this mile’s for you

yXmvd.St.81in less than 12 hours, i will run my first marathon ever! only one day in all my 40 years will i be able to say that. i came across a great idea in an article i read a few weeks ago about getting to the finish line of a marathon. i’m dedicating each mile to an individual, organization, cause, or family member. i believe this will not only make the time seem to pass by, it will also help me dig down deeper than i will think I can, knowing it on somebody’s behalf. here’s who each mile is dedicated to.

mile 1: there will be plenty of excitement in the opening blocks, so my first mile will be a time to take everything in, find a good rhythm as i begin to warm up, and enjoy the rapidly passing sights (sprint center and kansas city power & light among them) along grand ave. from 22nd to 12th.

mile 2: as i round the corner from 12th onto baltimore and head into the crossroads arts district, I will pass by Christ community’s downtown campus. to my friends who will be cheering from there, led by the skillful hands of pastor gabe, this mile’s for you.

mile 3: this will be the first challenging hill of the course, from union station up the hill to the liberty memorial. i will run this mile to honor the families of primitivo garcia elementary. jacob’s well has a community partnership with this kcmo public school on the beautiful westside.

mile 4: another quick but steep hill awaits as i head south on wyandotte toward 31st. I run this mile for a friend, brian, who has been battling multiple myeloma for several years.

mile 5: heading south on main, i will run this mile on behalf of mission adelante. founded by fellow manhattan high  grad jarrett meek, this cross-cultural ministry of relationships focuses on latino and bhutanese neighbors in kansas city, ks.

mile 6: as i journey through westport, i’m dedicating this mile to jacob’s well, specifically its youth ministry. thank you for all you do to be a faithful presence for Christ and for peace and justice, in midtown and throughout the city. you have blessed my life more than you know.

mile 7: the path down roanoke parkway towards the country club plaza takes me by the intersection i monitored during last year’s marathon, which is where i decided to go for the full marathon this year. i run this mile for youthfront, the defining and transformational organization in my two-plus decades in youth ministry. thank you, thank you, thank you for 70 years of helping young people develop into men and women of God.

mile 8: as 47th street becomes cleaver ii blvd., i’ll see some awesome kc sights… the jc nichols fountain, the nelson-atkins museum of art, and of course, gates bbq. this mile is for n2life project, a mentoring organization for those emerging from incarceration. it’s led by a friend named art.

mile 9: some more lesser-known fountains make this mile a great double-back across the plaza. i dedicate this mile to one of the most courageous and Christlike men i’ve ever met, canon andrew white. called the “vicar of baghdad,” he pastors st. george anglican Church in one of the most volatile places in the world. he is also battling multiple sclerosis through often painful stem cell treatments. his foundation for relief and reconciliation in the middle east promotes peace through the very difficult waters of religious differences. you have my support, admiration, and prayers.

mile 10: as i head north of brush creek and go by the awesome shops and restaurants of the plaza, i’ll be thinking of brian boyd. he was one of those rare students in youth group that everybody knew and loved, even when he drove us crazy. this shooting star trailed brightly, but left our skies on may 17. he would have turned 22 a couple weeks ago. to every member of the precious boyd family, this mile is for you.

mile 11: this mile loops out of and back into the plaza, by way of the pembroke hill school campus on ward parkway. i can’t share much on this one as i don’t exactly have permission, but a parent of a friend is struggling with some health concerns, and i’ll be running for them.

mile 12: this one is difficult terrain, although it’s through some beautiful neighborhoods. the hills on sunset drive gave me bad dreams for a few weeks. i run this mile for little isaac hilker, better known as fight, ike, fight. he has spent the majority of his 2-some years fighting for his life; he was diagnosed with acute infantile lymphoblastic leukemia before his 1st birthday. i got to meet ike’s dad at packet pick up tonight. it was a humbling experience for both of us, and i look forward to a possible wave from the man himself somewhere along mile 17.

mile 13(.1): as i reach the halfway point, I’ll be going by loose park, the site of several gorgeous kc landmarks and a piece of the historic battle of westport. this mile is in memory of my two grandpas. george burden, a member of the greatest generation who was part of the support crew following d-day, passed in 1995. from richard yeagley, who passed in 2008, i gained a love of the hymns of the faith. thank you.

