So Here’s My Plan

via Smithsonian Collection

Good day everyone, it’s beautiful here in Asheville, I hope you are enjoying early Spring as well! I wanted to share with you where I’m going the next few months with my writing and work.

The Blog

I’m going to cut back to 2 posts per week, and work really hard to make them fantastically valuable for you guys and gals. I’ve been posting 3-4 times a week, and honestly I’m not always pleased with the content. My goal has been to establish a practice of writing and posting, and not getting tied up with thoughts of the posts not being good enough. I can assure you the self-loathing will continue, and I’m not cutting back because of laziness.

I’m cutting back for pace, schedule, and future content. Reading lists will only be published 1-2 times per month, I’ll post more short content on Twitter or Google+. I have several ideas I need to flesh out, and am concentrating on making them great for you.

The Writing

Another reason I’m cutting back on the blog is because I will be working hard to complete my first e-book. The target audiences are recent high school and college graduates. This year is the 10th anniversary of when I graduated high school and enrolled at the University of Florida. A lot has happened in my life since then, and it’s arguably the most chaotic 10 year stretch for most people. College, grad school, first job(s), marriage, debt, bills, oh the joys. I’ll keep you all updated on the progress!

I have also been asked to write for a running website, so 1-2 times per month I’ll be posting there. I’ll be covering gear, training, race reports, and form. When the site re-launches I’ll post all the excitement!

I will also be doing a weekly post for work, covering the topic of summer camp. I’ll write about how to prepare, what parents should talk about with their children, and general benefits of a camp experience.

Finally, I’ve been working on a few guest posts, and will continue throughout the summer. I’m being considered for a couple sites right now, if they are accepted I’ll re-post here. Rest assured you’ll get to read the wonderful content 🙂

Life & Work

The biggest reason I’m reducing my weekly post load is because life is going to become very busy for the next 4 months, and I want to prepare for the chaos. I work at a Camp Rockmont, and April-July is our busy season. In fact, today there are 400 people on the property for an event, and I’m on call. Work will only accelerate though, and rather than post 4 times a week and then going off the grid for 10 weeks, I’m spacing out the meaningful essays.

As you can see, there is still plenty of writing to come from me, I’m just being smart about when and where the essays are posted. Anything I write for other sites will also be linked here, so don’t think you have to go searching around. I’ve written before about the importance of regular posting (recommended by many great writers), instead of a barrage of posts in a short amount of time. If you’re in the same boat, be patient, writing is an endurance activity. 

If you would like to help me out, send your suggestions for posts and topics, and I’ll add them to my list. I really appreciate everyone has been reading my ramblings over the past few months, it has been a great journey so far! Your feedback and comments help fuel my desire to keep writing. You’re the awesome-sauce to my creative stew.


Chicago: A City in Review

My wife and I were in Chicago for the past 3 days, and thoroughly enjoyed our visit. We had great food, walked everywhere, took in the culture, saw the Bean, visited the Zoo & Field Museum, and hit up the nightlife. Great times had by all! I wanted to share some of the pictures and highlights from the trip, if you’ll indulge me…

Best Sight 

We loved Cloud Gate, aka “The Bean, so big and shiny! It was smack-dab in the middle of the city, near the water, and Grant Park surrounding it.

Best Food

Deep-dish pizza at Lou Malnati’s, and Breakfast at Yolk. This was less of a culinary journeythan some of our other trips, but these 2 places did not disappoint. We had the Veggie Lou pizza, then massive omelets, eggs benedict, and pancakes at Yolk. Fantastic.

Best Attraction 

Lincoln Park Zoo. I couldn’t believe it’s free, since LPZ is the best zoo I’ve been to period! Very well done, clean, and friendly staff. They had gorillas, lions, bears, polar bears, llamas, camels, and much more. Did I mention it was free?!

Most Frustrating Experience

My bike was stolen within 2 hours of our arrival. We had read that Chicago was a bike-friendly city, so we brought our bikes along for the trip. The first place we locked them up, poof, they were gone, cable lock snipped in half. The Police at Navy Pier did a great job recovering Morgan’s bike, but the thief got away with mine. To their credit, the CPD were very helpful and friendly, but I’ve likely seen the last of my bike.

