About Michael C. Mack

I’m a husband, dad, writer, editor, coach, speaker, trainer, consultant, and cyclist who is living life to the full with the highs and lows of type 1 diabetes. In my life I've been a janitor, landscaper, security guard, college cheerleading coach, men's suit salesman, women’s clothing-store manager, auditor, editor, and minister. I now operate Small Group Leadership, LLC (www.smallgroupleadership.com), a ministry focused on training and supporting small group leadership through speaking, coaching, consulting, and writing. I'm also a freelance writer and editor, addressing topics such as diabetes, cycling, other sports, marriage and family, and life in general. I’m the author of 15 books and discussion guides. My newest book is Small Group Vital Signs, I’m also the author of The Pocket Guide to Burnout-Free Small Group Leadership, I’m a Leader … Now What, Launch into Community Life, Moving Forward, Leading from the Heart, The Synergy Church (Baker), and others. See my books page for more information.

Writer’s Block: I Don’t Get It.

WRITER'S BLOCK

I’m often asked how I deal with writer’s block. I’ll tell you the truth: I don’t get it. I mean I don’t even get the question, because I don’t get writer’s block.

I have scores of folders in hanging files that contain hundreds of ideas just waiting to be explored. I save emails and web pages in One Note on my laptop and phone, and I’m constantly writing notes to myself on little scraps of paper, a notes widget on my phone, or my iPad. I look out my back sliding door and see a dead tree leaning up against a live tree and immediately have 17 ideas about how that applies to life circumstances. These are all natural writing prompts. They’re all I need. In fact, they’re often too much.

I don’t mean to discourage writers who suffer from writer’s block, but I often deal with an antithetical affliction: writer’s glut. I have a lot of ideas, but not all of them are good or usable. My brain often feels like it’s on overload, and I realize I need to focus. I’m also an idea hoarder. It’s tremendously difficult for me to throw anything away. I might need that idea for a book or blog or article some day. I’m wondering if I’m alone or if other writers have the same struggles.

I’d love to hear from you. Which of these two writer’s plights torment you most? How do you deal with it?

Why A Person with Diabetes Bikes to Beat Cancer

BBC TrainingAs I mentioned yesterday, I rode in the Kentucky Tour de Cure in June. Great ride. Great day! Lately I’ve been training for a couple other rides, especially a century in the Bike to Beat Cancer in September.

I’m a person who has lived with Type 1 Diabetes for more than 43 years. It makes sense to ride in an event to raise money for diabetes research. But why ride 100 miles in  an event to raise funds for cancer? Part of the answer to that question is pretty obvious, but another part—the most important part, I believe—is not so obvious.

Obviously, cancer is a huge issue for many people. I’m guessing you know someone who has or has had cancer. I do, and I have. My mom died 14 years ago from leukemia, a cancer of the blood. My wife and I have had good friends, from our church and from the college we both graduated from, who have lost their battle with the disease or who are in the throes of the battle right now. I hate what cancer does to people who are misfortunate to have it and deal with it. I’m riding to raise some money for cancer research, awareness, and advocacy. I’m riding for individuals and the families of people affected by the disease: Betty, Ed, Carolyn, Yvette, Carole and Steve, Renae, and many others.

As important as those reasons are, however, there’s something else. Over the years, I’ve found that people who live with difficult circumstances deal with them in one of two ways. Some people look inward with anxiety. They usually also look forward with fear. But others look upward with an unexplainable hope, and they look outward with compassion.

Here are two videos of people I’ll be thinking about as I ride 100 miles this September. The first video is of Carole who dealt bravely with cancer; the second is her husband after she died:

<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/92523691″>Carole Swoboda Testimony</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/neccwired”>Northeast Christian Church</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p> <p>4.20.14</p>

<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/124333331″>Steve Swoboda Testimony – Easter 2015</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/neccwired”>Northeast Christian Church</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p> <p>4.5.15</p>

If the videos do not appear in your browser, please click below:

The lesson I’ve learned over the years is to keep my focus upward and outward—in that order. I find it so much easier to live well with my diabetes when I keep my eyes focused outward, on others. And I’ve also discovered that the best way to stay focused outward is to keep my focus upward every day. It makes all the difference in the world.

I’d love to hear your story. How does your focus affect how you live with the life circumstances that have been dealt to you?

It’s Not About the Ride

Tdc RRsLet’s catch up. I’m sorry it’s been so long since I last blogged here. Over the spring and summer, I’ve been training on my bike for different events, and just riding with friends for the fun of it. In June I rode with a bunch of fellow PWD (People with Diabetes) in the Kentucky Tour de Cure. I’m the Kentucky Red Rider Chairperson, so of course I’m passionate about this ride. Some of my regular riding buddies took off pretty early, but I could tell that a fellow T1Der (person with Type 1 Diabetes) was struggling a bit on the very hilly 63-mile route, so I stayed with him and pulled as much as I could, and the two of us enjoyed the ride and some good conversation together.

Sometimes it’s not about the ride. For me . . .

