All posts by Stephen Braunius

About Stephen Braunius

A learner who finds joy in the journey of life.

No Agenda

This is an article I wrote recently for a weekly email mailing for Fellowship Reformed Church of Holland

I recently took a trip to New York City with our daughter to visit a college. We drive through the night in order to make it to our hotel by around noon on the Friday. As we entered New York State, we talked about what we wanted out of our visit to the city. Strangely, we both were so focused on the actual trip and visit that we hadn't thought about how we wanted to spend our time. It turned out that we both just wanted to experience the city for what it was and not run around trying to catch popular tourist attractions.

We bought 7 day unlimited subway passes so we could travel wherever we wanted, whenever we wanted. This allowed us to get anywhere in a relatively short time. Our weather couldn't have been better, and on Saturday, we took the subway to the northernmost part of Central Park and then walked our way through the entire park. We experienced peaceful gardens, bright flowers, quiet paths, boisterous buskers, sleek radio controlled sailboats, and a wide diversity of people and animals.

Along the way we saw a large group of children listening to a storyteller. She spoke with an enthusiasm and passion that held everyone captive. Not an easy task when surrounded with so many distractions in the center of a bustling city. This image of a storyteller is what struck me as I listened to Pastor Lindsay share the the story of Naaman from 2 Kings 5:1-14.

We heard about how Naaman wanted to be healed in the way he envisioned. His plan was to follow some grandiose ritual prescribed by Israel's leaders. Instead, he was told to jump in a dirty river. Only after some convincing by his servants, was he willing to try this simple act. In his stubbornness, he almost missed out on being healed.

Naaman got trapped into trying to author his own life and experiences rather than being open to what God might do in him and for him. Pastor Lindsay applied it to our lives by saying, "When we write our own stories we miss out on what God has planned for us." It is so appealing to think through how everything should go rather than how we should be.

What might it be like to live in a way where we are open to the experiences God has for us rather than trying to script everything? What might it be like to be captivating storytellers who share what God has done rather than trying to be God? Who, that we least expect, might show up in our lives to speak truth? My sense is that we might experience a greater joy and peace than we ever thought was possible. I'm looking forward to hearing your surprising adventures as we all learn to live into the stories God has written for us.

Holland 100 2017

This past Saturday, July 15, 2017, I completed the Holland 100 for the third year in a row. Strangely, I think this was the hardest of all of the years. More about that later. Here are my notes to self as I think about future rides.

The Holland 100 is meant as a fun ride where people can choose 18, 35, 67, and 100 mile routes. One of the unique aspects of this ride is that all routes include a pancake breakfast at East Saugatuck Christian Reformed Church. Here is a copy of the route as captured by my Apple Watch:

I started the day by eating 2 sausage, egg, and cheese burritos that we made up at home. We then headed out to the Herman Miller Greenhouse facility. I started my ride at 7:30am. The first 30 miles felt great. I was keeping a steady pace at around 15 miles per hour and the weather was sunny and in the 60's. I skipped the first rest stop, 11 miles in, since I felt so good. This meant that I was committed to a 32 mile loop before returning to the same rest stop.

I started feeling tired at 40 miles and made a point to stop for refreshments and to rest my legs. I parked my bike and found some grapes and blueberries to eat. I also topped off my water bottles with water and Gatorade. To my surprise my family came running toward me. They tracked me down using the Find my Friends app on our iPhone and brought be a large half-cut iced tea from McDonalds along with an sausage mcmuffin. This was a huge boost to my spirits and meant that I wouldn't need to spend much time at the pancake breakfast stop. I continued on for the next 20 miles and felt challenged by the hills. My pace started to slow down. I stopped at Saugatuck Church and grabbed a cup of dark roast coffee and some watermelon. Once again, I topped off my water bottles. I had started the day with 2 bottles filled with fresh sweet tea. My thighs were feeling incredibly tight at this point so I took time to stretch which helped quite a bit.

