Race of Grace 5k



The warmer weather and longer days are beckoning many of us outdoors after some dismal winter months.  The popularity of road races will soon become evident as communities hit the streets to sweat in honor of their favorite charities, to challenge their fitness, or just as an excuse to delight in the outdoors with loved ones.

North Carolina boasts innumerable road races year-round, but there is only one we know of that has a ‘Clergy Division’ as a prize category: the Race of Grace and House Your Neighbor 5k.  This 3.1 mile run/walk was formerly the Race of Grace 5k, which began in 2004 when 65 United Methodist Churches participated in the event to help alleviate suffering of neighbors impacted by hunger, homelessness, and lack of adequate healthcare.

race for grace

Since then, they have joined forces with the NCSU chapter for Habitat for Humanity to offer one great big event!  Over the past 14 years, these two events have given away over $340,000!  This year, Habitat for Humanity of Wake County will be the beneficiary.

Want to get involved? Check out their website to register to walk/run, donate, and volunteer.  They’ve also put promotional resources together, including bulletin blurbs for your worship bulletin or posters for the church halls.

We wish the event a great success and applaud the Race of Grace’s efforts to promote physical activity and enjoyment of the outdoors along with raising money to help provide shelter for our neighbors.

The Lord does not delight in the strength of the horse nor the speed of the runner, but the Lord takes delight in those who fear him and who hope in his steadfast love.

Psalm 147: 10-11

Catherine Wilson

Photo by flickr user Jim Larson, via Creative Commons.

Music that moves you


My music career has been utterly unsuccessful (sorry, Mom). Consider the evidence:

I was an enthusiastic member of the school chorus, but most directors quickly determined that I was best situated in the company of stronger voices. My one ‘solo’ in middle school was actually a speaking part.

My most fervent memory of handbell choir was the time where our music minister stopped me mid-performance and had us all start from the top.

One Christmas, I requested and received a keyboard. Sadly neither rhythm nor coordination was included. Undeterred, another year, I asked for a set of bongos. I thought that perhaps a percussion instrument that afforded two surfaces on which to play would set me up for greater success. No luck.

Happily, my lack of musical talent does not dampen my interest in music. I particularly love music when I run and when I drive. I’ve found truth in research that suggests that music can have a profound influence on mood and often serves as a boost during exerciseDr. Nina Kraus, a professor of neurobiology at Northwestern, studies the effects of music on the nervous system. She says, “Our bodies are made to be moved by music and move to it.”

One group that is moving me lately is Mumford & Sons. I am not alone in this: many coworkers and pastors we work with seem to have songs from this English folk rock band sprinkled through their playlists and echoing in their minds.

Spirited Life participant Jason Byassee is among them. In a recent piece on the Christian Century’s blog, Jason contends that Mumford & Sons is the most important band for the church since U2. He states that the band’s power as performers, lyricists, and musicians stems from their language of faith and because the themes of love and friendship in their songs are beautiful, simple, and honest:

“One commentator pointed out the deep pathos in “I Will Wait.” Its lyrics are so simple as to be barely quotable here; the chorus repeats the title over and over again…But you can’t belt that line unless you’ve had someone fail to wait for you before. Unless you’ve been betrayed, left hanging, shut out—and you’re making a promise not to do that to someone else. It’s a song about friendship. And not much else is worth singing about with that kind of self-forgetful ecstasy.”

One of my favorite excerpts from Mumford & Sons’ music is from the song ‘Sigh No More’:

Love it will not betray you
Dismay or enslave you, it will set you free
Be more like the man you were made to be
There is a design, an alignment, a cry
Of my heart to see,
The beauty of love as it was made to be

For me, it is a modern day 1 Corinthians 13 (love is patient, kind…) crossed with Romans 8 (freedom for children of God), with an enchanting melody and a rhythm that resounds deep in my soul, moving my feet, fingers, and heart.

Thanks be to God for those to whom the gift of music has been granted so generously. I am jealous of your talent…but I am working through that, and your music helps.

Catherine Wilson

Images courtesy of Creative Commons users @kMeron & kDamo

Mountain Craft School


For individuals looking get away for a few days, get their minds off work, AND pick up a new hobby, the John C. Campell Folk School might be just the place.

