January 61st

According to the calendar, we’re in the waning hours of March 2, 2014.  That puts us less than three weeks from the vernal equinox and spring’s arrival.

The thermometer begs to differ.  It’s currently 3 below in Des Moines and we’re headed toward an overnight low of minus 14.   It could shatter the old low record by ten degrees.

We’ve all rightfully done our share of bellyaching about how cold and snowy and miserable and long this winter has been, and we’ve all wondered why.   My theory?  It’s actually January 61st.

Anyway, I noticed some amazing crystal ice patterns on our glass sliding door and wanted to share them.  This won’t warm you up at all—but  come July 54th, looking at them may cool you down a bit.

Enjoy these views out your own window while you can…it WILL get warmer!

Oh yeah–and as we’re approaching Ash Wednesday…see if you can find the cross.

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Pressing On

Blades are sharp, daggers drawn –by wicked kings, you’re their pawn.

Isolation is their bitter aim: to steal your soul, exploit your shame.

They whisper lies as you self-doubt, promising an easy out.

They offer you pain-free relief; never mind those left to grieve.

Evil -borne, death-allied; they visit when you’re low on pride

to burden you with pardoned sin–don’t ever let the bastards win.

Earth spins days both black and bright–keep praying for eternal light.

When demons knock, keep pressing on:

the bleakest hour

grays to


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He sat on a bench in the Altoona botanical garden.  It’s a wonderful little park, bisected with a bike trail and a small stream.  It features whimsical metal insect sculptures. But it’s also a reverent place with a solemn veteran’s memorial fountain.

He was athletic, focused, and engaging.  His blue backpack beside him, he was vaguely threatening to the cautious—like my wife.  But me?  Conceived on Okie soil in Woody Guthrie’s home state, I’m a sucker for a road warrior with a good story.

Dale was his name.  Our visit started with him remarking how nice the park was.  He asked if I’d ever been to the massive International Peace Garden that straddles the North Dakota border, and wondered if you needed a passport to cross into Canada.  That wouldn’t be a problem for him; he’s a Canuck native, and now a “Can-Am.”

Never married, no kids.  Folks died either side of 50 in the late 90s and left him little.  He made some really big money for awhile as a diver in the gulf, subcontracting for an oil company for $3000 a day.  But the BP oil spill wiped him out.  He had to sell everything he had to pay off his business debts; “damn near killed me.”

He’s since realized it was the best thing to ever happen to him.  The weight is gone, he said.  He’s on the road now, with the Lord looking out for him.  Kind folks feed him or slip him a little cash to keep him going.  He told of a Navajo woman who passed him on the highway as he walked along the shoulder against the traffic.  She did a U-turn and handed him an envelope for $40.  “God told me a few months ago I was to give this to someone” she told him.

He doesn’t hitchhike.  Cops stop him, check his ID to make sure there are no warrants, and wish him well.  He had a couple pop cans to cash in that he’d found in the park bins, and was eyeing the nearby HyVee parking lot for later.

Deb and I had ridden our bikes about 8 miles and the park was our turnaround point.  She had distanced herself from him early on.  I kept glancing her way and told Dale I had to go.  But he continued his tale.  And me, equal parts too nice and intrigued, kept listening.  Deb quietly fumed and slowly peddled away, not impressed that I was taking time away from our biking date.

Dale started his trek about 6 ½ months ago, heading north from Astoria, Oregon into Washington state.  He said the most desolate areas were east Oregon and Utah.  “Arizona’s not bad, there are a lot of towns.  And Nevada’s okay, unless you’re in the north.”  He had a Navajo guide who led him to the water spots in the desert.

He told of being offered a ride while on an reservation.  “About ten drunk guys pulled up in an old rusty car.  Three bald tires and a fourth on the rim.  I turned ‘em down.  They asked if it was because I didn’t like Indians.  I told them I didn’t think the car looked safe and they took off.”

