30 December 2008

Gates Pass

 


Here's a shot from the top of gates pass, looking back down over the desert valley. From here, it was about 200 -vertical - feet to the top of the pass.
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27 December 2008

Chill out!

No, this isn't about anger management. Just a really cold ride.

First day of training camp here in Tucson, AZ, and we rolled out for a 37 mile ride. The first ten or so miles was just rolling through the city towards Mount Lemmon, flat stuff, lots of traffic lights.

Mount Lemmon is a different story. It's a 26-mile climb with over 7,000 vertical feet. I should have known it was going to be bad when a sign said chains or four-wheel-drive was required above mile 8. Notice it says 'above,' not 'after.'

We only did the first five miles of the climb today, and it was all uphill. No flats. No downhills. Up, up, up. But the view was gorgeous. We entered Coronado National Forest, which appeared to be a forest of cacti and scrub brush. In fact, I'm pretty sure I saw five different types of cacti. Nasty stuff.

Honestly, this could be the most beautiful place I've ever been, including Guatemala. Up on the mountain, we could see the silhouettes of other mountains in the distance, and sun glancing off the roofs of houses down in the valley. The mountain is cut all over with canyons, and snowy mountain streams flow out of them.

On the way back down, we stayed between 30 and 35 mph. In the shade and 35 degree temps, it was freezing. It took me a good hour to stop shivering once we got back to base.

Now it's time for a hot shower and a warm bed...

26 December 2008

Friction of life

So I learned another lesson today: don't waste an hour in the Verizon store trying to get a phone fixed that isn't broke on your last night at home for six months.

I figured it'd be a quick fix, but I should have known it wouldn't be when the parking lot was overflowing. Dad said it would take an hour. It did. And it's my last night at home.

In two months, I'd lay down fifty bucks to spend half an hour with my family. My phone cost fifty bucks. And the time is worth way more than that.

21 December 2008

Walk in the park

Just got back from a hike in the Flushing Township Nature Park, and my fingers are still warming up: it's -13 degrees with the wind chill. The snow is beautiful, undefiled except for the tracks of a few brave squirrels.

When my nose is frozen, it's hard to imagine I used to run those trails shirtless, sweat stinging my eyes.

On the way back on the trail east of the meadow, the snow was knee deep in places. And the wind picked it up and spun it around out in the open, like a dust devil. Feels good to be in the house now, with homemade bean soup on the way...

17 December 2008

Some nut in his underpants

Here I am, in my own bed for the first time since June sixth. It's a little short, but it feels good. And it's sturdy, now that my dad has repaired the same frame my great-grandparents slept in way back when...

Since when did home become a vacation? Spending ten days here, where I grew up, wrestling with Luke, getting bear hugs from dad, and eating my mom's home cooking - it's the best vacation I could ask for right now. Why didn't I realize this sooner?

10 December 2008

Love song

You walk on waves
You run with clouds
You paint the sky
For me to see
Your majesty
Your majesty
Is why I sing...

... and this is my love song to you...
... my life is a love song to you...

We sang that at GODchasers tonight, and as I walked the tizo back to my dorm, looking up at the bright moon and stars, which shed just enough light on the mountains to see the snow... I couldn't help but sing it again.

It's so real.

It's so love.

01 December 2008

Three thousand words

Since I have no camera out here, this is the best way to describe what I saw tonight:

I headed up to my spnonsor's spare bedroom for a little Bible study/prayer, and when I looked out the window, I found myself amazed. The sun, hiding from me behind a cloud that seemed to run the length of the front range, peeked from underneath and set one of the foothill ridges aglow.

This orange glow quickly spread over the whole city, and the words of "God of this City" echoed through my head:

"Greater things have yet to come
Greater things are still to be done
in this city..."

Next, the sun lowered until it was right behind the summit of Pike's Peak, and for a brief minute, the mountaintop was covered in a hot white blaze, the rest of the mountains obscured to mere silhouettes.

Later in the evening, the sky turned black and a crescent moon shone down, joined by two stars. Under that long cloud, a deep blue sky now formed a band over the mountaintops, and the snow on their peaks still sparkled a little.

Our God is an awesome God.

28 November 2008

This is home

I've realized that home isn't a place - it's people. I don't miss my house; I miss my family. I feel safer under my father's roof than when I'm surrounded by security forces, fences, and gates. My mom's cooking is much better than the chow hall, and my brother makes a better roommate than anyone...

