Thursday, October 13, 2011

Can We Talk About This?

I just returned from listening to writer/biologist/cancer survivor/activist Sandra Steingraber give a talk at Franklin and Marshall College.  While devoting most of her time to the topic of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in Pennsylvania and New York's Marcellus Shale formation, she questioned why the current state of environmental health doesn't seem to be as much part of our public conversation as things like the state of the economy.  She described how she has been able to easily use online and TV news sources to teach herself about the world's current economic issues, something outside of her technical expertise, but that there doesn't seem to be that same opportunity for public discussion when it comes to our environment.

I agree with Ms. Steingraber, and I wonder how things that are so essential to our life and well-being, such as the air we breathe and the water we drink, are not interesting to us.  Even during the talk today, in a room filled with students, faculty, and community members who were not forced to be there, I noticed that glazed-over look in the eyes of several attendees.

Outside of school environmental clubs and protests staged by tree-hugging adults, why don't we talk about this?  Is it because we can't talk about some environmental processes and their potential health implications with certainty?  Is it because we're opinionated or afraid concerning the financial ramifications?  Is it that the problems seem too vast for us to make any kind of difference?  Is it that it's scary to talk about some of the possible connections between life-style and environmental impact and the resulting human health effects?  Is it that we're afraid to appear too "crunchy"?  Many of these are reasons I tend to keep my mouth shut.

But I'm tired of being quiet.  I'm wondering - can we talk about this?  I don't want to spend time talking to myself; I want to have a conversation.  Can we become, as Ms. Steingraber suggested during her lecture today, several Davids fighting a big Goliath?

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Running Through the Pain

One of the things that I love most about running is that it's tough.  I love the challenge - the feel of my heart pumping, lungs taking air in and pushing it out, muscles burning, mind fighting for positive thoughts.  Running is hard.  Perhaps body build, level of God-given ability, and past experience makes running more difficult for some than others, but we're all out there pushing ourselves when we run.

This morning, I had the opportunity to watch the Hands on House Half Marathon.  I'd been planning to be there since my sister told me about her intent to sign up several months ago.  This was not her first half-marathon, but it was her first since receiving a painful health diagnosis this summer.  My sister has always impressed me with her quiet strength - her ability to push through with humility.  I knew this would be a different race for her.  Training was hampered by mornings where she would have difficulty walking or getting her shoes on.  But she kept at it, without complaint or bitterness.  Her achievement today demonstrates her perseverance; she pushed ahead, despite the pain, and finished strong.  Watching her afterwards, it was evident that she didn't have the kind of race that she had hoped for, her disappointment apparent in her face.  But in my eyes, each day that she is out there, putting one foot in front of the other, is a huge accomplishment.  In my eyes, she's a superhero - attempting things that seem impossible for mere humans, hanging tough, inspiring others.

I know this was one of many stories today.  Friends running first half marathons, others running for a cause, the Amish running complete with head coverings or suspenders - they each gave themselves to the process of training and faced something deep within themselves while competing out there today.  When I watch, I wonder about their stories, and I feel their courage and strength.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

God has an Idea

A couple of weeks ago, I was lucky enough to attend an uplifting and encouraging event hosted by Girls on the Run of Lancaster.  The featured speaker was Molly Barker, founder of GOTR.  It was a fun time of reflection, as many of us relayed stories of how our involvement as coaches in the program has been life-changing, and particularly how the girl participants have been inspirational to us.

Molly ended with the story that I've included below.  I've thought about it several times over the last few weeks.  While I can't quite pinpoint why this story is so meaningful to me, I think that her telling of the story gave me a lot of hope.  Her words resonated with something inside of me, reminding me of the sacred truth that God has carefully and intentionally created each of us with a specific purpose.  And reminding me of the intimacy that we share with our Creator.

Source: Molly Barker's Blog - Wandering Through Nothingness -  Day 12 -  February 19, 2011

Several years ago, I was walking with a young girl in our program.  It was the last day of our Girls on the Run experience together. Her name is Madeline.  She must have been about 9 years old at the time of our conversation.
“How is it Madeline, that you and I ended up together?” I asked.  ”What’s that all about?”
Madeline paused for only a second or two and then responded with the confidence of a person much older (and wiser) than her years would suggest.
“Well, you see it’s like this,” she said.  ”God has an idea…but he has a problem!  He needs to get the idea down to earth.  So what he does…is wrap a body around the idea so it can be sent here to be born.  Now the ideas inside are all really great and all really big and sometimes they are so big, it might take lots of bodies to come together to get the really big idea out.
And that is, of course, how you get your gifts and talents.  They are God’s tools to help you get the idea from inside of your body out…before your body dies.”
This is, without question, the most profound explanation, I’ve heard for the connection between our human and spiritual selves.  I believe Madeline nailed it!

More Creative Solutions for Drinking Water Woes

The following are a couple of recent New York Times articles featuring innovative solutions for drinking water problems:

LifeStraw Saves Those Without Access to Clean Drinking Water  and

Folding Saris to Filter Cholera-Contaminated Water

What other simple and affordable solutions are out there?  Which ones are culturally acceptable and will work long-term?

Thinking Differently

It's always inspiring to hear about a new technology that has the possibility of making safe water accessible to more people.  Here Michael Pritchard describes his Lifesaver bottle.  I think what I appreciate most about his talk is his urging to think differently about the world's water problems and how to solve them.  We typically think of conventional fixes.  Sometimes, we need to look intently at the problem, study the culture, consider the costs, and summon some creativity.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Church Sign Wisdom

"No one has ever become poor by giving." 

This is the message on the sign of our neighborhood Catholic church.  I have to admit that more often than taking advice from these signs, I join in conversations where friends are poking fun at them.  But today, the message is familiar.

Last fall, when I was raising money for World Vision, I started a blog post about this same quote, which is found in Anne Frank's book, The Diary of a Young Girl.  As I remember, I failed to complete last fall's post because, even in the midst of fundraising for an excellent cause, I had moments of feeling uncomfortable as I continued to ask others to give.  I think some of my discomfort stemmed from my own struggles with giving - I struggle with giving because I'm human and I can be indecisive, stingy, and selfish.  But I keep receiving invitations to give, whether they be emails or letters from wonderful friends and non-profits doing life-transforming work, or a question from a stranger walking by my house.  Often, the invitation initiates conflict inside of me: the knowing that I need to make decisions that will involve sacrifices fights hard against the walls of self-protection that I've so carefully constructed.