He has a job lined up in Savannah, GA starting in six weeks around October 1st, “if I’m still alive.  If not, that’s okay too.  I’ve asked the Lord many times to go ahead and take me, but he hasn’t yet.”

Dale just did some day labor for a guy who was repairing a storm sewer under a manhole.  The original contractor hadn’t sealed it properly.  His employer went down in the hole with a sealant that expanded to 36x its size after you applied it.  His boss cut off the extra goop, put it in a bucket, and Dale pulled it up for disposal.  They started at 6 and were done by 11, before the August heat got too nasty.  Dale got  $100 cash and a free room at the Beacon Motel, an edge-of-town place a bit past its prime.

He had on hiking boots, walking shorts, a dark Spiderman t-shirt, and a baseball hat with a P on it…the Purdue logo, maybe.   He liked my Bob Marley tee, and said there are more Deadheads in Eugene, Oregon, than in all of California.  “It’s true,” he said.  He added that he saw a guy with a half-ton bicycle that was rigged up so he could sleep in it, too—a white guy with Rasta dreads.

Dale said he’d peddled cross-country twice; acted like it wasn’t a big deal.  He listens to NPR and heard a story that day about millionaires getting richer.  He added nonchalantly that he hadn’t eaten for three days.  He was grateful for free water and clung to his 64 ounce Gatorade bottle.

Deb called my cell.  I insisted to Dale I really had to roll on, and slipped him the $5 bill I had.  “God bless you—I had just been thinking about Proverbs 19:16, and how when you give or lend to the poor, you’re giving to God.  My Bible (motioning to his backpack) is more than just ballast.”

It neared sundown; gray clouds hung along the orange horizon, hinting at overnight rain.  He planned to walk a few miles west to Lowes for the night.  He said the yard storage sheds they have out as demo models are never locked, and nobody on the night crew ever comes out to check them.  And “since my sleeping bag weighs a hundred pounds when it’s wet” he likes a dry place to sleep, which he claims to do from about 11 until 3 or 4 in the morning before hitting the road once again.

“I’m Dale” he told me again, as we shook hands and wished each other well.  I peddled past manicured rosebushes and paddling ducks and met up with Deb a little ways down the trail.

Cranking homeward, I realized how grateful  I was to meet Dale.  That week, I was stung when I was passed over for a job I’d been earnestly praying for.  I’d been thinking that even though the sky was God’s ear, He wasn’t listening.  God was becoming  more Trial than Love; more Isolation than Engagement.

Dale could have been a sociopath, a modern-day John the Baptist, or a guardian angel—I really don’t have a clue.

But as we peddled toward a muting rosy-purple sunset, God revealed this:

“If you’re not feeling blessed, at least be a blessing.”

Dale was both.

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Life’s Book

Life’s book is written on your heart.

Is it fantasy or non-fiction…romance, or a tech manual?

Can the pages turn freely, or are they soiled and matted together?

Is it your own personal best-seller, or a dusty attic silverfish treasure?

Was it created with unlimited crayons; brilliant colors only you can share?

Or drawn in #2 lead pencil, dots filled neatly and completely; erasures not allowed?

Is it stream-of-consciousness free verse, or heavy-handed essay?

Designed from the Creator or fabricated for the world?

Is the reader alive and inspired, or bored and tired?

Does it beat in sync with the great Out There,

Or click steady, like a suffocating wall clock?

Do fireflies blink inside it, or do buzzards circle patiently around it?

Is it an encyclopedia of enlightened wisdom, or a tabloid of mind candy?

Do you treat it like a sacred text, or disregard it like junk mail?

> Write carefully.

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Yellow Banks Photos, Oct 2011

Des Moines River valley at Yellow Banks

Des Moines River valley at Yellow Banks

Prehistoric driftwood?

Prehistoric driftwood?

Our prehistoric driftwood with a dash of warpaint.  Or maybe...bird poop?

Our prehistoric driftwood with a dash of warpaint. Or maybe…bird poop?

