I used to think Mark Zuckerberg wanted to take over the world.
Now I know he does.
And I, for one, will be cheering him on and helping him any way I can.
Last week I participated in Facebook's first Communities Summit. I got to see and listen to Zuckerberg up close and personal. I walked away believing it's impossible to be near him or anyone that works with him without feeling like these Facebook folks truly believe there's value in every human life. It fuels their obsession for connecting us. They get high off of helping us discover our own personal value grows exponentially when we multiply it by the value of togetherness.
It's an obsession they wear on their faces. It pours out of every interaction with them.
Why on earth are they all so bent on us connecting?
This is what Zuckerberg told us at the summit:
“Connecting friends and family has been pretty positive, but I think there is just this collective feeling that we have a responsibility to do more than that and also help build communities and help people get exposed to new perspectives and meet new people -- not just give people a voice, but also help build common ground so people can actually move forward together.”
I'm not sure there was one person sitting at the summit, I'm not sure there's one person reading those words right now, who doesn't love the sound of moving forward. Especially if you reflect too long on the current stagnate state of our divisiveness.
Wouldn't it be nice to wake up one day from our unending arguments about what direction the world should go and discover we're actually moving in a common direction?
Several years ago I would have been thinking what you might be thinking right now. This Zuckerberg guy's a dreamer. Maybe even a bit whacked out. We live in a world of disunity and no amount of "likes" and "shares" is going to change that. You can Facebook live that little let's get connected speech to every world peace loving group on Facebook, Mark, and we're still going to be hopelessly devoted to telling one another how we should be living instead of finding the common good in the way we are living.
But that was several years ago.
I was actually at the summit representing about 16,000 people in the Meg's Miles Supporters Facebook group. The group formed when a young woman in my community, Meg Cross Menzies, was hit and killed by a drunk driver back in 2014. Shortly after, 100,000 people joined together on Facebook to run and pledge their miles in Meg's memory. They ran a million or so miles in every state in our country and in countless other countries around the world. And that was all in response to one-single-Facebook post by one of Meg's grieving friends.
I've seen responses to tragedy like this before. Heartbreaks going viral isn't anything new. A mass inclination to do something - anything at all to bring comfort - we've been there. But you know what I haven't seen? I haven't seen heartbreak branch into a thousand runaway vines of togetherness.
I now have more best friends than I've ever had in my life. A majority of them I met online as a result of that first post, many of whom I've since met in person. They help me out when I need them and they know I stand ready to return the favor. I've become attached to their families. I donate to their kids' fundraisers - we've had to build a room addition to house girl scout cookies. In fact, the size of my family has grown so that I'd need to rent out Madison Square Garden for a true family reunion.
Here's the beauty of my growing family. It includes people who've never been a part of my family before: gay people, atheists, people of all sorts of colors, horse and dog and cat lovers, runners, movie addicts, far left democrats and far right republicans and some very middle ground variations of something quite different in between. And on and on and on it goes. My family is now filled with diversity. I suppose you can see that as a knock against me and my shallow past. I own that knock. But I see it as overwhelming evidence of the power of Facebook.
What Facebook has always understood is the power of story. By creating a platform for us to share our stories with one another they've managed to educate us about the often tragic difference between acceptance and connected. Acceptance says I hear your story and I promise not to let in stand in my way of getting where I want to go. Connected, however, is I hear your story and it's a beautiful reason for us to navigate this world together.
I've seen that education take root in the Meg's Miles group I belong to. I've seen it grow from a single post about a single relatively simple human being into a group of thousands of diverse people running together, step for step, on a mission to spread goodness into the world. I've seen it work better than any other goodness strategy I've seen in my 53 years on earth.
Facebook's brilliance actually comes in their ability to weave their complex technological platform together with their understanding of the human need to love and be loved. They removed all religious and cultural overtones in their masterpiece so we can simply focus on each other. Because left to our own devices, those overtones often distract us away from the beautiful human stories we tend to bury beneath worldly stereotypes and misunderstandings.
I think that's Mark Zuckerberg's platform when it comes to his campaign for taking over the world. And maybe it's not so much taking over as it is taking out. Taking out all the hateful noise that keeps us from discovering the beauty in each other. He's not been perfect in his campaign, for sure. You can find hate anywhere. But he's done it better than anyone I've ever seen.
So if Mark Zuckerber is truly trying to take over the world, for what it's worth, I have his back.
