Hunting to Train

“Wilderness adventure is like reading a good book [a page and] a chapter at a time. The last page is usually pretty good because you’ve read the whole book.” –Tavis Molnar  (Arctic Red Outfitters)

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” –Theodore Roosevelt


The sweat drips off the brim of my hat, joining the drops of rain that have steadily quickened over the last few minutes. A thunderstorm threatens in the foothills to our west, just above the sole surviving fire watchtower in Colorado—a relic from another era. I have three more ascents to go to hit today’s training target. For a moment, I choose to ignore the pain. A sort of happiness is welling up that is hard to put to words. It’s a common joy known to all who have consented to a path of intense physical challenge for the sake of a greater goal and—even more—a greater good.

I’m near the top of another trek up The Grinder, the name we’ve affectionately given to the rough steps cut in the side of a no-name foothill in the Colorado Rockies, hewn from railroad ties and composite granite. It has the winsome feel of a project leftover from the Conservation Corps with a forgotten story of its own. For years, I thought of counting the number of steps, but the breathlessness of the second half always seemed to keep me from an accurate number. Today my budding teenage son (who started training with me this summer) passes me again and calls out with a grin, “Dad, I have the count at 326 steps.”

I know the climb and descent would be more manageable without the 50-pound pack on my back. But I’m not training to throw candy in the next Fourth of July parade (though I thoroughly enjoyed doing so last month). I’m training for a backcountry fair-chase bow hunt in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. And if we harvest a mule deer in the alpine, as we hope to, we’ll surely spend more energy than I am today hauling loads of meat to civilization.

Though the hunting season is short, the training is a year-round pursuit. At the end, there is no audience or finish-line crowd to celebrate this endeavor. And in training, there is no witness along the countless lonely miles. There is often not even meat in the freezer to testify to the agony and delight.

But I have never known any physical and mental and soulful challenge more alluring and satisfying.

It’s been said consistently by mentors that 90 percent of wild game animals are harvested by 10 percent of the hunters.

I’ve come to know that statistic painfully well: it speaks to years of initiation and fathering—learning mostly through failure, often harvesting great stories but seldom meat.

For years along this path, I pondered this question: What does it take to move from the 90 percent of public land bowhunters to the 10 percent who (on average) successfully harvest most of the game? And slowly but surely, our Father has been illuminating the way.


Today is sabbath, and it is with savory delight that I pull out my bow and hunting bins, methodically taking inventory of the condition and status of my gear, weapon, arrows, and broadheads. I recondition my release with a concoction invented by smokejumpers to protect their leather boots. I massage a fresh coat of wax into my bow strings. I assess every arrow, checking broadhead, shaft, and knock. It’s all part of the liturgy of July and a place of intimacy with the Father, in the hopes of treading the path to becoming the 10 percent.

Archery season is approaching quickly, and I’ve not invested as much as I’d hoped to, given the season of life. But I’ve invested enough to take one more step along the narrow road of becoming. The evenings grow a bit cooler in this late summer season, and I feel the anticipation of chasing wild wax larger inside my soul with each passing day.

Today’s act of preparation is a velcro for hope. As my body goes through the motions of locking on a target and drawing my bow, my soul remembers and faithfully engages more than 15 years of knowing distilled from trial by fire, matured through success and failure. The fear that I haven’t done enough to prepare lurks on the edges of this knowing. Yet I’ve learned that it’s in this place on the edge of fear that I must turn to the Father for orientation. Once again, I am reassured of His presence and His pleasure. Even more, I sense His enjoyment of us as His sons who have consented to the slow and steady process of becoming.

I pause to take stock of five fundamental ideas that form the bedrock of my training toward the 10 percent. These five ideas expressed in the context of hunting also reflect the perennial truths of masculine initiation:

Do something every day
In both this season and this culture of unending demands, there still exists a narrow path into the 10 percent: I choose to
do something every day to draw closer to my objective. If my vision is to live with integrity in my relationships and not sacrifice my marriage, my children, and more at the altar of success in my passion, the pursuit of craft quickly becomes complex and, at times, overwhelming. Therefore, consenting to doing something every day proves to be the ascending path toward mastery and joy. In archery hunting, this might be as small and simple as investigating a new map, reading an article, trying a new workout, flinging a dozen arrows, or working through a solution to the problem we ran into the field last attempt. This long obedience in the same direction (to borrow Eugene Peterson’s phrase) also echoes the essence of Warren Buffet’s central strategy for investment: consistent investment over time with moderate returns yields exponential results. If we are committed to join the 10 percent and harvest the exponential results, we find that doing something every day is a proven strategy.

