You Make Heaven A Place On Earth

Ooh, baby, do you know what that’s worth?

Ooh, Heaven is a place on Earth

They say in Heaven, love comes first

We’ll make Heaven a place on Earth

Ooh, Heaven is a place on Earth

Belinda Carlisle immortalized these lines in her eternally catchy 80’s anthem “Heaven Is A Place On Earth.” You’re welcome for this ear worm. You’ll catch yourself humming the chorus and not quite remembering the rest of the lines for the next few days after reading this. I’m starting with this line not because I’m trying to invent the next Rick Roll (how cool would it be if people start tricking one another into listening to Belinda Carlisle?) but because I feel like it captures the essence of what I’m wanting to write about today. While I’m pretty sure Carlisle was singing more about a ooey-gooey kissy-kissy romantic kind of love, these lyrics make me think of the love I experience from friends and how spending time with them really does make Heaven happen right here on earth for me.

I recently made a new friend. We’ll call him DV. We connected through a mutual love of running and have started going out for weekend long runs together. Whether it’s texting to make plans to run, chatting as we run, or reviewing recent race results, every interaction with this guy makes me want to hang out with him more. Sure, he’s an interesting guy with a unique perspective on life and he tells a dang good story, but it’s not his uniqueness or entertainment value that has me looking forward to my next interaction with him: it’s the overwhelming intensity and positivity in the affirmations he tosses my way. He’s constantly telling me about how crazy, incredible, and elite he thinks my running abilities are. Running up a steep incline, DV exclaims “You’re a freaking antelope on these hills, Ryan! Nobody can run vert as fast as you!” Descending technical singletrack, DV will later enthuse “Dude: you’re like a gazelle or a mountain goat or something… you’re so good at running!” Discussing future race goals, DV is certain and frequent in sharing his conviction that I’ll soon be on the podium of famous 100 mile races despite the fact I am currently competing only at the 25km distance.

The fact is, I’m really not a very special runner. While I might be in the top 5-10% of performers in my over the hill age group, there’s no way I’ll ever compete with what I see much younger and stronger pros doing. But this doesn’t seem to matter when I’m around DV. Something about his affirmations get me to start to believe that maybe I am and can be something special in trail running. When I listen to DV I feel faster. This usually carries over beyond the day we’re running together and into the next few weeks of training and racing. 

This correlates with several studies I recently learned about by listening to the “Some Work All Play” podcast with professional athletes and elite coaches Megan and David Roche. Whether you’re into running or not, I strongly recommend giving their podcast a listen as I think you’ll find their banter and overall message to be enlightening  and life-affirming. Also, they are exceptionally effective in the way they can summarize and explain science for non-scientists. In a recent episode (#88), they talked about several studies that measured the physical responses of elite athletes to various types of feedback. My basic not-a-scientist-but-smart-enough-that-I-don’t-deny-climate-change summary is that there are hormones that make us stronger and more powerful, and there are hormones that make us weaker. When viewing video of things they did well, and when receiving specific praise about their performance, the athletes’ YOU ARE MIGHTY, BEAST MODE ACTIVATED hormone levels went up by a lot. When viewing video of things they did poorly, and when receiving criticism about their performance, the YOU SUCK! SURRENDER, WORM hormone levels went up by a lot. All to say, I’m obviously being influenced by the way Khonshu talks to Poe Dameron, I mean Leto Atreides, I mean Steven Grant in Moon Knight. Also, there can be a significant and measurable increase (and decrease) in performance as a direct result of the feedback we receive, and that we give ourselves. Also, I’m not as effective at summarizing exciting science as the Roches are. You can read David Roche’s Trail Runner article for a much more effective summary:

Thinking about the way my new friend DV makes me feel like a more talented, more powerful, more promising version of myself reminds me of another friend. I’ll call him DA.

DA isn’t a brand new friend, I’ve known him for years. Most of those years we were professional acquaintances and sometime collaborators. Over those years, I knew him as I think everybody who knows him does: as one of the very most talented, influential, effective, interesting, and encouraging people in the business. Any business.

Over the past three years, I’ve gotten to know DA on a much more intimate level as we’ve been a part of a small group of six guys that meet every week. We’ve treated this group a bit like a book club, but without the wine and sometimes without the books. Recently the focus of the group has been to discuss a podcast series that’s taken us a few years to get through. Along the way, we’ve shared laughter and worries and celebrations and woe. I know I speak for the other four guys in the group when I say that the things DA says to and about each of us can be, at times, life saving. Because of his unique combination of charisma, intelligence, and insight, affirmations from DA just hit a little bit differently. So when I consider the exercise science of our bodies’ hormonal response to affirmation, I realize that DA not only makes me feel better about myself emotionally, his words also make me more powerful physically. More possible. More like what some might say will be a heavenly version of myself. 

I experience Heaven on Earth when I hang out with DA. And yet, I’m pretty sure DA doesn’t always experience such bliss himself. I worry that’s because, as freaking awesome as he is at seeing beauty in me and in others, and as damn amazing as he is at generously telling me (and others) about the beauty and promise and potential he sees, he can be equally hard on himself. His inner voice can be treacherous. I worry that his own version of Hell on Earth makes him morose about what he sees as his personal shortcomings and blinds him to what others see in him. It’s as if he is this Heavenly agent whose words cause me (and others) to experience Heaven on Earth while he is himself enduring Hell on Earth. My experience of Heaven and his experience of Hell both stem from the same place: DA’s words.

It makes me think about my own words. In what ways do I put myself through Hell because of my own self talk, because of the way I process my own trauma? In what ways do I create Hell on Earth for others when I let my trauma spill out onto them? My friends DV and DA both create Heaven on Earth for me through their words. Sometimes I even allow myself to believe their words and I’ll repeat them as a mantra, motto, or koan. I know that my friends’ words echo mightily in my ears, heart, and bloodstream. I know when I’m climbing a really steep hill I can increase my legs’ power with something as simple as a HUZZAH or HOORAH. Or maybe even a “Damn I’m good at climbing!” A moment of Heaven. 

