Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Corporal Earl J. Heckel, W W I I DAV Hero

Earl James Heckel, one of 10 children of the second generation of Heckel German immigrants that moved to Northern Wisconsin, had grown up on the family’s dairy farm, which was still operational until just a few years ago. At the age of 20 and six months prior to the Pearl Harbor invasion, Jim’s desire to serve his country took precedent over everything. He enlisted in the Army.

While the chores of running a large dairy farm were continually never ending and constant, the family also had to contend with some of the strong winters dished out in such northern climes. Despite the wicked winter weather and tough chores required to help his family run a successful dairy, nothing could have prepared him for what he was about to experience during the next decade, and for that matter, his entire life.

Many war hero stories begin this way. Corporate Earl James Heckel is my hero, my best friend and also the best dad—ever.

After training and basic boot camp, dad furthered his training post boot-camp specializing in heavy munitions, specifically manning a 30 caliber machine gun. He also trained new recruits. At the time of his training, plans were being created to strike with one of history’s largest recorded invasion; The Normandy Invasion coded “Operation Overlord.” Being trained as a 30 caliber machine gunner, he knew he would be the enemy’s first target to take out. He trained knowing this. In fact, prior to his deployment to Normandy, he recalls his Sergeant stating to the entire platoon, “Men, you will either return home wounded or dead. There is nothing in between.”

His division was one of the first to be deployed in the Normandy Invasion, Utah Beach. History records the massive carnage of this pivotal battle. Dad was one of the few ‘lucky ones’ (albeit that word still is hard to use with the balance of what is to be said) and did not lose his life in the volumes of skirmishes, battles and chaotic mayhem of carnage on that dreadful day of June 6, 1944. On the second day invasion, however, his right leg was hit by a German “potato masher” hand grenade that rendered him helpless on the battle field. Adding to the complications, he was then taken prisoner. Within the chaotic melee, the Geneva Convention was being ignored as the enemy raised their riffles to kill some of their prisoners, of which dad was summarily lined up. A German Chaplin halted the firing squad and later dad and another Wisconsin soldier helped to escape back to safe lines.

After over a month in the hospital he was re-assigned back to fight in the Battle of the Bulge. The US was on the attack with dad manning the 30 caliber machine gun, which was a prime enemy target. Dad manned the machine gun until being hit by a heavy artillery shell, rendering him almost dead. This hit drove deep into his left leg and also created more damage to his already wounded right leg. He incurred many broken bones, shrapnel and significant flesh wounds. He was then jeeped back to a field hospital where he would spend at least a few weeks until he eventually ended up in a hospitals in France and then England. Finally he was returned to the States for more surgeries and intensive care, ultimately ending up at the Mayo General Hospital in Galesburg, Illinois. He would undergo more surgeries resulting in having to spend over a month in a full body cast, twice.

Dad recovered over a period of many months of surgeries, rehab and specialized care but there was only so much that could be done with his broken and nerve mangled legs. During his stay at the Mayo Hospital in Galesburg, he met his life-mate, Shirley Ann Dudgeon. Aftermath...

To this day over hundreds of pieces of small of small shrapnel still can be found in his legs, arms and upper torso. My hero was awarded the following decorations:

Bronze Star Medal: Department of the Army Orders; 26-Feb-1952,

Two Purple Hearts: General Orders 8; 15-Jul-1944/26-Feb-1952,

First Oak-Leaf Cluster to the Purple Hearts: General Orders 53, 7-Nov-1944,

Good Conduct Medal Clasp with Two Loops,

American Defense Service Medal,

American Campaign Medal,

European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with Bronze Arrowhead for the invasion of Normandy, 6-Jun-1944 and three Bronze Star Service Stars for the Normandy, Northern France and Rhineland Campaigns,

World War II Victory Medal,

Distinguished Unit Emblem Medal and

The Infantry Badge Medal.

While growing up with my hero, I cannot recall ever hearing him complain as he hid the pain and dreadful memories of his dedication, service and honor for our country. Truly there can be no argument about his patriotism, valor and personal sacrifice that he gave such that we can live in a free country.

I love you, dad.

