Volume I

Fuel for the Frontier: Volume I

Think of this as your knapsack of snacks for a long journey. The purpose of this series is to provide resources to fuel your soul for the road ahead. You may find some helpful or useful, and others, not as much. Fuel for the Frontier will be a regular column in each issue. Things I’m experimenting with, books I’m reading, music or podcasts that have been noteworthy. Take your pick, I’ll lay out the spread.

Getting Lost in a Story

My wife and I were introduced to the author Michael O’Brien by our good friends, and oh my, it’s been fun to dig in to his books. The last half year I’ve spent most of my evenings getting lost in the world of fiction. It’s been a therapeutic escape with busy life happening. As John Eldredge says so well in his book Waking the Dead, “Mythic stories help us see clearly, which is to say, they help us see with the eyes of the heart.”

My two favorites from Michael O’Brien, The Fool of New York City and Island of the World. The stories speak of hope, loss, forgiveness, suffering, and redemption. Brilliantly woven with suspense and mystery. I feel like I came to know the main characters and found their stories revealing parts of mine.

Inner-Life

  • Waking the Dead: This must be one of the most refreshing books on Christian life I’ve read in a long time. John’s writing has been quite influential in my life over the last 5 years, but this definitely floats toward the top. It’s a venture into awakening your heart to all that Jesus promised through his life and ministry. Living with a heart that is alive, restored, and free.

    ...if it doesn't bring freedom and it doesn't bring life, it's not Christianity. If it doesn't restore the image of God and rejoice in the heart, it's not Christianity.

  • And Sons Podcast: I don’t listen to a lot of podcasts regularly, but this is one that I rarely miss an episode. In the age of content overload, there are few things that are resonate with my heart and move me to action. This would be one. Notable episodes: 6, 18, 39, 46 and 47.

Other Noteworthy Reading

  • Unsubscribe by Jocelyn K. Glei: Not at all surprised, this was an incredibly thought provoking read. Jocelyn continues to impress me with her unfaltering commitment to producing quality content sure to get you thinking. An excerpt from the review I wrote of Unsubscribe.

    This is much more than a book on email. Though email is a large portion of the context for the principles Jocelyn lays out, her clarity regarding our impulse checks, communication blunders, and focus deficit, is revealing. You won’t find a book of tips-and-tricks related to email management. Though you will learn an abundance of best practices when it comes to managing your inbox. This book will challenge your disposition toward digital communication, edit your writing tendencies, and retarget your focus on that which is truly important. If you want to gain clarity about doing work that matters, Unsubscribe is a breath of fresh air.

  • The Weekly Review: This is pretty much the only newsletter I have been subscribed to for over a year and continue to be delighted with every dispatch. As in, eagerly look forward to reading. Chris writes about spiritual life, deep work habits, and occasionally, The Patriots. He’s a deep thinker and the brevity of the life he is choosing to live comes through in his writing.

Tunes for Work & Play

  • Focus / Work: After too many mornings trying to decide what I should listen to as I get into my work routine, I made a playlist called “Start Here”. A progression of instrumental music from Utah, Tycho, and Hanz Zimmer(of course). At just over 3 hours, so it gets me through my most productive work hours of the day. This helps me automate my morning routine by not having to think about where to start. I hit play, open my baron fig notebook, and pickup with the bread crumbs I left for myself the day before.

  • Dinner Clean Up / Dance Party: Unapologetically stole the origins of this playlist for my father. Playlist called “Happy” and you can hear it being blasted at the Smith house every night as we clean up dinner and have a dance party in the kitchen.

  • Saturday Afternoon: The Wild Swan by Foy Vance has been a recent delightful discovery.

  • Worship Music: This album by Greg LaFollette has been on repeat lately when I have some quiet moments of reflection and conversation with God. A hymnal-y feel throughout, and it’s pretty much the Bible put to music. It’s been speaking the language of my heart as of late.

Things I’m Practicing

  • Early morning Solitude: Inspired by Jocko Willink from his book, Discipline Equals Freedom, I’ve been trying to make 4:30am my normal wakeup time. 😴 It hurts. Every time. BUT, I’ve found that getting 2–3 hours of quiet and solitude (devotions/exercise/staring at the wall) before the day gets going makes a huge difference for me. If you follow Jocko on twitter he posts a picture of his watch just about every day at 4:33am.