Nestled in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina in the town of Brassville, two hours west of Asheville, the Folk School offers a beautiful and peaceful setting in which to learn or polish up on a variety of traditional mountain crafts, including basketry, jewelry making, quilting, woodworking, metalworking, photography, storytelling, cooking, and dance, just to name a few. Participants can choose from 860 weekend or week-long classes; in addition to class instruction, participants are treated to lodging, homemade meals, and evening entertainment.

The Folk School describes the experience in this way:

Our distinctive educational experiences allow students to acquire new skills, not only as artists, but as thoughtful individuals working together in a community.  Students accomplish things here that they never thought possible. They learn to build, create, and craft new things in a no pressure environment— a rarity in today’s world.

Come on, get creative!  Your Spirited Life small grant could go a long way toward the cost of a few days learning, creating, and relaxing at John C. Campbell Folk School.

-Katie Huffman

(Photo by Flickr user darkfoxprime)

The Healthy Mind Platter


It seems there are no shortage of riffs on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s food pyramid and (newer) choose my plate graphics, which depict the food groups that should be included as part of a healthy diet.  A few weeks ago, we blogged about the Food for Thought Pyramid, a tongue-in-cheek look at what really makes us healthy.

Here’s another, the creation of Daniel Siegel and David Rock, who wondered what the equivalent ‘diet’ would be for a healthy mind.  They developed The Healthy Mind Platter, with seven daily essential mental activities they claim are necessary for optimum mental health.  These activities serve to both strengthen your brain’s internal connections and your connections with those you share your life with.

There is not a temporal serving size for each component, as every individual is different and their needs may change over time.  The goals of The Healthy Mind Platter are to draw attention to a spectrum of essential mental activities and to encourage people to take steps toward achieving balanced mental health by including each of those activities in their daily routine, even if only for a few moments.

I was particularly interested by the yin and yang, the opposite and complimentary nature of the activities.  For example, ‘focus time’ is defined as time spent pursuing tasks in a goal-oriented way, taking on challenges that make deep connections in the brain, whereas ‘down time’ is non-focused time, which allows the mind to completely wander and relax, allowing the brain to recharge.  The same contrasting nature exists between time spent sleeping and time being physically active, or time spent connecting with others versus ‘time in,’ which they describe as time spent quietly reflecting internally.

I wonder if individuals have a tendency to spend more time on one end of the continuum than on the other end and whether the task of investing equal amounts of time on both ends of the spectrum is challenging.  For example, I sometimes have a tendency to overbook connecting with friends and family, and this leaves me little time for meditation and journaling, which are activities I’ve found to be equally important to my ability to recharge.

One way the platter’s creators suggest using the tool is to map out an average day in your life and see how much time you spend engaged in each activity.  If you find there is an activity that is not a part of your routine, consider whether there is there a way to insert even 2 or 3 minutes of it each day. After all, we appreciate the importance of variety in a nutritionally balanced diet, so why shouldn’t it be the same when it comes to mental health?

Catherine Wilson

Image used with permission. © 2011 David Rock and Daniel J. Siegel, M.D. (www.neuroleadership.org; www.drdansiegel.com).

Get out of here!


I love going out into the woods this time of year.  Many of the leaves have drifted to the ground, giving the sunlight more room to reach the forest floor.

I find that my mind clears even as I’m stepping out of my car, and by the time I am away from the noise of any passing traffic, I am in another world, both externally and internally.  My breath settles into a calm rhythm as my feet find their pace, and I remember that I am a body as well as a mind.

The presence of my 7-year-old daughter turns these walks into treasure hunts, and we find all sorts of fairy houses, acorns, colorful leaves, mushrooms (don’t worry, we don’t disturb those!) and pine cones.  I see different things when I am with her, and I love the sight that comes with solitude as well.  Most of all, it is just good to get outside and get the “good tidings” of the woods.

Where do you find “nature’s peace” and the “freshness” of God’s creation?

Words and images by Caren Swanson

Your Favorite Song Could Improve Your Health


We all have that one song that never fails to lift our spirits or melt away our stress – even if it’s just for a little bit.  The song might change over time (I know mine has!), but that perfect song has a way of bringing warmth to your heart every time you hear it. What’s yours? For me, it could be almost anything sung by Michael Bublé.  But if I had to pick just one, it would be “Come Fly With Me” by Frank Sinatra.  Even the name is uplifting!