To conclude, I hope you’ll give yourself the gift of spending time listening to the Some Work All Play podcast. I hope you’ll make Heaven A Place On Earth for the people you interact with today. I hope you’ll even try it on yourself.

Roadies Suck! (a confession)

I took particular pleasure in the fact I was racing on an ancient and battered REI road bike I had found used for less than $200. It’s ugly but it’s light and I can make it go fast.

I ran my first trail race on February 2, 2021. After a lifetime of participation in various road races, I was astounded by how friendly and supportive all the runners were. In road running, the only conversations pre and post race seem to be between runners that already know one another – often clustering in exclusive little pairs, trios, and cliques of who they had travelled to the race with. Even in out-and-back style races in which you literally see the face of every runner on the course, most avoid eye contact. In contrast, during the Fort Ebey Kettle Trail Run, every time I passed another runner (or was passed) they shared words of affirmation and encouragement: “looking strong!” “wow, great job!” “have a great run!” and so on. It felt wonderful.

As I continued my nascent trail-running career over the following months, each subsequent race confirmed my first impressions. Trail racers are, for the most part, the friendliest athletes ever. Particularly at races that involved pre-race campouts and bonfires, I found myself feeling welcomed and invited to make new friends. It felt pretty great.

On June 5, 2021, I participated in my first gravel bicycle race. The night before the race, all of us that were camping out enjoyed a bonfire together. The highlight of the evening was when my terminally introverted adult daughter taught everyone a sea shanty and we all sang in terrific, beautiful, full-throated, and off-key joy. Like trail runners, this was a group of inclusive, welcoming, adventurous not-yet-but-soon-to-be-friends. It was marvelous.

After the conclusion of the June 5 Sol Grinder Gravel Race, there was another bonfire to accompany our post-race beers and hotdogs. As we stood around the fire swapping tales of misery and glory, I experienced something I hadn’t felt in thirty years, not since my sophomore year of high school when I mistakenly believed being teammates on the soccer team would translate into the cool seniors wanting me to dance with/near them at the homecoming dance.

Several racers that hadn’t camped out the night before were at the post-race fire. These were the guys with the very most expensive bikes, who showed up driving the very fanciest cars as well. One of them in particular stood out to me. He stood there in his $500 down jacket and, in response to an earnest and enthusiastic question from one of my new friends at the fire, smirked and looked him up and down in the sort of silent appraisal that rich kids from the cool lunch table master somewhere between junior high and high school. While his eventual, sardonic response was technically civil if the words would have been transcribed, his body language and tone of voice shouted “I AM SUPERIOR TO YOU AND AM TAKING GREAT PAINS TO ENDURE YOUR PRESENCE, UNDERLING!” It felt pretty crummy. An old, familiar sensation of acidic heat rose from my guts into my heart, through my caratoid arteries and into the back of my skull. I felt a nearly overwhelming compulsion to make this guy feel weak and small. I wanted to punch him square in the nose. It would have made a satisfying crunch and the hot wetness of his blood would have felt great splashed across my suddenly clenched fists.

Thankfully, I reminded myself I was a 45-year-old grown adult and I overcame the violent impulses. I dismissed the incident under the assumption that the cool-guy jerk must have been a roadie, and fretted a bit that perhaps roadies were invading the otherwise down-to-earth motley crew of friendly off road riders.

You see, roadies have a well-earned reputation for snobbery and asshattery amongst the cycling community. It’s why I was so stoked to discover the online presence of The Herd on Zwift back in December. The Herd is a collective of mostly road-riding cyclists who (like me) will wave and say hello and are, by design, inclusive and kind and welcoming: both in the virtual worlds of Zwift and in real life.

I put the post gravel race encounter with a sucky roadie into the back of my memory as I travelled with my family to a variety of trail races throughout the remainder of summer. As June became July and then August, my February first impressions of off road racing culture was strengthened with each trail race I competed in. Trail people are apparently just a better sort of human than their asphalt-loving counterparts.

Yesterday, August 28, I remembered Sucky Sol Grinder Roadie as I encountered hundreds of his brethren at the Priest Lake Triathlon. It’s been ages since I have competed in a triathlon so I had completely forgotten about the norms of the triathlon tribe. When each attempt at friendly banter as I set up my spot in the transition area was met with stoney, exasperated, minimalist responses, I remembered. The very suckiest of roadies graduate into triathletes!

So it was with great joy that after a mediocre swim I caught, passed, and dropped several of these elitist jerks during the 40km bicycle portion of the race. I took particular pleasure in the fact I was racing on an ancient and battered REI road bike I had found used for less than $200. It’s ugly but it’s light and I can make it go fast. The sucky roadies I was outriding were racing on triathlon/time trial specific bikes that cost between $5,000-$10,000. The bike race was an out-and-back affair so I had the chance to see each of the race leaders. Not one of them acknowledged my shouts of “looking strong!” and “dang you’re fast” as we passed one another, so I said to heck with it, I’m going full trail race mode. For the rest of the race every time I saw another racer, I smiled broadly and hollered affirmation and encouragement at them. The sucky roadies on expensive super bikes didn’t seem to appreciate this as I caught, passed, and dropped them. After hitting the turnaround point of the bike course, I started seeing more triathletes on modest bikes sweating their way to the halfway point I was leaving behind. Some of them were even dressed in hilariously loosely fitting running attire rather than the sleek skin suits of the elites. That’s when I started to get responses: mostly smiles, “thank you!” and “back at ya!” responses. And that’s when the first pangs of conscience hit. Because my first thought upon seeing the only friendlies on the entire race course was look how hilarious they look in those baggy clothes, or dang that guy’s cadence is slow, he is trying to push too big of a gear, or I bet I’m going to make this person’s day as I say something nice to them because I’m so much faster and cooler than they are.

