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 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 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


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

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... 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 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'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