You are my hero…for eternity.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Sick People of Uganda

Just this past month, we returned from Uganda. On each of the trips we’ve made to Uganda (UG), we have always seen sick people, people that are dying and deplorable poverty. Just like Bono challenges us (para-phrased), “…a person’s ability to live should not be dependent on where they were born.” And the converse, for 1st world people is also true, “…it not our ‘fault’ that we were born in a much more civilized, wealthy and organized society.” It’s not our ‘fault’ that we do not have to fetch impure water for half of our waking hours, only to become deathly sick as a result of drinking impure (even boiled) water. What we *do* with *how* we've been blessed is the real challenge or us all.

I took ill halfway through our 3 week trip. I had sever vomiting and lower intestinal issues like I’ve never experienced before. At the peak of my sickness, I probably vomited / had severe diarrhea for over 3 days, not being able to eat or keep anything in my belly. The fortuitous God-orchestrated situation was that we had just moved from ‘the bush’ to Hoima, where our motel had indoor plumbing, which was a huge deal. We were only hours out of the bush. Had I acquired this viral sicknesss whilst in the bush, it would have been extremely more complex.

As it turns out, staying at the Crown Hotel located less than 6 blocks from our newly opened Think Humanity Community Clinic (THCHC), I was promptly greeted early in the morning with both one of our doctors along with one of our Registered Nurse. The hotel room was quickly transformed into a make-shift in-patient sick-room, equipped even with IV drip stands hanging from the wall light fixtures.

Dr. Gift and Nurse Jane were at my side for one full day administering the needed IV to replace my energy as well as helping to relieve and eliminate this awful virus. Blood tests were also ran and the diagnosis was that I had some sort of ‘contamination’ virus. How it was obtained is still a mystery to us all as we are/were extremely consistent keeping our hands sanitized and doing the needful.

As I slowly returned to good health, I was astonished at some of the learnings from this dreadful experience and how extremely positive I view it now. Allow me to share with you some of the learnings that I experienced over these few days…

1) A true team is not dependant on simply one person. Share leadership keeps centered on what it needs to do and carries on despite the potential to make reactive decisions (in this case, just leaving back for the States). The TH Team carried on its needed duties whilst I was being cared for. Share leadership works in TH.

2) During the time laying on my back and recovering, I was blessed to have the time to listen to Jane and Dr. Gift. I was able to have a long and intimate discussion with them regarding what we need to be doing to make the THCHC THE model clinic in UG.

3) Most importantly, this illness taught me a glimpse of how many of the Africans live—being sick—on a daily basis, and in most cases with zero medical attention. They simply cannot afford expensively managed health clinic. The THCHC targets that over 50% of all patients simply cannot afford to pay. And they get the same exact treatment as those that pay their entire invoice. Rather than have my resources, many sick people simply live with their pain and in many cases, simply die. By the way, my total bill came up to less than $75!

4) And finally, I learned that the evil one does not want to make our trips easy, painless and simple to run. As TH grows, we will continue to have huge problems, but trusting God to be ‘in the details,’ is much the challenge!

In retrospect, I’d not recommend the process of ‘getting sick’ to personally witness how the THCHC is something that God is all over, and it is now my firm conviction that He wants us there even more than ever. This was not clear even less than 8 weeks ago. Now the puzzle pieces are starting to take shape, our mission is becoming clearer by the day and our patience, trust and ‘relaxing in His arms,’ takes courage and tons of un-conditional Trust.

I am challenged, now more than ever, to dig deeper, to not just be a survivor, but to be a conqueror and to live with my Godfidence coming directly from God—not TH, not CR and clearly not my day job.

“Character is what it takes to stop you!”

Thanks for listening…


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

On the topic of Leadership

By Jim Heckel, 2003

Preface note: this is a paper that will become an integral part of my class this fall on Effective Teamwork at FRCC. What is YOUR definition of leadership?

I continuously wonder about the mystery of leadership. I have worked for years trying to define leadership—beyond the simplistic dictionary explanation. As a manager for more than 30 years, I’ve attended various leadership classes, sat at the feet of authors on this and related topics (James M. Kouzes, Barry Z. Posner, Tom Peters, Dr. Edwards Deming, among others) and read many leadership books. Within this quest to learn, however, authors seem to offer many characteristics of leadership and can provide a litany of good leaders, yet they seem to avoid positing a definition.

