Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit

David and I are attempting to learn a piano duet by Bach called “Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit.” My translation (probably too literal and inaccurate) is, God’s time is the very best time.

We have been helped in this effort by a YouTube video of a couple playing the piece – they play it so smoothly and well that you’re led to believe the work will be easy (Gottes Zeit starts at 6:01 in the video). The bottom part (which I am playing) is not so bad, but David’s part is significantly harder, because it involves playing with his left hand crossed over his right. Who knows why the piece is played this way, but David says it’s a real challenge to make your left hand do what the right is supposed to and vice versa.

All of these pieces are amazing – Gottes Zeit starts at 6:01

I was reminded of this challenge earlier today, when I attempted to organize the hair dryer and brush while facing the mirror. How do people know which way to move in this situation – backwards is forward, and left is right. Unless you’re looking in a reflection of the mirror, in which case everything is as it should be. One side is of my head is straightforward to style, because my hands don’t have to be crossed to do it and I can adjust to the backwards-forwards, left-right changes, but the other side is almost impossible, since I have to cross my hands and then look in the mirror and (sometimes) do the opposite of what I see. This sort of coordination is just too much.

It’s not as easy as this woman makes it look!

Lucky for me, having my hair look just so is not critical. I regularly wear a hat of some sort which, as everyone knows, can ruin even the best hair days. Last Sunday, for example, Bruce and Dean and I went for an outing around Point Defiance and then to The Red Hot for a snack. We heard that it was getting close to their Darkest Day of the Year (DDOY) event, wherein they have a wide variety of super dark beers (porter, stout, and other molasses-like drinks), and we thought we might luck into that. Unfortunately (for Bruce) TRH wasn’t celebrating the Darkest Day of the Year on Sunday. They’re doing that today, when it actually IS the shortest day in northern hemisphere. The DDOY event, and the shortest day finally being here is something to be thankful for, even if you drink lagers or IPAs. Now we’ll have more light each day…

If we’re not careful, Advent can be a combination of trying to style to other side of your head while looking in a mirror, and heading into the darkest day of the year. Not the DDOY at TRH, but the actual solstice, when the available light is at a minimum. Maybe it’s different for you, but I often feel discombobulated during these weeks – as if my hands are crossed and I’m trying to get the left one to pick up the slack for stuff the right hand hasn’t done yet. Routine has gone out the window and sometimes neither hand knows exactly what the other is doing or where it should go next. And this, I think, is not what Advent is meant to be.

Which is exactly why it is good to remember the title of the piece David and I are learning. Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit. God’s time is the very best time. This is what helps my hands to uncross. This is what helps me to stop and remember that my hair doesn’t have to look perfect – combed and dry is good enough – and that God’s time comes whether I get everything done or not.

Hard to say

When the chance came in 2003, I was thrilled to move back to the Pacific Northwest. The move followed a 10-year sojourn in the land of sunny skies – first in Texas, then in Utah. These were fine places to live, but the skies in Utah and central Texas are, frankly, boring. The Washington sky has much more to recommend it.

Have you ever thought about how hard it would be to paint these skies? Jason once told me that the sky is tricky to get right, even without clouds. Add in clouds and the puzzles to be solved increase multiply (exponentially). It’s hard to make a sky look like the one that’s right in front of you, or sometimes even like the sky.

Describing something that doesn’t want to be described is the same – choosing the the right words to say what you mean is often hard challenging. Then there’s the work of making sentences do what you want, and paragraphs line up correctly. Know what I mean?

1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows by Ai Weiwei is a master class in choosing the right words and sentences and paragraphs. It says something true, because the author has distilled his memories, boiling away many (some, most) of them, or leaving them in the sludge at the bottom of the still. What is left – the distilled stories about two world-renown Chinese artists (Ai Weiwei and his father Ai Qing) – makes them relatable. Almost ordinary, in fact. Even as it tells of two lives formed in a world utterly different from mine.

What needs to be noticed and described? How does a person choose the right words to say something true? Is it like trying to paint the perfect sky – too many colors and shapes to ever reproduce? Maybe so. 1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows makes me think maybe not. Hard to say.

Thanksgiving or Thanksgetting

This morning, I rode three pyramids on my trainer. For those of you not familiar with group cycling lingo, a pyramid is broken into one-minute intervals, each of which involves increasing work time and declining rest time. You start with 10 seconds of effort and 50 seconds of rest. The next minute is 20 seconds of effort followed by 40 seconds of rest. The third minute is 30-30. And so on, until you get to a full minute of effort. There is some debate about what should happen next (at the top of the pyramid), but my version always allows for 60 seconds of rest after a full minute of work. It only seems fair. So after the full minute of effort, I take a full minute off. Then I start down – 60 seconds of effort followed by 60 seconds of rest, then 50 seconds of effort followed by 10 seconds of rest, and blah blah blah until I get to 10 seconds of effort followed by 50 seconds of rest. After that, it starts all over again. Twice.