So I've just used a multi-billionaire's image to trick you into reading a minimum wage blog post. That's only partly true. I am headed to Chicago tomorrow. I've been invited there to take part in a 2-day Facebook summit. And Mark Zuckerberg will be there. He's delivering the day one keynote address. But whether he and I actually sit down on a couch and chat billionaire to dreamer extraordinaire is still up in the air. Probably more up in the air of my imagination than his, but air is air, right?
It's such a long story. Most good ones are.. I'll spare you the details and give you the bedtime version.
Just over 3 years ago, Meg Cross Menzies, a young mother of 3 beautiful little kids, was struck and killed by a drunk driver while running on a rural road in our tiny community just outside of Richmond, Virginia. In response, one of Meg's heartbroken friends sent out a call for everyone to "run for Meg" the Saturday after Meg died. With a huge assist from Facebook, over 100,000 people from all over the world ran a collective million or so miles in Meg's memory. Most of them never knew Meg - including me.
In the wake of that run, a Facebook group formed: Meg's Miles Supporters. Today, I am one of the administrators for that group. The group has over 16,000 members who walk, run and pray each other through life and running challenges, and celebrate each other's life and running victories.
Recently an add popped up on my personal Facebook page asking group administrators to apply to attend the first ever Facebook Communities Summit in Chicago. The Summit is part of Facebook's goal to bring people closer together and build common understanding. Ads like this don't usually catch my attention, but for some reason this one did. I applied, interviewed, and long story made bedtime version short - tomorrow I'm headed to Chicago.
I'm fired up about the trip. Mainly because I love Facebook.
I know Facebook has it's detractors. I'm just not one of them. I've watched Facebook do far more to bring people together than tear them apart. In a world that some days seems hell bent on ripping itself into global shreds of hate and intolerance, all sources of unity are enticing to me. Especially one like Facebook that has nearly 2 billion active users.
Here's the thing about unity the world often gets wrong but Facebook gets largely right. Unity is about extending ourselves to others, not sitting back waiting to receive what others can extend to us. And through my work in the Meg's Miles group I've come to believe Facebook may be the most powerful human extension tool in the world right. I used to think the command of my Christian faith to go to all the ends of the earth with God's love was biblical hyperbole of biblical proportions. That was before the bible found a seat at the Facebook table.
I've seen Facebook extend hundreds of high fives across thousands of miles to a runner (me) finishing his first marathon, something he never thought he could do. High fives that made an ordinary struggling runner feel like an Olympic champion. Enthusiasm extended to make a dream come true.
I've seen Facebook extend love, care and support from hundreds of complete strangers to an online friend who lost his dad. An extension that didn't bring his dad back, but delivered him an extended family he never would have had without it.
I recently saw a friend use Facebook to seek and match donations for the town he grew up in. The small Missouri town was devestated by flooding. He extended himself on behalf of his roots and in return hundreds of us got to extend ourselves into a piece of his childhood and into the lives of people who played a role in it.
Last year our Megsmiles group collected shoes for refugees living in a camp in Greece. Thousands of shoes were mailed in and collected at local churches, businesses and schools. Then we got to see pictures of the shoes on the feet of desperate children thousands of miles and an ocean away. A mere decade ago that kind of immediate extension and response to crisis was impossible.
I've always known the world is filled with loving and caring people. So has Facebook. Only they've found a way to mass produce and mass extend their impact.
Here's the other thing. And maybe the most powerful and miraculous thing of all. Facebook extends lives.
I am awed every day that the influence of Meg Cross Menzies is still impacting and changing lives. Meg has been dead for over three years, but still her life is extending into mine and this week into Chicago and last year onto the feet and into the hearts of little Syrian children in Greece. Facebook has certainly been the tool for that. A powerful one. But here's the bigger lesson I take away from it:
Meg's life is extendable because she lived a life of extension.
Meg volunteered in her church and in her kids' schools and at her family's vegetable farm. Meg treasured a life of sacrifice because her sacrifice always meant more love and abundance for others. Meg lived her entire life extending herself to others which has made it possible to not only keep her influence alive, but extend it to people she never in her most sacrificial dreams imagined it would reach.
Meg's life, and Facebook, have led me to consider my own legacy in ways I never had before. The things I do today truly have the power to shape my kids and their kids for generations to come. Facebook is a tool that can help extend the impact of that legacy well beyond me, but it's up to me to give Facebook loving and caring and sacrificial material to work with.
