Sunday, December 19, 2010

Anticipation

Last night, after a whirlwind trip to attend Nana L.'s funeral service, we rushed to church to watch this year's Christmas program.  We had been waiting to see the play for months now.  Each Monday night for the last several weeks, Dave would quickly finish his dinner and leave for play practice, returning with bright eyes and words of praise for the other cast members.  With high hopes, we entered the church and took our seats.  And we weren't disappointed.  The play itself was funny enough, and the scenery, lighting, and sound were top-notch, but the cast really brought the show to life.  As a side note, our assistant pastor directed the play, and she has the gift of expectation.  She invites people into something greater than they can most times picture for themselves.  I'm convinced this quality called and required people to perform in ways they never thought possible.  It was a joy-filled time for me, a picture of church acquaintances and friends in their element and having so much fun as they told the Christmas story with carefully-crafted facial expressions, vocal inflections, and timing.

All good things take time and patience.  A line that Nana included in a letter she wrote to me while I was a college student, it was likely in response to some fears that I had at that point in my life...fears about my future...and mostly the fear that I wouldn't date or get married.  While my Nana was super-talented in multiple areas, I don't remember her being quick to dispense life advice, which was why this written wisdom was especially meaningful to me.  And boy, was she right.  I was waiting and waiting for the right man to enter my life.  Sometimes I waited with hope.  Most times, I feared that the very thing I longed for would never happen.  All along, the man waited for, the one I would marry, was there, and I had absolutely no idea.  First, he was just another member of our campus church group.  Then he became a (very funny and thoughtful) good friend of my sister's.  Next he decided to lead a Bible study on campus, and I was assigned to coach the Bible study leaders.  He was the troublesome one who wanted to break all of the Bible study rules.  I was the uptight one putting him in his place.  We will never be friends, I thought.  But then, the unthinkable happened: I observed him and grew to respect him and enjoy him, and apparently, he began to respect and enjoy me too.  I invited him to my work holiday party.  He threw snowballs at my window and left me thoughtful notes on my car.  He went running with me.  I sat with him as he attempted to complete school projects.  Our relationship was rising up.  It was growing, even blossoming.  I was hopeful.  Could this be the one I was waiting for?  Was our relationship one of the good things that my Nana wrote about?

As I type this, I'm waiting for some bread dough to rise.  Making bread doesn't seem to require any special skill or talent.  Really, you just need the ability to wait.  You mix the dough together and let it sit for hours.  Then you form the dough into a loaf and you let it sit some more.  Next you bake it for a while and let it sit until it's cool enough to slice.  Act, wait, act, wait.  It's hard though...the waiting, that is.  I'm hungry, and I know that the bread is good.  But the waiting makes the bread that much better.  I watched you rise up.  I smelled you as you were baking.  I longed for you.  I desired you.  And the longing and desire make you taste even better, even more satisfying, than what I could have imagined.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Someone To Watch Over Me

My husband's had a rough few weeks at school.  For whatever reason, this time of year seems to be especially burdensome for him as a teacher.  Last year, I think it may have played a part in Dave's running injury.  The one that kept him from running his marathon earlier this year.  But that's another story.  Anyway, I hate to see him this way, walking in the door late at night, the weariness written all over his face.  Frequent questions about his competence as a teacher, and really, as a person in general, beg for the comforting response from me.  But sometimes my encouragement and reassurance are not enough.  Dave is tired, and he continues to feel anxious, powerless, overwhelmed.

A few nights ago, as we were tucking our kids into their beds, Andrew was complaining about having to go to sleep.  This happens quite frequently in our house, as I expect it happens often in most households with young children.  Kids don't want to miss out on anything, even if it means jeopardizing their much-needed rest.  As Dave was tucking Andrew in, ensuring that he was "snug-as-a-bug-in-a-rug", he told Andrew that he wished he could be like him:  that he could go to bed at 9PM, that he wouldn't need to worry about finishing projects long overdue or about what people think of him.  In that moment, Dave was reflecting on what it was like for him during his childhood.  He wanted for nothing; all of his needs were provided for.  His job was simply to enjoy his life, and love the people around him, and be creative, and be loved.

But isn't that how life SHOULD be for us too, even after our wrinkles and gray hair expose the truth that we are way too old to be kids anymore?  Do we really need to worry as much as we do?  How can we be responsible adults, but still live more like children?

These are some my questions as I anticipate Christmas's arrival.  The Bible describes God as a loving Father and us as children.  In this relationship, we don't need to have all of the answers for life's problems and struggles.  We don't need to scramble to provide for all of our own needs.  Our Father is taking care of it for us.  And He provides for all of our true needs in Jesus.  As I struggle to believe this today, I try to picture my Father, tucking me in, speaking quiet and calming words of love, encouraging me to rest.  And I surrender to sleep.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Is Anybody Out There?: Confessions of a Stay-At-Home Mom

I've had a rough day so far.  On the surface, it seems that the roughness is due to my kids' potty issues.  Last night, it was the middle-of-the-night call, beckoning me to the bathroom, where my daughter then decided that she didn't really need to go on the potty after all.  Then it was an early morning wake-up call as a very sorry child told me that he wet his bed.  There have been a couple of additional potty problems since we've all been awake...get out the wipes...sanitize the potties...clean up soiled children...start another load of laundry.  It's seems that it's those potty issues and the constant fighting.  Why do my children feel the need to question nearly every directive that comes out of my mouth?  Is it worth the energy to stick to my word?

I'm exhausted.  And I feel like there must be something terribly wrong with me.

Honestly, I think the main reason that I've been struggling with this stay-at-home mom gig is that it makes me feel truly incompetent, maybe more-so than anything else I've ever attempted.  Most times I have absolutely no idea what I'm doing.  I'm fearful that I'm messing up the very thing where I invest most of my strength, emotion, and wisdom (that is, if I have any wisdom left!).

Sometimes, I feel alone in this problem that I have.  I read the books and blogs and facebook posts of moms who can work, go to the gym, put a fabulous dinner on the table, throw festive birthday parties, involve and lead church activities, volunteer at school, call friends with encouraging words, and provide a clean and loving home for the husband and multiple children.  I just can't keep up; I try, but I'm always coming up short.

Now I'm the one calling out, "Attention all Have-It-All-Together-Moms out there (if you really do exist). Please share your secrets with me!  Help me to know where I've gone wrong."


Why do we do this to each other...the pretending to have it all together?  When you look SO good, it makes me feel SO bad about myself.  And it makes me feel all alone in that badness.  Does anyone else feel the way that I do, or am I really the only one who can't seem to get things right?

Maybe one of the secrets is to revel in the small daily victories instead of wallowing in the defeats.  Maybe then I would be OK with my many mistakes and inadequacies.  Maybe then I would become the kind of mom that I aspire to be: gentle, patient, gracious, present.  Learning to celebrate the accomplishments of other moms, instead of using them as a measuring stick, would help too.

Until I am fully transformed in my thinking, I'll rely on my other coping mechanisms, some of which work quite well.  Lately, when the fearful and frustrated thoughts creep in, I remind myself to fight back with beauty:
gaze out the window, where the snow is falling all clean and quiet;
dance to that song that reminds me of a favorite time past;
breathe in the scent of the candle, smelling of fall and spice;
take in the words of an encouraging note or of Jesus;
savor the drawing or painting, bright with color;
drink in that full pot of flavorful (i.e. strong!) coffee;
create a new recipe or journal entry;
dream of a situation made right or a relationship reconciled;
thank a friend who's shared life with me;
study those children, who are small and needy today, but will be grown and gone all too soon.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Speaking to the Future Generations

Last night we received the phone call that we waited for all day yesterday, the one that would confirm that yesterday was Dave's Nana's last day and would allow us to officially grieve over our loss of her.  Nana had been sick for several months, so the grieving had already been happening for a while.  Drawing upon some memories, hoping to derive some comfort or consolation, I stumbled upon the realization that Nana's message is alive and is all around us.