  • No cell phone in bedroom: This should be a no-brainer, but it took longer than I care to admit before my wife and I implemented this rule. The general thought, I should be completely untethered, unavailable, and fully present whenever I walk into my bedroom. There’s like 50 or more reasons for that. So we plug our phones in to charge in the kitchen, and I bought an alarm clock.

  • The Daily Prayer: To walk the Christian life is to go to war. Every day. In John Eldredge’s book, Waking the Dead, he talks about the battle for the human heart. Every day is a fight. To live from my heart, to be the husband and father that my family needs, walking with God is essential. The Daily Prayer has been a place of refuge to turn to every morning as I face the day again. I printed a couple out to keep handy.

North to Alaska

It was early spring of my freshman year in college when I received an exciting call from my older brother. He was attending college in another state and presented me with a thrilling proposition: let’s go to Alaska and work in the salmon industry for the summer. I imagined making piles of money and living like Lewis and Clark!

It was actually a much more rousing notion to me than my brother, as he had paved the way and spent the prior summer in an Alaskan bush village working at a fishery. But this year would be different. My brother hatched a plan whereby we would buy an old car, fix it up and drive 3,400 miles north to the Last Frontier. Just the thought of it made my blood surge! I already had a bad case of wanderlust that a few hitch-hiking trips around Wisconsin (at the expense of my classes) hadn’t begun to cure.

We found a 1968 Ford Fairlane and bought the car for around $400. It was a little-old-lady rig with faded paint and a bunch of miles on it, but we were confident she’d be up for the challenge. We spent a few days performing basic maintenance tasks like changing the oil, replacing brake pads and putting a couple new tires on the classic beauty. (current age and nostalgia leave me wishing I still owned that old Ford)

During preparations for the journey, we had an ongoing debate with our dad about whether we should insure the car or go without coverage. Dad was adamant about the issue in the days leading up to our departure. We were both broke from a year in college and a couple hundred bucks were critical at the time. We asked him why and he gave one of his typical, old school answers like “it’s just what you do” or “it’s the right thing to do.” He rarely gave lengthy explanations of his rationale, but in the end, we complied and bought a cheap policy to cover worst-case-scenarios.

We launched out early one morning in late May and I was more excited than perhaps any other moment in my young life! Moving away from home for my freshman year of college was a thrill. Heading out on my hitch-hiking trips around Wisconsin was exhilarating too. I played sports and had some huge games and moments in recent memory. But this! North to Alaska? I was taking a leap way beyond anything people in my circles were attempting at the time.

I recognize adventure and risk are relative to each person and that God makes all kinds of folks. Some people get psyched up to fly on an airplane or go to the dentist. Other’s will strap into a bungee harness and jump off a bridge without a second thought. Everyone grows up with such varied experiences, families, and models to follow. I’ve come to believe that people’s preferences and boundaries generally end up like the ones they’ve watched and learned through the childhood and adolescent years.

MeJedFish.JPG

Not that our suburban family was particularly brave or daring by any stretch. But I can see now the patterns and markers that built an inner confidence and strong foundation in me and my siblings. A stable, consistent family life with two parents in a safe environment. An emphasis on faith and attending the same church each week for our entire pre-adult lives. If you missed the bus you walked to school. If you shot an arrow through the next-door-neighbor’s pool liner, you didn’t leave the house until you apologized. (my younger brother held out for two weeks!) We did chores, made our own money delivering newspapers, and walked or rode bikes to all our sporting events throughout the elementary and middle school years.

Maybe it doesn’t sound like much, but adult vision and a lifetime of experience lends itself to clearer hindsight and self-evaluation. I watch kids and families grow up in all kinds of circumstances that are extremely different from my upbringing. I’m not drawing better-or-worse lines mind you. Life can be difficult and we don’t get to choose the world or family we’re born into. But there’s no doubt in my mind that our childhood environment and experiences most certainly shape the adults we become. At least initially, in the tenuous years of late-teens and early twenty’s.