Best Statue

Bob Newheart and his uncomfortable couch. Which he fake-interviewed me on. I always love these.

Best Place to Stop and Smell the Flowers

Chicago Conservatory, a giant greenhouse next to the Zoo. A really cool place to relax and see an entire ecosystem of plants, including the life-giving coffee bean tree! The picture above is the Crib of Venus Orchid, truly stunning.

Best View of the City

Is from the apex of the Navy Pier Ferris Wheel. Go ride it at sunset, like we did. An incredible view of the city skyline.

Best Way to Feel Like a Kid Again

Ride the ferris wheel and the spinning chains of dizziness (I did not ride the chains of dizziness, Morgan did). Morgan did both of these and claims this “Best of”.

Best Random Sight

A giant statue of Marilyn Monroe in her classic Seven Year Itch “mishap”. Didn’t expect to see that going down Michigan Ave.

Best Picture I Don’t have a Category for

Sunset going through the trees at Grant Park, looking towards the skyline. Love it.

In Conclusion

We will definitely going back to Chicago, with better bike locks this time! It was a fun, vibrant city, with plenty going on, good food, active people, and efficient public transportation. Maybe back for the Chicago Marathon in 2013? Count us in.

Who else has been to Chi-Town? Anything we missed out on? What were your favorite experiences?

What to Look for this Week, and a Reading List

Good morning everyone, I’ve been in Chicago the past few days, enjoying deep dish pizza, dueling piano bars, and the Field Museum. Pictures to come! Ok, 1 picture now.

Cloud Gate aka "The Bean"

Here are the books, sites, and articles that have been speaking to me this week, hope you find something here that speaks to you as well. I’ll be back to regular posting on Wednesday, working on the topic of Jesus and simple living.

For today, here is what I’m reading:

The Thank You Economy: I’ve just started, but am really diving in. How we communicate with our clients and treat them as people is the most important aspect in business today. Even in a down economy, people will pay more for the same product/service if the customer care is better. I know I do. Will keep you updated.

7 Remarkably Simple Ways to Become a Stronger Runner (and maybe even enjoy it)!: I’ve been reading a lot of Matt’s work lately, during my own foray in to vegetarian and quasi-vegan eating habits. I always thought as an athlete, I need large amounts of meat to perform my best. Now, being 90% meat free for a month now, I don’t really miss it. When I do eat meat, I feel pretty bad (though it is delicious). This post isn’t about nutrition, but a good primer in kick-starting your running.

What You Need to Know Before Starting a WordPress Blog: I came across this post because I’ve been researching the transition to a self-hosted WordPress blog. This post is one of the best for quickly covering the basics of your launch.

50 Centuries of Work = 5 Important Lessons: This is really a short book review, but Dan offers us enough meat to tell 1 important fact – “Choose a career for intrinisic rewards, not the financial rewards”. This looks like a book I may be reading in the future.

Is Liberal and Conservative In Our Hard-Wiring?: Richard Rohr is always thought-provoking, and in an election year he serves up this basic question of political nature vs. nurture. A good read that takes a couple minutes.

Failure is an Option: Great advice from Vern, who speaks about failure in the context of athletics, but is applicable across many disciplines. A great quote in the article is “failure sucks but instructs.” If you are an athlete I highly recommend adding Vern to your permanent reading list.

Dating Advice from 1944 – How to Pick Your Right Girl:

Good ol’ Art of Manliness, digging through the archives and coming up with this gem. If you are a guy navigating the world of dating, give this a read, and give a lot of thought to what truly matters to you in the long run.

I’ve already found my right girl, and she’s under Marilyn Monroe’s dress…

Well that’s a good list for the week, what have you guys and gals been reading? I hope that your week is full of blessings and challenges. We need them both to stay sharp!

In Celebration of the Awesome

Celebrating the bottom of the Grand Canyon

I have an awesome life. Simply in the basic comforts of health, food, shelter, clothes, I am richer than most in the world. But for me, in my American plenty, there are plenty of other aspects of my life that are awesome! What are they? Glad you asked!