Nana was a neighbor, friend, community activist, loving wife, mother, grandmother, and even a great-grandmother.  She was also an artist.  She did calligraphy and scrimshaw, but her specialty was watercolor miniatures.  Her artwork is proudly displayed all over our house; we love soliciting surprised responses when we tell others that these pieces are not photos, but paintings.  Amazing was her knowledge of color and light, her attention to detail, her technique with a paintbrush, her ability to use a medium to create and to make alive.  And through her artwork, Nana speaks to me this morning.

I remember reading somewhere that a key to finding purpose in life is finding your medium...that glorious material or subject that allows you to express your true self (I regret that I can't remember the source of this idea...please let me know if you can help me).  For Nana, it was paint and paper, and for my Nana, needles and thread, sugar and flour.  For my Pop-Pop, it was wood and nails, seeds and soil.  Maybe for you it's math or words or people.  The artwork, clothing, recipes, and furniture, live on, along with all of the memories, even after the creator is gone.  They speak to us of the creator's joys, hopes, and talents.  They remind us of the love the creator shared with us.

Today, the desire to be like Nana, to have something that is left behind that speaks to others, compels me to find my medium.  I'm summoning the courage to look deep inside myself, find the message that God has created me, and only me, to share, and proclaim it.  I want to create and invest so that others may hear from me, even when my life on earth ceases.  Today, I'm thankful that we have opportunities to leave pieces of us behind, that we can express ourselves to those precious future generations that we won't have the pleasure of meeting.

We miss you already, Nana L.  Rest in peace.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Next Steps

Here's to a very late marathon recap!  On the whole, I had a satisfying marathon experience.  We drove to Philly last Saturday and had the opportunity to stay with an old running/church friend and her family.  We reconnected over Brazilian food and a game of Settlers before I surrendered to my bed.  I actually slept through most of the night when my alarm went off at 5AM; before I knew it, we were off to the race start. I couldn't have asked for a better weather day: sunny and in the 40's.  I found a port-a-potty, and then my race corral, and then we were off.  The marathon course is beautiful...winding through the historic parts of the city and back toward the zoo and art museum, then through Fairmount Park again and to Manayunk before the turn around and end at the art museum.  And nothing could prepare me for the number of fans.  I think this was the highlight for me: the support of numbers of people who wouldn't have known my name except for that it was printed on my race bib; the support of some friends who traveled long distances, one with an Elmo doll, to cheer me on; and the support of my husband, who ran most of the last 3 miles with me despite the fact that I was exhausted and unpleasant at that point (I compare running a marathon with giving birth...that may give you a picture of what he was dealing with).

After a slow start, I was able to settle into my own pace around mile 3, and for the most part, stick with that pace until around mile 18.  I decided then that I needed some extra motivation, so I put my headphones on.  My ipod died a few minutes later.  I was disappointed, but I didn't want to let it ruin my race.  I was starting to struggle physically and mentally at that point.  Whenever I heard running water, and there were several points in the last miles when I did, I would try to focus on why I was running the race, in hopes that it would help me to regroup.  I've been in this situation before: the part of a race when I need to decide whether I'm going to keep chasing my goal, or whether I'm going to give up and just resign myself to the fact that I was running a good race but can't find the strength to keep at it.

I feel a little like that right now, hence the late blog entry.  I've spent the last few months learning more about and raising money for a cause and a people who mean a lot to me.  I've had opportunities to start this blog and connect with old and new friends.  I've had a marathon training plan telling me exactly what I need to do every day to meet my goal.  I've felt confident that I've been in step with God; I've been running a good race.  Now, in this post-fundraising, post-marathon place, I'm feeling a little out of steam, and I'm also feeling a little scared, because I had this really good thing going and I'm not quite sure how to keep it going; I was racing toward a strong finish and now I don't know how or if I'm going to complete the race.  I don't know what my next steps are or how to take them.

In the marathon, when my body and mind started to fail me, I received a huge hug from Elmo, the company of my husband, who loves me and runs with me even during some of my lowest moments, and the smiling faces of friends who cheerfully greeted me at the finish line.  I welcomed these as gifts along the way, gifts that helped me to finish well.  As I consider my next move, I'll look expectantly for those things that will motivate me and point me in the right direction.

Friday, November 19, 2010

I *heart* my potty!

The marathon is just 2 days away!  As I begin finalizing plans and packing my things for the weekend, I think through all of the marathon-related logistics.  Honestly, one of the things I'm most concerned about is being able to find and use a toilet at the appropriate times before and potentially during the race.  Sounds silly, doesn't it?  But for those of you who have run in races (or have run at all), or have gone hiking or camping, or have tried to potty-train a child, you know that potty absence can be a real issue.   A bathroom or even a port-a-potty at the right moment is quite the welcome sight!

In case you didn't know, today is World Toilet Day, the day that we thank God for toilets and bring awareness to the fact that there are many people in our world (2.6 billion...that's close to half of the world's population) who don't have adequate access to proper sanitation.  Imagine what it would be like to have no certain place to go to the bathroom...if you had to worry for your privacy and safety.   Think about how your life would change if you needed to wonder whether there is poo in your water. (Yes, I ask my children to not talk about poop, at least not in public, but today, and for this purpose, it seems totally appropriate).

This is an important issue because people are drinking water that has been in contact with poo.  The dirty water gives them diarrhea, which leads to sickness and even death, especially among children.  Access to something as simple as a working toilet brings dignity, health, hope, and peace.

So be thankful for your potty today!

And speak out for those who don't have one. 

Monday, November 15, 2010

Tennis Elbow

(Just as a warning, this entry is pretty self-focused, with some details about how I've been feeling physically leading into marathon week.  For those of you not into the details of my running life, it's best that you skip this one...)

Shortly after posting an update on my blog this past weekend, I started experiencing some pain in my elbow.  Those of you who know me well have heard about the little mishap I had in high school that ended in a trip to the hospital and some surgery (it's a good story...feel free to ask me about it some time when you need a laugh).  On Saturday, near the sight of my old injury, my arm started to swell and turn red.  Family members were laughing about my tennis elbow, not because I had tennis elbow, but because it looked like I had a tennis ball lodged in my elbow.  I was starting to feel anxious about how this unknown and very strange development was going to alter my marathon-running plans.  My mind began to think through worst-case scenarios: I am going to need to make a trip to the ER...I am going to need surgery to fix this weird elbow problem...we are going rack up lots of health care costs and they won't even count toward next year's high deductible...I won't be able to run my marathon.

The human body puzzles me at times.  I'm not sick often, but I've had my fair share of strange body aches, rashes, and other unknown ailments, especially in the last few years.  I'm not sure if it's that I'm getting older, or if it's that I became a mom during that time, but lately, I've become more aware of the truth that, even if I run several times per week, sleep well, avoid addictions, and try to eat all of the right things, I'm so not in control of my own body.  It's scary.  I feel more comfortable when I can trick myself into thinking that I'm in control.  I can't do that when my body is doing strange and unpredictable things.

Just like access to water, our good health is not something to be taken for granted.  It's not a given.  It can be taken away from us at any point.  I feel like it's at times like these, when things seem a little more uncertain, that I thank God more for the "small" things.  Thank you, God, that my elbow seems a little less swollen.  Thanks that it's no longer red and the pain has gone down.  Father, thank you that you've sustained me through a marathon training season.  Thanks that I get to run in this marathon.

I'm also thankful for a good friend who called me last night, asked how I was doing, encouraged me to dwell in the truth that God will take care of me, and prayed for me.  I'm taking small steps toward grasping a better perspective when the unexpected comes my way.

