Epiphany #83

Sometimes God brings people into our lives forever, sometimes it is for a few years, sometimes it’s a season and sometimes it’s a month.

I don’t know why God works the way He does. But I can say this: He knows what we need, and I can say with certainty that He knows how to cross our paths with others so all may mutually benefit.

Thank You, Lord.

A difficult, yet necessary, changing of seasons in Year 31

The number of leaves falling from the maple tree in my yard will increase exponentially in the coming days and weeks.

The number of leaves falling from the maple tree in my yard will increase exponentially in the coming days and weeks.

Autumn reflects the process of deciduous trees losing their greenery and hunkering down for an upcoming cold season, and my life is going through an autumn of sorts itself.

Autumn is a season of beauty for a short time, as we get to enjoy the colors of leaves turning and the radiance they bring about our neighborhoods. It is a truly gorgeous portion of nature that I enjoy, yet at the same time realize those leaves will be gone as they are dying. Not to mention, the unenviable task remains of cleaning them up so our street doesn’t flood.

The autumn seasons of life — and I believe we have many of them — are similar in function, bringing forth a desire to brace for a season of life that one can feel will be incredibly difficult.

I don’t know how I know that it will be difficult, but I just do. My soul feels it, my body feels it and my mind is making preparations for it.

As such, many changes are taking place.

I’ve been coming to terms with the continued contraction of my social circle. I know a lot of people, but I don’t truly know a lot of people, and that is by choice. That’s not a bad thing, but rather a reflection of what happens in life as some friends who were once close just gravitate further apart simply because of where life is taking them.

It happens to everyone. Friends get married, have children, get involved in things that require intense time commitments (work, anyone?) — and due to all that, end up with a slightly different perspective on life that you once shared before. That slight perspective change brings forth a giant dynamic shift.

As I get older, I seek friendships and relationships that have a meaningful and redeeming value for all parties involved. I am not content to simply have acquaintances that I spend small amounts of time with, but instead I want to be able to benefit them in some way, with a home I receive a blessing in return.

As such, the people I meet and connect with instantly and consistently are much more treasured to me than they would have been in years past. I hold my smaller group of friends in a higher regard than I would have held a large group of friends in my early 20’s, if that makes any remote amount of sense.

Part of this stems from a new facet of life, and that has happened since I learned to live with myself over the past year. I’ve been able to increasingly be okay with not being noticed. Gone are the days of seeking adulation from many, and in their place has swept in an era of being just fine with

This autumn season of my life has me finding myself more content in silence. I’m becoming increasingly okay with grabbing a book, sitting down to read in front of an open window while rain falls down. There’s something cathartic about it.

Speaking of catharsis, I’ve needed a sort of emotional release. I have lately been extending myself too much in activities, work and more — and I’m finding it is perfectly fine to say no to some people who ask me to partake in commitments that would ultimately cause me unneeded amounts of stress, although the tasks I would do could be beneficial to many people.

Being in my 30’s has placed me in an interesting spot. The 30’s are considered by many to be the “prime time” of one’s life, but at the same time you’re expected to make more adult decisions than you ever have. It’s a time that so far has forced me to take a quiet personal inventory and be okay with where life is taking me.

One thing is for sure: I’m not going to enjoy winter, but then again, winter passes and then spring will come afterward. I just hope this winter will be shorter than most.

Two days, two centuries: My first-ever Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic

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No one greeted me at the finish line.

Despite the crowds cheering on the sidelines as I rode in a cadre of fellow cyclists into Holladay Park in Portland, the end of a 202-mile, 15-hour cycling journey in the Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic was rather anticlimactic as I set my bike down, picked up my finisher badge and moved on.

Instead, it was every single second, every pump of the pedals, every inch forward that made the pilgrimage worthwhile.

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Travelogue: Harry’s Ridge and Truman Trail at Mount St. Helens

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It is no secret that I am endlessly fascinated by Mount St. Helens.

That fascination has led me to the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, about an hour and fifteen minutes away from my home, three times so far this year. Saturday, I took the opportunity to drive there again, but this time wanted to hike to Harry’s Ridge to get what I thought would be an unrivaled view of the volcano.

