Introducing Betsy Newkirk

In this excerpt from one of my 2 WIP novels, we meet Betsy Newkirk as she drives her cousins to the trailhead for their weekend hike. I am posting this for two reasons. 1) For accountability. I can’t give up on a task I’ve made public. 2) For feedback. I’m hoping to receive constructive criticism and/or encouraging words if you like this and want to know more about Betsy.

“Betsy! Stop it! You’re going to get us all killed!” Ainslee clutched frantically for the oh-shit bar that wasn’t there. Her hands finally found purchase in the passenger seat door handle. While Ainslee pleaded for Betsy to slow down, Siobhan giggled with glee from the back seat and shouted “Faster, pussycat! Kill! Kill!” 

Betsy grinned as she feathered the clutch and hit the throttle just hard enough to keep all four tires spinning through the gravel of the forest access road. There are very few sensations better than executing a power slide through gravel. She risked a moment’s break in concentration to shoot a glance and a quip at Ainslee: “You’re all shook up, aren’t you, baby?”

The bassline to last year’s trashy-catchy song pulsed in rhythm to the melody of her car’s boxer engine in perfect juxtaposition with their trash-cinema quotes. Ainslee’s sincere terror and Siobhan’s thrill-seeker glee amplified the perfection of the moment. Betsy had been adventuring with her cousins Siobhan and Ainslee since before any of them could remember and she loved their reactions dearly. Today’s adventure was supposed to start at the trailhead for their weekend backpacking trip, but there was no way Betsy was going to let this smooth(ish) stretch of gravel road pass without at least a little bit of zoom. 

As the gravel road straightened out, what looked like a pitted moonscape unfolded before them. Potholes and craters ranging in size from tire-eating to car-eating spread across the entire surface of the road. With a basalt wall rising on the passenger side of the car and a quarter-mile plunge to the alpine lake below falling off the driver’s side of the road, there was nowhere to go but forward. Still travelling at highway speed on this forest service road, Betsy knew she didn’t have space to brake sufficiently before hitting the first crater, so she gunned it. 

This must have been how Thelma and Louise felt. Except the car didn’t launch at all. Instead, it seemed to skim across the tops of each crater and pothole. Betsy’s sunshine-orange Subaru cleared the terrible stretch of road with less jostle than it experienced on its daily commute over the frost heave damaged asphalt of her hometown.

Grinning widely, Betsy winked at Siobhan through the rear-view mirror. “Piece of cake!” 

That was a lie. The unexpected appearance of such rough road sandwiched between a rock wall and a deadly drop had terrified Betsy. Her heart rate had to be through the roof. But she was determined to play it off as all part of her expert driving. 

Ainslee’s expression was serious. “Come on, Betsy: you’re going to wreck your car. Would you please slow down?”

Siobhan agreed from the back seat. “Yeah, let’s take it easy now. I think we’re almost there anyway.”

Betsy pretended to be disappointed in her cousins’ desire to slow down, but she was happy to relent. It felt like they had just used up all of their luck for the day. “Alright, I’ll drive the rest of the way like an old lady.” 

Dropping into second gear, it felt like they were barely moving. Particularly in contrast to the frenetic pace they had maintained over the past several miles. With another half hour of slow motion driving ahead of her, Betsy’s mind began to wander to childhood memories, as she was wont to do whenever she was in the company of her cousins. 

#

Mrs. Augustine’s beet-red face looked ready to burst. Her stentorian bellow for attention rang throughout their third grade classroom. Her ham-sized fists beat down on the desk in front of her. It was Brian Worden’s desk. He broke into tears. He cried a lot, but anybody would have cried tears of terror with Mrs. Augustine bearing down on them. It was supposed to be silent reading time, but Corey had whispered a joke to Leonard who had passed it to Brian, who made the blunder of laughing out loud. 

Betsy must have looked guilty, for Mrs. Augustine called her out. “MISS NEWKIRK!”

“Yes, Ma’am?” (the only acceptable response)

“TO THE BOARD”

Third Grade Betsy’s face flushed hot. She knew what was next. She was going to have to read in front of the class. Out loud. And she still couldn’t reliably pronounce her R’s. And Mrs. Augustine, in her infinite cruelty, was going to make her repeat each mispronounced word until she said it correctly, or until she wilted in tears.