So when I sit on the couch with Mark this week - come on, work with me here, let a guy dream - I'll thank him for what he's built. The opportunity he's given us all to extend ourselves in meaningful and life-changing ways. I'll let him know the kind of pressue he's put on this dad who wants to leave an influential and eternal influence on his boys.
And, yes, I may just ask him for the opportunity to extend a selfie of the billionaire and the dreamer extraordinaire to the Facebook feeds of my friends and his!
I'll be in touch from Chicago!
One of our dear family friends, Angie, who taught Elliott for two years and is currently a teacher at Ian's school, recently sent Katie and I the photos below. And photo credits to Angie Hoggan for all of them.
Obviously the pictures aren't of Ian performing in the classroom. It's field day (Ian's favorite subject). Still, I'm going to say this might be the best school report any of our boys' teachers have ever sent home. It probably shouldn't fire me up more than straight A's or spelling bee victories or science fair success, but it does.
A lot more.
Maybe that's because that's how I see life. It's a tug of war. One minute the momentum is absolutely going your way - I can't be beat! Then out of nowhere life starts dragging you through the mud, face first and feet wildly flopping in the air behind you. In that moment, you can begin thinking yourself through the protocol of what to do next, or you can instinctively jump to your feet and start fighting back.
Or at least pulling back.
No, I'm convinced, make me choose between a picture of a straight A report card or any of the pictures above and I'll take any one of the pictures above.
Don't get me wrong. It's not like I don't value education - don't want our boys to apply grit to their grades. I do. But I've seen too many people who know everything there is to know about the world only to have no idea how to respond when the world doesn't treat them the way they've been taught it will or should.
Of course, the obvious benefit to my philosophy, especially given it's Fathers Day, is there are many limitations on just how smart I can teach our boys to be. My smarts reach a dead end quicker than most dads. But make no mistake, there's no limit to how much grit I can pour into them. So maybe I'm just playing to my fatherhood strength, but that's exactly how I'm going to keep playing.
Happy Fathers Day to all my dad friends out there.
My wife, Katie, is a great mom. I know that. But not often enough do I show that.
As I sit here on Mother's Day morning, it's a simple task itemizing the ways my wife is a good mom.
As I sit here on Mother's Day morning, it's hard for me to look at that list and confess how infrequently I show my wife I truly understand the difficulty of her job. But I do confess it. Making a list is one thing. Appreciating it is quite another. I'm afraid I'm good at list-building, not so good at the other.
Now don't get me wrong. I'm not confessing to being the world's worst husband and dad. (Although I'm sure there are moments when my wife wants to confess to that).
I do believe, though, in reflecting on areas where others are great we can always examine where we can be better. I don't believe there's a better Mothers Day gift I can give my wife than saying I know you're a better mom than I give you credit for and I'm going to work harder to show that. Gratitude is a much better gift offered out of the blue than right on cue.
For all you moms out there - for the reasons I've just pointed out in my wife - you are all my heroes. I know you tackle the challenges above and many more. And you so often do it while embracing the blessing of motherhood for what it is: the opportunity to make a beautiful, life-changing, world-impacting difference in your home and on eternity.
I know my own mom made that difference in me. I know my wife is making that difference through our boys. And I pray for the difference all of you are making.
Dads and husbands - remember, gratitude is better out of the blue than right on cue. Work on it with me between now and next Mothers Day.
Our Easter Sunday started by attending the Hope Church Easter service at Altria Theater in downtown Richmond. Afterwards, while we were still somewhat presentable, we snapped a rare family photo. Then, it was off to grandma's famous Easter brunch and the much awaited annual Easter egg hunt.
The rules never change. But still, grandma always has to set the hunters straight on a thing or two. It does my heart good to see the boys still getting excited about this annual Easter tradition. They are growing by the minute, showing signs of getting older - and cooler - so I treasure these moments when they are clearly still boys. I do know they won't stay that way forever.
There's Elliott. Always intense. Whether playing basketball in the driveway by himself or 5 on 5 at the local Y, if there's competition to be had he has his game face on. Even in a family Easter egg hunt.
Then there's Ian. Oh, Ian is full of intensity himself. He doesn't go down without a fight. But Ian is never going to let intensity stand in his way of a class clown moment. Not ever.
