhead of the glacier trail. I found only a small area to pull over to the side of the road, and in light of increasing darkness, decided to make it my camp for the night. I fired up the stove, made dinner, and settled in for the night with my books, prayer, and some disappointment (I should be at Pawnee Lake!) mixed with relief (I am close to civilization!).

Friday, September 18, 2015

I slept amazingly (surprisingly) well, waking only at about 2:00 a.m. to a brilliant night sky and the starry host in spectacular array. I said a word of thanks and fell back to sleep until around 5 a.m., at which time I drove further north to the true trailhead of St. Mary's Glacier, finding it to be very touristy, costly, and not accommodating to camping. So I drove back to the interstate to fill up on gas and water. At the station, the attendant told me that it was not really possible to camp off the trail at the glacier, so I decided to proceed with a plan that had germinated on my drive the day before: I would drive up to the trailhead of Gray's Peak, a place I knew relatively well, and a suitable place for both silence and solitude.

West on 70, I turned off onto the familiar Bakerville exit, and followed the fire road south towards Gray's Peak. I was met by a spectacular red-summited Torrey's peak, set off in sharp relief to the azure sky. It was shaping up to be a gorgeous morning. I pulled into the parking lot, assuming it to be full, but finding only a half-dozen cars and no campsites taken. I set up camp quickly at the best site on the mountain, cooked breakfast (oatmeal, coffee), and crawled into my hammock for devotions, peace, and quiet. I was finally relaxed. It was cold, but comfortable. I read, I prayed, I rested.

Around 9:30 a.m., I decided to go for a short hike up the trail. My first thought was simply to walk and stretch out tired legs (the hike to Pawnee Pass wore me out). I thought that, at the very best, I could ascend to to about 12,500, where I knew there to be a spectacular outcropping of rocks overlooking Stevens Gulch in the valley below. There, I could stretch out and restfully enjoy the grandeur of the Rockies. I set off with my pack--filled with my shell, some energy bars, a bottle of water, my Bible and journal. It was sunny, but rather cold and windy. At 12,000 feet I donned my shell. It was a leisurely walk, though as I ascended, summit fever began to settle in. I non-anxiously decided that, depending on how I continued to feel, I could make a push for the top of Gray's. I found my outcropping, about blew off, and decided to press on.

I made the summit of Gray's at 11:45 a.m., about a two hour ascent over 4 miles. Not bad. I was exultant, but cold. Taking off my pack, it quickly blew out of my hands, and I envisioned it going over the edge. As it contained my billfold and car keys, this would have been something of a disaster (though far better than me going over the edge). I found a cairn, pulled out my bottle of Gatorade and an energy bar, and opened my Bible to Psalm 61. As the wind blew and sun shone, I read the Word in the presence of the Lord at 14,270 feet. It was the highlight of my trip. While the wind made it something other than silent, and the other climbers made for something other than solitude, I was yet alone with God. It was a joy.

Refreshed in body and spirit, I quickly decided to forgo Torrey's Peak and head back down. The walk was quiet, much easier, and much less windy. I made it back to the trailhead at 1:30 p.m. (at four hours a new record for me on Gray's). The final half-mile I was hot and rather fatigued. Back at the car, I dropped my pack, grabbed my journal, and went to the stream to soak my feet and gives thanks to God for the beautiful day and safe climb. It was glorious.

As I settled into camp to rest, the climbers cleared out. By 5:00 p.m. the entire lot was empty. I had found complete solitude at 11,280 feet. It was quiet. I was alone. I rested in my hammock, read, tried to sleep a little, and simply enjoyed the time, beauty, and solitude. I also came up with a plan for the evening: I would rest for the remainder of the afternoon, make dinner, and then settle in for sleep before breaking camp and hitting the road at midnight.

So I rested. Then I made a fire. Then I made supper. Then I settled into my bag for a short night. By 8:00 p.m. other campers had arrived, most of them ready for a big party to start the weekend. It was quickly becoming loud and crowded. I made a decision to break camp and head for home. As the stars came out, I loaded up the car and made it back to the interstate by 8:30. It felt good to head for home. To Denver by 9:30, I stopped for dinner at Chick-fil-A, then continued on into the night and home. By 1:30 a.m. I had had enough, and settled in again for a short sleep in the back of the van. I slept hard until 5:00 a.m., filled up on gas and coffee in Ogallala, and settled in for the long trek home. I arrived safely at 12:00 p.m. Saturday, September 19, 2015. With the exception of The War On Drugs and a little sports radio in the wee hours of Saturday morning, I maintained complete silence along the way. It was a very good trip!