This three pyramids right before Thanksgiving workout is a tradition. The 5:45 “Tour de Nowhere” group cycling class did it for a number of years at the Y, and if not for the Y’s being closed last year due to “you know what,” and their replacement of group cycling this past spring with something called SPARK (whatever that is), my friends and I would probably still be gathering in the spin room the Wednesday before Thanksgiving to do this workout.

This tradition in particular makes me think about what a blessing the many friendships from that 5:45 group cycling class are to me. I get so much from these friends that it’s easy to give thanks for them. Friendship is one of the things that Thanksgiving is meant to celebrate. It is, if you will, a gift from God.

While friendship is a gift from God, I don’t think that God really needs my thanks in return. I’m not saying that one shouldn’t give thanks to God, but I am saying that God doesn’t give us things like friendship in order to receive our thanks. Instead of giving to get, as we do, I think God gives to give. I’ve noticed, though that when I give just to give, I often get something back in return. This might be a paradox, but it seems that giving to give often ends up leading to the bonus of getting.

Maybe this paradox can be explained by remembering that God gives because God is love. Christians are told to love one another as Jesus has loved us. This implies that we should give to give, not because we don’t need, but because this is what we are created to do. Luther would say that giving in this way is impossible for a person to do on their own, but that it can be accomplished through God’s free gift (!) of grace. When we love as God does, and accept the gift of God’s grace, exchange (and getting) take a back seat to what truly matters, and this is a good thing.

So give, get, it’s all the same. Watch football tomorrow, go outside for a walk (maybe in the rain), and give thanks. Maybe being grateful is a way to get thanks too.


It’s finally happened. The latest windstorm has blown the leaves off the tree outside my window. Or maybe the leaves just got tired and used the windstorm as an excuse to let go.

This used to be an October event, but in the last few years it’s shifted back to mid-November. Which means the end of fall leaves now accompanies thoughts of Thanksgiving sides. Whether to have cranberry sauce, and what kind of rolls and stuffing to make are currently under consideration. Jason has already solved the annual potato question.

Some years, I ask my students what their favorite Thanksgiving side is – stuffing often wins. One year I asked colleagues on a conference planning team to name their favorite side, and discovered that it is entirely possible to cut out the turkey and make a feast of just sides!

We’re considering a “just sides” Thanksgiving this year, since we aren’t traveling or having guests for the holiday. And this might be a good thing. Because, let’s be honest, the sides are the best part of the meal, and certainly where most of the cooking energy goes. Sure, we focus on the turkey (or tofurkey in the vegan world), but the real action of Thanksgiving lies elsewhere.

This, maybe, is what life is often like. While we’re busy focusing on the turkey – literally, and sometimes figuratively too, the real action and energy is in the sides. I wonder what it would mean to notice the sides of life in the same way we notice what seems like the main dish. Maybe life would be richer? Maybe it would be messier? Maybe it would be harder? Maybe it would be better?

I think the sides are where the action is at Thanksgiving. And the sides are where the action might be in life.

Peace Like a River

When peace like a river attendeth my way
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well with my soul.

I’ve had this old hymn running through my head lately. That first line – peace like a river – sounds just lovely, doesn’t it? For me it brings a scene like this to mind

This is a picture I took a few years ago just before my Dad died. It was, in some ways, a time of peace. Mom and I knew what the job was for each day, and every morning, we found the strength to do it. In some ways, the feeling was similar to most of THE RIDE, as each day’s job consisted mostly of simply being. So it seemed to me, anyway.

Is this the sort of peace that the hymn writer was talking about? That sense of waking up and knowing what the task for today is, even when it’s going to look different from yesterday, and even when you can see big changes on the horizon?

If this is what peace like a river is meant to be, then how do we find it in rivers that look like these? Can we find peace in a river like either one of these? Why even bother to look?

I think the rest of the verse offers an answer. Firstly, it talks about sorrows and sea billows rolling. I don’t know what a sea billow is, although I suspect it’s a super-sized version of tumult or overflow – in other words, not particularly peaceful. I do know what sorrows are, and how they roll. The verse goes in to say, “Thou hast taught me to say, it is well with my soul.” This is the key – we learn to say, it is well, no matter what the situation, or as the hymn writer claims, “Whatever my lot.”