It was a beautiful day to be reminded of what we have as Christians in this mortal world through the eternal love and sacrifice of Christ.
It was also a beautiful day to be reminded of how blessed I am in the here and now by my incredible wife and boys.
I hope everyone had an awesome Easter.
Back in the spring of 2015 I was gently persuaded to tackle the gently rolling hills of a half marathon known as Run the Bluegrass. The race winds through horse farm country in rural Lexington, Kentucky. The Run the Bluegrass absolutely lived up to its tagline: America's prettiest half-marathon. You'll have a hard time finding a prettier spring drive. That's right. I said drive. But all the talk I heard that downplayed the magnitude of the 32 hills on the course was high altitude deception. So running this course, I left there believing, is for people who have something to prove in their running journey.
Let's jump ahead to 2017. The year I just so happened to set out to prove something in my running journey. Late last year I decided I was going to push myself to do more than finish races this year. I was going to try to run them fast. My world fast - not standing on the podium world fast.
When I set that goal I knew the first true measure of my progress would have to come through a return visit to Run the Bluegrass. The 2015 race was one of those I just finished. And barely. It took everything I had to get across that finish line so I left there feeling accomplished. I also left there swearing no mas, no mas.
The 2015 RTB finish line photo of THAT face haunted me for a long time. It too close for any future comfort reflected the pain I felt in that moment. It kept the pain alive in my head no matter how many races I ran elsewhere trying to exorcize it. It became painfully clear the only place I'd ever be able to exorcise it was back in Lexington.
That's where I was last weekend. Running the only race I've ever sworn I'd never run again.
If you read my last post you know I was coming into this weekend with tons of confidence. I'd just run my fastest half marathon ever by 21 minutes. Granted, it was on a completely flat course. EVERYTHING about that Virginia Beach course truly was gentle and non-rolling. At least everything but the weather. I had no dreams of running a 2:32 here in Lexington, but I did want to significantly improve on my 3:01 from RTB 2015. And I wanted a finish line picture that would erase the memory of the one that had been haunting me.
I don't think any starting line has ever gotten me more excited than this one at Run the Bluegrass. It was beautiful. Even in dreary starting line weather the scene simply remained beautiful. Because the starting line is sloped you can see all the other runners in front of you. At least when you start as far back as I did. Something about that got my blood pumping. Maybe it was being able to see the full collection of pre-race excitement and determination of the other runners. Maybe it's because this year I was full of determination myself.
I had one intermediate goal in mind. I wanted to hit the 5-mile mark in under an hour. I knew that would set me up for my best chance at coming in under 2:50 - the goal I settled on. I wanted anything in the 2:40s.
One problem though. For the first time ever I forgot my watch. If you're a runner you understand the panic that swept through me with a speed that would have left any runner anywhere envious. How on earth was I going to monitor my pace? The answer came from my friend Leah. Without hesitation she offered me her watch. I was overwhelmed by her selflessness. Then I was relieved and completely centered on time and distance.
I arrived at mile 5 in a little under 59 minutes. I was ahead of the pace I needed. The hills on miles 7 through 9 really started to take it out of me, though. I got to mile 10 in a little over 2:05. My pace was clearly slowing, but I knew I could get the final 3+ miles in the slightly under 15 minute miles pace I would need. I also knew I would be fading fast when I got there. This felt very different than the feeling I had two weeks earlier at Virginia Beach when I felt like I had tons left for the final 3 miles. This race I was running on empty.
I was within 3 tenths of a mile from the finish. I heard the race announcer shout out a finisher's time at 2:42. I didn't have much left to push, but I knew at this point if I did it was possible to beat 2:45. I tried to hit the gas. I saw my friend Missy about a tenth of a mile from the finish. She was the huge ball of hanging over the fence and screaming and throwing high fives energy I needed for a spark. Then I saw the rest of my Megsmiles friends cheering. It wasn't a sprint, but I kept running - that's my half marathon equivalent of digging deep. And it wasn't a huge grin, but it was a finish line photo that exorcised that 2015 memory for sure.
That, and a finish time of 2:44:18
Listen to my podcast and hear my lessons learned from the 2017 Run the Bluegrass:
Something has gone terribly wrong with this article already. I just used a form of the word great and running in the same heading. There's no denying it, though, when it comes to running, last weekend was my greatest running weekend ever.