I was a sucky roadie. I am a sucky roadie. In the immortal words of Pogo, We have met the enemy and he is us.

How often have I strategized at parties how to avoid interacting with people I deemed beneath the worth of my engagement and attention? How often have I avoided eye contact in the break room in the hopes that obnoxious coworker doesn’t come sit with me? How often have I approached relationships in a cynically transactional manner, opening my heart and home only to those that I find interesting, only to those that make me feel cool when I’m around them? How often have I been that sucky roadie? Undoubtably more often than I care to count.

So today it’s confession. Tomorrow, it’s mindful pursuit of improvement. Hopefully improvement towards becoming a person marked by kindness and welcoming inclusion. Towards becoming more like those awesome trail racers I’ve enjoyed meeting and less like the sucky roadie I have been too often.

Twenty Two Love Notes


I once filled pages and pages of diaries, prayer journals, and composition books with earnest yearnings for an imagined and idealized “One.” I wondered, wished, and doubted. I still have wonders and wishes and doubts about oh so much in this life but I have certainty of one thing: you are The One for me.


With eternal gratitude for dear WWU friendships, Care Group at the Inn, the house at 801 North Garden Street, Catch Phrase, JAM, Coffee and Dominoes, vegetarian bagel sandwiches on black trash bag seats, The Booger, Good Will Hunting, all-night conversation, and inexplicable sunglass licking. From our first hangout (which wasn’t a date) to when we became a couple, I knew, I knew, I knew that being with you would be better than winning the lottery. It is.


We once sat upon the sandstone at Larabee State Park and talked about faith and God and callings on our life. It felt good to think of the future in the plural possessive. Your goodness and lovingkindness and patience and wisdom and wit and curiosity all point the way to heaven for me. You’re my proof of God and God’s goodness.


captured by your sparkling eyes

cerulean blue from a beautiful core

continuous rapture with you as my prize

celestial presence and laughter adored


Anya, Isaac, and Quinn made our joy complete even as they filled bag after odious bag of diaper genie and made us surrender our awesome four wheel drive pickup for a minivan. Their goodness, kindness, and light are the fruits of their mother’s labor. We’re grateful for you are what make our five fabulous.


Have you ever noticed that the number six, if whispered, sounds like the word sex with a posh accent? Try it. I dare you not to laugh.


in baseball we stretch

I have never had an itch

that you could not scratch


I worry that I wasted too many of our early years in frantic aspirations towards greatness. I worked and I worked and I worked at an identity and a calling and a purpose that took me away from us, from we, from you. And with every turning of my heart from dream to dream you smiled in support and said “go for it, you’re great.” I can’t regret what I can’t take back but I don’t think I would anyway, because while I wish we would have gone to Spain instead of grad school twice, and I wish I would have stayed home and cuddled instead of supervising one more dance, your goodness and grace shine ever so brightly in contrast to my futile pursuits of career. And now that it feels all over, you’re still here. Standing next to me. Smiling and saying when I’m feeling my lowest “I think you’re great.”


We’re not cat people in the sense of the word that pet owners use, but sometimes I think maybe we’re like cats in our preternatural way we land on our feet. We’re supposed to believe it’s providence, mercy, and grace and I’m sure most of it is. But somehow I suspect there’s magic in you that keeps us from spending even the first of nine lives when things go wrong. It’s your magic that makes things gone wrong seem to work out all right.


After a decade of marriage, we spent the night in a fancy Seattle hotel and you ran the inaugural Seattle Rock and Roll Marathon and then we boarded an airplane and flew to Maui for a week and a half of heaven at Napili Kai. It had to be heaven because Grandma Laurel was there, and our kids frolicked in the sun, and we swam with turtles. And while each of those things was certainly a taste of heaven, the truth of the matter is that I get to experience the bounty of the kingdom of heaven whenever I am with you.


It’s funny how eleven years of marriage felt like a lifetime, at the time. Now, it was just the halfway point to today. And today is, God willing and if the creek don’t rise, still less than the midpoint in our lives together. I once dreaded the day we ran out things to talk about over breakfast. Now I know that’s nothing to fear because you’re so dang interesting. You’re more special and more powerful and more amazing than that girl with the powers in Stranger Things.


Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

Thou art more lovely and more temperate:

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,

and Summer’s lease hath all too short a date;

Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,

And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;

And every fair from fair sometimes declines,

By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d;

But thy eternal summer shall not fade,

Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st;

Nor shall death brag thou wander’st in his shade,

When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st


Why do you think we have a word like superstitious but there’s no such thing as regularsticious or even just stitious?


In Spanish, 14 is the last of the special number words. Afterwards the numbers enter the boringly repetitive (but easy to learn) pattern of ten and five, ten and six, twenty and one, twenty and two, etc. In our lives together, fourteen was (until recently) the hardest year of my career. You rescued me from despair through daily walks and talks and patience and goodness. And we developed our ability to thrive when mere survival feels like heroism.


sometimes I steal glimpses of your smile when you’re on the phone with a friend you’ve had since you were fifteen


I remember the anticipation, nervous delight, and open road possibilities that all seemed to unfold when I turned sixteen and got my driver’s license. My driver’s license was a passport away from a house that wasn’t a home. It was a ticket to fellowship, fun, and a future. It was responsible for the growth of the very best friendships and adventures. And when I think back on the miraculous impact a driver’s license had for me when I was sixteen my breath is taken by the realization that you are the driver’s license of my life.