Time in the Woods
I’ve often heard that some of the most important scouting is done with maps on a computer. Thanks to incredible apps like On X Hunt and robust information online, that is
partially true. But there will never be a substitute for boots on the ground on the particular land on which you intend to hunt, close to the time in which you intend to hunt it. On a scouting trip this summer, we found ourselves above treeline at 13,130. It provided data, confirming local animal populations and patterns that cannot be gleaned anywhere but through direct observation. Even more, it provided a knowing of—the Hebrew writers use the word yada, which implies an intimate and experiential heart knowledge. The former is mere proposition; the second is poetry. We were surprised to find an abundance of fresh mountain goat sign but little evidence of deer using the remote alpine drainage as we’d expected. All of this experiential knowledge, combined with research, will become essential in our next archery pursuit. Whether it’s making sausage, painting, or scouting a hunting area, there is no substitute for experiential knowledge. While the world advertises shortcuts at every turn, real bodily experience over time is essential for the initiation and integration of the masculine soul. We learn by doing. Throw yourself in. There is no substitute for the “slow and steady” of time to do its work in us. Jesus’ words are a good, soulful reminder: “Don’t look for shortcuts to God. The market is flooded with surefire, easygoing formulas for a successful life that can be practiced in your spare time. Don’t fall for that stuff, even though crowds of people do. The way to life—to God—is vigorous and requires total attention.” (Matthew 7:13-14)

Choose your hunting companions with wisdom and care
Who you hunt with will shape your experience more than any other variable. I hunt with men who want what I want and value what I value. Men who contend fiercely for joy. Men who love the animals, the land, and the chase more than any outcome. Men who’ve consented to the steady work of preparation. Men who have given their hearts to the pursuit, who courageously submit self-interest to the collective good of the shared mission. Men who see the particular adventure in the context of the greater story and our role in it as husbands, fathers, and friends.

Humility
Ask questions of those who have gone before you. Consent to the wisdom of elders. Study. Learn. Listen (which starts by being present and being quiet). Over 15 years ago, I walked into the local bow shop and confessed to the resident pro, “I don’t even know what I don’t even know. But I want to become a bowhunter. Where do I start?” He proceeded to tell me a winsome and evocative story of how he entered the world of bowhunting by watching his uncles come home with elk meat from rifle hunts and how, in elementary school, he packed lunch every day so he could save his lunch money to put toward a bow. He finished with this advice: “Keep the wind in your face, the sun on your back, and find the joy.” This single piece of counsel has guided me more than any other in over 15 years. I have pages and pages of notes from asking question after question of anyone who has gone before me who knows something about archery hunting, the animals, or the land. Humility starts with acknowledging your lack and consenting to being led deeper along the frontier of the masculine soul.

Surrender outcomes
The brilliance and utter frustration is the futility of the odds. Seeking to harvest with bow on public land is a statistically absurd way to procure meat for the family. Statistically, you’re almost assured of failure. But that’s why we do it. It’s those sort of odds that create the best context for initiation and maturing in sonship. It’s those kind of odds that forge the best friendships. It’s the harvest that fuels every step of the way. But at the end of the day, the desire must be rooted in something far deeper than the harvest. Otherwise, compromises of relational integrity and personal ethics are bound to attend.

Remember the brilliant words of North Face founder and elder of adventure Yvon Chouinard. He talked of high-powered executives climbing Mt. Everest, showing up to basecamp with all the fix ropes and ladders already laid out for them by sherpas, chocolates placed on their pillows.

