Companions on the Journey

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Disclaimer: If you’ve never had a dog this may not be a meaningful post to read. If you have I apologize if it makes you sad.

“He who travels alone can leave today; but he who travels with another must wait ’til that other is ready.”
                                                                                                  – Henry David Thoreau

My wife and I recite this to one another before just about every trip when we’re trying to get out the door to go off on whatever our next family adventure will be and we are endlessly waiting for the kids or each other. It is one of the most true statements about travel. Except when it comes to dogs.

For the past 14 years, Jessi and Lincoln have been my companions on the journey of life. The picture above was taken just before our first anniversary (when Lincoln would have been a little over a year old), as we set off for a new adventure in Colorado. Lincoln rode all the way to Colorado Springs from Cookeville, TN in the cab of that U Haul truck with us and continued to ride along for every twist and turn of life after. All along, we never had to wait on him as a companion, he was always ready to leave today!

Lincoln went to the top of 14,000 foot mountains with us and he slept in canyons with us. He tolerated us bringing another dog home to join him for awhile, and he was the one that stuck around when Landon went to live at the farm. He was there when we brought both of our children home, loving them with the same kindness and gentleness that he loved us.  He was wagging his tail and greeting us at the door nearly every day, and he was lying by our side consoling us during some tough times. He’s lived with us on a farm where he could chase cows, in an RV where he was the “camp dog,” in a 750 sq ft shack that we called home base, and in every house we’ve ever owned. He’s snuggled up with us in a tent and in the car when the tent got too cold. He’s been on 10 mile hikes and mountain bike rides and was still up for a slow walk around the block on his last day.

We got Lincoln from the Putnam Co. (TN) Animal Shelter in March of 2001, just a few months before we were married. In the first few months of his life he did what puppies do – chewed everything in sight, had accidents all over the house, ran away every time we opened the door, jumped out the window of a moving car, and generally taught us that raising a puppy was not a task to be taken lightly. And he went everywhere with us. We were young and adventurous and he was our companion on the journey.

No matter what changes life has thrown at us, Lincoln was up for them all. He taught us the skills we needed to continue the journey with children, that’s for sure. We didn’t know it at the time, but walking a lab through the woods is pretty much the same thing as walking a child through the woods. Sometimes they run ahead and sometimes they lag behind. Occasionally they’ll walk right beside you and you feel like all is right with the world. And you’d better have plenty of water with you at all times, because they get thirsty. If only we could get our kids to hike ceaselessly without complaining like Lincoln!

Yesterday we had to say goodbye to our old friend. Time had taken its toll on Lincoln. His old legs weren’t up for any hikes and his eyes and ears couldn’t see and hear anymore to find things to chase and bark at. Although his body had started to deteriorate, our buddy stayed on the journey with us. He was still at the door wagging his tail and laying at our feet for a pet when things got tough. He loved his family and we loved him to the very end.

As I sit at my desk and write this, sadness washes over me. I know that my four legged companion on this journey won’t ever wander into my office and lay down next to my chair again. His company was always nice, and it will be lonely without him around; he was such a good listener. But my sadness is soothed just a bit by knowing that his pain is over. It had been a long time since he had been up for chasing cows and running on trails, and I know that was as hard on him as it was on us. He was a fantastic companion to Jessi and I for our journey together thus far and for that we are grateful. Yesterday, as he drifted off to sleep, he whispered a few low growls. I whispered “I love you buddy” in his ear and he whispered back. I’m pretty sure he said “thanks, I love you too.”

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Restless

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It seems that about every two years I find myself really restless. I can’t put my finger on what causes it, but I can usually sense it coming on. And then the restlessness comes to head and I feel like I’m standing in front of the sign above trying to make a decision about what to do, but no matter what I do I can’t settle on a path.