I loaded up the car and headed south on Interstate 5, then south again on state Route 505 through Toledo and out past Toutle, eventually connecting with state Route 504 and leading me to Johnston Ridge Observatory. From there, my hike began and would take me the majority of Saturday to complete.

Only the penitent man shall pass!

Only the penitent man shall pass!

There were not too many people on the trail on Saturday, even though it was Memorial Day weekend. Most stayed behind at the Johnston Ridge Observatory, which was the starting point for my hike that I initially planned to only entail the 8.3-mile loop to Harry’s Ridge and back.

Of course, with narrow passageways and a bit of elevation gain throughout the area, a good portion of the trail was not for the young or the not-so-sure-footed to hike.

Don't lose your footing on the Boundary Trail. This can be a dangerous area.

Don’t lose your footing on the Boundary Trail. This can be a dangerous area.

The trail to Harry’s Ridge opens up, and although it temporarily takes you out of view of Mount St. Helens, you get to see some snow-capped peaks such as Coldwater Peak in the distance.

Hiking toward Harry's Ridge. There are many inclines on the way there.

Hiking toward Harry’s Ridge. There are many inclines on the way there.

Keep climbing upward and you’ll eventually come to the Harry’s Ridge trail that takes you to the viewpoint on top the giant ridge. You’ll know you’re getting close when Spirit Lake comes into full view — it looks vastly different than it did May 17, 1980.

A view of Spirit Lake, a brand-new body of water that remains fragile.

A view of Spirit Lake, a brand-new body of water that remains fragile.

Keep walking up the Harry’s Ridge trail and soon you’ll come to an overlook that gives you a grand view of Mount St. Helens directly facing the north side of the mountain, where the lateral blast came from. It’s a great view of the volcano, even when obscured by clouds. It still gives one a great perspective of just how much of the mountain was blown away in the eruption, and it’s mind-boggling to see it from this angle.

The view from Harry's Ridge. Unfortunately, it would be awhile before the clouds would disappear.

The view from Harry’s Ridge. Unfortunately, it would be awhile before the clouds would disappear.

I ended up making decent time, motoring up the ridge from the starting point at Johnston Ridge Observatory in just under 1 hour, 30 minutes.

Made it!

Made it!

The views to the east are spectacular. On a clear day you can see Mount Adams, but even on a cloudy day you can get a view of the picturesque Spirit Lake area and the regeneration still taking place.

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A phone panorama of Spirit Lake, untouched by human hands since 1980.

Once I came down from the ridge, I wasn’t satisfied with my hike for the day. The mountain had been enshrouded in clouds, and even though there is MUCH more than just the mountain to see at the monument, I needed more. So off I went to the Truman Trail, on a journey that would take me through the heart of the blast zone.

Truman Trail begins. You can begin a hike around the mountain from here.

Truman Trail begins. You can begin a hike around the mountain from here.

About a mile into the Truman Trail, the sun began to burn off the clouds. Could it be that I could see the whole crater from the north for the first time in my life?

As I got closer to the mountain, the clouds began to burn off.

As I got closer to the mountain, the clouds began to burn off.

Looking good so far…and just a few minutes after I took that last picture, lo and behold, there stood Mount St. Helens in all her devastated glory.

Fifteen minutes after that last shot, the clouds were gone.

Fifteen minutes after that last shot, the clouds were gone.

The Truman Trail winds its way around several hummocks, small hills and trees — even traversing small streams a few times — before leading hikers into a pumice plain. Welcome to the core of the blast zone.

The mountain looms over the pumice plains.

The mountain looms over the pumice plains.

Stop and take a look to the west, and you can see signs of life. A stream feeds Spirit Lake, surrounded on both sides by vegetation that is beginning to take root and sprout up in the years following the eruption.

A look back reveals new life inside the blast zone. Incredible to see the recovery after just 34 years.

A look back reveals new life inside the blast zone. Incredible to see the recovery after just 34 years.

The further you hike down the Truman Trail, the closer you get to the mountain and the more impressive the view becomes. Before too long, Loowit Falls is visible — a waterfall on the edge of the crater created by snowmelt inside the mountain.

A man ahead of me...

A man ahead of me…

The hike along Truman Trail leads one along several areas teeming with plant life and fauna as well.