“Taking a trip for six months to get in the rhythm of it. It feels like you can go on forever doing that. Climbing Everest is the ultimate and the opposite of that. Because you get these high powered plastic surgeons and CEOs, they pay $80,000 and have sherpas put the ladders in place and 8000 feet of fixed ropes and you get to the camp and you don’t even have to lay out your sleeping bag. It’s already laid out with a chocolate mint on the top. The whole purpose of planning something like Everest is to effect some sort of spiritual and physical gain and if you compromise the process, you’re an asshole when you start out and you’re an asshole when you get back.”

We must become the kind of men who can let go of harvest as the ultimate definition of success. We must hunt for great stories before we hunt for trophy racks or even the procurement of meat. We must become the kind of people who have developed a far more robust and life-giving definition of success in the field than an animal on the wall or in the freezer.

How will you define success? I’ve learned that the greatest harvest on any hunt is always a great story. “Success” becomes an intention of my masculine soul on becoming the kind of person who not only moves toward the 10 percent but becomes a more wholehearted man through the process.

It’s all metaphor
As with the most meaningful stories of our life, the narrative of bowhunting borrows its power from the central story of Reality. The real story is not about the hunt or the meat that will one day be gone. The day will come when my legs and lungs won’t be able to endure the crazy exploits we now pursue. It’s only in choosing to interpret chasing wild in the context of the larger whole that it can take on the quality of eternity for which it was intended since the beginning.

Today I have to dig deep. As my body ages, my son and the joy and levity in his step is the Father’s provision to keep going. He beats me to the top. My body has had enough, and my mind is threatening to abort mission. But my heart knows I’ve got at least another one in me.

I pause at the top of this mountain, as I do as liturgy on the final ascent of every workout. I breathe and take in the beauty, knowing that today, this very moment, is the real gift I seek. I ask the Father what He has to say today. And I am reminded, perhaps for the first time in nearly two decades of training to hunt, that something has permanently shifted in my soul.

 

I used to train to hunt. Now I mostly hunt to train.  

It is more than hunting I’m training for. I’m slowly becoming the kind of person who recognizes that a context for training is essential to continue to grow into the man I long to be in spirit, soul, mind, and body. My training leads my masculine soul along the outermost edge of its frontier—it is in this soul geography that the masculine heart thrives. I’m training for loving my bride today and for decades to come. I’m training to raise my children into vibrant, wholehearted lifetime learners and lovers. I’m training to become a better friend. And I’m training to grow in my capacity to serve with the heart of a king. I realize the gift of training toward the 10 percent has forged in me a lifestyle of becoming that produces more life, more joy, and more fruit than any other lifestyle I can imagine.

I’ve sacrificed time, money, energy, and more to fight for this hunt and—even more—this way of living. Soon I will be off the grid again, deep in the high country. If it’s like many former escapades, we will be contending with all manner of Nature’s glorious fury—her wonderful danger, unyielding demand, and relentless joy.

Like the seep of a mountain spring, the anticipation of camaraderie, of suffering and exuberance, of defeat and triumph fuels my anticipation. I close my eyes to imagine experiencing once more the text that nature renders at the crescendo of summer’s brilliance and autumn’s foray. I anticipate the rare experience of being saturated by beauty and immersed in the canvas of the greatest Artist and the One I truly seek.

That immersion in the beauty and expanse of God through wilderness is worth the pain. It is for joy that we too endure every cross, big and small.

It orients my masculine soul yet again to things good and true and beautiful, dissolving my misplaced desire for less wild lovers that simply cannot provide the life I seek.

It aligns my heart and my strength toward God and His kingdom and His brilliance as the master Craftsman behind and in all things.

It is here I find myself, finally cresting The Grinder one last time, at least for today. My son has lapped me again, and catches up.

Both of us, another rock in hand, walk over to the cairn that started years ago as a single stone and now has become a memorial that kindly reminds us this isn’t our first rodeo. We set our rocks on the cairn and momentarily enjoy this beacon for becoming which greets us at the top of every ascent.

This year’s mission is to find ourselves deep in wild, above timberline, close enought to witness the flicker of the ear of a mule deer. And, God willing, to release an arrow and put fantastic meat on the table.

Even more, it is the story we chase that forges the souls of men.

I used to train to hunt.

Now I hunt to train.