Maybe the act of saying it is well with my soul actually makes it so. Maybe just saying the words refocuses one’s eyes so that one can re-see the river’s direction and what is needed next, even when the river doesn’t look particularly peaceful. Or at least see and recognize a moment of God’s rest and grace.

technically, not a river

Whatever your lot today, may you have a moment to say, “It is well with my soul.” And may you mean it. And may it be true.


Yesterday was All Saints day. This is one of my favorite days of the year, as it means the annual festival of strangers knocking on the door asking for candy is now over. That Halloween falls in the same week as three of the four birthdays at my house makes it extra busy. All Saints’ services often include the hymn that starts with, “For all the saints, who from their labors rest.” The holiday is to remember all those who have died, but the words ring true for me as well – November 1 means that busy October is finished.

By November 1, the leaves have committed to whatever color they’re going to turn – red, yellow, brown – and begun dropping. If it’s dry, they blow across the pavement and drift down from the trees in a kind of lazy precursor to snow. If it’s already rained, they’re a soggy mess on the ground. Either way, a corner has been turned from one season to the next.

Around here, guaranteed summer activities have ended by November 1. There could be a longer ride left to enjoy, but it would be something to savor as we settle in to winter, not something to count on. And definitely not something to use for training. These bonus rides are like that last little bit of toothpaste left in the tube – the bit that you weren’t sure you could get onto your toothbrush, but couldn’t bring yourself to throw away. If they happen, it’s worth celebrating. If they don’t, it’s not much of a loss since that tube was used up anyway.

Happy November, everybody. Enjoy the leaves, soggy or not. Go out to ride or hike because you love doing it, not because you’re training. Or don’t. You still have time before that big event next year!

Training Ernie

My dog Ernie is an ass. There’s really no other way to put it. He intends to be in charge of all he surveys, and will bark at any creature who comes his way to let them know this. Cats in the driveway, the UPS truck on the street, the mailman…all of these will set Ernie off. When we’re out walking, Ernie considers barking at all people who walk by, and is definitely ready to bark as soon as he sees another dog.

One of the ways to avoid encounters like this is to pull Ernie aside as soon as I see a “threat” approaching and make him sit and wait for the other creature to pass by first. Once he’s sitting, I usually have to remind Ernie to WAIT at regular intervals until the way forward is clear.


We had several of these pauses last night when Ernie and I went on a walk with my friend Sue. During one of our stops, Sue mentioned that her daughter’s dog Maggie is learning the word ADMIRE instead of WAIT. Both words can mean stop what you’re doing and pause for a bit, but the distinction between them is helpful for lots of reasons.

ADMIRE suggests activity, while WAIT does not. The outer effect is the same – a pause without movement before the next thing, but the inner sense of these words is completely different. ADMIRE is something to do, while WAIT is something to endure.

a pause to ADMIRE

ADMIRE also suggests appreciation for one’s surroundings, which WAIT does not. Again, the outer effect is the same, but the inner world of ADMIRE is a chance to look around and see whatever you choose, while WAIT is a command to stop until you are released. Same effect but completely different attitudes.

ADMIRE builds partnership because it offers some freedom during the pause, while WAIT serves as a command that reinforces a hierarchy. Hierarchy matters with dogs like Ernie, but even so it’s good to find ways to be together that invite collaboration.

A collaborative pause

Thanks, Sue, for mentioning this. I can’t promise that Ernie will be any better on our walks, but I’m so grateful for the reminder that the lesson of ADMIRE instead of WAIT has implications far beyond teaching my dog not to be such a jerk!

A just in time arrival

22 years ago today, I gave my first-ever test in Principles of Microeconomics. It was a Friday, and the class met from 9 to 10:15 am. There were close to 200 students enrolled, so the test was 50 multiple choice questions (4 points each), and students had the full 75 minutes to finish it. Being my first ever test for this class, I made it just a *tad* harder than it should have been and there was much grumbling and gnashing of teeth as students filtered down to the front to turn in their scantron answer sheets.

When I ran the tests through the scantron machine, I saw that scores were significantly lower than I had anticipated. Oops. But not to worry, as this was the first of three exams, plus a final, and now we all know better what to expect. I’d have to smooth things over during class on Monday, and all would be well.

Remember these?!

As it turns out, I didn’t make it to class that Monday, or to any meetings for the next five weeks, so I never got the chance to smooth things over. When I returned to class in early December, almost all of the students (even the good ones) had decided that I was the worst teacher they’d ever had, and my course evaluations for that semester reflected this fact. Many students went out of their way to thank the colleague who stepped in to take the class after I left. I sometimes wonder what my evals would have looked like if I’d been able to go back into class Monday morning and sort through that disaster of a first exam.

