Top Five Quiet Places

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Speaking of quiet, this week’s Top Five Friday are my Top Five quiet places. The places where I like to steal away:

1. My home office. I grew up having a room of my own and, as a child, I retreated there to play, imagine, create, and rest. Some days my room became the bridge of Star Trek’s Enterprise. Other days it was a courtroom, or a battlefield, or a football stadium. Now that I am grown, I still retreat to my room which is my home office. While the primary focus on the space is work, it is also the place for my quiet morning conversations with God. I still find myself playing, creating, and letting my imagination run free.

2. The Playhouse. We intentionally have not hooked up a television signal here. There is a television and DVD play for movies, but we’ve chosen to hold back the intrusion and constancy of the noise. Here at the lake the house, the deck, and the dock are places for quiet.

3. My car. I spend a fair amount of time on the road. The trip to Des Moines for work meetings is an hour each way. A trip to the Twin Cities for client meetings is roughly four hours each way. While I don’t always love the long drives, I’ll admit that I sometimes look forward to some windshield time. Sometimes it’s nice to turn off the radio, let the white noise of the road rumble on, and let my mind go.

4. The Des Moines Art Center. It’s always quiet. It’s free. There’s amazing artwork to inspire me no matter what my mood or mindset. What’s not to love?

5. Coffee shops. I don’t have a favorite, though I’m particularly fond of unique, out-of-the-way coffee shops which offer a one-of-a-kind ambiance and a slower, quiet neighborhood type of pace. There’s something I like about sitting alone in one place with my coffee and my journal, newspaper, or book and letting the rest of the world buzz in and out past me.

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Called to Quiet

IMG_1491But I have calmed and quieted myself….
Psalm 131:2 (NIV)

What a great verse for this morning as I awoke at the lake. I arrived late last night and will spend the weekend with three friends for an informal men’s retreat. Quiet is a big part of the plan for our time together, punctuated by intentional conversation and great meals. Here’s the loose itinerary:

Friday evening: “Who Am I?” Over a great dinner we will share our stories and learn about the respective paths on which God has led us. Depending on how the evening goes, a good action or war flick may be in the offering before bed.

Saturday morning: After breakfast each of us will spend some time alone in quiet and prayer. Walk down on the dock. Take a walk. Cloister yourself in your room. Whatever trips your trigger. Spend some extended time with God and let Him recharge your batteries.

Saturday afternoon/evening: “Where Am I?” The loose schedule for the afternoon and evening will include some intentional conversation about the place in life you find yourself today. What are the current challenges you face? How do you feel God working in your life at the moment? In what ways do you feel encouraged/satisfied/content? There will be plenty of time for conversation, more quiet time (if you want it), and enjoying a good movie or two.

Sunday morning: “Where am I going?” We will enjoy one last meal together as we share where we sense God leading us, and how we can pray for one another as we return to our routines. I plan to be cleaned up and take off after breakfast so that we might be home mid-day and still have some reconnect time with our families.

We all need a little calm and quiet from time to time.

The Night Watch

the office of dawnI wait for the Lord
    more than watchmen wait for the morning,
    more than watchmen wait for the morning.
Psalm 130:6 (NIV)

I have, in other blog posts, chronicled my adventures in sleeplessness. From childhood I’ve been a morning person. It’s in my DNA, I’m afraid. Especially in the depths of the winter, as we are in now, my day usually begins in the deep dark before dawn.

As a child, I would hate the early mornings as I lay in bed or sat in a dark house and waited. I waited for the light of dawn or the light in the bathroom which signaled that my dad was up and it was okay for me to be up too. As a kid, I hated sleeping over with friends, most of whom liked to sleep in. It meant I would wake up early in a strange house and have to wait hours for my friend to get up.  As I got older and became the father of little ones, I began to relish my early morning hours of quiet before the house began to stir. I have embraced my early mornings as productive and peaceful on a number of levels.

As I read the lyrics of Psalm 130 this morning, I ran across the verse above which has become very familiar and even dear to me in recent years. It is used in praying the hours (a.k.a. The Divine Offices), which I often do, especially The Office of Dawn. There is even The Prayer of the Night Watch, which are prayers offered between 1:30 and 4:30 a.m.