I got back on the bike and the ride became more challenging as much of it was going into the wind. Mentally, I was feeling pretty down and wanted to give up so I put in some headphones to start listening to podcasts as a diversion. As I listened, which helped a lot, I then found myself looking at my bike computer every 30 seconds and getting discouraged that it didn't show more progress. I made a deal with myself to only look at the screen when I reached intersections. This gave me a boost of actually seeing progress when I did look at the screen. While all this was going on the sun was out in full force and I found myself fighting a headache and needing to drink many liquids. I took time to drink my slow release corn starch, water, Gatorade, salt mixture. It is a bit disgusting to look at, but seems to help fuel me well. I ended up only drinking 16 ounces out of a 32 ounce bottle.

The rest of the ride was more of the same: tight legs, headache, sun, drinking liquids, sore rear, and needing to stand up on the bike frequently. I stopped at the Fenn Valley Winery rest stop (mile 78) and topped off my water bottles, drank some pure maple syrup I had brought with, drank more of my corn starch mixture, and ate many grapes and blueberries. I also took time to do more stretches. From here it was only 8 miles to the last stop where I had promised to stop by and see Tim from Rock and Road Cycle. I had him take a picture of me holding a water bottle from Joel Krause. Joel is the one who taught me, 3 years ago, how to do road riding and how to train for long distance cycling events. Sadly, he passed away this year and I'm thankful that his wife, Karlene, allowed me to use one of his bottles in his memory. I shared this story with Tim while he took my picture and it made me weep. I skipped grabbing food at this stop in order to push to the end.

My family tracked me down shortly after this stop and yelled words of encouragement. This helped me get through the final miles which also included numb toes and a blister in the webbing area of my hand between the thumb and index finger. I finished the ride at 4pm. It was a long day where I faced many mental and physical challenges. What would I do differently for the future?

  • Make sure to stay on my bike multiple times a week prior to the ride
  • Get a long ride of 75 miles or more 2 weeks prior to the Holland 100
  • Don't bring extra food (just maple syrup and my corn syrup mix)

Training was hard this year because we were gone over a couple of weekends prior to the Holland 100. I did bring my bike on one of the trips and got in 30 miles of hill training on gravel but this didn't make up for just getting a lot of hours on the bike. In general, my training for these rides starts with 20 miles one week and increments up by 10-20 miles per week until I get to 75 miles. This year my longest ride was 65 miles. I also try to do as much commuting by bike as possible to keep active. I'll need to stay focused until the end if I don't want to fight the same mental and physical battles during the ride. Either way, I do these challenges because they are hard and it is very possible that I won't be able to complete them.

Believe it or not, I can't wait to get back on the bike.

Waiting and Wondering

Waiting can be so difficult. The days seem long, and the world seems dark. I’ve been a part of a men’s group that meets for breakfast once a week where several of us have been in seasons of waiting. So, as we investigated what we wanted to read and discuss it seemed natural to find a resource that spoke into waiting. This is where we found a reading plan in the free YouVersion Bible app  called “Victory in the Wilderness

Over the past weeks we have read passages in the Bible that gave us wisdom and guidance around topics such as self-control, waiting, worrying, offense, and peace. It has been such a rich time for our group to hear each other, hear what God is saying, and to encourage one-another. We also wonder about God’s timing when our prayers our not answered in the way or time we expect.

What might it have been like for the followers of Christ to wait on the day after he was crucified and buried? This is what we learned on Sunday as Dr. Suzanne McDonald, a Professor at Western Theological Seminary, shared about Holy Saturday. In Luke 23:56b we read that “On the sabbath they rested according to the commandment” (Luke 23:56b). We can infer the darkness and hopelessness that must have been experienced by all who loved Jesus even as they were faithful in honoring the sabbath by resting.

Dr. McDonald proposed ways we might journey through dark times:

  1. Be faithful even if you don’t feel it.
    Sometimes we just need to keep doing the actions of a faithful follower of Jesus. This might include setting aside time for prayer, reading the Bible, participating in worship on a Sunday, and gathering with other believers.

  2. Stop and rest in the Lord.
    Step back from trying to control the outcome and, instead, hand it over to God and find rest in Him.

  3. Help one another see glimpses of God’s love and care.
    Look for ways to love and serve others. This moves us out of a self-focus and into an other-focus. You have the ability to be the physical presence of God to those in need.

  4. Wait with certain hope of what God will do.
    Remember what God has done in the past in order to trust in the future He has planned for you.