  • Coffee every morning. I can even go somewhere and pay someone to make my coffee! And buy fancy coffee! Awesome!
  • Living on 500 acres, with room to run, hike, camp, bike, swim, play, and so much else. Awesome!
  • Starlit nights. Awesome!
  • Sunrises (with coffee, it’s early man). Awesome!
  • 12 Bones BBQ, only get the ribs man, and corn pudding. Awesome!
  • Pad Thai is freakin’ epic. Awesome!
  • American Apparel Track T’s. Awesome!
  • A long, un-timed hike/run/bike in the woods. Awesome!
  • Any time I laugh. Awesome!
  • Rockin’ out with Mumford and Sons. Awesome!
  • Vacations, and that I make enough money to not have to work for a couple weeks and go just go do stuff hundreds of miles away! Awesome!
  • National, state, county, city, community parks. Awesome!
  • Yosemite, Great Smoky Mountains, Grand Canyon, Zion, and Rocky Mountain National Parks. Awesome!
  • Snow (except this winter). Awesome!
  • Fall colors, spring colors, and winter’s absence of color. Awesome!
  • Ice cream. Awesome!
  • Waking up today. Awesome!

I encourage you to take a moment (or several) during your day to appreciate the awesomeness of life. Our lives are pretty amazing, even the bad parts, meaning white-american bad. Times when Sunny Pointe is out of biscuits (AHHHHHHHHH!), my phone takes 15 seconds to upload a picture (the humanity!), or the ATM is out of order (why are you punishing me God!), everything is still ok.

Don’t take your awesomeness or happiness for granted, and don’t let jerks get in the way of it. They want to downplay your first 5k? Screw them. That arrogant music “expert” wants to tell you that the Avett Brothers have sold out to the man? Not friends anymore! Someone trying to tell you that your favorite restaurant is over-rated? You know they can do? STICK IT!

Your enthusiasm will rub off on others. Spending time with you and your happiness with the awesomeness of life will be awesome! I’m not saying you should be a pie-in-the-sky crazy person, but if we all can’t kick back and realize how good life is, then shame on us. Give someone a hug, a high-five, call a buddy and reminisce about your epically epic road trip, or plan a new adventure. There is a lot of awesomeness in the world!

You can find plenty of posts on this site about giving back and caring for others, but I wanted to celebrate the awesomeness that is day-to-day life and adventures.

Please join me in the comments and share what is awesome in your life! If you are a twitter user, tweet @mattragland and use the hashtag #awareofawesome.

[To feel even more aware of the awesomeness of life, go read Neil Pasricha’s blog 1000 Awesome Things]

Disclaimer: This essay was hugely inspired by Brendan Leonard’s post in Adventure Journal. High five! Also, Brendan curses in his post.

What Is Your Morning Ritual?

I had a great morning. I slept a full night, woke up, let the dog out, and made coffee. I read the daily C.S. Lewis while the coffee was brewing. Once fixed, I sat down and read Mark 5:21-43, taking notes. Then I prayed through my list, and read aloud Psalm 1-2. To finish, I went through a couple yoga sequences to wake my body up. The entire ritual took me less than 45 minutes. If you don’t count coffee prep and caring for the dog, less than 30. Good morning.

This is a rare example for me. Like many of us, I tend to stay up late, sleep late, rush through my morning, leaving no room to center myself through ritual practice. The days I am able follow a ritual, I feel more alert, patient, and peaceful. Days starting at a frantic pace stay frantic. I snap at people, am hard on myself, and feel listless. When I consider the components of what makes a morning ritual important, I realize I am leaving space to awaken in mind, body, and spirit.

When I make coffee, certainly the caffeine does its bit of magic, but grinding the beans, the smell, waiting for the brew, and the warmth of the cup all help awaken my senses.

Alternatives: Hot tea, a quick breakfast, juice.

Reading C.S. Lewis begins allowing the gears to turn in my mind. The passages are short, and give me something tangible to consider for the day. It is also easier than jumping directly in to scripture.

Alternatives: Book of poetry, daily practice or devotional book. Simply a short, digestible reading to begin. 

Reading scripture and praying centers my soul. It reminds me of the presence of a God and a mission greater than myself. It keeps me from thinking too highly of my own talents and gifts. Or, I re-align my talent with how it can serve others.

Alternatives: A different book of faith, a novel, poetry. Instead of prayer, then time to meditate, and be thankful for what you have. 