Water's True Cost

Dave did it!  He fixed a leak in our bathtub faucet that had been plaguing us for months.  And he did it without needing to shut off the water to all of our house.  Our tub, thankfully, has its own water shut off valve, unlike our dishwasher.  Since I started this blog, I had been feeling at least a little convicted that we needed to do something about this leak.  After all, I've been trying to discipline myself to be grateful for the water we have and mindful of our water consumption.  Having an obvious leak in our bathroom doesn't really fit with that.

After our water walk, we kept one of the containers that we used to transport water (a gallon-sized apple juice container) to put under the leaky faucet, and we would periodically use the water to flush our toilet.  This helped us to calculate that the faucet was leaking nearly 2 gallons of water per day.  To delve into this a little further, we'll have to do some math (yay!): our family of 4 pays $30-$35 every 3 months for the 11,000 or so gallons of water that we use during that time period.  So we were paying roughly $0.003 per gallon, or less than one cent per day, due to our leaky faucet.  I have to admit that, given our very low cost of water, it was difficult to feel motivated to buy the parts required to fix the leak and to make time for the fix;  being compelled to make this change was about more than just the money.

Last week, I bumped into a friend unexpectedly.  We chatted for a little while before she mentioned that she needed to get back to her house to talk with her landlord about her extreme water bill...around $270 for 3 months of water usage!   I was feeling upset for my friend, knowing that there was something very clearly wrong (an error in the water meter reading?  a serious leak...but wouldn't that be obvious?) and fearing that maybe she would be held responsible for the financial consequence.  How could anyone be expected to pay that kind of water bill?  But as I pondered this, I started to wonder...

Would our water consumption habits change if we regularly incurred bills of $270 per quarter instead of $30 per quarter for our water usage?  At what point would we start to care?

In her article titled The Next Big Ideas in Conservation: Paying Water's Real Costs, Carmen Revenga, senior scientist with the Nature Conservancy, states that the price you pay for water is but a small fraction of what it actually costs to extract water, deliver it to users, and treat it after its use.  She argues that once we start purchasing water at something closer to its real cost, that not only would we respond by using less water, but there would also be money for things like upgrading inefficient water distribution systems, protecting our existing water supply, and bringing water to people who don't currently have water access.





Trust me, I'm not excited about another bill increase.  So how can we be responsible for water's true cost right now without paying higher water bills?  Let's start with some of the following water conservation practices:
  • Turn off the water while we brush our teeth, wash our hands, and do our dishes.
  • Take shorter showers.  Take fewer showers.
  • Purchase water-saving/efficient appliances.
  • Run only full loads of laundry and dishes.
  • Install rain barrels and use the water for our garden and flowers (hopefully more on rain barrels later this week).
  • Go to a car wash, where wash water is recycled, or use rain water to wash our cars.
  • Wear a clothing item/use a towel more than once before washing it.  If it isn't dirty, don't wash it.
  • Check for leaks and fix them.
  • Compost food waste instead of using the garbage disposal.
  • Protect our water supply - get involved in a local watershed group, plant trees and vegetation along streams, dispose of trash in the appropriate place (let's not sweep leaves or pour oil into our storm drains!).
  • Be grateful for the water we have.  Remembering that access to clean water is a privilege will help us to use less of it.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Home stretch

I just completed my last long run of 8 miles, which was actually shorter than some of my during-the-week runs just a couple of weeks ago!  Marathon taper time is bittersweet.  It's been nice to look at my marathon training plan and see that I'm responsible for completing much less milage.  But I was feeling a little nostalgic when I realized that time marches on, and this season of training is nearly over.  I will miss my weekly morning long runs with my friend Val!  We felt really thankful as our husbands watched our kids while we ran through the beautiful Lancaster County countryside and shared meaningful conversation.  Val runs her first marathon in the Outer Banks tomorrow.  Go Val!

A quick fundraising update... I'm 76% of the way to my goal of raising $2,000 with one week to go until the marathon!  Thank you so very much to those who have donated money to this cause.  Your generosity overwhelms me (in a good way)!  Thanks also to all who have supported me with kind words, thoughtful questions, and prayers.  I feel so grateful and hopeful as I move into my last week of training!

If you would still like to donate money to World Vision, please visit my fundraising page.  Your money will be used to fund clean water projects in Kenya and Ethiopia.  Most of us in this country are really blessed with financial resources that we can use to care for others... what an awesome privilege it is to share and to give!  I hope that, as you give with the desire of helping others and changing lives, you are changed too.

Please check back later on in the weekend for a blog entry related to the cost of water.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A Little Inspiration from Runner's World

I know it!  Most of you are going to think I'm strange (some of you already KNOW that I have my quirks...don't we all?!?).  I don't typically look forward to receiving our mail.  Honestly, there's just not much to look forward to.  Credit card offers, insurance offers, bills...who needs it?  But I'm thankful that, once a month, I'm guaranteed to feel a smile forming on my face as I open the front door and find mail scattered across our floor.  On that day, I spy my Runner's World magazine, and my mind races to reshape my day so that I will have the time to at least skim through the pages.

Today is that day!  The arrival of the magazine, paired with the chance occurrence of both kids napping, provided me with some unusual afternoon pleasure reading.  Ahh...the simple things.  Anyway, one of the cover stories is titled Heroes, and since I'm obviously into the heroic (see previous post about Wonder Woman underoos), I turned there right away.

I quickly noticed a story about a woman called Tara Livesay, who lives in Haiti, along with her husband and 6 of her 7 children (3 of them adopted).  The article says that she's used running to raise more than $180,000 (!!!) to care for the people of Haiti.  Because I was curious to know how it's possible for one person's efforts to be that effective, I went to her blog.  There is SO much good stuff here, I'm not even sure exactly what to recommend.  In yesterday's post, I run II, she recounts the story of when she found out that Runner's World features her as a hero (great story!).  The post also includes Haiti-I run, written in 2009.  Here, she uses her morning run observations to paint the picture of life in Haiti.  Beautiful, and what resonates with me most is the following:

In my right ear, I have my mp3 player on as loud as it will go. Derek Webb sings and reminds me This Too Shall Be Made Right. The combination of the music in my right ear and what I am taking in with my left ear and the dozens of situations I see around me cannot be easily reconciled or accepted. Does God see this too? A wave of something that feels like grief hits me. I am bombarded by a multitude of thoughts. I run.

I spend a lot of time questioning the things that happen in this world, and how God could allow the pain, the sickness, the injustice...the evil.  The knowledge that God will make things right is what brings me comfort.  God even uses us to help make things right through things like visiting someone who is sick, or taking the time to be a good listener to a friend, or providing a meal for one who's just had a baby, or using running to raise money for people who need help.  You have something unique to contribute too.

Another treasure that I discovered on Tara Livesay's blog is the following prayer...I pray it be true for you.


May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships - so that you may live deep within your heart.


May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people - so that you may work for justice, freedom, and peace.

May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger and war - so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and to turn their pain into joy.

And may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in the world - so that you can do what others claim cannot be done, to bring justice and kindness to all our children and the poor.
Amen.
(Franciscan Benediction)

Friday, November 5, 2010

Blog Action Day

Friday, October 15 was Blog Action Day, where bloggers write about one topic, using their collective influence to spotlight a particular issue.  This year's topic was water.  I'm ashamed to say that I didn't know about this back in October!  But thankfully, a good friend of mine posted about it on her blog.  Please click here to read her informative post, which includes links to some of her favorite posts of the day.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Weight of Water

Have you ever had the opportunity to walk in someone else's shoes?  Halloween was yesterday, so lots of us have recently pretended to be someone (or something!) other than ourselves.  Most times, it's fun to put on a mask and, for a moment, to forget about worries, fears, or pressing deadlines.  Sometimes we daydream about being someone who possesses something we don't have: perhaps someone with a special skill or talent, or someone who has a coveted job or relationship.  But have you ever imagined yourself to be someone who is suffering in some way? 

