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You are currently browsing articles tagged Experiences.

Occasionally, I travel as part of my work experience.  Sometimes, this only involves cubes and conference rooms – replicas of the same florescent lights on ceilings and projected lights on screens that can be found at my office in Round Rock with only hurried and dehumanized flights connecting these two worlds.

IMG_8738When possible, I attempt to decelerate these express expeditions and mix in some soul-renewing exploration of my interim environment.  I was blessed in this way on a recent business trip to San Francisco when afforded an afternoon and evening tour of the town.

The first segment of the journey was a walking tour of the Fisherman’s Wharf. As we made our way to the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park and back, our scavenger hunt rewarded _MG_0048us with shops, street performers, and the beautiful bay as a stage with backdrop views of the distant Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge upstaged by dozens of dancing sailboats and flying fowl – actors performing for the audience on the shore.

Our tour was interrupted by an exhilarating race back to the airport to deliver one of our business associates but we were soon retracing our steps back into town arriving in Haight-Sudbury just as twilight was kissing the lawn at Golden Gate Park. As we descended into the gated tunnel that dove under a major thoroughfare to the expanded park on the other side, we were greeted by two distinct groups.

The first appeared to be large numbers of beer/fun-loving college students on the lawns playing kick/baseball with immense (and boisterous) zeal. The other community was street people, huddling in small, scattered groups at the base IMG_8830of the park’s trees and on the sloping berm. I inadvertantly offended a group of them by creating a photo of their tree-home as they reclined in their pseudo-family room. I politely apologized and demonstrated to them the deletion of the image which was rewarded with a tenuous forgiveness of my uneducated, tourist behavior.

Despite the much larger, more mainstream crowd in the park, as the remnant of pale, orange dusk surrendered to the blue-black of night, I couldn’t help but imagine these less idealist, more junkie predecessors of San Francisco’s past hippie lineage as the Morlocks in H. G. Wells’ time traveler’s voyage into the future. The tunnel gate was locked as we returned providing ample evidence that some concern was not unreasonable and we were glad to re-emerge onto a reasonably lit up Haight Street just as Apollo parked his chariot and went to sleep beyond the horizon.

Our brief walking tour of Haight from the park to Ashbury and back was met with more people of street and groups of young teens and twenty-somethings looking for places to party. We ventured into some of the few shops that remained open and continued to collect photo treasures commemorating our atypical adventure through this slightly bizarre world.

Leaving the Haight, we drove up Stanyan to Geary, cut over to Park Presidio Boulevard, taking CA-1 through the tunnel and connecting to 101 catapulting us through the Golden Gate Bridge into Sausalito. We stumbled upon an amazing Italian restaurant called Caccivcco Cucina Toscana where we engaged in a wonderful dinner complete with old-world wine and multi-cultural conversation until closing called us again to carry on our quest of the San Francisco night.

IMG_8924bReturning the way we came and crossing 101 onto Conzelman Road, we found a lookout area and took a few photos of the bridge. We tried to explore some other angles further up but the road was closed. Returning, however, we discovered a ridge with a path to the best lookout area of all. It was quite cold and very dark but we made our way out to the point and took the best photos of the bridge using some of the wood railing as a make-shift tripod.

It was two in the morning as we glided back across the bridge, filled our gas tank and purchased some snacks. Before heading home, we  made one final stop at the IMG_8929bPalace of Fine Arts which is incredibly beautiful at night. We took Beach to Divisadero and returned south to Haight coasting through its much calmer and near empty neighborhood to Octavia and the 101 South toward San Jose. We were tired but soul-satisfied with our adventure as we pulled into the Hotel around three.

I worried during this safari that I was perhaps imposing on my traveling companion, especially with the wonderful weirdness of the Haight-Ashbury scene. IMG_8868On our flight back, however, as we reviewed the images, he was thanking me – and clarifying that his appreciation was especially for the visit to the hippie center of the universe – precisely because it was a world he would likely not have explored otherwise. It is certainly not the culture of our corporate cubes and we could feel a bit of trepidation about it while still admiring the free-spirited diversity – yet there is more than that. Perhaps the angst is not caused by a concern that we might be hurt by the occupants – but more that there is a part of our soul that connects with this chaos. If we are stepping cautiously on these sidewalks, taking care not to slip off the curb, its perhaps a minor phobia that we might slide uncontrollably into the strange society unable to climb back into our comfortable illusion of a managed and successful life. The values of this world and the values of our own are designed for those who occupy them and are understandably uncomfortable to tourist.  Still, to explore this quickened heartbeat – that is good for the soul.

View the photo album on Facebook or since higher resolution on the version on Flickr.