Yoga and physical challenges get my blood flowing and finish the job of waking up my body and mind. Most days I prefer yoga, because it allows me to stay in an even flow. Running or lifting weights requires more time to warm up, and complete. Running in the mornings is great, but usually I have to sacrifice part of the ritual in order to run. Sometimes it’s fine, sometimes it’s not. I go with what I’m feeling. Since I have begun the Thousand Cuts program, I don’t get as stressed over not working out in the morning.

I want to re-iterate this ritual does not occur every morning. It’s a hope. I also have a stripped down version of coffee, scripture, and praying on my way to the office. I’m a work in progress. But giving movements to a ritual will help create space for it to happen. It likely won’t happen every day for you either, and don’t beat yourself up over those days. But I guarantee waking up 30 minutes earlier to be alone and center will make a huge difference in your day.

What is your morning ritual? If it’s not what you hope, what would it look like?

What To Do Next Time You’re Wronged

Creative Commons via Dustin and Jenae

We’ve all been wronged, sometimes by people close to us, people we work with, and by strangers. What is our initial response? Surprise, hurt, thoughts (or actions) of vengeance. I know I do. How about instead, we take these 5 steps:

  1. Forgive them
  2. Take them out to dinner
  3. Apologize for your wrongs
  4. Consider ways you’ve neglected them
  5. Ask how you can help

Consider September 11th. Instead of war (which I was in favor of at the time, hooray patriotism), what if George W. Bush had personally flown over to the Middle East and tried to have dinner with Osama. He then proceeded to apologize, on behalf of the American people, for turning a blind eye to the suffering and conflict in their countries, and offer aid. Then the American people volunteered in droves to fly over and provide assistance to the Afghani, Iraqi, and Irani people (they shall beat their swords in to plowshares… nation shall not lift up swords against nation… neither shall they learn war anymore – Isaiah 2:3-5). They would give food, help with farming, provide training and education, medical care, and all the while saying, “I’m sorry it took me so long to do this”.

How would that have changed the past 10 years? If we continue to answer violence with more violence, there is no end in sight. Martin Luther King, Jr saw this in the 60s, and organized a non-violent movement, saying “Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that”. Ghandi did the same in India, gaining independence from Britain where years of revolts had not. At the beginning there was Jesus, speaking radical, life-altering words.

  • Forgive them not just 7 times, but 70 times 7! (Matthew 18:21-22)
  • If someone wrongs you, turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:38-39)
  • If someone asks for your shirt, do this and give them your jacket as well (Matthew 5:40-42)
  • Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you (Matthew 5:43-45)

I am not saying that doing any of this condones injustice or violence, quite the opposite. We should actively seek to end them! But not through more guns, bombs, and soldiers. We should fight through love, sacrifice, and courage. To stand up to the oppressor and fight with weapons they know nothing about takes courage that only God can provide. Could we die? Perhaps, but soldiers die every day (God rest them), gun in hand. Matthew 7:1-2 says that judgement is not ours, but belongs to God. When we go to war, even in “God’s name”, we are attempting to secure a peace that we do not believe God can or has already secured for us.

How does this change all of the conflicts, wars, and tension in relationships? What does this mean for Kony? I’m still learning about the situation that has helped form the man that is wreaking havoc in his country, and cannot speak knowledgeably about it. But is military action the answer? I can’t find anything in the Gospels that says violence begets violence. The enduring message is love, love, love.

This is not simply a essay on war, because there are pressing issues in our own homes, communities, and work places. What if you did this next time you were in conflict with another person?  When someone cheats you, insults you, harms you, what if you took the radical step of forgiveness? Not only that, but turned the other cheek, or bought them lunch? That is the really crazy part! Sure forgiveness, fine. But to actively seek them out and improve the relationship? Often our response is to cling to our hurt, and allow that to seep its way in to our soul.

Christians do this, even after verbally forgiving a person, will neglect them and not be a part of relationship healing. We will not let go of our hurt, because it gives us a reason to ignore them. By the way, I am not any better at this than anyone else. I hold grudges, I ignore people, I was for the war in the Middle East, and seek my own comfort first.