The Father is always offering a doorway through which we can follow Him into the recovery of the ancient path where we might become the kind of hunter—the kind of man—who finds himself among the 10 percent.

What are you training for?

What is the fruit of that training in your life and in your relationships?

What is frontier for you today and in this decade in your training?


Father, You have things to whisper to our interior places of deep ache and longing. We sense that when we choose against the hurry and instead choose to pause, be still, and tune in to Your voice, we will hear Your voice and experience Your heart for us. We will see You, greater and stronger than our enemies. What is it You are inviting me to train for, and how do you want to lead me into more life in the pursuit? You have my yes and my heart. Lead me further along the narrow road…

A Few, and Those Very Deeply

A young apprentice once asked Dallas Willard,

“What books do you recommend reading?”

Dallas, after a long pause (there is always a long pause with Dallas), responded,

“I recommend a few. And to read those very deeply.”

The refreshing counsel of a sage.

We are all immersed in a culture bombarding us with content. Some of it very good content.  Perhaps to truly nourish our souls, it is not only good content we need, but less of it, and that content to be ingested, savored, considered very slowly and deeply.

As an apprentice in the ways of God’s Kingdom, I am a voracious reader and learner. But I also sense one of my Kingdom assignments is to curate and distill soul-centered content from far and wide, from which the hungry few might feast and be strengthened.

Part of that process, I believe, is to regularly recommend a few of the books I’ve dived into, pondered, and been deeply challenged and nourished by.

Particularly in the summer season, I make it a regular spiritual practice to pause more, linger more in a good reading of great books. Here are several for your consideration:

Les Misérables by Victor Hugo (unabridged)

Introducing one of the most famous characters in literature, Jean Valjean—the noble peasant imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread—Les Misérables ranks among the greatest novels of all time. In it, Victor Hugo takes readers deep into the Parisian underworld, immerses them in a battle between good and evil, and carries them to the barricades during the uprising of 1832 with a breathtaking realism that is unsurpassed in modern prose.

Within his dramatic story are themes that capture the intellect and the emotions: crime and punishment, the relentless persecution of Valjean by Inspector Javert, the desperation of the prostitute Fantine, the amorality of the rogue Thénardier, and the universal desire to escape the prisons of our own minds. Les Misérables gave Victor Hugo a canvas upon which he portrayed his criticism of the French political and judicial systems, but the portrait that resulted is larger than life, epic in scope—an extravagant spectacle that dazzles the senses even as it touches the heart.”

At 1466 pages, contending with its length is not for the faint of heart. But this brilliant novel is worth its weight in gold, truly unparalleled. The transcendent narrative plunges into the depths of the human soul. To see evil and goodness warring for the souls of men; to glimpse the heart of a good king, of a good father; to watch redemption in the face of personal and unspeakable evil; to be reminded what God is really like—it could save our souls.

A few quotes:

“He did not study God. He was dazzled by Him.”

“In passing we might say success is a hideous thing. Its false similarity to merit deceives men. To the masses, success has almost the same appearance as supremacy. Success, that pretender to talent has a dupe—history.”

“Can human nature be so entirely transformed inside and out? Can man, created good by God, be made wicked by man? Can the soul be completely changed by its destiny, and turn evil when its fate is evil? Can the heart become distorted, contract deformities and incurable infirmities, under the pressure of disproportionate grief, like the spinal column under a low ceiling? Is there not in every human soul—was there not particularly in Jean Valjean’s soul—a primitive spark, a divine element, incorruptible in this world and immortal in the next, which can be developed by goodness, kindles, lit up and made to radiate, and which evil can never entirely extinguish?”

“There are men who work for the extraction of gold; he worked for the extraction of pity. The misery of the universe was his mine. Grief everywhere was only an occasion for good always. Love one another. He declared that to be complete; he desired nothing more, and it was his whole doctrine.”