Yesterday, in an effort to imagine life for millions of people in this world who lack access to a close and reliable source of clean water, we took some time to walk to get our water.  Our first journey was with the kids of Crossroads Mennonite Church.  They've spent the last 8 weeks learning about water issues using the Mennonite Central Committee water curriculum.  We walked about 1/3 mile to the house of a couple of the kids' teachers, collected water, and walked back.  Then they made hot chocolate and tea with the water and sold it for donations to World Vision for clean water projects in Kenya.  The kids raised $44.02!!  I'm hoping and praying that this experience, along with the last 8 weeks of lessons, makes a lasting impression on the children.  Their excitement and encouragement certainly made an impression on me!  (Thanks again so much Ken, Hadia, Alice, Fenny, and many others at Crossroads Church for your generosity, hospitality, and encouragement!)

After the hot chocolate, Ken, Hadia, Kiri, Dave, our kids, and I made our way down to the river to complete our own water walk.  This journey was nearly one mile (0.85 miles to be exact!) each way.  We filled 14 gallon-sized milk jugs in the river and then carried them back up the hill using backpacks (was this cheating?), hands, and even our heads for a short time.  The weight of one gallon of water is 8.34 pounds, and most of us were carrying 3 gallons, so we were lugging around 25 pounds per person.  Based on the statistics I've read, it's common for women to carry 40 pounds at a time for distances of 3-4 miles from the water source, so we were a little short on both weight and distance.  It was enough to give us plenty to consider, though.

A couple of things were particularly surprising.  One was that the walk back didn't seem so bad.  It's not comfortable for me to carry 2 gallons of milk from the convenience store that's just a few blocks from my house, so I was expecting the water walk to be more of a struggle.  I'm wondering if things would have been different had I completed the walk by myself.  I think that having others to share in the effort made it bearable.  I was reminded that I can complete difficult tasks and make it through hardships if I know that I'm not alone, that someone is walking with me.  I also realized that our simulation was also much different than the real thing.  Our trip to get water was a one-time event.  I imagine that it is wearying to think about using this method to get water day after day after day.  We had no threat of violence on our journey, like some women and children do.  We weren't going to use our water for drinking or cooking, so for us, there was no risk of getting sick.  We didn't lose any significant amount of time for school, meaningful work, hobbies, or rest.  These are some of the real burdens for those who lack easy access to water; this is the true weight of water.

I was also curious why no one stopped us to ask what we were doing.  I'm sure we must have looked a little out of place in our caravan with our large backpacks and our water-filled milk jugs; I expected some questions or at least some puzzled looks!  Maybe this was the part of the simulation that most resembles real life.  How many people are stopping to ask why, when there is so much wealth and so much technology in our world, are there so many people who are still truly suffering due to a lack of clean water?

After a mile in someone else's shoes, I'm feeling especially grateful for my water today.


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In case you're wondering, we used the 14 gallons of river water to flush the toilet in our house!

If you would like to donate money to fund World Vision's clean water projects in Kenya, please visit my fundraising page.  Thanks!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Water Walk Scheduled

For anyone who is interested and able, we're doing a water walk this Sunday (Oct. 31) in the afternoon.  We'll be walking about 1 mile to a nearby stream, collecting water, and walking back to my house.  I'm hoping that this will help us to get a better idea of the struggle that some face on a daily basis.  Be sure to check back later on in the weekend for a blog entry about the experience.  Please get in touch with me if you would like to participate and haven't already contacted me!  Thanks!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

A Long Embrace

Watch the long embrace on YouTube
Last Wednesday, while I was on a treadmill working through some hill repeats, I watched the rescue of Victor Zamora, the 14th of the Chilean mine workers to be pulled from the San Jose Mine.  This was great inspiration for a hard workout; the amazing story shown on live TV served as a very good distraction and motivator!

I had lots of thoughts running through my mind as I watched the above clip...Victor Zamora is a REAL person, with a family...and with hobbies, hopes for the future, and fears.  He is not an actor, or a person in a magazine, or a man easy to forget.  His life is valuable.  His life, along with the lives of another 32 mine workers, are so valuable that countless hours and expense and risk went into a plan to rescue them.

Do you believe that your life is that valuable?  Do I?

What about the lives of your parents or children or other family members?  Or your friends?  Or neighbors?  What about the acquaintance who landed himself in jail?  Or what about the Kenyan child who has no drinking water today?  Are these lives worth saving?  Are these REAL people to you?  To what lengths will you go to rescue these people?  At what cost would you participate in the rescue effort?

The liberation of the miners reminded me of some words found in the Bible's Psalm 40...

I waited patiently for the LORD; And He inclined to me and heard my cry.   He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay, and He set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm.

God spares nothing when it comes to rescuing us.  This is His promise to us.

I loved watching Victor and his wife Jessica embrace.  It was a long embrace.  Almost uncomfortably long.  God's love is like that.  It is long and tight and overwhelming.  He won't let us go.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Superheroes

This morning, as soon as my son left for preschool, my daughter found his "hero" attire and dressed herself.  Eye mask and red cape on, swooping, galloping, flying across our house she went, back and forth, back and forth.  Never tiring, always smiling, she was searching for anyone who needed some saving.

True confessions...when I was little, I used to wear my Wonder Woman underoos and do my own swooping across our neighborhood.  I wore my red, white, blue, and gold proudly.  I didn't care that it was only underwear.  I felt powerful!  WW to the rescue!   

What's up with kids and their desire to be superheroes? 

A little later today, as we unpacked my son's backpack, we found the orange trick-or-treat unicef box.  Both kids were intrigued.  I explained that you may use the box to collect money when you are out soliciting candy on Halloween.  Then I read the back of the box: 


$0.07 provides 50 kids with safe water for a day

$2 buys 1 liter of therapeutic milk

$19 buys 3 mosquito nets to protect kids from malaria

$257 provides an emergency classroom kit for 40 kids

$500 buys a water pump for a whole community


Andrew wanted me to get his bank for him.  He emptied the contents and started to put the money in the unicef box.  Several times, I asked him if he was sure he wanted to part with his money.  All he wanted to know was whether his money could purchase the set of malaria nets.  "Yes, let's do it mommy."

What's up with kids and their desire to be superheroes?

And why is being a superhero less attractive to me now that I'm adult?  When encountered with an opportunity to give, I typically first think about all that I could lose, and not so much about all I could give...and what that giving could mean for someone else. 

Do they make underoos for grown-ups?

Monday, October 18, 2010

A Lesson From My Son

I went for a different kind of training run today.  Andrew wasn't up for the Y, but was excited when I asked him if he wanted to go for a bike ride.  So we went to a local park.  I ran with Natalie in the jogging stroller, and Andrew rode his bike (mostly) alongside us.  Initially, I thought that we were in the midst breakthrough moment; I would finally be able to complete all of my running with my kids!  But after 5 minutes on the bike, Andrew was starting to tire.

The park's paths weren't particularly hilly, but even so, there were several times where Andrew would stop at the bottom of a "hill" and ask for a push.  "Mommy, I can't do it," he would say.  He seemed to be intimidated by the grade and the length of the hills.  He's pretty new to bike riding, but experienced enough to know that he would need strong legs continually pedaling to keep the bike from moving backward, the default direction.  He wasn't sure that he was powerful enough to make it up the hill.

I'm having an I can't do it kind of day.  I feel like I'm marching upward on an escalator that's going downstairs.  The hills are working against me.  I'm looking for someone to push me so that I can achieve today's goals: a run long enough to match that on my training plan, a blog entry, a basket full of folded laundry, quality time with my husband and kids, some time in prayer for friends.

At the park today, when we approached the steepest of the hills, I told Andrew that he should try pedaling the bike up the hill, on his own, without a push.  I was confident of his abilities.  I wanted him to see that he could do it.

"Keep on going!  Use your momentum!"

"What's momentum mommy?"

 "You can do it!"