And so it's a stretch for me to reach out and ask others to give.  After all, I don't want to be the cause of someone else's discomfort.  But Anne Frank's quote quiets my fears.  It reminds me that in requesting help on behalf of others, or even for myself, I can be offering someone else a life-giving invitation. I am asking you to take a risk, to open up your hands and let go of your time or money or freedom so that someone else may receive a gift that only you can give.  The resulting connection to someone or something outside of yourself is something richer and more wonderful than what you'd get with your money.  I can't recall a time when I felt that I was worse off after giving.

I'm not asserting that you should say yes whenever asked; it's good to think through a decision's consequences and to have boundaries.  But I want to encourage you to consider today's opportunities.

Do you think Anne Frank's message is true?  Can you think of an instance when your life was made different due to a decision to give?  If you have a painful giving story, can you think of something good that came from it?  Do you have a favorite church sign quote that you can share?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Surprised by Joy

If you've seen me over the last few weeks, you may notice that I'm looking a little tired.  One reason that I'm sleepy is that I've been up late watching Universal Sports' coverage of the 2011 Track and Field World Championships in Daegu, South Korea.  I LOVE watching sports, especially running races.  In fact, I think that I enjoy spectating at least as much as I enjoy participating.  I'm usually OK with watching a race once and then moving on.  But I have to admit that there's one race from this year's championships that I keep coming back to: it's the womens' 1500m race.  For those who didn't see it, I'll spare you the suspense - an American named Jenny Barringer Simpson won the race.  But for me, it's not so much about who won, but how she won, and her response after winning.  Check it out (Jenny's in navy blue): 

The race positioning changes an amazing number of times during the 4-minute test.  For much of the event, Jenny is closer to the back than the front.  But this doesn't seem to get to her: with 200 meters to go, she makes her move, and manages, somehow, to summon strength, winning strength, and powers her way to the front.  Her race smarts and confidence are clearly inspiring.  But I have to tell you that what I love most of all is her response after she crosses the line - it's written all over her face - first disbelief...then relief... then Joy.

Have you had this kind of response, or felt this kind of joy, at some point during your life?  Have you worked hard toward a goal, even one that seemed unattainable, and accomplished it?  Have you faced something you weren't sure you could conquer and come out victorious on the other side?  Or maybe you experienced joy welling up inside of you after learning something that changes everything.  Maybe your "race" was a lot longer than 4 minutes; in fact, maybe you're in the middle of your race right now.

If you've had a moment like Jenny's, I'd love to hear all about it!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

What Can We Do?

Over the last few weeks, I've noticed some news articles concerning the famine that is devastating parts of East Africa.  I have to admit that it's really hard to click on the links and actually read the articles and study the photos.  Looking intently, and allowing myself the space and emotional energy to sit in the truth of the suffering and misery of others, interrupts my thinking about fun things like a new school year, an upcoming activity, or a latest purchase.  But once I dare to take a look, it's hard to turn away.

I have so many questions:
Why is this happening?  
How would I handle this situation if I were in the shoes of one of these women in the pictures? 
What can I do to help?

And what can we do together to bring aid to these people?  For now, maybe helping means donating money or praying for rain.  But perhaps we also need to take a look upstream and make some changes to keep this situation from becoming a more regular occurrence.  I wonder how much our daily practices affect the climate, causing the drought that results in food shortages.

Below are the link to a set of photos from the Atlantic as well as a thought-provoking caption from one of the photos.  Please feel free to comment with any reflections or ideas for ways that we can take action.

Since drought gripped the Horn of Africa, and especially since famine was declared in parts of Somalia, the international aid industry has swept in and out of refugee camps and remote hamlets in branded planes and snaking lines of white 4x4s. This humanitarian, diplomatic and media circus is necessary every time people go hungry in Africa, analysts say, because governments - both African and foreign - rarely respond early enough to looming catastrophes. Combine that with an often simplistic explanation of the causes of famine, and a growing band of aid critics say parts of Africa are doomed to a never-ending cycle of ignored early warnings, media appeals and emergency U.N. feeding - rather than a transition to lasting self-sufficiency. 

Monday, August 8, 2011

Remembering Rachel

By now, you've likely heard the story of 9-year-old Rachel Beckwith, who decided to forego birthday gifts, asking friends and family to donate money to charity:water.  Read more about her story here.

As an update, her fundraising page shows that she's raised more than $850,000 at this point.  This money will be used for clean water projects that will change the lives of thousands of people, even saving the lives of some.  And her story has showcased the water crisis and the need for people to give generously to better the lives of others.  It's inspiring to remember how one seemingly small decision made in love can have a long-lasting and life-changing impact.


After an hour's-long morning run
After sitting in the strength-draining sun
After a year of responding to others' requests
The ocean's water cools us and comforts us
It wraps its long-reaching arms around us and urges us to rest...

And to have fun!
It's the source of joy...and hours of entertainment
Laughter, screaming, running, splashing
It commands us to play and to create

The water's rhythmic sounds calm this anxious heart
Its glimmering beauty elicits hope
Its abundance produces gratitude, welling up inside of me
I sit in wonder, allowing the refreshing tide to wash over me
Changing, renewing, recharging

Get Ready to Go Forth

Tomorrow Levi's will introduce a campaign on facebook, encouraging its fans to support

See more of the story here, and get ready to go forth!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Hot and Dry

It's hot and dry in central PA this week.  Around here, there's been a lot of conversation about the weather, including the typical heat-related warnings: stay in air conditioning, drink water, avoid heavy activity outside, etc.  We're lucky.  For now, most of us have the luxury of "escaping" the weather's most severe impacts.

But in east Africa, where drought and famine are devastating millions, people aren't so lucky.  For the hungry and thirsty, escape involves leaving home and traveling long distances, sometimes to a new country, in search of some relief.  The pictures below depict some of this story.  See the rest of the Reuters slideshow here.

Newly-arrived refugees run away from a cloud of dust at the Dagahaley refugee camp in Dadaab, near Kenya's border with Somalia, July 16, 2011.
REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

People roll and drag water containers in Wajir in this recently taken handout photo released on July 21, 2011.
REUTERS/Jakob Dall/Danish Red Cross/Handout

Monday, July 18, 2011

Working Waste Into Water

We're living in a time when it's becoming more and more popular, even trendy, to live simply and waste less.  Technological advances encourage us to rethink some of our traditional ways of dealing with life's challenges, including how we get water and what we do with our human waste.

So how do you feel about drinking urine?