I could have said that after my 5K on Saturday without even bringing Sunday's Anthem half marathon at Virginia Beach into the equation. But I ran both so I'm going to include both in the greatness.
Saturday I ran the Mission Possible 5K at New Song Church in Mechanicsville. The race proceeds benefit the church mission trip to Haiti this summer. My wife, Katie, is going on that trip, so that made it a pretty special run right there. But late last week our two sons decided they wanted to run the 5K with me, so special got elevated a couple of laces.
Neither of the boys had ever run a 5K before, so naturally we had never run one together. On the way to the starting line our 8 year-old Ian summed it up perfectly. In his uniquely innocent way, he said, "At least now I'll have something to share at school on Monday."
Ian hadn't even started the race and he was already anticipating what I've found to be the joy in running. What makes it great. The feeling at the end when you shout to the world, "I did it!" Or at least mutter it under your complete lack of breath. I knew if Ian and Elliott got a taste of the "I did it" at the finish, they'd one day line up for another start - no matter how ugly anything in between looked or felt.
And so we started - all smiles - nothing but fun ahead of us:
There really was a lot of fun over those 3.1 miles. We took plenty of walk breaks. Our Ian suffers from asthma, and chilly mornings like this one challenge him. Elliott, our hyper-competitive one, well he had to practice a lot of restraint when runners passed us. I watched his whole body cringe as he longed to give chase. I told him he didn't have to stay back. Go catch them buddy. He said he knew didn't have to but he wanted to. He loves to argue with his brother, torment the tar out of him, but he never runs too far ahead of the opportunity to make sure Ian's OK. Or maybe he feels it's more than an opportunity.
So we hung together. Here is a mid-race video that captures a piece of our adventure:
Just so we're clear, and only because I know you're wondering; we didn't break any records with this race. At least none the three of us would want anyone to know about. Our names weren't called during the medal ceremony and that wasn't an oversight. No, this performance left us plenty to improve on. But that's always the bright spot, isn't it? The potential for improvement was invented as a consolation prize for races just like this one.
Let me tell you what we did do, though; we finished.
We finished together.
That race, the celebrating behind me, it was time to start thinking about the half marathon I'd be running in less than 24 hours. I'd been more than willing to take the 5K at the boys' pace - at least Ian's - knowing I had dreams of running my fastest half marathon ever the next day. Any worries the 5K would take something out of me were now lost in the gratitude I felt for the chance to race with my boys.
As planned, I hit the road for Virginia Beach the next morning by 3:30AM. I arrived at a parking garage near the starting line a little after 5:30. I sat in the car and ate miniature bagels and peanut butter and debated gloves or no gloves and literally did everything I could think of short of checking my oil to stall my march toward the starting line. That's because the 70% chance of showers for the area had arrived in the form of a driving rain powered by 20-40 MPH winds. I wish that was a dramatic use of exaggeration. It's not. It's actually a conservative use of meteorological fact.
Don't believe me? Here I am standing at the starting line before the race.
I was grateful for two things standing at that starting line. And no, it wasn't for the two pair of drenched shoes and socks that I somehow expected to carry me through the next 13.1 miles before turning my feet into my great grandpa's feet. No, I was grateful for my friend Nikki who walked to the starting line with me. The whole way there she laughed at the weather. LAUGHED. She said it was part of the fun. FUN. That crazy woman meant it and I'm almost positive she hadn't hit the post-race Yuengling party before the race ever started.
Attitudes are contagious. Especially good ones. I caught Nikki's that morning. It stayed with me for 13.1 miles.
I was also grateful the weather wasn't as bad at my house when I left 3 hours earlier as it was in that moment standing at the starting line. I would have never - I repeat NEVER - gotten in my car and made the two hour trip east. Crazy runner talk there, right? Somehow I was grateful the weather wasn't horrific enough to stop me from standing at the starting line in the most horrific weather I'd ever run in.
Don't ask me to explain it. I can't.
Here's what I ultimately came to believe about the weather. The weather turned out to be a much greater mental barrier than a physical one. Don't get me wrong. It's not like I rejoiced at the rain pelting water dents two inches deep into my face or anything.
But the truth is once I started running and forgot how wet and cold I was, the running took over.
My first goal of the day was to hit the 5-mile mark in under an hour. The first 3 miles we ran were straight into the fiercest winds of the day. The next two turned into a tunnel of trees and the winds seemed to disappear. 5 miles in under 58 minutes. I began to believe my record of 2:53 was possible.