American Buffalo by Steven Rinella

“Steven Rinella won a lottery permit to hunt for a wild buffalo in the Alaskan wilderness. In a book that combines adventure with a quirky blend of facts and observations about history and the natural world, Rinella takes us across the continent—from the Bering Land Bridge, where scientists search for buffalo bones amid artifacts of the New World’s earliest human inhabitants, to buffalo jumps where Native Americans once ran animals over cliffs by the thousands. A captivating narrative of environmental and historical significance, Rinella’s tale is a fascinating examination of an animal that has haunted the American imagination for centuries.”

A few quotes:

“[We must be clear between when we are] being sold the illusion of something rather than the thing itself.”

“At once [the buffalo] is a symbol of the tenacity of wilderness and the destruction of wilderness; its a symbol of Native American culture and the death of Native American culture; its a symbol of the strength and vitality of America and the pettiness and greed of America; it represents a frontier both forgotten and remembered; it stands for freedom and captivity, extinction and salvation.”


Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry

Good Kings come in all shapes in sizes. The story of Jayber Crow is an intensely thought-provoking and enticing story that will challenge the soul of a man if he is willing to take the risk.

“Jayber Crow, born in Goforth, Kentucky, orphaned at age ten, began his search as a pre-ministerial student at Pigeonville College. There, freedom met with new burdens and a young man needed more than a mirror to find himself. But the beginning of that finding was a short conversation with Old Grit, his profound professor of New Testament Greek:


You have been given questions to which you cannot be given answers. You will have to live them out—perhaps a little at a time.

And how long is that going to take?

I don’t know. As long as you live, perhaps.

That could be a long time.

I will tell you a further mystery, he said. It may take longer.

Eventually, after the flood of 1937, Jayber becomes the barber of the small community of Port William, Kentucky. From behind that barber chair he lives out the questions that drove him from seminary and begins to accept the gifts of community that enclose his answers. The chair gives him a perfect perch from which to listen, to talk, and to see, as life spends itself all around. In this novel full of remarkable characters, he tells his story that becomes the story of his town and its transcendent membership.”

A few quotes:

“As I have read the Gospels over the years, the belief has grown in me that Christ did not come to found an organized religion but came instead to found an unorganized one. He seems to have come to carry religion out of the temples into the fields and sheep pastures, onto the roadsides and the banks of the rivers, into the houses of sinners and publicans, into the town and the wilderness, toward the membership of all that is here. Well, you can read and see what you think.”

“To love anything good, at any cost, is a bargain.”

“Faith is not necessarily, or not soon, a resting place. Faith puts you out on a wide river in a boat, in the fog, in the dark.”


Adam’s Return by Richard Rohr

Much has been written on masculinity. Yet few other resources have helped to shape me more and to help me identify the core essence of what God is inviting me to shepherd in the initiation of my son into manhood. The Father has used this book to allow hope to rise in seeing how I am being initiated alongside my son, both of us recovering lost treasures and becoming men who, like Paul, can one day say with confidence, “Now that I have been through my initiation, I am ready for anything, anywhere.”

A few quotes:

“In the larger-than-life people I have met, I always find one common denominator; in some sense, they have all died before they have died. At some point, they were led to the edge of their private resources, and that breakdown, which surely felt like dying, led them into a larger life…Instead of avoiding a personal death or raging at it, they went through a death, a death of their old self, their small life, and came out the other side knowing that death could no longer hurt them.”

“For some reason young bull elephants were acting strangely out of character—antisocial and aimlessly violent; they were stomping on VWs, pushing over trees for no reason, and even killing other small animals and baby elephants. Park rangers came in to study the problem and, in the course of their investigation, they discovered that there were no older bull elephants in that area…They brought in some older bull elephants…Things soon turned to normal once the elders started operating as elders.”


The Native Americans An Illustrated History

It has been said that one of the most effective ways to prepare for the future is to become a student of the past. Did you know there were over 2000 languages spoken in America before a white person ever entered the land?

“Dispossessed of their ancestral homelands by successive invasions of Europeans, the first real Americans have long been cloaked in a veil of myth and legend that has hidden from us the true richness and diversity of Indian civilizations and cultures. This newly unfolding legacy represents an unparalleled body of untapped wisdom, which even now provides fresh perspective on modern problems. The astonishing reality of Indian history, presented here for the first time from the perspective of native Americans, will deepen our understanding of what it really means to be an American.”  

