Finding Community on the Trail

Here it is: I’ve wasted a trip to Austin if I don’t find time to run around Lady Bird Johnson Lake at least once. It’s one of the best urban trails in the world and I love to run there. Moving down that trail makes my heart thump with joy. It isn’t just the dirt trail or the beautiful trees and water that make this particular place so much fun. It’s the hundreds of other people circling the same route: some going clockwise and others counterclockwise, some very fast and others very slow, some with dogs and some with baby strollers, some wearing ancient ragged race T-shirts and some wearing the latest neon-colored outfit, some running in large groups a-buzz with friendly banter and some alone like me, some teenagers and some in their 70s.

Austin trail runningBeing on the trail with all those like-minded people is energizing. I can run better and further and faster because of them. There are things we can understand about each other, even as total strangers, which would never make sense to our longtime personal friends who don’t run. We are a community even though we’ve never met.

The funny thing is, if I lived in Austin and ran this trail every day, I’d never actually meet most of these people. I’d still run mostly by myself. Yet being around them adds energy to my life because it reminds me I’m not alone in this world. I like knowing there are similar people who have unexplainable goals and weird habits and funny smelly clothes and big stopwatches and GPS mapping aps. Knowing I’m not alone is powerful, comforting, and energizing.

So as I ran, my thoughts were on my next book, the one I’m wrangling with right now. I’m still in the process where I keep rearranging big ideas looking for a pattern. I’ve been intrigued with the phases of or lives – not necessarily phases that philosophers or anthropologists assign to all of us, but the personal phases that show up when we tell our life story. Me, I see three major spiritual phases in my own life.

Phase one, from birth to university, when my faith was actually my parent’s faith. I saw the Gospel through the lens of family.

Phase two lasted from university to about 2004, and it’s centered on spiritual disciplines and structured learning. I understood and interpreted the Gospel through the lens of spiritual practices.

I’m just beginning to understand my third phase, and since it’s ongoing even today, I may learn more in the future and change my interpretation completely. But I call this my community phase, and it begins when I started leading the Iron Men group and I realized how much I needed community in my life.

I thought my most significant contributions would come from what I said or wrote, not from who I was, how I lived, or who I knew. I provided data, not relationships. And I totally underestimated the power of community.

(I have a lot more to write about this phase of life, but I need more time on the trail to work it all out.)

And so, back in Austin, as I finished up my run on the LBJ Trail and hobbled back to my car which I’d parked under the Mopac Bridge, I considered two major dilemmas.

While I love solitude (It’s where I draw energy and where I’m most creative) I also love being with my people (That’s where I grow strong, tell stories, and see God). How do I aim my life at both?

And the second dilemma; while running makes my knees sore and stiff for hours afterward, it also makes my heart happy and feeds my brain. I have to put up with one, to have the other.

To tell the truth, I like dilemmas like those. I hope there are a lot more; that’s where the energy of life is born.

And I hope I have three or four more major phases of life. I can’t wait to see what comes next.


“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32

I need your help. If you enjoyed reading this, please share with your friends. You can find more of my writing on my weekly blog, read insights on Tumblr, and follow me on Twitter and Facebook.