Mrs. Augustine pulled the dusty old reader from the bookshelf in the corner of the room. Betsy was certain she saw tarantulas and cobwebs fall from the cracked leather bindings. 

“Open to page thirty, Miss Newkirk”

The verse that Betsy was tasked to read leered at her from page thirty of the reader:

If you find your task is hard,

Try, try again;

Time will bring you your reward,

Try, try again;

All that other folks can do,

Why, with patience, should not you?

Only keep this rule in view;

TRY, TRY AGAIN.

There was no way Betsy was going to make it through this verse. Her quick scan revealed fourteen different opportunities for failure and humiliation. Even after losing all of her second grade recess times to visits with the school’s speech therapist, Betsy’s R’s still had a way of betraying her two out of every three tries. Or, more accurately, two out of evewy three twies. This wouldn’t do, at all. 

Her first instinct was to bolt for the door. Betsy ruled that out, as she’d tried that last month. The consequences for fleeing had been even more mortifying than humiliating herself in front of her classmates.

She couldn’t run. She couldn’t fight, either. While Mrs. Augustine may have been ancient, she was a powerful old battle axe. 

What started as fear grew into anger. Betsy could feel her heart beat faster and her already red face grow hotter still. Standing in front of her classmates, Betsy resolved that she would not show weakness. She would fight what way she could. Taking a deep breath, Betsy bellowed her own version of the verse from the top of her lungs:

IF YOU FIND THIS TASK IS TOUGH,

HUFF, HUFF AND PUFF

TIME WILL GIVE YOU SOME GOOD STUFF,

HUFF, HUFF AND PUFF

ALL THAT OTHER PEOPLE DO,

WHY, WITH REEFER, SHOULD NOT YOU?

ONLY KEEP THIS JOINT IN VIEW;

HUFF, HUFF AND PUFF!

Betsy pantomimed a smoking motion. Her gamble in using a singular R word had paid off. She’d said it correctly. Her momentary elation of triumph melted quickly to dread.

Betsy braced for impact. She was certain she was doomed. She’d learned enough about reefers from the older kids on her school bus to know that it was both cool and funny to talk about it. She’d learned enough about school to know that older kids and teachers definitely disagreed about what was cool and funny. Her classmates sat in stunned silence. Brian looked like he was going to start crying again. Leonard turned to their teacher and asked, “Mrs. Augustine, what’s reefer?”

Mrs. Augustine, the towering tyrant of third grade, fixed Betsy with a piercing glare. Betsy was done for, she just knew it. And then the most wonderful thing happened. Mrs. Augustine’s eyes began to twinkle. The twinkle spread to her ruddy cheeks, which tugged the wrinkles around her mouth into an impish grin. And then Mrs. Augustine began to laugh. An out-loud, I shouldn’t be laughing at this kind of laugh. A stop it, I’m going to pee my pants kind of laugh. A contagious, the rest of us don’t know why we’re laughing kind of laugh. Soon, all of the third graders were laughing and it felt good.

By the time the class had regained its composure, it was time to leave for recess. Mrs. Augustine dispensed with the usual regimented dismissal protocol and told the class to “get outside and run these giggles out of you” before turning to Betsy and saying “Miss Newkirk, I’d like to speak with you.”

Betsy waited with bated breath. Had the spell already broken? Had Mrs. Augustine feigned good humor just to get her victim alone?

Mrs. Augustine patted the chair next to the teacher’s desk. “Come, sit.”

Betsy complied.

“I want you to know, Miss Newkirk, that I see you.”

Betsy was perplexed, but pretended to follow along.

“I see what you did today and I want you to know that I am so very proud of you.”

Betsy waited for the other shoe to drop.

“I want you to remember this day, Miss Newkirk. This is the day you discovered who you are. You see, everybody feels afraid. In fact, most people feel afraid most of the time, if they were ever to be truly honest with themselves. The sad fact is, most people try to hide from their fear, or they try to run away.”