24 November 2008

Home


"I am ready to go home... I'm packin' my bags and I'm hittin' the road."

These past coupla days, those lyrics from Shawn McDonald have been echoing through my head. I haven't been home since late June, and even then only for two nights between mission trip and basic.

And I'm pumped: I can't wait to see my family and friends. And home cookin'... oh, home cookin'.

But there's something else there, too. I don't think it's strong enough to call it apprehension, but it's there. I wonder what things back home have changed.I wonder how much I've changed.

The fact is, I'm growing up, and I'm not sure I like it. Gone are the days when I stood in the garden in nothing but a diaper, a curious look on my face and a wiffle ball in my hand. Here are the days when I stand in uniform, a serious look on my face and hand raised in salute.

"Time
is a wheel in constant motion,
always rolling us along.
Tell me who
wants to look back on their youth and wonder
where those years have gone?"*

I'm content with where they've gone - and excited for where they're going.

* "I Hope You Dance" by Lee Ann Womack

20 November 2008

Aliens

Laying in bed last night thinking, I had to get up and write this.

I once talked to a Christian man with very strong political beliefs. The conversation turned to immigration, and he complained about how "the Mexicans" come into our country and refuse to learn our language.

But I am reminded of a scripture: "[God] defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing." - Deuteronomy 10:18

Are we loving the aliens as God does? Are we giving them food and clothing? Or are we expecting them to conform to our society, the very society that was built on diversity? Some may say they don't deserve the benefits of the society if they refuse to assimilate.

Then we don't deserve anything either. For although God has a brought us into a new land, full of grace, we often prefer to stay in our own, self-controlled land. In this land, we are aliens.

"And you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt." - Deuteronomy 10:19

13 November 2008

Decimals, pies, and zebras

Kaiao, Mike, and I went to the refugee's house again tonight - I fell asleep on the way there, since it was already dark. But I woke up to change into civies and stayed awake for the rest of the time. I brought up the pointlessness of Daylight Savings Time - a topic which had apparently been discussed at length while I slept.

When we arrived at the house, the Jehovah's witness ladies were there, and this time, a teenage girl was with them, helping the kids with homework, trying to explain to Pascal what decimals and rounding was. A graphic showing full bars and bars .9 of their height helped; I worked with him from there. It was difficult for him to see 3.9 as one number and not '3' and '9.' It took me a while to explain the difference between a decimal point and a raised dot used to indicate multiplication, but once he figured that out, we were home free.

Which meant we practiced English vocabulary - something he was very good at. When we got to the food section, we made frequent trips to the kitchen to point at what we were talking about: apparently there are no cherries or pears or - gasp! - pies in Burundi. So next time, I'll have to bring them a pie. It's Thanksgiving, all. And Pascal did know what 'gasp' meant. The man deserves a pie.

But when we got to animals, he knew exactly what zebras were. I asked him if he'd seen them in Africa, and he gave me a look like "Of course, you silly American." And lions and giraffes.

He had another opportunity to give me the 'silly American' look: ice skating. Since there's no ice in Burundi, I explained how we strap blades on our boots and slide around on the ice. I mean, when you think about, it is pretty silly.

But, silliness aside, there's something deeper here: this family had no time for ice skating or pies or even decimals. They had more important things to worry about. Namely, staying alive. They couldn't survive with distractions.

Can we?

05 November 2008

New Commander

There's an awful lot of consternation here over the election results: most conservative cadets don't really like the idea of a liberal president. And most Christians don't like the idea of one either, for reasons good and bad.

But, to me, it's not that big of an issue. On January 20th, he'll be my Commander in Chief, and I will back him, "for there is no authority except that which God has established... Consequently, he who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted." - Romans 13:1-2

And there is nothing to worry about: our hope is not in any human leader, but in God himself.

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. - Hebrews 6:19

26 October 2008

Different

As I watched this youtube video, I thought it was funny at first.

But then I realized how true it is of our society. When we see someone different, we avoid them; we don't want to be associated with them. Why?

Jesus constantly compares us to sheep, which are even dumber than goats. Even though the goat has only a small difference, and is the same as the other goats underneath, the goats do not recognize it as one of their own. How often do we do the same.

