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.


The Sparrow “ding”

Sometimes small details can really make a difference in our ability to be present and focus on what is in front of us.  When it comes to working on anything related to a computer, my ability to focus is, well, almost scary.  The world could be coming to an end, and I might not know it if I am in the middle of building a web site.  However, when I am playing with my kids, or doing some chores around the house…  I can be focused at times, but certain things will throw me off.  The biggest one:  the classic “ding” sound from Sparrow letting me know I have a new email.

In theory, I like having an audible notification that I have a new email.  However, when I am eating dinner or reading a book with one of my kids and that little “ding” goes off, it’s all I can do to keep from checking.  All of a sudden, my email has a tyrannical hold on my thought process.  The sound sits in my head until I check the darn thing.  Our family computer sits in our great room, where we spend most of our time.  If I am home, I’ll likely hear the sound.  Of coure, I usually end up checking it to make sure it isn’t anything important.  Thing is, I rarely have an important email of such magnitude that I would need to check it out right away.  Almost never, really.

I am not sure why I let this go on so long.  Such a simple thing… I turned off the sound notification on Sparrow the other day.  It makes a huge difference.  I still check my email quite often.  But now, I wait until after dinner, or after I am done reading or playing with my kids.   I love it… I changed one little setting on my email client and my ability to be present is better.  Not perfect by any stretch, but better.

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.


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.

Mornings… I still don’t like them.

October has come and gone, and I still don’t like mornings.  Maybe I never will.  But I will say this… mornings are nice once I am actually up.  The first 15 minutes or so stink no matter if it is 8am or 5am.  Ok, it’s a little worse at 5am, but still, it’s basically the same.

This past month, I got up about 20-30 minutes earlier than I had been on average.  That isn’t crazy early, but it still gave me a little time to get settled and ready for the day.  In that sense, it was nice to be up.  I thought maybe I could progress to earlier wake-ups as the month went on, but I wasn’t kidding when I said I am NOT a morning person.  This is going to take some time.  Plus, on many nights I stayed up later than normal, watching the Detroit Tigers tear up the A’s and Yankees, and then lay an egg in the World Series (so frustrating).

I’m planning on continuing this little morning exercise,  hoping to bring it back 15-30 minutes more over the month of November.   My little French press is going to get some extra wear and tear.

No sleep till…

Well, PHP month has come and gone.  My main objective was to learn how to use PHP within WordPress, which I got a good start on.  The first part of the month I spent some time digging into theme files and page templates in some of the work I was doing.  I didn’t really learn to code PHP that way, but I was at least getting familiar with how PHP works and I was able to make some basic changes.  I’ll continue my learning this month as well, as I dive into a book or two, and maybe an online tutorial.  Hopefully, I’ll actually start learning to code, and not just edit other’s code.

On to October, which is a refrain month.  This months refrain could easily fall into either an embrace or refrain category, depending on how I approach it.  From the beginning of this blog, one of my ideas was to embrace getting up early.  However, getting up early is really just refraining from sleeping in!  And that is just what I’ll be working on this month.

For many of my monthly projects, I have a tendency to set goals that are difficult to attain.  I end up only partially fulfilling those goals.  When I worked on solitude, I was effectively practicing solitude very little, and then went to trying it every day.  I didn’t quite make it.  I did the same thing with attempting to blog every day.  This month, I am going to go about it more gradually.  I normally get up around 7:15-7:30.  This week, I am going to get up at 7.  Then next week, I’ll try to get up at 6:30.  By the end of the month, we’ll see if I can’t be getting up at 6 or maybe even 5:30.  But really… I am NOT a morning person, so we will just take it one day at a time!


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.


We’ve been on vacation for the first part of July and will be for the next week or so.  July is an embrace month… and when we get back from vacation, I plan on taking the last two weeks to join in on Hustlemonth.  Hustlemonth is a project that a friend of mine started as a way to get moving on some of his dreams by setting aside a month and take every opportunity to get good work done.  I love his tagline:

jumpstarting your dreams with a month dedicated to the grind.

I’ll be taking those weeks to jump back into a few web projects that I have been making some slow progress at over the last few months.  I’ll be diving into WordPress and hopefully learning a ton while I am at it.

If you have some a dream or a project that has been sitting on the shelf and needs some work to get going…. head on over to the Hustlemonth site and see what it’s all about.  It’s not too late to join in on the fun.