The ability of music to bring joy and reduce stress has been recognized for centuries by cultures all over the world.  Many texts, including the Bible, frequently reference the beauty of music, singing, and dancing and their positive effect on our moods.  One such example is Isaiah 30:29.

         You shall have a song
         As in the night when a holy festival is kept,
         And gladness of heart as when one goes with a flute,
         To come into the mountain of God,
         To the Mighty One of Israel.

Over the years, researchers have explored the various ways in which listening, playing, and dancing to music can help improve our physical and mental health.  As it turns out, there are quite a few!

Studies have found that too much or too little of certain hormones, such as cortisol, oxytocin, β-endorphin, and serotonin, can increase stress, blood pressure, anxiety, depression, risk for heart disease.  Music, however, appears to counteract many of these health problems by reducing stress, which has been shown to:

  • Alleviate or prevent episodes of anxiety and depression
  • Promote healthy activity (i.e., dancing, exercise)
  • Encourage feelings of relaxation
  • Calm and sedate (which promotes sleep)
  • Decrease blood pressure
  • Improve auto-immune response
  • Improve communication (particularly in those with Alzheimer’s)
  • Enhance memory
  • Reduce pain sensation
  • Shorten recovery time after surgery
  • Reduce some drug dosages for pain by up to 50% among hospital patients

So turn on some music while you’re cooking dinner.  Attempt a few notes on that instrument you’ve been meaning to pick up again.  Go dancing. Sing along to the radio on your drive home or to your children as you tuck them into bed at night.  Whatever kind of music tickles your fancy, odds are, it’s good for your health – so crank it up (though not too loud — got to protect those ears!)

And with that, here is a little something to get you going.


Melanie Kolkin


Music, Health, and Wellbeing by Raymond MacDonald, Gunter Kreutz, and Laura Mitchell

Music therapy provides mental, physical benefits by Mark Canny

The benefits of music in hospital waiting rooms by RL Routhieaux and DA Tansik

Music enhances the effect of positive emotional states on salivary IgA by Rollin McCraty, Mike Atkinson, and Glen Rein

(Photo by Flickr user craigCloutier via Creative Commons)

What’s your passion?


In The Happiness Project, both a best-selling book and popular blog, author Gretchen Rubin takes a whole year to explore various techniques for adding joy to and removing stress from her life.  She identifies several aspects of life such as marriage, friendships, parenting, work, money, play, and passion, creating resolutions for each area and then chronicling her experiences as she works through them monthly.

The book and blog have some really interesting and concrete suggestions of even small steps you can take to feel happier, more organized, and more grateful.  Here are just a few of Rubin’s experiments: going to bed earlier (and how she accomplishes this!), giving “proofs of love” to her husband, taking time to be silly, starting a gratitude journal.  Readers are also encouraged to come up with their own happiness projects.

Rubin’s September task is to “pursue a passion.”  What’s so important about pursing a passion?  Rubin remarks, “happiness research predicts that making time for a passion and treating it as a real priority instead of an ‘extra’ to be fitted into a free moment (which many people practically never have) will bring a tremendous happiness boost” (p. 223).

For the author, this resolution is simple; she knows what her passion is:  she loves books – reading, writing, and even making them.  Identifying a passion is not easy for everyone.  In fact, Rubin learns from her blog readers that the question “what’s your passion” can “seem so large and unanswerable that [people] feel paralyzed” (p. 223). Rubin says,

If so, a useful clue to finding a passion to pursue, whether for work or play, is to ‘Do what you do.’  What you enjoyed doing as a ten-year-old, or choose to do on a free Saturday afternoon, is a strong indication of your passion… ‘Do what you do’ is helpful because it points you to examining your behavior rather than your self-conception and therefore may be a clearer guide to your preferences (p. 223).

Have you discovered your passion and taken steps to make it a priority in your life?  We’d love to hear about your experience.  Not sure what your passion is?  Check out Psychology Today‘s five steps to finding it.

Katie Huffman

Photo by Flickr user CHEZ ANDRE 1 (via Creative Commons)

Thoughts while hanging laundry


One of my most cherished “simple pleasures” in life is hanging my laundry out to dry in the sun.  I like it so much that I even do it when it’s not sunny, though it’s not quite as enjoyable then!