The hike along Truman Trail leads one along several areas teeming with plant life and fauna as well.

Getting closer.

Getting closer.

As mentioned before, plant life is coming back along the trail. Red paintbrush is abundant along several areas of the path, and the color reminds one to stay on the path and not veer off it — these plants are, once again, very fragile.

Red paintbrush is in bloom, and plentiful close to the volcano.

Red paintbrush is in bloom, and plentiful close to the volcano.

The Truman Trail alternates passing through landscapes of rock and vegetation, also leading people through small creeks. The closer you get, the more rockfields you navigate through. The trail becomes much more narrow and begins to be delineated only by large posts that show you the general direction in which to travel.

More navigating through rocks.

More navigating through rocks.

Small trees like this are few and far between, but it is encouraging to see them begin to pop up again.

Small trees like this are few and far between, but it is encouraging to see them begin to pop up again.

Another look back shows just how far one has come, along with giving a rather impressive view of Spirit Lake surrounded by smaller mountains.

Foreground: A hummock. Background: Spirit Lake.

Foreground: A hummock. Background: Spirit Lake.

The trail passes a neat geological feature in which a mud and water flow had carved a passageway from the mountain. Seeing Mount St. Helens in the background and this in the foreground made me wonder what kind of force the eruption blasted the valley floor with.

Amazing to see the path carved by a water and mud flow down from Mount St. Helens.

Amazing to see the path carved by a water and mud flow down from Mount St. Helens.

The walking path hugs the edge of the bank.

The walking path hugs the edge of the bank.

I checked my watch just after 6 p.m. and noticed I was still 2 miles from Loowit Falls. I wouldn’t quite make it out there, but I was satisfied with a hike that brought me the closest to the north side of the mountain that I had ever been. I turned around, but before I left I grabbed my Canon camera and got a shot of the mountain before clouds began to cover it again.

One final look back at the massive mountain, and again it is amazing to see the lava dome in the middle.

One final look back at the massive mountain, and again it is amazing to see the lava dome in the middle.

The way back is just as scenic as the way to the mountain.

Which way to go?

Which way to go?

Parting shot from the Truman Trail before daylight ends.

Parting shot from the Truman Trail before daylight ends.

Stopped for a quick shot with my Canon T2i.

Stopped for a quick shot with my Canon T2i.

It was fitting to see a sunset right before I returned to my car at the Johnston Ridge Observatory parking lot at 9 p.m. After 16.78 miles, I needed to rest my feet and I did so as I watched the sun go down. It was also fitting that I was one of the last people there that evening, just hours after the parking lot had been so full that I needed to park far from the observatory’s entrance.

The sun sets over my hike. I knocked out 16.78 miles in total!

The sun sets over my hike. I knocked out 16.78 miles in total!

If you want to hike to these points beyond the Johnston Ridge Observatory, note that you’ll need to bring a few supplies. There is no water source along the trails, so a hydration pack is the best option. Carry some food as well (I carry a massive supply of granola bars), and invest in some good hiking boots and trekking poles. The poles will prove invaluable throughout the hike.

Nights over Chehalis

The moon shines brightly over a field just off Airport Road in Chehalis, Washington on the evening of May 1, 2014.

The moon shines brightly over a field just off Airport Road in Chehalis, Washington on the evening of May 1, 2014.

Travelogue: Hiking the Boundary Trail to Johnston Ridge Observatory

Mount St. Helens is seen from the Johnston Ridge Observatory on Saturday, April 12, 2014.

Mount St. Helens is seen from the Johnston Ridge Observatory on Saturday, April 12, 2014.

The weather here in the Pacific Northwest was absolutely gorgeous yesterday, so I traveled to the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument and took full advantage of it.

I drove from my home in Lewis County to the Hummocks Trail parking area, a trip of roughly an hour and 15 minutes covering 60 or so miles. I set out on the Hummocks Trail before taking an eastward turn on the Boundary Trail to reach my end goal, the Johnston Ridge Observatory. Bear in mind the Observatory is closed until mid-May each year, but hikers are welcome to come on through and utilize the trail system.