If you think about our modern-day water cycle, where pee is typically flushed down a toilet, transported through pipes to a wastewater treatment plant, treated, and discharged to a waterway; and this treated water evaporates, condenses, precipitates, and travels to another waterway, where it is pumped to a water treatment plant, purified, and used for drinking water, we are drinking recycled urine.  There's just a lot of time and space between flushing the toilet and turning the faucet.  This distance - this disconnection - helps us feel comfortable; we don't feel like we're drinking waste.

But how do you feel about using a toilet that treats urine and changes it into drinking water?  Would you be willing to drink it?  Frank Rijsberman, of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is dreaming of this and other out-of-the-box options to take care of the world's water supply and waste problems.  You can read more his ideas at Pee-Cycling: Bill Gates Is Getting Creative with Human Waste.

A related article, titled The Water Cycle (with a Decidedly Human Twist), describes the technology and advantages of the Orange Country Groundwater Replenishment System (OCGRS), a facility that creates drinking water using sewage.  OCGRS treats 70 million gallons of sewage every day, satisfying the needs of nearly 600,000 people in a water-strapped region.  Bernadette Clavier of the Stanford Center for Social Innovation writes that "the real genius of the project lies in the fact that it has convinced the residents of one of the country’s richest counties that the toilet is a viable source of drinking water (albeit one with a $500 million plant standing between their toilets and their faucets)."

Perhaps viewing water as a precious and limited resource will help us to take some steps towards its preservation.  Any of us can learn to turn off the water during showers and teeth brushing, flush the toilet less often, fix leaks or use collected rainwater for watering plants.  Maybe this changed thinking will even help us to get over the yuck factor that keeps us from supporting new technologies.  

Thursday, June 30, 2011

It's Not What You Think

I just finished reading this post, where Outside blogger (and Runner's World editor) Peter Vigneron questions whether getting pregnant makes female runners get faster.  Vigneron admits that, after contemplating this question, his gut response is no - women will not return to their pre-pregnancy levels of competition.  However, after choosing ten female runners and studying their pre-pregnancy and post-pregnancy performances, he finds that several of these women have been able to better their race times after having a baby.

Obviously, there are other factors in the lives of these women that could result in faster running, including harder or different training and the increased confidence or experience that comes with age.  So the questions remain - is there something that happens in a woman's body when she gets pregnant that helps her with her running?  Or is it motherhood itself that promotes these changes?  How is it for women who adopt children?

While my race times are not quite what they were in college, they are pretty darn close.  It amazes me to think that my 35-year-old body can nearly replicate what it could do at 18.  Over the last several years, my fastest race times and marathon finishes all occurred AK ("after kids"), and not BK ("before kids").  All this despite the frustrated moments that occur frequently during life AK - those times when I feel restricted in what I can accomplish due to my role in caring for my kids.   Even as I attempt to complete this post, I'm interrupted by requests for food, attention, and potty help (hence the scattered thoughts here).  But I it possible that my kids are helping me with my running, and lots of other things too, without me realizing it?

Whether or not you're a "mom" in the traditional sense, I would love to hear your thoughts.  It would be great to hear from men too - how has fatherhood impacted your running?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

R.I.P. Triscuit

The birth of Triscuit the dinosaur was a labor of love.  Andrew was just a little guy in preschool.  His teachers introduced a project where they would learn about recycling -- using old boxes, toilet paper rolls, paper towel rolls, scrap paper, and other "trash" to make something new.  No doubt this project required much planning and effort from the classroom teachers.  But the result was a marvelous creation: Andrew's very own dinosaur fashioned out of a Triscuit box.

Andrew and Triscuit were fast friends.  A T-rex, Triscuit was strong and fierce.  He had sharp teeth and a scary, screeching yell.  When we saw Andrew with Triscuit, we would hide, or dash out of the way to avoid biting or worse injury.  Creativity and imagination blossomed in the games that ensued with this paper and cardboard plaything.  

Andrew had a connection, a relationship, with Triscuit.  The problem with Triscuit is that, after a while, he aged.  The tacky glue and tape didn't hold as well as in the beginning.  His tail was torn off.  To Andrew, he was the same old Triscuit, up for adventure and fighting and eating.  But to me, he was looking more and more like a piece of trash.  Gone was the first love and initial pride that I have for most of Andrew's school artwork.  Triscuit was taking up prime living space in our house; something had to be done.  

Following a friend's parenting advice, I took a few pictures and some video of the falling-apart dino, and threw him in the kitchen trash, burying him under some soggy paper towels and other nasty objects requiring the same resting place.  As other new toys and artwork arrived at our home, Andrew quickly forgot about his toy, until one day several weeks later when he was looking at pictures on my ipod and spotted his beloved Triscuit.

I failed to realize how devastating my act would be to my son.  Even though most people would view the dinosaur as a piece of trash -- for truly, that's what he was -- it was as if he was alive to Andrew.  At one time, he has been a real friend.  Our descriptions of the pathway of trash from can to garbage truck to landfill only worsened Andrew's sorrow.  He was determined to find and rescue his friend.  He was grieving a loss.  Surprised by his sensitive response, I felt totally unequipped to comfort him.  I never meant to cause him pain.

Perhaps this loss mirrors that which I feel when I give away my kids' old clothes and toys.  Even if these items aren't of much value to others, to me, they hold meaning.  They mark a time in my life in relationship with my children, a time that I can't take back or do over again.  They remind me of ways that we've grown or changed.  Sometimes, a toy brings to mind a specific memory, a time of play that resulted in a significant teaching moment or full-belly laughter.  Learning to cling to the precious memories, while letting go of the stuff, creates room for new avenues for growth -- new play, new possibility, new change, new life -- and even additional shelf space for the next recycled trash creation.

Sunday, June 12, 2011



"It was really awful."

"I almost lost it."

These are my typical responses when asked about the events of a few days ago.  It was really hot this week, and the local pool was not yet open for the summer.  A friend of mine invited my kids and I over for the morning and offered to let the kids play with all of their backyard water toys, including a water table, pool, and sprinkler.  The kids were so excited and were playing really well.  What an ideal morning - the kids were using their imaginations, experimenting with water, working on social skills with friends!  My friend and I were getting some good time to catch up.  We were having a great time!  And then there was an accident.

