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Archive for the ‘Experience’ Category

I am a self described “Jack of All Trades, Master of None”. How does one become part of this nation? My observation has been that there are generally two paths to “Jack”. 1) Be very smart and well studied and carefully try many things, having the resources to continue and succeed. 2) Be very desperate (or needy), having few resources, particularly money, imprudent to the dangers of failure, fail alot, learn from experience, and at last succeed. I am of the latter tribe. In the first tribe are those who have confidence that it will work because of their circumstances. In the second tribe are those who against all odds need it to work or “it ain’t happenin'”.

There is, perhaps, a third tribe, but they are small. They are masters of many trades, but those guys retire early to make YouTube videos with over a million subscribers.

My modest car had a modest oil leak, the kind you might ignore because you only need add a half a quart of oil between oil changes, unless you were at highway speeds for extended times (ring blow by likely as not due to mileage above 200K). I wanted to stop the leak because it was dripping on the exhaust manifold, burning, and smelling. That meant that my wife and I could not open the windows on a cool evening or dash through the mountains because the fumes made us feel sick. It also meant that the leak was hard to find because there was very little evidence.

My son who is training to be a mechanic found the leak that I could not. It turns out that the Rocker Arm Cover Gasket includes rings around the spark plugs. The leak was covered and the oil came out elsewhere in small amounts where it was burnt. Oh, what small problems cause such consternation.

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A fun drive, decent to low power, dependable, hoping for another 50 to 100K.
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Simpler approach than most modern compact car engines.
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Clean engine for 207,000 miles!
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The offending tale-tale indicator of leakage

Over the years I have had many successes at mechanicing, carpentering, plumbing (oh, I hate that one), electricianing, tree felling, and the like. I ask lots of questions of people who know how, proceed carefully, beg, borrow, or buy tools as I can, and get help when I get stuck. I have also failed at times, needing costly bailout. But the need of this tribe member not to fail has compelled me to many paths, however so circuitous, to multiple successes. Because of properties of my personality (flaws?) I am not sure I would want to be so provided for that I had not learned all of these neat skills (unless it avoided plumbing, scraping paint, or completing a project after multiple nights after midnight). Therefore, I am thankful to God for the many, many times He has enabled me to provide for my family by a frugal rework of equipment I already possess. I could learn another way of just “Honey, call the plumber,” but that is not the path God has most usually called me to and I am content. I hope this present fix is just works at length.

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I awoke this morning with a number of thoughts rolling around in my mind. Of the ones that rose to the top, I skimmed off the following in a poem that came fairly quickly:

Running fast was once a thing
But now I have grown old
Working ’til the break of dawn
But now I early fold

Once I walked with heavy pack
Many miles in a day
Now I sit in rocking chair
Recalling hard won play

Recovery was quick then
Endurance that would last
Injury slight problem when
Healing would come so fast

Now there is strength in wisdom
Knowing when best to stop
Working smarter not harder
No need to be on top

Much there is I’ve yet to learn
New vistas I would see
But lack of energy
Means that I am not free

My good days are not done yet
Though now I slow the pace
My hope is not in sprinting
But finishing the race

If it were in my own strength
Long since I would have failed
For God is my provision
Or long since I’d have bailed

As life begins to wind down
Vigor begins to wane
Glimpses I see of heaven
Through a dimly lit pane

One day before God I’ll dance
I’ll sing and serve and praise
In His strength forever there
His glories I will raise

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With what are you struggling? Struggling with temptation is a matter of replacing it with something good and godly. I find that Romans 6:11 helps me to focus in times of temptation. Philippians 4:8 helps it to be less of a problem in the first place and less burdensome when happening. But what if the struggle is not a temptation but concerning a desire that you have thought to be a godly ambition? You pursue it, but thus far, to no avail. Patience and acquiescence to God’s will are certainly needed, but as platitudes they do not answer questions about how to proceed. So, here is how I am struggling:

My senses all say no
As do comments and circumstances
Whence comes this great desire
When all else says there are thin chances

To prayer I did devote
This ambition of which I now speak
Much counsel, plans I wrote
And God’s will in this matter I seek

How do I now proceed?
Exercise patience and longer wait?
More scrutiny it need?
Oh my mind and emotional state?

Is it time to give up?
To admit it was not in God’s will?
Accept this empty cup
As good providence rather than ill?