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train2Living in Hutto, one can’t help but experience the joy of trains – to the point that joy ceases to be the experience.  Since the town is divided by railroad tracks, encountering trains is pretty much a daily occurrence.  The audio tracks, pun intended, play their rap every quarter hour for those who live close enough.  Paul Simon recorded a song with the refrain, “Everybody loves the sound of a train in the distance. Everybody thinks it’s true”.  I’m not quite sure what he meant by everybody thinks it’s true but I can assure you that whatever he meant, it is not true that everybody loves the sound of a train, even in the distance.

It was this very thought that tunneled into my mind along with the train that accompanied it at about two this morning as I was having trouble sleeping.  We are fortunate to be far enough away as to not notice the sound most of the time but lying awake in the quiet sleeping house is not one of those times. 

train1I begin to think about what nuisance these trains were as the sound of the train invaded my consciousness. There is no station here in Hutto.  They are not delivering or picking up cargo or passengers.  There is no partnership with the city.  Trains push through town bringing traffic to a halt and interrupting life with noise, yet they give nothing to the town. If you know anything about the railroad, you will know that they have huge power to do whatever they want – they are not under city, county or state jurisdiction.   There are many crossing improvements that the railroad could make for this town of 20,000 that has the same number of crossings that it did when it only had 600.  While the tide of trains through town is regular and frequent, improvements are slow to roll into town if they come at all.

Then I got to thinking that people are like this in many ways.  Unless the people we encounter become passengers on our train, provide cargo we care about or are meeting us at one of our scheduled stops, we are usually just rolling through.  In our busyness, we are moving too fast to stop, we have our schedule to keep, and I’ll be gone 500 miles when the day is done.  I think we all understand this reality and we don’t think about it much.  

Perhaps this phenomenon is a necessity of life, which by nature has a point of origin and a point of destination and the rails in between cannot help but be travelled each and every day.  Occasionally we lament just like Steve Goodman did – “Half way home, we’ll be there by morning.… And all the towns and people seem to fade into a bad dream.…this train’s got the disappearing railroad blues”.  We come to these places in the night and wonder about the switches in the tracks we didn’t take, knowing we are half way home and watching the rail fade away seemingly faster with each hour heading down to the sea and the morning light.  Perhaps, we don’t think about it much because we just can’t bear it and we’re maybe a little scared of that final termination point. So we clear our minds and drop into the tunnel of sleep that emerges into bright daylight, the stoking up of engines, and a new day’s journey where the noise and heat of the rails overcome those quiet evening thoughts.

We certainly cannot be God and know each and every passenger, visit every town, haul all cargo. We must choose.  In some sense, we don’t even really do that.  We are more like passengers riding this rail for the first time knowing very little about where the rail will take us or what the odyssey will bring.  Yet most of us act as if we are in complete control and like we own the railroad. We’d be wise to talk to those who had gone before us and even more so to the conductor who is always singing his song for us again hoping we will refrain from our assumed control of his job and would instead enjoy the ride and the interactions that come to us.

Perhaps our difficulty stems from our preoccupation with trying to run the railroad of our life when we are really only passengers.  Jesus clearly had a purpose and was focused on it yet every interaction along the path was savored and given attention.  He said things like – I only do what my Father tells me to do. So, if he found that God had put him alone at a well with a Samaritan woman – he demonstrated God’s love to her. If the Pharisees setup a trap for him by exploiting an adulterous woman, he loved them both enough to rescue them from the error of their ways without condemning either of them for their treachery. If a Centurion’s daughter needed healing, he would heal her while encouraging this “heathen” that he was actually a man of faith and simultaneously helping the assumed faithful realize their need for His faith.

If anyone’s track of life was well predicted, it was our Lord’s.  There are over 300 prophecies concerning Jesus that he fulfilled.  He was clearly aware of these too for he told men such as John the Baptist to perform actions they thought unnecessary for Jesus – because “it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness”.  Jesus knew God’s vision for His life and was totally focused on it yet able to say in the same prayer both, “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.”, and, “I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word.”  Purpose and people always went hand-in-hand with him.

Perhaps, if we will rest from “working on the railroad…all the live-long day”, we could realize that these interactions with other passengers is our primary work.  We aren’t meant to “work on the railroad…just to pass the time away.  We are passengers with a purpose on a specific track, on a specific run, on a specific train.  We can rest in our work when we let God do his, when we avoid lamenting about those tracks and trains we can’t ride and when we instead embrace in love those he has given us as we ride the rail of our life.  Jesus was known for the way his love impacted other people and the life he lost, trusting God to raise him up.  If we will be his disciples, we will have to give up our life to make time for Jesus to impact the lives of other people through us. Faith is trusting God that is we lose our life, he will resurrect us.  This is what it is to deny ourselves daily, pick up our cross and follow Jesus.

As I wrote this, the rumble and ruckus of another train builds as it comes from the distance soon to diminish in the dark of the night on the other side of our town.  The whistle blows to warn passengers it is crossing our path and for us, these are the only interactions.  But for those riding the train, I hope there is much more as the expedition continues. 