So anyway - off we went! The plains of the upper Midwest and Saskatchewan were grueling yet beautiful. Minot, North Dakota is a real place. The Canadian Rockies were exhilarating to this thrill-seeking flatlander! The week-long drive became an adventure in itself…and at times I lost sight of the fact that this was just the beginning of the real mission. We drove through the night a few times. We stopped and camped just any ole’ where we wanted on that lonely Alcan Highway.

The daylight hours lengthened as we trudged northward. Have you ever driven into the sunset at 10:30 or 11:00 at night? Have you ever baited a hook, without a flashlight, sometime around 11:30 PM? Have you ever heard the term “land of the midnight sun” and skimmed over it without notice?

It’s hard to describe the affects and sensation of the extended daylight. You don’t want to go to sleep for fear of missing something special. It emboldens you to go and do and try. Like spinach to Popeye. Suddenly, you only need 3 to 4 hours of sleep at night. (did I tell you about the time I worked on a fishing boat north of the Arctic Circle in the middle of summer? We worked such long hours that sometimes, especially with light cloud cover in the sky, I lost track of whether it was 10:00 AM or PM!)

It took us six full days to reach downtown Anchorage and cruise 4th Avenue in our dusty, war-torn Fairlane. The city is always bustling in early summer as tourists fill the downtown streets and vagabonds from all corners of the world roam this out-of-place metropolis. People with heavy laden backpacks and scruffy faces hike the pavement at a hurried pace, scanning maps and plotting their course.

A log-cabin-style building sits humbly next to a five-story glass business center. The mountains loom in the background and you get a peek here and there, depending on the angle and direction you’re facing. Cook Inlet brings a breeze and the light odor of salt air. Native Americans meander along, Asian tourists snap pictures of everything, while seniors stroll the shops, glancing at their watches to make sure they’re back to the bus on time.

We only had a day or two before flying out to a bush village in the southwest corner of the Great State. We were caught up in the collective excitement that can only be found in a transient city like Anchorage. We couldn’t bear to go to sleep and were fully enamored by the daylight that lingered and faded into the midnight hour. My brother was also scrambling to sell our faithful Ford or find a responsible place to store it. Our plan was to fly back home in late August, just in time to start the next year of college.

Our travels led to the legendary Spenard District on the south side of town, home to the fabled Chilkoot Charlie’s and Gwennie’s Old Alaska Restaurant. My head was on a swivel as we drove, trying to take in the sites of this urban frontier. The city clearly shares the same untamed spirit that wilderness Alaska is known for. As we were driving, I vaguely remember my brother trying to interrupt my tour and asking if it was “all clear” in the lane next to us. Apparently, I was distracted or uninterested, because just after I responded with an insincere “sure thing,” WHAMMO! He changed lanes and we took a direct hit in the rear quarter panel from an oncoming car! It was around 11:00 at night, clear as day and my brother was both hoppin’ mad and completely disgusted that he had trusted me. As you can imagine, the entire mood was dampened like a wet blanket. An hour-long fiasco ensued, information was exchanged, and we made our way to a cheap motel for the night.

Life’s greatest lessons are learned the hard way I suppose. The insurance issue was one of my first “father knows best” moments as a young adult. I was still at the know-it-all age in that season of life. Dad’s lack of explanation was quickly appended with all the reasons why. And if a picture’s worth a thousand words, then a car accident qualified for about ten thousand words in those formative years.

Winter 1984.jpg

My decision to “go north” was fateful and serendipitous to be sure. This was the start of a lifetime adventure, the annuls of which would require several volumes. I struggled and floundered, thrived and explored. I gained self-confidence and learned that I didn’t know much about anything at all. I met characters who just didn’t exist in the Midwest and learned that the hearts of men could be both good and evil, selfish and kind, ruthless and forgiving. And to make a really long story short, I also found a great job, a wife and a couple of kids. But that’s a tale for another day…

My Need for Adventure

When I was six years old my family built a home that backed up to the woods. For all I knew, it was endless, and it was the perfect playground.