But this is not what we’re called to do. We are called to love, forgive, and seek wholeness each day. It is not through our own actions that this is accomplished, but by our openness to having God work in and through us. I woke up this morning with this topic on my mind. I don’t take credit for the essay, God placed it on my heart. I’m stopping here because I feel like everything he wanted me to say has been said, and I don’t need to dress it up anymore with my own words, SEO search terms, or minimum word counts. God’s going to do what God’s going to do. I am a cup that has been filled, and poured out.

What do you think about all of this? Sounds crazy, right? It is. But so is the rest of the Gospel. Let’s talk about it.

Happy Birthday Mom, 15 Reasons Why You’re Awesome

Today is my Mom’s birthday, she is a wonderful lady and has been a great influence on me. Allow me to celebrate her a little with everyone.

15 Reasons Why my Mom is Awesome 

My Mom and I at Johns Rock, in Pisgah National Forest

  1. She had 5 kids. That’s a lot. I don’t have any kids yet, but I’m sure all 5 of us was no picnic!
  2. She home schooled each of us until at least 7th grade. Her degree is in education, so she has training in teaching, but not in all subjects while varying grades between 9th, 7th, 3rd, Kindergarden, while caring for a 3 year old. Oh, 1999 must have been a challenging year! Besides that, she taught us well, academically we all transitioned well to school and eventually college.
  3. My Mom is patient. See above.
  4. She is a great cook, and while growing up was emphatic that we all ate together. As society has changed and family dinners became less of a priority, she held ground in keeping us around the table. And the food was great.
  5. She made us eat vegetables. Cooking vegetables, chopping fruit, and cooking fresh food is more time-consuming than set it and forget it, but the benefits to our early health were significant. I’m glad she didn’t take the easy way of TV dinners to provide our nutrition.
  6. My Mom loves coffee. ‘Nuff said.
  7. She is willing to let me go. I went to summer camp at age 10, flew alone at 13, attended college out of town, and we’re now living 500 miles apart. Throughout life, she has shown the wisdom to allow me to leave. This is also growing increasingly rare, as parents try to control everything in their kid’s lives. I’m not saying there were no rules, but what I could do and take responsibility for, I did.
  8. She insisted I make phone calls. Mentioned above, she didn’t do things for me that I was capable of handling myself, like making a phone call. Little by little, this built up the belief that I was capable of handling my life. When I went to college, I knew I would be ok.
  9. She loves sports. My siblings and I have been playing sports since I was 6, giving her 22 years of near-perfect attendance at various football, basketball, baseball, track, cross-country, volleyball, and lacrosse games. She also listens to sports radio on a regular basis and has a working knowledge of the Florida & Florida State football rosters. What a gal.
  10. She is active. We are a very active family, and she hikes, bikes, plays and runs with all of us. She’s run a couple half-marathons, the River Run 15k several times, and a sprint triathlon. We used to joke that the kids received all of our athletic skill from our Dad, who’s a great athlete, but it’s true that she had a genetic hand in that as well.
  11. She encouraged my development away from sports. I took music lessons, a little art training, read voraciously, and of course my writing.
  12. She loves our family, and all other people, very much. She also is open to admitting her mistakes and growing edges, bringing a great wholeness to her life.
  13. She is present. When you’re talking to her, she doesn’t become distracted. She’ll look you in the eye and listen. However long it takes, she’ll give you the time. Since she only has 1 kid left at home now, my Mom spends a lot of time building relationships with women in the area. We joke that she only has friends under 35 years old, but part of that is because a lot of these younger women look to her for the wisdom that can only be accumulated through 31 years of marriage, 29 years of motherhood, and today 54 years of straight-up life.
  14. She provided a solid spiritual foundation for me. We grew up in a Christian home, and she emphasized the gospel messages of love, unselfishness, caring for others, and living a life that is for God’s glory. That has continued to evolve throughout her life, and she told me about Tullian’s sermons, which inspired last week’s post.
  15. She practices her faith in tangible ways. In 2010 she went to Haiti for a week, gettin’ in the mess for God. She works with a local ministry that supports women in the seedier areas of Jacksonville, especially those who struggle with drug addiction and/or prostitution (read more here). She felt convicted about being the change of God in the area, and not simply praying for it.

See, told you she was awesome!

Happy Birthday Mom, I love you,


p.s. My Dad is a great man, and my parents were incredible partners and leaders for me. But I’ll write about him at a different time, today is Mom’s day.