Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Learning patience from hunting.

I never realized how patient God is until I took my sons and nephews deer hunting this past weekend.  In Ohio, the weekend before Thanksgiving, there is a special youth deer hunting season.  I invited my brother-in-law and his two oldest boys to join me and my three oldest.

The Friday night before the hunt was filled with stories and excitement as we discussed technique, strategy, location, timing and more.  The boys could barely sleep and to be honest neither could I.  I wanted them to get a deer or at least a shot far more than they probably did.

Over the course of the weekend we sat on hillsides and in hunting blinds.  We hunted on the ground and from the trees.  We watched squirrels, turkeys, and deer come and go but nothing within range.

The boys divided up among me, my brother-in-law, my uncle, and my father.  The stories among the adults were mostly the same.  The boys couldn't sit still for very long, they crunched leaves out of boredom, they wanted to run here and there rather than sit patiently and wait for the deer.

I was tempted to be upset with the boys and reprimand them but I didn't want this to be a bad experience for them.  While sitting in one of the blinds with one of my nephews, who was literally dancing in the blind with excitement, a revelation came to me.  I realized that what I was experiencing must be similar to what God experiences with all of us.

Whereas I wanted so much for the boys to get a deer, God wants so much for me to have faith.  Whereas I did all that I could to set them up for the best chance to see and possibly shoot a deer, God causes events to happen in my life that could very much strengthen my faith.  And...whereas the boys were just to wound-up to see a deer or even let it get close, I too am too pre-occupied with the unimportant things to ever get a chance at growing in my faith.

Scripture says, "Be still, and know that I am God" (Psalm 46:11).  It's much easier said than done.  I know that as our hunting tradition continues through the years, the boys will mature and be able to be still, rest, and hunt with patience.  I pray that I too will learn patience and be able to be still and wait for the Lord.  I only hope that chuckles to Himself now as he sees me fidget on this expedition we call life.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Mountain of the Lord

Re-post from my other blog.

The Psalmist asks, "How can I repay the Lord for all the good done for me?"  I echo that question.  How indeed?  This year I had the opportunity to once again travel to the American West with Wilderness Outreach on an expedition to build and repair hiking trails.

Mt. Shinn & Lake Florence
The trip this year took me to the High Sierra Mountain Range in California.  It was one of the most demanding and physically difficult things I have ever done in my life.  With a 7+ mile hike in and a climb of nearly 3000' in elevation, the work seemed easy in comparison to the hike.

This trip was also one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.  I went on the trip looking for God, asking Him to reveal Himself to me.  In the end, I realized that it was He calling me to this far away place so that He might reveal me to myself.  As the Second Vatican Council put it, "Christ..., fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear." (Gaudium et Spes 22)  I learned that the problem is not that I don't understand or know God very well but rather that I don't know myself well enough.  He brought me to the mountains to reveal to me my weaknesses, my faults, my sins, and how He wants to heal them.

It was through this trip, this work, these hikes, this physical adventure that God taught me about my spiritual life.  I learned that the spiritual life is like life on the trail.  As the trail has steep, difficult terrain, so does the spiritual life.  It is during times of suffering and struggle that I am ascending toward God, toward the heights of Heaven.  It is often during times of laziness, and seeking an easy way out that I am descending away from God, away from the heights of sanctity.  I learned that just as the views on the trail (pictures below) are not given but must be earned.  Ascending to the God is not given, it must be earned.  

John Bradford of Wilderness Outreach 
Now, please don't misunderstand.  All that God gives is a free gift.  Grace is a free gift just as the mountains are a free gift.  Both are there for me but there is no easy shortcut.  I cannot parachute onto the top of a mountain and feel as though I belong there.  I cannot say a simple prayer and feel as though I deserve eternity with God.  God is a loving father and as such He demands that I grow, mature, struggle, fight, and become strong. The Psalmist points this out in many places, "LORD, who may abide in your tent?  Who may dwell on your holy mountain?  Whoever walks without blame, doing what is right, speaking truth from the heart; Who does not slander with his tongue, does no harm to a friend, never defames a neighbor; Who disdains the wicked, but honors those who fear the LORD; Who keeps an oath despite the cost, lends no money at interest, accepts no bribe against the innocent" (Psalm 15)  The mountain of the Lord in the Psalm is a free gift, but only those who meet the requirements can accept that gift.

Another thing I learned on the trail is that God wants me to accept that He allows those struggles to come my way.  In the book, Abandonment to Divine Providence, Fr. Caussade mentions a phrase that stuck with me during my trip, "Living the sacrament of the moment."  This helped me realize that God's grace is pouring on me like a constant rain every moment of my life.  Sometimes the rain makes me miserable, sometimes it fills me with joy.  So it is with God's grace.  His providence may, at times, make me miserable, like when I am suffering.  Living the sacrament of the moment helps me realize that though I may be suffering, it wouldn't be happening if God didn't will it for my salvation.  As Fr. Caussade says elsewhere, "What God arranges for us to experience at each moment is the best and holiest thing that could ever happen to us."
I could go on about the lessons learned on the trail but I will save those for another time.  For now, I'll share the beauty that God gave to us during that week.  How shall I repay the Lord?  I really don't know.  I guess I can start by reminding myself daily of the difficult but worthwhile lessons learned so that I don't slide back down the mountain.

