Tag Archives: life

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

These past few weeks, my commute back and forth to Campbell has become a lot more pleasant. In fact, several days I’ve found myself looking for excuses to take a detour or two and just enjoy an afternoon drive to nowhere. The pleasant autumn weather — marked around here by snow-white fields blanketed with cotton blossoms and tall oak trees that drip a never-ending stream of orange and brown leaves — certainly has something to do with it, but that’s not the only reason for my surge of motoring delight. The main motivator behind my pavement pounding has been the excitement that comes along with driving a new car. Sort of. Actually, our car is over three years old and quickly approaching 80,000 miles. But it drives like new — because it just got a new set of tires.

Tires are the single most important piece of equipment on any car. It’s true that a fresh set of rubber can’t do much of anything without the help of an engine, some spark plugs, an axle and a driveshaft or two. I’m all for finding balance in things, but I believe tires are often the most under appreciated component on cars. There may not be many people out there who get excited about buying a new set of tires like I do. It is true that in my high school and early college years, I may have even had an unhealthy obsession with tire technology. Whenever a new rubber compound was introduced that claimed to hold the perfect balance of soft, sticky, pliable tread that hugged the road like a long lost love, but still remained hard enough to endure abuse from rocks, trees, nails and all sorts of other debris that comes at it, I was hooked. Whenever I came across a new off-road tread design that promised to paddle through mud and climb up rocks better than anything else out there, I wanted to see it. My wife (although she wasn’t my wife at the time; resolving this issue was a prerequisite for marriage) told me, on more than once occasion, that she was jealous of the way I eyeballed another guy’s set of Mickey Thompson Baja Claws (a very fine directional radial that happens to be way out of my league) in the parking lot at Outback, when I was supposed to be on a date with her. Even if you don’t share my appreciation of designer rubber, I hope you can understand why I think tires are, without a doubt, the key part of any automobile.

You see, everything a car does depends on the tires’ ability to grip the road. Any cool track tricks a driver tries to pull off — every message sent through the car — must be processed through and executed by the tires. High-tech engine systems, custom gear ratios, locking differentials, finely-tuned turbo chargers and other high dollar accessories designed to squeeze a few more horses out of a car are all absolutely useless if they aren’t matched with a good set of tires that can faithfully transfer that energy to the road.

See my point yet?

Similarly, I’m afraid a lot of us spend way too much time spinning our wheels in life instead of actually accomplishing things that matter; I know I do. It’s important to prepare ourselves for the future, and every now and then it’s nice to take a turn around the block just for fun, but how much of our energy in life and ministry is lost to things that end up being just for show — things that never make the transition to pavement?

I love the feeling of riding on a new set of tires, but if my wheels stay free of blemishes and wear for more than a few days, I know I’m doing something wrong.

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Finding a Rhythm

A few weeks ago, some of my high school buddies and I met up early on a Saturday morning in Lillington, NC. Our purpose, of course, was to celebrate the final weekend of bachelorhood of one of our own — my friend James Wallace. Our mission was to paddle as far up the Cape Fear River as we could before lunch, at which point we would drift back down towards our starting point and head off for additional bachelor weekend activities.

It was a great day to be on the river. The week before had been scorching hot — one of the hottest on record — but amazingly, we had just enough cloud cover to keep the sun from beating down on us, but not so much that it ever felt overcast or got unbearably humid. The water was cool, but certainly not the biting cold I am used to in mountain streams. We saw only two other boats on the river the whole day, giving us freedom to shout at each other from hundreds of yards away, goof off and pretty much do whatever we felt like the moment called for.

It was great to get to hang out with my friends again. It had been years since we had all been together for more than a passing moment, and while we had a tentative schedule in mind, we really had no firm agenda for the day.

It had been a while since I had done any paddling, and it took me a few minutes to get comfortable in my kayak. I didn’t mind taking it slow at first though, because I had a great view of my friends Craig and James Alverson trying to figure out how to maneuver their canoe up river. Eventually they got it together, but it took some effort. (Remember, you want to paddle in the same direction as your partner, and the back of the boat always needs to follow the front.) James Wallace took to it right away and started paddling in circles around the rest of us as we got a feel for the water.

Paddling is one of those things that you can’t really teach somebody how to do. You just have to do it. You have to find your own rhythm — in and out, left to right, up and down, back and forth, again and again. The way you grip your oar, the angle you push against the water, the time you put between strokes, all are things you have to figure out for yourself, and the only way to figure out what works for you is to get in the boat and try. At the same time, what works for you in one situation may not work in the next. On any successful paddling trip, there are times when you have to fight the current and pull your boat upstream, there are times when you can row along with the current and make tremendous progress, there are times when you have to navigate rapids and focus on keeping your boat as stable as you can, and there are times when you just need to let go and drift for a while.

Being on the river also gave me a chance to clear my mind and process some of the things that have been going on in my life over the past few months. I enrolled in graduate school after accepting a call to prepare for ministry. I left a job that I had worked hard to get, and that had seemed so important to me only a year before. I became a father.

Then I began to think about all of the things going on my friends’ lives. Really, although we all started from the same place just a few years ago, we are all at very different points in our lives now. Craig and I are working through grad school. James Alverson just graduated from college and is trying to build a career in the radio industry. Justin is excited about finishing up his work at N.C. State. I am a father. James Wallace is about to be a husband. We’ve all taken different paths, but aren’t they all, at the same time, right paths?

It’s so easy to get caught up with the details of life. It’s easy to start comparing your progress and your work to other people’s. It is easy to get in such a comfortable, predictable pattern of paddling that you don’t even notice the river has changed completely. It is easy to think that, in order to be successful, you just need to mimic what someone else is doing — especially if he’s the guy that always seems to be paddling circles around everyone else — but chances are, what he’s doing is what works best for him, and it isn’t going to do the same thing for you.

You have to find your own rhythm. It’s important to know which direction on the river your heading. It’s great to share the journey with your friends. But as far as the actual work of paddling goes, it’s up to you to put the oar in the water and see what you can do.