Presented in this great work from the perspective of the native American, it contains a vast treasure chest of insight which serves to shape, mature and integrate the masculine soul.

“[Spirituality] pervaded all of life and provided a sense of context. Everything in the world had its spiritual component and every action had to be accompanied by proper ritual. It was not enough to accept a new plant or artifact; one had to know the exact ritual that applied to its special characteristics in order to be able to use it effectively… The ritually established connections of crops to the larger cosmos of seasonal cycles changed their way of life, but it was a [spiritual] rather than agricultural development.”


Essentialism by Greg McKeown

“The Way of the Essentialist isn’t about getting more done in less time. It’s about getting only the right things done.  It is not  a time management strategy, or a productivity technique. It is a systematic discipline for discerning what is absolutely essential, then eliminating everything that is not, so we can make the highest possible contribution towards the things that really matter…

Essentialism is not one more thing – it’s a whole new way of doing everything. A must-read for any leader, manager, or individual who wants to do less, but better, and declutter and organize their own their lives, Essentialism is a movement whose time has come.

A few quotes:

“Basic value proposition of Essentialism – Only when you give yourself permission to stop doing it all, stop saying yes to everyone, can you make your highest contribution toward the things that really matter.”

“The way of the essentialist is the relentless pursuit of less but better.”

 


 

Enjoy…

For earlier recommendations go to the Books section in Dig Deeper

 

 

#031: 100 Miles with Dave Eitemiller [Podcast]

Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.
John Muir


Podcast: Subscribe in iTunes | Play in new window | Download


Piecing together a string of single-track trails that meander through a dry, rocky, cactus-strewn landscape, it’s possible to make a 48-mile continuous trek across Zion National Park.

For most people, this trek would be one of the epic adventures of their lives; if you’re Dave Eitemiller, you count it as a solid training workout for yet another 100-mile adventure race.

Nearing the sixth decade of his life with a frontiersman’s heart akin to the likes of Lewis and Clark, Dave is partnering with God in the corners of the globe to father leaders in the Kingdom.

With experiences spanning corporate executive roles in Shanghai to adventures with fly rod and skis in the backcountry of the West, Dave’s the kind of man with whom it’s good to share a campfire.

I had the privilege of hosting a conversation with him prior to his recent venture into the wild of Zion National Park. Join us as we savor a conversation sure to beckon each of us forward along the frontier of the masculine journey in unique and collective ways.


To connect with fathers in the Kingdom, consider applying for a future Become Good Soil Intensive. And for all of us, let this podcast be a reminder of this Kingdom reality: We are each invited to become what we did not have.

 

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#030: Coming to the Center (The Marriage Podcast Series – Part Four) [podcast]

“There is one spectacle grander than the sea, that is the sky; there is one spectacle grander than the sky, that is the interior of the soul.”Victor Hugo, Les Misérables


Podcast: Subscribe in iTunes | Play in new window | Download


Kelly and Phil are getting a divorce.

The email from a mutual friend sharing the news hit me like a punch in the stomach.

Brandon and his dad are in deep contention. It’s the kind of painful, two-sided misunderstanding that could finally sever the strained relationship.

Tragic stories of ruptured relationships continue to stream into my world, and I’m sure into yours as well. My heart never builds resiliency. Rather, it seems to break even more with every fresh story.

But increasing ever more are the stories of restoration.

Resolution.

Resolve.

And many, through the miracle of validation—a practice of coming to the center of the soul of another—through which God’s life seems to flood in like morning sun.

This practice of seeking experiential heart knowledge of another for her or his own sake is perhaps one of the most courageous and loving acts a spouse, a friend, a sibling, or a parent can ever take.

I will go as far as to say that the breakthroughs in our marriage over the past 16 years have often been directly proportional to the process that has begun with my capacity to come to the center of the present reality of my wife’s soul. And to offer her the same access to mine in crazy, risky love.

In Renovation of the Heart, Dallas suggests,

The hidden dimension of each human life is not visible to others, nor is it fully graspable even by ourselves. We usually know very little about what moves in our own soul, the deepest level of our life, or what is driving it. Our ‘within’ is astonishingly complex and subtle.

