Category Archives: #Watch

Watch 33 (Trail and Wild)

Hathaway Preserve at Ross Run

I’ve been hiking more this year than I have in previous years, partially due to my new wife and I exploring places we have both loved seperately for the first time together, and partially due to being out of town for work so much.  When I have a few hours before or after work with nowhere else to go, I have been seeking the woods and the trail.  Together and apart, Sam and I have wandered through canyons, strode through valleys, scrambled up ridges, and splashed through creek beds while we traveled along the path set out for us.  We have explored together those wild places that human hands have left to their own devices, places where nature is the lead designer.

When I think about the wild places I have been through this year, I think of the time that has passed.  Every year on my birthday, I replace my suddenly worn and weary watch with one that is fresh and new.  I have been doing this for a while now, and this will be the 8th watch I have worn in as many years.  It is a reset of sorts, a tool for self evaluation.  As I carry this tradition forward, my time will eventually run out, and I hope to have a fine collection of watches to display at my funeral.  Each watch will have it’s own story, and in that story pieced together from year sized slices, I hope that a remnant of the person I was while I walked the earth remains behind, eager to walk beside anyone willing to travel the road I traveled in life.  Today, it strikes me that one year sized slice will be unwritten, but I guess there isn’t much to be done about that.

A path we walked in Brazil this year.

The wild places around us do not grow up overnight.  Time passes to fully form them.  Glaciers carve out paths through rock and soil, while streams continue the work when the glaciers have melted.  A tree creates year sized slices of it’s own, each ring representing a year of growth.  The carpet of fallen leaves melts into the forest floor, only to be covered by a freshly fallen carpet of color the next year.   A tree outlives the squirrel that scampers over it’s branches, whilst the doe and fawn feed at it’s feet for a time.  The wild places around us do not grow up overnight.

My life has been full of wild places, and full of places that have been tamed.  Do not make the mistake of thinking that I despise a place that has been tamed.  I enjoy the comforts of home, I enjoy the structures we live and work in.  The rain knocking on the window beside me is better kept out than allowed to enter, in this moment.  Structure and tameness are important parts of our lives, and this past year has found me developing these structures in my life to new levels.   In the same way that wildness does not finish its work overnight, neither have these structures sprung up fully formed in the darkness of one moment.

Photo by Mackenzie Bates of Waverly Lane Photography

This past year has brought a lot of new construction into my life.  I am now a married man, a man who has so happily consented to building together a life with this one woman my heart has chosen.  This structure will define the rest of my life forever.  I finished a year of living in my car at the end of December.  (An experiment of sorts that one day I may write more about.)  I entered my third year of freedom from the bite of the snake.  I have stepped into new roles at work, expanding my responsibilities into new places.  I have made a serious commitment to eliminating the debt of consumerism and one-upmanship from my finances.  These structures, these tame places, have not sprung up in one night, they have been the work of years, and some of these structures will take the work of a lifetime to complete.  I will seek to continue the taming of my heart in the year that follows, each tick of this new watch a milestone on the path I walk.  I will pursue the completion of structures placed not on sand, but on the solid rock of Christ who ultimately leads me from point to point.  I will blaze a new trail in the year that comes, creating a tame place in the wildness on both sides that I may travel upon.

My favorite panorama of the year. Taken near Lake Lemon in Monroe County Indiana

I will not always build these trails correctly the first time.  Each trail will endure constant renovation and rebirth.  It will be a struggle to complete the vision set in front of me.  The struggle will require the clearing of thorns from the path in front of me.  The leveling of ground that lies unevenly at my feet will break my back as I move shovel after shovel of dirt to a new and different place.  Taming certain areas will be hard work in this new year of life, as it was hard work in the year that has just past.  The trail I build will be the legacy of my life.

My wife playing in the clear water of a creek.

The wild places in us do not grow up over night.  They must be protected and given a chance to grow.  As much as I speak of creating a trail in my life, I want even more to cultivate certain areas of wildness in me.  I must set borders on those areas, but if allowed to grow in the proper place and time, the wild in me will birth a beauty that no human mind can plan.  The wild and the trail live together in harmony.  They form each other.  Without the trail, the beauty of the wild would not be seen, would not be experienced.  Without the wild, the trail has no where to explore, no new thing to see.