Lord, help me to rest in the joy of being a passenger on the train you have put me on.  Keep me from wasting too much time staring out the window into the darkness or the whizzing-by world of wishful thinking. Help me trust you who knows the tracks and the course and the power of the engines of my life – that you have all that worked out and I can add nothing to it.  Help me to enjoy the freedom you’ve given me in your rest in Jesus – to enjoy the companionship of the fellow passengers you’ve given me on this unique voyage of my life.  Help me bring you glory in the awesome work of my life, living in Christ and loving and encouraging those you’ve given to me.  Dear friends, get ready, there’s a train a coming, You don’t need no baggage, you just get on board. Don’t need no ticket, you just thank the Lord.

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Getting back into the swing of things after the holidays is a bit daunting – trying to recall the next steps on projects that I had let slip into the back corner in the basement of my mind.  This year, I think I put a few sacks of dirt on top of them too.  But it is good to begin to re-establish some routine – especially where the children are concerned.

The routines I most missed by the intrusion of the holidays were the weekly gatherings with friends that keep me going.  So I was excited that our weekly fellowship kicked off again this evening with dinner at the Texan Café in Hutto. I decided this afternoon to also invite all my new Facebook friends to this upcoming event with my old friends in hopes of enticing a few of them to join us.

Hutto’s festive but rural downtown area is a relaxing place to meet friends for comfort food and cozy conversation.  How many scenes in scripture center around Jesus breaking bread with his friends or even sinners?  Food and fellowship are meant to go together. Some of the best desserts in the region with a great cup of hot coffee make for a perfect finish.  The blackberry cobbler is heavenly except for the seeds getting stuck in your teeth.  How blessed to meet again in this new year with the friends we’ve been parted from during the holidays and to have friends from my Facebook invite show up as well.


As we met tonight discussing our holiday activities, resolutions for the new year, current trials and blessings, I was struck by the reality of the presence of Christ amongst us.  One of our friends shared an insight about his holiday connections on Facebook.  He told us how sad he was to discover that most of the old friends from his Catholic school growing up now claim to be atheist in their profiles.  Religion is so bereft of life. 

But religion is not what we at the Texan Café tonight share.  We know Jesus Christ who loved us and gave himself for us.  He has become our very life so we are not just friends as we sup, but true brothers and sisters – children of the Most High, God – and we call him Father.  Because of this, I have a real place, a true family, and significance in all of my life.  I do not have to look for miracles or significance – it is right here with me in the midst of this family of mine, eating at the Texan Café in Hutto of all places.  What we share in this single moment connects us with each other and God for all eternity.

A few nights ago, an old friend of mine that I’ve known for 30 years and who now lives in Arizona opened a chat session with me on Facebook.  We talked for awhile about activities, jobs, family, kids – all the stuff you need to know to catch up when you haven’t visited for many years.  This dear friend has been on my heart many times in my life.  Her journey has had more harsh terrain than most of us.  When I first knew her, we were only kids and, while religion was some small part of our upbringing, we did not know Christ.

Later in my life, God blessed me to reveal his son in me and I have been walking with him now for about 25 years.  Suddenly, in the midst of discussing thirty years of disconnected life, my Arizona friend confided that she is seeking to know God and asks me if I would be willing to provide some guidance. We discussed it for a bit, chatting back and forth, sharing the confusion of our religious heritage compared to the peace, freedom, love, and joy that are available in Christ Jesus.  I shared with her the awe and acceptance I felt when I read the words of Jesus discovering he loved sinners while the only groups he was ever harsh with were the pride-filled, ultra religious who kept men from having relationship with God.

After making some recommendations for her and we agreeing to continue our discussion later, I went to bed praising God for this shared moment and praying for my friend.  Tonight, as I sat and broke bread with my local friends, I came away even more urgently pleading with God for this woman.  Many of the people at dinner tonight have had very difficult roads in life too.  Some are going through them now – but they have something my Arizona friend does not have.  They have fellowship with our Father and with brothers and sisters.  They also carry with them the gift of the secret things of God – that Jesus Christ has been resurrected in them as their very life.

I pray that this gift – this new, eternal life and family will soon reside in the heart of my long-loved Arizona friend.  I pray that anyone reading this blog who lives in the shadow life deprived and longing for true relationship, significance, joy and peace will accept this gift as well.  If we never get a chance to meet for comfort food and cozy conversation at the Texan Café in Hutto, I hope we can meet as brother and sisters at our Lord’s banquet table eternally basking in the glory of our Father who loves us.  There, religion and all other confusions have long been forgotten.  And on that day, if we want it, I think perhaps we might even have blackberry cobbler that doesn’t leave seeds stuck in our teeth.

Take a moment and comment – let me know what you think about this entry: the good, the bad, the ugly.

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