Some scholars indicate that leadership is something that is provided. Some indicate that leadership cannot be taught; you either have it or not. Very few schools have classes on the topic, yet simultaneously offer studies about great leaders and stress the importance of effective leadership. In many cases, large organizations seem to make the tacit assumption that high-ranked managers are also good leaders (how else could they have achieved such lofty status?). Value judgments are typically associated with leadership being of the positive nature and not the vice. The paradox is that the many axioms of leadership are simply fabricated notions with little or no empirical data for substantiation. Short-term positive organizational results (profits, market share, earnings per share, customer satisfaction, group morale, etc.) are typically correlated with effective leadership comments, but over the long-term, such results may not be sustainable. Let’s look at a few of these so-called axioms, or more accurately termed, myths.

Leadership Myths:

1. High ranked managers/officials/officers typically are good leaders.

2. You are either a good leader or a good follower.

3. Leadership is about getting people to follow you.

4. There exists no solid leadership process.

1.) High ranked managers/officials/officers typically are good leaders.

This myth stems from simple logic that if one is promoted to a position of authority, then clearly such an individual must possess some leadership attributes. The simple logic continues and then appoints such individuals to teach on the subject where the myth is perpetuated and substantiated through the positional power of the presenter. “…our boss… he even gave seminars on the topic of leadership! Was he a good leader? Not in my estimation. Did he get a lot of things accomplished for the organization? Absolutely. People followed him because they had to, not because they had respect for him or that they wanted to go in the direction that he was headed. “

Positional power or authority wields mandated followership, else pay the consequences! (In the example above, failing to follow would result in losing one’s job.) I manage, therefore, I lead. Our business world is replete with examples of powerful managers that get short-term results, yet may or may not be effective long-term leaders. People do not genuinely follow such managers; they simply obey commands. “Obeying commands” is simply a self-preservation activity, which may/may not be associated with the concept of “following” someone because we like where he or she is going. …True leadership… Examples of this type of leadership can be found in professional sports teams where players will be traded to another team such that they can be under the leadership of a desired coach. Depending on our age, we may all be able to reflect about someone that we really wanted to follow. Think about the following questions within the context of this individual’s leadership style and why it was that you wanted to go her/his direction:

v What attracted you to this individual?

v Was this individual “walking the her/his talk?”

v Did you trust this individual? (Acid test for trust: would you let this individual baby-sit your 2 year old child for a weekend?)

v Was it easy to follow this person?

v Were they an effective communicator? Do they know how to listen?

v Was the individual’s motivation altruistic?

v Did they motivate you without even knowing it?

v Did you genuinely care for the success of this individual?

v Did you genuinely feel that this individual cared for your success?

v Did this individual flaunt power or was this individual arrogant and proud?

v Did this individual “give up” credit for accomplishments?

v Did this individual periodically let other people take the helm of leadership?

By whipping through some of the above questions it should become clear whether or not this person was a genuine leader, or simply a manager with positional authority (or simply a manipulator…another topic entirely!).

The corollary to myth #1 is that some of the most keen and brilliant leadership is demonstrated in the lowest (organizationally speaking only!) echelons of organizations between and within small groups or teams. Rarely are these brilliant talents either recognized or harvested but instead are simply mislabeled as teamwork or some other non-descriptive term. This is probably why performance evaluations fail to contain evaluative leadership language at the lower echelons of organizations. After all, why would the hourly production worker need any leadership skills? Theirs is to follow, not lead!

2) You are either a good leader or a good follower.

Fact: Leadership = Followership. This is the complete model of leadership, knowing when to do either. Followership, however, must be a desired condition, not a forced one. If one desires to follow another there must be a foundation of trust.

Effective leadership requires effective Followership and the quality of leadership knows when to do either. It’s a dynamic model shifting as needed.

3) Leadership is about getting people to follow you.

If this myth is true, then the pied piper was a brilliant leader. I would submit that to simply get people to follow is managerial at best and manipulative at worst. This is a very shallow perception/definition of leadership, one that fails to grasp the totality of deep and true leadership. Leadership isn’t about artificially coaxing people to follow. Leadership is about creating a future environment that becomes another’s shared aspiration or vision. While it is true that an effective leader garners the respect of people and results in people desiring to follow, such results of “garnered followership” are a byproduct versus the end result. In short the leader’s goal is not to get people to follow, but to provision people a future direction where following is natural.

4) There exist no solid leadership process.

