March 23, 2009

A Walk With My Son

This Shepherd had the marvelous joy of taking a long walk with his eldest son last week. Number one son has been backpacking with me since he was five years old and our experiences have been memorable on every occasion. Three days and thirty one miles of unforgettable beauty and uninterrupted time forged memories that will last.

I was poignantly aware this was the last time he and I would take a walk like this. You see, he is graduating from high school this year. Knowing I would soon be sharing him with the rest of the world made every step bitter-sweet. I know he's ready for the adventure, I'm just not ready to send him off on his own yet.

The entire journey took on the air of an extended metaphor in our relationship: I used to carry his stuff for him, after all he was too small to carry it all, this trip he was carrying some of the things I usually carry, lightening my load because I am "getting old." I used to set the pace and encourage him to keep on walking, now I tell him to just go ahead I'll catch up at the next trail junction. I used to stop and point out things of interest to him, now I find myself interested in the things that interest him. The unbridled energy of his youth is now clearly focused and the realization of his strength, physical, emotional, and spiritual, humbles me. He will certainly surpass me

My son has become a man.

I weep tears of pride and sadness and joy and wonder even as I write those simple words. This should be no great surprise; he's been on this journey for 18 years now. I suppose I am simply awed by the realization.

When he walks it is as if the path is all that exists and the entire purpose of being in that moment is taking the next step. He is an intense hiker. I am wondering wanderer. Every sight and sound has the potential to stop me. I sometimes wonder if he, in his youthful strength, is ever awed.

A defining moment came unexpectedly (don't most defining moments?) on the second day. After a long and difficult climb to the ridge top and lunch stop in the sunshine, we came to a section of trail which narrowly followed the spine of the ridge. As I set foot on that narrow way I noticed my son stopped in the trail ahead of me. Unusual for him. I followed his eyes into North Carolina and realized why he had paused. His intensity was stopped in its tracks by beauty. His father was stopped in his tracks by love for his son and thanks to our Father for this moment shared. We exchanged no words. They would have only spoiled the view.

It was a walk with my son. What began as a father and his child taking a walk became a father taking a walk with his son who is a man.

March 9, 2009

Don't Wait for Someone Else To Do It: Paul Rokich's Story

I came across the following story recently and have been totally taken by the audacity and tenacity of this man. (Paul is the gentleman in the green cap who is pointing out some of his handiwork.) For those of you who wonder if one person can make a difference here's a story for you. I will allow Adam Khan to tell it in his words.

"Paul Rokich is my hero. When Paul was a young boy growing up in Utah, he happened to live near an old copper smelter, and the sulfur dioxide that poured out of the refinery had made a desolate wasteland out of what used to be a beautiful forest.

When a young visitor one day looked at this wasteland and saw that there was nothing living there - no animals, no trees, no grass, no bushes, no birds...nothing but fourteen thousand acres of black and barren land that even smelled bad - well this kid looked at the land and said, 'This place is crummy.' Paul knocked him down. He felt insulted. But he looked around him and something happened inside him. He made a decision: Paul Rokich vowed that some day he would bring back the life to this land.

Many years later Paul was in the area, and he went to the smelter's office. He asked if they had any plans to bring the trees back. The answer was "No." He asked if they would let him try to bring the trees back. Again, the answer was "No." They didn't want him on their land. He realized he needed to be more knowledgeable before anyone would listen to him, so he went to college to study botany.

At the college he met a professor who was an expert in Utah's ecology. Unfortunately, this expert told Paul that the wasteland he wanted to bring back was beyond hope. He was told that his goal was foolish because even if he planted trees, and even if they grew, the wind would only blow the seeds forty feet per year, and that's all you'd get because there weren't any birds or squirrels to spread the seeds, and the seeds from those trees would need another thirty years before they started producing sees of their own. Therefore, it would take approximately twenty thousand years to re-vegetate that six-square mile piece of earth. He teachers told him it would be a waste of his life to try to do it. It just couldn't be done.

So he tried to go on with his life. He got a job operating heavy equipment, got married, and had some kids. But his dream would not die. He kept studying up on the subject, and he kept thinking about it. And then one night he got up and took some action. He did what he could with what he had. This was an important turning point. As Samuel Johnson wrote, 'It is common to over look what is near by keeping the eye fixed on something remote. In the same manner, present opportunities are neglected and attainable good is slighted by minds busied in extensive ranges.' Paul stopped busying his mind in extensive ranges and looked at what opportunities for attainable good were right in front of him. Under the cover of darkness, he sneaked out into the wasteland with a backpack full of seedlings and started planting. For seven hours he planted seedlings.

He did it again a week later.

And every week, he made his secret journey into the wasteland and planted trees and shrubs and grass.