As I step into this new year, I look forward to developing the trail in front of me.  As I build, I will seek out the beauty in the wild that grows within me.

A waterfall in Salmonie State Park near Wabash Indiana.


Watch 32

I wonder what it was like.

33 years ago I was born into the world I live in now.  I passed from the darkness into the light, and saw for the first time that there was more to my life than darkness and indistinct voices.

I wonder what it was like.

I was obviously present at the event in question, but I guess I wasn’t paying too much attention, since I don’t remember any of it.  I guess if my birth was typical at all, I entered the world I now know, and after some coercion, took my first breath.  At various points after my first breath, I was washed and bundled, weighed and observed, and handed to my mother and father so they could meet me face to face for the first time.  I suppose that was an incredible moment for them, one filled with weight and quite possibly terror, but also filled with a deep care that they had probably never before experienced.   I irrevocably changed their lives forever, and things would never be the same for them.

I’m not sure at what point in the process this may have happened, but at some point someone took note of the time, and wrote it down so it could be on my birth certificate.  They jotted down a series of numbers that didn’t mean much to many people, but to my parents, those numbers represented the beginning of a brand new experience, as they walked into the unknown lands of parenthood, together.   For me, it represents the beginning of my journey in this world.

Just a few simple numbers mark the beginning, and one day those same simple numbers will mark the end.

I wear a new watch tonight, as I always do on my birthday, having retired the previous years watch.  I note the numbers, realizing with each passing second that I have just a bit less time here in this world.  I filled my year in the best ways I could, deciding that I didn’t want to focus on what I didn’t have, but rather make the most of what I did.  I’ve covered a lot of ground in the last year, and I am going to take a moment to reflect on it, to remember what life was like when I was 32.

It has been a crazy year.

During one hectic and incredible week, I bought a school bus at auction, flew to D.C. to pick it up, and more importantly went on my first date with the woman I hope to someday soon call my wife.  I had met her in June, at a CD release event, and I had done my best to catch her eye that night at a group dinner.  I’ll leave the full story for another day, but I left dinner that night convinced that she wasn’t interested, and that she wasn’t going to be.  4 months and one birthday later, we met at a stone quarry to admire the view.  I eventually invited her out for coffee, and I have grown to not only love her, but understand more fully what love is as our relationship has continued.  I’ve never done anything to deserve this love, but I am so glad that I have finally found what I was searching for.  In December I asked her to be my girlfriend, and now I am waiting anxiously to ask her another very important question.

I’ve found in her a helper, a helper in times of trouble, which have been in some abundance this year.  I’ve wrestled with a lot of my demons this year, exposing them to the light so that others can see the victory God has brought, so they can find hope for themselves.  I’ve found myself tossed about, as relationships to people and organizations I expected to always be there, have been broken.   Slow times at work have made interesting financial arrangements necessary, and while things are looking up financially, I’m still catching up at times.

In June, I had the privilege of visiting my friends Joel and Deborah in their new home, a small country in Sub-Saharan Africa.  I wrestled with separation in ways I never have, and experienced a life I knew nothing about.  I was humbled by the kindness of a man who drove us around the beautiful countryside, who refused desperately needed money so that he could serve his brothers in Christ.  That man was hurt the next day in a motorcycle accident, and left unable to work for several weeks, but in his poverty and brokenness, he invited us into his home for a humble meal outside under a darkening sky.  I worshiped with brothers and sisters who I may never meet again in this world, and I found acceptance and grace in all of our interactions.

I witnessed the marvels of a full solar eclipse, and I was awe-struck.  I was surprised on my birthday by my girlfriend, and my good friend who drove 3 hours to see me and celebrate with me.   I love them both.

