An Update From Travis

UPDATE: Please go to this link to read how Mariah recovered her health using The Dynamic Neural Retraining System (DNRS)! 

Shalom friends!

I thought some of you might want to hear a bit about how I am doing, and what I am working through as Mariah and I settle into new rhythms of life here in Morro Bay.

In general, I am doing well and am moving toward finding a daily rhythm that is life-giving and facilitates focus and presence for my work at Western Theological Seminary.

The first thing I try to do every day is walk up Black Mountain, the dominant feature of a State Park a block away from our home (I do this with my phone on airplane mode so that I won’t receive any notifications, but it will still count my steps in the Health app and I can take these incredible pictures!). The peak affords an exquisite 360-degree panorama of the entire area: Morro Rock to the west and the coastline stretching north and south, the salt flats to the southwest, the most remarkable rolling green hills to the east across Route 1, and the mountains beyond them.

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Morro Rock rises like an extra-terrestrial ball out of the morning fog and stands as a testament against the destructive practices symbolized by the smokestacks—two opposed symbols vying for dominance, one through power and control, the other through wonder and adventure. Our home is near the edge of this neighborhood.

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From Morro Rock in the northwest (right-side) looking down the coast to the southeast (left).

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From Morro Rock in the northwest (left) looking east across Route 1 at the verdant hills of California’s central coast.

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I try to reach the peak by sunrise. I am rarely more thankful for and present to the created world than in those moments basking in the morning light atop Black Mountain. Note the fog as it begins to lift from the valley below.

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One morning I witnessed the sun rising over the peaks in the east just as the moon slipped softly into the ocean to the west (you can see the moon setting just to the left of Morro Rock).

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See the hummingbird perched in the branches of the bush in the lower-right corner of the frame?!

There is a charm of hummingbirds that, apparently, lives right near the top of Black Mountain, and they chatter and dash around every morning. The other day I climbed among the rocks and brush near the top and sat for a few minutes within 6-8 feet of two hummingbirds resting in a nearby bush (not the one above). It was a thrill. Later that day I walked back to the top during a phone call and was thrown into the flurry of what had to be 20 butterflies flailing themselves in playful abandon around me. Every arrival to the summit is a miracle.

The trouble starts when I return home.

Let me explain by backing up a couple weeks. I am very grateful to share that I recently signed a contract with a publisher to publish the Hebrew textbook I wrote a few years ago for the Hebrew curriculum we have developed at WTS over the last ten years—I’m very excited and humbled by the prospect of publishing it! (the publishing house is aptly named GlossaHouse. If you’re interested, check out their website here). I am also half-way through writing my dissertation, which weighs on me daily. The trouble I refer to begins when I get home and pull out my computer to begin writing/editing.

Those of you who know how I view myself in reference to my work know that I do not see writing and research as my greatest vocational strengths. The empty page before me or the vast shores of this or that research topic stand like stone monuments of ancient and august kings who’s ways are unfamiliar and who’s traditions you flub at your peril! That sounds awfully dramatic (the scene of the fellowship floating down the river near the end of The Fellowship of the Ring is what I had in mind…), but the point is that I am discovering what triggers my anxiety when I sit down to write.

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I have come to realize it is primarily the prospect of beginning to write that is most daunting. It’s like being at a high school dance (to abruptly switch metaphors). You want to dance but you don’t want to make a complete fool of yourself. The waiting while watching others dance serves only to confirm that you should probably stay on the sidelines. Eventually you muster the courage to walk out there and start convulsing your body to the rhythms of the music (well, to most of the rhythms anyhow). Once you start, you’re in, you’re there—but starting can be so hard.

That’s my experience, at least (both with writing and with dances!). Once I get into it I’m usually okay, but I’ll do just about anything to distract myself from starting to write!

As I was processing this the other morning in prayer I was gifted with a poem that speaks to the experience of being in that vulnerable place of being afraid to begin the work you know you are called to do. Perhaps for you it’s that project you’ve been avoiding, a new job you want to apply for but don’t feel you’re qualified, or a conversation you don’t want to have but know you won’t have peace until you do. Whatever your struggle is, I hope this poem is a gift to you; it has been a gift to me. I post this with special thanks to a couple of dear friends who helped me refine it, and ultimately helped me understand what the poem was really about.

The Hardest Part is Starting

The explosive flutter of quail taking flight;
the plastic twist of hummingbird gossip;
the frantic grate of a hummingbird warning
to a trespassing bluejay.

The sharp pain of exquisite beauty:
the sun rising as the moon sets;
the gentle embrace of verdant hills.

The slimy tracks of early-morning snail commutes
that silently call us from our sleeping tombs
to greet the day and face our fears once more.

But how can I do this
without community, without worship, without routine?
I am trapped in a cage of my own making:
excuses; rationalizations; fear.

And just like that a hummingbird brings me back to myself,
to this moment,
to the swirling sound of insect song,
to the truth:

We have all we need.

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PS-update: I wrote this post a few days ago, and since then acquired something like poison ivy on both legs. It has prevented me from hiking up Black Mountain the last few days and a couple times I have given in to temptation and scratched my legs—it feels so good for a second or two, but it is a siren’s song. I think it is slowly on the mend!

6 Comments »

  1. So good hearing from you Travis, Jenna and Mark and myself are here in our room and Garrett seminary for the conference. JK

    Sent from our iPhone

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  2. What I discovered is that writing comes from the subconscious, just like music. My dissertation writing days went as follows: Having spent the previous day immersed in my research so that I literally dreamed it, I was able the next morning in a half-conscious state to set down on paper rather quickly the material for the section that I had assigned to myself. I spent the rest of the working day reshaping this material with the faculties that we use in our conscious lives. I tried to avoid creating in a state of wakeful consciousness. It never seemed to come out right.

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  3. Thanks for the highlights of your life, Travis. Great pictures and writing.
    When I was writing for my post grad degree, I was able to write the way I speak when I began. That gave great comfort in the launch. It turned to more forma style automatically when momentum came for the deeper stuff, but it seemed to suit the grading prof and myself well. May not work for what you’re doing, but thought I’d set that out there for thought. Sometimes you can edit out the less formal, but as a mere human being, reading something tough with a little home style interjected brings great brain relief.
    Sending hugs and smiles for you and Mariah.

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  4. So great to hear from you Travis! I so enjoyed hearing of your hikes and seeing the glorious views from atop the mountain. And, I don’t know if this might encourage you, but, though I was so blessed by all of my seminary experience, Hebrew was my highlight. I cannot recite a passage that I memorized, or even look into Hebrew grammar or the text we used (that is totally worn through by over-use) without experiencing sheer delight. Thank you. Please persevere (in His strength of course!)

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  5. I mentioned this once before, Travis, but you might find Peter Elbow’s _Writing without Teachers_ helpful. It’s an encouragement to write: write quickly, write messy, write without worries. Each draft will be an improvement; you don’t have to be brilliant from the start. Love to you both!

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