I love the way our entire family will get up and dance whenever this song comes on. It makes it feel like our song:

You can dance
You can jive
Having the time of your life
Ooh, see that girl
Watch that scene
Digging the dancing queen

Friday night and the lights are low
Looking out for a place to go
Where they play the right music
Getting in the swing
You come to look for a king
Anybody could be that guy
Night is young and the music’s high
With a bit of rock music
Everything is fine
You’re in the mood for a dance
And when you get the chance

You are the dancing queen
Young and sweet
Only seventeen
Dancing queen
Feel the beat from the tambourine, oh yeah
You can dance
You can jive
Having the time of your life
Ooh, see that girl
Watch that scene
Digging the dancing queen


If my memory serves, it was the summer of our eighteenth year of marriage that we borrowed your parents’ silver Honda Accord and drove it to a local pizza joint near Loon Lake. Then when we went to leave, we climbed into that silver Honda Accord and it wasn’t until we were both sitting inside of it that we realized it was the wrong car. It was, from the outside, identical to your parents’ car. The way you laughed inside a stranger’s car as we hurried to get out before we were noticed was the same way you laughed when you realized you had a gigantic booger on your face way back on that date hike in Bellingham before you knew what your booger laugh convinced me of: that we were going to spend the rest of our lives together.


Pretty much every set of wedding vows involve pledges about having and holding through sickness and health, for better and for worse. I don’t think we could have ever imagined the heartache, worry, and trauma we would know as the result of our children’s health issues during our nineteenth year of marriage. Together we embodied our wedding vows as leaned hard on one another through hospital bedside vigils and sleepless nights and myriad appointments. Remembering the hard times is also remembering how deeply and how well you love.


knock knock

who’s there?

interrupting cow

interrupting cow wh…


Twenty One

Even when you’re just sitting there watching the scenery go by and we’re not talking and we’re kind of just passing the time on a long drive, your presence makes it all feel wonderful. My little secret about all of the times we hit the road to go camping is that while I enjoy the destinations, and I enjoy each of the activities that we do while camping, my most favorite thing is the going. It’s the drive. But it’s not the act of driving and it’s not the many beautiful sights we see on the drive. Well, save one. The beautiful sight of you by my side as we travel down the road is, every time, my moment of zen.

Twenty Two

I like the way you let me believe my pizza box poetry is profound

and also the way you move with me on the dance floor.

I like the way you enjoy adventure and food and drink

and also the way you persevere.

I like the way you love each of our children

and also the way you even love our malfunctioning dog.

I like the way you sit on the porch and talk with your mom for hours

and also the way you make time for your friends.

I like the way you still talk about your Grandma Laurel

and also the way you’re so much like her in your wisdom, patience, and strength.

I like the way you smile and laugh so easily

and also the way you listen.

I like the way you make me feel

and also the way you make me think.

Twenty two years seems like such a short long time,

I really hope to get another sixty six with you.

Mobility, Complacency, Resources

I started this blog in November 2020 with a retrospective of my November 2019-November 2020 weight loss and fitness journey. You can read that post here. If you prefer the short version, here it is: As a result of meticulous research and implementation of diet and exercise plans I lost 70 pounds over the span of five months while increasing the duration, intensity, and types of weekly physical activities. Here’s a link to the post where I discuss my early plans and sources in greater detail.

After the COVID19 global pandemic derailed my intention of using road races and Iron Man 70.3 races as motivational targets, I discovered the joys of trail running. Interestingly enough, the inherent social distancing created by the sport resulted in trail races becoming the first racing events to reopen in my region (the PNW of the United States for my international friends). You can read my reflections about my first-ever Trail Race in this post. The race that inspired that post was the Fort Ebey Kettles Trail Half Marathon, the first of the 2021 Northwest Trail Runs Half Marathon Trail Series.

At the time of this writing (4/29/2021) I am the points leader in this series both for overall men’s points and for my over 40 Masters’ age bracket. I’m not sure how long this lead will last as the better, faster runners return to racing this spring and summer but I’m going to enjoy being out in front as long as I can! Also, while I’m realistic enough to know I’m not fast enough to really compete with the sport’s best runners, I’m also competitive enough to do my utmost to claw for the best result possible. So I revised my training plans from March onwards to prioritize trail running performance over multi-sport/triathlon.

In pursuit of improving my half marathon pace on trails that can include elevation gains of 2000 feet or more over the span of 13.1-ish miles I’ve been working to build power and strength over the past few months. Because I’m over 40 and because I abused my body too much in my teens and twenties, I’ve been suffering an increase in strains and training injuries lately, which brings me to the purpose of this post.

Throughout the past year+ of intentionally improved fitness I had incorporated yoga into my weekly routines in order to stave off the sort of injuries that plague distance runners and cyclists. And it was working beautifully. Over this past winter, as I quit open water swimming (I got tired of the brain freeze ice cream headaches from the frigid waters of the Puget Sound) I also let my yoga practice slip from a daily routine to a once-twice a week thing, to a “I don’t feel like doing it” chore. This left me with running and cycling as my routine fitness activities. Both of these sports, pursued without appropriate cross training, will overdevelop certain muscle groups and leave other key parts of the core and legs underdeveloped. This is the path to the dark side of overuse injury.

It took a few months of using KT Tape anytime I was running longer than 90 minutes to realize that my rapidly reducing mobility score was increasing my injury risks and contributing to why I was on the verge of injury each time I worked to increase my power both on the bike and in running. DUH. I realized I had, once again, become the athletic equivalent to the Old Testament nation of Israel. When things went well for OT Israel, they turned their backs on God and ultimately suffered greatly as a result. So then while they were suffering greatly, they’d cry out to God, return to their faith, and things would eventually improve for them. Then they’d get complacent again and have another fall. Repeat ad nauseam. As a nerdy book-lovin’ kid growing up as a fundamentalist I used to get so annoyed with the people of Israel. Now that I’m a nerdy book-lovin’ grownup (also a recovering fundamentalist… trying to be anyhow) I realize the story of the Old Testament people of Israel is my story. So, like the dumbass ancient Israelites, I returned to the righteous path of working on key strength and mobility routines before and after each workout as well as while seated at my desk working on the day job.

I’m pleased to report that in only a few weeks of diligence towards my flexibility/mobility and core strength I have regained much of the range of motion I lost over the winter months of yoga neglect. I’ll use the remainder of this post to share the free resources I find most helpful in this pursuit.