This I know above all
God is good and His will is the best
May stumble but not fall
Be bewildered but finally blest

I will continue on
Trusting God and in His guidance rest
Listening I will hone
Find His direction and pass the test

 

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Why Me? There are generally two ways to answer that question.

Why me? Why is this happening to me? What did I do wrong?

         Or…

Why me? What is God trying to teach me? How is He using these circumstances to guide me?

On a very pleasant, sunny afternoon my wife and I were preparing to go for a walk on our local Greenway. We were talking and enjoying conversation and she was understanding well. You see, she is a stroke victim and most days communication is poor and ponderous. We went to the car, talking away as we went. I distinctly remember enjoying the moment.

I pulled out of the driveway, looking both ways. In my blind spot a car had pulled up on the opposite curb. I looked in my rear side mirror and reacted just soon enough to dent his passenger door no more than about four inches. Two inches less and a toilet plunger would have fixed the problem, but the main beam was damaged and irrepairable. It was an expensive mistake.

Now two months later I was at the body shop paying for the repair. I had planned other business nearby. When I came out of the shop, my truck would not start. After a half hour cleaning the battery cable, I was underway, too late to do the other business I thought so important.

Why had all of this happened? Why was I prevented and redirected? What chain of events is God orchestrating for His glory and my benefit through these less than pleasant events?

I may never know, but I do know that the Scripture says, “The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9) I lived a good portion of my life frustrated by annoying sidetracks and roadblocks, but I have come to understand what the Psalmist means when he says, “It is vain to rise up early, to retire late, to eat the bread of painful labors; for He gives to His beloved even in his sleep.” (Psalm 127:2) I want to end my days trusting God, as the Psalmist says, “The Lord also will be a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble; and those who know Your name will put their trust in You. For You, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek You.” (Psalm 9:9-10)

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Man is a tool making animal (I only say in jest, since he is made in God’s image, and animal only by way of bodily similarity.). For repetitive, dangerous, or difficult jobs there is nothing like the right tool. I have been blessed with the use of many good tools and frustrated by the use of many inadequate and wrongly purposed tools. One item that I own and use that many people would not readily see as tool is my car. My 2007 Hyundai Elantra is not fancy, but it is nice, functional, easy and fun to drive, and dependable. It reached a milestone a few nights ago appropriately at the end of a trip over the mountains that we take frequently. In fact, we have probably taken this trip for more miles on this car than all the rest put together. Check out what happened.

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Coming of Age.

I hope this tool will function without major repair for another 50,000 miles. But how do you know when to trade it in? Will it go 500 more miles without major repairs needing to be done, or 5000, or 50,000? The engine runs very well and blows by no more oil than it did 100,000 miles ago. The front end will need reworked soon, but how soon? The clutch shows wear but no sense is it near an end.

I have had a tendency to drive vehicles until someone has to tow them to a junkyard (It has happened at least 4 times.) Is that frugality or poor timing? One was catastrophic engine failure that could not have reasonably been foreseen, but others were death by degrees and dollars. For all of the roadside or shade tree repairs I have had a number of dependable and useful vehicles. I don’t say cars, because pick-up trucks figured among 4 of the vehicles, along with 8 cars, that God has provided over my 41 years of owning vehicles.

I married into one, bought two from family and two from friends, and one was gifted new from my father. I had one repainted, which I also replaced the the differential for a higher torque, lower gear, 1 1/2 ton version. One I replaced the bed (or box, and the Canadian’s called it) with a wooden bed that carried twice as much firewood. On one I had the transmission rebuilt, another I helped a mechanic rebuild the transmission in his personal shop, and another I junked because rebuilding transmissions was expensive and odious to me by then.

I hauled children, luggage, firewood, gravel, trash, and trailers with cars, dirt, brush, wood, more trash, etc. I’ve hauled pianos, an enlarging camera, furniture, building materials of amazing variety, hay and straw, manure, for recycling household and oil products. I shouldn’t have started that list because I can’t finish it and it is already too long to be of any interest to anyone.

My experiences, needs, and personality drive me to prefer pick-up trucks and small cars with clutches. I don’t like the inside of my vehicles to be trashy or dirty nor the outside particularly ugly, but necessity above presentation and function above beauty.

