Dating In The Youth Group – The Danger Signs! (Comic)

P1040050A new set by our In House Comic, Chloe Perrin. Check out her work at chloescomics.wordpress.com

 

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Working With (or Without) Parents

Last night we ran a training session on working with – and without – parents in youth ministry. Here are some cliff notes…

You can download a copy of the worksheet from here:

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We first explored the history of youth work theories over the last four decades and noticed that parents work was a conspicuously absent element. Of those books and models that do mention parents work, it is often as an aside or necessary inconvenience.

This left us wondering how youth work has contributed to some of the ‘it’s just awkward to have parents and teenagers in the same room’ culture that is often the norm.

To contrast this, and to look for an ‘ideal’, we explored some Biblical passages that explicitly talk about parents in what we would see as ‘young peoples work’ in the Bible. Here is a simplified view of our findings:

  • Deut. 1:1-7 – It’s the parents job to saturate their children in God’s teaching.
  • Gen. 22:1-19 – It’s the parents job to lead their children in worship.
  • 1 Sam:1:10-20; 24-28 – It’s the parents job to pray for their children and partner with the church leaders.
  • Prov. 1:1-9 – It’s the parents job to teach and develop maturity in their children for specific life needs (check out Prov. 16, 18, 22, 24 & 31 for examples).

This looks a lot like youth work right? Those include many of the central aims and values of youth strategies. It might be missing ‘mission/evangelism’ but a deeper dig into both Deuteronomy and Proverbs would have added that element too.

So when you consider that our youth work strategies are found in the Bible surrounding parents, and then consider that the missing element from our youth work programs is often intentional parents work, you might agree that we have a fundamental problem developing!

Parents are simply essential to healthy youth ministry and working them into pivotal parts of your youth work strategy should be non-negotiable.

So How Do We Do It?

We recognised that just stopping everything and starting again isn’t always a sensible or viable option! 😛 So instead we looked at some incremental ideas that would start to develop parents work – and cultivate a healthier culture of parents ideology – within our projects.

We used ‘The Gospel Coalition’ article on moving parents from ‘absent’ to ‘equipped’ – this is well worth checking out.

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Here are 5 ideas that come from Jody Livingston’s brilliant blog and podcast ‘The Longer Haul.’ I’ve simplified them somewhat below – but you can (and should!) read the whole article here.

  • Communicate! – Often and clearly.
  • Recruit! – Parents make great leaders and have experience, wisdom and insight that we don’t.
  • Retreat! – Plan events, retreats and getaways to serve and train parents. I’d also add ‘look-in nights’ to this when parents can see what you do with their kids.
  • Prayer! – Form a team of praying parents. They care and know about their kids more than we do.
  • Advice! – Form another team of parents to advise and speak into your ministry.

For good measure I added 4 more ideas:

  • All-Age! – Develop a culture of inclusive and quality all-age worship.
  • Talk! – Often with your young peeps about parents and their roles.
  • Meet! – Pickup & drop off points of contact before and after sessions.
  • Don’t! – Create standoff teaching / cultures where you set yourself up as better/wiser/more trustworthy than parents.

What About Working Without Parents?

The tragic reality is that this ideal doesn’t always work. Parents are not always around, and when they are – they are not always helpful.

We considered the ‘cultural landscape’ that our teenagers are growing up in, and specifically these statistics (the first two from the 2012-13 Office of National Statistics and 2011 Census Data, also ONS):

  • 42% of all marriages in the UK end in divorce.
  • Almost half of those effect children under the age of 16.
  • Every national statistic has Established UK Christianity in decline.

When you take these three component parts together, it’s clear that we can’t expect stable, symmetrical Christian homes for many of the young people we work with.

Parents simply may not be around physically, emotionally or physically – or in some cases ‘parent’ means brother, uncle, grandmother, two mothers or an institution of some kind. It’s just not as cut and dry as the ideal (above) would carve out for us.

5 Types of ‘Unhelpful’ Parents

We considered together 5 kinds of ‘unhelpful’ parents, and brainstormed how we can work with them and thier young people. I’ve only given a basic skeleton of this here, and limited it to two points per parent type, so you might want to spend some time thinking about these with your own teams too!