Silence & Solitude 2016

My 2016 silence and solitude retreat was much better planned and executed than the previous year. This was primarily true in that it was actually planned. Period. I had a general idea of where I wanted to go and what I wanted to do in the months prior to the proposed time of departure, which I had set for September 17-20.

My lead up to the trip was the wedding of my niece. I had agreed to officiate the wedding on Saturday, September 16 in Pella, Iowa. This involved us driving two cars to Pella, and me packing appropriately for both a wedding service and three days in the mountains.

We made our way to Pella on Friday morning, stopping in Des Moines for a quick supply run at REI and smoothies at the Juice Company. To Pella, we enjoyed family and friends, the rehearsal, and a nice night together. Saturday morning, after a long run with my niece, we hung out, drank coffee, had lunch, and enjoyed the family on the square. The wedding and reception went off without a hitch Saturday night, and we all finally got to bed late.

Sunday, September 17
Hear my cry, O God
listen to my prayer.
I call as my heart grows faint;
lead me to the rock that is higher than I.
For you have been my refuge,
a strong tower against the foe.
and take refuge in the shelter of your wings.
For you, God, have heard my vows,
you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name,
his years for many generations.
May he be enthroned in God’s presence forever;
appoint your love and faithfulness to protect him.
and fulfill my vows day after day.
From the ends of the earth I call to you.
I long to dwell in your tent forever.
Increase the days of the king’s life,
then I will ever sing in praise of your name.

Psalm 61 and 62 have been my foundation for this silence and solitude endeavor. Time to rest, to be refreshed, to be still before the LORD, in quiet trust that he will speak to me. For this, I choose to go the high places. I understand why the ancient people went up to the tops of mountains to make their alters and offer their sacrifices. I'm no pagan, and it is the transcendent God of heaven and earth who I seek to worship and hear. The mountains simply provide a beautiful, distant place. And, since I was a child, the mountains have been to me a special place. So, I go.

After a quick shower and silent kisses to Julie and the kids, I hit the road at 4:00 a.m. I was miserably sleepy, and operating without coffee as nothing was open. Finally hitting I-80 in Des Moines, I was encouraged by the promise of coffee and the simplicity of driving 80 mph in a straight line west all the way to Colorado. Alas, nothing was open.

So dire was my state by 5:30 a.m. that I pulled off onto an exit to sleep for fifteen minutes. I pressed on, and finally found an open McDonald's an half hour east of Omaha. Desperation. I order a large coffee and sausage McMuffin. Sad. But it got me going. Now I was humming.

The hardest thing about a silence and solitude retreat is...the silence. It is deafening. To be alone with one's own thoughts is scary. It is all part of it...to begin to exercise those muscles of really hearing. To purge all the random thoughts that occupy such an enormous part of the heart and mind. This purging is emotionally taxing. It brought on a headache, and fatigue, and a lack of focus. The towns clicked by: Lincoln, Grand Island, Kearney, North Platte. Gas and food stops. A big sky. The world opening up. Letting go.

Getting to the border of Colorado at Julesburg, I began to think seriously about where I was heading. I made a phone call to the ranger station at Estes Park to inquire about the Keyhole trail conditions at Long's Peak. It was icy and dangerously, evidently. So, it was down to two other choices: either the Blue Reservoir south of Breckenridge or Kite Lake campground west of Alma. I decided I'd start with Breck, and if I struck out there, I'd keep going south to Alma.

Arriving in Breckenridge, I made my way to a coffee shop to journal and catch my breath. It was a beautiful day in a beautiful town, but I felt closed in, claustrophobic. So I ran to King Sooper and stocked up on firewood, water, Gatorade, and other essential sundries. I drove south to the Blue Lake reservoir, and quickly found a campsite. But not just any campsite: the single best campsite I've ever seen. It was tucked away in a box canyon, just off a barely passable road, next to a creek, and surrounded by some astounding peaks, not least 14,000 foot Quandry Peak to my immediate north. I set up camp, built a fire, and settled in, exhausted from a long day of travel and too little sleep.

By nightfall, I had a great fire going and my camp was pristine. I ate, drank, and settled into the quiet protection of my tent to read (Bible), pray, and rest. I was fast asleep by 9:00 p.m.

Monday, September 18
I was up early to a beautiful, blue bird day. I did my devotions, ate breakfast (oatmeal, coffee), 

and dressed for a run up Quandry Peak. To the trailhead (a mere mile away), I stashed my iPhone and a Clif Bar in my fanny pack (along with two twenty ounce bottles of Gatorade), tied my trail runners up tight (Hoka One One ATR), and set off.