I was in the kitchen when it happened.  Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed the two boys playing on the back porch, their arms reaching up high.  Next I heard the screaming.  Dashing outside, I found Andrew on the ground, covered in blood.  Thankfully, I remembered a warning about the profuse bleeding that typically accompanies a child's head wound.  And we were just blocks from the hospital.  It was only a short time until we arrived at the hospital, and the stitches were in, and the CT scan was clear, and the only evidence of Andrew's fall was his red hair.  But a few days later, the cut is deep and raw.  It still feels bloody and in need of some healing.

A few days later, I'm still having vivid memories of the first moments after the fall - the desperate cries, the blood, my holding Andrew's head together.  I know - it really could have been so much worse.  And I'm grateful to have the privilege of cleaning Andrew's wound, of watching him to confirm that everything seems normal, of having to ask him repeatedly to slow down and rest.  But I'm scared.  I was scared before this happened, the fear of something bad happening to my kids causing me some underlying anxiety that impacts my thinking and my relationships.

This incident confirms that, try as I may, I can not prevent bad things from happening to my children.  I can not control all of their life circumstances.  And now, how do I respond?  Can I place them in the loving arms of a Father who created them, knows every detail about them, has good plans for their lives, and is the One who can give them true security?  This is my hardest test as a mother.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

I Run...

Today is National Running Day, a day when those of us running crazies celebrate the many reasons why we run!

Why do you run?  (Or why don't you run?)

I started this blog last summer, after I committed to running a marathon with Team World Vision to raise money for water projects in Africa.  This journey, complete with unexpected blessings along the way, has been one of the most enriching of my life.  Team World Vision created the short film below to remind us of many of the reasons we run and to invite us to join them in running to change lives.  Please take the time to check it out, even if you don't currently enjoy running or see yourself as a runner.  A small step today may be the first on a path to life change for you and for others.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

More Lessons From My Son

My alarm rang out this morning - its sound, along with the noisy tapping of heavy rain on our window, coaxing me out of my slumber.  Stretching, I forced my legs out from under the covers and over the side of the bed.  It's Andrew's birthday, I remembered.  Early in the morning five years ago, Andrew made his way into the world, a loud cry announcing his arrival.  That day marked a significant turning point for me; life has not been the same since his coming.  Celebration, joy, stress, impatience, love, fear, uncertainty, protection, weariness, laughter - these feelings and others more intense than ever before.  Securing my heart with his smile, my little Andrew's vulnerability and innocence demanded that my well-being be intertwined with his, that his joy would be my joy and his suffering my suffering.  Our lives are braided, even knotted together.

(I'm sure that he won't want to be braided or knotted to me in a few short years from now, so I remind myself to enjoy the present.)

Andrew wanted to share soft pretzels with his school friends to celebrate his birthday, so I rose early both to celebrate the time of Andrew's birth and to make the pretzels.  Ten cups of flour were needed for the dough.  I counted...
and then was distracted with another thought.  I'm still not sure exactly how much flour was in that dough.  Still waking up, I felt grumpy, frustrated with my inability to complete this simple task, and afraid that the pretzels would be a disaster.  I pictured a bunch of preschoolers vocalizing their disgust after tasting Andrew's "treats".

Then I remembered a story that I heard while touring the Sturgis Pretzel Factory a few months ago.  Our tour guide explained that hard pretzels came into being as the result of an error in making soft pretzels; legend has it that a baker left the soft pretzels in the oven too long.  He decided to try a burnt pretzel, and was surprised to find that it was actually quite good.  Coincidentally, CBS News was filming during our tour; you can hear the highlights from the story (and see us around 2 minutes into the video) here.

Andrew, Amelia, and Natalie, after touring the Sturgis Pretzel Factory
This memory provided some comfort.  A baking error can result in something just as good as the original.  In fact, something new can be birthed from a "mistake".  For a perfectionist like me, stories such as these, where deviation from rules or instructions have a positive outcome, are life-giving.  They're freeing.  It seems that missteps are often necessary for making the world creative and interesting.  The ability to make and recover from mistakes allows movement and progress without the fear of error.

As a mom, I've struggled to encourage my kids to be their true selves, and to allow mistakes for the value of the teaching and learning opportunities that result.  I have my own, often selfish, standards and ideas and goals for the ways that I'd like them to perform and the people I'd like them to become.  Andrew has his own, very unique, personality and humor seen as early as his ultrasound photos.  He's sensitive, helpful, and social.  He is not a perfect child; at times, he's disobedient, disrespectful, and even mean.  But to me, he is lovable and valuable despite moments of bad behavior or poor choices.  God has graciously given him to me as a gift, so that I may learn important lessons such as these: we're valuable because we exist, not because of what we do (or don't do), and being our true selves brings joy, blessing, and beauty to the world.  Happy birthday Andrew!

Monday, May 16, 2011

An Unexpected Opportunity

We were enjoying a quiet day at home following a busy weekend.  Some clothes purging and organization, a little catching up on email, and finalizing plans for Andrew's birthday were making for a positive and productive start to the week.  Feeling energized and inspired, I even taught my kids a Bible verse.  For months, even years, I've been meaning to work on Scripture memorization with the kids, hoping that it would give them a right foundation that would be helpful in making decisions, maintaining perspective during difficult times, and believing truth about themselves and their relationships with God.

Rejoice in God always; again I will say, rejoice!  (Philippians 4:4)  Singing a childhood song based on this verse, I hoped that Andrew would allow the words to sink in.  I instructed him to try to remember the words of the song whenever he's having a hard day or feeling sad or scared.  I told him how I struggle with remembering God's goodness when things aren't going my way, but that recalling words like these shape my thinking and attitude.  They are transformative.

As I paused to ponder what to say next, I gazed out the kitchen door to our deck, and I caught a glimpse of this:

Note the very long snake hanging out on our deck.

I stepped back in surprise, shock even.  We live in the city; we aren't supposed to have creatures like this lurking in our backyards.  Cockroaches, yes.  Mice, yes.  Stray cats, yes.  Long, scary snakes, NO!

I have to confess that despite the repetition of the verse just seconds before this situation, I was not praising God for the snake.  I got on the phone, first with Dave, and then with emergency responders, who I'm sure thought I was crazy, and referred me to a critter control company.  In my mind, this was much bigger than critter control.  When I called Dave a second time, he suggested that I ask my next-door neighbors for help.

Now my neighbors moved in nearly one year ago, but I still don't know them very well.  Most times when I'm walking by their house, I'm getting ready to go somewhere, and I'm in a frenzy because we're late and the kids are not listening to my stress-filled instructions.  Honestly, I'm a little ashamed of my behavior, and this is my excuse for not initiating.  Anthony and Angela are parents to a very charming one-year-old.  Anthony is kind, calm, and strong.  And he works second shift.  Realizing that Anthony might be home, Dave also had a feeling that Anthony would not be afraid of snakes, and may even like them.  