Lord, be our shepherd.

24 October 2008

First Shirt, First Snow


A USAFA tradition: at the first snow, the freshman take their squad first shirt and toss them into the snow. Meanwhile, the upperclassmen toss the freshman's rooms. Here are the results.

20 October 2008

Lost in the Fog

New running trails are always dangerous for me: I must always see what's around the next corner, where the trail leads if I keep going. That's not a huge problem if you have time and a direction reference.

But when you only have an hour and the fog covers everything outside one hundred feet, it can be a problem. I was running south, along a high ridge, wondering where the ridge ended, and where the trail led when it did. After forty-two minutes and 3.6 miles, I'm still not sure.

But God is good: his creation, even when covered with clouds, is beautiful. Running through the pine and scrub oak, I could see and smell a bit of fall - something I've missed from Michigan. And, running towards a point unkown, I had to trust that he would bring me back safely. Night falls quickly behind the mountains.

Eventually, I found a road, and it told me which way North Gate was, giving me my bearings once again. With only forty minutes until the start of BSU, I hitchhiked back up with a man who leads a different Bible study here. After a hot shower, I changed back into blues, refreshed and curious.

I'll be running back down there soon.

16 October 2008

Dreams for another man

Went to vist the refugees again tonight. But now refugees seems like the wrong word. It's not personal enough. 

I helped Vincent with Albert's homework tonight. I don't think Albert could have done it; it was even hard for Vincent. He's got a hunger for learning, a hunger I recognize and appreciate. Helping him study English makes me realize how difficult English is - he knows what a pot is, and he knows what a home is, but the concept of the short o in pot and the long o in home is lost on him. I suppose it was lost on me at first, too.

It's easy at first to underestimate these people's intelligence. But after talking to them for a while, you realize they are very intelligent: they know the answer; they just don't know how to express it in English. It's like a genius engineering major who can't explain his design in a way the builder can understand it. But Vincent wants to explain it, and he works hard to learn how.

As I sit there next to him, with his little brother, Jackson, running away giggling from my tickling fingers, I wonder what these boys will be: engineers? leaders? Pastors? ambassadors?

They have potential. If only the rest of the world could see it.

03 October 2008

FAC Memorial

I left after first period today with Cadet E and his grandfather, headed to the FAC memorial dedication.

Cadet E's grandfather was a FAC (Forward Air Controller) over Northern Vietnam. These men flew O-1's, pretty typical looking propellor planes. They had an 80% shootdown rate.

"It was really bad until we got smart," he said, "and started flying in formation, two planes at a time, one below and one above. That way, if they shot down the one below, they knew the one above would call in fighters."

He said one of his favorite men was Karl W. Richter, an Air Force legend - he's the youngest man to shoot down a MiG in combat, completed 100 missions, and signed up for another tour. He was shot down on his 198th mission.

"Instead of going home on his leave, he'd come down and fly with us," said Mr. E.

There was also a Medal of Honor winner at the memorial - he commanded the fast FACs, I believe. He was shot down, with his arm broken in three places during ejection. He was captured immediately, but escaped five days later. Without boots or flight suit, he made it back into the DMZ on a bamboo raft. Delirious, he wandered around for several days, within two miles of a Marine position. He was recaptured, and sent to Hanoi. He never gave up - he said today that his faith saved him; he knew nothing would separate him from the love of Christ.

I talked to him briefly - he was entirely humble. It was honor to salute him, although I made a blunder and forgot to at first. He was entirely gracious.

At the end of the ceremony, four F-16's flew over. As they came across the memorial park, a wingman split from teh group and went straight up, symbolizing the men who have died in the skies, leaving their wingmen behind to fly solo.

O, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth...

02 October 2008

At the risk of sounding like a nudist

"Evolution may explain how we came from apes, but it does nothing to explain why we wear clothes." - Donald Miller, Searching for God Knows What

Why do we wear clothes? To stay warm? Yes. But what about people who don't need clothes to stay warm?

"I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid." - Adam, Genesis 3:10

In ten verses, Adam and his wife go from being naked and unashamed to afraid of God.

Why? Because the glory of God is no longer shared with them. Now, they look at themselves, taking their eyes off their Creator, who made them in His image, and they see that the image is no longer Pure, no longer Holy.

And they are afraid.