Driftwood detail

Driftwood detail

Sandbar dogs

Sandbar dogs

A hallucinogenic sandbar

A hallucinogenic sandbar

Sex on the beach 1
Sex on the beach 1

Sex on the beach 2

Sex on the beach 2

sex on the beach 3

sex on the beach 3


Yellow Banks County Park is located just 3 radio songs southeast of my house, but a world away.  The primitive camping area is located high on a bluff of yellow loess soil overlooking a wide bend on the Des Moines River.  An area sacred to native peoples, an Indian burial mound is just a short hike from the camping area.  It’s my favorite place for solo camping, journaling, and reconnecting to Creation.  These photos were taken in October 2011 and I used Lightroom for editing.  The river was very low, resulting in a wide sandbar.  I loved the “Loch Ness” driftwood.  And as for the bugs???  Couldn’t make up my mind which picture I liked best, so I posted three of them.  Hope that doesn’t make me too voyeuristic!

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do not draw our breaths,

create our footsteps,

or own our souls.

Yet, we surrender to


so quickly, not valuing

the breath lost,

the journey forgotten,

or the spirit,


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Why We’ll Still Have to Work in Heaven

Good souls, we all wonder:  What is Heaven Really Like?

All doctrines teach it as Paradise.  Brilliant bright colors, in shades we find incomprehensible down here.  Transcendent peace, where kids line up for grizzly bear rides.  Eternal pureness, where we inhale blessing and exhale praise.  Where the downtrodden among us will inherit golden thrones.

It will be an open-air university where our deepest questions are answered.

God, Holy of Holies, is too magnificent and too loving and too powerful for us to be directly in his presence.  That’s why he spreads Truth through others.  So…

curious about God-wrestling?  Meet Jacob.  Wonder how to endure torture and still share love?  Here’s Paul.   And over there is David, who can tell you how to have it all, sin it away, and still be a blessing.

And Jesus.

Jesus will be our magic teacher:  probing, parabling, rebuking.  Mostly…love.  And because his flesh was broken and his blood spilled, his love is everywhere at once and is instantaneous.  But he won’t come over without an invite.

Through that dialogue, your riddles are solved: no more and no less.  For even in heaven, if God granted us infinite knowledge, we would be God.  And I don’t think that would roll.

Selfishly, I believe, we all think that once we’ve made The Big Show, it’s easy street.  With sins forgiven—and forgotten—in Heaven, we assume we’ll just pull up a beanbag cloud and watch drive-in movies of Every Good Thing we did on earth, with some bloopers added just for fun.

In Genesis, God tells Adam the consequences of The Fall.  Cursed ground will be worked with a rusty plow navigated to provide hard-scrabble bread, eaten with sweaty brow.  It’s no picnic for Eve and sisterhood, either.  Childbirth will hurt—a lot.

You hear of folks who retire, vacation and golf for awhile, and get bored.  Then, two choices.  They either go do something bigger than themselves–or curl up into a fetal Lazy Boy ball and die.

Heaven will be kind of the same.  The awesomeness and majesty and unlimited love will knock us breathless for awhile.  And it will be eternal.  But like all things good, we’ll eventually take it for granted.  You can’t spend a month at Disneyland without being tempted to kick Donald Duck in the ass.

So we’ll be in Heaven.  Bored after while; looking for an apple.

God already knows this about us.  He created our hearts, after all.  That’s why he also designed distractions for us on the other side.

This means that even though there may not be weeds to pull, we’ll still have to work in heaven.  Even restored souls will need sustenance and comforting.  Welcoming committees (with potlucks, perhaps) will serve to orient newcomers.  Air castles will need design and construction.  Companions for the elderly and babysitter mentors for all ages will still be needed.

Obviously, God could do all these things in a micro-heartbeat, just like he could down here.  But Spirit knows temptation’s loud call and how easily we’re distracted.

That’s why God will put us to work in Heaven, doing his Good Will.

Sounds quite a bit like how he designed earth, don’t you think?

John Wesley nailed it.  “Do all the good you can, By all the means you can, In all the ways you can, In all the places you can, At all the times you can, To all the people you can, As long as ever you can.”