All in all, I have been blessed by God with many useful tools of transportation for which I am thankful. In moments of repair frustration or roadside delay, I have not been emotionally up to this thanksgiving, but I know it is true. 200K on the newest one was an apt reminder of God’s goodness and provision.

 

 

 

 

 

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I had asked my fourth born son to come to town one weekend and go for a hike with me. It has been a long time since I have hiked with any of my children. He decided to invite a friend from college days. Since it is summer, I thought it would be nice to visit one of our adventuresome swimming holes at the base of Babel Tower in Linville Gorge. It is a steep hike down for two miles. I love to stand on top of the tower, which sits in a severe turn in the river and look down at about 60 degrees to the right and then the left to see the upstream and downstream legs of the river. After we looked around, we went down to the river where we swam, jumped, and sunned. My son waxed reminiscent about past trips that challenged and pleased us.

He said that he liked the other swimming hole we used to frequent better. We still have a lot of daylight; we could go to that one, too, he suggested.

So we hiked as quickly as we could back up out of the gorge. This brought on a discussion (when I had enough breath to talk) about how he and his brothers learned to hike fast, trying to keep up with dad. “I remember the very hike that it changed. You could no longer keep up with us. To be fair, my younger brother and I could not keep up with our older brother either.” But I am thankful to God that I can still hike, and especially since I had a knee injury seven months ago. I have not run since then and could not walk any distance or speed for many months because the back of my knee would swell. But this time I almost kept up.

We went on to Wiseman’s View and took pictures there and told stories. Then we started the car ride around the top end of the Gorge and down Hwy 181 to Mortimer Road and cut across to Wilson Creek in order to hike to Lower Harper Creek Falls. There are few swimming holes so versatile as this one. There are two pools separated by a gentle cascade that you may slide down seated. In the middle of this cascade is a pothole of four foot depth and diameter that the water swirls around in. You can stand in it and even submerge into an airspace under the falling water to hide. The upper pool is narrower and deep with a forty foot waterfall coming into it. Along side the falls you can run off the steep incline at about twenty-five feet up and hit the pool beyond the sloping rocks. The water is quite cold, but the rocks warm up nicely in the afternoon sun.

My son wanted to do everything that we “used to do”. I figured out that between the swimming and jumping and eight miles of hiking to three locations that I was exhausted. On top of that we took very little for lunch. My wife had a three pound roast and plenty of vegetables prepared when we arrived home. There were very few leftovers after three hungry men ate supper. I am thankful to God for the mountains and the health so far to enjoy them, the memories we have of playing there, and the opportunity to show them to others. I need to do more of that.

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I wonder if this is where the Babel Tower separated from the Gorge wall.

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Friend from college days hopping around on the Tower

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Hawk’s Bill and Table Rock

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Beautiful day for a hike with friends

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Upstream of the Tower just below the swimming hole

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Frequently you can see people on top, but I don’t today.

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The Tower has 100′ cliffs on one side and another 100+ foot drop to the river beyond that.

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Deep pool, various jumps, current, decently cold water

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It has been a wet season

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from Wiseman’s View

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Lower Gorge with Shortoff on the far downstream side

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Brings back memories; makes new ones.

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Lower Harper Creek Falls

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The cascade into the lower pool

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The way in and out to the upper pool

 

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I live in the present for a number of reasons. I like adventure, even if ever so small, so I seek out new experiences. I have never been able to attach times with events; I have a friend who can name the year, month, and frequently which day an event happened. I have discovered, save a few rare jewels, that few people want to hear about what happened long ago. But today at lunch a definite opening to the past came about and I related a story and asked my colleague to relate a similar experience, “What was the most interesting night you have ever spent backpacking?” She related that it was the first and last time she ever saw a porcupine. Part of her adventure was a lack of understanding at the time of how quills work, that is, how porcupines use them for defense.