The very best online resource I have found is Eric Wong AKA “Coach E” of Precision Movement. I love his materials because he explains the why of each activity in precise terms that are accessible for the layperson. It’s impossible to remove all jargon from explanations without losing specificity, so he does a really nice job of elaborating on key anatomical, movement, and physiological terms when necessary. I also like that he provides many routines that can be accomplished at work if you have a standing desk, and even tailors many to movements you can do from an office chair.

Precision Movement Website Link

Precision Movement YouTube Channel

Simple Routine for Runners

I’ve tried just about every YouTube Yoga and Yoga app that can be found. I struggle with most of them, either because the instructor’s tone of voice and music choice turns me off, or because I find their yoga to be too intense, too “woo-woo” or too sleepy for me. The free resource I’ve found to be the perfect fit for my needs and taste is the Nike Training Club app. It’s neat because they have a great variety of instructors, and you can integrate Apple Music playlists into any session. I find their demonstrations and explanations of each move to be just what I need to understand how to do with the movement without taking me too far outside of my zone with lengthy yogababble.

I can’t vouch for how it works with Android, but if you’re an Apple user like me, give NTC a shot. Link to Nike Training Club website.

I’ll connect all of this to my personal faith journey in this way. Mobility exercise is a lot like prayer. I don’t naturally enjoy it or want to do it. The more regularly I engage with it, the more helpful and rewarding it becomes. And once I begin to reap the benefits of steadfast practice, it’s easy for me to want to quit doing the very thing that got me there. So I often quit, get hurt, and need to remember the importance of daily faithfulness for long term results. It’s almost as if the more successful I feel, the greater my risk for complacency becomes. And the more miserable I feel (as the result of my own complacency) the more likely I am to engage/re-engage in the daily practices that will lead me through my misery and into greater strength, injury-resilience, peace. Weird, huh?

Who Shall I Be Today?

I intend to be brutally honest about myself in this post. My intent is to think honestly and out loud about significant and harmful shortcomings in my personal character in a way that may be helpful for my continued personal growth and maybe, possibly, helpful to my readers’ growth as well. While I generally dislike and eschew disclaimers and trigger warnings, I’ll include my version of those now. The content of this post will very likely turn you off if you’re opposed to any form of religion or spirituality. It’s also likely to offend if you’re devoted to a particular denomination or religious sect. So while it’s not my goal to alienate readers, I go forth understanding that some (maybe most?) will dislike something in this post.

Just prior to Easter 2021 I made a belated Good Friday post in which I promised subsequent updates about resources I’ve found helpful for personal awakenings and renewals. This is the first in what I intend to be a series of reflections along these lines. If you’re following this blog from prior writing about weight loss, fitness, and competition I invite you to continue reading although what’s to come is more personal in nature.

The title of this week’s post is inspired by a Mister Rogers’ song. While it’s a whimsical children’s song, it really strikes to the essence of what I’m writing about today. Who shall I be? Who shall I be like? What shall I be like? When I pause to truly consider these questions, I find myself becoming more cognizant of who and what is influencing me. I find myself becoming more intentional and, usually, a kinder, more generous sort of human.

We humans are social creatures. Even the most anti-social of us are nevertheless deeply influenced by others. I believe that most of us, most of the time, are blithely (or miserably) oblivious about our influencers. Here’s an ugly example:

Throughout my teenaged years I was very vocal about self-identifying as an evangelical christian. I spent a bunch of time going to church and memorizing bible verses. I got into arguments with friends about whether or not mormons were ‘real christians’ and I prayed fervently for the souls of friends and family members who were not ‘believers.’

I also spent a lot of time listening to Rush Limbaugh on AM radio. At first this was because of an adult mentor who always had the radio on while we worked. I sometimes helped with manual labor for house renovation projects he always had going and Rush Limbaugh was perpetually ranting in the background. Every adult I knew and looked up to at my church youth group was also a Limbaugh fan. They, and as a result I, all subscribed to the notion that we were the stalwart remnant of a persecuted minority in America. That our belief system and way of life was under constant assault from legions of evil liberal democrats and femi-nazis.

So, with the morally corrupt rhetoric of Rush Limbaugh echoing in my ears, I became a vocal campus conservative. I read Ayn Rand and took great pride in my ability to win debates. I seized upon any tactic necessary for victory. I fought to win every battle without any consideration for whether we were even at war. I opened fire with personal ridicule, high volume rhetoric, and any other dirty trick of the trade to win a debate.

It grieves me to recall what an odious asshat I was in the name of christianity. And it pisses me off that my evangelical christian brothers and sisters of the time applauded me for it. I frequently enjoyed affirmations and accolades for “standing up for my faith” and for my willingness to show the “courage of my convictions.” I was a mean-spirited bully who spewed profanity (just none of the Seven Dirty Words so I was still a good christian). And nobody from my belief system ever asked me to consider if my attitudes and conduct were in any way consistent with the teachings of Jesus, the person our religion was supposedly based upon.

I guess I’m confessing to my unintentional adolescent discipleship to Rush Limbaugh in the interest of full disclosure and also as an example of my primary contention: we are always being shaped in the likeness of somebody. It’s simply a question of who and what. Also, for the record, I must state that Rush Limbaugh was a hateful, disgusting, evil human. America is a better place with him dead and silenced!

OK. I might have lost a few ‘christian’ readers with those last couple of paragraphs, especially if they are among the 75% of evangelical ‘christians’ that voted for Donald Trump in 2020, despite the ugly and obvious incompatibilities between what they claim they believe and what Donald Trump stood for and did.

Next, I fear I may lose some readers turned off by religion and especially those suspicious of any messages from/involving present-day American ‘christians.’ And for good reason, see above.

If you accept the premise that all humans are influenced by who and what we listen to, believe in, and follow, then I think you’ll find this stuff helpful. If you don’t accept that premise, take a look anyway as you might at least find it interesting. And then possibly helpful sometime afterwards.