I love the fact that it’s free (and earth-friendly!), that it makes my clothes last longer, and that they smell so fresh when I put them on.  I love the repetitive motion of my body bending and reaching, the sound of the wind snapping the clothes, and how it grounds me in the physical care of my family.  Most of all, I enjoy doing something that is “simple” enough that it allows my mind to wander.  So much of my day I am preoccupied with a million little thoughts and tasks, but stopping for 20 minutes to hang the laundry forces me to slow down and notice things I wouldn’t otherwise see–the way the light filters through the willow oak leaves overhead, the spider busily weaving her web beneath the back porch light, the neighbor’s cat stretching in the patch of sunlight.  It is a relief to pause in the busyness of the day and just BE for a few minutes.

Frequently in my calls with pastors I hear stories of the incredible courage and attentiveness that is required to do the work of day-in and day-out pastoral care.  I hear of the challenge of balancing work and family, and of worries about finances and retirement.  I often ask the pastor I’m speaking with, “How do you keep your head above water in the midst of all your responsibilities?” or, “What keeps you grounded?”  I have yet to hear someone say that hanging their laundry on the line is what keeps them sane, but whatever it is that helps you discover the sacredness of your own life, I hope you can make some time for it today.  In my experience, the time I give myself to slow down and pay attention to the beauty of God’s creation always pays off.  I am left with both clean clothes and a clear head.  If we really do believe the “as yourself” part of the commandment to love our neighbor, perhaps the mundane tasks that keep us rooted in our own lives and bring us joy can be their own small acts of worship–even the unconventional “liturgy” of hanging laundry.

–Reflection and images by Caren Swanson

Take A Plunge


I had a wonderful week of vacation with my family last month at the Outer Banks.  It got off to a slapstick start.  We had just pulled up to our rental house, the same one we’ve used for four summers now.  Before the car was even unloaded, the three kids had changed into their swimsuits and dashed toward the dock behind the house.  I followed them, under the guise of providing “adult supervision.”

I didn’t realize the end of the dock was wet and slick.  I took one bad step, slipped, skidded, and tumbled into the water of Albemarle Sound, fully clothed.  Sploosh–an unexpected plunge into a different element, cool green fishy liquid.

Body-wise I was okay, just a bit bruised and scraped.  Pride-wise, about the same.  Unfortunately, my cell phone was in my pocket.  I got it out of the water quickly, but it could not be resuscitated.  RIP Phone.

Now that’s one way to unplug during your vacation: destroy your cell phone on the first afternoon!

My wallet was also in my pocket, and got thoroughly soaked.  My wife brought it in the house, took it apart and spread out its contents on the kitchen table to dry.   I always find it somewhat mortifying to clean out my wallet, even in private, and this was a semi-public airing of my business.  Thankfully, there was nothing too embarrassing in there, just an astonishing amount of tucked-away junk, half-forgotten, some things I perhaps was hoping to forget.  Business cards whose relevance escapes me.  ATM receipts I’ll never look at.  Department store charge cards I never use.

All the photos that were in my wallet were on display.  My daughters quickly noticed that all my pictures of them dated from their pre-school or kindergarten days.  (The youngest is in middle school now, the oldest about to leave for college.)  Why no recent pictures, Dad?

One reason, I protested, was that our photos are mostly digital now, stored on a computer, not in my wallet.  But to be honest, another reason is to hold onto images of my girls when they were small, when they could (and would) sit in my lap, when life was simpler.

We had a nice conversation over the old pictures, remembering missing front teeth and Sunday dresses now long outgrown.

Now I’m back at work.  I have a new cell phone, on which I’ve promised to load some recent family pictures.  And my wallet has been pruned to about half the thickness it was before it went swimming.

A week’s vacation is usually the longest my wife and I can afford to take.  Some years I’ve realized it wasn’t enough time, feeling I was just beginning to relax and leave my worries behind on about Day 6.  This vacation was good, though–truly refreshing and re-energizing.  A sudden dunking in salt water got it off to an excellent start.

I sincerely hope you got, or will get, some time away this summer.  My prayer for you is that you receive a bracing splash in the face.  That something surprises and delights you.  That you have an experience that reveals you, shakes you out of your routine and re-focuses your perspective.

John James

Photo (C) 2005 by Ingrid Lemme