He was frustrated.  He wanted his push.  He was a little mad at me.  I was challenging him to think differently about himself and his obstacle, and that can be hard to accept.  But as he approached the crest of the hill, a huge smile grew across his face.  He had indeed done it.  He pedaled the bike up the hill, on his own, without a physical push.

I want to be like Andrew today.  I want to step up to the challenge to think differently about myself and my obstacles and my goals.  I want to listen to encouragement, even when it's different from the thoughts swirling around my head.  I want to keep pedaling when my muscles are screaming for me to stop.  I want to be pleased with my efforts and grow in confidence.  Thanks Andrew!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Note to self

Today, Dave and I celebrate our eighth wedding anniversary!  Sometimes, I wish I could go back in time and give some advice to my younger self; I want to tell her how it really is.

One of the things I would tell younger Lori is that marriage is a lot like running a marathon. 

Surrounded by a crowd of friends and family, you make promises, celebrate the new thing that is about to happen, and then you're pronounced husband and wife.  And you're off.  The race has begun.  You have lots of people happy for you and cheering you on, at least in the beginning.  Everything feels new and fresh.  Your feet don't hurt, and you're not impacted by the weather.  You're ready to take on whatever hill or cramp or hardship may come your way.  You're in the honeymoon phase.  There's no fighting.  Nothing can get you down.

After you've been at it for a while, some old injuries and hurts begin to resurface, affecting your attitude and running and relating.  You plow through the pain and discouragement.  But then you feel thirsty and hungry, at least until you reach the next water stop, where you are blessed and refreshed for a time with gatorade and power bars.  Next come obstacles with names Loneliness, Boredom, and Distraction.  And then you hit the wall, where you are tested to see how much you want this race or this marriage.

You almost always start a marathon expecting to make it to the finish line, but sometimes, things don't go as planned, and the race ends in an unexpected way.  You choose to give up, or the race ends early due to a medical condition, or a betrayal, or death.

But there are blessings along the way.  An unexpected conversation...a new friendship forms as the miles tick by.  A friend cheers or speaks words of honesty or prays for you at just the right time.  Or you're having an "on" running day...the miles fly by and you're feeling great...things seem effortless for a time.  You're feeling strong and that you have what you need to keep at it.  And you see the finish line in this distance and remember that all of the hard work and difficult choices impact more than just you; it's worth it for your kids and sometimes even for people you've never met.  Your choices and relationships can affect people in a different time and place.

When I think of marriage, one of the things that I remember is some wise advice that the mother of a very dear friend of mine gave to my friend as she was making some decisions about dating and marriage.  She encouraged my friend to "run" as quickly as she could toward Jesus and then look to see who was running with her to determine who would make a good husband.  Today, I'm feeling so very grateful to be running this race with Dave.  I hope we're running an ultra-marathon.  Happy anniversary David!  I love you!

(The photo is me in my wedding gown running down the steps of the church where we were married.  I even had running shoes on!  The photo was not taken on our wedding day;  Dave shot this in May 2009 for a school project.  We got some interesting and confused looks from neighbors that day!)

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Future Generations Will Praise Us...And Think We're a Little Crazy!

Growing up, I loved going to my Nana and Pop Pop's house.  It served as a safe haven of sorts.  My cousins were often there, so it was guaranteed that I would have someone to play with other than my sisters.  It was also a given that there would be food...lots of food...usually too much food to eat.  There was a big backyard and basement to explore...plenty of places for me to escape.  But also places for me to engage, especially if I was willing to watch sports or Jeopardy, which is often what the adults would be doing.

I loved my Nana so much because she was always showing her love for me.  Forever in her kitchen or sewing room, she was making me or my sisters or cousins some new clothes or our favorite desserts.  But I also thought some of her practices were strange.  She was always saving things like foil or plastic food storage bags.  I used to joke with her and with my sisters and cousins about the rinsed out and hanging up to dry plastic bags.  Why doesn't she just go to the store and get more plastic bags?  It reminded me of my Dad and his installation of a special shower head in our bathroom.  Why would we need to be able to easily shut off the water in the middle of our showers?  After all, we have all of the water we want (this thinking wasn't exactly true, as I learned when our private well was pumped dry by a neighboring construction project).

What I didn't understand then was that my Nana and my Dad had grown up during a different time, a time when material goods and necessary resources weren't as plentiful and weren't taken for granted.

A few days ago I read this article titled What Will Future Generations Condemn Us For? by Kwame Anthony Appiah.  Appiah lists practices such as our poor treatment of animals and the elderly and suggests that if people have already heard the arguments against a practice, if the defenders of the practice do not provide moral counterarguments but invoke tradition or necessity, and if supporters of the practice engage in strategic ignorance, then a practice is destined for future condemnation.  It reminded me of a conversation that Dave and I had recently about slavery in the US.  Of course it's easy for us to condemn that practice now, but if we were living in that time, would we have spoken out against slavery?  Or would we have justified it by telling ourselves that our actions couldn't possibly make a difference and that life as we knew it wouldn't be possible without slaves?

Lately, I've been feeling convicted about my greed and materialism.  I have to admit that I don't like to see how my habits directly or indirectly impact other people or our environment in negative ways, because that means I'll have to change.  And really, it's just easier and less time consuming to be wasteful.  I don't want to have to think about how my purchases and other practices enable injustice systems to continue.

Thank you Nana and thank you Dad for compelling me to think.  I used to be convinced that you were crazy, but now I appreciate that you are wise and thoughtful and sacrificing.  I hope that I can be those things for my children and grandchildren.  I want their praise, not their condemnation, even if it means that they think I'm crazy!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Entitlement

I recall my college years with super fond memories.  I am so grateful for all of the opportunities that I had to learn and grow.  Recently though, I've noticed that I feel entitled to certain things, and that sense of entitlement has made life difficult because I don't have many of those things.  I've been trying to figure out where this thinking comes from, and lately, at least, I've concluded that my college experience is partially to blame.

I wasn't especially aware of them at the time, but the messages (some direct and some not-so-direct) were clear.  I was attending a premier educational institution.  Consequently, if I could manage to get good grades, I'd be assured an outstanding job... one with prestige and, of course, a good paycheck; I would be successful and have everything that I need and want; I could live a secure, comfortable, and socially acceptable life; I will, in fact, have "made it".

These are, of course, empty promises.  Education does not ensure security, comfort, or acceptance (I recognize there is room for argument here...education is a privilege and does seem to guarantee some level of payoff).  Life happens, and I made some choices.  For me, not every employer, potential or actual, was so impressed by my good grades and college name.  And I've had my own doubts, fearing that perhaps I chose the wrong major in college.  Then came kids, further complicating things.  For others, it's unexpected crises, such as illness, divorce, or unemployment, which destroy the promise of the picture-perfect life.  Regardless of the cause, unmet expectations are hard to deal with.  I bought into the empty promises, and to the degree that I believed the promises, I'm left to deal with my disappointment.  I'm not living the life that my college education promised to deliver, and I struggle with that sometimes, despite the fact that I made some choices that led me here.

In his book titled Counterfeit Gods, Tim Keller writes the following:  Everyone tends to live in a particular socioeconomic bracket.  Once you are able to afford to live in a particular neighborhood, send your children to its schools, and participate in its social life, you will find yourself surrounded by quite a number of people who have more money than you.  You don't compare yourself to the rest of the world, you compare yourself to those in your bracket.  The human heart always wants to justify itself and this is one of the easiest ways.  You say, "I don't live as well as him or her or them.  My means are modest compared to theirs."  You can reason and think like that no matter how lavishly you are living.  (page 52)

I confess that I spend a lot of time comparing myself to others in my "bracket", which makes me feel like I am entitled to more...more money, a nicer house, plentiful job options.  Sometimes, I've found it helpful to take a step back and put things in perspective.  Last fall, I received a giving catalog, which pictured various items like animals, school supplies, and farming equipment that I could purchase to give at Christmas-time as an alternative to traditional Christmas gifts.  Among the potential gifts included in the catalog was a home that I could purchase for $1,200.  I kept that giving catalog in our magazine rack for a long time, so that when I was feeling tempted to complain about my house, I could take a look at the $1,200 shelter that someone in some other part of the world would feel very grateful to receive and feel grateful myself.  It served as a reminder that I AM living the good life.  I have "made it".  I have so much to be thankful for.