As a morning person, I feel a deep resonance with the wait for dawn. It is more than longing and desire. It is both the anticipation and expectation of what is to come. As persons of faith, the assurance of what we hope for and evidence of that which we do not see is a key ingredient in our day-to-day life journey. The physical and temporal is embodied in the instant gratification of our appetites and the blunt realities of our senses. That which is eternal and of the Spirit is generally realized at the end of the faithful, expectant, long watch of the night when eucatastrophe dawns and rends the unsuspecting darkness.

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Soar

“they have greatly oppressed me from my youth,
    but they have not gained the victory over me.”
Psalm 129:2 (NIV)

Part of the conversation over the dinner table last night was focused on people whose attitudes and behaviors ruin our day. I thought about that discussion into the evening last night and have been thinking about it here in the early morning hours. The truth is, I have a choice in my own attitude and in how I respond to others. Woe unto me when someone’s negative attitude, hurtful words or actions injure my own spirit and attitude, for I have given them the power to do so. I have allowed it. I have surrendered myself to them rather than choosing to rise above it.

Over the past month or so there has been a lot of attention in the media to the passing of Nelson Mandela and of the annual celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. The more I learn about these men, and I have much to learn, the greater respect I have for them. I am impressed by those who face true oppression in life (not the farcical daily annoyances I dramatically mistake for oppression), yet doggedly choose to maintain a positive spirit and refuse to give in to negativity, despair, hopelessness, or vengeance.

The past few weeks a fellow alumnus of my alma mater, Judson University, has been unjustly languishing in a Philippine prison. I met Tom Randall when I was a student at Judson and he made regular visits to the campus to speak in chapel about his missionary work. Tom is a passionate Jesus follower and has sacrificed himself to do great things for the poor and orphans of the Philippines. When you do great things, you will inevitably face strong (and often unjust) opposition. A few weeks ago, Tom was wrongfully accused and incarcerated in Manila. He is in ill health. This past Sunday, I had a chance to watch the video at the top of this post. One of Tom’s best friends shares the story of Tom’s imprisonment and the amazing way God can turn oppression into a powerful force for good. It’s well worth your time today to watch it.

Tom Randall’s story, Nelson Mandela’s story, and MLK’s story all provide me with needed perspective this morning. Today, I’m choosing to shrug off the minor annoyances of others and the negativity around me. I will not give myself over. Rather than surrendering my mind and spirit to antagonistic people and circumstance, I’m choosing to surrender my mind and spirit to God, who empowers me to soar.

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Simple Virtues; Simple Joys

A Des Moines Tribune headline from the Iran Hostage Crisis in 1981 I still have in my archive.
A Des Moines Tribune headline from the Iran Hostage Crisis in 1981 I still have in my archive.

You will eat the fruit of your labor;
Psalm 128:1-2a (NIV)

This morning as I went to the front door to gather the newspaper off the front porch, I was hit by a sudden wave of nostalgia. The simple joy of gathering the paper off the porch on a frigid January morning, and reading it over morning a hot cup of coffee is deeply rooted in my soul. I got my first job when I was almost twelve working as a paper boy for the now defunct Des Moines Tribune. There were two Des Moines newspapers when I was a kid. The Des Moines Register was the morning paper and the Des Moines Tribune was the afternoon paper. My buddy Scott Borg and I would categorize people in our neighborhood into “morning paper” people and “afternoon paper” people. Me and my family were afternoon paper people until the Des Moines Tribune closed up shop.

As a paperboy for “The Trib” I picked up my bundle each afternoon after school at the corner of Madison and Lawnwoods Dr. With a big yellow canvas paper carrier that was slung over the shoulder and a bag of rubber bands (or plastic bags on rainy days), I would begin my trek each week day west up Madison Avenue to Lower Beaver Road, then south to Douglas Ave. I would make my way back north on Lawnwoods Drive, as I zig-zagged up and down the side streets of Garden, Seneca, and Fleming Avenues. Delivering The Trib also meant you had to deliver the giant Des Moines Sunday Register early every Sunday morning. The slug who delivered The Register each weekday morning got to sleep in.