Caveat: What this doesn’t give are examples of how to teach / train unhelpful parents. Up until the mid 1940s, parents would learn much of their parenting skills from 1. their own parents living in the same house and 2. the church as a whole. Suggesting parenting classes can now come across very offensively – but it is worth developing in your church culture. I can’t teach them credibly (I have no kids!), but I would happily get in someone like ‘Care For The Family’ who do brilliant work!

1. The Absent Parent

Parents can be ‘absent’ for lots of reasons. They may be in single-parent setups, emotionally detached, psychically out of the picture (or at the pub). Sometimes for very good reasons a parent can appear absent – such as working to support their family. A little bit more complicated would be the parent who has one child with additional needs that requires more attention – leaving them somewhat ‘absent’ on balance from their other children.

  • Mentoring – Big Brother / Big Sister setups from America can be amazing! Looking for older team or church members to spend time with young people to help them develop around some sense of a parent figure can be very helpful. Remember boundaries and safe practices!
  • Support With Group Culture – this is more about helping the whole culture of your youth group take care of each other. Everything you do in your project presents values, make sure you are steering these in inclusive and supportive directions.

2. The Hostile Parent

Parents could be hostile towards you personally, hostile towards the idea of faith, or hostile to other young people. Hostility often comes from panic and insecurity.

  • Communication – It’s important to make sure a hostile parent has all the info clearly and upfront to help appease their concerns. It may also be worth a face-to-face meeting over coffee to create some more solid layers of relationship and credibility.
  • Clear Lines Of Respect Drawn – You will need to stand firmly on your values, and also not tip your hat to a young person dishonouring their awkwardly hostile parent. Set the right example.

3. The Apathetic Parent

On on side of the coin they could be apathetic towards what you’re doing; not caring what goes on, or what time their kids are home. On the other side they could be apathetic directly towards their child, meaning they give few boundaries, inconsistent praise and a general lack of direction.

  • Permissions & Followup – Apathy aside you cannot slide on your safeugarding policies, and (unfortunately for them) you will need a clearer lead from an apathetic parent to make sure you’re covered. This might mean getting on the phone or knocking on their door. Creating relationship should be worth the extra effort but, as always, remember to keep safe boundaries.
  • Reward & Share Culture – Make sure that you are regularly acknowledging and praising your young people for doing well. A well executed phone-call to an apathetic parent about how well their child is doing can start to reframe that parent-child-church relationship.

4. The Gossiping Parent

My least favourite – so much so it’s worth a short story: Once upon a time a parent believed that the reason I wasn’t letting her daughter play in the youth worship band was because I was sexist. She believed this enough to tell a few other parents, a few leaders and even a few of my young people. When I finally heard this and confronted her, I let her know that the real reason I wasn’t letting her daughter play in the worship band was because she didn’t want to play int he worship band. Perhaps if she talked more to her daughter rather than about her she would have learned this.

  • Guard Your Communication Consistently – My other hard-learned piece of experience is that parents who are easier to talk to can also sometimes be a little loose tongued. If you find youself sharing more than you usually would with a parent, it’s possible that other people do to, meaning they are a bulging vat of information that should be help in confidence. That’s a lot of temptation, and unfortunately sometimes open ears means loose tongues. Youth leaders like people to talk to – find a mentor/pastor rather than parent.
  • Control The Information Flow – Make sure you are in control of the information about your programs Communicate clearly, constantly and consistently to keep things transparent.
  • Confrontation & Conflict Resolution – It is important to nip these gossiping tails in the bud. Confrontation is necessary – done well through a clear (and sometimes mediated) Conflict Resolution Strategy. In March next year we will be having a training session on Conflict Resolution led by an expert in the field. Let us know if you’d like to come!

In the meantime, if you have an issue which requires conflict resolution – we are happy to offer free Skype advice or coaching. Get in touch if you’d like to take advantage of this!

5. The Abusive Parent

I want to gently bring this up last. One of the most common forms of abusive parent within the church is the ‘Spiritually’ abusive parent – which is also one of the hardest to prosecute. I once had to spend an evening with a young person after his parents and youth leaders tried to exorcise demons out of him!

  • Know Your Procedures – All I really want to say here is know your policy and procedures and make sure your team is trained. Knowing how to handle disclosures, objective note taking and procedural response within your safeguarding structure is very important.
  • Support In Partnership – Make sure you know (again, within your context and structures) what partner organisations you can work with (Childline, Social Services etc.). As much as I want church to handle everything, we do need and should ask for help.