Why did I miss five weeks, you ask? Because early on Saturday morning, I went into labor. And after a full day of effort, Matt was born late that evening. Hands down, this is the best reason to miss class that I can think of! So happy birthday tomorrow, Matt. You turned that first-ever micro principles test into a minor blip in my teaching career.

Joy and trekking poles

In the midst of a wonderful day yesterday, I learned two things that are, I think, not unrelated. The day started in the mountains with a hike I’ve looked forward to for a long time, and ended also sort of in the mountains with something I rarely make time for. I want to talk about the sort-of mountain ending first, then I’ll get to the morning’s mountain fun.

The day ended with an almost three-hour movie – a big ask, even for movie buffs. But, as a project for our church, Laree and I watched A Hidden Life. Set in the mountains of central Austria, it is the story of Franz Jaegerstaetter, a farmer who refused to sign an oath of loyalty to Hitler in World War II. At least the setting – the mountains of central Austria – was beautiful. Here’s what a reviewer had to say:

Terrence Malick’s “A Hidden Life,” the true story of a World War II conscientious objector, is one of his finest films, and one of his most demanding. It clocks in at nearly three hours, moves in a measured way (you could call the pacing “a stroll”), and requires a level of concentration and openness to philosophical conundrums and random moments that most modern films don’t even bother asking for.

The review goes on to say, “There’s an unexpectedly elating quality to the red-faced impotence of Nazis screaming at Franz while he’s bound up at gunpoint, cursing him and insisting that his protests mean nothing. If they mean nothing, why are these men screaming?”

Beyond elation, the movie made me think of joy. I suppose this is an unusual claim for an epic tragedy, yet there was a sort of joy in both Franz and his wife Fani as they followed the path God called them to. I say joy because God’s call seemed crystal clear, even as it invited them to make many agonizingly hard choices. This clarity enabled Franz, while a prisoner, to say to his lawyer, “But I am free.” And in her final visit, Fani was able to say to her husband, “I am with you, whatever you do.” A clear sense of following God’s call is bound up in a deep joy that exists even in the midst of (underneath?) great suffering. Sometimes joy includes elation, and sometimes it does not. But it remains joy nonetheless.

This joy is a cousin to what I experienced earlier in the day, when I went for a hike in the mountains with my friend Sue. No, the hike didn’t involve life-threatening consequences, and the most challenging decision of the trip was deciding whether to order Coke Zero instead of Diet Coke at lunch. Still, the sense of God’s presence, and the joy that springs from it was hard to miss. Suffering was absent (it was sunny, not too warm, and blessedly bug free), making the joy that always lies underneath easy to find, and the troubles that surround it easy to set aside.

And finally, a footnote. One important thing I learned while hiking was the benefits of trekking poles. I’ve never walked with them before, and Sue was kind enough to give me her extra pair. My goodness – I had NO IDEA how helpful these little collapsible sticks are – they saved me (more than once) from tripping, falling, or tipping over. So, not only did I have the joy of hiking on a beautiful day in a beautiful place, I also received and learned to use a critical bit of hiking gear. Thanks, Sue!

Notes from the surgery corner

Today was my first ride outside in over two months.

I rode the Grandview loop with my friend Cheryl – a whopping 9.75 miles, at a tolerable (under 15 mph) pace. It felt just fine.

This is the first and last post of a series I was going to do called, “Notes from the Surgery Corner.” The series would have started earlier this year, when my surgery was scheduled and my spot in the spin room became the surgery corner.

In the before times, the spin room was like church. The regulars had their usual places, and the surgery corner moved around depending on who was having what done. In these viral times, the spin room is a lot less crowded. Even so, we’re still in our regular spots (more or less), and the surgery corner finally came around to mine.

A spin CD from the before times

But then, who wants to read a blog post about somebody’s impending surgery. Right? So I didn’t write that post.

Then I thought I’d start the series after the surgery took place and recovery was underway. But I was too tired, and besides, nobody wants to read about stitches and staple removal. So I didn’t write that post either.

A photo from the hospital window

So now, that I’ve got the all clear to do whatever I can comfortably do, I finally have something to say that people might want to read about. I’m getting back on my bike – inside for a while now, and outside for the first time today. That’s a post worth reading!

Bob on the trainer

And the surgery corner? My spot in the spin room is still there, but it’s back to just being my spot. For now, the surgery corner has disappeared.

The (former) surgery corner