I spoke with a friendly staffer from the U.S. Forest Service when I reached the observatory’s parking lot, who noted the extreme lack of snow at a place that normally has a few feet well into May. He and I chatted for a bit and he told me some good routes to take if I ever wanted to hike beyond the observatory. I will within a couple months and will post photos of it when I do.

All in all, the hike was a 12-mile round trip that climbed about 1,800 feet. I took the closed State Route 504 back, with the Forest Service staffer’s permission, which added 2 miles on the return trip. My feet were sore when it was over, but it was well worth it, as you’re about to see.

Here’s the activity summary from Strava:

Photos after the jump!

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On the death of snake-handling preacher Jamie Coots

This afternoon, I read about the death of Jamie Coots, a snake-handling Pentecostal preacher made famous by a cable TV show and pastor of a rural Kentucky congregation.

For those who do not know, Jamie Coots was bitten by a snake and died Saturday evening after refusing medical care, according to CNN.

Reactions across the Internet have varied — some ridicule the man and say he had it coming if he was messing around with snakes that long, others just laugh at the absurdity and still others just shake their heads.

(Before you continue, if you’re unfamiliar with snake handling, check out a pretty decent Wikipedia article that explains it a bit.)

I find no humor in the fact a snake-handling preacher died of a snakebite. In fact, my personal reaction was one of great sadness.

First and foremost, death is a very sobering thing. That is a God-breathed human being that has lived on this earth for a time, and now his time has ended. Mr. Coots has left behind a family who will likely grieve for a long time. That is a terrible, terrible thing and my heart goes out to them.

Secondly, and the discussion turns practical here — Mr. Coots died after refusing medical care. Medical professionals were available and on hand to help if they had the okay. They did not. Mr. Coots held on to a belief that God would bring him through, and he held on to it until he died. His death was needless, for all practical purposes.

Thirdly, the Christian faith requires a good deal of common sense. Snake-handling is essentially Russian roulette with a religious fervor, and at some point the bullet is going to fire by random chance. Jesus did not call on us to take chances with our lives to prove His power or grace. In this situation, nothing has been proved and everyone loses.

Fourth, and speaking of everyone losing, the wide circulation of this story across the Internet feeds a negative perception of Christianity as a whole. I know Mr. Coots pastored a somewhat small congregation and it’s obvious to many in the Christian faith that the snake-handling brand of Christianity is not representative of the faith as a whole. But it still “feeds the beast” if you will among nonbelievers, and I can assure you many atheists and non-Christians alike are having a field day with this story.

Fifth, I don’t really see snake-handling as an evangelistic tool. That sounds weird, but the Great Commission from Jesus is to go and make disciples of people in the world. I’m not sure that the death of a preacher who believed that a snake bite would not harm God’s anointed people will bring people to Christ — and I’d venture to guess there are some in his own church that have their own faith shaken from the incident.

And finally, the hits just keep on coming for Christians whose views are not represented by folks like Mr. Coots. It wasn’t long ago that young-earth creationist Ken Ham got absolutely blasted by thousands of people across the Internet, many of whom were Christians who are trying to find a way to reconcile their Creationist view with science. Ham did nobody any favors then, and this story isn’t doing Christianity at large any favors now. Nonbelievers — especially those who have made up their minds that there is no God — have been armed to the teeth recently with reasons to abhor the Christian faith, and it’s people within Christianity that have given them that ammunition. That is a hard pill for me to swallow.

Did Mr. Coots love Jesus? I think it’s pretty obvious from some footage taken of him that he did. Did he lead people to the Lord? It’s very plausible that he did. After all, his church wasn’t all about snake handling. It’s unfortunate, sad and needless that the practice caused the death of a preacher whose life could have continued on to essentially bring more people to the knowledge of Jesus Christ.

On a personal note, I tend to keep things a bit simple with my faith. My faith is grounded in a belief that Jesus Christ simply has a will for each and every one that believes in Him to preach the Gospel, choose self-denial over selfishness, make it to heaven and show others the way to get there too before you breathe your last bit of air.

The less extracurricular stuff, the better. I never liked snakes anyway.

Home never felt so good

Posted on Wednesday, January 8th, 2014 | 3 Comments
The Chronicle building in downtown Centralia, Wash. is illuminated on the evening of Jan. 7, 2013.