Betsy could tell that Mrs. Augustine knew she was thinking of the time she had fled the classroom.

“What you did today took courage and it took talent. You showed quite a bit of chutzpah today, young lady.”

Betsy had no idea what chutzpah was, but it sounded like something she should be proud to have.

“Ask the question, Miss Newkirk.”

This was getting eerie. It was as if Mrs. Augustine was reading her mind.

“What’s chutzpah?”

Mrs. Augustine’s eyes twinkled once again. “It means, my dear, that you’re full of piss and vinegar.”

Betsy’s mind whirled. Her authoritarian third grade teacher was being nice. And swearing. And being nice!

Mrs. Augustine chuckled. “I don’t expect you’ve heard that one yet either. Miss Newkirk, I want you to know that I see you. And I admire you. Today you faced fear and failure head on, and you charged right through it. At the other end you found triumph. That’s the lesson I want you to remember. Never flee from fear. Always forward.”

Betsy felt a lump begin to form in her esophagus. It felt almost like she wanted to cry, but she wasn’t sad or scared. She felt taller. And determined. And grateful. She wasn’t at all embarrassed about the rebel tears that overflowed her eyes and ran down her cheeks.

“Now get outside and run the wiggle out of you. And Miss Newkirk: we will have no more talk of reefers.”

The Gospel of Rhythm (part 1)

When I wrote these goals on January 1 or 2020, they felt audacious. My mindset at the time was one of “journey before destination*” and thus, even though it seemed highly unlikely I’d be able to achieve and maintain these goals, I felt the act of setting such ambitious targets would inspire me to make healthy dietary choices and would help motivate me to choose sweating over sitting more often than not.

*yeah I’m a Sanderson fan.

It is now November 12, 2020. So we have another month and a half to go before I can do a proper post-mortem of these goals. However, as of today:

January 1 Speed Goal: Beat 7:00/mile splits at the distances of 5k, 10, 12k)

Most Recent Race Pace Run: 6:38/mile average pace over 12k for Virtual Bloomsday 2020.

January 1 Activity Goal: Keep Running Weekly: So far so good! For nearly all my life I could only find motivation to run if I had a friend to run with, or if I’d paid a race registration fee and thus had that external source of motivation and accountability. Knowing this about myself, I registered for at least 1 running event in every month of the year. Then the pandemic hit and every event from March onward was postponed or cancelled. At any other point in my life this would likely have sent me straight to my lazy boy recliner. Instead, I’ve discovered a way to keep moving and keep training, even without anything to train for.

January 1 Weight Goal: Maintain a weight of between 190-180 pounds. I have been maintaining 170-175 for the past several months.

On to the how, why, and what now. But first, on mindset:

You don’t have to spend very much time online to discover there are just as many cults, thinking errors, and wild-eyed fanatics in the world of health and fitness as there are in the realms of politics and religion. When we delude ourselves into believing we may escape the aspects of politics & religion that we don’t prefer, we simply become more vulnerable to falling under the sway of a charismatic “leader” whose message happens to align with our desires and prejudices. Whether it be about how and what to eat, how and when to move, or how and why to vote or pray, I believe it is essential to become ruthlessly reflective in identifying our own biases, intellectually rigorous in learning to identify the use and purpose of rhetorical strategies, and humbly curious about what we may learn from credible sources outside of our current paradigm. I say this as a fellow learner. I am by no means a master of any of this, and am uncertain I ever will be!

All that to say, I am writing to share about this part of my evolution over the past year in the hope it may inspire you to embark upon / resume / keep going on your own journey of change. Some of the choices that have worked spectacularly well for my body may not have the same results for yours. You may find solutions that work spectacularly well for your body, but not so much for mine. If you’re looking for a simple, fast-acting fix for your health and fitness, you’re likely to waste your time and money with a health/fitness quick fix scammer. The scammers are legion. If you’re willing to learn to become a better learner, you will find, as I have, that valid information is freely available. You’ll learn to distrust anybody trying to make a buck off your desire to improve your fitness. You’ll learn to block/unfollow friends and acquaintances offering to coach you in the same way you learned to block/unfollow friends and acquaintances who’ve tried to sell you essential oils, Amway, Avon, baskets, or Tupperware. If you haven’t been turned off by my slagging of your favorite multi-level-marketing scam, I’m hoping you may find something edifying about what’s to come.

