Soaking up Life

I went hiking with Kate and David out to Dogslaughter Falls last weekend.  It’s a small waterfall near the Cumberland River.  It was a tiring hike, but it was a beautiful hike.  And the end of the trail was perfect.  We were all a little bit warm from clambering over rocks as we approached the waterfall, when we discovered this pool of cool air churned up by the water.  We followed a rock ledge around and stood, heads bent slightly to avoid hitting our heads on the overhang, behind the waterfall.  It was a wonderful little chunk of creation.

It was a soak-up-life kind of moment.

I read Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom the week that I was home.  It was a library book sale find (I have only recently discovered the pleasures of library book sales – when I was a kid I thought of them as being full of a bunch of old books that nobody wanted – now I see them as an opportunity to scrounge up some really good writing for a nice price.)

It was a very sweet story with quite a few choice nuggets about life worth mulling over.  However, there was one particular phrase that really caught my eye and captured my attention.  And it was this quote from Morrie:

“The truth is, once you learn how to die, you learn how to live.”

When I read this my little brain light bulbs started flashing “Hello?  Hello?  Learning how to die? We’ve hear this phrase before!”  And I had.  In a song by Jon Foreman titled “Learning how to die“.  This phrase is what I’m going to call a thinker.  When I listened to this song, it really got me thinking.  I had never heard anyone refer to learning how to die before.  First off, it’s something that people just do.  They don’t really learn how to do it.  After all, who wants to learn how to die?

But the song is saying something a bit different than our friend Morrie (who was dying when he said this) was.  Morrie wasn’t just talking about learning how to die, he was talking about learning how to live.

“Learn how to live and you’ll know how to die; learn how to die, and you’ll know how to live.”

I had to read over these lines a few times.  I had my morsel.  And now I had to roll it around in my mouth for a while to be sure of the flavor.

Once in a while I get this really fantastic, floating on air, I-just-discovered-this-really-awesome-idea kind of feeling.  And by awesome I mean awe-inspiring.  It’s at moments like these that I like to go for a walk outside.  Nature is where God usually helps me discover my ultimate truths.  So after I read this, I went for a walk.

And my walk, thanks to Morrie and Mitch, quickly became a soak-up-life kind of moment.

Here is what I gleaned out of this:  When you’re dying you realize what’s important in life.  But people don’t like to think about dying.  They like to think that it’s way in the future.  And for a large chunk of the population, it probably is.  But it might not be.  Why not live every day with the knowledge that you’re going to die (and that’s okay!)?  Why not see everything around you with the eyes of someone who isn’t going to be a permanent resident of this planet?

For me that means really soaking up life, instead of just walking through it.  I tend to get into a zone and not pay any attention to my surroundings.  On my way home on the plane last month, I was suddenly struck by the idea that I hadn’t even looked at the person who was sitting next to me.

“Gee,” I thought to myself, “I could be sitting next to someone I know and never realize it.”  So I looked over (in a non-creepy, non-I’m-staring-at-you sort of way).  And, yes, predictably, it wasn’t anyone I knew.  But why wouldn’t I look at someone who was sitting an armrest’s width distance from me?

In order to really live, to really soak up life, I need to look it in the face!

And more than that.

In order to really live, to really soak up life, I need be thankful for every breath I breathe, for every tree that I walk under, for every person I meet, for every cloud that crosses my sunshine.  I need to awaken to every day thankful to be alive, in this place, at this moment.

Yes, sometimes there is going to be rain when I want sunshine.  And sometimes there’s going to be sunshine when I want rain.  But that’s okay.

I’m adopting a new life motto (thank you Psalm 118):

This is the day the Lord has made;

Let us rejoice in it and be glad.

I was over at Camp AJ helping out with their teen retreat this weekend.  And it went really well, especially when compared to last time.  The kids were a lot more interested in being there, the weather was beautiful, and Erin had planned out a really nice retreat.  There was a point in the day when I had some down time and I was just sitting at a picnic table overlooking the lake with a book.  There were teens canoeing in the lake, and the air was peppered with shouts and laughter.  There was a pleasant breeze and the trees were a gorgeous shade of green.  And at that moment I thought to myself “This place is so beautiful.  I’m so glad I’m here.”