I don't have this figured out.  I struggle with several questions:

What exactly are we entitled to in this life?

How does our sense of entitlement impact how we use our money?

Should everyone around the world be entitled to a clean and reliable water source?

I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Getting Involved

In my last entry, I wrote about a book.  I was unable to walk away from what I read on the pages of that book and not do something, so I joined Team World Vision, which for me involved registering for the Philadelphia Marathon and starting an effort to raise money for water projects in Kenya and Ethiopia.

I would love it if you would join me on this journey in whatever way(s) you are able...words of encouragement, prayer, marathon training advice, news about water to add to my blog, etc.  You can also take part in changing the lives of others by going to my fundraising page and donating whatever you are able...any amount is helpful.  Thanks so much for considering this invitation, and thanks to those who have already been so encouraging!

Bathroom Inspiration

Here's the continuation of the story told in an earlier blog entry...the next part of the story began in my sister's bathroom.  That's where my husband was when he picked up a book, started flipping through it, and found the same photo that I used for the drawing I discussed in the earlier entry.  Dave was very familiar with the photo at that point.   He came downstairs, book in hand, and showed me the photo.  I started skimming through the book, which is called The Hole in Our Gospel and was written by World Vision President Richard Stearns.  A few days later, I purchased it and started reading.

(A little background...by that point, I was already familiar with World Vision through our sponsorship of Simon.  And I was already familiar with Team World Vision.  In recent months, I came across a several articles and was involved in a couple of conversations where people were talking about running for Team World Vision.  In fact, a few weeks before I read the book, I told my sister that she should check out a informational session for Team World Vision in her town).

Richard Stearns writes of his own journey from hot shot CEO to World Vision President to broken advocate for the world's poor and orphaned.  His story is nothing short of amazing...that God would care enough about this rich, white, Christian man to invite him to leave his position of entitlement and connect him with some of the most materially needy people on earth is truly compelling.  Richard Stearns had the courage to say yes to God, even when he didn't want to.  And his decision is changing his life and the lives of countless others forever.  His book invites others on this same journey.

Did you know that God is like Martha Stewart?  If Martha walked into a room with a crooked painting, she would need to straighten it.  That is who Martha is; it is her nature, her character.**  In the same way, it is God's character to set things right...to comfort the grieving and broken, to care for orphans and widows and poor people, to heal the sick, to give grace where it's undeserved.  God says it much better than me through the prophet Isaiah (a little context...God is talking about being displeased with religious people who do all of the right religious things, like fasting, for all of the wrong reasons)...

 6No, this is the kind of fasting I want:
   Free those who are wrongly imprisoned;
      lighten the burden of those who work for you.
   Let the oppressed go free,
      and remove the chains that bind people.
 7 Share your food with the hungry,
      and give shelter to the homeless.
   Give clothes to those who need them,
      and do not hide from relatives who need your help.

 8 “Then your salvation will come like the dawn,
      and your wounds will quickly heal.
   Your godliness will lead you forward,
      and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind.
 9 Then when you call, the Lord will answer.
      ‘Yes, I am here,’ he will quickly reply.

   “Remove the heavy yoke of oppression.
      Stop pointing your finger and spreading vicious rumors!
 10 Feed the hungry,
      and help those in trouble.
   Then your light will shine out from the darkness,
      and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon.
 11 The Lord will guide you continually,
      giving you water when you are dry
      and restoring your strength.
   You will be like a well-watered garden,
      like an ever-flowing spring
."
Isaiah 58:6-11, New Living Translation

That God wants to set things right in our lives and in the lives of people all over the world is comforting.  That He invites us and chooses us to share in the action of setting things right is awesome and humbling.


**I wish I could take credit for this illustration!  But it was Sherman Snow who shared this during an InterVarsity urban program Bible study several years ago.

Monday, September 27, 2010

training update

A few random notes about my marathon training...

Dave and I just joined the local YMCA, at least temporarily.  Up until now, I'd been completing my training runs in the morning, before the kids were up and Dave needed to leave for work.  But it's been more and more difficult to run outside at 6 AM.  I'm a little klutzy, and I was getting concerned that I may injure myself running on the city sidewalks in the dark!  It was either join the Y, or invest in a headlamp!

My long run partner, Val, and I completed a 16-mile long run this past weekend.  The longest we've gone up to this point is 18 miles.  We do 20 this Saturday, and we're looking forward to the challenge (right Val?)!

Please let me know if you are interested in hearing more about my marathon training, or if you have any general questions about training, by commenting on this blog post.  Do you picture yourself being fascinated by the details of each and every run, potential injury, running-related toenail problem, etc.?  (Some runners eat this up...I'm NOT kidding).  Or not so much?  I'd love to know what YOU think.  Really.  Thanks!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Questions

A lot of the time, I am a skeptical person.  It's hard for me to trust.  In a former life, at least it feels like a former life after being home with kids for a couple of years, I was a civil engineer.  I spent many days analyzing plans and checking calculations, looking for errors and broken rules.  I'm pretty sure other engineers didn't appreciate my letters, which arrived with lists of my findings; I was the bad guy....or girl.  It was my job to be questioning and even suspicious.

I have to admit that I still have some questions about that water projects that World Vision and other non-profits complete in other countries.  Do they work over the long-haul?  Does the village/neighborhood take ownership of the infrastructure and maintain it?  How does the presence of a new water source change the culture of the community?   Are there any unintended negative impacts?  Sometimes, I feel like I may need to go and live near one of these projects to satisfy my curiosity!

Thankfully, some women from Kenya were able to answer one of my questions.  A couple of weeks ago, while visiting the World Vision Magazine Blog, I read an entry titled Assignment Kenya, which included an invitation for readers to write in with questions about the water crisis.  I commented with a question and received a response.  I'll include the edited version below.  Please visit the actual blog entry for the full version.

One thing that I have wondered is if there is anything valuable that would be lost in providing clean and reliable water sources for these people? Is there anything redemptive about the process of getting water (i.e. is this a community-building time for the women and children?).

World Vision’s first rule is to do no harm. We ensure that our projects will benefit, not damage, communities. But I thought your question was so intriguing I asked several women about it. They told me that getting water at a closer locations will have no negative effect on their sense of community. The women are together constantly. They go to the market together, to church together, they plant crops together, and gather firewood together. When one of the women is sick, the others organize to help her. One woman will bring her water, another firewood, another food, and another will care for her children. It couldn’t be more different from our culture, where our garage doors close us off from our neighbors’ needs. Getting water is just one of the things that bonds these women. They’ll still meet at the nearby water kiosks to talk, laugh, and share. But now they don’t have to walk miles and miles back home.


I have more questions, but I've found that when I wait for all of the answers, it leads to inaction.  To really live, I need to move without seeing the whole picture and rely on grace for my missteps.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Water Walk

I'm planning to do a water walk to get some small idea of what life is like for the women and children who need clean water.  I don't have anything firm in place at this point; I'm thinking of walking to a stream that is about 1 mile from our house (or finding another stream further away...most women and children walk more than 1 mile each way), getting water, and walking back.  I don't have a date in mind, but it would likely be a Saturday or Sunday in October.

I'd like to invite you to consider joining me.  Please comment on this post or send me an email/facebook message if you are interested.