Anthony seemed to welcome the opportunity to handle the snake.  He walked out onto our deck, and after taking a quick look at it, picked him up, told me that it was likely someone's pet, said he would take it home until someone came to inquire about it, and asked if I'd like him to search our backyard for more snakes.  Holding back tears, I thanked Anthony and watched him take the snake home with him (sorry Angela).

We've had quite the week with critters at our house: a spider on our bed, a millipede with me in the shower, termites in our woodpile, ants in our kitchen, and now a snake on our deck.  (I assure you, this isn't normal; our house is typically pest-free, at least I think it is!)  Each time, I've wanted a superman to come to my rescue - someone to swoop in and remove the nuisance, to lift the fear and burden.  I'm feeling thankful that sometimes our difficult or scary situations lead us to ask for help and depend on others, even others we don't know very well.  Today this snake led to communication and relationship with my neighbors.  It even resulted in an invitation to ask for help in the future.  For this, I am grateful.  In this, I can rejoice.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

What Does A Runner Look Like?

A few days ago, I was telling Dave how I'd like to purchase some new running attire.  During our conversation, I shared that most of my athletic shirts seem to be cut for men or small women; they don't provide much space for a woman like me, who has hips.  The pull and stretch of these shirts across my hips and bottom is uncomfortable and sometimes even embarrassing.  "My hips are just too big.  I don't look like a runner," I lamented.

Thank goodness for a husband who quickly challenges the untruths I speak.  Dave responded by pointing me to a forum post from a woman who was venting about an unpleasant experience at a sporting goods store.  She approached a salesperson, asked for information about a particular sports bra, and was dismissed with the remark, "You don't look like a runner."  Maybe this woman's legs weren't the right shape, or maybe she even carried a little extra weight around her waist.  In any case, an interaction like this is can be devastating to a sensitive runner.

What does a runner look like?

The other day, I spied my kids checking out my latest issue of Runners' World magazine.  Wow, I thought,  I'm encouraging the next generation of runners by leaving my reading material on the floor!  When I asked what they were doing, they told me that they were looking at belly buttons.  I believe it.  There are, indeed, many pictures of belly buttons in Runner's World.  Belly buttons on super-thin, very muscular, tan, young, beautiful people.  Runners of course.

Is this what a runner looks like?

I'll show you what a runner looks like.

Here we are - my sister, me, and my sister's roommate Hilary.  We're running the Pasadena Half Marathon.  We're putting one foot in front of the other, challenging ourselves, taking in the scenery, and enjoying our time together.  We may not belong in Runner's World magazine.  Maybe we don't look like we need the sports bras reserved for serious runners.  But we are runners.

Below are my sister's reflections on this subject.  Please check out more of her writing at

And I'd love to hear your response to this topic too...

If you had to guess a sport I play, you’d probably pick basketball. And you’d be right. Sort of.

At 5’11” and with a wide build, I was trained in high school to use my body to block out and get the rebound. I wasn’t the fast, agile center.

But that’s all guess work, based on common assumptions about athletes and their build. You wouldn’t guess that running is my thing.

A few months ago, I was discussing some knee inflammation with a doctor. This has been a chronic, mysterious symptom, one I suspect is related to an auto-immune disease I was diagnosed with a few years ago. My doctor — a large, athletic middle-eastern man with broad shoulders and a strong handshake — didn’t inspect my knee. Instead he encouraged biking or swimming for a cardio workout. “People built like you and me, we aren’t meant to be runners.”

We both knew what he meant — he didn’t need to explain further. He was referring to tall, broad folks with some meat on their bones. Runners, the assumption goes, are small, thin, all muscle and bone. Narrow hips and natural athleticism don’t hurt.

The thing is, I love running. I don’t pretend to think I’ll ever be competitive. I probably won’t ever run in the Boston marathon (you need to qualify for it). My fastest mile split to date is somewhere around 8.5 minutes, which really isn’t fast by most standards.

But there’s just something about it. It’s the joy of being outside. It’s getting up the hill. It’s racing the sun as it rises in the morning, or chasing it when it goes down. It’s exploring your city from a whole new perspective and discovering streets and alleys and vistas you might never have seen if you hadn’t been running through it.           

So that’s why, when my doctor suggested running wasn’t for me, hot tears threatened my eyes and I had to look down to blink them away. After the hurt had passed (the hurt from his insensitive comment and all that had been implied by messages I’d received before this one), I smiled a little to myself. I remembered how so often people’s comments mirror their own disappointment and have little to say about me. And I renewed my commitment to give my desire to run — and enjoy it —precedence over whatever my build might say about me. Or what sport I should play.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Too Much Information

I love the spring.  The first signs of warmth coax people out of their homes and into the streets.  The city is alive with the sounds of happy children, reunited neighbors, and ice cream trucks.  Our weeping cherry tree is in her peak - her pink blossoms brightening our spirits.

But the spring also reminds me that flip flop season is right around the corner.

I love to wear flip flops when I'm all alone.  But I can't bring myself to wear flip flops in public, at least not without some careful planning.  My feet are not out for display; I try to keep them hidden from view.  I don't want others to see the affect of years of running (and perhaps other factors) on my feet.  If you can think of any unpleasant foot condition, I likely have it.  I noticed the first of the problems around 13 years ago.  The foot issues have grown, sure and steady, more numerous and more complicated, since my first discovery.  And growing right along-side these issues is the shame that I've experienced as a result.

So I cover up.  I hide.  And this makes the affliction worse - it likes the dark and damp that results from all of the masking that's going on.  I avoid thinking about it, treating it, or asking others for help.  I don't want to acknowledge that I'm not well, even though it's (literally) painfully obvious.  Sometimes, when I don't treat the earlier problem, I get something called an id reaction.  This is an itchy and painful, eczema-like rash that appears on my hands as a secondary reaction to the initial, untreated condition.

I wonder how often this situation mirrors my everyday life.  I'm in need of help and healing in one area, but because I'm too ashamed or busy, I don't pursue treatment, and so the sickness presents itself in all kinds of other places and in all kinds of other ways.  So perhaps my latest diatribe against my husband or children isn't always about my most recent frustration; it's really a symptom of something else, but presenting itself in a new way.  This is a good thing - yes?  A reminder to reengage, to reflect, to ask what is wrong and do the patient work of getting well.