  • Relationships are more important than rides.
  • People are more important than pace.
  • Personal relationships are more important than personal records.
  • Warm fellowship is more important than watts.

OK, maybe I’m stretching the point a bit too much, but you get the idea.

Sometimes we get overly obsessed with the event, whatever it is, and miss out on the most vital things in life. Average speed sure looks good on my Strava and Facebook pages, but who cares after a day or so of that?

Tomorrow I’m going to take this idea a bit further. Click here to read it..

In the mean time, what do you think? Whether you ride bikes or anything else, what’s the point, in your view?

When Cupid’s Arrows Bring Pain

heart_with_arrow-1920x1440I am blessed to celebrate Valentine’s Day with my beautiful bride and love of my life, Heidi. Valentine’s Day 2012 was not so happy. I won’t go into details in this public place but many of our close friends and family know how much we struggled.

I know we’re not alone. Marriage is a gift and, like many gifts, it comes with human heartaches. Cupid’s arrows actually do pierce our hearts, bringing both romance and pain. There’s one very good reason for this, of course. Marriage, as good and holy and fulfilling and intimate as it can be, is a partnership between two imperfect people. Wait … imperfect does not feel strong enough here. Let’s try broken, severely messed up, fatally flawed. 

I agree with authors John and Stasi Eldredge, who say that marriage is a divine conspiracy. God, they say, lures two very different people together—both with different backgrounds and ways of relating and approaches to life. “Our mutual brokenness is drawn together like a match and gunpowder.”* God does this so that he can transform us … and, as the Eldredges say, to get us to face our styles of relating and repent of them. Others have said the same thing: marriage is not meant so much to make us happy as it is to make us holy. I can tell you that’s true.

Several years ago, in the midst of so much uncertainty and pain and heartache, I began meditating every day on Psalm 37:4: “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” I had to ask God to help me understand what it meant to delight in him. At first I prayed this in reverse. I asked God to give me the desires of my heart: restoration of my relationship with my wife … and then, when I got what I wanted, I would delight in God’s provision. God in his patience showed me something far better:

When I learned to delight in him regardless of the circumstances, he would give me my heart’s desire, because my desires would finally match up with his desires.

On Valentine’s Day 2012, I wrote these words in my journal:

I know, Lord, that you are in control. I once again surrender all this to you. I thank you with all my heart and I will be filled with joy because of you. Even in extremely difficult life circumstances, I can have joy in you and because of you. I delight in you! And that does not depend on my circumstances or situation. Today I will sing praises to your name, O Most High!

You may be celebrating Valentine’s Day alone, or perhaps you have a sense of uncertainty or you are in a state of pain and heartache. I don’t want to minimize or moralize your pain today with some sugary sweet Valentine’s Day platitudes. Yes, I am indeed blessed that my marriage has been resurrected. We are working on our relationship every day, reconciling with God’s grace, and being restored. We struggle but we do not struggle alone. Yet I realize that not all situations work out as ours has. I have many good friends who are still feeling the pain of loneliness, the lament of “Why is this happening?” the yearning for renewed hope.

My prayer for anyone who is hurting this Valentine’s Day is that you will find your hope … not primarily in a mate or a job or anything else that is perishable and undependable and broken. My desire for you, and me, and Heidi is to find our joy in a God who never leaves or forsakes us—to delight in him and allow his desires to overwhelm our own desires.

*     *     *     *     *

* from Love and War, by John and Stasi Eldredge (Doubleday Religion, 2009).

Why I Ride … and Walk and Work for a Diabetes Cure

imageWarm sweat drips onto my phone as I write this post. I’m on my bike trainer on a cold, grey, rainy day spinning out 17 or so miles to try to stay in riding shape. Boston’s Greatest Hits blasts from my iPad. Without notice my pace quickens to the song “Smokin’.”

The music and the creative activity take my mind off the fact that this is an otherwise dull exercise. But even they don’t drive me to keep cranking.

As I ride past 12 miles with Seger now singing “Fire Down Below,” I think through my list of things that drive me to ride. I think first about my four teen and young-adult kids. I’m closing in on 45 years with type-1 diabetes,  and I am compelled to keep the pedals turning so I can someday walk my girls down the aisle and dance at all their weddings. I want to ride bikes with my grandkids. I simply want to keep going as long as I can.

But that’s not all. I’m spinning in my basement on February 1 so I can see the sweat drops hit my phone on my handlebars this spring and summer as I ride the roads for a cure for diabetes.

Look, I’m used to living with diabetes. I’ve dealt with this for 80 percent of my life. Truthfully, I’m OK with not being a recipient of a cure. Sure, that would be a big blessing. If given the opportunity to extend my eyesight, kidney function, ability to use my legs, and live another 10-20 years, I’d take it. But I’m in this fight mainly for the 11 year old who will be diagnosed this year. I want to raise money to provide the resources and remove all the barriers to finding a cure for that kid. I see his face now as I spin past 15 miles on the trainer, my heart rate accelerating as I stand up for a minute of faux hill climbing.