Movement and Diet

Movement: I have no patience for advertisements interrupting my workouts, so I ruled out the free-on-YouTube options. But that’s just me, as I know many people find great success using free content on YouTube. While I no longer subscribe to either, I found the monthly subscriptions to these services to be well worth it. My near-daily use of one or both of these content providers taught me a lot about the kind of indoor spin workout structure I like and need most. So the fact I no longer subscribe is an example of how a quality resource can teach you to fish if you’re so inclined.

Peloton https://www.onepeloton.com/app

Studio Sweat OnDemand https://www.studiosweatondemand.com/

You don’t need to buy an expensive spin bike to get a great workout. If you have a bicycle, find a magnetic or fluid resistance trainer for $50 or even less if you don’t mind used. Because of the popularity of spin bikes/add-ons that measure your power output, you can find a really high quality “dumb” spin bike for $200 or less. If you’re local, I have an old (but still functional) magnetic resistance on-wheel trainer that I’d be happy to gift to you if you promise to use it.

Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, I did my best to get at least 30 minutes of exercise (elevated heart rate into aerobic zone for at least 30 minutes) every day. I was running just 1x-2x a week during this period, but was very faithful to my spin bike on days I ran as well as days I didn’t. Spin was great for my goals at this time as its low impact nature prevented any risk of injury yet it was intense enough to yield good gains in my cardiovascular fitness.

Before I share more specifics of training from January 1 onwards, let’s talk about diet.

Diet: We can divide the past 365-or-so days into three distinct phases.

November 2019-February 2020: Strict Ketogenic diet with daily tracking of every single calorie I consumed. I do not believe this is a sustainable diet, at least for me. I can only go so long without consuming a single bite of rice or bread. I have comprehensive metabolic and lipid panels that I was intending to use as “before keto” data, but wasn’t able to get those panels done in March 2020 due to the pandemic. So all I have to share is anecdotal: a strictly ketogenic diet with rigorous daily caloric tracking was highly effective for my short term goal of weight loss. Big huge disclaimer: be wary of the online “Keto” community as there is more than a small amount of cult-like behavior (they’re worse than certain CrossFitters!) and there are a bunch of snakeoil companies that try to con you into buying their extra expensive MCT and related products. 

With that disclaimer in mind, the Keto Reddit has some useful information amidst the cult like noise: https://www.reddit.com/r/keto/wiki/keto_in_a_nutshell

February 2020-April 2020: Introduced Intermittent Fasting and phased out of strictly Ketogenic diet into a hybrid of Whole Food Plant Based with 1-2 days/week of meat eating. I highly recommend a critical reading of each of the following:

David Sinclair’s Lifespan (he’s actually a lot better via podcost/audio than he is with his co-writer in the book): https://lifespanbook.com/

Jason Fung’s The Obesity Code (be dismayed by and suspicious of all of the subscription-based “support” on his website. That said, this book is solid): https://thefastingmethod.com/book/the-obesity-code/

Dan Buettner’s The Blue Zones (this is a link to a good NPR article about it): https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=91274144

May 2020 – Present: I want to write more about this in upcoming posts. This is the heart of what I’m calling the gospel of Rhythm. Each week is a little different, depending on what we have going on socially. I’ve overcome what I believe is a popular myth/misunderstanding of “fueling” for physical activity. I strive to have each week break down into the following ratio (not necessarily in this order):

Feasting (consume as much as I want): 2 days/week

18:6 Intermittent Fasting (consume as much as I want within a daily 6 hour window): 4-5 days/week

36 Hour Fast (consume zero calories for a period of 36 hours): once or twice a month

Plan, Revise, Revise

I have found it tremendously helpful to create training plans based on a goal activity, and then diligently annotating each time I make a change to the plan. Often the changes are due to priorities of a social/family nature. The point is, we can both prioritize participating in unscheduled social/family activities AND maintaining training volume when we build rest into a weekly schedule and are willing to swap days. I’m unsure if this example from the month of January will be as illuminating as desired, but I hope it’s an example of a simplistic way to plot out a month’s training in pencil and then reflect/revise in pen.