Me at 10,000'
Sally Keyes Lakes

Marie Lakes looking north from Selden Pass

Daily Mass on the mountain.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Rabbit Hunting

 My dad and I took the two oldest boys out rabbit hunting on Saturday for a little while.  We only kicked up one rabbit and Tony (the beagle) ran it for a while.  He brought it right by A but he couldn't get his gun cocked fast enough.  We'll have to work on that I think.  Anyway, here are some pictures from the outing.  If you are rabbit hunter, or any hunter for that matter, I highly recommend The Everlasting Stream.  It is a great book.
Dad and the boys.

The north side of the hill.

C looking tough.

Dad and the boys heading to the top.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Controlled Power

One of my favorite activities is wrestling with my boys.  In fact, I often write it on my calender to make sure I don't leave it out during the week.

Our wrestling takes one of three forms.  First there is the horse / bull ride where the boys hop on my back and hold on for dear life.  This always gets the most laughs but trust me, the laughs are not coming from my knees.  Second, there is the one-on-one match where I let each boy in turn push me around and then I fling them around.  This give and take goes on for some time until I allow them to pin me to the floor.  When I sit up after a match, I have to be ready because the next boy is ready to pounce.  After wrestling each of the four boys twice, this old man is ready for bed.  Third, there is the everyone-against-dad match.  I usually prompt this match with a promise of dessert or candy if they can get me down.  It's all fun and games and I keep the upper hand, that is, until they decide to work together.  It is then that the real struggle begins.

Last week the boys asked if they could wrestle each other.  They are too young to pull dirty tricks so the only rule that I made was that they had to start from their knees.  I came up with this rule because I know how they can start swinging each other around and I could easily see someone being thrown through a French Door.

The two oldest wrestled first and the younger pinned the older after about 5 minutes of wrestling on the floor. Next the younger two wrestled and the younger one again pinned the older.  They all wanted to wrestle one more time and I agreed.  This second match with the older two went on for an eternity until finally the younger one once again pinned his older brother.  This was more than the older one could take and he exploded all over me with shouts of injustice.  "I wasn't down.  You weren't watching when I had him down two minutes ago.  I'm never doing this again," and on and on.  I sent him into the mud room to cool down.  After a few minutes I had a good talk with him about controlling himself.  That is, after all, why we are wrestling in the first place.

I wrestle with my boys to show them that they have incredible strength and that they must learn to control that strength.  I help them to realize that I could easily pummel each and every one of them but I don't.  I am in control, at all times, even when they get a shot in that fattens my lip, knocks my glasses off, or draws blood.  I control my strength, my body, my temper, my mind, my heart.  I have the control.  I hope that through wrestling and other activities they will realize that they too have great power, explosive power, but it must be controlled.  I hope to teach them that there are times to unleash that power and there are times to suppress that power but each and every time it must be controlled by them.  God has given them this gift and it is my job to teach them the proper use of the gift.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

River of Doubt

Lately I have become a huge fan of Theodore Roosevelt.  I can't imagine any of our modern presidents being like him but I think it would do a world of good for the country if they had some of his qualities.

Through my reading I have, in an unplanned way, followed a great deal of his life.  Much of what I have read has overlapped but each author gives his or her own view and helps fill in the gaps.  The first book that I read, Mornings on Horseback, by one of my favorite authors, David McCullough, chronicles the early life of Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt.  Though a weak and sickly child, he transformed his mind and body, at the inspiration of his father, into a strong, rugged man physically and intellectually.  Today, in a world where excuses abound this is a refreshing story of what man can do when he puts his mind, and body, to it.

Last month I began reading The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America.  I began reading this book primarily to become familiar with the United States Forest Service and the men who created it.  I was very much surprised to learn of the pivotal role that President Roosevelt played in forming and building the Service.  This book showed me that TR wasn't loved by everyone.  I was shocked to learn that in the early 1900's conservation was frowned upon by most of the country.  I found it ironic that the conservation movement was begun by this Republican President.

Recently I finished what so far has been the most gripping, heartbreaking, and spellbinding story of Theodore Roosevelt.  The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey chronicles his journey and quest for adventure on an, up to then, unchartered river deep in the Amazon Jungle.  The River of Doubt begins with Roosevelt's failed bid for a third term as President.  Even though he was loved by most of the country, he was rejected by his own party in this bid for re-election.  He soon became the leader of a third party, The Progressive Party, or Bull-Moose Party as it was commonly known.

