Good Morning.

Back when this blog was “embrace-refrain”, I attempted to embrace getting up earlier than normal for one month.  If I remember correctly, I didn’t do so well.  I had a few victories, but getting up early on a regular basis has always eluded me, unless I HAVE to be up early.  If I have an appointment, a meeting, or I need to be somewhere; getting up is no problem.  But when it is “voluntary”;  to just get up and get a few extra things done or have some peace and quiet before the day starts… well, I haven’t been so successful at that.

But, what the heck… I might as well try again.  As I get older, I see more and more value in getting up early.  That hasn’t made it happen of course, but since I see an increasing value there, I am going to give it another shot.  I simply don’t have the energy anymore to stay up late and be productive.  It’s not so much that my energy has diminished, I just spend more of it during the day, and I am spent by the time 9pm rolls around.   And, with a family of 5 it is harder and harder to find some peace and quiet during the day.  The only consistent time I have for some extra productivity and some time to be still is in the morning.  It hasn’t always been this way, but life changes…

My previous attempts to voluntarily get up earlier than I need to have typically been an all or nothing approach.  I figured that once I got in the habit of getting up early, I would get used to it and after awhile it would become my normal routine.  So when I tried to do this, I would try for 6am EVERY DAY, or something like that.  The problem is, that I still have things in my life that keep me out and up late on certain days.  I have regular events on Monday and Wednesday that keep me out later than on other weekdays.  I rarely get to bed early on those nights.  The weekend is often time to hang out with friends, watch movies… etc, so I don’t typically even try to go to bed early then.  The simple fact is:  staying up late makes it incredibly difficult to get up early!

So… if I am going to have any success getting up earlier than I need to on a regular basis, I am either going to have to change some of my evening routines, or maybe try a less than all-or-nothing approach.  Since I like my evening routines, I am going to shoot for the latter.  Over the next few weeks, I am aiming to get up early 3 days a week.  I am hoping that I can pull this off on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  I am also going to try to get up a little earlier on Tuesday and Saturday, but not drastically.  Sunday… I’m sleeping in.

The goal for me is simple:  I’d like to create space each week for 5-6 hours of work, and 3-4 times of solitude, reading, and quiet (20-30 minutes).  I started this morning by getting up about 40 minutes earlier than normal.  I didn’t get any work done, but I was able to just take my morning much slower and enjoy my breakfast and coffee before the kids got up.  I don’t know if I’d call that solitude, but it was certainly better than rushing around while trying to help get my kids off to school.

 

Lent

Over the last few weeks I have been thinking about the Lenten season as an opportunity to practice both an embrace and a refrain for 40 days.  However, I was having a bugger of a time figuring out what to do!  Our church is practicing a daily prayer and lectionary reading during Lent.  I was planning on incorporating this into whatever I decided, but I was really struggling with the rest.  Thankfully, Rachel Held Evans wrote a helpful post yesterday:  40 Ideas for Lent.  I took a couple ideas from there and came up with a plan:

  • I joined the Lenten Wilderness Meditation Practice:  Spend 10-20 minutes each day outside in prayer / meditation / just being (rain, snow, or shine).  What a great idea, and it will work perfect to do alongside the daily prayer and lectionary reading. 
  • No Meat:  From RHE: “Traditionally, Christians abstained from eating meat during Lent, so consider joining millions of Christians around the world in this fast. It’s a great way to feel connected to the historical, worldwide church.”  I have been thinking lately that I would like to reduce my consumption of meat anyway, mainly for the health benefits.  This will be a good opportunity to move in that direction as well.

 

1st year in review…

Well, it’s been over a year since I started embrace/refrain.  I definitely faded down the stretch of 2012, but that is mostly due to starting a web-design company over the last couple of months.  Still, I did 9-10 embrace or refrain projects and wrote around 60 blog posts.  Not terrible for year 1.

Some thoughts on the past year:

  • Starting new habits is hard work, but definitely worth pursuing.  Taking habits that are beneficial, but not part of your routine…. to part of your daily or weekly routine takes patience and persistence.  A month gives you a good start, but many times it isn’t long enough to get something fully ingrained as part of your daily life.
  • In our over-stimulated, thing-driven western culture, fasting (or refraining) from things like foods, entertainment and typical conveniences is a great practice.   My favorite project of this past year was staying away from wasting time on the internet.  I got so much done and spent my time so much more efficiently that month.  At first, I kept a lot of that momentum, but after awhile, my old habits crept back in.  I probably need to do that fast at least once a year.
  • Writing is hard work.  I give a ton of credit to bloggers who post creative, original content on a weekly basis.  It takes a ton of time, determination, and creativity.  I thoroughly enjoy writing, and find it incredibly beneficial, but it is still difficult.

And moving forward….