You may note I have a few self-diagnosis post-it notes on this example. That reminds me to give a recommend for a resource I’ve found tremendously helpful. He has a bunch of free information on his site and a helpful email newsletter. https://www.precisionmovement.coach/about-eric/

Here are some decent free online resources which may be used as the skeleton for a personal training plan. Understanding and following the precepts these plans build from will free you up in making your own. At first, simply copy. Then, as you witness your body’s response to the training, you’ll gain increasing confidence to customize for your needs and goals.

Nike Plans: I had a 5 month base of 1x-2x running and daily cardio before I began my variation upon Nike’s 15k plan in January. You can find freely downloadable plans for a variety of distances here: https://www.nike.com/running/training-plans

You’ll find Jeff Galloway’s methodology to be highly controversial amongst the snobbiest of runners. That’s because they either never knew or they forgot what it’s like to feel hopelessly incapable of ever running without being chased by a hungry bear. I’m not keen on all aspects of his stuff, but want to link to it here as my August 2019-December 2019 efforts were based upon his principles: http://www.jeffgalloway.com/training/5k-10k-training/

I realize this post has run a bit long. So I’m going to save my philosophizing about all of this for an upcoming post, in which I share the shifts in thinking, feeling, and doing that I’ve discovered over this past year to be helpful for my mental health, motivation to train, and enjoyment of food and drink.

a year of losses and gains

For just over a year now, I’ve been working to improve my health and fitness. I’ve been pretty public about my weight loss and about the improvements to my overall fitness levels, often measured by how fast I can run and for how long. Because I believe my journey may be of encouraging assistance to others, I’m writing to share what I’ve learned over this past year.

photograph of the author at 235 pounds

This is me at 235 pounds. I could fit into size 38 pants if I sucked my gut in. I suffered from pretty intense acid reflux, sleep apnea, and back pain.

This is me at 170 pounds. I have a hard time throwing anything away so I still have some 32 waist pants from 20+ years ago when I was last that size. They’re a little baggy on me now. After over a decade of daily omeprazole use, I quit taking it over seven months ago and am completely free from all symptoms of heartburn and GERD. I am free from back pain and ever since I hit my first goal weight back in March, I’ve been able to ride a regular bicycle. That’s something my lower back hadn’t allowed in years. My family says I still snore, but I no longer frighten anybody as I don’t sound like I’ve died mid-snore any more.

My first target weight of 185 seemed ridiculously optimistic. I had battled to get to 225 from 235 over the previous year and was on the verge of accepting that as my middle aged reality. When I defeated that target before Valentine’s Day I set the final goal of 175, based on my height, body type, and performance goals. I’ve been maintaining that target weight since achieving it in March. I now tend to fluctuate between 165-175, depending on my hydration levels.

I keep a record of every activity that elevates my heart rate into or beyond my aerobic threshold. This chart captures the daily amount of time spent in such activities, although nearly all of the specific activities involves time in multiple heart rate zones which often range from resting all the way up to spurts of max HR. I build between 1-2 days of rest into each week. Rest days are not captured in this chart.

Much of my exercise involves human powered travel in one form or another. When I’m stuck with indoor training, I record zero miles. My outdoor mileage sources, in decreasing order of mileage, are biking, running, walking, paddling, and swimming.

I have a family history of ulcerative colitis. That plus a steady diet of excess consumption, and my inability to effectively deal with external stressors, first landed me in a gastroenterologist’s office in the winter of 2013. That visit resulted in my first colonoscopy before I even hit 40. To say I was the youngest person in the waiting room for that procedure would be an understatement by several decades. 

Just over six years after my first colonoscopy, I was forced to find a new gastro doctor as the first one had moved their practice out of town. I’d had a concerning flare up and the novelty of talking about internal butt cameras had long since worn away. This guy had the most direct bedside manner I’d ever experienced. I forgave myself for silently thinking he was fulfilling the stereotype of asian-american doctors, because I figured I had liberty for such thoughts, given my own hyphenated-americanism. As I sat there and stroked the egocentrism of my silent bigotry, the doctor punctured my reverie:

“You’re overweight.”

I stammered (and I don’t often stammer): “Well sure, a little, but compared to the average American I’m still on the smaller side, right?”

He gave a quick shake of his head. “You’re going to continue to experience these symptoms as long as you remain overweight.”

“So what do you recommend?”

Admirably, he didn’t roll his eyes or sigh. “I recommend you lose weight. Or, you can continue to take more meds until they don’t work and then we’ll find you different meds. But that will only cover the underlying causes, which are all aggravated when you’re overweight.”

This post-colonoscopy conversation took place in August of 2019. I took the good doctor’s words to heart, and spent all of August, September, October, and November in steadfast commitment to working my way back into running shape. This involved a combination of walking and very slowly jogging. I couldn’t afford to jog more than twice a week without risk of aggravating my knees and back or giving myself an overuse injury to the usual suspects of plantar fasciitis, iliotibial band syndrome, or sciatica. Each of these have messed up prior midlife flirtations with fitness.

Have you ever seen a clapped-out old pickup truck struggling under the combined mass of its driver, passengers, and truck bed full of junk? That’s pretty much how my feet, knees, hips, and back felt whenever I ran more than a couple of times a week. This sucked, because I knew that if I could just run on a consistent basis (read: more than twice a week) I could lose weight and keep it off. I also knew I was too heavy to run on a consistent basis without hurting myself. This was my November 2019 action research question: How can I lose weight relatively quickly and safely in order to get down to a body mass that would allow me to run without blowing something out? 

I call the answers that I found and have since proven the Gospel of Rhythm. Check back next week for what I’ve got to say about that. And, I’ll share the resources I found beneficial for my own learning and progress, as well as a few example weeks from my training logs.

A Quick Summary of Twenty Years

I have this friend I’ve known since pre school. You might say it’s a friendship I’ve had the longest. But you might also say it’s not, depending upon your definition of friend.

She was one of my very best friends in high school. We stayed in touch through our college years, and attended one another’s weddings. Already on different trajectories, we each journeyed into separate adulthoods of career and family. Along those journeys, facebook happened and we became facebook friends. That sentence would have made no sense twenty years ago!

So, I have this friend I’ve known since pre school. Sort of. I knew her really well through college but for the past twenty-plus years, we’ve been the social network kind of friends: the kind that sometimes sees one another’s family photos and may, from time to time, click “like” on a comment, post, or photo.

Through said social media, we recently made the serendipitous discovery of some shared explorations, ponderings, and evolutions of the ways we think and believe. Nothing too grandiose, just the fundamental nature of the universe, our existential purpose, and how that all relates (or doesn’t) to the conservative evangelical American faith that once so strongly defined who we were back when we were eighteen years old and certain of everything.

It might just be midlife, and it might be the cavalcade of personal, familial, and professional crises over the past decade, but I’ve become a lot less certain and hopefully a little bit less of an asshole than I once was.

My unwanted career transformation of seventeen months ago kind of cold turkey forced me to quit being a workaholic. In an instant, I went from 70-100 hour work weeks to 40 hour work weeks. That’s a different story, though. Back to this one: I’ve had some spare time for the first time in my adult life. For the past seventeen months, two opposing desires have wrestled for the prize of what I will do when I have spare time.

In one corner, we have the desire to retreat from the delusion of any greater purpose for my life and to learn to be quiet and content. Or at least quiet and more likely sedated through Netflix, fantasy football, video games, and other forms of escapism.

In the other corner, we have the desire to tell my stories. I have so many of them. They’re all stored up inside of me and spring to life when I’m out on a long run or ride, or when I sleep well enough to dream deeply. When I’m feeling particularly brave (or delusional) I imagine my stories may be of some use to others, perhaps they may awaken others’ stories.

So I’d already been midway through creating this little web site when my once dear and now long acquainted friend asked if I had a quick summary to share of the past twenty years of my life. More specifically, a summary of how my faith has changed. It’s a story I’ve been working on for some time, as I’d like it to be something more than mere show and tell. I’d like it to be aimed at your inspiration and glorification rather than the attention-seeking behavior of an ESFJ, True Colors Orange, Enneagram 8 with a 7 wing.

This is not where I tell that story. This is where I leave myself (and you, dear reader, if you exist and persist) the breadcrumbs for that story. 

1999: Fulfilled the greatest dream of my entire life to date by getting married.

Also 1999: Got my first teaching job.

Also 1999: Spent the first year of marriage being a really shitty spouse. Not the abusive or cheating kind. The absent kind. I gave all of myself to my teaching and my students and then, when I was finally home, to my rest. I gave very little to the love of my life. Miraculously, our marriage survived. Most of the miracles were through the patience and prayers of a wife I don’t deserve. If I believed in Karma, I’d suspect I’m being rewarded for a really kick-ass former life and she’s paying the price for eating a sacred cow or something!

2000-2004: We got a little better at being married. We got involved in a church and made friends. We had our first kid in 2001. Second kid in 2004. I played bass guitar in the church worship band and was very public about my christian faith in my job as a public school teacher. I thought I was making a positive difference in kids’ lives. I loved teaching and coaching. I loved coaching so much I began a Master’s program in Sport and Exercise Leadership.

2004: Quit my public school teaching and coaching jobs in order to avoid a pending teachers’ strike. Got a job as the Athletic Director at a private christian school. Thought it was pretty cool I’d have a chance to work with students as well as coaches in pursuit of making a positive difference in kids’ lives. Thought it was pretty cool to have a job where I wasn’t being some kind of rebel to be open about my faith. 

Also 2004: I enjoyed working with the Athletic Directors in our league. It was a league of smaller private schools. Several of the league schools were religious and would traditionally open each athletic contest with a modest prayer or invocation. This became controversial within the league when one of the schools (my school) started using that opening prayer as the trojan horse for long winded attempts to proselytize the audience. I thought the best demonstration of christian values would be for my school to respect the wishes of our league schools and go back to the simpler practice of opening each game with a modest invocation alongside the rote pledge of allegiance and statement of sportsmanship. My boss thought the best demonstration of christian values would be to become louder and more aggressive in winning the cultural war we were fighting against the infidels. These infidels included the secular humanists, the catholics, the jews, and the lukewarm christians who voted for democrats. That wasn’t my faith at all. I quit that job and never looked back. At the time I viewed the whole thing as an aberration.

2004-2009: I was back teaching in public schools, and got super involved with student activities. We also got super involved with the local church youth group. Many of my students were involved with the youth group. We had our third kid in 2006. I was amazed and inspired to be a part of rapid positive change in a school and a community. I was persuaded by a trusted mentor to go back to school to get my principal’s credentials. Although I had very recently vowed to never leave the classroom again, I found the opportunity to make positive change at the school-wide level incredibly compelling. I thought I was making a positive difference in kids’ lives. One night, just months before we were due to move away from that town, a kid at the youth group asked me to pray for him. So I did. And what I prayed haunts me to this day. I acknowledge the abrupt transition and am not saying more about this now. 

2009: After completing my master’s degree and obtaining my principal’s credential, we moved in pursuit of my career advancement in educational leadership. Within months of moving to this new town, we began making the kind of lifetime friendships I had yearned for over the previous decade of surface level friends at work and church. 

2011ish: I felt very accomplished professionally, all of my social needs were being met by a broad network of generous and interesting friends, and our family was thriving. After a brief hiatus from coaching high school soccer I was coaching youth soccer for my kids’ teams. I had stopped going to church regularly because the sermons were incredibly boring and covered biblical texts I knew better than the guys that church had preaching. And, I preferred being lazy on Sunday mornings. I felt like I was making a positive difference in my kids’ lives and in other kids’ lives. H kept going to church on her own with the kids.

2014: The beginning of a mysterious health crisis for our oldest kid. It ultimately took the next 3+ years to get diagnoses. Chronic and truly debilitating from high school student athlete to bed and wheelchair. Also a period of increasing job dissatisfaction for me as I struggled with the shadowlands of assistant principal middle management. We decided to recommit to attending church as a family and did so with a different local church where the guys preaching were smart enough and talented enough for my picky tastes.

2015: Kid’s health improved. I began thriving at work again. Really felt like we had stuff figured out. I lost interest in attending church again, this time because the music bugged me. 

2016: Got my dream job, what I’d been working for since 2009. Principal of a large local high school. This was my chance to really make a significant positive difference in kids’ lives!

2018: Terrifying health crisis for our youngest kid. We clung to each other and were sustained by prayer and by the kindness of our friends. Took it as a wake up call to firmly commit to church together. 

2019: After a year of fully engaging with a local church that had heartfelt, literate worship music and insightful, challenging preaching, we felt we were thriving in our faith and in our marriage. We still had difficult circumstances but those all felt bearable. We thought it was time to begin serving in a greater capacity with the church. There were some minor concerns about two of our three kids feeling uncomfortable about going to church, but we passed that off as typical adolescents being adolescents.

Spring 2019: I lost my dream job in a very public, very painful, and very unjust way. It had nothing to do with my job performance. But because of my job when I made a bad choice it made the papers. I don’t think I’ll be ready to tell that story until I’m free from any desire for retribution or justice for the way things went down.

Winter 2019: I was grateful for what I still hoped would be a temporary loss of a career I had invested so much of myself in, because of the way it forced me to seek a truer, more important identity than identity through career. I was grateful because of the relationships it grew in our home and amongst friends. I spent more and more time in reading, reflection, and meditation on the life and teachings of Jesus. Through this I grew increasingly uncertain of orthodoxy’s certainty with the tittles and jots of singular sentences out of Pauline epistles. I grew increasingly convicted about the differences between the way of Jesus and the various isms of the church. 

Through this season I grew even more convicted about the need to provide connection and community for others. I was (and am) blessed to be a part of a small band of brothers who meet weekly. Where we once were bound only by a shared profession and a shared faith, we now share our sorrows and delights and hopes and fears with one another. We also share a sense of some kind of call upon our hearts towards practicing the way of Jesus.

I believe a close reading of the stories of Jesus in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John reveals the simplicity of the Way of Jesus. It is love. It is inclusive. It is simple for the meek and impossible for the proud. 

Sometimes I find it so simple and so sweet. Sometimes I find it impossible. That makes me grateful for loss and for grief. It’s in my loss and grief that I find the Way of Jesus. It’s in my triumphs that I find his way impossible. 

When COVID-19 hit and all public gatherings including church gatherings stopped for a while, we were on the verge of initiating a difficult conversation with the pastors at our church about leaving that church. Previously we had never “officially left” a church, we just stopped going. This time we are committed to formal communication. Their doctrinal statement is clear about where they stand in their reading of the tittles and jots that keep women from ever teaching or leading. Their doctrinal statement is one of exclusion rather than inclusion when it comes to the Samaritans of this moment in the cultural history of the USA. And in 2020, after a soul-warping, conscience-searing 4 years of Donald J. Trump’s profaning presence on our national stage, their silence on matters of racial justice and (very American) hyper-focus on individual sin conjoined with a refusal to acknowledge systemic/generational sin makes it an organization we will no longer be a part of.

But COVID-19 hit and due to our eldest kid’s health conditions, we have been incredibly cautious with our social distancing. We’re not going to any church building for the foreseeable (hopefully short term) future. And, I don’t believe it’s right to break up with somebody over text or email. I’m sure as heck not going to create a Zoom session to break up with that Church. I realize the irony of blogging about it right now.

We still haven’t fully decided whether we are supposed to leave yet another church we have differences with or whether we are supposed to try to reform it from within. So instead, we wait and pray and read/listen to John Mark Comer, David Gushee, Brian Zahnd, Rachel Held Evans, Richard Rohr, The Bible Project, and more recently thanks to the recommendation of a long-time dear friend, Sarah Bessey, Jeff Chu, and the Evolving Faith Podcast.

Whew. If you’re still reading, thank you for your stamina. I’d love to respond to your questions, challenges, and/or reflections about this.