The Chronicle building in downtown Centralia, Wash. is illuminated on the evening of Jan. 7, 2013.

I’m home again.

I arrived in Centralia, Washington on Saturday after three days of driving and 31 hours of total time behind the wheel. The journey brought me from Springfield, Mo., on Thursday to a city just over 2,000 miles away — and it puts me 50 miles from full circle once again.

It feels just a little bit surreal that I am actually here. Over my two years in Springfield, I began to foster an intense fondness for the Northwest that I never knew I had. I missed my home like never before, but at the same time I knew I would return someday.

While it feels surreal to be back, it’s been very calm. My return has been carefully planned out, and I’m working once again for the newspaper I once served for two years from early 2010 to early 2012. My first day of my “second term” as a print reporter at The Chronicle went well, with me writing a couple briefs and interviewing a few folks for stories.

It is necessary to take a moment and reflect on my time in Springfield. While I missed the Northwest more than ever, I developed many friendships in the Queen City of the Ozarks that I will carry with me for years. Over a two-year period, I matured greatly and much of that was thanks to friends who were not afraid to speak some sense to me at times (Aaron B., I’m looking at you in particular).

On Sunday, I went to church for the first time in awhile. It was good to be back at Life Center, the church I attended for the majority of my time here a couple years ago. It felt like home instantly, and many of my friends gathered for a dinner later that evening to welcome me back. It was an incredibly warm welcome from them, and it warmed my heart to once again be in the presence of beloved friends.

It feels like Lewis County is much the same way I left it, but with a few positive changes. There are a lot of people here that are working to make the community better, and you can tell their efforts are bearing fruit. There is a lot of work to do to make Centralia great once again, but again there are people here that can get it done.

Yes, I returned here because I missed it and I really missed working for the newspaper. There was nothing quite like being a go-to reporter for your specific beat, and it’s great to fill that role once again. But I also realize this time around that the second iteration of my life in Lewis County carries a higher calling, and that is to reach out to those in need.

I will soon be seeking out some volunteer opportunities to help disadvantaged people in as many capacities as I can. I spoke with my dear friend Holly from Tacoma on the phone yesterday and shared with her that I feel my time here will be different than last time, simply because I feel a tremendous burden on my heart to take my focus off of myself and put my energy into helping others.

My time here in Lewis County will be about putting the greatest lesson I ever learned into action. I look forward to doing so.

It’s great to be home, that’s for sure. I feel a peace about being here, and I know for a fact it is where I’m supposed to be.

Hopefully I’ll be here awhile. A long while.

An icon in Centralia, Washington has passed away

Posted on Tuesday, October 29th, 2013 | 1 Comment
Gordon Aadland reflects at a ceremony for the unveiling of a portrait at Centralia College. / Photo courtesy Flickr user Julie Johnson

Gordon Aadland reflects at a ceremony for the unveiling of a portrait at Centralia College. / Photo courtesy Flickr user Julie Johnson

I am saddened to read that Gordon Aadland of Centralia, Wash., died at age 92 Sunday night.

When someone becomes that advanced in age, you know simply by average human life expectancy that one is not long for this world. But Gordon had been around forever, and I know I for sure thought he would just keep on keeping on.

I came to know Gordon Aadland in my capacity as a business reporter for The Chronicle in Centralia, as he wrote a weekly column that became one of The Chron’s must-reads. It was known as “Saturday’s Child,” and in it he would remember days gone by, opine on life as it were these days and offer words of encouragement or something to make you think.

We met when he walked into the office one day in 2010, stopped by my desk and said hello. Gordon was one of only a few people that was granted access to the newsroom on his own merit, and we loved it when he would stop in.

He asked where I was from, I told him Rainier, Oregon — and he grinned and told me one of his very first teaching jobs was in Rainier in the 1950s. We would talk about the town and how it had changed while still remaining the same old town of 1,700 right on the Columbia River, and it was Gordon who told me that Rainier was home to one Les Tipton, who competed in the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo in track and field.