Reeling from this loss and betrayal, he decided to challenge himself, as he often did, to conquer not only something unknown, but also his own depression that resulted from the loss.  The River of Doubt follows Roosevelt from a speaking tour in Brazil to the headwaters of the Rio da Dúvida (River of Doubt) to its end in the Amazon River.  Along the way, Roosevelt, his son Kermit, Candido Rondon, the famed Brazilian explorer and officer, and many other men faced the perils of the river, the forest, and the frailty of humanity.  

What began as a scientific exploration to map and chronicle a never before navigated river quickly became a 2 month fight for survival.  The men faced bone, and canoe, crushing rapids in the river along with flesh eating fish and dangerous parasitic organisms.  The jungle on either side of the river didn't offer much help either.  Camouflaged in the lush green of the jungle were poisonous snakes and frogs, wild animals, and disease carrying mosquitoes.  To add to the danger, the expedition is followed through much of their journey by a tribe of native Indians, armed with poison arrows and concealed by the jungle, ready to end the journey down the river.  What began as a journey to explore the unknown and perhaps assuage the President's pride became the fight of his life and surly his darkest journey.

This book is not only an excellent story of the expedition but the author also weaves in a great deal of background information as well as scientific information that makes for an informative as well as entertaining read.  I highly recommend The River of Doubt!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

I'm Officially Old

In less than 6 weeks I will turn 39 years old.  I am older than my wife, my siblings, and the majority of my friends.  They all remind me of this as often as they can.

It's certainly not easy getting old.  My body hurts more than it used to.  Last November I played flag-football with some friends on a chilly Saturday afternoon.  Urged on by large doses of bravado and even larger does of homebrew I flung myself into the friendly game.  In the end, I needed dental work and two full weeks to recover. I find that I need to workout nearly everyday to keep the stiffness and soreness out of my joints.  If I miss a day or two, the next time I hit the trail or the weights I feel like the Tin Man desperately in need of some oil.  I don't think my mind has deteriorated any.  I still have an extremely short memory so it can't get much worse.

Yet through all of these events of weakening joints, loss of hair, and the ever growing "spare tire" I've never felt old...until last week.  Last week one single event made me feel like I had one foot in the grave, the other in the nursing home.

On Tuesday of that week the boys were especially rowdy in the morning.  I let them go for a while until I couldn't take it anymore.  I thundered out the laundry list of things they were to be doing, "Are your chores done? Did you clean your room? Did you brush your teeth?  Why haven't you started your homework", and on and on.  The answers to those questions were obviously, no.  I continued on, "why do I have to run off this list every morning?"  So far, so good, but I took it a step too far with this, "I feel like a broken record."  It was at that point that the earth stopped turning, time stood still, and all the world looked sadly upon this old man.  The birds froze in the sky, toy cars stopped in mid-course, and even the water coming out of the tap for the dishes stopped bubbling.  And then, it came, like a bolt of lightning out of the sky, voiced from my wonderful 8 year-old son, "....Dad, what's a record?"

The bird dropped from the sky, the car crashed into the wall, and the earth resumed it's normal speed.  The world didn't wait for my answer.  I was no longer relevant.  I realized then and there that I was officially - old.  No answer in the world would have sufficed.  The world didn't care.  I just shook my old head, took a shot of Geritol, and proceeded to do the dishes.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Big Burn

Ever since I read the book by David McCullough, Mornings on Horse Back about Teddy Roosevelt, I have been a huge fan of the former president.

Recently I read The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire That Saved America.  I was fascinated to learn the role Mr. Roosevelt had played in the establishment of the United States Forest Service. This fascination was compounded by the fact that names of many of the men in the book were very familiar to me after having worked with the USFS and Wilderness Outreach.  These men, like Ed Pulaski and John Muir, were legends in my mind.  After reading the book, they became heroes.

I never realized that in the early 1900's the railroad and logging industries were treating these beautiful areas in the West and Northwest as a completely expendable resource.  They were basically raping and pillaging the land with no thought of future generations.  In fact, the ideas of conservation and preservation were completely foreign in that day.  Roosevelt and Pinchot worked against all odds, both in Congress and in the wild, to protect these wilderness areas.

The Great Fire of 1910, or The Big Burn as it is also known, was a forest fire of epic proportions.  The fire burned 3 million acres and killed 87 people with it's devastating hurricane force winds, flames, and smoke.  The newly formed USFS was grossly undermanned and underfunded.  The USFS rangers at the time worked hard to save not only the wilderness but the small towns as well often with little pay and a great deal of resistance from the inhabitants of the area.  The fire, which destroyed so much land and life, propelled the USFS and conservation into the spotlight.  When the rest of the nation heard the heroic stories of the rangers, public opinion moved to the side of conservation.  The Big Burn saved America by moving the people toward conservation and firmly establishing the USFS.

The Big Burn vividly recreates the disaster through the eyes of the men and women who experienced it, and does so with first-hand accounts.  I highly recommend this book!