Bust most of it died.

For fifteen years he did this. When a whole valley of his fir seedling burned to the ground because of a careless sheep-herder, Paul broke down and wept. Then he got up and kept planting.

Freezing winds and blistering heat, landslides and floods and fires destroyed his work time and time again. But he kept planting.

One night he found a highway crew had come and taken tons of dirt for a road grade, and all the plats he had painstakingly planted in that area were gone.

But he just kept planting.

Week after week, year after year he kept at it, against the opinion of the authorities, against the trespassing laws, against the devastation of road crews, against the wind and rain and heat...even against plain common sense. He just kept planting.

Slowly, very lowly, things began to take root. Then gophers appeared. Then rabbits. Then porcupines.

The old copper smelter eventually gave him permission, and later, as times were changing and there was political pressure to clean up the environment, the company actually hired Paul to do what he was already doing, and they provided him with machinery and crews to work with. Progress accelerated.

Now the place is fourteen thousand acres of trees and grass an bushes, rich with elk and eagles, and Paul Rokich has received almost every environmental award Utah has.

He says, "I thought that if I got this started, when I was dead and gone people would come and see it. I never thought I'd live to see it myself!'

It took him until his hair turned white, but he managed to keep that impossible vow he made to himself as a child."

Are you feeling like throwing in the towel? Don't quit! Does it seem that the harder you strive the worse it gets? Don't give in! Have you lost sight of the purpose for your life? Gather it up again and pursue it with your whole heart!

"And let us not grow weary in doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up." Galatians 6:9

March 3, 2009

About the Photo

This bell tower belongs to the Cades Cove Primitive Baptist Church now preserved in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Though now nothing more than a museum it stands as a continuing testimony to the faith of the people who settled this beautiful valley in the southern Appalachian mountains. In fact, driving the 11 mile Cades Cove loop is something of an annual pilgrimage for my family and a stop at this church is a must on our trip. My Beloved is drawn to the cemetery as it chronicles the difficult and tragic lives of those who braved the wilderness to carve out a life. I am magnetically drawn to the edifice that once housed a thriving congregation.

As I sit in one of the rough pews in this little structure I am awe struck by a people compelled to invest energy in building such a place when it took such an immense effort to simply survive. Why would they do such a thing? Why not simply worship in homes or not at all?

Is it possible that their connection to the land instructed them about a deeper dependence?

Is it possible that this desperate group of pioneers was right in exerting unusual extravagance in a decidedly utilitarian existence to build a bell tower, not to outshine the Methodist's across the holler but to remind them to look up every now and then? Something tells me that this is near the mark. In lives marked by the steady rhythms of the seasons and the regular rhythm of work-6-days-and-rest-1 this tower served to guide them through each change and each fresh tragedy with the steady sureness of God.

I sit in that now empty church and strain to hear the hymns of praise being sung and the words of truth being proclaimed. Alas, there is only silence now. But in the stillness the voice of God whispers, "I AM." That marvelous bell tower continues to point heavenward, drawing the eyes of road weary tourists to look above the frustrations of traffic, noisy kids, flat tires, and the need to use the bathroom to consider the God who sustained these so long ago. Doubtless, some few stop long enough to hear.

March 2, 2009

Not To Snow On Your Parade, But...

Several bloggers (Check here, here, and here for a few examples - I got my first news of it from Jungle Mom - she includes cartoons!) are commenting on the delicious, and might I say, frigid, irony of this story. Apparently there is a solid chance that a planned Global Warming protest march in Washington D.C. may be canceled due to, wait for it, SNOW!

Below is a photo sent to me by a friend of another global warming protest in the U.K. Seems to me these guys may have a genuine complaint about a warming planet. Bundle up!

He Made Me Lie Down

The beginning of this new year has been unusually intense for this shepherd and I suppose it caught up with me last week. A personal bout with the flu (a mild case) combined with a daughter who gave it to me (she's so generous!) a son with a fever virus that is going around and another son with a stomach virus turned our house into an infirmary! My Beloved somehow, thankfully, managed to avoid all of the crud-ola and took marvelous care of us all. She is one remarkable woman.

Psalm 23 famously states,
"The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul."
I personally experienced being made to lie down last week and, I can say with clarity, a restoration of my soul has occurred. It is good to be in the care of the Great Shepherd.

For those of you who drop by here from time to time here's what to look for in the next few days...
  • The Monday Morning Message catch up posts. "The Middles: Stories of Faith in Process' will all be posted here in short order. Gideon, David, Jeremiah, and the church have a story of faith in the middle to tell.
  • A great story about perseverance. Paul Rokich's story will make you want to hang in there.
  • Some thoughts about purity which have been percolating for a while.
It's good to be back among the living.