I’m not alone. I’m partnering with thousands of others like me with the same passion. We’ll be wearing red jerseys as we team up to ride for a cure for this disease. I’d love to see many more people join us as we ride together, or support us with donations, in the American Diabetes Association Tour de Cure.

Please join in!

Go to my personal Tour de Cure page to join us or donate, or just to get more information on this great cause.

Good Friends Help PWD Live Healthier Lives

People with diabetes need good friends. By good friends, I mean people who are patient, understanding, sympathetic, and, most importantly, have a sense of humor.

By the way, I’m not saying we deserve people to treat us well just because we have diabetes. I don’t want people to feel sorry for me because of my condition. (The truth is, some people with diabetes are narcissists; somehow they’ve gotten the impression that they and their disease should be the focus of everyone’s attention.)

Back from the rabbit trail … I believe friends help us live healthier lives. For me, without my friends, I’d be in real trouble.

KC-Mike 001

KC Mack/Mike Mack, Circa 1981. Suburban Cowboys

When I think of a good friend, I think of KC. Actually, we’re cousins, but we’ve also been great friends most of our lives. KC has laughed with me and more often at me many times over the years. Interestingly, many of our funniest memories involved food.

Curly Fries
We spent most of our time as teenagers playing basketball in a church parking lot. KC could always tell when my blood sugar was dropping, probably by the fact that my shots weren’t dropping. But sometimes, according to him, I’d fake it when he was putting a whoopin’ on me (which was normal) or when I just wanted to take a break and go to Arby’s.

I loved going to Arby’s. Roast beef sandwich . . . Curly fries . . . Apple turnover . . . Angela Moore.  I liked the food, but I really liked Angela, and she just happened to work at Arby’s. We may have been in the middle of a basketball game, but I was thinking Angela. She liked me, too. I know this because she would secretly give me extra curly fries. One time she filled the whole bag with those golden twists of deliciousness. I was so glad Angela cared enough to provide me with those extra carbohydrates my body was craving.

Hot Dog, No Mustard
KC and I also attended lots of basketball games together. At one game, I started having a bad insulin reaction, so KC, as any good friend would, went to the concession stand and waited in line to buy me a coke and a hot dog. Now, we sometimes do weird things when our blood sugar is dropping. When KC brought the food back, I noticed he had put mustard on the dog, so I obstinately refused to eat it. Finally I meticulously scraped off every bit of the mustard as the arena spun around and around and KC sat next to me, arms folded, shaking his head.

Pop Tarts
Camping trips meant  freedom, friends, Frisbees, fishing, fires, and junk food. One time, in the middle of the night, I had another bad reaction. I woke up in a cold sweat, mumbling indistinguishably. KC and my other friends in the tent couldn’t understand me, but then, clear as a bell in a high squeaky voice, I yelled, “Pop Tart!” My friends were literally on the ground laughing (in their sleeping bags) for several minutes before I got my crazy good pastry.

We all need good friends during the highs and lows of our lives. I’m thankful for KC, even though he should know me well enough to realize I don’t like mustard on my hot dog.

Who is a close friend who has been there for you in your highs and lows? Go ahead … share the story.

20 Assessment Questions to Ask When You’re at the End of Your Rope

rope02I often hear people say they are at the end of their rope. If you’re feeling that way, here are some important assessment questions to ask yourself. I encourage you to work slowly through these. Reflect on them, not only with your mind, but also your feelings and spirit. Write your responses in a journal.

  1. What is the other end of this rope tied to?
  2. Where is this rope supposed to be taking me?
  3. Is it tied to the right things, the right values?
  4. Am I sure I’m at the end of my rope or do I just feel that way?
  5. Is it possible there’s still more rope beneath me, but I’m too afraid to look down?
  6. Why do I feel I’m at the end of my rope?
  7. Am I losing my grip because I’ve been working so hard at climbing with my own power? (See my post on using all five fingers to hold on!)
  8. Who told me I’m supposed to climb this rope anyway?
  9. Is it possible this rope-climbing activity is a waste of time?
  10. Do I really feel safer holding onto this rope? Why or why not?
  11. Is there something better in life than rope-climbing?
  12. Would I want to die, still clutching this rope?
  13. What would happen if I let go of the rope I’m clinging to?
  14. Who would catch me if I let go?
  15. In my quiet moments, do I ever hear an encouraging voice saying, “Let go. Come to me you who are tired of climbing. I will catch you and hold you and give you rest”?
  16. Do I trust this one who would catch me?
  17. What would life be like if I were not holding onto this rope?
  18. Do I trust my death grip on this rope more than the one who will catch me if I let go?
  19. Who in my life will help me let go and encourage me in my catcher?
  20. What will it take to let go, to release this and throw my hands up in surrender?

What questions do you get “hung up” on? I encourage you to use #19 to talk to someone you trust–a good friend, a counselor, a clergy member, or a doctor, for instance. Talk through your responses to these questions. And don’t forget: your goal is to let go of it!