Interested in Training?

YouthWorkHacks is passionate about training. We offer safeguarding training, youth program MOTs, First Aid and Skype coaching. We also provide free monthly training in North Wales. Please check out our training page and get in touch if we could help you!

Youth Work Hacks at the Premier Digital Awards

Wow – 15016408_1189056691181334_7533730845260800862_owhat a ride! Two weeks ago, Youth Work Hacks won the Premier Digital Award in the category of Most Inspiring Leadership Blog. This was an epic honour – especially in the midst of other fantastic finalists!

[[Check out the runner up, Apples of Gold, and the finalists, Included By Grace and Matt McChlery.]]

It was a belting night which included an impressive meal, a champagne reception, polished hosts and a simply incredible house band. I was blown away by the professionalism of the whole night. I can be very critical of how badly Christian organisations do at putting on events, but this blew me away.

I’m very grateful to the Premier Judges for choosing Youth Work Hacks – and we will do all we can here to produce resources and articles worthy of them.

You can see the video of the award presentation below … and our comics version of what that looked like at the bottom of this post.

ps. Sorry about the two week break from writing. After a the awards came a week in London, and a week at Seminary. But here we are again!

 

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I asked 185 youth leaders what they call ‘young people’. Here’s what they said

What to call the participants of your youth ministry doesn’t seem like it should be a high priority. Realistically though, how you label people in the plural will have a dramatic impact on that group identity and sense of value, and it will instinctively give subversive impressions to those you’re speaking to.

I asked 185 American youth workers what they call their teenagers, with the option to add other names. Here’s the results:

Adolescents – 0

Children – 0

Young Church – 1

Kids – 2

Young Men and Women – 3

Young People – 5

Teenagers -6

Other – 9

Youth – 14

Students – 145

Interestingly, ‘students’ is not a name we would use in the UK, as it usually refers more specifically to someone studying, usually at university.

Some of the comments that came with the results defended calling young people ‘students’ is it sets a tone that they are there to learn about God, while still being more respectful sounding than ‘youth’ which often carries negative cultural contentions. I totally get this.

There are 2 issues through that I’d like to gently raise: First, it sets the teenagers in ministry apart from other ages in ministry for a reason that is not actually specific to them. We are all – or at least all should be – students of God! This could set the precedent that the adults know it all.

The second issue is perhaps a more Biblical one. The  Bible uses the words ‘Youth’ (בְּחֻרִים), ‘young man’ (בחור) and ‘the young’/‘youths’ (ילדות) – as distinct from children or adults. They are a Biblical people group designated by their age, so should have this noted in the same ways ‘men’s’ or ‘senior’ ministry would be.

Whatever you decide to call your young people, make sure you are respectful, loving, compassionate, specific and clear. It’s worth some thought, eh?

Trump, Sorkin, Politics, Fatherhood and Youth

I walk a horrible, melting line between my passions. I’m politically aware, and have been active in politics since I was 16, writing for newspapers and supporting campaigns. I’m also a Christian youth worker trying to remain neutral in a ministry among impressionable people and charity work conditions.

For this reason I painfully made the decision to steer clear of the US election in my blog and social media world. Aaron Sorkin’s letter to his daughters, however, is what I choose to share to break my silence.

You can read the original on Vanity Fair here, or re-blogged below. I apologise to anyone with sensibilities around some raw language.

Aaron Sorkin & Youth Workers

Sorkin, most famously known for The West Wing, has always been my favorite modern writer, and I have repeatedly devoured all he has produced. I respect him as a man with a difficult history, rich talent and sensible perspective. In this heartfelt and authentic letter, he pushes hard on what fatherhood should aspire to be. He gives reasons to hope, he invites to a mission, and a purpose to persevere, he demonstrates standing under persecution, and soaks it all in rich compassion and promises to always walk alongside. He gives responsibility and value – yet shows humility and vulnerability.

Is this not our job as youth leaders, parents and ministers of the Gospel? Give hope, give mission, give purpose, demonstrate standing under persecution, constantly be compassionate, promise to walk alongside, equip young people with responsibility and value – but from a place of humility and vulnerability.