Today, my sore hands are a reminder that I need to take care of my feet.  And my bitter words are a reminder that I need to take care of my heart.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

I am not afraid. I was born to do this.

I wrote the following in response to an invitation on Kara Goucher's blog.  Let me know if you submit a story too - I'd love to hear it!

For me, running has been like a roadway on my journey out of fear.  It is the path that leads me further from the faulty behaviors and thoughts that have defined me and toward new opportunities and challenges and relationships.

Out of a perceived failure, my relationship with running was birthed.  It was my junior year of high school, and I needed to find a new spring sport.  I was tired of going to softball practice and trying my best, only to sit on the bench for the majority of every game.  My confidence in my athletic ability, and really my confidence in general, was pretty low.  I felt that I did not have any useful skills to contribute to a team.  In my search for another chance, a new opportunity, I decided to try track and field.  After all, there had to be something, some event, where I would be successful.  And there were no try-outs or cuts on the track team.

The first few weeks were really awful, and my first few races miserable failures.  I'm not quite sure why I kept at it, aside from a decision that I had made to not use my running performance, or my seeming lack of ability, to define me.  Somehow, at some point that first season, something clicked.  And I wanted to keep running.  This was a pivotal time for me.  I was growing in endurance and courage.  I was starting to like myself, maybe more for the fact that I faced a primary life fear - the fear that no matter how hard I try, I'm not good enough - and came out on the other side, than for my improvement as a runner.

Well, I've certainly had my ups and downs with running since then - opportunities to run at the Division I level in college and age group victories at road races, along with struggles with anemia and injuries and lack of motivation.  But running continues to be the pathway that God has used to help me to face my fears.  Over the past year, opportunities to run a marathon to bring running water to people in Kenya and to coach a team of elementary school-aged girls with all of their elementary school-aged issues and insecurities have forced me to take a good, long look in the mirror, the reflection revealing the lingering fears - that I'm not capable of educating or informing others, that I'm not really an advocate for those who have no voice, that I'm not interesting or fun.  I'm so grateful for second (and third and fourth) chances, for the  freedom to keep trying.  The sticking with it even when it feels yucky is what brings healing - and hope.  If I have a bad practice with the girls, if they tell me they don't want to run with me, I'm going to keep loving them, and running with them.  I'm going to be OK even if I don't have their love and respect in return for mine. 

All of this has taught me that my lack shouldn't keep me from trying things; just because I wasn't gifted with as much natural ability as other runners doesn't mean that I should quit running my race.  There are definitely days when I don't feel born to run, just like I don't feel born to do lots of other things that I obviously was born to do (like motherhood, but I'll save that subject for another time).  But in keeping at it, I know that I'm growing.  I'm more than growing, I'm really living.  I am not afraid.  I was born to do this.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Joan's Gift

I've been friends with "Joan" for more than eight years.  I first met her during a time of excitement and transition for me (and for her too); she moved into the apartment that I shared with my sister and another friend just weeks before I got married.  Right from the start, she was a blessing to me.  I remember her helping to set up our wedding reception room and jumping in to help with some of the logistical challenges of our wedding day.

Our friendship grew out of those early acts of service as well as a common desire to grow to know God better.  Over the years, she's also been our housemate, babysitter, and my accountability partner.  I trust her with my deepest secrets; she is a true friend.  So of course I was eager to meet her sister, who was in town visiting from California last week.  Plans were made to meet her sister along with a couple of Joan's current housemates at our local farmer's market for lunch.

As we arrived at market and sought to track down our friends, I pulled out my shopping list.  I don't usually carry much cash, and I knew that we may need to skimp a little when purchasing lunch; otherwise, I wouldn't have enough for the groceries that I needed.  I was distracted with this financial challenge when I found our friends.  After we made plans for a meeting place and I left to find lunch, Joan's housemate stopped me and handed me some money.  He explained that Joan wanted to pay for each of our lunches.  My first response was to refuse the money.  I asked why she would want to do that for us.  It was so unexpected and seemed so unnecessary.  "Because Joan is Joan," was his reply.

Perhaps some background information would be helpful here.  Admittedly, I've always been a stingy person.  As I was sharing this story with some friends from church, we joked about how the emphasis on simple living among Mennonites sometimes has this affect.  Raising two kids on a single income has made this character trait more pronounced.  I've been seeing how a lot of my decisions revolve around money and how not to spend any.

So Joan's act may have seemed like a small gesture, but its impact on me was great.  I ended the mental gymnastics of how to buy $30 worth of food with $20 and the agonizing over the impact of each purchase.  I bought everything on my shopping list.  I bought lunch.  And I even bought a couple of cookies as a special treat.  I felt free, like a burden had lifted.

Joan's generosity is like God's generosity.  None of us really has what we need; we all come up short.  We can spend lots of time making plans for how we can get eternal life, for how we can be good enough.  But it won't work.  We can't make $20 into $30.  We will never have what we need without a gift from someone else.  But God, being God, stepped in and gave us Jesus.  I spend a lot of time questioning God, wondering why He allows bad things to happen, worrying that He is stingy.  But He's truly generous, extravagant, lavish.  He loves us.  He gave us His Son.   We are free to live - really live - not a life where we focus on our lack and how to account for it - not a life where there is never enough.  But instead, a life where our true needs are taken care of.

Running = Punishment (?)

Remember the Jack Daniels talk that I mentioned in my last post?  One thing that he mentioned in his talk, as a side note, really, is that in the US, running is viewed as punishment.  He took a little time to elaborate, pointing out how cross country is a sport often chosen by the weakest girls - those who have tried other sports and were unsuccessful.  (If I remember correctly, he was trying to explain why the high school athletes most prone to injury are female cross country runners - the result of a combination of a strenuous sport and a weak body).

I've returned to this statement several times in the past week.  I can relate to the story Coach Daniels told about girls choosing to run cross country.  My beginnings as a runner came during my junior year of high school.  I played softball in the spring for several years, but wasn't given many opportunities to play because I really wasn't very good.  Softball required some coordination, and coordination definitely isn't one of my strengths.  And neither was confidence.  When I was up to bat, or standing in the outfield, positioning myself to catch a fly ball, I really didn't believe that I could make the hit or the catch.  Anyway, I figured that I would try track and field.  After all, anyone can find some track or field event where they can excel, right?  Well, I was pretty weak, and it did take me a very long time before I saw much success with running.  Maybe, subconsciously, I did see this as a fitting punishment for me, as one who was unsuccessful at other sports.