In addition to these ways of being in the dark times you might also find hope in the following passage from Philippians that our men’s group is reading this week:

4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

8 Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you. – Philippians 4:4-9 (New Revised Standard Version)

  • How might you be faithful even when you don’t feel like it?
  • Where can you make space to find rest in the Lord?
  • How might you care for someone else as a way of showing God’s love?
  • What is one area of life for which you can give thanks to God?

TedXMac 2017: Jon LoDuca, Competitive Advantage of EQ


Jon LoDuca, Competitive Advantage of EQ

  • artificial intelligence has learned how to learn
  • world is dividing between AI & EQ (head vs. heart)
  • EQ: identify own emotions, gauge others, adjust to come to common ground
    • it makes commerce tick
    • “We suck at being robots”
    • if our value proposition (job/business) can be reduced to an algorithm then it will face challenges
  • 2 business models
    • Product-based:
      • we have a product and let’s find a market
      • goes wide
      • share of market (loves AI and technology)
    • Client-based:
      • aligning around shared story and needs connecting with a tribe
      • goes deep
      • loves EQ
    • Going between the 2 business models is where business’ die
  • Laws of successful EQ companies
    • law 1: total authenticity
      • fear gets in the way
      • need to know your values and world view
      • have confidence and faith that a market exists for you
    • law 2: radical empathy
      • love and care about their clients
      • watch out for focusing on ourselves (imposter syndrome, future, past, and not being Here)
      • remember your mission and truly bear witness to the other human being (truly listen)
    • law 3: humbly irreverent
      • be irreverent to the rules and the laws that get in the way of doing the right thing
      • respect the client and solve problems in order to serve them
      • watch out for paying too much attention to the competition
  • Let’s go ahead and be empathetic to each person around us
  • break any rule that keeps us from serving people
  • “Whatever is coming, we don’t know, it will be our humanity that saves us”

TedXMac 2017: Steve Marshall, Beauty & Astonishment


Steve Marshall, Beauty and Astonishment

  • why a trick works is more important than how it works
  • astonishment happens every time you experience for the first time
  • “Astonishment is not an emotion that’s created. It’s an existing state that is revealed.” Paul Harris
  • the easiest person to fool is a scientist…children are the most difficult to astonish
  • the feeling of astonishment can be found all around us
  • a little mystery is a good thing
  • rise table rise
  • see something you did’t see before…pay attention and look with new eyes
  • “How much better could your life be if you were astonished every day.”

TedXMac 2017: Meika Weiss, People-Friendly Cities

  • “Places that are made primarily for people work better than places made primarily for cars”
  • “pivot toward people”
  • Past
    • streets were markets and thoroughfares where people walked
    • streetcars and cars came onto the scene
    • car manufacturers pushed to remove people from the streets
  • Present
    • challenges with mass transit in our areas
    • being able to get around is necessary for all people
  • Keys:
    • People-friendly cities invest in many types of transportation
      • affordable to government and citizen
      • accessible to all people
      • maintain air quality and quality life
    • People-friendly cities prioritize safety over all (especially speed)
      • death is not an acceptable outcome of our transportation decisions (Vision 0 in Sweden)
    • People-friendly cities are willing to make change
      • transform communities to make streets more people friendly
  • What is next?
    • we know our system will change
    • our decisions now matter
  • Create a more livable community
  • Choose one thing you might engage in to support a people-friendly city

TedXMac 2017: Mike Harris, Shifts Coming in Business and Work


Mike Harris, Shifts Coming in Business and Work

  • gap between businesses and workers is widening
  • Is it the millennial?
  • The discontent generation
    • highest unemployment
    • largest generation
    • least engaged
    • 3x more job changes
  • Values through the ages:
    • Industrial Age (creation)
    • Information Age (efficiency)
      • “automation allows us to automate the automaters”
    • Relational Age (outcome)
      • businesses will succeed if they deliver outcomes to people that they desire in their life
      • workers will want jobs that deliver outcomes that they want in their life
      • Gen X/Boomers want success, advance, independence, goals, & results Millenials and Gen Z want gifts, passion, fulfillment, and growth
  • You don’t need a new business you need a new interface that focuses on impact, passion, & beliefs. How?
    1. State your passion: How do you impact the world?
    2. Align on outcomes: What’s our shared interest?
    3. Give them a voice: Innovation through risk, risk through trust – Alignment!
    4. Create advocates: Let them wear the T-shirt (employee advocates)
    5. Growth through coaching: let them drive (They will care AND it will free you)
    6. Believe: People follow people (as a leader, you must believe in what you do)
  • Doing this will allow you to outperform everyone else