John Mark Comer is an author, podcaster, and former pastor of a Portland, Oregon church. I implore you to approach his stuff with intellectual honesty and rigor whether those labels make you want to trust or distrust him. If as a professing christian you take his teaching to heart, you may very well find yourself (like me) wanting to divorce yourself from many of the trappings of current ‘christianity.’ If as a committed agnostic/atheist, you’re willing to give his stuff an honest go, you may very well find inspiration for inquiry and healthful living.

I have frequently failed to live up to the standards I am espousing here. I continue to find inspiration and purpose in revisiting these teachings. When I work intentionally at this stuff I tend to be kinder, happier, more beautiful. When I don’t, I tend to be meaner, uglier, more morose.

You can find most all of this content on various podcasting apps if you search by title. I’m providing links to the material posted in two locations, the “practing the way” website and the “bridgetown church” website.

Practicing the Way: Introduction and Overview

Bridgetown Church: video and audio of part 1:

It’s Friday, but Sunday’s Coming

The title for this post is a small lie as I type this first line at 12:03am of Saturday morning. So, accurately speaking, yesterday was Good Friday. The beginning of Easter weekend. A day traditionally marked by somber religious ceremonies about alienation, betrayal, and death.

The title for this post is a larger truth addressed by the great American preacher and civil-rights leader SM Lockridge. Here’s a link to the pertinent audio. It’s just over a three minute clip and well worth the listen:

After doggedly updating this blog in weekly fashion since launching in November, I let the entire month of March pass without a single update. March was a difficult month and each week as it came time to write something I found myself vacillating between posting a social-media-ready cheery lie and posting a belly-button-gazing tale of self pity. Neither seemed right and so I chose silence.

While there were many things to celebrate and be grateful for this March, the month as a whole felt like 31 days of isolation, fatigue, and despair.

Looking back over the past 25-ish years of ‘adulthood’ that’s been a pretty consistent annual rhythm for me. Early in my career as an educator, March is when I would consider making a career change. Pursued by fears I had made the wrong choice in becoming a teacher, I’d consider a return to school for a law or medical degree, or a retreat from academia for something more hands on such as remodeling and flipping houses, fire fighting, or law enforcement. I almost always found reasons to talk myself into sticking with teaching, although my annual March glooms sometimes did lead to shifts in how or where I would teach.

While there is certainly something in my environment that makes March my month of greatest gloom (the beautiful pacific northwest gets really stingy with sunlight every winter and March is the final chapter in that long march of twilight), there’s also something in my nature. In my character, and in my choices. Just about every March I imprison my heart and my mind to regrets about historic stuff I can’t change and despair that I can’t see a productive way forward. I alienate myself from the communities I am devoted to, I betray the routines and procedures I’ve established in pursuit of excellence, and I hunker down and try to endure the death of youthful dreams.

And every March, that ends and April begins. The days get longer. The sun begins to reintroduce itself to our region. Spring Break and Easter beckon. And the miasma lifts. Hope springs and Sunday arrives.

I have always found inspiration in the stories and themes of Easter. I can feel the despair of Good Friday because I have such recent (every March, remember?) sense memories of what it feels like to be without hope due to the alchemy of my own poor choices, the villainy of others, and the fact that every story seems to need a dark night of the soul. I can feel the hope of Sunday because I have such recurring experiences with the way the air smells on a sunny morning after a night of rain. The way my insides buzz from the unexpected kindness of a stranger or, better, a long-lost friend. The pep I get back in my step when I get up off the mat one more time.

The Easter story is beautiful in its complexity and terrifying in its simplicity. For the past couple thousand years, we’ve been twisting the Easter story to subjugate, oppress, and pillage. We’ve also been looking to the Easter story to help us awaken, resist, and renew. I’d like to share more about some ideas and resources I’ve found useful in my own awakenings and renewals in next week’s post.

Mixtapes Reborn

As an overly earnest, romantic-hearted teenager, I used to spend hours creating mixtapes by waiting with my fingers poised over the record and play buttons on the tape deck so that I could capture the next perfect song from the radio. I just had to hope the DJ wouldn’t talk over any part of the song.

It was a labor of love to create a mixtape from the radio. I lived in a large enough radio market that I had no hope of getting a song request played by phoning in to the station. However living near a large-ish radio market had its upsides, too. There were a half dozen stations I could turn to for source material. As a byproduct of many hours avoiding my family in the refuge of my bedroom, I became pretty good at knowing which station to turn to, and when, if I was looking for a certain song. As long as I wasn’t seeking any esoteric choices, I was bound to find the songs I was looking for over the span of about a week.

I made the bulk of my early teenage mix tapes for myself. I desperately wanted somebody to make them for, but a girlfriend seemed as unrealistic a dream as winning the lottery, and the toxic cocktail of insecurity, bigotry, and ignorance prevented me from the thought of making a mix tape for a friend because what if that made them think I was gay?

By the time my college years came around, technology was advanced to the point that the term mixtape was about to become a quaint anachronism. Compact Discs had recently surpassed cassette tapes as the primary method for purchasing and consuming music albums. CD Burners were still inaccessible for my budget, but now all I had to do was borrow from a friend’s CD collection to gain access to just the right song to add to a mix tape. Along with compact disc technology came the wonders of Adobe Photoshop 1.0, which I used to create custom “album art” for mixtapes. This was a magical time for mixtapes for a few reasons. First, I had figured out how to fake being cool and interesting just long enough to get girlfriends! So I had an audience beyond my own Walkman headphones for my mixes. Secondly, while the creation and gifting of mixtapes was by no means a novel concept, nobody in my social circle was making or receiving mixtapes with custom cover art. So I liked to think I was making something special. Plus, it still took a tremendous amount of devotion to craft a mixtape as you still had to hunt down the right CD and manually record one track at a time to cassette.