At 10 miles my watch said 1:57. I'd hoped to get to 10 miles in 2:05. I felt great at this point and knew something great was possible.
Let me pause for a minute and say in running, great is relative. And it's always relative to you. What is it you have done before? What is it you are capable of today? And what is it you've run hard enough to accomplish today relative to both? At the 10-mile mark I knew I was about to run the fastest race of my life, and potentially much faster than I thought I was capable of. I knew great was not just possible, it was mine for the taking.
2 of those last three miles were my fastest of the day. In fairness, the gale was to my back. But I still had to have enough energy left to take advantage of it. And for a hard earned change - two months of hard training and weight loss worth of change - I had plenty left.
I can't describe the feeling I had when I crossed the finish line and my watch said 2:32. I'd run 21 minutes faster than my previous fastest half marathon. It wasn't just that it was a fast time. It was more about the decision I made in January to be faster this year and then making it happen. I wasn't going to just finish races this year. I was going to finish them faster than I thought I could. That's what the jubilation was about.
My friend Lashell sent me a scripture from Isaiah 43 before I hit the road for Virginia Beach.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you, and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon you.
She was prophetic, I suppose. Sending verses that would literally lift me out of the water. But running through a storm most considered a pretty foolish endeavor, I was reminded for 13.1 miles that God truly is with us in the storm. He is constantly begging us to hear and to cling to the promise: I will be with you. I felt God's smile that last mile. It felt a lot like wind blowing in off the ocean with the force of a gale. And it felt like sand. But it looked like a smile. I sensed it wasn't because I was about to break a personal record and ring a silly bell, but because I ran. God gave me a gift and I ran with it.
So he smiled.
We've all been there. Please don't try to tell me you haven't been. Out there in the audience of your kid's elementary school "musical" clapping away at their "beautiful" performance. All the while you know you've heard better music coming from Mrs. Klemma's overgrown fingernails grating against a 50 year old chalk board.
You're going to tell me, oh no, Keith, never. You go right ahead. I'm here to be honest and I'm telling you; I've been there.
Which is why when we were headed to Elliott's 4th grade musical last night I had my fake applause locked and loaded. My boy was going to get my best fake claps ever. I may have even practiced a clap or two on the way there to get it as authentic as possible.
On that same drive over Katie told me the performance was awesome. She went to the matinee presentation earlier in the day for the student body and the parents who wouldn't be able to attend in the evening. She wanted to be able to get some good pictures knowing she'd be completely mesmerized by the "beautiful music" at the evening session we'd attend together. Now I know I just admitted I've fake clapped. Shoot me if you want. But NOT ONE of those fake claps has ever been followed by a "that was awesome." Not from this mouth. Especially with the boy in the car and risking him thinking the nail scraping really WAS awesome. Talk about developing a warped sense of awesomeness in a kid.
The scary part was how sincere Katie sounded when she said it. Has she been practicing that line so long now she actually believes it?
So we got there and settled in with all the other parents. Most of them were armed with cameras ready to snap pictures of their favorite kid, which most of the time just happened to be their own kid. The beautiful thing about pictures is they capture the singing but not the song, if you know what I mean. The folks armed with video recorders - that's a different story. I would have advised against use of such equipment.
I will say this about elementary school musicals. They always start on time. This one was no different. But as the music started at 6PM sharp something VERY different started to take place. This musical was actually sounding quite musical. We weren't far into it when I realized Katie was right. They really did sound awesome.
The presentation was Music of the Cold - A new musical based on the poetry of Joyce Sidman and Rick Allen.
I was awed by how many different songs, instruments, dances, and spoken words were weaved into this 30-minute non-stop show. I found myself wondering how on earth these kids' teachers were able to get 120 kids coordinated and, dare I say - talented enough - to sing and play in tune and move exactly to where the music was supposed to lead them to.
I've coached a mere 10 flag football players with far less success.
I noticed something else. These kids were into the music. They had a passion for it. Maybe that's the key to moving them beyond nail dragging dreadful to astonishingly awesome. Passion.