Along with other neighborhood kids, we would spend hours exploring game trails, ruins that had been long abandoned, creeks and ravines became our pathways. About 200 yards through the thick brush there was a lake. Not one you would want to swim in, but all the same, it added an element of wilderness to the whole thing.

Summer days spent building forts, cutting in trails, climbing trees, playing war; we did it all. This was my escape, it was my happy place. And it came right natural.

Little did I know, “adulting” would leave behind endless hours of exploration.

Adulthood comes much more structured; We make appointments, reply to emails, make bill payments, submit paperwork for health insurance. It can be a drag.

Though the desire to explore never went away, I sort of just stopped answering its call. Not for lack of desire but over time it slowly got pushed to the back burner. Amidst a full life, spending hours in aimless play is hard to come by. Some would say extravagant or even irresponsible.

But why is it that joy is one of the first things to get cut out of our lives? The truth is, I need those endless hours of exploring and adventuring. My soul awakens in those empty spaces of wonder. Between smartphone notifications and an overflowing inbox, it should be one of the first places I turn to find solace.

Not long ago I had a realization. I would find myself wandering through the outdoor section of sporting goods store drooling over the latest gear. It would pull on my desires to be out there, in the wild. As I perused the sterile retail space I would feel my heart rising in my chest as if purchasing fancy new gear was the same thing as being out there.

Those marketing schemes are sneaky. “If you buy this overly expensive cooler, bear-proof and sure to keep ice for a week in the desert, you’ll be rugged and wild.”

“Yeah, that’d be cool!” My heart responds.

Having an expensive cooler doesn’t make me anymore an explorer than owning a pair of running shoes makes me a runner.

This sort of allure is everywhere. The other day flipping through a magazine I came across a rugged looking man out on a ranch sporting a $5,000 Louis Vuitton knitted overcoat. Really? That’s what ranchers wear?

Any poser can purchase the look of an explorer, but the real explorer is the one who actually ventures into the wild. And I would argue, the heart of adventure is an inward reality.

Adventure isn’t snapping an epic Instagram picture, or a highlight reel from your GoPro camera descending some crazy mountain line. I could travel to some of the most remote and spectacular landscapes on earth and be just as disconnected from adventure as the Louis Vuitton rancher.

So if the heart of adventure can’t be bought, and it’s not dependent on extreme sports, what is the stuff adventure is made of?

Adventure is that childlike wonder of getting lost in play, exploration, and not fully knowing where the road may lead. Adventure is planned and spontaneous. To be fully present, in the moment, living from your heart and senses.

It’s responding to that invitation you can’t bear to ignore any longer. Adventure can be found in cooking, writing, or an afternoon with the family. Maybe for you, it’s starting a business. Adventure is not reserved to the outdoors or the adrenaline junkies. You can experience a full dose of adventure right in your backyard.

Adventure is acting on core desires of your heart.

Therefore, adventure involves risk.

Embracing a core desire is a delicate endeavor. It can feel foolish, wasteful, or indulgent.

Why is it the things we most enjoy we also face the most resistance to experience?

Getting into the wild isn’t something I’ve been all that good about maintaining. But it is something absolutely makes my soul come alive. It’s much easier to spend money on gear than to take the time to plan an afternoon outing or overnight campout.

I want the experience of adventure without the risk. That’ll preach.

Following the trail in Rocky Mountain National Park, I took a solo hike up to Black Lake on my birthday.

I imagine artists face a similar fear every time they set out to create. “What if it doesn’t turn out the way I hoped?” Hope deferred is a lethal enemy.

Putting ourselves in a position to experience disappointment is risky. But to never risk disappointment in hopes of experiencing the bliss of doing what makes our heart come alive is a final death.

A couple of weeks ago, on my way to an early morning swim, my car started making a funny noise. “Oh crap,” I thought. “That doesn’t sound good.” After having a mechanic take a look, it turns out I would new wheel bearings that would cost me $900 for a car that’s not worth $1,000.

The noise is bad enough that I don’t really want to keep driving it for fear of a wheel flying off while driving down the highway.

So I’ve been riding my bike to work here and there to get by with one vehicle. Temperatures dipping down into the 30s the last few weeks, which has made for some chilly riding. It’s not exactly convenient. But you know what? It sure is an invigorating way to get to work on a Tuesday morning. The cold whipping me in the face, cars flying past, breathing hard as I work to crest the last hill.