And within this complex, hidden dimension is the power and possibility of love.

The practice of coming to the center of another involves putting aside—for a time—my own pain, my need, my presumption, and my agenda in order to know and enter into the experience of the hidden dimension of another for his or her own sake. It is a participation in the Life of Christ, who does unendingly what we intend to do for a moment: enter into the internal experience of another.

That is the space of transformation.

Join Cherie and me as we head back into deep waters.

Let’s become the kind of people—the kind of marriages—where we can cause the world to believe, as Paul says, though much is not as it should be, the Kingdom of God is growing. The Message bears fruit and gets larger and stronger, in us and through us. (Phil. 2:15, Col. 1:5-8)

This is the fourth of a marriage podcast series. If you haven’t heard the first three, I’d encourage you to start at the beginning.

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She Has My Delight

It all started with one shimmering pair of pink cowgirl boots.

My then two-year-old princess, clothed in her leotard, would tug them on with a grin, then twirl with delight. And melt this daddy-heart of mine.

A tradition began, inspired by a row of cowgirl boots I’d seen in the home of a mentor years before. Each Valentine’s Day, my Abigail and I now head out on a date for her to select a new pair of cowgirl boots for the year. This last trip, I shared with her my request that when the day comes for her to leave our nest, she is welcome to take with her all the pairs that still fit. But the ones she has outgrown—those she’ll leave for me so that I might savor the years long passed, treasuring our memories of daddy and daughter in my heart. To relish with both ache and longing the reminder C.S. Lewis offers to us parents:

“Children are not a distraction from work. They are the most important work.”

Today there are already more outgrown cowgirl boots on the shelf than my heart can readily bear.

As a wise elder once said,

The days are long, but the years are short.

Never has a truer word been spoken.

It’s been said we only become the fathers we long to be by fathering. In the wise words of Dan Allender, it’s children, after all, who raise parents.

I’m not yet the father I long to be. But I am the father she has today. And I choose to be here.

On this day, I still have her. She is nearly 10, and radiant. Brimming with life, beauty, wonder, questions, and emerging shoots of wisdom set to burst forth.

Several months ago, Abigail confided in Cherie that she wanted a “promise ring.” We are still not sure whence the inspiration came to her. Though I too had a ring in mind, my original intention was for this day to wait a few years. But I have learned too slowly,

“Many are the plans in the heart of a man. But is is the purposes of God that prevail.” Proverbs 19:21

To be a student of her heart is one of the great invitations and sacred trusts of my life, and the life of every dad.

Her heart is now asking deeper questions, wondering deeper things about the heart of her dad and the heart of her Father in Heaven. So this day has come upon me. And I choose again to roll the dice of parenting and venture along the frontier of mystery and risk. Perhaps, in the words of Roosevelt, I may fail as I often do—but at least I will fail by daring greatly.

Father, come.

What is the promise this ring is intended by Heaven to signify? I have heard of girls who are given a “purity ring” when they come of age. A ring that seems to carry a sense of their pledge to keep themselves sexually pure until they are married.

But that is not the ring I have in mind for Abigail.

The ring that I want to bestow upon her is not an effort to make her promise something to me. Rather, I want to give her a ring that would communicate my promise to her. What am I promising? After prayer and inquiring of my wife’s wisdom born of the decades, I sensed this was my promise:

I choose to never, ever revoke my delight in her.

No matter what. I will not conditionally wield my delight in an effort to conform her choices to my will. No, I offer her my delight and extend to her a sacred place in my heart without condition. I promise that my favor and delight will always be hers.

The day came for me to present this ring to her. And as I looked into her not-yet-10-year-old eyes, I glimpsed a flash of future moments reflecting back to me. I felt warm tears on my face. Then, with the rush of whitewater rapids, the scenes cascaded through my imagination:

The first was her driving away in a car with a young man I barely knew, heading off to a school dance.

The next was an aisle at a wedding. Her wedding…and an aisle the end of which I never wanted to come.

Then I saw her at my bedside. I was an old man. She was radiant, the splendor of her maturity altogether lovely, offering me care beyond words.