You know, it’s awesome to give God a hand.

But he wants the rest of us, too.


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On “60 Minutes” the other night, they featured a story about “extreme divers” at a lagoon on an isolated island in the Caribbean.    These are folks who push physical and psychological boundaries to excess.  Their goal is to see how deep they can dive using just their lungs…and maybe a big flipper, allowing them to go even deeper.

One guy went over 400 feet deep and was underwater for 4½ minutes. It would have been a world record, but he forgot to do the post-dive sequence of removing his goggles, saying “I’m OK,” and giving a thumbs-up.  Mental agility is a requirement for the record books—you must prove that after such a grueling activity, you can still remember the correct order of these seemingly easy tasks.  But he got the order wrong.

Confession time.  When I was small, we lived in a little town ten miles from a swimming pool.  For whatever reason, we never went swimming.  And sometime during my elementary years, a boy my age drowned in the nearby Wapsipinicon River.

It came time for us to take swimming lessons.  They were always two weeks long, and always in early June just after school had been dismissed for the summer.  Oh yeah…the pool was not just unheated, it was outside.  On chilly  mornings we looked like plucked chickens.

Our first lesson?  Hold our breath and put our face in the water for 30 seconds.  But the memory of the drowning boy somehow consumed me;  I became so convinced of my own drowning that I couldn’t do it.  It took me two summers to overcome my paranoia.   Never mind that Red Cross certified instructors—some breasted and attractive—were teaching us.  Never mind that it would have been the last place in Buchanan County I would have drowned.

What a dork.

But this brings to mind the destructive thoughts that grip us and keep us paralyzed from doing what we really want to do.  What is it that conditions us to be so fearful?  Think of all the activities that await us; stuff we can venture forward and try to make our lives more adventurous, more colorful, and more interesting.  Stuff to make life…lively!

Don’t be so consumed by over-imagined fear that you can’t stick your face in the water.

There’s another kind of pool.

Sometimes, we jump headlong into that inky lagoon within ourselves—and dive dangerously deep.   Our soul-lungs bursting and our minds confused, we come perilously close to drowning.

Unfortunately, setbacks and disappointments and loss are part of life.  It’s natural that we all go to that dark pool occasionally.  The key is remembering to resurface.

The Bible tells us to fear not hundreds of times.

Yet we cling to fear like a life preserver, instead of recognizing it as a bag of rocks.  We choose to sleep with the fishes.

That can not only paralyze us, but be downright embarrassing–even decades after swimming lessons are over.

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One Day, Maybe

I wonder how many times Dreamers are destroyed after sharing Vision,

only to have it mocked, shredded, and stuffed right back down their throat? 

It’s never been done that way before.

It won’t fit inside the box.

It’s stupid.

So Dreamer gathers the misguidance and tries pruning the Dream.

He hopes the result will please the masses (and the asses)

and still allow him to retain a semblance of fulfillment.

Dreamer shuts up and takes a number and joins Them,

attempting to despise the part of him that dared to dream.

He nails that window shut.

One day, maybe,

Destiny allows the sun’s angle to crack that sealed window.

A holy spirit fills him, blasting away darkness and anger and The Doubt.

God whispers to Dreamer that he’s been entrusted

with the Vision to transfuse a sullen world.  

He bursts with self-acceptance;

overflowing with divine certainty

that he was marvelously created

and designed for wondrous

And programmed for love.

Dreamer goes forward

and changes Everything.

One day,


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Just North of Halloween

A few weeks north of Halloween

When the veil twixt here and netherworld thins.

A faint new moon, dark in its life, set awhile ago.

There’s a brief coyote chorus,

Intense and primal.

Echoing through a broad river valley

It’s not repeated.

In the loess canyon just over his shoulder

An ancient limb cracks and tumbles and startles to the ground.

Rising from campfire-pondering to investigate,

Leaves dampen the vision stalker

As he steps into darkness,

Seduced by her secrets.


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