So from this point on, we cover ourselves, trying to look better in the eyes of men. For God doesn't care what clothes we wear. "The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." - 1 Samuel 16:7

So, as I sit washing my clothes in the laundromat, I read this and think about it. Why does our society require that we wear clothes? Why do we care that society requires it?

[Don't worry. My clothes will stay on.]


30 September 2008

Up on the ridge

Here's the place I was talking about in my last post... I was up on the ridge to the right.
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29 September 2008

The High Countries

Sitting here, on a ridge that forms the side of a canyon, I can't hear a thing.

Not a single thing. Not a car, not another person, not even the wind.

I'm up around 11,000 feet, and I can see over the other side of the canyon, down onto the plain, and across the plain to the mountains on the other side, their tops swathed in golden aspens.

Soon, a bird lands on a nearby pine, and I can hear him touch the branch. The breeze picks up; I hear it blowing past my ears.

I praise God for this moment: so pure, so clear. Sitting here, I can't help but feel His presence, His peace. 

Why can't it always be like this?


25 September 2008

It's late, but I want to write this

Left after class today to head into the Springs, to the apartment of a refugee family from Burundi. First, we met up with Kelly, a staff member who coordinates the volunteer teams with refugee families, and followed her to the apartment after changing out of my uniform and into some civies.

The apartment complex remined me of Guatemala: cleaner, but the homey smell and the kids running around barefoot brought back memories. My mind, of course, switched to Spanish, and I had to force myself to speak in English.

Not that English helped much: The family, dad and mom and eight boys, speaks little English. The oldest boy, Laurent, speaks enough to get by, and he kind of translated for us. He also speaks French - which the Jehovah's Witnesses also knew, and used to conduct a "Bible study" with him and some other teens that came by. I'll have to do some research on Jehovah's Witnesses - they were in Tijuana, too.

Later, I helped Albert, the fourth youngest at seven years, with some English homework, teaching him the letters and their sounds as he spelled words like "cat" and "fish." He knew which words the pictures represented, but he didn't know how to spell them. English is a hard language to spell in - there are so many different sounds each letter can have.

Anyway, Albert knew very well the letters A, L, B, E, R, and T. He picked up on C pretty quick, too; most of the others I had to demonstrate. Took me back to Kindergarten with Mrs. Mick.

I can't believe how much joy these kids seem to have - they'd probably never seen anything outside the refugee camp before they came here. That has got to be some serious culture shock. Yet they show a desire to learn, a vigor for life.

This is going to be a lot of fun.


VECTOR

Vital Effective Character Development Through Observation & Reflection.

That's what it stands for, anyway. I did learn more than I expected.

A retired chief (the highest enlisted rank) ran the seminar - pretty cool guy, makes a lot of puns, but brings out the meaning in a lot fo things. We talked a lot about values and purpose - which I already had, but it's always a good talk. And a chance to bring up faith, since that is what I value most.

But what I'll remember most from today didn't come from the chief. It came from a Technical Sergeant, a "facilitator" at my table. Towards the end, he told us he always likes to come and see the cadets - to see the purpose and the dedication we have at such a young age. He thanked us, and wrapped up with this: 

"And you guys will be leading us in a few years." His eyes were misty.

23 September 2008

Just another day in paradise

After class this morning, I shuffled back to the squad and changed into bike gear: I had three hours before lunch, plenty of time for a ride.

So I rolled down out of USAFA, out into the foothills. I felt like a fugitive, rolling out of the gate during the school day. But I had plenty of time and nothing to do, so why not ride up and down hills for an hour and a half?

Off base, I climbed into the foothills for a good seven miles, rolling through suburbs and forests, past ranches and ranch houses. I saw an old man trek up the hill to his mailbox, carefully place a letter in, and carefully make his way back down to the house.

As I rolled past, I caught his smell: that familiar and comforting smell that grandparents seem to acquire. As I rode on, I wondered: who are this man's grandchildren? Who was his letter to? And what was he like when he could run up the hill to the mailbox? Maybe I'll see him again.

When I topped out on the climb, I turned back towards the mountains and flew down into the valley. Rolling at forty or so, I looked up at Pikes, topped with snow, and at the pines that lined the road. Our God is an awesome God.

And then I rode back up onto the hill, showered, and called minutes for lunch, refreshed and sore, calmed and excited.

When can I do it again?