mile 14: i’ll head further down summit drive and angle back toward ward parkway. this mile will be on behalf of the pokot tribe in asilong, kenya. jacob’s well has a rich relationship with this people, and over the years an aggressive nomadic tribe has been transformed into one who need not fight over or make long journeys for clean water. currently, a secondary school is being constructed to further the opportunities for the children of pokot to end the cycle of poverty.

mile 15: some gorgeous scenery awaits along ward parkway, including the iconic meyer circle fountain. i run this mile for my many friends who pour their lives into troubled young people in the missouri division of youth services. while it’s now a part of my history, i feel like dys has ruined me for conventional school – in a good way. there’s nothing that surprises or shocks me, and i can handle just about any situation without losing my cool. i even find myself wanting to call circles and listen-ups! to all my friends in the trenches with the kids nobody else can handle, this mile is for you.

mile 16: as I make the turn from ward parkway onto 75th, i will be as far away from the start as I will ever be – it’s all return trip from there. this mile is for cherith brook catholic worker, an intentional Christian community in northeast kansas city. from their blog: “our daily lives are structured around practicing the works of mercy as found in Jesus’ teachings. we are committed to regularly feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, giving drink to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, visiting the prisoner and the sick in the name of Jesus.”

mile 17: from 75th onto wornall, the waldo area beckons (i’m sure I’ll smell waldo pizza by this time of the morning). this mile is in memory of my uncle rick. the day before thanksgiving last year, we found out he had passed after an extended illness. you couldn’t ask to know a greater guy. my aunt and all of us miss him dearly.

mile 18: although i’ll miss being on the softer surface of the trolley trail, the journey on wornall and then brookside blvd. is gorgeous. true story: running has allowed me to quite literally see things i never would have if i were in a car. one such landmark is the beautiful brookside campus of Christ community. on one long run, i was on the trail, looked up at a really cool steeple and thought, “wow. what a cool steeple.” then I looked down and saw the sign. oops! pastor bill and company, this mile is for you!

mile 19: this mile takes me through rene’s childhood neighborhood, with its corner drugstore and ice cream shop. i’ll be running it on behalf of my friends ben and jolynna. this amazing pair have become a forever family for six of the most precious kids you’ll ever meet. their daughter had a crucial surgery last week, and i hope you’ll join me in praying for swift healing.

mile 20: as i head east again on volker, passing more of those awesome kc fountains, i’ll be running for new roots for refugees. started by catholic charities of northeast kansas in partnership with cultivate kansas city, new roots helps refugee women start their own small farm businesses growing and selling vegetables. good for these families, good for kansas city, and showing the Father’s heart for the alien and the stranger, the fatherless and the widow.

mile 21: as I loop back around and cross “east of troost,” my awareness will turn to the uncomfortable reality that kansas city, although beautifully diverse in many positive ways, remains divided and scarred by racism in many other ways. as part of our jacob’s well institute on race’s role in the Christian identity, i have been pondering that “in order for there to be meaningful dialogue, fear, whether of anger or isolation, must eventually give way to risk and trust” (beverly daniel tatum, “why are all the black kids sitting together in the cafeteria?”). such dialogue will not be easy or instant, but i hope to play my own part.

mile 22: at the end of this mile i’ll have gone as far as i ever have before. the journey through hyde park is dedicated to my amazing wife rene. she has supported me in every way imaginable along this journey, from waking up early on saturdays to take me to my run routes and bring me extra gatorade, to telling everyone who’ll listen about why i run. thanks, my love!

mile 23: as i turn onto harrison parkway and into central hyde park, i’ll also be making the push up the last major hill of the course. it was a conversation with my new friend rob that inspired my per-mile dedications. i met rob when i was going to start a brief long-term subbing assignment for him so he could get top-notch care for his 9-year-old son eli. eli has a condition called eosinophilic esophagitis, which is allergy-related and prevents him from being able to eat or drink orally. as i got to know rob, we became quick friends and found we share many things including a love of distance running. rob said his “wall” was the 23rd mile of his first marathon, and if i’m going to bonk this is the most likely candidate. but i’m going to keep at it, because eli, buddy, this mile is for you.

mile 24: it is almost all downhill from here! once prosperous and flourishing, the neighborhoods surrounding the paseo produced leaders like walt disney, buck o’neil, and alvin brooks, and it was a postcard-worthy sunday drive. since 1998, the hope center (thc) has been serving this forgotten, impoverished east side area. currently they provide a thriving youth ministry and health clinic, and future plans include a charter school, housing development, and community church. i’ll also run this mile in memory of matt nagel, thc’s operations director who tragically passed away last year from a stroke.