Map of my old paper route.
Map of my old paper route.

Every two weeks I was tasked with making a personal visit to each of my Tribune customers to collect their subscription fees. They would pay me and I would give them a little receipt torn from a perforated sheet of receipts. I would have to count the money, balance the amount, and turn it in to my regional manager. I got to know many of the people in the neighborhood around my home and even got a tip from time to time.

I come from a family in which the protestant work ethic was firmly engrained. Work was a virtue to be pursued at an early age. From my early career in the newspaper business I became an “Inventory Specialist” for my dad’s sign company. The monotonous task of counting hundreds of screws, bolts and washers out of large bins taught me very quickly that I just might want to do something different with my life. Paperboy, bolt counter, corn pollinator, lawn maintenance, film duster, actor, babysitter, bus boy, and retail clerk. By the time I left high school and headed off to college I had a wealth of work experience. By the time I left college I could add librarian’s assistant, cook, dishwasher, resident assistant, waiter, caterer, and voice over talent to the list.

There is honor in doing a job. There is even greater honor in doing a job well. That was the example of my grandparents, parents, and older siblings. That was the ethic of my Dutch ancestors. I’m grateful for that. This morning I’m thinking about simple virtues like doing a job, and about simple joys like opening up a newspaper with your morning coffee and reading your news “the old fashioned way.”

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Foundational Inscriptions

2010 03 Playhouse BasementUnless the Lord builds the house,
    the builders labor in vain.
Psalm 127:1a (NIV)

When I was a teenager my parents began making regular summer visits to the Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri. When I was just out of college and the girls were babies, my folks would rent a house for a week or so each summer and invite the family to join them there. I can remember taking long sunset boat rides during those years. Dad would gun the engine and we would jet off across the water. Conversation was nigh unto impossible, so I would sit in the bow of the boat just dream. I would day dream of owning my own place on the lake someday, though at the time I considered it a pipe dream.

By the time the girls were in elementary school my parents had bought a small trailer home on a lakeshore plot there. Just over a decade later they were ready to sell, and Wendy and I were in a position of investing in the place. What had only been a pipe-dream a decade or two before was actually becoming a reality. We pulled the trailer home off the land, had a walk out basement foundation poured and put a manufactured home on the foundation. In the spring of 2010, a group of friends gathered in the bare basement to begin a summer long task of finishing it.

The first morning of construction I gathered the guys together and handed them each a black Sharpie. With the above verse fresh on my mind, I asked each of them to pray for the place, to pick a verse from God’s Message and to write it somewhere on the bare cement foundation. The verses they each wrote on the walls are covered over with insulation, framing, and drywall, but we will never forget what is written there.

Next weekend I’m taking a small group of guys for a little winter retreat at the lake. In another month or so Wendy and I will begin making regular trips down to prepare for another season of family, friends, fun, rest, relaxation and sun. It’s become a part of the seasonal flow of life for us. I don’t know about Wendy, but I still shake my head with wonder from time to time. We have been blessed, and I don’t want to lose sight of the source of our blessings nor cease to forget what is written on the foundation. I want the love, laughter, tears, and conversations which take place in that house to have eternal value. I never want our labor to have been in vain.

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Top Five Coffee Roasts

My favorite mug and constant companion during my morning quiet time and posts.
My favorite mug and constant companion during my morning quiet time and posts.

I’ve been a coffee lover since I was a teenager. I don’t drink it as much as I used to, so as I’ve gotten older the quantity has given way to quality. My morning requires 2-3 cups of really good, fresh ground coffee. Here are my all time favorite roasts:

  1. Luna Tango (Grounds for Celebration, Des Moines, IA)
  2. Gold Coast Blend (Starbucks)
  3. House Blend (Zanzibar’s Coffee Adventure, Des Moines, IA)
  4. Breakfast Blend (Starbucks)
  5. Butch’s Blend (Grounds for Celebration, Des Moines, IA)
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