When I’m in this restless state I find it hard to practice any sort of quiet meditation and my mind races in 10 different directions any time I try to focus. I’ll turn my attention to work, but stare at my daily planner and think how benign every single thing I need to do this week looks. I’ll get out of the house and try to change the scenery and just waste time in a fruitless effort to try to get my focus turned to something. I’ll get 3 or 4 different books going at once because none of them can seem to keep my attention. I’ll drag my family around looking at houses or bore my wife with stories about exotic ideas of living somewhere else. I’ll sit down to write and it will come up stream of consciousness (just like this) and feel disconnected. It can be maddening.

So, what to do?

Apparently this is a thing, because if you google restless life syndrome, you get a lot of results.

However, does knowing that I’m not the only one that suffers from this make it better? Nope. In the past when this has happened, it has often lead to a spiral of restlessness in my life that causes me to chase change for change’s sake. If I look back on the most severe cases of this strange phenomenon that I’ve experienced, they led to me moving to Colorado, getting out of coaching, taking a job that just about crushed my marriage because of all of the travel, starting a small business, and uprooting my family without hardly consulting my wife or giving any concern to how she might feel about it. Not all of those turned out bad, but to some degree they all caused pain that was tough to fight through.

I’m thinking that this time I’m going to behave differently. We’ve got a great house (with 2 brand new air conditioners), a great life (with a new used car that’s super cool), two great kids, two great jobs, and not much to complain about. It would be pretty stupid to blow all of that up just because I’m feeling a little restless. Instead, I’m going to soldier through. It will be uncomfortable and unnatural for me. I like change. But I think it is an important discipline for me to learn to stick.

I fully expect that my mind will continue to wander, my focus will be challenged, and my work for a time will be uninspired. I am hopeful that on the other side of this bout with restlessness I am going to find a peace that I’ve not experienced before because I’ve always given in to the urge to make a big change. I’m sort of excited to see what that peace is all about.

That seems like a much healthier thing to be restless about.

Curveballs

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I am not a baseball guy, per se, but I’ve watched enough on ESPN to know that if you’re going to hit a curveball, it is best if you are looking for it based on the count and the pitcher. I sure wish it were that way in life.

In life, it seems, you don’t ever see the curveballs coming. You’re bouncing through life and everything seems to be going well. You’re getting fastball after fastball and hitting most of them. While we rarely hit the big, towering home runs in life, we at least know what life is throwing at us most of the time and we can scratch out some ‘runs’ with singles, doubles, and an occasional triple.

And then life throws you a curve.

The two pics above were taken a few minutes ago at my house this morning (a Saturday). If you’ve had this particular curveball thrown at you, you know exactly what you are looking at…if not, you should pray that you don’t ever face this pitcher – replacement of your air conditioning unit! When we headed upstairs Thursday night to tuck the kids in we were greeted with temperatures in the high-80’s and no way to get the AC back on. One night on air mattresses downstairs prompted a call to the AC company on Friday morning and by mid-afternoon we were staring down one of the nastiest curves life can throw a homeowner; both our upstairs and downstairs AC units were completely corroded in the coils, leaking freon, and freezing up (which shuts them down). I will spare you the gory details, the painful facts and figures, and the heart-wrenching looks Jessi and I gave each other and just say that it is NOT an inexpensive repair. If there is a bright spot in the story, it is that Morris-Jenkins Heating and Air of Charlotte, NC treated us with kid gloves, were as generous with the pricing as possible, and had a crew here at 8:30a this morning to make the replacements.

Here’s what I’ve learned about life’s curveballs…you can’t ever really be ready for them, but you can still make contact and stay alive.

The interesting thing about curveballs in life is that the most important thing about being able to survive them is being present in the moment. You can’t get caught up in the last bad thing or tough time you just went through because if you’re emotionally whining and complaining about the past, today’s curveball will make your knees buckle and feel devastating. You also can’t be thinking too far ahead about how great you feel about your financial stability or upcoming opportunities. If you do that, today’s curveball will take all of the wind out of your sails because it can wipe away all of those opportunities. If you stay present in life, however, you can at least view the ‘pitch’ with clear eyes and no distractions, which is the only way you’ll have any chance of making contact with life’s curveballs – and making contact is probably the best you can hope for most of the time.