Dressed in shorts, tights, base-layer, jacket, cap, and gloves, I was comfortably cool. The air was crisp and the trail was clear. I moved slowly, deliberately.

Soon, above the treeline, I was slowed to a brisk walk. It was steep. At 12,000 feet, the mountain goats came out and the trail slackened.

My pace increased. I hit the summit in around 90 minutes. It was windy and cold on top, but comfortable.

I talked to a number of people, ate my Clif Bar, and sat looking out over the north face. I could see DeCaLiBron to the southwest. Sheridan to the west. Gray's and Torrey's to the east. I could even make out Long's Peak to the north. This was peak number four for me, following Bierstadt, Gray's, and Torrey's. After my rest, I took off at a brisk pace back down the mountain. It was bliss--a delightful and fast run on cat feet down the solid trail. I was down in little over an hour.

Back at my campsite, I took a bath in the creek (soaking in a shallow area where the water had pooled and warmed slightly). Soaking my feet in the cold running creek and sipping on Gatorade, I soaked up the beauty of the area. Dressed in dry, warm clothes, I settled in at camp, spending the rest of the afternoon sitting in my hammock and reading, praying, dozing. Wind swept through. I kept a fire going. The water ran through the creek not far away. It was a glorious day. The Spirit and the bride say, "Come."

As the temperature fell and the sky darkened, I went for a short walk. It is lonely and cold in the mountains at night.

I made my way back to camp, fed the fire, and settled in for dinner. I got to bed early. It was a good day.

Tuesday, September 19
I got up early primarily because I couldn't sleep any more. I had thought about driving to Alma to check out Kite Lake, but I had made no decisions the night before. The weather was not awesome, a little overcast and cold. Still, I decided to head out and give the DeCaLiBron a try. I loaded up the car and headed south to Alma. The drive over Hoosier Pass was uneventful. It would be a bear in the winter. To Alma, I followed the signs to Kite Lake. The road was horrendous, but I made it about four miles up. Able to go no further, I parked the car and set out. It was a long mile to the campground at Kite Lake. The four peaks towered above me. I set out for Mt. Democrat with the idea of seeing how I felt at the top, hopefully continuing in a clockwise loop.

The path was direct and steep. I pressed on. One step. Another step. Keep going. It represented so much. It was life. Ministry. Everything. Keep going. It got more serious when the trail petered out and it was simple route finding up the small boulders to the top. I hit the top and was met with spectacular vistas of the surrounding mountains. I love standing on the top of mountains.

I was feeling good, so kept going. The trail to Cameron was uneventful and tiring, most of it above 13,000 feet. The top of Cameron is most uninteresting, and if memory serves I believe that a small airplane once landed on its flat surface.

There was little to keep me there, and a much more interesting peak in the distance: Mt. Lincoln. The trail to Lincoln was awesome: a high ridge with brilliant vistas to the west.

There was even a bit of rotten snow. Lincoln's summit was glorious. I stood at the highest point and prayed in great gratitude. I stayed for twenty minutes. Lincoln is right there with Torrey's for "favorite peak" designation.

Three down, I continued on the path to Bross, which is technically off-limits because it is private property. Skirting the summit via the trail, a mere two hundred yards to the top, I made what by most any standard would be considered an unethical decision: I decided to go for it. I scrambled to the top, and promptly frightened a young couple hiding behind a large cairn.

We laughed, took a couple of pictures, and then I hit it for the descent. The descent of Bross is tricky, and I did my best to follow the beta on 14ers.com for when to head down through the messy scree to the bottom. The scree was a dangerous mess, and I slid most of the way down. The trail was steep and rough, and would have been miserable to go up. Going down had gravity on my side, but my quads were shot. Five peaks bagged in two days: not bad.

I made my way back to the car, staggering in finally by about noon. I drove back to my campground and spent the rest of the afternoon reading, dozing, and praying in my hammock. By early evening I was getting restless. I made the decision to get some road under me. I packed up and made my way back to Breck, with the idea that I'd sleep in a parking lot somewhere. I hit downtown and found a burger place--real food! A great burger and a Stella later, I walked up and down the main drag of Breck, remembering my first skiing experience (circa 1985), shopping on a snowy December night for a sweatshirt. It hadn't changed that much since then.

The night still relatively young, I decided to head back towards Denver. As I drove, it occurred to me that staying in a hotel was probably not a bad idea. I booked a room in a western suburb Marriott and finally (way later than I'd hoped) pulled in and collapsed in a real bed.

Wednesday, September 20
Up early, I made my way back east on I-80. I was home shortly after the kids got home from school and there broke my silence. It was a good trip.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

2017 Reading List

Bolsinger, Tod. Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2015.