Driving to work takes me 12 minutes. Riding my bike, 17. A five-minute difference that has an untold number of benefits. The inconvenience of car trouble has given me one more excuse to ride my bike. And I have 30 minutes of exercise built into my commute. No radio, no music, no podcasts, no phone calls, time for thinking and white space. And if I so choose it adds a little adventure to my day. If I choose to find it.

Experiencing adventure is a choice. And it usually feels like an inconvenience. But, there is an opportunity to touch something deeper if we choose to engage our heart. My car trouble is a drag, but it’s actually creating more than one adventure storyline in my life at the moment.

Where might life be initiating adventure for you?

And when you think about your ideal adventure, is there a scaled down version?

Like a 1/10th or even a 1/20th? Instead of a 4-day backpack trip to Colorado, what about an hour or two hike? Instead of writing your cookbook by the end of the year, what about just writing one new recipe this week? The opportunity to experience adventure is everywhere, I think I’ll start answering it’s beckon call again.

Our Boy's Birth

Though I am still the shape of a mom full term, the energy I feel, reminds me this baby is no longer using my every resource. We sit in registration’s office, first door on the left, through the locked double doors that open into Labor and Delivery. We are giving names and birthdates, allergies and addresses.

Other times in the past 40 hours we have sobbed and held onto a belly, with a baby present and already gone. We held tight to each other and I found, how I was being held tightly by my Maker.

There is calm and choice in coming this morning; This day that means hello to a lifetime saying so long.

pink-blue.jpg

I sit on the hospital bed and wait. On the chair next to me, are the two tiny hats and two baby blankets. If you are Simeon, our son, we will put that Patriots blue on you - a Pats boy, just like your dad and all his brothers. If you are Esther Faith, then the sweet little pink, with the flower of course. One blanket is the handmade Winnie-the-Pooh we have swaddled our first two in, to soothe them to sleep, laid them to play, covered them to keep warm. The other was handpicked for you little Lamb, last night, when we knew we’d wrap you up just once.

Across from me, I am amazed at the soothing joy of the bouquet my sister has brought. Tulips in full bloom from her garden. They hold nothing back in their love - as wide and as vibrant of love as they can be, and I am captivated by their beauty. The world doesn’t feel dark. The flower song is right, they will be dead soon, but how they give music to my heart today.

This chosen labor begins. Slow and light. Family is here. I am well.

My husband sends each one away for now. I need to do this hard work, I need to focus. My mom stays. My mom with her hat that hints to strangers her fight to live through Leukemia. She is my great example of fight.

I breathe deeply in and release all of it out. Relax every muscle, don’t fight back at this pain. My hands stay open: gentle, soft. Go with it, go with it. That is how a baby comes, that is how this baby will go.

The lights are gentle, and the music is quiet, the room is peace, and I am willing to do this labor. I am working for you baby, like I did for your brother and your sister. It doesn’t feel different. I am working for you, my baby.

My legs shake and ache, my mind is growing weary. It is hard to let go of so much pain, over and over again. I look at Mom. She says, “Five more contractions.” I think hard, wondering do I have that left? I nod.

“Help.” I say, “Get me out of this.” The nurses move quickly to do this. The lady walks in who will administer the epidural. She doesn’t look like my nurses: kind and competent and strong. She reminds me of death: pale and unwell. She rattles off risks, complications - more death. My husband is on his knees in front of me, holding my legs, holding my pain, as much as he can. He is praying. I sign the paper. Right before numbness can come to take me away, right before she can pierce my spine, my river that keeps all of me feeling - there is a burst.

“Oh thank You, Lord.” Kindness and strength grab me up and lay me back. You are here, Daddy has got you. Just like your siblings, you broke free too fast for any other hands to catch you. And just like your siblings, your dad is here. He has you. He touches you first. Precious One. He says your name, “Simeon son, we love you. Your mom and I love you.”