TedXMac 2017: Dean Whittaker, Jason Sosa: Back FROM the Future


Dean Whittaker, Jason Sosa: Back FROM the Future

  • most of us do not think past 5 years
  • 50% of US jobs at risk because of automation (robots and artificial intelligence)
  • changes to the baby boomers: globalization, demographics, technology
  • technology = revolution
  • we can’t adapt fast enough so we must learn to anticipate change
  • human adaptability is not matching the rate of change in technology
  • change is revolutionary vs. change is evolutionary
  • the ‘gig economy’ working on multiple projects and with diverse teams around the world
  • this time is different
    • automation will replace workers (self service and augmented reality)
    • reality itself will change
    • the entire work force will need to be retrained
    • “robe advice” “robe doctors”
    • machines will be able to outperform humans at almost all tasks
    • be continuous learners and retrain self
    • abundance for some and hardships for others
    • communities will lose financial resources
  • “we need radical mindsets for this radical time”
  • technology might displace us from our jobs
  • “Gig economy” value freedom and flexibility and can do work from anywhere
  • Hope and preferred future
    • rapidly deploy new skills
    • acquire wealth through skills
    • Wisdom from the past, leadership of the present, and vision for the future
    • value diversity
    • own the robots
  • there is a human advantage
  • “as a community, will we choose to embrace change”
    • develop a learning center to re-skill our work force 24×7
    • connectivity is a key
    • implement model community initiative
    • be daring to try new ways of working and networking
    • accept failure as learning
  • “our future is determined by the choices we make today”
  • create the preferred future that is meant for us since we know with 80% certainty where it is headed

TedXMac 2017: Sara DeVries, What’s next for libraries


Sara DeVries, What’s next for libraries

  • libraries used to be the place that collected and shared learning and stories
  • the digital age has allowed everyone to be able to share their stories
  • the local librarian is a digital navigator for all of us
  • as a society we are losing connection with our neighbors
  • “We don’t know each other”
  • the library is a currated collection of global knowledge available to the local community
  • What if the libraries became the publisher of the community to share with the world? Examples:
    • Nuestra Comunidad Hispana: collecting, sharing, honoring, and preserving the stories of local Hispanics – these stories can be checked out from the library
    • Lakeland Library has a seed library as a result of working with individuals in the community who had a large amount of knowledge about heirloom seeds
    • libraries can help us share knowledge
    • Human Library “Books” – participants can check out a human who has a particular story to share
  • Try it out:
    • My name is…
    • I am passionate about…
    • My work in this community is…
  • We all hold valuable stories. Tell your story.
  • “Your story has power and you are the only one who can tell it.”

TedXMac 2017: Jack Johnson, The Importance of Perspective

Jack Johnson, The Importance of Perspective

  • 1898’s was when the first car, “Gasoline Carriage”, came to west Michigan
  • large automotive economic platform in West Michigan (more than 150 companies in local chamber)
  • what is the next economic platform?
    • AES “Advanced Energy Storage”
    • more products are battery powered
  • limiting views
    • we currently think of batteries in a limited way, consider it more like an engine
    • there are many types of lithium ion batteries
      • lithium ion phosphate
      • nickel manganese cobalt
      • nickel cobalt aluminum
      • lithium titanium oxide
      • etc.
  • The market is growing to be a $40 billion and is currently growing at double digit rates
  • innovation in West Michigan from many organizations and companies with research, manufacturing, and services
    • Michigan State University Bioeconomy Institute
    • Volta Power Systems
    • Midwest Energy Group
  • what’s next
    • learn – it isn’t what you have been told – look at doing things in new ways with batteries
    • invest – opportunity is everywhere – invest time and energy to look at creative applications