It wasn't hard to see where that was coming from. It was coming from the front of the room, pouring out of their music teacher Ms. Ellenberger. Her hands never stopped moving. Whether they were clapping together or waving in the air to the beat of the music, the kids kept their eyes on those hands at all times. And her smile. It didn't leave the whole night. This was clearly a woman who loves music. At no point was that more evident than when she played her miniature guitar (which I'm sure has an official musical instrument name) at the end with the kids as they sang the old Beetles song: Here Comes the Sun. I swear I felt the sun for a minute in the middle of that gym.
Maybe Mrs. Ellenberger's love for music was contagious. Contagious for the kids. Contagious for us parents who, for at least one musical, were able to put their fake clap away. Because this show truly was awesome and drew applause that couldn't possibly be faked.
So well done to Ms. Ellenberger and Gandy Elementary and all the staff that assisted in pulling it all together. They indeed made some beautiful music.
The final big adventure of our Arizona vacation was a road trip with Papa Hoss and Gigi to Sedona. On the way there we made a pit stop at the Montezuma Castle National Monument near Prescott. The name, Montezuma Castle, is a bit misleading. When European-Americans first saw the ruins in the 1860s they thought they belonged to the famous Aztec emperor Montezuma. In reality, the lodging was abandoned many years before Montezuma was born. In addition, the dwelling is more like a large apartment complex than a castle. But hey, I guess the first ones to arrive on the scene get naming rights.
Never mind the name, the structure was magnificent. It was fun looking up at the side of the mountain and imagining the Sinagua people living in the giant dwelling. It's said they spent a lot of time out on the roof, so I couldn't help but picture kids like my own running around and playing games on the roof of the giant house built into the side of a mountain, most of it under the giant rock overhang that served as an umbrella. You can read more about Montezuma Castle here: Montezuma Castle.
From Montezuma Castle we headed to Sedona.
When we got to Sedona it was about lunch time. I haven't talked much about the food we ate on our trip, which was delicious and plentiful - too plentiful - but this is as good a spot as any to bring it up. We literally stumbled upon the Red Rock Café. I was starving and Katie was shouting out options from a phone app and Red Rock Café just happened to be the closest restaurant to us when I officially got tired of looking for one. It's a little breakfast and lunch place only open until 2PM every day.
I wish I'd taken a picture of my meal. I was too busy vanishing it to think about photographing it, but it was a thing of beauty while it lasted. I had the southwest chicken fried steak. It came smothered in a ranchero sauce, cheddar cheese, and scallions. And when I say smothered I mean smothered like a thick winter blanket pulled all the way over you on a snowy morning. It came with two eggs, hash browns, and a biscuit and gravy.
I couldn't have asked for a better tasting meal. All of us agreed the food was delicious. Even Elliott, our picky eater, who could only finish one of his two tire-sized pancakes. There are a lot of beautiful sites standing out in plain view when you drive through Sedona. But don't miss one of its hidden gems and seek out a meal at the Red Rock Café.
Our bellies full, we were ready to take in the beauty of some of those out in plain view sites. Here are a couple of photos taken from a scenic pull out a short distance from the restaurant.
Our next stop in Sedona was at the Chapel of the Holy Cross, a Roman Catholic chapel built into one of the Sedona hillsides. A little about the chapel from Wikipedia:
The chapel was inspired and commissioned by local rancher and sculptor Marguerite Brunswig Staude, who had been inspired in 1932 by the newly constructed Empire State Building to build such a church. After an attempt to do so in Budapest, Hungary (with the help of Lloyd Wright, son of noted architect Frank Lloyd Wright) was aborted due to the outbreak of World War II, she decided to build the church in her native region.
I obviously didn't create the video below, but it's a beautiful perspective of what we got to see.
Going inside the chapel you couldn't help but feel, like I often did in Arizona, the very real presence of God.
There were some great photo opportunities standing on the hill outside the chapel. With a little imagination you can find countless shapes and images in the Arizona rock formations. I'm not exactly sure what bird this is sitting on the side of a nearby hill. But Elliott and I were sure it was a bird perched up there.
And then there were these two guys - nice hats fellas.
From Sedona it was back to Sun Lakes. And from Sun Lakes, the next day - it was back to Virginia. I've answered many people when they've asked about our trip to Arizona with: it was beautiful. But how much do we overuse the world beautiful? Sometimes it's just the simplest way to avoid really considering and conveying the impact the beauty of a place has on you.