To my recollection, downloadable mp3 and affordable CD-RW hardware came along at about the same time. This felt like the death of the mixtape as an art form. The procurement process was now gone. All you had to do was exercise the patience for your songs of choice to download over dialup or, if you were fancy, DSL. And so, for me, the mixtape as labor of love was over. I kept the practice up for a couple seasons of “I’m a young teacher on a budget so here’s a CD of Christmas songs I’ve pirated” for family Xmas gifts but for the most part, the mixtape was dead and buried for solid twenty years.

I am a recent (and very late) adopter of Spotify. So my discovery of the social features of the service is likely to be no revelation to most of my readers.

My first fun discovery with Spotify playlists is the ability to share them with others. So I’ve had some fun creating various playlists, with what seems like infinite access to any song I think of, no matter how esoteric. After more exploration, I discovered the Collaborative Playlist feature. This lets me invite others to collaborate in the creation and curation of a playlist. I’ve done this with five very close friends and it’s been a revelation which has inspired the following reflections:

  • Sharing music is a sort of communion. The act of listening to our collaborative playlist makes me feel a closeness of connection with my friends. Whether it’s a nostalgic favorite, a recent obsession, or a poorly-considered prank, each song that each friend adds tells me something about their state of mind and heart when they chose to add that song. Each song makes me know each collaborator a little more intimately than I did before.
  • Curiosity is better than judgement. I find I hold some assumptions and stereotypes about each of the five friends who are collaborating on this playlist. Some of them are accurate. For example, I know these guys well enough that I can guess with about 85% accuracy who added a song, based on music genre, artist, and musical key. It’s a fun game to play, guessing who added each song as it comes up on shuffle. But there’s a danger here. There’s a pig-eyed ugly part of me that wants to leap to conclusions about the taste of a certain friend when a song I want to skip comes up. But! If I refrain from snap judgement and practice the discipline of maintaining my curiosity, I have a 1:1 conversational opener. “This song is an interesting addition, can you tell me why you chose it?” leads to interesting conversation 100% of the time.
  • We are made for connection. It’s nice to discover new-to-me music through this process, but the ultimate satisfaction comes when a song comes on that I was planning to add, but one of my friends beat me to it. It’s actually kind of eerie to examine the timeline of when the song was added compared against when I started thinking of it. I’m not ready to make some kind of mystical leap into music as supernatural connector of people. Not yet, anyhow. I guess it’s a little bit like the moment of feeling connected to another person when you both show up wearing the exact same outfit. It’s kind of a “I see you, man. And I know you see me. Look at how obviously connected and compatible we are.” But we don’t ever say that to each other. Maybe we should!

I’m grateful for friendship and I am going to continue to consider other ways I may be able to cause those I love, those I value, to feel the sense of inclusion, connection, and regard that my friends’ participation in a collaborative playlist has created for me. The playlist is less than a week old and has over 22 hours of music on it. I’m curious to see how this, the reincarnation of the mixtape, evolves for us.

Goals, Failure, Success

I’ve been thinking lately about the effects that goal attainment and failure have on performance, results, and tenacity. A few months ago, I chronicled my November 2019-November 2020 journey with weight loss and fitness.

To be honest, since achieving my target weight goal back in March of 2020, I’ve been living with a low grade anxiety about loss of discipline and motivation. I’ve been through enough cycles of the fitness merry-go-round (it’s really not very merry) to know that achieving short term weight loss and fitness goals cannot be the ultimate target. Because those targets are relatively easy to hit. Maintaining a desired body composition and fitness level is a much greater challenge, one that nearly everybody chasing improved health seems to fail at routinely. While I have remained faithful to my weekly training plans (and thus have maintained my desired body composition), I am reluctant to release myself entirely from fear of failure as that fear is one of my sources of motivation to persevere with training on a day I would prefer to remain sedentary. Thankfully, after my first race in over a year yesterday, I’ve found something better than fear as motivation to train: competition!

My fitness plan for the year of 2020 revolved heavily around race registrations. I wasn’t in any type of condition to be entering races for competitive purposes. Rather, I was using race entries as a form of personal motivation and accountability. I’ve always been one to slack off on routine training if there’s not some kind of event to prepare for. As I think we all know by now, pretty much every race was postponed and cancelled in March 2020 and onward due to the global pandemic. I’m grateful that this didn’t derail my regular training. But I’ve also been desperately missing the experience of participating in a race.

So, after a full year of no opportunity to measure myself against other athletes, the 2/20/21 Fort Ebey Kettles Trail Half Marathon appeared as one of the first races I could register for in our region, and so I enthusiastically signed up.

Throughout the fall and winter of 2020, I had been getting out into the rugged hills and trails of Capital Forest (most frequently above the Kennedy Creek area) for extended trail runs so I knew I had the requisite fitness to safely participate in this race. Trail running is an entirely different level of challenge compared to road running. Even the most challenging of road race courses will offer a mere fraction of the total elevation gains that trail races provide. You’ll never find a paved road with grades as steep as are commonly peppered throughout the singletrack of many trail race courses. My entire running experience has been with various forms of road racing: triathlon, 10k, 12k, half marathons, marathons: I’ve competed in each form of road running and have a good sense of the kind of pace I’m capable of at each fitness level when the surface is uniform. I had no idea what I could do in a competitive trail race setting.

As a novice to competitive trail races, I set the following goals for my 2/20/21 baptism into the sport:

  • Goal 1: Finish the race without slowing to a walk
  • Goal 2: Finish the race without falling
  • Goal 3: Finish the race without injury

I felt like these each of these goals were achievable given my early season fitness level, and would be entirely within my control regardless of weather or other competitors.