The Burden of Thirst

If we can look at the people that are suffering and not turn away, then perhaps we can start to change things. - Lynn Johnson, photographer

I urge you to watch the following video by National Geographic, titled The Burden of Thirst



The video interviews are courtesy of www.annenbergspaceforphotography.org

Monday, September 20, 2010

A Night At The Chameleon Club

Friday night, I found myself at the Chameleon Club (my first time in the 10 years that I've been here...can I say that I'm TRULY from Lancaster now?) for an Ed Kowalczyk concert.  It was rockin!  Ed is the former frontman of the band Live.  According to his website, Ed got involved with World Vision due in part to a realization during his daughters' bedtime routine.  He was giving them their nightly cups of water when it hit him that it is a privilege to be able to provide clean water for his children; some fathers don't have a clean cup of water to give to their children every night.

I felt really grateful to have the opportunity to volunteer at the World Vision table and help generous concert-goers sign up to sponsor a child.  It was particularly meaningful to me because all of the children sponsored Friday night are from Zambia, the same country where our sponsored child is from.  When the night was over, 13 people signed up to sponsor children.  But the night wasn't all cheery; I was left with some unsettling feelings.  One of the men that signed up to sponsor a child appeared to be drunk.  This type of situation was not discussed during our volunteers' training.  When he woke up Saturday morning, did he remember that he committed to providing monthly support to a poverty-stricken child?  Another woman told me that she has cancer and may be able to support her child for only a few months.  These new child sponsors felt compelled to give financially; I am hoping that, somehow, their act of providing financial support to a needy child serves to meet some of their own unspoken needs. 

We are all needy.  Some of us are more aware of our neediness than others.  Some of us have more socially acceptable kinds of neediness than others.  Some of us need money.  Some need friends or family.  Some need physical or emotional healing.  Some need a deeper relationship with God.

It feels uncomfortable to be needy.  We try to cover it by buying the right clothes or cars or houses, or appearing to be happy or spiritual all of the time or working hard to keep the right job or having good social connections.  It requires courage to admit our neediness and to ask for help.



In the nightly bedtime routine at the Kowalczyk house, I am in charge of getting two glasses of water for my daughters' night stands. One evening last year, as I handed my 8-year-old her glass, it hit me like a freight train; this clean water is a blessing that thousands of fathers, just like me in this world, do not have. I don't have to worry that the water might make my children, the loves of my life, sick with a possibly fatal illness. I simply take it for granted. I decided then and there to make a difference. It is with great pleasure and profound gratitude that I announce my partnership with World Vision. Let's all work together to give parents in need that simple joy of putting a glass of safe and clean water on the nightstands of their little ones."

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Drawing for Non-Artists...

...is the title of an art class that I took this summer.  All of you who know me know that art is not really my thing.  Or at least I've never seen it as my thing.  So I was quite surprised, or really more like shocked, when Dave presented me with the class folder and paperwork and told me that the art class was a Mother's Day gift.  At first, I didn't even want to accept the gift.  Considering the fact that I hated coloring as I child, I kind of resigned myself to the fact that I would never be an artist.

It felt like a big step for me to show up at the first class, but I managed to make it there with an open mind.  During the six classes, I learned some basic drawing theory (who knew that a drawings's focal point shouldn't be located at the center of the drawing!), made some new friends, and faced my fear of being totally uncreative and boring.  And my drawings weren't horrible!  In most cases, you can actually tell what I was trying to draw.

For our fourth class, we were to complete an expressionist drawing.  Our instructor told us to bring an object or photo to class and gave us a short explanation of expressive artwork.  She said that artists would often choose a situation or photo and then distort or exaggerate some aspect of the subject to express the feelings that the artist attaches to the subject.  She showed us several examples of expressive pieces from a textbook, including a painting of a streetlight.  I loved how the streams and the brightness of the light contrasted with the dark sky.  I loved how the light was winning against the dark.

So I decided to look for a photo of a fountain.  I was hoping to emphasize the size and number of drops of water to express the life, joy, and abundance that I associate with a fountain.  You might imagine how frustrated I was when I was unable to find a photo that matched the image in my mind.  When I finally exhausted my internet search, I noticed a magazine on our dining room table.  As I was flipping through it, I discovered Jon Warren's image of several women and children carrying water through a dry land in the early morning.  Right away, I knew that this was what I wanted to draw.

I hurried to class with the magazine and my art supplies.  As I sat down to draw, I intended to emphasize the rays and the brightness of the sun, symbolizing hope in the midst of a tedious and wearying, but necessary, task.  But as I continued, I found that the only thing that I felt compelled to express was the truth about these real people and their predicament.

The most important thing that I learned during my art class is that you need to look intently at something before you can draw it correctly.  You have to study your subject.  You can't look away because you're distracted or have too little time, or because you're disturbed by what you find as you investigate.  Your discoveries may alter your artwork, your thinking, or even your life.

So, how specifically did this situation result in a marathon registration, fundraising, and this blog?  You'll have to keep reading for the continuation of this story.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

A Change of Pace

Last fall, shortly after having a revelation that coaching cross country would be the "perfect job" for me (the latest in at least a few "perfect jobs" that I've thought of in the last couple of years...more on that later), I started reading some books on coaching.  I read one piece of advice that I've come back to several times since.  The author was describing a situation that I think every runner has faced at some point:  you are running in a race and you are feeling TIRED and want to slow down or drop out of the race.  The author recommended encouraging the runner to try speeding up first, before slowing down.  (What?!?)  His reasoning was that sometimes, the runner doesn't really need to slow down.  What the runner really needs is a change of pace (Daniels' Running Formula by Jack Daniels, PhD).

This sounded a little crazy to me, but I wanted to test the author's theory.  I first tried this at the gym.  For me, less daylight=treadmill running at the gym.  I don't typically enjoy running on the treadmill.  Unless I have someone to talk to, I get bored easily or start obsessing about my running milage or pace.  I started inserting some quick pace running into my normal routine, even at points where I would typically feel tired.  Often, I was able to keep up my quick goal pace.  Amazing!

I look back over my life at the times when I've felt discouraged or weary, or when I've ended relationships or activities or jobs, and I wonder how many times I chose to retreat when I really needed to accelerate.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Dave is my hero!

My husband was my inspiration for my first marathon.  Dave ran the Philadelphia Marathon in 2008.  I remember The Conversation.  One spring morning in 2008, very shortly after my daughter was born (so I was exhausted, hormonal, overweight, and desperately in need of excuses to get out of the house kid-free), Dave informed me that he had decided that he wanted to train to run a marathon.  At the time, he hadn't gone for a run in years.  I was shocked.  I think I may have cried when he told me.  I was not very supportive.  I was jealous.  After-all, running a marathon was MY life goal, and one that I had not yet achieved.

I remember the transformation that took place in him over the following several months.  He lost 30 pounds.  He gained confidence as he tried something new and struggled and overcame and improved.  He even started waking up early for morning runs (and Dave is not a morning person).  He became disciplined where he was undisciplined for the sake of reaching his goal.

Before we knew it, it was the morning of November 23, 2008, and the race was about to start.  Dave would be put to the test...would his hundreds of hours and thousands of miles of training be enough?  Was the training a worthy investment of his energy?  Dave put on his running clothes, drank some coffee and water, downed a bagel, and jogged to the race start.  I remember seeing him at several points along the course, cold and tired, but brave, and having fun as usual (see video below!).



Seeing others strive to achieve the unattainable and ambitious suddenly makes that impossible goal possible for us.  It empowers us to try new things.  It reminds of dreams we once had or places a mirror in front of us to keep us accountable to the things we said we hoped to accomplish.  It helps us to have the courage to put ourselves out there...to grow and to change.

I'm grateful to be married to someone who did (and does) this for me.  Very shortly after completing his marathon, Dave encouraged me to sign up for a half marathon.  I followed through, and in the process, rediscovered my love for running.  Next, I finally registered for and completed that marathon.