mile 25: this last stretch on the paseo is rich with not just kansas city, but american history. the paseo ymca was the birthplace of the negro national league, and is now the buck o’neil education center. The 18th & vine jazz district even holds a memorial to charlie “bird” parker. this mile also affords a breathtaking view of the kc skyline. i run this mile for communities creating opportunity, a faith-based initiative with more than 35 years of helping make our neighborhoods better through grassroots action.

mile 26(.2): by now i might as well be floating on air, because i doubt i’ll be able to feel my legs anymore. the final 1.2 is for me again, but my heart will be overflowing as i think of the support and encouragement i’ve received, especially in these final weeks. i run because i can. i run for those who cannot. as eric liddell famously quipped, “when i run, i feel His pleasure.”

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a marathon in pictures

training runs can so often get long and repetitive. i found myself doing anything to avoid an out-and-back many times this summer. i also did several long and mid-length runs along the very course that the kansas city marathon follows. although it slowed me down for a few moments, i took pictures of some of the beautiful and interesting sights we will all encounter… if we are looking.

here, then, is my kansas city marathon, in pictures. all photos were taken along my training runs.


here i am just before beginning my first attempt at 20 miles. george washington wishes me luck from washington square park, the site of the start and finish line for the marathon.


one of the most striking landmarks of downtown kansas city, but no cause to stop and gawk. the sprint center isn’t even 1 mile in.


union station is an active station, in the sense that you can look down at the tracks and see trains going by. motivation to keep up the pace, so my headphones don’t get drowned out.

IMG_0029the “front” side of union station features the bloch fountain, as well as whatever exhibit is current. right now, that means a pirate ship.


the reward for making up the first challenging hill is not only a half mile of flat, but also a spectacular view of kc’s unique liberty memorial.


the broadcast tower for kcpt, one of our public television stations, is not only a welcome landmark both at the start and as an indicator i’m nearing the finish, it’s also taller than the eiffel tower!


historic westport offers no shortage of interesting shops, libations, and dining choices.


across from westport lies the edge of my own neighborhood, the volker district. it also means flat-to-downhill terrain for a few miles.


this intersection will always be holy ground for me. it was while volunteering as a course monitor at the 2012 marathon that i resolved to run the full course in 2013. little did i know what the coming weeks would bring!


among the many gorgeous sensory treats in the country club plaza is my favorite restaurant of all time, fogo de chao. i hope to hold my celebration meal there… if i can still walk. i do still have a pair of crutches!


of course, there’s a certain charm to more humble establishments like the original winstead’s. friends of ours celebrated their engagement this summer with a skyscraper.


another one of kansas city’s most recognizable landmarks is the facade and lawn of the nelson-atkins art museum, complete with larger than life shuttlecocks. i really do pity fellow runners who don’t take the time to see everything they’re passing by.


the middle section of the course winds through more of the plaza, tackles a long but beautiful hill through some of the more stately homes in kansas city, mo, passes briefly by loose park, and heads down the historic ward parkway. the meyer circle fountain is one of the many reasons kansas city is fondly called the “city of contains.”


after another 5 miles or so, i’ll return to the east side of the plaza area. kansas city is known for its delicious bbq, and gates is our flagship. by this point in the morning, i’ll no doubt smell it cooking, which may get me moving so i can eat asap. maybe they’ll even call out to me, “hi may i help you!”


i couldn’t help taking this one. summer 2013 was a time of frequent storms, and usually these resulted in numerous downed trees. unlike the day of the marathon when i’ll be able to travel unobstructed like cars do, when i trained on the sidewalks and trails, sometimes the footpath just wasn’t available.


hyde park is one of midtown kansas city’s best-kept secrets. not only does it boast playgrounds that attract families from all over the city, sometimes you can climb or even picnic on the most unique sculptures around.


again, i really hope other runners will take the time to look around. this stunning view is indeed my own photo. it’s a great view from 71 highway at the paseo.


once the paseo ymca, the buck o’neill cultural center marks the turn to the final 1.2 miles.


while we don’t go directly into the 18th & vine jazz district, it’s an awesome piece of kc and american history.


one last photo, representing the “other” crossroads, i.e. east of grand blvd. i swear this is robin williams’ character from the movie “robots.”

these photos are just a sampling of a constant barrage of sights the marathon course will afford. i count it a blessing to have been able to check it out in advance, and i’m really looking forward to putting all the pieces together for the race of my lifetime.