Over the first four miles of the race, I found I was running at a much faster pace than most of the other runners out there. I was feeling good, and was still slowing considerably for each section of technical descents in order to avoid tripping or slipping over roots. This meant that my pace suffered greatly every time the trail started to look sketchy. Which was quite a lot. I had already completed one of the three worst climbs of the day and wasn’t in any danger of needing to slow for a breather, so I felt like my first goal finish the race without slowing to a walk was well in hand. It was time to set a new goal: maintain a consistent effort that keeps my heart rate above 150 bpm for the remaining 8-ish miles of the race.

The realization that I was running the race at a faster pace than most of the other runners tempted me to consider additional goals. What if I can finish top ten in my age group? I had recognized the faces of several masters runners who I knew to be quite capable. So a top 10 finish in my age bracket felt ambitious yet possibly attainable.

As soon as the notion entered my head, the decision was made. I was no longer considering this a mere training run with a entry fee and participation medal. This was now a race. And so, my approach to each sketchy section of trail shifted from don’t fall don’t fall don’t fall don’t fall to more of a Luke Skywalker vs Storm Troopers on Endor sort of thing. You know, the part of the movie when Luke has stolen an imperial speeder bike and weaves in and out of trees and other hazards and ludicrous speed?

Pace quickened, I found myself whooping and hollering in exaltation over how freakin’ fun it is to speed through danger with disaster just one moment away. I had no processing power available for the sort of meditative thoughts I usually partake in whilst running. All of my senses, all of my focus, all of my movements were united and channeled exclusively toward the fastest line possible through mud, over root, under/over fallen tree. I found myself wishing for ninja climbing spikes or a grappling hook as I grabbed onto various saplings and tree branches to slingshot myself around switchback descents. I was one with the force as I did the speed-limbo under fallen trees too high to vault, and as I put my long-dormant hurdling form to good use over lower treefall: barely considering those trees wouldn’t give way like a hurdle should I clip one with my foot or knee.

It wasn’t the death-defying stuff that caused me to fail at goal 2: finish the race without falling. At about mile 9, the trail opened up into a broader section that seemed free from roots. So I took my focus away from my footing in order to do a quick check of my heart rate and pace data on my watch. That moment of mental laziness allowed me to miss a rock that awaited in the middle of the trail, jutting up just high enough to catch my toe. Down I went in a muddy face first tumble that left me bruised and bloodied. A quick bodily inventory told me I was free from injury (goal 3 intact!) but the violent herky-jerk of the fall had trigged some calf spasms, the precursors of the dreaded calf cramp.

And so, I spent the remainder of the race at a markedly slower pace as I battled impending calf cramps. I knew from painful experience that once I get a full-on calf cramp, there’s no more running or jumping in store for that leg for the rest of the game or race. I managed all the way to the finish line before the calves finally cramped, which is alright with me: the race was over.

I later learned that my efforts that day made me the 4th place overall finisher, the 3rd fastest male runner of the day, and fastest finisher in my age bracket! My initial reaction was to discount these results due to what must have been a shallow field. But there were 150 runners in this event, many with running resumes I once would have considered out of reach for myself.

A closer study of the finish times informed me that, had I avoided my fall and subsequent diminished pace to avoid cramps, I could have finished 2nd overall. I’m done with thinking of myself as one slip-up away from overweight couch potato. It’s time to embrace that wild part of my heart that was kindled over the most hazardous sections of this race: the part that exalts in chasing a runner down and passing them. The predatory instinct that revels in the knowledge that a competitor is flagging and I am closing. It’s time to commit to training as the champion I secretly yearn to become.

Lessons Learned

  1. to borrow from one of my favorite Harry Connick Jr. songs: Safety’s just danger out of place. I didn’t fail at my no-fall goal because of the breakneck pace I took through the obviously perilous sections of the race. I failed at that goal because I was lulled into complacency by the appearance of ease after finishing what looked and felt more dangerous.
  2. when it becomes evident that one or more goals will be easily achieved, the creation of additional, more rigorous goals, can result in achievement beyond imagination. Looking at the running histories of my field of competition in the race, I would never have considered an overall top 10 finish to be possible. Mostly because my internal self image remains that of an overweight and out of shape guy with arthritis. While I still have arthritic joints, I am capable of more than I imagine I am.
  3. start carrying a couple packets of yellow mustard on these races. A squirt of yellow mustard under the tongue actually works to alleviate muscle cramps!

A Meditation on Grace

I have been thinking a lot about the notion of grace lately. It’s one of those words we use quite often, and I’m beginning to suspect we each mean something a little different each time we use it.

I have often said that my beloved is the best embodiment of grace that I know. Who and how she is as a person, friend, partner, lover, mother… provides me with tangible illustrations of grace. She’s proof of the divine for my oft doubting heart.

I had been planning all week for this week’s post to be a meditation on grace, and I even had a pretty lengthy essay outlined. But the more I dwelled on what I wanted to say, the more sanctimonious and repellent it felt to me.

So, instead, I composed this collage of photographs I’ve taken recently. Each image turns my mind to considerations of grace.

Additionally, I seek merely to share the questions I am currently chewing on regarding grace:

  • What are we really saying when we explicitly ask others for grace? Are we demanding or expecting it?
  • Why are we who receive grace the most frequently so often reluctant to grant it to others?
  • Think of the idiom fall from grace. If one is truly in state of grace, is it possible to fall from it?
  • Are the clumsiest people in fact the most graceful?

I leave you with this beautiful quote on grace from the brilliant Nadia Bolz-Weber. May it challenge, inspire, and comfort you this week:

“God’s grace is not defined as God being forgiving to us even though we sin. Grace is when God is a source of wholeness, which makes up for my failings. My failings hurt me and others and even the planet, and God’s grace to me is that my brokenness is not the final word … it’s that God makes beautiful things out of even my own shit. Grace isn’t about God creating humans and flawed beings and then acting all hurt when we inevitably fail and then stepping in like the hero to grant us grace – like saying, “Oh, it’s OK, I’ll be the good guy and forgive you.” It’s God saying, “I love the world too much to let your sin define you and be the final word. I am a God who makes all things new.”

Nadia Bolz-Weber