I was nearly overwhelmed by the emotion of these unexpected glimpses around the bend of time. I did everything to come back to the present moment. Storing these up as treasures in my heart, I endeavored to simply offer the portion that was for this moment on this day.

Abigail, this ring is the symbol of my promise and devotion.

You are the delight of my heart,

and I promise that I will never withdraw my delight from you.

Nothing you do or don’t do,

nothing you say or don’t say

will ever justify me withdrawing my delight from you

or closing my heart to you.

With this ring, I give you the promise of my delight.

You are the delight of your father’s heart.

And with this ring, I give you permission and invitation.

I invite you to tell me if you ever experience me withdrawing my delight.

I promise to listen to you and to respond.

It is my hope that God will one day provide a husband for you who will nourish and cultivate your feminine heart in all its depth and wonder.

Yet today this is my promise:

With my sword and my strength,

I am with you to the very end.

I will always protect and always provide.

You are safe.

You are loved.

You are known.

And you will never be alone.

You are the delight of your daddy’s heart.

Though my flesh and my heart at times will fail,

Our Father will always be the strength of our hearts and our portion forever.

May this ring be to you a symbol of my enduring delight and the place you have in my heart that is yours and yours alone.

And with it, I pledge to always point you to our Father, who is the Father of us all.

May you experience Him chasing after you.

He has you, Abigail.

Your soul will always be safe in Him.

Boots and Ring-4

Hours later, I came into the house from a project in the garage to find her at her art table, creating another piece of beauty. I caught a sparkle from her ring in the afternoon light. Its shimmer compelled me upstairs to her childhood room to look at her collection of outgrown boots yet again.

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I felt the paradox of grief of years lost and the hope of what time I do have. I consecrated my life to God again, quietly and simply, as a daddy. And I asked Him to lead me, as if He were me, living my life. Asked His life to flow into me and through me to my daughter’s heart.

On this day and in this decade, I ask you, Father, would you guide me in bringing Your heart as Father to the heart of my little girl?

Father, I confess how often I blow it as a dad.  Father, I ask that where I lack maturity I might excel in affection and pursuit of her heart. I am deeply in need of growing as a student of her heart. Cultivate in me an increasing capacity to see her as You see her, to delight in her. Father, apprentice me to become the kind of father who is no longer capable of withdrawing my delight.

So that she might receive time and time again the miracle of validation—the gift of being known and received for who she truly is.

So that through me she might know You as Father, and in every circumstance, find rest and restoration for her vast and ever-expanding feminine soul.

Through my pursuit and my delight, by day and by decade, may her heart grow to know,

“There has never been the slightest doubt in my mind that the God who started this great work in you would keep at it and bring to a flourishing finish on the very day God appears again in his fullness…” (Philippians 1:6 MSG)

Abigail, may you and every daughter be able to say, from the depths of your being, far deeper than words,

I am the daughter of a King.

My Father is with me

And goes before me.

I will not fear.

Because

I am His.

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We are not yet who we will one day become. Yet we are the fathers they have today.

What will you do to communicate, to model your unconditional delight in your daughter?

What will you do to become the kind of father in a decade who offers even deeper delight to your daughter?


Justin – A special thanks to you for making these pictures possible. You capture soul with your camera and work in the unseen spaces in the lives of so many to bring light into darkness and to give voice to the sacred in all things. Thanks for your strength. It’s changing the world…

#029: Plank and Speck Wrap Up (The Marriage Series – Part Three) [Podcast]

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The offer is Life.

Yet that abundant life is often found in the least likely of places.

What is the most effective path toward the much looked-for restoration in the heart of your spouse?

Join Cherie and me in this second half of a conversation in which we reflect on the particular elements of Reality as Jesus reveals what can bring more life to our marriages than we ever thought possible.

Jesus, we choose to pause.

Jesus, we open the gate of our soul and trust that You are reliable and fully capable of providing a way where there is no way.

In this episode we offer some reflection questions for deep consideration. Take the time to stay with God in those questions until you are led into the more He is making available.

With deep anticipation,

Cherie and Morgan

Note: If you haven’t listened to the first portion of this conversation on The Plank and the Speck, you’ll want to start here first.

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