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marathoning, by the numbers

i ran 18 miles today. without stopping! ok, i guess i stopped a few times to get water or adjust my shoes, and i did walk for a stretch several times, but come on! i ran 18 miles! to date, it is the longest i’ve run in my life.

the amazing thing is, i accomplished the same feat just 2 weeks ago (running as far as i had run before). 2 weeks before that, same thing. that’s 3 personal bests for distance in 1 month. i’m going to keep adding distance in the weeks to come, because 10 weeks from today, Lord willing and the shin splints don’t rise, i will run my first full marathon ever, which is of course 26.2 miles, on october 19, 2013.

wheelchairreally, though, the journey will be far longer than that. you see, 8 months, 2 weeks, and 5 days ago, while attempting my first 5k, this aspiring runner fell and broke my foot, and my arm, just for good measure. clinically speaking, i sustained an avulsion fracture to my left calcaneus (heel bone) and fractured the head of my right radius (one of the two bones that connect the elbow to the wrist). instead of enjoying thanksgiving day with family, i spent almost 7 hours in the emergency room. the only feast i got until most guests had left (it was supposed to be our first time hosting, and family had even come from out of town) was a snickers bar my sister found in the vending machine. the ugly thing about injuries to opposite corners of the body: crutches are worthless. i could only hop/hobble in and out of a borrowed wheelchair for the next week. i wore a walking boot for 6 weeks, but wasn’t able to begin running again for 3 months after the accident. that’s a big interruption.

since then, by the grace of God and a huge helping of perseverance, i have run a 4-miler, a half marathon (13.1 miles), a fun run of inexact distance, a 10k, and tomorrow morning rene and i will lace up for the race for the cure, benefitting the susan g. komen foundation. i’ll be doing the 5k, still technically my first, and she’ll be walking the 1-mile.

hospital hillthe last 8 1/2 months have been grueling, revealing, and intense. the ongoing support of my family and friends has sustained me, as have prayer and sheer determination. i’d love to continue sharing this journey here. some posts will be on the practical side, from gear, training and nutrition hints i’ve picked up along the way, to ones more reflective in nature. during the month of september, i’ll be curating a conversation with some of the middle schoolers at jacob’s well on how, for me, running is a way i worship God in a very tangible way.

you’re welcome to hang out with me as i continue to learn from this path. you can follow, or just search this blog for the tag “running.” now if you’ll excuse me, we have some giant pink ribbons to figure out for tomorrow’s race.

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shuffle challenge, day 6 (freebies!)

the journey has come to its end. these last few songs were 100% hand picked and represent some of the pivotal moments in my life. it’s the watersheds without an associated song that i have trouble recalling as well.

secret ambition – michael w. smith i spent much of my junior and senior years of high school attending various church activities and Christian club gatherings at school, reading the bible, and listening to Christian radio, but lacked a clear understanding of what it truly meant to believe in Christ. on the invitation of a friend from fca, I found myself on new year’s eve of my senior year at a music video party. one video played was “secret ambition,” which included a vivid depiction of the crucifixion. as midnight approached, the youth pastor gave a gospel invitation, and I mark that night as the beginning of my walk with Christ as I prayed for him to be my Lord.

Michael W. Smith – Secret Ambition


not home yet – steven curtis chapman we live in tension, between the now and the not-yet. in the weeks and months following the shootings at columbine high school, 13 wooden crosses, for each of the victims including 12 students and a teacher, became a traveling memorial of sorts. i was asked to carry the cross honoring william “dave” sanders, the teacher who died while saving as many of his students as possible. later in the program, i sang this song for a crowd of at least 2,500, which stand as my largest (human) audience thus far. that is, until somebody gets me on american idol.

Steven Curtis Chapman – Not Home Yet


can’t fight this feeling – reo speedwagon on may 10, 2002, one rene o’connell received 1 white, 1 yellow, and 1 red rose at her place of employment. no identifying card was included. later that evening, on the way to the first “nite strike” (all night youth event), i brought up the following: “rene, i think i love you…” (our friend has similarly hinted to a special friend once upon a time.) i picked up my phone, which had received a text message earlier. this was long before most of us used or relied on texting. it said: “[my secret] will u marry me?” we spent the whole night until morning celebrating with over 100 of our teenage friends. (she said yes.) rene had no idea at the time, but this song was playing in the background. i timed it just so.