Definition: Leadership is the art of affecting change. Leadership is neither good nor bad. Leadership produces change in a non-manipulative, non-threatening manner that is not solely based on power. Leadership is relationship centric and will only exist where trust has been banked for a substantial amount of time. Leadership cannot exist in an environment that is even slightly littered with behavioral inconsistencies, lack of individual respect or ineffectual communication. There is a process.

The Leadership Success Spiral is built on the foundation of trust, which is defined as a reliance on the integrity, ability, or character of a person. Trust takes years to build and nano-seconds to lose. Once trust is broken, the Leadership Spiral is halted; until such time that the trust is restored or re-manufactured. The degree to which the trust is lost is a function of the perceived severity of the trust infraction.

After a solid trust foundation is built, a leadership-relationship may be established. This relationship may be personal in nature or span across an entire organization. The relationship always rests on the foundation of trust in all cases.

Next in the Spiral is the genuine desire to follow. This desire stems from a heartfelt desire to follow the leader. This supports the aforementioned notion that some of the most effective and influential leaders are found within the lower echelons of the organization. The genuine desire to follow then enables the follower to seek out change. Seeking out change is taking a proactive role toward change itself, being in control of events and destiny. The typical response to change is usually negative; given people feel a loss of control. Seeking out change turns this reaction into a proactive process of self-destiny selection. Affirmations are created, soon to be fulfilled. Having control over one’s destiny breeds security and feeds upon itself.

The final step involves individual/organizational affirmations coming to fruition. This comes as no surprise to the individual/organization and serves to simply confirm and bolster the faith in the leader, resulting in more banked trust.

As time moves on and such trust is continually banked by repeated Spirals of Success, the maturity and mental health of the individual/organization becomes solid. The art of affecting change may even move dynamically from the leader to the follower where their roles swap. This symbiotic relationship continues to grow, allowing the leadership to move to the most logical position within the organism (large scale or small), where change may best be orchestrated. At this point in the maturity of the organization/organism, power is never a central issue and control is dynamically shared where it is most needed.

Clearly, the above ‘perfect’ model is seldom achieved, due to external factors that may impede the Spiral to succeed. Some of these factors include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Political positioning or gamesmanship
  • Cut throat competitiveness
  • Lack of teamwork in favor of self gratification
  • Overall lack of consistency of purpose
  • Lack of mission understanding
  • Lack of vision
  • Lack of faith in the future
  • Too much focus on management activities v. leadership
  • Power imbalances
  • Low individual/organizational self esteem

Leadership = Followership. Again, this is the complete model of leadership, knowing when to do either. Followership, however, must be a desired condition, not a forced one. If one desires to follow another there must be a foundation of trust.

The foundation of trust is built upon the consistency of behavior and communications. Many call this “walking the talk.” When so-called leaders say one thing, then behave in a manner that is inconsistent with their message, the “trust bank” is robbed and will take many time periods to re-build, depending on the magnitude and severity of the inconsistency. Once, however, the “trust bank” is large, it grows upon its interest much like a cash savings account; the greater the bank account balance, the faster it grows. Furthermore, as the “trust bank” becomes larger, it can withstand some inconsistencies, still continuing to grow over time. As the foundation is built and as the “trust bank” continues to grow, the natural leadership model emerges allowing people to be comfortable either leading or following. The trust, therefore, is bi-directional; leaders trusting their followers and followers trusting their leaders.


Friday, March 18, 2011

Alligators and Poodles

At a recent meeting the presenter made the poignant comment that “time is money.” Wow, never heard that one before. I rolled my eyes and reached for my smart phone to read some emails. If time really equaled money, then I was wasting a bunch of money listening to something that I don’t believe.

In fact, this “over-in-bred-and-over-cooked-capitalism-gone-wild” idiom is something we’ve yet to hear challenged! Apparently we like the way it sounds, so we go along with it blindly. Trying to make time and money equal variables in life is akin to attempting to cross-breed an alligator with a poodle. It can be done, but it’s goofy with no guarantee of the outcome.

I came to this conclusion when I retired. That’s when the realization sets in; you have a pretty good understanding of the amount of money in the bank, but you have only probability assumptions on the quantity of years of life left. And no matter what you can purchase, time is not on the menu.