Burrough, Bryan. Days of Rage: America's Radical Underground, the FBI, and the Forgotten Age of Revolutionary Violence. New York: Penguin, 2015.

Walton, John H. The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2-3 and the Humans Origins Debate. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2015.

Grillo, Ioan. Gangster Warlords: Drug Dollars, Killing Fields, and the New Politics of Latin America. London: Bloomsbury, 2017.

Nieuwhof, Carey. Lasting Impact: 7 Powerful Conversations That Will Help Your Church Grow. Cumming: ReThink, 2015.

Mouw, Richard J. When the Kings Come Marching In: Isaiah and the New Jerusalem. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002.

Wright, N.T. How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels. New York: HarperCollins, 2012.

Keller, Timothy. Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical. New York: Viking, 2016.

Faulkner, John. My Brother Bill. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2010.

McMurtry, Larry. Lonesome Dove: A Novel. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1985.

Faulkner, William. Selected Short Stories. New York: Random House, 1962.

De Kat, Otto. The Longest Night. New York: Quercus, 2017.

Roach, Gerry. Colorado's Fourteeners, 3rd Ed.: From Hikes to Climbs. Golden, CO: Fulcrum, 2011.

Houelleboucq, Michel. Submission. New York: Picadour, 2015.

Simenon, Georges. The Glass Cage. London: Harcourt, 1973.

Simenon, Georges. Maigret and the Informer. London: Harcourt, 1973.

Carson, D.A. The Gospel According to John. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Reading List 2016

Keller, Timothy. Encounters with Jesus. New York: Dutton, 2013.

Barrett, Colin. Young Skins: Stories. New York: Grove Press, 2015.

Simenon, Georges. Chez les Flamards. London: Penguin, 1932.

Wilson, Charles Reagan. Baptized in Blood: The Religion of the Lost Cause. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1980.

Leonard, Elmore. Gunsights. New York: Harper Torch, 1979.

Chan, Francis. Forgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit. Colorado Springs: David Cook, 2009.

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. The Cost of Discipleship. London: SCM Press Ltd., 1959.

Simenon, Georges. En Crime En Hollande. Paris: Fayard, 1931.

Leonard, Elmore. Get Shorty. New York: William Morrow, 2009.

Plantinga, Cornelius. Not the Way It's Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995.

Percy, Walker. Love in the Ruins: The Adventures of a Bad Catholic at a Time Near the End of the World. New York: Picador, 1971.

Percy, Walker. The Thanatos Syndrome. New York: Picador, 1987.

Hoagland, Edward. Sex and the River Styx. White River Junction: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2011.

Owens, John. Spiritual-Mindedness. New York: Robert Carver, 1884.

Lewis, Clive Staples. Till We Have Faces. Orlando: Harcourt Books, 1980.

Moore, Brian. Catholics. Chicago: Loyola Press, 1972.

West, Christopher. Theology of the Body for Beginners: A Basic Introduction to Blessed John Paul II's Sexual Revolution. West Chester, PA: Ascension Press, 2004.

Simenon, Georges. Pietr the Latvian. New York: Penguin Classics, 2013.

Robinson, Marilynne. The Givenness of Things: Essays. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2015.

Wallace, David Foster. Consider the Lobster and Other Essays. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2006.

DeGroat, Chuck. Wholeheartedness: Busyness, Exhaustion, and Healing the Divided Self. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2016.

Simenon, Georges. The Hanged Man of Saint-Pholien. New York: Penguin Classics, 2014.

Simenon, Georges. A Man's Head. New York: Penguin Classics, 2014.

Wallace, David Foster.  The Girl With Curious Hair. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 1989.

Classis Grand Rapids East Study Report on Biblical and Theological Support Currently Offered by Christian Proponents of Same-Sex Marriage. Rev. William DeVries et al.  January 2016.

Grossman, Paul. Brotherhood of Fear: A Willi Kraus Novel. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2014.

Simenon, Georges. The Yellow Dog. New York: Penguin Classics, 2014.

Simenon, Georges. The Madman of Bergerac. New York: Penguin Classics, 2014.

Simenon, Georges. The Dancer at the Gai-Moulin. New York: Penguin Classics, 2015.

Simenon, Georges. Liberty Bar. New York: Penguin Classics, 2015.

Simenon, Georges. Lock No. 1. New York: Penguin Classics, 2015.

Simenon, Georges. Mr. Hire's Engagement. New York: Penguin Classics, 2015.

Shaw, Hayd. Generational IQ. Carol Stream: Tyndale House, 2015.

Hallberg, Garth Risk. City on Fire. New York: Knopf, 2015.