You see, I’m happy to continue living this life here, happy to watch the moments tick by on my new watch, because I now see so many good possibilities for my time here.  I couldn’t see any of those moments from where I was a year ago.  So now, I will do my best to enjoy each moment I have left, hoping to make as big of an impact as I can.  But in all of this hoping for the future, I return again to the moment I was born.

On that day 33 years ago, I didn’t know what the world I was entering held for me.  I only knew that I was leaving behind everything I had known from before.  When my time runs out, I certainly don’t know exactly what awaits me, but I know that on that day I will see in full, that which I know only see in part.  I’ll be born again, born into another world, where I’ll meet the faithful motorcycle driver, and I’ll speak to him, and invite him in for dinner.  I’ll be in a place that makes my current home seem like darkness, as I step into the light.

I wonder what it will be like.

Be sure to check out the other people on the journey with me at, or on our Facebook page.  There are some awesome people participating this year, and they all have something important to say.  

#Watch 31


Every year on my birthday, I retire the watch I’ve worn for the past year.  I started the tradition several years ago as I contemplated the path that I thought lay ahead of me.  I wanted a way to look back in time and see who I was in the past, to see who I am now as a result of that past.  I put on my 6th watch this evening.

Each watch is a testament of sorts, an anchor to that year of my life, a physical link to a time that is past.  Perhaps one day I’ll have children, perhaps even grandchildren, and my hope is that they will allow me to tell them a story about each watch.  I hope the stories will illuminate parts of my life, like the glowing back light illuminates the thin hands marking time as they tirelessly march in never varying circles.  The moments I reveal to those who would listen will be the memorable ones, the accomplishments, the relationships formed and broken, the moments that shaped who I would become.  Imagine the joy of showing an eager listener the timepiece I wore when they were born, perhaps they will hearken to the reverence of time itself invested in watches worn in times of mourning.  I hope the stories will reveal me.  That I will be known.
2016-08-24 22.18.39


When I am asked about this year, I am afraid that I will be quick to pass over it.  I’ve done little of note this year.  Perhaps the most important thing I have done this year is to help record a CD with some of my friends.  I won’t be able to point to trips I have taken, funds I have raised or buildings I have built.  I have little to show this year for adventure and feats of daring.  I have worked many hours, I have slept as much as I could get away with, and I have lived a plain life.  I’ve watched as the legacy I thought I had been building had holes punched in it, as it crashed down around me and lay in ruins at my feet.  I could only stand idly by while 15 years of my life and work was pulled out from under me.   I struggled to fulfill the most basic obligations of society.

What will there be to say about this past year?

I do not know that path ahead, but when someday I am asked about this year, I hope I have the courage to share those things that were done in me instead of by me.  For the first time in 15 years I have found freedom from habits that have held me in tight bondage.  I was given the courage to finish a self destructive relationship.  I found enough courage to ask for more responsibility.  I sought a place to use gifts that I was afraid were too weak to be used, and I spent time developing those gifts.  I’ve worked towards paying off obligations, and as each is paid, I find myself closer to my next adventure.   I’ve re-learned to invest in people, because if I will ever have a legacy that can survive the destruction of a sledgehammer, it must be a legacy built in peoples hearts.   This year has been a year of learning, a year of preparation.

Time is a treasure that we hope to fill our treasure(d) chests with.  Each tick of the second hand like a heartbeat keeping us alive, but drawing us ever closer to the end.  Each beat, is one less to be completed.  Do not doubt that each beat, each second, can have value.  Even if what you are walking through isn’t exciting, it can be life changing.   I know that someday in the future, when I tell the story of this year, it will be foreshadowing the things to come in my next.  For now I see only in part, but one day it will be revealed in its fullness.

Farewell Watch #30

“2 year service plan?” The gentleman at Walmart asked disinterestedly. I quickly declined out of habit. As I waited credit card in hand on my one other item to be scanned, I chuckled to myself.

“What good is a two year service plan for a watch I’ll only wear for a year?” I quipped.

Every year on my birthday I purchase a new watch. I started the tradition a few years ago, and it is something I look forward to doing. I started thinking about my approaching birthday months ago, already trying to decide what I wanted to write about. A part of the tradition is putting something in words that I can use to reflect on and remember the past year by. I reread each previous post as I approach a new year of life.