We all fantasize about the day that we don’t have to work. We dream about long morning sleep-ins, vacations with fewer worries over work, more fishing and the list goes on. The truth of the matter is that all of this is great, yet retirees spend some amount of time planning and taking their nest egg and divide it into various ‘longevity’ scenarios. This math seems to continue and also is a function of the size of one’s nest egg. The smaller the nest egg, the more math, planning and assumptions; and the converse is true.

The key point here is that the variable “time” is not known or predictable beyond a given point. The unknown (yet very impactful) variable of time would be THE single most important piece of information anyone could ever command if they could only know when it was their time to leave this life an pass into eternity. Yep, if we only knew the answer to that salient question, then we could plan out our lives much easier and with potentially less stress, depending on the answer.

Therefore, how then is ‘time equal to money?’

Money is a variable, which we can easily measure and predict to a large degree, based on our jobs, our risk tolerance and our ability to plan ahead (time reference, sorry). The variable ‘time’ is much more elusive. Sure we can extend the probability of extended life by taking care of our bodies, exercising and eating sensibly, but at the end of the day, we really don’t know if an earthquake will shake our world today or if we’ll be hit by a car after a fishing trip.

Isn’t the ‘unpredictability of time’ referred to as life?

Time is the finite source given, in non-equal portions and in an unpredictable manner.

Consider the axiom Time = Money in a mathematical sense:

If time = money, then money also equals time. With time, we can earn money. But how can we earn or even purchase time? We can purchase items, events, programs, diets, seminars, growth hormones, which may increase the probability of extended longevity, but it can never totally guarantee any freak disaster from snatching our lives.
Given that we cannot use money to purchase time, the relationship is an indirect one, thus negating the axiom time = money.

What we do with our time can influence the amount of money earned, yet it fails to meet the acid test of equality. So the next time you hear this phrase, just realize that it’s not a true statement and only points to a deeper need of mankind to want to control something that is probably less than 50% controllable.

And I hope I never see an Allipoodle in any zoo—ever!

Monday, February 21, 2011

One year ago last night. . .

It had been a funky week, with schedules flopping around like a 9” freshly stocked brown trout that decides his first lake meal will be your #14 bead-headed, weighted prince nymph with a caddis-pupa dropped 6” behind. The night went fast and I crawled into bed, exhausted and wondering if my daughter was going to be ok. No one knew so I went to a place that I liked in the mountains.

The trout were hopping, once landed it served as a slight relief of the heat of the morning sun as it got higher in the day. Splashes from the crisp mountain lake felt good on the hot face and arms. A biker speeds by along with a down-hill skier. Aggie was snoring as well and we both rambled through our memory banks like two lost people trying to find their car in an airport parking lot. The visions of camping, barking, chasing cats and sky-diving raced through our tired minds almost in synchronicity. Perhaps we were inside each other’s dream?

BANG! BANG! BANG! NOISE THAT IS UNUSUAL. Jim, you need to wake up.

I ambled out of bed in one fluid motion with the rehearsed scene now being played on center stage and it was my time to act. I instinctively grabbed my .380 automatic hand-gun, which contained 6 rounds in the cartridge. Should I take the second cartridge? NO. Just make it downstairs, don’t turn on the light and let the dog keep barking behind. I venture to look outside and see some car in my drive way. It is 2AM and someone is violently rapping on my front door. I peek around the stair case and put the gun down in a nano-second. It ‘s my son, Nathan and his wife standing on the front porch.

They look upset.

Almost before I could open the door Nate lunges through along with Lindsey telling me to get dressed. “Aimee’s in trouble. We don’t know if she’s going to make it. We have to leave now.”

Those cold and truthful words severed me in a new way. The trout were now really a dream and reality sucked. Then it hit me; this is what other people felt the night I got hit, and this is equally painful, except in a mentally torturing way. Questions were rapidly exchanged and dogs were watered, fed and let out by Lindsey as Nate escorted me upstairs to get dressed, informing me of the changes in Aimee’s condition even just since I’ve fallen asleep. I escaped in a dream, turned my phone off and thought things would be fine. Beth was with Aimee. Turns out things were almost as bad as they could get.


Wrong. It turned out totally different. It’s never like you imagine, I thought. Never. What is going on? Thoughts, confusion, prayers and emotions cave in as my grogginess and fantasies of mountain fishing in Wyoming are soon replaced with immediate male problem-solving thinking. But I could not solve this one. All I could do is watch and I’m not even close enough to do that yet. I need to get to Boulder.