  • I really enjoyed doing this experiment of 1 project a month over the past year.  However, there were months that life was just a bit crazy to be pursuing an embrace or refrain project and writing about it on a regular basis.  So I was successful with it some months, and others not at all.  In light of that, I plan on continuing this year, but on lighter schedule.  My hope is do to 5-6 month-long projects over 2013.  I’ll start them when it works as opposed to figuring out a project for the beginning of each month.  I’ll probably get my first one going in the first couple weeks of February.
  • My second favorite project of the past year was the month I attempted to blog everyday.  That month forced me to write about a greater variety of interests beyond the original embrace/refrain idea.  Since then, I have continued to to do that on a sporadic basis and I’ll continue that in 2013.

Iceman

This past weekend, I raced in the Iceman Cometh mountain bike race.  It is a 29 mile race that starts in Kalkaska, MI and ends near Traverse City.  This year it was appropriately named, as we had fresh snow on the ground at the beginning of the race and encountered flurries along the way as well.  The course was muddy and slick in spots, and sandy in others.  This is my second year racing the Iceman, and it was much harder this year than last.

I was pretty disappointed in my time.  I finished in 3:03:35, where as last year I finished in 2:42:51.  I actually felt stronger and in better shape this year.  Some of the difference is attributable to the conditions and adjustments made to the course because of logging.  It definitely didn’t ride as fast as last year, and it felt like it was a little longer.  I also had a bad seeding, which put me behind a lot of riders who were out there for the first time.  There were several locations on the single-track where we came to a dead stand still, and others where the pace slowed to a crawl.  There was a lot of grumbling out there, some of it mine.  It is frustrating to train for a race and have traffic jams really slow you down and kill your momentum.

Despite the frustrations, it was still a blast.  I was fortunate enough not to have any flats, broken chains, etc., and I made it through without injury as well.   I am amazed at how many bikes you see broken down on the side of the trail, and my wife had to give a few injured riders a lift to the finish.  It has to be a huge bummer to train for and travel to a race and not be able to finish due to breakdown or injury.

There is something awesome about being out there with 4700 other riders on a cold, snowy, November day.  This year, my family was able to come out to the race as well.  They were there cheering me on at the midpoint, which was a huge boost to my morale.  Overall it was a fantastic day.   I hope they fix the seeding issues, but either way, I am looking forward to next year!

Gratitude and Writing

In September, the church community that we get to be a part of did a series on forgotten virtues.  The last of which was gratitude.  The whole series sorta hit me over the head, but the last one really did.  The reality today is that we live in a world of entitlement.   As I wrestled with the message that day (and for a few weeks afterwards), I realized that I have an entitlement attitude more often than I would like to admit.  And… that entitlement is contrary to gratitude.  This last point may seem obvious, but I never really connected the two realities.  Toward the end of the message, Chris (the pastor) challenged us to think of some practical ways we can foster gratitude in our own lives.  As I sat there and contemplated… the first thing that came to my mind was writing.  And as I reflected over the next couple of weeks, that just stuck with me.

For November, I am embracing writing.  I find that when I am writing on a regular basis, I have more of a perspective and attitude that fosters thankfulness.  It really doesn’t even matter what type of writing I do… just that the process of writing puts me in a more reflective place.  It works when I am writing regularly on this blog (it’s been awhile), journaling, or even when I was writing sermons or youth ministry teachings (it’s been an even longer while).   I plan to write some on embrace / refrain, some in my journal… and who knows where else.  My goal is to write for at least 15 minutes a day.

Site Refresh

I had some fun today with a site re-design.  I had to dig into PHP more than I ever have before.  I was not only happy with the results, but I learned a ton in the process.  embrace / refrain has always had a clean and minimal look, but it was still feeling a little cluttered to me.  Moving the menu to the right, toning down the font sizes, and making a new logo all combined to create a much cleaner look.  I like what adding just a little color does to the overall effect.

I also added a new archives page.  I have never liked typical WordPress archives, which is why I didn’t have any (at least in the menu, anyway).  What I really wanted was just a listing of posts by date. That way, someone who wants to find a particular post can do so quickly.  This morning, I spent some time looking around other blogs to see how they do archives.  I found a few that I liked, and then set out to make my own.  I still have a few tweaks that I would like to make, but overall I like it and it is very functional.

Summer… flying by.

Wow, summer has flown by.   I have basically forgot about blogging and the embrace / refrain project over the last month.  I did jump in with hustlemonth for the last couple of weeks of July, and as a result, I did some great work on a a couple of projects that had been stagnant.  August started with a quick trip to South Carolina to visit family, and I never really got anything going.  So be it.  I took a month off.  I’m looking forward to September to get back into the swing of things and finish up the year.

At this point, I don’t know if I’m on an embrace or refrain project, but it really doesn’t matter.  For the last 4 months, I’ll just choose each month based on whatever idea seems most helpful.  For September, I plan on learning basic PHP.  I have been learning WordPress development over the last 9 months, and my lack of ability with PHP has been the most limiting factor in moving forward.  I obviously don’t expect to be an expert in just a month, but I do hope to get to a basic level that will be helpful in WordPress development.  Over the last days of August, I’ll be checking out resources so I can hit the ground running in September.