My first response to Coach Daniels' statement was to disagree and to think of all of the reasons that I love to run.  But as I've spent some more time analyzing my running - my motivation, my habits - I've started to wonder if what he said is actually true for me too.

I think back over the past week, and it's been really heavy.  I've had all of the typical commitments with my family, and housework, and volunteer activities.  And night meetings and work and phone calls.  But on top of that, I've heard about or been involved in several situations that were discouraging - reading about environmental and health impacts to a community where my friend's parents live, learning more about natural gas drilling in PA, listening to several friends talk about recent struggles, visiting my 90-year-old and bedridden neighbor, watching an older family member struggle with her health, seeing some negative interactions on a team of girls that I help to coach.

Yesterday, I went out for a long run, and I pushed myself.  Hard.  I haven't run at that pace for that distance in months.

Is running how I work out this heaviness and pain?  Is running punishment - am I punishing myself for feeling badly that I can't stop all of these hard things from happening?

As I was reflecting on some of these things during my run yesterday, I came upon a bright spot.  It was one of the girls from the team that I help to coach - the one that's been experiencing some negativity - bounding down the street, the brightness of her smile and laugh matching that of the sun, which shone on us, driving away the dark.  Maybe I do use running as some strange form of punishment sometimes, but the good that's come from my running definitely outshines any bad.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Focusing on the Task at Hand

Thanks to my husband, I recently had the opportunity to attend a running clinic sponsored by Runner's World Magazine.  Jack Daniels, one of the most well-known and well-respected running coaches in the US, shared from the wealth of running wisdom that he's accumulated over the years.  You can read more about his visit here and here.

I've used some advice from Jack Daniels before, so I was eager to know what he would share with us.  After hearing from him, I want to focus more on my stride rate (to run efficiently, we're to shoot for 180 steps per minute) and my breathing (running at a good pace should result in a breath in over 2 steps and a breath out over 2 steps).  And I want to learn to focus on the task at hand.  This seems very simple, but in a racing situation, and especially in a marathon, it's very easy to get overwhelmed and to fixate on how far I am from the finish.  The distance and time remaining can feel burdensome, crushing, even impossible.

This concept was echoed in a youtube clip showing highlights from this week's LA marathon and an interview with a female runner named Amy Hastings.  Her first marathon, she finished in second place with a phenomenal time under less-than-ideal weather conditions.  She said that she experienced pain different from anything she's never felt before, but that when it came to pushing through and finishing, she began to focus on getting through each quarter mile and then each mile.  Great advice for finishing a running marathon, but also valuable for finishing life's other "marathons" too.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Water Makes Me Smile

Today is World Water Day.  Not unlike a birthday, the holiday encourages us to take time to be grateful for water, and to hope for its presence, health, and abundance in the future.

I've been working on trying to use creative means to express gratitude for various things in my life.  This is definitely a stretch for me - I've never seen myself as a creative person.  Today, as I was reading up on water conservation, I found a link to some poetry composed by some New York City public school 5th graders.  Feeling inspired, I thought I'd write my own poem (please keep in mind that the last time I scripted a poem may have been when I was a 5th grader!)...

Water grants the deepest of joys
Giver of life
In you we splash and jump
You bind us together in happy memories
We marvel, we wonder, we celebrate

Bubbling, flowing, rushing 
You're a fountain of beauty being poured out
On you, on me
Making us clean and new
Cooling the heat on the inside
Healing us


Roses are red, violets are blue.
I'm grateful for water.
I hope you are too!

Maybe you have your own poem to share.  I'd love to hear from you!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

No Toilet, No Bride

I remember feeling glad a few mornings ago, when, as my body was bent in an awkward position in an attempt to scrub our toilet, I realized that sometimes it's nice to have one toilet instead of two.  After all, it makes for less toilet-cleaning for me.  There have been times when I've longed for an extra toilet - when my kids were potty-training, or when we've had guests in our home.  Often, I don't remember to be thankful that we have a toilet.  In some parts of the world, this is considered a luxury.  How often I forget that we are living among the richest of the rich, by the world's standards.

It's hard to picture how the lack of toilets impacts life for people, especially women, all over the world.  Sorry men, but I think it's a little different for you.  In our city, it's not terribly shocking, but still disturbing, to see men huddling next to a tree or ducking into an alley (including the alley between our house and our neighbor's house) to relieve themselves.  A friend once told me that when his family was on a missionary assignment a few years back, the region where they were living stressed that men pee whenever, and wherever, they felt it necessary.  To hold it would increase their chances of impotence, they thought.  (A funny side-note - this led to some questions about the word impotence from my friend's 11-year-old son, who was sitting at the dinner table with us when this story was told.)  Yet in some places in the world, there are considerably more public restrooms for men than for women.  Being a woman, I know that I'm likely a little biased, but this makes no sense to me.

Sometimes, even that men have access to the same number of toilets as women seems ridiculous.  I was reminded of this last week when I had jury duty.  When we were dismissed for formal bathroom brakes, the women's line snaked out the bathroom door and around the corner.  Meanwhile, there was no line for the men's bathroom.   We women joked about how we needed to stage a take-over of the men's bathroom.  Men, you can let me know if I'm wrong, but women just have more reason for access to private toilets.  Pregnant women coping with the frequent urge to pee, menstruating women dealing with "that time of the month", for as much as we try to control and hide it, we're leaking when we like to be clean, so we're feeling the need to take care of it.  And we always have to sit and wipe.  Come on now; all of this just takes time.  There should be more stalls for women than for men.  It almost makes me wonder if when men enter their bathrooms, they're swallowed up in some kind of toilet heaven, where there is a private stall for every man, and they can ease in and out and be back and ready for action, making the women look foolish.  Those silly women, taking too long in the bathroom again.  They're probably chatting, or fixing their make-up.

OK, that was probably entirely too much information.  And I'm getting a little carried away.  FOCUS!

I love the "No Toilet, No Bride" movement in India, initiated by the Haryana government, encouraging potential brides and their parents to refuse potential grooms who don't have toilets in their homes.  A world of difference this makes in the bride's future - no waiting for access to a public toilet and running water when she wakes in the morning, no concern about rape or violence due to the search for a safe and secluded spot to take care of her business, less worry that her daughters will miss school because their school has no toilet (learn more here and here).  Maybe this movement will call attention to the fact that all people, males and females, should have access to basic sanitation, bringing dignity and hope, and eventually allowing for more education, more productivity, and more meaningful work for women.  To read more about it, and to learn what a "flying toilet" is, please check out New York Times article The Female Factor: Improving Women's Status, One Bathroom at a Time.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Good Life

Something seems a little off.  Our thermostat tells us that the room temperature is 68, but it feels like a chilly 68.  A message reading "system malfunction - please call technician for maintenance" confirms that we have a problem with our furnace.