At faster than the posted speed signs, we traveled together to the hospital in Boulder, Nate continuing to answer my insisting questions. It was 2:30AM, cold, dark and my daughter was 40 miles away and dying. I could not drive fast enough. Emotions continued caving, prayers were violently launched and an email barrage was sent as we sped through the early morning ink. I called my mom to pray, which is to say we brought in the heavy artillery. We ignited the world to pray for my daughter and her baby, not to mention what JD must be going through. We have ignition. We have lift off. Almost immediately, replying emails from all parts of the globe were coming back and now we had the first glimpse of the army of God unleashed, yet we still were afraid.

My thoughts kept surging back to that other evil night on 3-August-07 when I got hit by a car. This feeling I’m experiencing now must have been how they all felt when I was in my accident. I keep trying to figure out which is worse; the physical pain of going through such an ordeal else the mental anguish of watching, helplessly. Both ends of this stupid spectrum suck, so I dismiss the analysis.

We finally arrive at the hospital and make the journey through the stale and empty corridors that would soon be filled with UPS drivers, doctors, patients, visitors and the occasional clergy. Hospitals all have the same ‘fragrance’ of sickness, health, pain, love, happiness, grief and despair all blended together. They all smell the same just like airports only different.

We made it to Aimee’s room and then Beth informed us of the set of events that transpired just hours ago where Aimee began bleeding internally, unknown by any nearby medical employee. As it turned out, had Beth not have spent the evening with Aimee, this note would have certainly taken on a much different twist and one that I care not entertain in my mind for more than a few seconds. When my wife discovered Aimee listless, pale and with blue colored lips a bit after midnight, she became a 5 Star General commanding a platoon of medical staff. Not only did my wife give life to my daughter, she saved it again some 30 years later, and this time along with our grand-baby.

Aimee eyes were closed, yet she peered out from under her (still) beautiful eyes every so often to see who was around. I could tell that she was upset. All of her work, all of her effort to have a baby, all of her life…this was almost the price that was at least being initially ‘bartered for.’ I move over to Aimee, securing that she knew it was me and gently held a part of her had that was free from some sort of a needle. This limited my slight grasp to just a few outside fingers, but we made the connection.

“Aimee, you were right next to me when I was right next to death. Do you remember that?”

(very faintly) “Yes, Frog. God never puts us through more than what we can endure.”
Aimee kept repeating this mantra as if she was at the precise moment where the actual question of “living” was offered to her as a choice; and she was choosing life. I cried. She kept repeating this truth. She was correct.

“Aimee, I don’t know what you are feeling. I don’t know what you are going through. But you may feel trapped inside your own body and that’s the way that I felt when I got hit. It’s a repulsive thought to be trapped inside your own body, but that’s at least the way that I felt for a long time and it really made me feel alone. No one understood this.”

I could tell by the faint murmurs of Aimee that she not only agreed with this, but it seemed to relieve her anxiety a bit, knowing that I may understand a tiny fraction of what she must be processing. She agreed. By now she had received multiple units of blood and her color was coming back. She was still bleeding and the decision-set was now centered on the next steps to deliver baby Bettie. Plans were laid to complete this task, but Aimee’s condition would not dramatically improve for over 2 weeks.

The birthing of Bettie was nothing short of a miracle. Nothing short. Two people almost died, both of which are my daughters.

Something happens to a person that comes directly face to face with death. They realize how fragile life is. They realize how fast things can change. They realize how little they *really* control. They always thank God for another day of life each morning before even crawling out of bed.

As we celebrated Bettie’s first birthday this past weekend, I see the miracle of two healthy daughters and I see deeper love than I ever could imagine. There is a special Heckel/Markwardt love that bonded 3 people together, eternally.

That love combined with a global prayer assault was the only medicine from God that was truly needed, and it worked.

God has plans for this family.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Long's Peak

I love Long’s Peak. I have pictures of it on my wall, I’ve read books on it and even have it tattooed on my right shoulder. Every day I look to the West and am amazed at how beautiful it is. I never get tired of looking at it. Its majesty is simply beyond words. On occasion when I’ve flown over it, I am proud to think that I’ve stood atop and, if the opportunity arises, may even brag to the passenger in the next seat about that fact. Long’s Peak means much to me and I feel I have a special and personal relationship with it. On my over 30 treks on its trail system, I get amused when I see some of the wanna-be mountain climbers that are ill prepared for the weather or not in good enough shape to enjoy the mountain. Most of them end up back at the parking lot when they’ve had enough “fun.”