I told of a night when it was snowing hard, large wet flakes at dusk and we were looking for an opening with a flat spot for our tent. We came down to a road where a man was checking his mailbox. My friends got into a conversation with him about the weather and camping sites. He offered his barn loft and we jumped at it. The loft smelled of hay but there was none other than a dusting on the floor. We swept the loft so we could start our cook stoves without burning the barn down. Svea stoves sound like small jet engines, so it drown out the windy storm for awhile. Candlelight caste eerie shapes and shadows on the rafters and slats. I took several time exposures with my film SLR. We told stories, read abit and lay down to a long winter’s slumber. It was a pleasant place to sleep not having the tent flapping in the breeze. The next morning it was in the upper teens. My wet boots had frozen overnight and were painful to put on and to walk. I am sure that  up on Whitetop Mtn. there were significant drifts, but there was dry snow here, too. I feel like I have experienced a small taste of what life used to be like when I have done things like sleeping in a barn. Of course, our forebearers didn’t have nylon sleeping bags and packs, or pre-packaged food or white gas stoves or SLR cameras, but they did live simply and sleep hard on occasions.

Telling this memory reminded me of other memorable nights in the woods. Once with another friend we spent the night in a forest of young, straight trees. It was hard to hang our packs with no branches within throwing distance of our cord, so we hung our packs between two small, understory trees with the bottoms of our packs hanging barely above our reach. It had been a very wet day and now set in for a foggy night. We may have napped an hour in our tent when we heard pack rattling noises. Our flashlights revealed three large cubs, perhaps even yearlings, taking turns climbing one of the small trees and jumping out to swipe at the packs. We had left the pockets unzipped so that any mice that managed the climb would simply enter rather than chew holes in our packs. This detail meant that the cubs’ swipes were effective at knocking out our granola and snack bars and meat packets, and so forth. Before they had done much damage to our food supplies or torn open any stuff sacks we were out of our tent yelling and banging tree trunks with sticks, to which they scurried into the rhododendron out of sight. After several exchanges of this kind we could see that they thought it was a wonderful game, but we were becoming more leery at the thought of mother bear being just out of sight ready to attack if our admonitions were not to her liking. Wearily and warily we decided that there was no help for it other than to start a fire under the packs to keep the cubs away and mother hidden from sight. It was the hardest fire I have ever started. My friend collected every potentially dry twig and leaf possible, from under rocks and under logs and in tree hollows. There was only relatively less wet; dry did not exist. With a little of our toilet paper, some white gas from our stove, many minute twigs and needles we somehow got a fire going, but keeping it going and drying wood in the smokey fire was just as hard. Walking most of the day with a pack on requires two things: lots of food and good sleep. We were not getting much of the latter. We took two hour shifts of keeping the fire going and sleeping in the tent. Some time during the wee hours the fog lifted to reveal a moonless, starlit, branch filled sky. It was perhaps the first time that I realized that the sky begins to lighten as early as 3 AM in the summer. What is not perceivable to the eye around light pollution is a wondrous sight to the dark adjusted pupil. We didn’t see the cubs again and can’t say with any assurance that mom was anywhere around, but our packs smelled of smoke for a long time after that.  

Another memorable night I spent on Camp Town Bald, which I think was renamed Viking Mountain. There are few fire towers left in the mountains and probably none used for their original purpose, but one of the larger ones stood on top of the Bald in the late ’70’s- I estimate 80+ feet tall. My most frequent backpacking partner and I camped at the base of it in the tall grass. After dark I mounted the tower to the deck above. The glassed in portion was locked so a sat down, curled up in my sleeping bag, leaning against the wall of the enclosed space. I had a wonderful time of prayer and singing hymns as I gazed over the lights in the valley and the stars above. I began to see flashes of lightning in the far distance, so I moved around to the other side of the cat-walk in order to watch the fireworks. Above the trees and over 5000′ elevation, I could see the storm many miles away. Now that I reflect on it, it was odd that the storm was coming from the East over the mountains moving toward me. Thunderstorms rarely come from that direction. The storm kept building in my direction until I figured that perching atop a metal tower in a thunderstorm was probably not the safest vantage point. Having such a grand view of it I feel sure that I abandoned my post in plenty of safe time, but my friend down below had been getting worried. This story doesn’t make for quite as interesting telling or hearing, but if you can envision the scene with its three kinds of lights and the opportunity to worship the Creator of all that is light and life and beauty, you may imagine the depth of peace and joy the situation brought to me.

For it is this same Creator who has saved me and given me purpose and a future with Him. He commands the thunderstorm and the snowstorm, sets the stars in their places, gives man shelter and provides all that he needs, grows the trees and provides for the bear cubs, and will extend to you grace also if you will acknowledge your sin and His Son’s work to put it away. Glory to God for His goodness and His benefits to those upon whom His grace abounds.

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