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.
(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.

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!