This year has been hard. I have had to acknowledge that I will soon need glasses to allow me to continue to take in-focus photos. My hearing isn’t what it used to be, and my physical endurance is fading as well. I have felt a loss of stamina, which is sorely needed as I finish my 8th 60+ hour work week and start a 9th.

I am still not ready to be married, and I dissapoint those who are anxiously hoping for that day. My social life has changed dramatically since I left the youth center last summer. I find myself in a cycle of sleep, eat, work, sleep that does not seem to have an end. I regularly have to ask someone what day it is. I often find that I just don’t care about what is happening around me.

In November my mother passed away.

It has been a hard year.

I am ready to put this watch away, but it will be a long time before I can forget the year it stood guard over.

I will always remember being in the back of a speeding truck, my watch laying beside the seizing body of a young boy on his way to a Haitian hospital. I’ll remember the quick glances at my watch while I stood in the light of the swiftly rising Haitian sun when my two weeks there was done, hoping someone would come out to see me off, but glad of the escape from a goodbye I didn’t want to say when the truck snuck away with me aboard.

I’ll remember handing my watch to Karalee as she checked the weak pulse of a little Nicaraguan girls frail and failing body. I’ll remember my surprise at being roused from my Nicaraguan bunk at such a late hour by a dear sister who came to say goodbye and thank me for my presence.

I won’t forget the unfeeling but honest hands of the watch telling me I was going to be late to the cemetary.

There are so many seconds of this year that it is hard to imagine will ever be forgotten. In a way, I hope that I never do. It would change who I am now to forget these things.

Many of the events of the past year remind me that I may not have many more. There is no such thing as a 2 year service plan for a life. The only time you can depend on is the time that has already passed. I am so glad to have been given this past year, and I am hopeful that more time will be granted to me.

I have so much that I need to say.

It is in this past year that I finally feel as if I have found my voice, and while there is still breath in these lungs, I intend to use it.


#watch 29

I’ve finally done it.  After years and years of struggle and adversity,  I’ve become a stereotype.  Today happens to be my birthday, and I’ve just taken 20 or so hours worth of steps into a whole new decade in life.  It is somewhat fitting that I would find my way to being a stereotype on my birthday, especially this particular stereotype.  I’m the guy who is 30 and still living in his parents house!

Some might say that I’ve not achieved anything of note, but I would like to remind them that I have been working towards this for 30 years!  When is the last time you achieved anything after 30 years of work?  Exactly.  Let me just have this moment.  Okay…that’s long enough.

Now this isn’t true in every case of a 30 year old living in his parents house, but I happen to be one of those people who does not yet have kids.  While I don’t have kids, I do know a few people who have them, and the other day I heard on the radio a list of questions that kids like to ask that adults find themselves struggling to explain.  The one that really blew my mind was deceptively simple at first, until I tried to explain it to myself.   Just imagine an adorably small, cute, little voice asking you the following question.

“What is time?”

Go ahead…try to answer it.  Explain it to the questioning little face hovering around your knee expecting you to have the answer.   Explain to them this concept that dictates our days, hours, minutes, this infernal ticking menace that tells us when to get up and when to go to bed.  Tell them all about this great master that orders our days and measures our years.  Tell your child what time is!

I had to ask Wikipedia.


Every year on my birthday, I have a bit of a tradition.  I purchase a new watch and retire my old one.  If God doesn’t have other plans, I hope to have a decent collection of watches that I intend to have displayed at my eventual funeral.   I just bought my 4th watch since starting this tradition a few years ago, and I am still getting used to the smaller and less scratched face staring up at me from my wrist.  I don’t continue this tradition because I have any particular affection for purchasing new watches, and at roughly $40 or less, I’m not exactly purchasing heirloom quality stuff here.  I tend to wear the same clothes for decades, keep things well past their usefulness, and generally am not crazy about change.

So each year when I buy a new watch there is a bit of sadness.  A bit of tenderness for the year that has passed.  As I found myself preparing for the change this year, I discovered something new in my heart.