I love Jesus Christ. I have pictures of Him on my wall. I’ve read books on Him and even have a cross tattooed on my right shoulder. Every day I look to the mountains and appreciate His creation. The parallels continue, however.

Much like flying over Long’s Peak at 35,000 feet and admiring its majesty, we cannot really say we love the mountain until we experience the grueling 16 hour round trip of climbing it. Then, maybe, we can have the “right” to say we appreciate or even love the mountain. The Christian life is much like climbing Long’s Peak. It looks nice from a distance, yet the physical and mental act of its climb requires a lot.

2 years ago, the Crossroads Peak was pretty cool. The music blarred loud, the messages were really relevant and we could menu drive this Christian experience. We could easily go back to the car if we got cold or if the wind came up and we forgot a coat. No problem. As time went on, our progress on the pathway continued. We went by beautiful water falls, took a bunch of pictures and checked our maps along the way. Being a Jesus Freak was ok.

The Longs Peak trail is a tough one, no doubt. The first section in the tall Ponderosa Pines, however, while steep in places, is pretty easy. Most people can make it to Columbine Falls with little or no trouble. I’ve even seen some people in dress shoes at Columbine Falls! They probably pay for it with a blister or two, but the point is, it’s not that huge of a deal.

Enter treeline:
Directly after Columbine Falls is a sign post that reads, “Danger! Avoid lightning storms. Take shelter….” Around 200 yards past the falls things change. The trees are gone and the wind is fierce. There are little shelters save some boulders and the next 5 miles are rocky, steep, washed out, exposed to the elements and with a decreasing amount of Oxygen with each step. In our aggregate familial Christian experience, we have hit tree line. And each one of us trekkers has our own set of problems; boots, wet socks, pebbles in the boot, sweat, hunger, thirst, breathlessness, on and on the list goes. We are now in the unique position to make some choices. Unlike the choices made on the Long’s Peak trail, where continuing on despite a snow/hail/thunder storm may be lethal, the continuance of the Christian journey makes all the eternal difference. To retreat to the car back in the safe parking lot is to give up. It’s to say, “I’ve had enough of this trail, let’s go back to the car, turn on some tunes and warm up with a cup of hot chocolate.” Such will never know the true meaning of “loving” the mountain. To love the mountain, you must endure it. To endure the mountain makes you stronger and gives you the right to claim it. To endure the Christian experience past treeline requires stamina, strength and faith. To endure it gives you the right to claim you love Christ.

Our family has successfully blown by Columbine Falls. We are actually quite a ways into the treeline trail probably at the Chasm Lake turn out. It’s cold, tough and we know it’s only going to get worse because we can see all kinds of storms brewing atop the peak. But, unlike the casual tourist, we are prepared. We have trained for this hike and we have all of the equipment to keep warm, dry and hydrated. We have the tap into a power source that created the mountain upon which we stand! And we must make the right and intelligent choices. We know right and wrong methods. While we have been at this turn out many times before, we have never been as prepared as we are now. We know it’s going to get worse, but we also know that we love the mountain. Also, Christ is walking with us, that is if we allow Him to do so. I have the confidence that, if I walk with Him, He will direct my paths because He promises that in His Word.

I can honestly and proudly claim that I love Long’s Peak. I have earned the right since I’ve reached the summit 3 times. I have endured the pain and agony of other trips where I turned back and headed to the car because of things beyond my control. Nevertheless, I know that mountain.

I also can honestly and proudly claim that I love the Lord. I know that He walks with me even though the storms of life can be brutal. I may fall, but He will be there to pick me up. I know that as long as I trust in Him, stay close to Him, he’ll guide me to a summit that will give me true and lasting peace, not just a walk up to Columbine Falls. So as our family ventures beyond the treeline, we should expect challenges, falls and even some brief turn backs. But as long as we keep pressing on and keeping into clear focus that beautiful peak, we will be victorious.

Now when I see Long’s Peak, I see my Jesus. Come to think of it, maybe we’re on the Everest Trail…