For me, the impact of Arizona's beauty hit me full force about 11 years ago. When Katie and I got married she was always the adventurer and I was the content homebody. She'd travel and take pictures and share stories of her explorations and that was all the closer I felt compelled to get to exploring that place myself. "How much different can a place really be than the pictures?" I'd ask.
Then 11 years ago I stood at the edge of the Grand Canyon with her. One look forever destroyed the notion that pictures do any scene at all justice. Please understand, I don't say that to minimize the value of pictures. But with that view a new light was shone on the power of having your feet planted in a place and welcoming the spiritual forces you feel when you can actually see the true colors and feel the breezes that release the scents of a still image to you and through you and into the greater spiritual guidance of our universe.
There is often awesome beauty that comes with seeing an image, but there is indescribable power that comes from being within it.
So now when the opportunities present themselves, I go. And I feel more responsibility than ever to allow our kids to feel the power of being within the different images of this world. Images that grow their imaginations and draw them closer to the largest and most awesome imagination of them all.
So that wraps up our Arizona 2017 Vacation. If you missed the previous two articles you can read them at the links below. I thank you for traveling along on our adventure. My prayer is my articles and photos will spur in you a sense of wonder that will lead you to plant your feet in your own images in this world - to feel your own breezes.
Arizona 2017 Trip Series Part I - The Grand Canyon - A Grand Reminder We Were All Created To Create.
Arizona 2017 Trip Series Part II - Navajo Nation - A Beautiful Place To Get A Raw Deal
Arizona 2017 - Part II
In 1864, following several battles and collapsed treaties, the United States government rounded up 8,500 Native Americans and marched them 300 miles from northeastern Arizona and northwestern New Mexico to Bosque Redondo, New Mexico. Making this trek in the winter took it's toll on the Navajo tribe. Hundreds of men, women, and children died along the way. Many more would die later when they reached their new home, a barren 40 square mile reservation set aside for them at Bosque Redondo. This march, led by Kit Carson, became known by the Navajo as the "Long Walk."
The reservation quickly turned into a prison camp. The water in the Pecos River that bordered the reservation made the Navajo people sick. Worms destroyed their crops. Their wood supply was short-lived. It wasn't long before the United States could see Bosque Redondo was an epic failure. Still, the Navajo would spend 5 grueling years on this reservation before they were allowed to return to their native lands in 1869 via another treaty. Although the size of their original lands was suddenly much smaller, they were going home.
Obviously this story is much bigger than two paragraphs. You can read more about the history of the walk here: Navajo Long Walk to Bosque Redondo.
The next day, after spending the night in Page, we made our way to a tour of the Lower Antelope Canyon on the reservation. Katie had originally planned for us to tour the upper canyon, but the young lady at our hotel's front desk encouraged us to do the lower. She said if we only had time for one, the lower was the tour to do. Since our time was indeed limited we took her advice. That advice turned out to be five star customer service.
Our tour started from Ken's Tours. Ken Young, the owner, started the tour company as a retirement gig many years ago. He taught himself photography and began to take and share photos of the inside of the canyon. People fell in love with the brilliant shapes and designs brought to life by a unique mix of sunlight, layers of rock, and the formations carved into the earth by years of wind and flash floods.
On the way down to the canyon our guide told us the story of the most tragic of those floods - the 1997 flash flood that swept 12 hikers out of the very canyon we were about to enter. One of the hikers grabbed a ledge and held on until help arrived. He was the only survivor. Several bodies were later found in nearby Lake Powell. Some were never found at all. (12 Hikers Are Swept Away By Flash Flood In A Canyon - New York Times)
You could tell the 20 year old tragedy still haunted some of the locals. Shoot, it haunted me down there. As a result of that horrific day, hikers are required to have guides these days when exploring the canyon and there are now ladders bolted into the rock to make getting in and out of the canyon easier.
Once we got down in the canyon it only took seconds to realize why so many people come to the canyon armed with their cameras. The views down there ranged from breathtaking to miraculous.
On the drive back to Sun Lakes where we were staying with my mom and dad, we hit the Phoenix rush hour traffic. It reminded me of Washington DC traffic - crawling along, living just on the edge of road rage. Maybe even a hair over it. It's then when I wondered out loud, maybe the Navajo are right where they want to be. They may not have been treated fairly, but maybe they did get the good end of the deal. At least the deal in that particular moment.
If you missed part I of my Arizona 2017 trip series, you can read it here: The Grand Canyon - A Grand Reminder We Were All Created To Create.