My initial instinct when we found out about having to replace the air conditioners yesterday was disappointment. I think anyone would react that way. We were looking forward to having our credit cards paid off completely for the first time in a long time in a few weeks; we were excited about our savings being in a place we finally felt comfortable with; we were looking forward to an upcoming commission check that would allow us to do some things we’d been looking forward to; and I was looking forward to a relaxing Saturday at home with no agenda and some family time. When I woke up this morning, however, I realized that it is just one of life’s curveballs and because I am getting better at being present in life, I was able to foul it off. We’re still enjoying a no agenda day at home as a family (albeit it with workers walking through the house all day). We’ll get those debts paid off sooner or later. And we’re sure to have some great experiences together in the coming months despite the financial setback because experiences are a priority for our family. We just have to get back in life’s batter’s box and take a few more pitches, that’s all.

Returning to Beginnings

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About a year and a half ago, on a business trip to San Francisco, I decided that I ought to start writing down my thoughts and publishing them on this blog. Originally, it was just a way to formalize something that a few acquaintances and I had been doing on Facebook – documenting the cool places we got to run when we traveled for work. For me, it has progressed quite a bit from that.

This week, I was back in San Francisco for business and went for a morning run again down on Embarcadero Avenue that runs down along the waterfront. This was the place that I ran the first morning before that first blog post, and I saw a lot of the same sights. I thought it was the appropriate time to revisit some of the beginnings of these ramblings and remind myself of the state of mind and areas of focus I was dealing with back then.

The thing that struck me the most about reading those entries I wrote when I first decided that it was important to share my thoughts was how my beliefs haven’t shifted much, but how I have drifted from the focus I seemed to have back then on those beliefs. Specifically, I still feel very strongly about the importance of stillness, being quiet, being present in the moment, and being mindful at all times. However, reading my own writing from the fall of 2013, I can see that at the time, living that out daily and reminding myself daily to be focused on those things was key to my emotional and mental well being and a priority in my life. During the past 18 months I have allowed those things to be less central in my day to day routine.

I could wax on and on about how much more complicated life is since those beginning posts – I’m approaching 40 years old, I’m 2 years into a career instead of 6 months and have a lot more professional responsibilities because of that, my children are getting more and more busy and time consuming all of the time, my relationship with my wife has grown over the past year and a half which leads us to more and deeper conversations and connections, and I’m no longer training for a marathon and having hours on end of solitude while I run. These, however, would all be excuses.

The truth of the matter is that, as is so often true with all of life, our priorities, and the things we focus on, go through cycles. Various factors influence these cycles, but in the end it is natural for us to realize ebbs and flows in our life when it comes to emotional, relational, spiritual, physical, and mental well being. We shouldn’t beat ourselves up about not being where we were a year ago or 5 years ago in any of those areas. We should, however, return to beginnings occasionally and see if there are things of value from those beginnings that we can try to bring back in to our lives that will benefit the here and now.

For me personally, returning once again to San Francisco, running that same route along the Bay, and re-reading what I wrote when I started morningrunguys reminds me that although a lot of circumstances of life have changed in that short period of time, I still need to MAKE TIME to be still and quiet on a regular basis and I need to be more disciplined about not only taking regular morning runs, but also allowing time to reflect on the things that go through my mind on those runs. As I read back through some of my old posts, it is clear to me that when I allowed for this time and reflection, it had a positive impact on my personal and relational life.

I don’t know what the rest of 2015 will hold, or where I’ll be mentally or emotionally when the 2 year anniversary of these musings rolls around. But I am going to commit to returning to the deeper reflection of the beginnings of this blog, because when I return to the beginning I can see that they had an impact on how I expressed myself and I want that depth back to my soul.