So here’s to learning how to live and learning how to die.

Here’s to rejoicing in the day and being glad.

Here’s to those soak-up-life kind of moments.

I’m going to try to have as many of them as possible.

To Bungle

I like the word “bungle.”

It rhymes with “jungle” which is a word that refers to an exciting place full of exotic animals.

It reminds me of the word “bugle” which is an instrument known for patriotic activities.

And it describes some things that happened to me this week very well.

Mike had a seemingly fun idea for something for the kids to do at SPARK this past week.  He thought that we could have a treasure hunt out in the volleyball court sand.  His idea was to hide ten nickels for each kid to sift around in the sand and find, which they could then use to buy a soda pop out of the pop machine.  Sounded fine to me.

So, I headed down to the bank on Monday and obtained a load of nickels.  It was raining that day however, so we had to hide the nickels inside.  Tuesday, though, was sunny.  So Mike and I headed out to hide some nickels in the sand.  As I started to hide nickels, I suddenly had a feeling of forboding.

“This is going to be really hard.”

And I was right.  The kids only found about one nickel apiece.

We had to toss that idea out the window.

We bungled it.

(Although, on the upside, if you are in need of a little bit of change, you can go out and try your luck digging in the volleyball court sand at the Eagle Community Center…)

Moving on…

Last weekend Kate and I went for a hike.  We followed a trailhead sign to a parking lot.  We saw a blocked-off two track.

We thought “Hey, the trail must be this way.”

We followed a gravel two track for a few miles, making comments such as “Where’s the trail?  This can’t be the trail!  This is a really weird trail.  I feel like I’m walking along someone’s driveway.”  Then the two track ended at a wide open field and we turned our puzzled selves around and walked back to the car.  We filed our adventure under “It was a nice walk, but it was a pretty lame hike.”

Next day, I told Mike about where we went hiking.  Come to find out, Kate and I were not on the trail.  We had missed the trailhead somehow and we really were walking along a road all that time.

Yup.  We bungled it.

The next bungle does not belong to me.  It belongs to a short-lived aquaintance of mine who I met last week.  He did the bungling.  Not I.

I was sitting in the hallway of the community center, waiting for the kids to get off the bus, when I observed a confused catepillar creeping along the tile floor.  He was going the wrong way.  He was headed farther into the school instead of out the door.  I thought about turning him around, but I decided not to.  I very soon forgot about him.

Fast forward a few minutes.  All of the kids have arrived and they are finishing up their snack.  I feel something tickle my leg.  I itch my leg.  I think that’s the end of it.

Fast forward a few more minutes.  The kids are sitting on the green line in the gym, listening to Mike explain what we’re doing today.  I feel that itch a again, this time near my knee.  I reach down to scratch my leg.  And then I feel something.

AGH!  There was some kind of bug inside my pant leg!

My initial thought was that it might be a wasp because we have had wasp problems in the gym, so I squashed it through my pants.  I am allergic to wasps and I didn’t want to be stung.  But then I had to get the bug out of my pants.  I left the gym, holding my pant leg, and went into the other room.  By this point, a wet circle of bug guts had formed on my pants.  I rolled up my pant leg.

It was the confused catepillar, except now he wasn’t confused.  He was deceased.  He traveled the wrong way, apparently crawling up my shoe and up the inside of my pant leg without me noticing until he had climbed quite a ways.

He tried to go the right direction…

but yeah, I’d say…

he bungled it.

Turkey Terrorizing

My family has had several run-ins with turkeys.  And by turkeys, I mean the wild roaming-the-fields kind, and not the turkey farm live-in-a-barn kind.

My dad likes the turkeys.  He likes to see them wander about in the back hay field and tells me “They don’t hurt anything!”

I, on the other hand, do not like turkeys.  They’re ugly.  And intrusive.  They waddle across the roads when I’m traveling.  They wander into my yard, and don’t seem to mind a bit that they happen to be trespassing on my territory.  What the heck, turkeys?  What the heck?