I really didn’t want this year to be over.

Birthdays have always been something I don’t broadcast loudly to the world, I’m just not a fan of the attention and small talk that comes with it.  I’ve never wanted to avoid the practical effect of a birthday though…why this year?

Well, as best as I can self analyse, I suspect it has a lot to do with finally reaching that stereotypical age of 30, while living in my parents home.  You see, I haven’t gotten as far along in life as most of my peers.  I don’t own a home, I don’t have a wife (or realistic expectations of one), I am not blessed with children of my own, and I lack a college degree and all the trappings of success that come along with it.  So as I reflected on where I find myself at 30, as I measured myself against “the standard”, I find myself lacking.

“What is time?” 

The best Wikipedia could do was “time is what keeps everything from happening at once”.  

Initially uncomforting, this seemingly simplistic definition has bounced around in my mind since I read it.  Even as simple as it was, I didn’t really understand it at first.  I knew what the words meant, and what the words meant in relation to each other, but it was still just an abstract concept that didn’t really bring forth the full weight of time.

Today I understood.

Most people have a song or two that speaks to them.  A piece of music that reaches down into their core and rips and tears and massages its way into your heart and life.  Imagine your favorite piece of music, all of the notes, sections, repeats, and choruses.  Now imagine them all playing at exactly the same moment.   It is meaningless noise.  Your favorite parts and their counterpoints are blended together into one giant mess of bleh!  It is meaningless…all of the beauty is stripped away.

Time is what keeps everything from happening at once.  Time brings order, beauty, and structure.  It divides sections, choruses, bridges, and refrains.  Time is in the breaks of the music, and time is in the climax.  Without it, the song is not a song.  All meaning is lost.

My 29th year has meaning because it happened in time.  My trips to Nicaragua and Haiti, my departure from my ministry position of 8 years, my mothers continued battle with cancer, all have meaning because they  happened in time.  I have grown and matured in ways I would not have expected, as a result of time passing.  Others around me have changed, and so have my relationships with them, again, because of the time that has passed in the last year.  If I had the option to play all of these moments at once, I would not be able to enjoy them or learn from them.  I do not know if this year has been a chorus, bridge, or refrain in my life, but I do know that without it, the whole of my time here on earth would not be complete.

Perhaps equally as importantly, I know that if God wills it, I could one day be living independently, I could feel the brush of my wifes lips against my cheek, and I could feel tiny little arms wrap themselves tightly around my knees and hear a tiny little voice ask me “Daddy, what is time?”.

These things could all happen, or they may not.

In the place of the above events, I could find my way overseas, taking photographs that change the world, or hiking the Appalachian trail from Georgia to Maine.  I could find myself dying from a gunshot wound in Syria, or beheaded on film for the world to marvel at, and then slowly forget.

Or it could be some unforeseen combination of all of the above, with things I have never even considered thrown in to change the tone and movement of my song.

I am grateful for the start of another measure, for more notes, for more time.  I’ll do my best to remember that my song may not sound like everyone elses, but that those differences will make my life meaningful to me.  Perhaps others will find inspiration in what they hear in my life, and a small theme from my song will work my way into theirs.

So as I reflect on my life so far, I encourage you to reflect on yours as well.  Are you playing the notes you want to?  Are you too busy focused on everyone elses song that you’ve forgotten to give yours the attentive ear it deserves?  Listen, listen for the ticking of the clock that is ordering events in your life into something beautiful and meaningful.  Wait patiently for the chorus, knowing that without the verse, the chorus means less.  Most importantly focus your attention on the conductor, master of time and space, as he offers direction and guidance, trust him to make your song beautiful and meaningful, and do not doubt him, even though it seems like he asking for the wrong thing.  He has the whole song in view, and we only know what is happening or has already passed.

Listen…the clock is ticking.

Previous watch posts:

The First Watch

Watch 28

Ecclesiastes 3

There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:

    a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
    a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,
    a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,
    a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
    a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,
    a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak,
    a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace.