Valley Forge Christian College: A Greatest Hits Collection 1993-1997

vfcc signBelow are a collection of memories about Valley Forge Christian College.  I have rehearsed them often while falling asleep or driving a long distance in the hope that I do not forget the details.  Feeling especially nostalgic today made me want to record them.  Perhaps I won’t have to rehearse them as much now.

“All my life I want to be a Patriot.  Bang! Bang, baby!  Bang! Bang!”

cross countryAfter arriving on campus for a week or so in the fall of 1993, Rachel and Jamee told Josh and I that the Cross Country team needed more male runners.  If they didn’t get more runners, they may not have a team.  I think that all Josh and I heard was, “Girls,” and we were sold.  The first day, we ran hills up Mary Hill Road.  Running hills was a terrible idea.  Hills go uphill.  When hills don’t go up hill, they go down hill, which is bad, as well.  When we weren’t running up or down hills, we ran out Seven Stars Road to a quarter-mile gravel track and sprinted.  One day right before practice, Josh and I ate a medium pizza from Bob’s Haven Deli.  Surely pizza would empower me to run better.  It didn’t.

On the first race, we went for a warm-up run- a warm-up run of 5 miles.  FIVE MILES. TO WARM UP.  I had no idea that running involved so much running.  I came in last place.  People were eating their bagged lunches by the time that I crossed the finish line at 43 minutes.  The winner finished in half of that time.

However, running sparked something in me: Courage.  And, courage’s cousin: Not-Fear.  Sports were rare for someone who was my size.  I was average to below-average at throwing, kicking and especially physical contact.  Bumping into another player during an athletic competition usually meant that my teeth were rattled, my contacts were knocked out and it hurt a lot.  Running didn’t have the hazard of running into another person.

I discovered that I could run for a long time.  Moreover, each race had faster finish time than the one before.  In my final race of my first season I had my fastest time, we were at Roberts Wesleyan for the National Championships.  Snow was on the ground.  A lot of snow.  It was cold.  In my wisdom, I covered my entire body in Atomic Balm while getting ready in the locker room.  If I could get used to shivering in the locker room, it wouldn’t be as much of a shock when I walked out into the cold.  Thirty-two minutes later (and still in last place), I crossed the finish line.  Not sure about the Atomic Balm but I really did want to get back inside.

Running led to trying other sports like soccer, volleyball and baseball.  And the best part was, I even got a nickname: Pete.

“Who gave me this flower I’m holdin’?  I guess I gave it to myself again.”

jc powerhouseAfter running on the Cross-Country team, I was introduced to JC Powerhouse Coffeehouse.  Dave Seyfried and Mike Leo were hilarious.  The Somethings and Rainchildren became the soundtracks of my college experience- even more than Jars of Clay, DC Talk, any of the Winds of Worship, The Cranberries, The Counting Crows or the Gin Blossoms.  The skits were the funniest performances that I had ever seen.  I needed to be a part of this.

gimpy and peteThe first act was a Gimplestein and Brownfunkle number in the theater.  The student center was only operational for my first semester so I never experienced the beginnings.  Gimpy and I practiced in the hallway of #91 Down and I can’t remember the tune or the words.  What I remember is that people laughed and wanted more.  No one in the audience knew that I was not very cool in high school.  In fact, I was probably a geek.  There, on that stage, I started over.  No one knew how awkward I was at Roswell Kent or Garfield.  Here, people liked me; they really liked me.  If running helped me to be courageous, Joe C and JC Powerhouse fanned a flicker of self-confidence.  It wasn’t long before Paul, Pat and I were singing about a hot dog, Beth Bertone, being a Jesus Freak and the being house band with Steve, Josh, Jason and Dennis.

“Just wave at him.  He can’t hear so he probably won’t talk back to you.”

Several jobs occupied my time at Valley Forge: Clerk at J. Riggins at the King of Prussia Court, delivery guy for the “Evening Phoenix” newspaper and delivery guy for Bob’s Haven Deli (to this day, still my favorite meal).  My favorite job, however, was cleaning and straightening the Chapel.  Each night, I rearranged the maroon Chapel chairs into neat rows, picked up trash and ran the vacuum.  Straightening 500 chairs each night in silence was therapeutic.  I walked into a cock-eyed room and left it ready for the next day.

Some nights, worship teams or drama teams practiced.  It was months later that I was told but one group had convinced a member of their team that I couldn’t hear or speak.  And, for some reason, I only waved at them while they rehearsed.

“Today’s reading from The Blue Book is…”

Most people go to college for the classes.  I did too.  New and Old Testament with Brubaker, Youth Ministry with Comenzo, Romans with Dippold, A/G Theology and Hermeneutics with Marino, History of Christianity with Miller were my favorite courses.  Up to this point, I had a haphazard sense of theology and ministry.  These classes helped me find channels or courses in which to focus my thinking.  Never before had the rapture or St. Augustine or crisis ministry been explained so clearly and helpfully.  I was a sponge; an over-sized-flannel-wearing, Doc Marten-wearing sponge. While I didn’t truly enjoy reading until a year after leaving Valley Forge, my thinking began to stretch and focus at the same time through my exposure to ideas in the classroom.

“I could do that.”

tim wolf and jesseTwo men had the greatest impact on my life during those years: Tim Wolf and Mr. Tavani.  Tim and Mr. T were in the Student Life office and I enjoyed talking with them (and still do). There were two defining moments with Tim Wolf where I felt a stronger sense of direction for my life in Higher Education.  The first was at a welcome back event in the fall of 1995.  Tim and I sat and talked about the upcoming year and it was here that I learned that I could work at a college as an occupation.  Up until this point, I was planning on being a pastor but that night talking with Tim opened my eyes to see that there were other vocational opportunities that were just as important as working with church folks but I could work with college folks.

The second defining moment was during a crisis on campus.  A member of the student body had unexpectedly passed away during the school year.  To help students process their grief, Tim invited anyone who was interested to come to the big classroom outside of Chapel to talk.  The room was full of students seated at desks.  Tim spent the next hour or two sharing his thoughts and hearing the concerns of the students.  He affirmed their grief and confusion and let them speak their minds.  I didn’t know the student too well but wanted to support my friends who did.  As I watched Tim navigate the collective grief and pain, something in my heart said, “I could do that.  I could help students make sense of their joys and pains.”  From this point on, I wanted to work with college students.

“I’m not here to be your friend.  I have enough friends already.”

tavanis and jesseMr. Tavani was new to Valley Forge.  I was a resident assistant my senior year and Mr. T was hired only weeks before the school year began.  We had all gathered outside of the Admin building to leave on a retreat and he arrived: shirt collar popped, laughing loudly, fingers running through his thick Italian shock of hair.  Who pops their collar anymore?  This was 1996 not 1986!

We arrived at the retreat site and spent the day as a whole group.  It was great to be with Jake and the other RAs and talk about the upcoming year.  That night, we met- just the male RAs with Mr. T.  He started our small group with, “I’m not here to be your friend.  I have enough friends already.”  I guess that a lot of people would have bristled at that: “Who was this new guy?  And, why wasn’t he even interested in our friendship?”  I, however, didn’t feel this way.  I was hooked.  What I heard from his statement was, “I’m not here to have favorites.  I’m not here to fancy-pants around and waste time.  I’m here to help you guys work with your students and kick butt for Jesus while doing it!”

This was the beginning of a great mentoring relationship between Mr. T and I.  We spent hours upon hours talking about college, learning, love, communication, family, parenting, girls, relationships, or being a dad.  We drank a lot of tea and listened to jazz records.  I could go over to his apartment whenever I wanted to talk.  He let me ask dumb or embarrassing questions.  He was always excited to see me.  He always sent me away encouraged. He fed me.  He didn’t laugh at the immature things that I said or did.  He believed in me.  Away from home, he parented me.

“Meet at the G-Lodge for lunch?”

ocean city njLastly, I made friendships.  I am disappointed at the reality that I no longer see my friends from Valley Forge except through Facebook.  Moving 12 hours away from college and the east coast has lead me away from many of their new homes.

I would have never made it without Gimpy, Tim, Luis, Josh, Fresh Dan, Pat, Gary, Jake, Abie, Dave and Phil; Rachel, Jamee, Sara, Carrie, Jeannie, Dorie and Janel.  Without my friends on the cross-country team, the soccer team and in 91 Down (#9), my life would have been tasteless and boring.  Knowing that my friends would be in the same seats at Chapel or for dinner, gave me rhythm to my day.  Knowing that we would stay in the dining hall until Chris kicked us out gave me the satisfied feeling that the day would be closing soon.  Eating at TD Alfredo’s or the G Lodge Diner; walking through Valley Forge National Park; visiting Ocean City, NJ each Labor Day; getting a sub at Wawa before curfew; going on a spring break trip to Myrtle Beach; walking into a crowded room at Josh C’s side the night that he got all of his hair cut off; playing roller hockey; watching “So, I Married an Axe Murderer” or “Son-In-Law” in #5 Up; going to the laundry mat on Saturday mornings or just making up a stupid game that involved smashing each other’s hands on the table, my life was enriched with their presence.

Many times since then, I have wished that we could get back together so that we could help one another navigate through the stages and questions of life following college: buying a home, electing a president, picking a church, becoming a parent, reading good books, having a real job or just following Jesus.

Whenever I left campus to go on break or just went to Wawa, it was my friendships that I couldn’t wait to return to.

I knew that it wouldn’t last forever but I hoped that it would.

Sometimes I think

we could have gone on.

All of us. Trying. Forever.

But they didn’t fill the

desert with pyramids.

They just built some. Some.

They’re not still out there,

building them now. Everyone,

everywhere, gets up, and goes home.

“On The Strength Of All Conviction And The Stamina Of Love”

Jennifer Michael Hecht


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January 20, 2013 · 8:00 am

“Help, Thanks, Wow: Three Essential Prayers” by Anne Lamott, chapter 2: Thanks

“Help, Thanks, Wow: Three Essential Prayers” by Anne Lamott, chapter 2: Thanks

ThanksThe second chapter in Anne Lamott’s book is about saying, “Thanks”.  She talks about being thankful as a rush of relief that I dodged a bullet… my child didn’t drown… said with a heaving exhalation of breath, the expulsion of bellows- THANK you, whoooooosh (44).  “Thanks” can be the recognition that you have been blessed mildly, or with a feeling as intense as despair at the miracle of having been spared.  You say thankyouthankyouthankyouthankyou: My wife is going to live.  We get to stay in this house.  They found my son: he’s in jail, but he’s alive; we know where he is and he’s safe for the night.  Things could have gone either way, but they came down on our side.  It could have been much, much worse, and it wasn’t (47).

On Sunday, December 23rd, we were driving from my parents’ house to a friends’ house while listening to the Cleveland Browns play the Denver Broncos on the radio.  With the Broncos leading 14-3 at the end of the second quarter and a Cleveland defensive stop, the radio announcer said what a lot of Cleveland radio announcers have said over the years, “That could have been worse.”  As a life-long Cleveland sports fan, I know these words too well.  To be a Cleveland sports fan, you are mostly thankful that it wasn’t worse than it actually was.

We can be thankful for anything.  “Through the most ordinary things, books, for instance, or a postcard, or eyes or hands, life is transformed (47).  For us to acknowledge that we have been set free from toxic dependency, from crippling obsession or guilt, that we have been graced with the ability finally to forgive someone, is just plain astonishing… To have been so lost that you felt abducted, to feeling found, returned, and set back onto your feet: Oh my God, thankyouthankyouthankyou.  Thank you.  Thanks (48). Thank you for lifting this corner of the curtain so I can see the truth, maybe for just a moment, but in a way that might change my life forever.  And that moment is astonishing, because everything is taking place all at once, the micro and the macro (49).

Two poems come to mind which remind me of thankfulness for ordinary life:

The Life of a Day by Tom Hennen

Red-MapleLike people or dogs, each day is unique and has its own personality quirks which can easily be seen if you look closely. But there are so few days as compared to people, not to mention dogs, that it would be surprising if a day were not a hundred times more interesting than most people. But usually they just pass, mostly unnoticed, unless they are wildly nice, like autumn ones full of red maple trees and hazy sunlight, or if they are grimly awful ones in a winter blizzard that kills a lost traveler and bunches of cattle. For some reason we like to see days pass, even though most of us claim we don’t want to reach our last one for a long time. We examine each day before us with barely a glance and say, no, this isn’t one I’ve been looking for, and wait in a bored sort of way for the next, when, we are convinced, our lives will start for real. Meanwhile, this day is going by perfectly well adjusted, as some days are, with the right amounts of sunlight and shade, and a light breeze scented with a perfume made from the mixture of fallen apples, corn stubble, dry oak leaves, and the faint odor of last night’s meandering skunk.

Welcome Morning by Anne Sexton

Christmas break, 2012.13, great outside pics 012There is joy / in all: / in the hair I brush each morning, / in the Cannon towel, newly washed, / that I rub my body with each morning, / in the chapel of eggs I cook / each morning, / in the outcry from the kettle / that heats my coffee / each morning, / in the spoon and the chair / that cry “hello there, Anne” / each morning, / in the godhead of the table / that I set my silver, plate, cup upon / each morning. / All this is God, / right here in my pea-green house / each morning / and I mean, / though often forget, / to give thanks, / to faint down by the kitchen table / in a prayer of rejoicing / as the holy birds at the kitchen window / peck into their marriage of seeds. / So while I think of it, / let me paint a thank-you on my palm / for this God, this laughter of the morning, / lest it go unspoken. / The Joy that isn’t shared, I’ve heard, / dies young.

Lamott also instructs on how to live a life filled with more gratitude.  It’s important because if we are lucky, gratitude becomes a habit (49).  Gratitude begins in our hearts and then dovetails into behavior.  It almost makes you willing to be of service, which is where joy resides.  It means you are willing to stop being such a jerk.  When you are aware of all that has been given to you, in your lifetime and in the past few days, it is hard not to be humbled, and pleased to give back (57).  “Thanks” is a huge mind-shift, from thinking that God wants our happy chatter and a public demonstration and is deeply interested in our opinions of the people we hate, to feeling quiet gratitude, humbly and amazingly, without shame at having been so blessed.  You breathe in gratitude, and you breathe it out, too.  Once you learn how to do that, then you can bear someone who is unbearable (60).  The movement towards gratitude brings us from the package of self-obsessed madness to a spiritual awakening.  Gratitude is peace (65).

Looking around, I am grateful for quiet mornings, poetry, the calls of birds, curious people, Blue Herons, calm waters, honey bees, coffee that isn’t bitter, wild flowers, peace-making people, busy insects, dishwashers, harmony in music, sunflower seeds, fresh salsa, NPR, The Weepies, laughter, Frederick Buechner, Ernest Gaines, John Berryman’s “Eleven Addresses to the Lord”, Emily Dickinson, the $140 that we made in a yard sale for school clothes, clean notebooks, well-working pens, the bald eagles that I saw for the first time on New Year’s Eve, a clean house, hot water, a shoveled sidewalk, snowplow trucks, used book stores, coffeeshops, baseball, Panera Bread, frosting, chicken and rice, baseball card collecting (before it got too expensive), old cars, architecture, wood furniture, heated swimming pools, water stations during races, good running shoes, the Liberal Arts, a good story, a redemptive ending, hitting the sweet spot, being in the zone, inspiring leaders, Pandora, Spring Training, Instagram, a completed project, a wild flower garden, MapMyRun, cool race tee-shirts, electric blankets, Coke from a bottle, the Phila Art Museum, the academic calendar, photo albums, Spring Break, and manual labor.

Christmas break, 2012.13, great outside pics 278I am  grateful for my family and the people that he has put into my life over the years: Hope, Grace, Isaac, Eden and Cana; my parents and sister; my extended family; Norrie, Ron, Kevin, Jack and my great staffs at HU; Bobby, Keith, Evan, Liesl and Troy at my church; the people who invested in me growing up like Jerry, P. Ford, Mr. T, Tim Wolf, Comenzo, Bettie Ann, and Dennis; friends like Josh, James, Tom, Richard, Joey, John, Bruce, Chris, Andy, Nathan, Tim, Gimpy and Gary; and VFCC and Eastern.  And, Huntington University, with all of the opportunities that it has given to my family and I.  All of these have served in my pit crew and without them my life would be barren and pathetic.

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Aside from Martin Luther King’s “Dream,” Why is King Significant?

Why is Martin Luther King, Jr. significant?  Why should we celebrate his life and legacy?  His holiday is celebrated each third Monday of January but what did he do?  Aside from his I Have a Dream speech, what else is there to his life?

rev-martin-luther-king-jr-speechThe life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. is expansive and inspiring.  During his short 39 years alive, King offered inspiring leadership, a centralized figure for the media to focus on and a practical form of non-violent resistance to evil.  His shadow covered many great leaders like Fred Shuttlesworth, E.D. Nixon, Ralph Abernathy, Bayard Rustin, Jesse Jackson, Wyatt Tee Walker (Southern Christian Leadership Conference), James Bevel (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee), Diane Nash (SNCC), Roy Wilkins (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), Whitney Young (National Urban League), James Farmer (Congress of Racial Equality), A. Philip Randolph (Brotherhood of the Sleeping Car Porters), John Lewis (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee), and Stokley Carmichael (Black Panthers).  The Civil Rights Movement would not have taken place without the collective work of these and countless nameless, faceless people but King is often given the most credit for the changes that took place.  Below, I would like to offer some ideas about what made King a great Christian leader who influenced America and the World during his lifetime and even to the present day.

The greatest contribution that King offered America and the World is his inspiring leadership.  Early on in his career, he was tapped on the shoulder to lead the Montgomery Improvement Association in December of 1955 after Rosa Parks’ arrest for refusing to give up her seat to a fellow white bus passenger.  King was a new pastor in Montgomery, Alabama but his young age and lack of local experience (he hadn’t developed too many enemies yet) did not prevent the other ministers to place him in the front of the line.

Montgomery-bus-boycott_1955-56The success of the Montgomery Bus Boycott from December 5, 1955 to December 20, 1956, propelled King into the national spotlight.  Helping to organize and inspire the citizens of Montgomery to boycott the bussing system for 381 days was no small act of community organization, collaboration and commitment.

Following the Montgomery Bus Boycott victory, King and other national leaders wanted to create an organization to coordinate and support additional nonviolent direct action campaigns across the South.  Men like Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth of Birmingham, Alabama had been fighting unjust racial policies and attitudes for years so he and others were eager to organize their efforts for greater strength and coordination.  Out of this desire, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference was born.  In 1959, King left Montgomery and returned to his boyhood city, Atlanta, Georgia where he spent the rest of his life involved with SCLC.  Times were changing and King’s leadership, while not uncontested, was instrumental in the shift.

King was a moving speaker and spiritual leader.  We have all heard his, “I Have a Dream” speech delivered on August 28, 1963 but many of his other messages were just as inspiring.  King had the freedom that many black leaders did not have: He was a pastor and could not be threatened economically by the white establishment for “stirring up” the people to change.  Moreover, he was given additional authority and respect by the black community because of his pastoral role.  And his words moved people.  Some of the most moving lines ever spoken are captured here:

mlkmountaintop1“I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” delivered April 3, 1968, the night before his assassination.  In it, he tells of his peace about the possibility that he may not live too much longer but my favorite parts are regarding the Good Samaritan and a close encounter with death and he receives some correspondence from a child.  The rhythm and cadence of his voice is heart-full and awe-inspiring.

“Drum Major Instinct” delivered February 4, 1968 with the famous lines, And this morning, the thing that I like about it: by giving that definition of greatness, it means that everybody can be great, (Everybody) because everybody can serve. (Amen) You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. (All right) You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don’t have to know Einstein’s theory of relativity to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. (Amen) You only need a heart full of grace, (Yes, sir, Amen) a soul generated by love. (Yes) And you can be that servant.

“I Have a Dream”:

Further along in his leadership was authorship of several books.  King authored the following books:

testament of hopeStride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story (1958), The Measure of a Man (1959), Strength to Love (1963), Why We Can’t Wait (1964), Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? (1967), The Trumpet of Conscience (1968).  These and other writings of King are all collected here in A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. (1986) edited by James M. Washington.

My personal favorite writing of Dr. King was his Letter From a Birmingham Jail written as an open letter published on April 16, 1963 in response to a collection of eight white clergy who thought that the conflicts of segregation were better fought in the courts than on the streets.  King’s famous line, Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly… is penned here.  King’s leadership was constantly challenged because he was an “outsider” or a “trouble-maker”.   This letter reads like a prison epistle of Paul: hearing a one-sided phone conversation with a local church who does not fully grasp what the Kingdom of God is intended to look like and operate.  The full letter can be found in Why We Can’t Wait and also online (probably illegally).

mose-wright-in-court3Lastly, King’s leadership inspired courage for common people.  The Civil Rights Movement was not made up of national figures who had audiences with Presidents and Kings.  It was not made up of authors and famous people.  It was not a collection of politicians and judges.  The Civil Rights Movement was made of common men and women, blue-collar and white-collar, Protestants and Catholics, old and young, rich and poor, Northern and Southern, Eastern and Western, and the learned and the unlearned.  Names like Ivanhoe Donaldson, Franklin McCain, Connie Curry, Everette Little, Mose Wright (my personal favorite), Sid Smyer, Diane Nash (another fave) and Johnnie Carr filled the pews, the streets, the jails, the lunch-counters, the public pools, the front of the buses, the libraries, the courtrooms, and even some graves; all to make America a greater nation.  Yes, they had organized and attempted change before but Providence brought Dr. King and America’s citizenry together to make the changes permanent and wide-spread.

In Howell Raines’ must-read book My Soul is Rested, Yancey Martin shares some of his history and recounts a story between Dr. King and a woman in Montgomery during the Bus Boycott.  While this woman probably did not need King’s inspiration and leadership, he used her story to inspire others to greatness.

my-soul-is-rested-howell-raines-paperback-cover-artThat was at Day Street that night.  Martin asked this old lady, he said, “Now listen… you have been with us all along, so now you go on and start back to ridin’ the bus, ‘cause you are too old to keep walking…”

 She said, “Oh, no.  Oh, no.  I’m gonna walk just as long as everybody else walks.  I’m gonna walk ‘till it’s over.”

 So he said, “Aren’t your feet tired?”

 She said, “Yes, my feets is tired, but my soul is rested.”  Yes sir, and that was kind of like the story he (King) used to tell a lot in the Movement throughout the years.  As he’d go somewhere and he’d think people would be getting a little tired of marchin’, he’d tell that story about the lady who said, “My feets is tired, but my soul is rested.”


4 February 1968: Drum Major Instinct. (n.d.). Retrieved January 10, 2013, from The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute:

Martin Luther King, J. (1963). Why We Can’t Wait. NY: Harper & Row.

Raines, H. (1983). My Soul Is Rested. NY: Penguin.

Washington, J. M. (1986). Testament of Hope. NY: HarperCollins.


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January 10, 2013 · 7:05 pm

Dropping My Anxious Daughter Off at School

Screeching into the school parking lot, seat belts unclick and swish open. Most of the kids are chit-chattering but one of them is full of sighs and trying-not-to-cry. We approach the drop-off curb with only one car behind us. My fingers are crossed that everyone will exit the car. One, two, three children tumble out and run away. One remains. The top of her earmuffs are in my rear-view mirror.

A second car enters the drop-off line.

Anxious stillness. “You have to get out of the car, Grace.” Stillness, aggressively-passive stillness. “You HAVE to get out of the car, Grace.” My neck heats up.

A third car piles up in-line.

I am grieved and frustrated and angry and pity-full. I unbuckle and step out into the lane, not making eye-contact with the other parents.

The chain of cars increases to four.

I open the door, unclick her seat belt, and ashamedly-bristly-hastily remove her from the car. “I DON’T want to go to school.” I know.  I didn’t either.

Walking around to the front of the car and onto the walkway, I place her like a post.

A fifth car arrives and I feel their fists shaking at me: the shame of clogging the line and making them late for work; of placing a slumping child on the curb and walking away. They don’t know how many times this has happened, how many times we have talked and cajoled and threatened and praised and rewarded and cajoled some more.

Her earmuffs are crooked now. Her school bag is dangling in the crook of her arm. Her head is slumped and shoulders begin shaking.

“Dropping My Anxious Daughter Off at School”

by Jesse Brown


Filed under Yellow poetry (enlightening)

Want to start running? Here are a few ideas.

Running is therapeutic.  Running clears out cobwebs in my spirit.  Running makes me more patient with my children.  I turn on the U2 Pandora station, ESPN radio or my 90’s rap / rock iTunes running mix and feel the sunshine for an hour or two.  I enjoy the exertion of my body and the accomplishment of pushing myself for a distance.

As someone who enjoys running and shares workouts over social media, I have many conversations with friends about running: “Training for any races?” or  “I saw you on Jefferson the other day.  How far did you go?” or “I can’t stand running.  I don’t know how you enjoy such a miserable activity.”  For other runners, we share a bond similar to motorcyclists on the highway.  For some non-runners, running is a curious punishment.  For others, they are curious about starting.  In response to a handful of friends interested buying new shoes, how to train or just beginning, here are a few ideas to get you going:

  1. Start with a manageable running distance.  For some folks, going around the block non-stop is an accomplishment.  For others, a mile or two is a good beginning.  Whatever the mileage is, start with a manageable running distance.  After a few weeks, increase the distance at least once a week.  For example, if you run 1 mile, 3 days a week, add a second mile for your 3rd run that week.  Scaling distances like this is easy to do and feels non-threatening.  You don’t need to run 10 miles every time that you walk out of the door with your running shoes on.  Some days are easier than others.  Increasing time or distance is easier to do once you get going.
  2. Saucony+Kinvara+200728Pay attention to clothing / shoe technology but don’t let it stop you from running.  My former running equipment consisted of shoes from Wal-Mart, swimming trunks, cotton tee-shirts and whatever socks that I could find.  I now run in a decent pair of very light shoes ($70 Saucony Kinvara, pictured here), thin and light shorts (but not short shorts), and cushioned running socks.  While I cannot say that it has impacted my speed or endurance performance but it has made me more comfortable while running.  Light clothes weigh less and have less friction.  Running is already an uncomfortable activity.  Don’t make it more uncomfortable by wearing heavy clothes and shoes.  My latest purchase was a pair of compression socks.  They are like sports bras for your shins and worn by people with cranky legs.  Not wanting to be confused for a cranky old man running, my socks are lime green.  The jury is still out on their effectiveness with leg cramping.  Having said all of this, don’t NOT run because you don’t have ideal shoes and clothes.  Start running in what you have.  The more time spent running, the easier it is to dip into your monthly budget to support your habit.
  3. About running shoes, go for comfort and fit.  Some running stores will watch you run and give you feedback regarding pronation (foot angles inward) or supination (foot angles outward).  I have never been fitted for shoes to correct either concern.  In my opinion, I don’t know if it matters after you have run for a few miles and your form breaks down. When you run on a treadmill for a minute in front of a shoe person, your body is on its best behavior.  It may take a few shoes and many miles to find some that are comfortable.  Once you find a good pair, you can easily shop around online to find the best deal.
  4. mapmyrunKeep track of your miles.  There are a number of apps and online sites that Google can provide.  I use Map My Run on my iPhone.  With GPS, I can keep real-time track of miles run or the monthly / annual number of miles.  As you keep track of hours, minutes and miles run, you can be encouraged by how far you’ve gone over a period of time.  For example, to date, I’ve run 575.92 miles over 126 hours, 59 minutes and 47 seconds.  From my home, that is equivalent to running to eastern Pennsylvania; western Tennessee; and almost to Thunder Bay, Ontario.  Even if you’ve only run 30 miles in a month or two, that’s at least equivalent to somewhere that you drive that you would not have considered running to before.  Also, with Map My Run, there is the option of a voiceover on your music for mile splits.  No longer do you need to have a course mapped out ahead of time.  You can walk out the door, start running and not be concerned at how far you’ve gone or when to return home.  Keeping track of miles and time will also help you keep track of your per mile pace.
  5. Post your workouts on social media.  Posting your workouts is a way to connect and be encouraged by others.  No matter your experience, it is greater than someone else’s and your workout can be an encouragement to others.  Many people will approach me about my running that I would otherwise not speak to.  It has opened doors of communication with many people.  Some people have asked me, “Isn’t that a big arrogant to post a workout?”  Perhaps but as long as it is common for people to post pictures of what they’re eating, I’m going to post pictures of what I’m running.
  6. Bo_JacksonSign up for a race.  Here is where the rubber hits the road because now you’ve got skin in the game. No longer are you just running willy-nilly, fancy-pantsing around your cul-de-sac in your cute shorts.  You switched from running to training.  Do you know who else trains?  Athletes train.  Bo Jackson trains.  You train.  You have something in common with Bo Jackson: You both sweat, prepare and work hard for a chance at greatness (or at least, not dying) in a 1-miler, 5k, half-marathon or even more.  These are all bucket list items.  There are several online calendars for bigger races and it is difficult to go too many weeks in your region without some organization having a 5k.  Soon, you’ll have obscure racing tee-shirts and be the envy of all of your non-running friends.
  7. You don’t need to win the race.  Many people don’t sign up for a race because they won’t win the race.  Chances are, if you are able to win a race, you aren’t reading these beginning running tips.  Don’t worry about winning a race.  Be concerned about trying hard and accomplishing goals.  For your first goal, just finishing the race is an excellent goal.  Or, not walking.  Or, finishing in under 30 / 60 / 90 /120 minutes.  My goals: To finish a half-marathon in under 1:40:00 and a full marathon in under 4:00:00.  Right now, my best half-marathon is 1:44 and my best full marathon is 4:11:00.  In each of the last 3 marathons that I’ve run, I cried each time that I crossed the line because I was in so much pain that I was relieved that I didn’t have to run any longer.  I’ve got work to do.
  8. Speaking of friends, find a running group.  Running is a community event.  Runners like other runners.  Runners speak runner.  Find a group of like-paced runners at your church, work, Facebook or YMCA to meet a few times a week or month.  Perhaps Saturday mornings are group runs while other runs are more solo-efforts.  Friends can provide accountability and support.  Even if the group is diverse in pace and experience, many experienced runners will run slower paces to run with the group.  Perhaps you can train for a future race and run together.  Honestly, this is advice that I don’t follow.  I’m more of a solo runner because it is time for me to recreate.  I would benefit more from taking advantage of my local running community.
  9. light poleDon’t be afraid to walk.  I enjoy running distances of over 4 miles.  I don’t even leave my house without running 4-6 miles and many times, it is 8-12 miles.  People often ask me, “How do you run for 12 miles without stopping?”  My answer, “I don’t run non-stop.  In a 12-mile run, I will walk at least 3 or 4 times for 30-60 seconds.”  Walking helps to re-set your muscles all over your body.  I am amazed at how refreshed I feel when I can walk for a short distance before picking up the pace again.  The key, however, is to either know the time or distance that you will walk before you start walking so that you don’t walk indefinitely.  I usually pick a street light or mailbox as a point at which I will regain my running pace.
  10. Some safety tips: Don’t run at night or with two ear buds in.  In my town, many drivers are not paying attention to runners.  I rarely run after dark because I am concerned about cars, dogs and the uneven ground surface.  Moreover, I only use one ear bud (I just cut off the other ear bud) so that I can listen for cars and dogs.  I take it upon myself to NOT get hit by a car or eaten by a dog.  I hate being startled while running.  My running takes balance and I am often lost in thought.  A hard-charging Labrador or even a Poodle can make me wet myself so I’ve learned to be attentive to animals who believe me to be a giant chew toy.  And, sometimes it is good to listen to your footfalls and heartbeat.  Having too much musical distraction takes away from the opportunity to reflect on your insides and the rhythm of your breathing and stride (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 breath, repeat).
  11. Drink what tastes good.  I love Gatorade.  After a long, hot run, there is nothing more refreshing than sitting on my front steps and drinking Gatorade that has been in the freezer for the length of my run.  For longer runs, I keep drinks and snacks on my front porch and plan my course to go by my house often enough to eat or drink.
  12. finish lineLastly, enjoy yourself.  This is probably easier said than done.  Some days you may even experience a runner’s high from the released endorphins.  I have probably experienced this a few times but don’t chase after it.  My enjoyment comes from knowing that I have pushed my body to do what I have told it to do (too often it is the other way around), I’ve accomplished running a designated distance (especially the long routes that go up the hill on Route 24), and the feeling of blood coursing through my legs, arms, chest and even my forehead as I sit still finally on my front steps with my Gatorade.  That is satisfaction.

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Help, Thanks, Wow: Three Essential Prayers by Anne Lamott, part 1: Help

For some time, I wanted to write about books that are worth suggesting to others to enjoy and be inspired by.  As an evangelist for the written word (as opposed to films, television and most music with the exception of The Weepies), I hope to share readable, thought-provoking books with others so that you might enjoy them as much as I have.  So, here is my first blog attempt at rabbit trails (notes in the margins), reflection and reviews of pages that I’ve read recently.

“Help, Thanks, Wow: Three Essential Prayers” by Anne Lamott.  Part 1 of 3: Help

help thanks wow book coverForgive me but this is the first Anne Lamott book that I’ve read.  There is a copy on my shelf of “Traveling Mercies” that someone at the college lost but it remains unread.  Honestly, I was skeptical to read it because so many people were reading it.  Since I am such a non-conformist, I couldn’t possibly read anything popular (sarcasm).  Furthermore, I (unfairly) assumed it would be a cynical, aggravated-at-the-Church biography similar to “Blue Like Jazz,” but with a female protagonist.  While I resonate with some squinty-eyed faithful folks like Flannery O’Connor or Frederick Buechner, I am skeptical of cynics.  My only experience with Lamott was an essay read in an episode of This American Lifewhen she described an airline flight and music (see below).  I should have moved sooner to read her work.

However (in my best Steven A. Smith voice), few books have more underlining and notes in the margins as, “Help, Thanks, Wow” which means that “Traveling Mercies” just moved up on the To Read list and more of Lamott’s works have been added to the wish list.  In fact, I resonated with Lamott’s writing so much that rarely did two pages pass through my fingers without an underline or a margin-unwritten-in.

From the beginning, Lamott’s style is probably grittier than some folks prefer: She swears a few times but it is used as an honest description and not simply a fill-in word.  Also, she is open-minded to the identity of God.   Many times, she refers to God as “She” or “Not Me” or “The Grandmothers” or “Mother” but it is simply an attempt to reach her readers who may or may not be that interested in the God of the Bible.  She is a faithful Christian, no doubt, but is open-minded about describing God and likes a well-placed swear word, which I appreciate.  Sometimes, swearing is necessary, although in some contexts, you’ll risk losing your audience.

“Help, Thanks, Wow” encourages honest communication with The Father.  My experience is more hesitant, more calculated when speaking to God.  I want to put on a good face.  God is awful big and impressive and  I don’t want to embarrass myself by saying something silly.  Moreover, it is hard to be honest in prayer because honesty requires transparency.  Being transparent with the King of the Universe is risky because He can Blast me if He discovered what a weak-willed, sin-finding,  jerk-face I really was.

Lamott writes, God can handle honesty, and prayer begins an honest conversation (6).  Furthermore, My belief is that when you’re telling the truth, you are close to God.  If you say to God, “I am exhausted and depressed beyond words, and I don’t like You at all right now, and I recoil from most people who believe in You,” that might be the most honest thing that you’ve ever said.  If you told me you had said to God, “It’s all hopeless, and I don’t have a clue if You exist, but I could use a hand,” it would almost bring tears to my eyes, tears of pride in you, for the courage it takes to get real- really real.  It would make me want to sit next to you at the dinner table (7).  Perhaps the strongest encouragement for honesty comes even earlier, when she writes that it is OK to pray “God, I hate you.” because it is real and it is truth and perhaps the first sincere thought that you’ve had in months (4).  It doesn’t look like I’m going to be able to hide those details about myself in good conscience.

God-If-You-re-Not-Up-There-I-m-F-ed-LP-Hammond-Darrell-9780062088758This kind of honesty reminds me of another recent book purchase by Darrell Hammond of Saturday Night Live fame: God, If You’re Not Up There, I’m F*cked: Tales of Stand-Up, Saturday Night Live, and Other Mind-Altering Mayhem.  Hope just started reading this book today.  I was so intrigued by Hammond’s honesty of in an interview about his life (see below).  That title was the first prayer that he ever remembered praying.  And, The Father probably thought to himself, “That sounds about right,” and invited Hammond for more conversation.

After encouraging honesty, Lamott echoes the opening line of The Road Less Travelled by M. Scott Peck (rabbit-trailed review coming soon), Life is difficult.  The Psalmist and the Prophets were good at admitting the difficulty of life.  Habakkuk writes, How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save?  Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?  Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds.  Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails.  The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted (1:2-4).  The songwriter, Chris Rice has a great song titled, “Naïve.”  He writes: How long until You defend Your name and set the record right? How far will You allow the human race to run and hide? Yeah And how much can You tolerate our weaknesses Before You step into our sky blue and say, “That’s quite enough.” Am I naive to want a remedy for every bitter heart? Can I believe You hold an exclamation point for every question mark?  And can I leave the timing of this universe to bigger hands? And may I be so bold to ask You to please hurry?

Lamott writes, This is a hard planet, and we’re a vulnerable species.  And all I can do is pray: Help (13).  I appreciate the brevity of praying, “Help” because we are so vulnerable.  In this prayer, we echo the Prophets and many other Giants of the Faith.  Many times, we are like sinking Peter reaching out for the Lord on the water.  No fancy words are needed.  No King James is necessary.  Just, Help“God help me” is a great prayer, as we are at our absolutely most degraded and isolated, which means we are nice and juicy with the consequences of our best thinking and are thus possibly teachable (4).

china dishesLamott also refers to pre-assembled prayers found in the Bible like the Lord’s Prayer or Psalm 23.  She compares them to the good china that we use on holidays and special occasions.  They are beneficial in reminding us that God is worthy of trust.  But more often than not, her good, honest prayers remind me that I am not in charge, that I cannot fix anything, and that I open myself to being helped by something, some force, some friends, some something.  These prayers say, “Dear Some Something, I don’t know what I am doing.  I can’t see where I’m going.  I’m getting more lost, more afraid, more clenched.  Help (35).

Lastly, she gives a suggestion of using a God Box.  Such a box is filled with notes written to God the Father.  Fold it up, stick it in the box and close it.  Tell Him, Here!  You deal with this!  But you must agree to keep your hands off of the concern until God lets you be concerned about it.  On nights that I remember to do so, I often pray to the Father before falling asleep, God, if you need me, I’ll be right here.  Unless I have missed it, He has never woken me once with a concern that needed my attention.

In closing, I heard Reinhold Niebuhr’s entire Serenity Prayer this summer.  Usually, it stops halfway through.  It seems like a fitting wrap-up to Lamott’s first chapter about “Help”:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.  Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will; that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him, forever in the next.


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A Prayer for Syria

Heavenly Father,

It seems like we are in constant war with one another. Not only do military personnel suffer but civilians and children suffer, as well. In Syria, we see this unfolding. The people of Syria do not seem to know what a time of peace looks like. Their struggle resumes every time a new person comes to power.

Please help them find peace, Father. Give them leadership and followership that acts in humility and preference for peace. Give them stability in their government that seeks out the welfare of all of its people- whether they are rich or poor, influential or uninvolved. Help them to be leaders in their region for justice and harmony. May those who seek to divide and cause dissension be removed from influence. May those who seek the Kingdom welfare have the courage to speak up and act.


At Syrian Military Hospital, the Casualties Mount
By Deborah Amos, June 12, 2012
All Things Considered

Syrian activists have posted thousands of videos of civilians killed and wounded in the 15-month-old conflict. But there have been many casualties on the government side as well, and they are on display at a military hospital in the capital, Damascus.

For Abdul Kareem Mustapha, a 51-year-old colonel in the Syrian army, the war came for him at 8:15 a.m. on his way to his military post.

Mustapha is among the wounded. He says he was on his way to work, riding in a military car with several others, when two taxis cut them off. Armed men started shooting, he says, killing one of the four officers in the car and wounding the others.

The colonel’s fresh bandages are on his stomach and hands. He is sure his attackers were rebels from the Free Syrian Army. But he doesn’t call them that. He says they are “terrorists” financed from outside Syria.

Government Casualties Mounting

Analysts and pundits are still debating how to define the Syrian fighting. On Tuesday, the U.N. under-secretary-general for peacekeeping operations, Herve Ladsous, told Reuters that the Syrian conflict could be called a civil war and that the government has lost control of parts of some cities to the rebels.

However the fighting is defined, it’s clear that the casualties are mounting.

An army general runs the military hospital. His office has two life-size photographs of Syrian President Bashar Assad on the walls. The general does not want his own picture — or his name — published.

Assassinations of military personnel have been rising in Damascus, and the general is willing to reveal some alarming statistics. He says the casualty rate for soldiers has doubled since U.N. monitors arrived. The first contingent arrived in mid-April.

On average, he says, 15 soldiers die and 15 are injured every day in the capital. (There was no way to independently verify the figures provided by the general.)

At night, the general says, he can hear shooting from his office. It’s where he works and sleeps. It’s too dangerous to drive back home, he says.

Back on the ward, many wounded soldiers are struggling with severe injuries. Many were inflicted by army deserters — men who once served on the same side.

Lt. Haithem al-Bukai, 24, says he was shot by a sniper in the northern province of Idlib a few days ago. A government escort translates and helps him with his remarks.

The rebels in Idlib are young, he says, about 16 or 17. Bukai also says they are well-armed, with sniper rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and even anti-tank weapons.

But it’s impossible to confirm the Free Syrian Army’s armory.

Syrian activists say they have knocked out nearly 30 tanks. The burned remains of one tank were parked on the highway in central Syria, one place where the army has been on the offensive.

The army’s shelling has been relentless against the rebels based in residential neighborhoods in Homs. Civilians have been trapped in the fighting.

‘We Have 500 Revolutions In Syria’

The U.N. has called the violence unacceptable. On Tuesday, outside the northwestern town of Haffa in the foothills above Syria’s Mediterranean coast, monitors say they were confronted by angry pro-government mobs. The mobs threw stones and metal bars to stop the convoy from entering the rebel-held town surrounded by the army.

The heaviest fighting is still far from the capital, says Bshir Said, an opposition activist. He explains that Syria has many revolutions — every neighborhood and every town has a different story.

“So you can see demonstrations in a place and you can see fighting and war in another place, and in other places [it’s] very quiet and very easy. We have 500 revolutions in Syria,” he says.

Damascus was one of those calm places Tuesday, but the rising number of casualties at the military hospital there shows that the different revolutions are now coming together.

Another activist, who wouldn’t give him name for fear of arrest, says that Damascus is watching and waiting.

“For us, it’s not a civil war yet. It’s a very serious dangerous problem. We hope not to reach this point,” he says.

[Copyright 2012 National Public Radio]

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