Not only did Gordon know his history, but he did his best to preserve it in the Twin Cities. I remember his contributions in helping several members of the Chehalis and Centralia communities build a proper memorial to eight girls who died in a factory fire in the Coal Creek area in 1911. “The Girls,” as they were known, were reintroduced into the public eye in 2007 in one of Aadland’s columns — and four years later, through the collective efforts of many, a memorial was constructed in a local cemetery paying tribute to them.

Gordon was also a part of history, having served in World War II. With so many of the Greatest Generation passing on, vital links to our past pass with them.

Gordon Aadland did so much to benefit the Centralia and Chehalis communities. Much of his work was visible, but I would believe a much larger portion of his goodness to the Twin Cities was not. Instead, it was felt by many as he was one of the pillars and sound voices of the community that has seen more than its fair share of hardships.

The Aadland Esplanade, the central walkway at the Centralia College campus, is named after him and his contributions to education. He served the college in innumerable ways and contributed to the successful educations of countless numbers of Lewis County young people.

But my mind keeps going back to those “Saturday’s Child” columns. When I worked as the Friday night editor for the newspaper, helping paginate the content and post it to the Internet, I would always take time to read Gordon’s writings. His way with words and his gentle spirit about whatever subjects he would choose to write about drew me in as a reader, and gave me great insight as to the man people in the community respected and praised.

The Saturday’s Child columns are no more. His visits to the newsroom are but a memory. The sign at Centralia College that points to the walkway bearing his name no longer pays tribute to a living legend of Lewis County.

When I accepted a job here in Springfield, Mo., and moved away from Centralia — I knew full well I would likely never get the chance to speak to Gordon again for the lengths of time we could in the newsroom. My heart is filled with a great sadness when I realize such is indeed the case.

But Gordon Aadland is at peace. He is resting now.

May his memory continue to live on, and may the collections of his writings and fruits of his contributions to society foster grand memories and a desire to impact our communities in an equally positive fashion.

Godspeed and God bless, my good friend

Posted on Wednesday, October 16th, 2013 | 2 Comments

As I write this, a good friend of mine is headed east to Tennessee, where he will plant new roots and walk forward in a major blessing of God upon his life.

My friend Jason moved from Springfield this evening, and it wasn’t easy to see him go.

I believe I was led back to Missouri for three reasons, and Jason was one of them. Our friendship is unique in that we had both lived here in Springfield before — we met at Rocco’s Pizza in Republic in 2007 after he found my blog — moved away, then came back after our lives were individually shaken to the core through tremendous trials.

I recovered from my trials fairly quickly, thank the Lord. But it was tough to see him going through an indescribably tough time in his life when both of us had thought things would get better soon. He simply needed a friend to be there, and I thought I did a serviceable job at that.

I encouraged him until I was blue in the face, and I prayed and prayed and prayed for him without even so much as an answer for one and a half years.

The prayers didn’t stop. I kept calling out to the Lord and kept encouraging him to do so, and I didn’t stop. I still haven’t. Now, just in the past few months — almost on the same timetable as a personal revival of my own — he has grown in leaps and bounds in his faith with Jesus Christ, and a door opened for him to move to Memphis.

When God places people in our lives, he does so for a distinct purpose. He was a blessing to me because he taught me that you keep praying, keep seeking and keep the faith if you don’t get an immediate answer — and even if there really never is an answer.

Before Jason pointed his rented U-Haul east, I gathered with our friend Larry and his friend Amy at Jason’s place. “I feel led to pray for you and send you forth in Jesus’ peace,” I said.

I put my hand on his shoulder, Larry did as well and Amy joined in the prayer. It wasn’t a long prayer, but it certainly was the most fulfilling of all the prayers I had prayed for him in this long journey.

“Lord, we know you don’t start something in our lives and leave it incomplete,” I prayed. “I fully believe and I pray that you will continue this good work and bring your joy, peace and love forth in this move.”

Watching God move in others’ lives is a faith builder for me. It’s definitely exciting.

But tonight it was a bit tough too, as I no longer have that person-to-person connection someone who made it easy just to talk and share my joys and burdens with.

However, I believe God has great things down the road — and hey, if I ever need a place to stay should I choose to visit Memphis…

Jason, thank you for being my friend and helping increase my faith as we walked through life’s journey here in Springfield. Godspeed, and I hope to visit soon.