Couldn’t We Just…?

Before I share the letter, I thought I’d give a brief video clip first from Sorkin’s ‘The Newsroom’ which gives a reasonably clear picture of where America was, is and could be. As someone with an American wife and lots of American friends and family – I say yes please. Couldn’t we just…?

I’ve been rightfully encouraged to pray and trust in God. Absolutely! But there is also a time to stand up and stand against. To be clear, outspoken and alive for Christ by defending the poor, the weak, the orphan, the foreigner and the hungry. This might be standing against the Trumps-that-be, and serving – whole-hardheartedly and humbly – the weakest among us. No time for pouting or sitting back to ‘let God handle it.’ Let’s act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with our God.

Enjoy. (video – then letter)

 

Sorkin Girls,

Well the world changed late last night in a way I couldn’t protect us from. That’s a terrible feeling for a father. I won’t sugarcoat it—this is truly horrible. It’s hardly the first time my candidate didn’t win (in fact it’s the sixth time) but it is the first time that a thoroughly incompetent pig with dangerous ideas, a serious psychiatric disorder, no knowledge of the world and no curiosity to learn has.

And it wasn’t just Donald Trump who won last night—it was his supporters too. The Klan won last night. White nationalists. Sexists, racists and buffoons. Angry young white men who think rap music and Cinco de Mayo are a threat to their way of life (or are the reason for their way of life) have been given cause to celebrate. Men who have no right to call themselves that and who think that women who aspire to more than looking hot are shrill, ugly, and otherwise worthy of our scorn rather than our admiration struck a blow for misogynistic shitheads everywhere. Hate was given hope. Abject dumbness was glamorized as being “the fresh voice of an outsider” who’s going to “shake things up.” (Did anyone bother to ask how? Is he going to re-arrange the chairs in the Roosevelt Room?) For the next four years, the President of the United States, the same office held by Washington and Jefferson, Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt, F.D.R., J.F.K. and Barack Obama, will be held by a man-boy who’ll spend his hours exacting Twitter vengeance against all who criticize him (and those numbers will be legion). We’ve embarrassed ourselves in front of our children and the world.

And the world took no time to react. The Dow futures dropped 7,000 points overnight. Economists are predicting a deep and prolonged recession. Our NATO allies are in a state of legitimate fear. And speaking of fear, Muslim-Americans, Mexican-Americans and African-Americans are shaking in their shoes. And we’d be right to note that many of Donald Trump’s fans are not fans of Jews. On the other hand, there is a party going on at ISIS headquarters. What wouldn’t we give to trade this small fraction of a man for Richard Nixon right now?

So what do we do?

First of all, we remember that we’re not alone. A hundred million people in America and a billion more around the world feel exactly the same way we do.

Second, we get out of bed. The Trumpsters want to see people like us (Jewish, “coastal elites,” educated, socially progressive, Hollywood…) sobbing and wailing and talking about moving to Canada. I won’t give them that and neither will you. Here’s what we’ll do…

…we’ll fucking fight. (Roxy, there’s a time for this kind of language and it’s now.) We’re not powerless and we’re not voiceless. We don’t have majorities in the House or Senate but we do have representatives there. It’s also good to remember that most members of Trump’s own party feel exactly the same way about him that we do. We make sure that the people we sent to Washington—including Kamala Harris—take our strength with them and never take a day off.

We get involved. We do what we can to fight injustice anywhere we see it—whether it’s writing a check or rolling up our sleeves. Our family is fairly insulated from the effects of a Trump presidency so we fight for the families that aren’t. We fight for a woman to keep her right to choose. We fight for the First Amendment and we fight mostly for equality—not for a guarantee of equal outcomes but for equal opportunities. We stand up.

America didn’t stop being America last night and we didn’t stop being Americans and here’s the thing about Americans: Our darkest days have always—always—been followed by our finest hours.

Roxy, I know my predictions have let you down in the past, but personally, I don’t think this guy can make it a year without committing an impeachable crime. If he does manage to be a douche nozzle without breaking the law for four years, we’ll make it through those four years. And three years from now we’ll fight like hell for our candidate and we’ll win and they’ll lose and this time they’ll lose for good. Honey, it’ll be your first vote.