Dave's inspiration for his first marathon were two friends, John, his best friend from college, and Rob, a mentor and coworker.  Who inspires you today?  How can you encourage others with your bold actions?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Some numbers

Not sure if you like numbers.  I LOVE them.  I love the way that they can be used like a writer uses words or an artist uses his/her medium of choice to describe and build and expose and evaluate and express.  I love that they are governed by certain rules...that there is an order about them...but that we can also use them to create all kinds of beautiful and meaningful things.

I think a lot of runners love numbers.  It seems that a lot of runners like to talk about stats.  How far did you run today?  How long did it take you?  What's the longest run you attempted before your marathon?  How many 5Ks have you run this year?

For those of you who love numbers, today's post is for you!  First, some running-related numbers:

500         Spots remaining to register for the Philadelphia Marathon (this will be my last plug...it's still not too late to sign up to run with me!!)
600+       Miles I will have run to train for the Philadelphia Marathon
2 or 3      Pairs of running shoes worn during training
16           Weeks of training=number of Saturday long runs=number of power bars eaten
22           Miles run during my longest long run
1             Number of marathons I've finished before the Philadelphia Marathon
3:37:47   Hours, minutes, and seconds that it took me to complete my first marathon
3:30        Minutes and seconds that it took me to complete each of 4 800-meter runs I attempted this morning

And now, some water-related numbers:
1 in 8      People world-wide who lack access to clean water
46           Percentage of people world-wide who do not have water piped to their homes
100         Gallons of water the average American uses in one day
2.6-5.26  Gallons of water the average Sub-Saharan African uses in one day  
3.7          Average number of miles walked each way to a water source by women/children in developing countries
45           Pounds of water carried per water pot or jerry can from the water source
3             Liters of water required to produce 1 liter of bottled water
2,900      Gallons of water required to make 1 pair of blue jeans

I use these statistics to imagine myself as a woman in a developing country.  I leave early in the morning with my 2 children and walk 3.7 miles to a water source that may also be used by animals or for washing or sewage.  I hope that there is some water, even if it is dirty.  I carry an awkward container that is the weight of my 4-year-old son on my back for another 3.7 miles.  I agonize about whether to let my children drink the water.  I don't want them to get sick.  I spend so much time and physical (and mental) energy getting the water that I don't have time to pursue other work or hobbies.  My health is impacted by this daily exercise.  I am anxious.  I don't feel hopeful.

For now, this is why I run.

The sources used for the water stats are quizzes found here on the National Geographic website and websites by UN Water, The Water Project, and Water.org.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

17-year-old relationships

While out for a run last fall, I realized that I had been "running" for nearly half of my life!  After getting through a brief moment of denial (how could I possibly be that old ?!?), I began to reflect on how I even came to run in the first place...

After an embarrassing softball season my sophomore year of high school, I decided that I would have to try a different spring sport the following year.  So I signed up for track and field.  There are so many track and field events...surely I would be good at something.  I decided to try distance running.  It was horrible at first.  It was really humbling watching other runners lap me during a 1-mile race.  I dreaded going to practice every day...it was just so hard...I felt like such a failure.

I'm really not sure why I kept at it, but I did, and I found myself running cross country during my senior year.  Around this same time, I began to get more serious about my Christian faith and to ask questions about whether my value was based on my cross country times or whether it was based on the truth that God loves me, regardless of my performance (still struggling with this one!).  I remember singing a song to myself as I struggled through each cross country meet.  The song was based on the Bible's Micah 6:8, which says He has told you, O people, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (New American Standard Bible).  I would sing this to remind myself that my course time didn't really matter...that doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly are the things that honor God and the things that I should be striving for.

I'm still learning so much about what it means to aim for justice, kindness, and humility.  The more I try to be about these things, the more that I see I have a long way to go.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Searching for Simon

Some disclaimers totally unrelated to this post...I don't view myself as being particularly tech-savvy.  I'm also not an expert on running marathons, the world's water crisis, or engineering related to developing wells.  And I don't think I've done any kind of creative writing since college (and I didn't do much of it there).

But, I am excited about each of these things and trusting that in sharing what I'm learning, I can inspire action and hopefulness.  Or at least remind myself of the reasons I have to be hopeful.

Now on to Simon.  Simon is the child we started sponsoring after I attended the World Vision experience at a local church nearly 3 years ago.  It was challenging to walk through that exhibit and to be confronted by the HIV/AIDS crisis in Africa.  I wanted to be able to hide my eyes...to turn away, but I couldn't.  And I'm grateful.  I confess that I haven't been faithful in my communication with Simon, but it's been super encouraging to get pictures and letters and updates and just to be connected with someone in another part of the world.  Honestly, I knew nothing about Zambia before Simon.  Sounds horrible, but I didn't care about Zambia before Simon.

A few months ago, I was reading my Runner's World magazine when I came across an article about Ryan and Sara Hall, well-known U.S. distance runners, and their trip to Zambia with Team World Vision.  Oh, that's nice, I thought.  Then I noticed that they were in an area called Musele.  Isn't that where Simon is?  I pulled out my picture of Simon and started searching for him in the magazine pictures.  At some point, as I was studying the magazine photos, I realized that the Team World Vision runners were raising money for water projects that are directly impacting Simon.  I care about Simon, and so I care about Musele, Zambia.  I am thankful for the water projects that are granting this community access to a reliable source of water.  I am grateful for the donors who supported these projects.  I like to run.  That's nice.

When I was searching for Simon, I didn't have any idea that I would join Team World Vision.  It was just part of my story.  Isn't it crazy to look back and see how seemingly insignificant connections and circumstances can result in actions and stories that are big and purposeful?

Team World Vision's work in Musele, Zambia

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Dishwashers, Dunkin Donuts, and Distance Running: reflections on 24 hours without water

So what does a dishwasher replacement have to do with me signing up to run a marathon?

Good question.

It all began this past May.  We wanted to replace our very old (like as old as us) dishwasher and found a good deal during an Earth Day sale.  Dave insisted on installing the new dishwasher by himself.  We estimated that it would involve some minor inconvenience and limitation on our use of the kitchen for one Saturday afternoon.  No big deal.  As Dave pulled our old dishwasher out from the wall, he discovered that there was no water shut off valve to the dishwasher.  We would have to turn off the water to the house for a couple of hours, tops.  OK...most house projects turn out this way...a little more inconvenient than we initially thought.  But we are flexible!  We can make this work!  Again no big deal.
 
As Dave delved into the project, he discovered more and more issues.  I was getting very anxious.  When could we turn the water back on?  I still hadn't showered after running in a race that morning.  I had a pile of dishes waiting for me in the sink from a post-race get together.  The kids would need baths before church.  We would need to figure out what to do about dinner. 

How could I get a shower and some drinking water?

I swallowed my pride, called some friends, and asked if I could use their shower.  They of course said yes and even sent me home with some water.  Awesome! 

But the next morning, I had another pressing question...where could I find a toilet that I could flush?  I drove across town and found an open Dunkin Donuts and was able to use their bathroom.

I am blessed.  While my mind was consumed with coming up with ways to gain access to water and its associated conveniences, which was uncomfortable, I had some options.  And my problem was short-term.  Others are not so privileged.  There are many places in the world where there is currently no access to running water.  Some walk miles and spend hours to gather water that is not clean, healthy, or life-giving.

I recently signed up to run the Philadelphia Marathon this November to raise money for Team World Vision.  This money will be used to finance clean water projects in Kenya and Ethiopia.  Please consider becoming a part of the Team by donating money toward the clean water projects.  Visit my fundraising website for more information.

Back to my dishwasher story, a couple of hours after my visit to Dunkin Donuts, Dave successfully installed a water shut off valve, and we were able to turn on the water to the rest of the house.  I arrived at church just in time to hear a couple talk about their water projects in Bolivia.  They began their message with a question: have you ever thought about what it would be like to go without water for 24 hours?

What about you?  Have you thought about what it would look like to have your water turned off for just 24 hours?  Maybe some of you have experienced this and have a story to tell.  I would love to hear from you!