You are laid on my chest, warm from my insides poured out. Warm and still. I am captivated by your beauty that fades in front of my eyes. Gifts: to look on and hold your hands and feet that have kicked and pressed, to see your eyes are like your brother’s, and mouth like your sister’s; to be surprised that you have your dad’s nose. To get to see you in this moment, this brief moment, cannot be taken from me. I will hold you forever my son.

simeon fav.jpg

No Regrets

Regret is a powerful motivator.

I’m not one to constantly analyze my life and wonder, “What regrets do I have?” And truth be told, I don’t have many.

But a question that has repeatedly come to mind the last few months is this…

Thirty years from now, what do I not want to have regret over?

To be more specific, what three or four things do I not want to have regret over? This helps frame the question a bit more. I’m sure there will be things I look back on in 30 years that will cause me to shrug my shoulders or wince slightly. But what are the three or four things that I could not bear to regret?

Or to state it positively, here are the four things I want most 30 years from now.

  1. Wholehearted friendship with God
  2. Thriving relationship with my wife
  3. Friendship with my kids
  4. Enough physical fitness to do the things I enjoy

While there could be one or two more things added to this list, truth be told, I would cut number four if it came down to it. If I only get one through three, these would be non-negotiable.

To be the person I was created to be, I need my whole heart. And that only comes through friendship with my heavenly Father. Which, directly impacts the way that I love my wife and children.

our-boy-hero.jpg

I could not bear disappointing the love of my life. Not to say that there won’t be trials in marriage. What I mean is, I could not bear to fail her emotionally. To fail to be her lover and closest friend. To be a friend that fights for the things that are near to her heart. To adventure with her and enjoy life together.

To be a father that invites his children to adventure and wholeness. To invest in their hopes, dreams, and desires. I want to see my kids flourish in life. My children will be kids once and adults the rest of their life. I want to enjoy decades of friendship with them as adults.

We can try to avoid the reality of trade-offs, but we can’t escape them.
— Greg McKeown

You should know I’m operating under the assumption that trade-offs are real.

Trade-offs are like newtons third law at work in our life. For everything that we say yes to, there is a trade-off affect that we are unaware of.

Everyone knows it’s impossible to be awesome at everything. You can’t be a concert pianist, world-class painter, inter-web developer, NBA player, amazing husband, read 40 books a year, be an awesome father, have tons of friends that you keep up with, balance a law career, have a thriving heart, and juggle your side-hustle writing project. You could do two, maybe three, of those well. And that’s pretty much it.

The point is, we (I), have a finite capacity. We can only do so much. This is trade-offs at work in our life. Social feeds present an insta-baked reality that our life can and should be awesome all the time. And that we should be able to do all the things.

If this is true, and there are things that I could not stand to have regret over in 30 years, then it leads me to this first troubling question.

Who am I not willing to disappoint?

Returning to the fact that we cannot escape the reality of trade-offs. Or to quote David Allen, “You can do anything, but you can’t do everything.”

I’m not willing to disappoint myself. This starts with my need for connection with God. I’ve been given a new heart that is made for adventure and partnership with Him. To grow in friendship takes intentionality, like anything else, it will not happen haphazardly.

I’m not willing to disappoint my wife. She is the love of my life and deserves my best. Not to conceal my emotions, hide my desires, or suppress my passions, but to share them with her whole-heartedly. She gets me first.

I’m not willing to disappoint my kids. To be a distracted, overly busy, worn out father, that’s unable to be present. As much as it is in my power, I will fight to give them my best. My words, my affection, my strength, my protection.

If these things are to be true of me, it leads to another question.

Who am I willing to disappoint?

There will be no shortage of opportunities in my life, and since I now have clarity about whom I will not disappoint, I am left with a conundrum. Who will it be that I say no to, again and again?

If I am choosing to give my family my best, extended family gets second best. Friends come next, leaving new acquaintances and strangers pretty much the bottom of the barrel. As much as possible I will give myself to serve others, but there is a pecking order.

The trouble with this? I hate disappointing people! But do I hate it more than the regret I may feel if I trade away what I hold most dear? To be generally applauded by many but to have missed the mark with my family. No, I think not.

So I endeavor to have no regrets thirty years from now. At least, in these few things that I hold most dear.