REO Speedwagon – Can't Fight This Feeling (with lyrics)


the glory of love – peter cetera i’m pretty sure rene remembers this one a little better. i would hope so, because it was our first dance at, literally, a fairy tale wedding. i love you princess!

engagement steps   Cake   cake cutting

peter cetera – glory of love (Video Official) HD ""


thanks, all, for coming with me on this fun romp through just 24 of my 20,000 tracks. let’s do it again sometime.

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back in the saddle

i’m a middle school leader. that’s what i am, what i do.

i thought sunday, august 19, would never come. i hope it’s not terribly cliché to assert that nothing could fully have prepared me, however eagerly i anticipated the day. after 1 year, 6 months, 3 weeks, 2 days, and just over 14 hours (give or take a few minutes), rene and i finally returned to roles as full-fledged middle school volunteers.

donut on a string

in the meantime, we attended (and ate cake at) something like 16 parties for Christ community’s class of 2011 (they were the last class we had stayed with from 6th to 8th grade before staying with 6th grade every year afterwards), not to mention 4 cyt shows with ccc kids, and checking out no fewer than 10 churches before realizing we already belonged and fit at jacob’s well. a lot happened in other areas, too, in the interim. most of this chunk has gone unblogged, but i still hold out hope i’ll somehow squeeze in a reflective flyover of this period before too much more time elapses. (bug me in a couple weeks if i still haven’t.)

but there we were, in a room full of 6th to 8th graders, donuts to be devoured, foosball/chess/wii to be played, and relationships to begin. we both had to shake off the urge to play the wallflower or cluster like lunch ladies with other adult leaders, but wow, it felt good to be doing this again. i couldn’t help later in the day but recall words sung by cassie in a chorus line:

cassie a chorus line

i’m a dancer
that’s what i am
what I do

i…i am a dancer,
give me the steps
i’ll come through

give me somebody to dance for
give me somebody to show
let me wake up in the morning
to find i have somewhere exciting to go

i… i am a middle school leader. that’s what i am, what i do. i’ve wrestled long and hard with how my role as “just” a volunteer over the years integrates with the other aspects of my life. but after countless lock-ins, small group discussions, road trips, sharing the gospel, fast food stops, praise and worship from the pogo-bouncy to the reverent, food fights and shaving cream wars, and “prime time” conversations at youthfront and elsewhere, i can honestly say that i never feel more alive, more “me” than when i am with middle school students, journeying with them in the way of Jesus.

i am immensely thankful for the wise counsel of alan mercer (longtime middle school pastor and now executive pastor at Christ community), who all but forbade us to get involved in youth ministry at our next church until we had been involved in the life of the church for at least 1 year. in that time, we’ve gotten deeply plugged in to a “corpus” (i.e. small group) as well as the men’s and women’s ministries. no longer is the precarious dilemma of not knowing any adults outside of the youth program weighing on our life and ministry.

i’m also super stoked (sorry, had to rip off my southern-cali friend dennis‘s word) to get to know and build with adam cooper. he’s been on the job at jw for just over a year now, and prior to that there really wasn’t anything youth-specific in place on a regular basis. he expressed his eagerness to have us “seasoned” (i.e. old) veteran leaders on board. beyond that, i count it an honor to be involved in pioneering forms and rhythms of ministry for which there is no precedent. no sacred cows to grill here!

that said, i am in a place where i don’t want to assume that any particular activity or way of relating that was effective in the past will be what i should do now. after devouring presence-centered youth ministry and already seeing fruit in a life of awareness of God’s presence, i pulled an unread copy of contemplative youth ministry: practicing the presence of Jesus by mark yaconelli from the pile under my nightstand. (little-known fact: i received this as a thank-you gift from student life after writing for their newsletter 2 years ago.) i’m reading this one more slowly and realizing that i need to cultivate healthier ways of being with God, being with myself, and being with students. despite my 2 decades of experience, to the kids at jacob’s well i’m barely more than a stranger. i foresee much prayer, listening, and learning from and with these amazing young people.

here i stand. i can do no other, so help me God. amen.

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