The battle isn’t over, it’s just begun. Grandpa fought in World War II and when he came home this country handed him an opportunity to make a great life for his family. I will not hand his granddaughter a country shaped by hateful and stupid men. Your tears last night woke me up, and I’ll never go to sleep on you again.

Love,

Dad

Essential Theology Reading List For Youth Workers

Ok – so this is not a specific youth worker reading list -sorry! It is, however, a broad but relatively deep theology list on issues that all ministers and pastors should have a grip on. Youth workers – this is you too!

A friend has just finished a short correspondence course on theology that was quite specific in it’s approach. He asked me to put a basic list together of broad evangelical scholarship and laity books that would be useful to spend a year reading to widen his approach. This is that list!

If you have done an undergrad seminary course, many of these really should be familiar to you anyway.

A * next to a title means, ‘if I could only read one book a month I would read these’.

There are many, many other great books, websites and journals that I’d love to add, and I’m not necessarily endorsing all of the theology or ideas contained in this list. This is enough, however, to help you think though issues conversationally and realistically in a year… or so.

If anyone is interested, I might add an ‘essential commentary list’ too at some point.

Enjoy!

Systematics

*Know The Truth – Bruce Milne
Systematic Theology – Wayne Grudem
Books 1&2 of Calvin’s Institutes (Vol. 1)

Christian Living

*Desiring God – John Piper
Knowing God – Jim Packer
The Religious Affections – Jonathan Edwards
Love Does – Bob Goff
Velvet Elvis – Rob Bell

Specific Issues

*The Cross Of Christ – John Stott
Engaging With God – David Peterson
The Difficult Doctrine Of The Love Of God – Don Carson
Doctrine Of The Knowledge Of God – John Frame
On The Incarnation – Athanaisius
The Holy Trinity – Robert Letham
The Atonement – Leon Morris
The Bondage Of The Will – Martin Luther
Historical Theology – Alister McGrath
The Doctrine Of God – Gerald Bray
*The Passion Of Jesus Christ – John Piper

Bible & Exegesis

Listening To The Spirit In The Text – Gordon Fee
God’s Empowering Presence – Gordon Fee
*How To Read The Bible For All It’s Worth – Gordon Fee
To What End Exegesis – Gordon Fee
*Exegetical Fallacies – Don Carson
*Gospel & Kingdom – Graham Goldsworthy
The Prophetic Imagination – Walter Brueggemann
Reading The Bible With Heart And Mind – Tremper Longman II
Introduction To The New Testament – Carson, Moo & Morris
From Paradise To The Promised Land – T.D. Alexander
Perspectives On The Word Of God – John Frame
*Dig Deeper – Andrew Sach & Nigel Baynon
Grasping God’s Word – Duvall Hays
The New Testament Background – C.K. Barrett
An Introduction To The Old Testament – Dillard, Brown, Longman II

Discipleship & Spirituality

The Cost Of Discipleship – Dietrich Bonhoffer
*The Divine Conspiracy – Dallas Willard
The God Who Is There – Francis Schaeffer
Confessions – Augustine
Holiness – J.C. Ryle
The Wounded Healer – Henri Nouman
The Imitation Of Christ – Thomas A Kempis

Ministry

*The Gagging Of God – Don Carson
*Apologetics To The Glory Of God – John Frame
Convergence – Sam Storms
The Reformed Pastor – Richard Baxter
*The Contemplative Pastor – Eugene Peterson
Mere Christianity – C.S. Lewis
*The Universe Next Door – James Sire
The Supremacy Of God In Preaching – John Piper
Preaching With Purpose – Jay Adams
No Perfect People Allowed – John Burke
Emerging Worship – Dan Kimball
*Death By Love – Mark Driscoll
Christian Youth Work – Ashton & Moon

 

3 Things A Youth Worker Learned In The Gym

I thought, for this post, that I would share a little bit of my recent story, and maybe pull out some unexpected lessons that I’ve learned.

Over the last decade my health took quite a knock. Tension headaches and migraines, lots of spontaneous fatigue and a very erratic sleeping patten. A couple of doctors told me it was just work related stress, which, as it made sense for a youth worker, I didn’t question. Even with treatment and a change of circumstances, however it wasn’t getting any better. In fact, it got worse.