But I have a system for dealing with trespassing turkeys.  And it’s jolly good fun.

During my trip home last week, I went for a walk out in the pasture.  I had just discovered a place in the electric fence where a deer must have run through the wire and torn the insulators off their posts.  So, I was walking along the ground near the posts, trying to spot any bright yellow amongst the green grass that would signal the presence of my lost insulators.

Then, suddenly, I looked up.

What was this?!

There was a turkey standing in the hay field a few feet away from me, looking like she owned the place.  I hadn’t noticed her at all before, and now, there she was, standing right smack in front of me.  She had popped up out of nowhere.  This, my friends, was a sneaky turkey.

I grinned.  It was time to put my trespassing turkey eradicating system into place.

I ran towards the turkey, waved my arms like a lunatic, and screamed at the top of my lungs:


The startled turkey made a rapid retreat, scurrying as fast as her little legs would carry her over the property line and into the Christmas trees.

Ha!  I showed her.

I am undefeated.

Auction Day

It’s a chilly March day in Michigan and I’m spending it with two of my favorite men, otherwise known as Dad and Uncle Tim.

We’re headed down a skinny road, hunting for auction sale signs.  Then we see the line up of vehicles parked along both sides of the road.  We go to turn down the road in our flatbed diesel truck, then change our minds as we see a car heading in the opposite direction on this road that has been reduced to one lane.  Back it up.

We park on the adjacent road.  We’re going to have to take a bit of a walk.  The shoulder is lined with farm trucks of various kinds.  Expensive ones with farm logos printed on the side.  Rusty worn-out ones with matching trailers attached.  Jacked up trucks covered in mud and smelling of youth.  We dodge mud puddles in the poorly drained dirt road.  A horse tied to a tree next to a cart watches us patiently.  This is Amish country.

The auction sale is already underway.  Uncle Tim breaks off to obtain a number.  Dad and I start to wander, checking out the goods – the lay of the land.

It is quite cold.  The coveralls are on and the hoods are up.  A crowd is gathered around the fast talking autioneer.  Uncle Tim joins back up with us and we resume the inspection of the selection of farm equipment.

Dad and Uncle Tim stake out their articles of interest.  Me, now, I’m just along for the ride – and to discourage my Dad from any foolhardy bidding – and to smack my Uncle Tim if he makes a mean joke (and – as is more often the case – to laugh when he makes a funny one).

The bidders are shelling out wads of cash.  Our chances at a cheap auction find aren’t looking so good.  We survey the pig barn and the house, which are also ready to be sold.  Once full pens are empty and the little house stands wistfully.

The auctioneer moves to our items of interest.  We join the crowd of bidders as our excitement rises.  But, alas, it drops quickly.  The price is too high for our slim pocket books.

We walk back to the truck as the auctioneer continues to babble and the heads continue to bob.

For us, the auction has run its course.

For me, it has been yet another of life’s simple pleasures.

Natural Arch

The warm sun poured down on the cold rocks.  The dogwoods and the redbuds proudly let loose their colors.  They were there to greet four groups of kids from a little ole after school program called SPARK.

The kids trooped along the trail, snapping pictures with donated digital cameras and filling their lungs with fresh air.  I took up the rear, water bottle dangling from my finger, tennis shoes on my feet, ready to pause for stragglers.

The arch loomed up ahead and the kids rushed to meet it, eager to feel their insignificance beneath this bridge carved out of rock.  They consumed granola bars in the shade amongst the rocks.  I – with the broken tooth – had to opt out.

We resumed our journey, still snapping pics.  Tiny lizards scurried amongst the leaves and up the rocks and trees.  Our feet pounded single file in the dirt.  We circled the rock and joined back up with the trail that we had just left behind.  The upward part of our journey began, as we climbed back up the mountain that we had just descended.  And – sigh of relief – we made it up with very little complaints from breathless kids.  But then, who can complain when the sun is shining, the breeze is blowing, the birds are chirping, and you’ve been granted a moment of freedom from the routine?

Four groups of kids.

Four beautiful days.

And a plane ride home to end a beautiful week.