Fujimura, Makoto. Silence & Beauty. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2016.

Stott, John. Baptism and Fullness: The Work of the Holy Spirit Today. 2nd edition. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1975.

Gawande, Atul. Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End. New York: Holt & Co., 2014.

Simenon, Georges. The Shadow Puppet. New York: Penguin, 2015.

Poythress, Vern S. “Modern Spiritual Gifts as Analogous to Apostolic Gifts: Affirming Extraordinary Works of the Spirit within Cessationist Theology,” The Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 39/1 (1996): 71-101.

Simenon, Georges. The Two Penny Bar. New York: Penguin, 2015.

Simenon, Georges. The Misty Harbor. New York: Penguin, 2015.

De Pree, Max. Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001.

McChesney, Chris with Sean Covey and Jim Huling. The Four Disciplines of Execution. New York: Free Press, 2012.

Witvliet, John. Worship Seeking Understanding: Windows Into Christian Practice. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003.

Vogt, Christopher P. Patience, Compassion, Hope, and the Christian Art of Dying Well. Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield, 2004.

Luther, Martin. "A Sermon on Preparing to Die." Luther's Works, Vol. 2: Devotional Writings I. Ed. J.J. Pelikan, H.C. Oswald, and H.T. Lehmann. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999.

Luy, David. "Dying for the Last Time: Martin Luther on Christian Death." Colloquium on Christian Dying, March 17-18, 2014.

Shteyngart, Gary. Super Sad True Love Story. New York: Random House, 2010.

Maymudes, Victor & Jacob. Another Side of Bob Dylan: A Personal History on the Road and Off the Tracks. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2014.

Smith, James K.A. You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2016.

Simenon, Georges. L'Affaire St. Fiacre. New York: Penguin, 2015.

Collins, Jim and Morten T. Hansen. Great By Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck--Why Some Thrive Despite Them All. New York: HarperCollins, 2011.

Beck, Richard. The Slavery of Death. Eugene: Cascade Books, 2014.

Husbands, Mark. "The Word Became Flesh: Setting the Context for the Church's Discussion of Issues Involving Sexuality," RCA Commission on Theology, 2016.

Swierenga, Robert P. "Walls or Bridges: The Differing Acculturation Process in the Reformed and Christian Reformed Churches in North America." Morsels in the Melting Pot, eds. George Harinck and Hans Krabbendam. Amsterdam: Free University Press, 2006.

Bird, Warren and Jim Tomberlin. Better Together: Making Church Mergers Work. A Leadership Network Publication. San Fransisco: Jossey-Bass, 2012.

Ambrose, Stephen E. D Day: June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II. New York: Touchstone, 1994.

Keller, Timothy. Hidden Christmas: The Hidden Truth Behind the Birth of Christ. New York: Viking, 2016.

Richter, Sandra L. The Epic of Eden: A Christian Entry into the Old Testament. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2008.

Best Music of 2016

You've been waiting for it all year...so here it is: my "Best Of" highlighting the most interesting music of 2016. Sadly, just as Chuck Prophet sang, it was a bad year for rock and roll.

10. Ghost of a King by The Gray Havens. They are good kids. And they played a lovely house show in our living room back in February. The music is pop-y, literate, and edifying.
9. Eternally Even by Jim James. Jim James' solo stuff is dark but always somehow encouraging, melodic, and almost guaranteed to have many guitar freak-outs.
8. Signs of Light by The Head and the Heart. The critics generally disliked this album. While not a solid overall as their first two albums, this entry in the H&H catalogue has its high points.
7. Schmilco by Wilco. Cerebral, quiet, and of unusual depth, this is Jeff Tweedy's finest songwriting since Sky Blue Sky.
6. Sunday Music by Hymns from Nineveh. Have you heard of Jonas Petersen? Probably not. He is a spectacularly gifted Danish singer/songwriter making wonderfully melodic pop. Give him a listen.
5. The Wilderness by Explosions in the Sky. Saw them in Minneapolis in September. Producing guitar virtuosity of epic proportions, this post rock band has been doing it well for a long time.
4. Skeleton Tree by Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds. Umm, this is the most disturbing and beautiful album you will hear this year.
3. Visions of Us on the Land by Damien Jurado. I am biased, believing that everything DJ produces is wonderful and life-changing. This is his final chapter to the trilogy that began with Mariqopa.
2. Why Are You OK? by Band of Horses. As bad as this year was for rock and roll, BoH did their part. This is simply a great album from beginning to end.
1. A Moon Shaped Pool by Radiohead. Radiohead continues to be the most creative band out there. Breath-taking beauty mixed with dread.