I started getting dizzy with strange sudden feelings of vertigo, then I randomly would black out. Not so good! I bit the bullet and went back to the doctors. It turned out that the root cause is much simpler than stress – I have very low blood pressure due to being underweight.

I’m, in fact, very underweight. My bmi is around 18, rather than 20-22 where it should be. This puts me in a very close bracket to conditions such as anorexia. My body just doesn’t break down or store fats very effectively. This means I don’t retain any energy reserves, which – when linked to low blood pressure – just wipes me out.

The treatment for this began a year ago with big changes to my diet, the most significant of which was trying to consume 8000 calories a day. This was ridiculous! I can manage about 3500 on a good day, but any more than that and I’m risking other issues – and I just can’t do my job with constant nausea! Step two, therefore, was to get seriously stuck into the gym – which is where my little bit of hell began.

Enter The Gym

In the gym, I’m on a workout routine that blends exercises from both anorexia recovery programs, and super-human muscle mass gain workouts. No cardio, very little warmup, and big hit ‘heavy’ weights three times a week. I’m now on my fifth week and doing relatively well. I’ve not gained any weight, but I’m sticking at my higher average, which is a good sign, and I’m not randomly falling asleep in the middle of the day.

The gym doesn’t really sit with me as a ‘happy place’ though. It’s smelly, sweaty, inconvenient and incredibility good at poking all of my insecurities. I’m the only guy in the weight section that’s not already built like a tank!

After the first couple of sessions, however, the routine and the sense of personal challenge kicked in, and now it’s starting to make some measure of sense to me. Here are three (and a bit) unexpected lessons that I have learned so far.

1. Mobile Phone Bliss

I made a very early decision that the gym would be a mobile phone free zone for me. It’s just too tempting to do business or panic about something if I have it. For the 5 minute walk from my house and back, and for the 45 minutes I’m there, I am mobile phone pure.

These three weekly hours represent the single longest times in my week without my phone. That’s no access to calls, messages or emails. No evernote and no calendar. For the first few sessions, this was horrible. Like kicking an addiction, my hand kept reaching for my pocket, but the phone wasn’t there. No constant undercover bubbling of panic or quick relief when I checked my notifications.

The gym has given me real time not connected to anybody. No one can get me, unless they pay to get in to see me! This has been a wonderful habit kicker, and has helped me prioritise my ‘check in’ times online much more sensibly the rest of the week.

2. Focus, Focus, Focus

I am a natural mental multi-tasker. I’m always thinking of some new idea – or panicking about some unfinished project or unfulfilled suggestion. If my mind wanders at the gym though, I get hurt!

It’s very hard to think ‘did I send that email’ or ‘I wonder if I used the right tone of voice when I spoke to x’ when you’re trying to lift weights that desire to kill you. If you take your mind off the suckers, they will tear your muscles to shreds!

The gym, has taught me in 5 weeks, what years of trying to contemplate Jesuit and Ignatiun mindfulness techniques couldn’t – to shut my mind off and just focus on the moment.

This has also transposed over into my life as I have recent and consistent mental-muscle memory of what single focus feels like.

3. Non-Work Related Commitment Is Really Healthy

I’m committed to my wife, and I’m committed to my job. Beyond that, I’m a bit woolly. I have hobbies – things that I like to do like painting and playing the guitar. Mostly, however, real person-development-based commitments only focused on what I get paid for or to whom I’m married. Sometimes it’s even hard to include God in that list, as my relationship with him is often so tied up with my ministry job.

Fifteen trips to the gym, however, and I’m finding a new commitment that has nothing (directly at least) to do with either my job or my wife. This has created a real sense of balance to the flavour of my life. A commitment that just focuses on health and personal growth has been fantastic – it’s reminded me that I’m valuable before I’m a husband or a youth worker. It’s made me more thankful and a little bit more receptive to my Dad in Heaven.

3-and-a-bit. Health Is Apparently Important!

I’ve been through clinical treatment for stress and counselling based therapy. You really do have to look after yourself to thrive at God’s plan. Your body is a temple that needs to be respected, and proper diet, sleep and exercise have such a huge impact on the chemical balances of your body and the acuteness of your mental processes.

Thus – you will be more receptive to God and a better youth worker if you look after yourself.

That said – working out sucks! 😛