This is the third minor issue in a couple of days.  First it was the driver's side windshield wiper that flew off while clearing the wetness from my view.  Next we had a problem with the chain connecting the handle to the flush valve on our toilet.  And now we're having some difficulty with the furnace.  These are just small annoyances, but enough to rouse a little anxiety, especially after a day of consuming higher-priced food and gas and hearing (again) about the impacts of climate change and political upheaval in the Middle East.  I've been working on praying about the small things - the things that deep down, I'm not sure really matter to God - and also trying to model this prayer attitude for my children, so I ask them to pray about the furnace.

Natalie's enthusiastic response:
"Dear God, please help us to fix the windshield, and help us to have a good life.  Amen!"

I smile.  Where does she come up with these ideas?

I ask Natalie what it means to have a good life.

"In a good life, bad things don't happen."

At age 3, Natalie already shares my perspective; often, my thoughts, words, actions, and prayers reflect this view - the view that good is just the absence of bad.  Frequently, I make choices in an effort to avoid the bad, but in the process, I think I miss out on a lot of good.  When I get stuck there, in that place of being scared of all that in my opinion, is bad, I'm living a life of not doing much of anything at all.  And if I don't take action, if I just say no to spending money or potentially offending people or failing at a new endeavor, I may miss opportunities to deepen a friendship, speak the truth, or find a new love.

The good life evokes images of large homes, fancy cars and clothes, impeccable health, career success, educational opportunity, vacations to exotic destinations, and intelligent, well-behaved children.  It looks secure and happy.  But is a good life truly built upon these things?  When I can quiet the urging of TV ads, facebook, and even my own misguided thinking, I discover that the good life must include some bad things to actually be...good.  Who can resist the wonder that rises up inside upon hearing stories of a reconciled relationship, a homeless man now able to provide for his own financial needs, a drought-stricken community that now has clean water, a back-of-the-pack runner who wins her race?  Are all of these reasons enough to make me wish for the bad?  I'm not there yet (i.e. I really want my warm house back without needing to pay a service technician!).  But remembering this makes me feel open to the possibility that something good can be birthed from something that, upon first glance, has the appearance of something bad.

This blog was birthed out of some decisions made after an experience with our old, broken-down dishwasher.  And I love what's been happening in me as a result of this blog.  Writing is so life-giving to me.  Like a tall glass of cold water after the longest marathon training run on the hottest summer day; right now, it's exactly what I need.  Thank goodness for the possibilities and opportunities presented by the broken.

What thoughts come to mind when you dream about the good life?  Is it a life that feels distant or unattainable, or could it be that the life you're living right now - the one that includes the monotony of laundry and snotty-noses, or the struggle of caring for aging parents, or the never-ending deadlines - is actually the good life?  Have you seen something good, or even life-changing, result from a difficult situation?  I'd love to hear from you!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Birth Day

"Mommy, what does 'birth' mean?" -

this one of the questions posed by my children as we walked to the library.  We had been to the park on an unseasonably warm day, but the February chill still present in the wind, along with the mass of middle-schoolers invading our calm play, pushed us on to our next endeavor.  My daughter's birthday was coming up, and so I shared with them the story of her birth.

It is still easy to recall the conflicting feelings surrounding her birth.  It wasn't that long ago, and the memories are strong.  My doctor had performed some internal maneuvers at a weekly appointment with the assurance they'd help the baby to arrive by the 40th week.  They worked a little too well for me; contractions began soon after leaving the doctor's office.  The same thing happened with my first child, so I left, knowing that my baby could soon be born.

A couple of mornings later, the morning of my baby's birth, I visited the gym, praying that my steady treadmill walking would help to transform the weak contractions into effective ones.  My next stop was the grocery store.  I loaded up, hoping that I would not have to go there again for a few weeks.  After unpacking the groceries and showering, I noticed that the contractions were indeed much stronger.  I called Dave, who promised to be home soon, and made arrangements with the doctor's office.

The pain, now increasing at each contraction, prompted us to drive directly to the hospital.  The waiting there was awful.  "It's a busy day for babies," we were told.  And so I paced the triage waiting room, pushing on furniture, wishing that I was there to visit a new baby and not to deliver one.  It was forty-five minutes later when they called my name.  At that point, I was unable to respond to the litany of registration questions.  My water broke, my body feeling and sounding like a bottle of liquid being poured out.  Finally, some attention.  I'm fully dilated.  Heart monitors on.  Baby's heart not beating fast enough.

We were rushed to a delivery room.  I felt like I was on one of those TV medical dramas, me with my own suspenseful story.  Doctors and nurses crowded around me.  The on-call doc calmly informed me that the baby wasn't getting enough air; they would need to do an emergency C-section if I couldn't push the baby out in the next few minutes.  "Do it for your baby!" someone called out.  My mind was still processing what was actually happening.  It was all so fast.  Much faster than the first time.  Too fast.

I remembered my doctor's advice during my first delivery.  "Lori, direct all of your energy-your sounds, your thoughts, your movement - your life - into your push."  And I pushed.  I was scared.  I wasn't sure that I could do it for my baby.  But I did.  And quickly, it was over.  She was breathing and beautiful - a daughter named Natalie.

Isn't this how birth is?  Any pregnant mother wishes for an easy delivery, the baby sliding through the birth canal and out into the world in one steady, and easy, fluid motion.  Oh, that it would be graceful, and flowing, and beautiful.  Like a dancer, summoning her talent and confidence to perform a routine that she's practiced hundreds of times.  She's flawless.  She was made for this.  Or like water, streaming gently over a waterfall.  The weight of gravity pulls it into beauty.  It's following the laws of nature.  But more often, the birthing process is more like the one I experienced three years ago: physically and emotionally strenuous, too slow and too fast, eliciting insecurity and fear, requiring the aid of loved ones and experienced others, resulting in something, or someone...exquisite.

How do I explain this to a child?

Andrew and Natalie, if you read this some day, I want you to know that birth marks the beginning of something new.  When I think about birth, I think of life and beauty.  But in reality, birth can be quite messy.  Often, there is lots of preparation, growth, and waiting before the actual birthing process even begins.  The process itself can be both short and long, exhilarating and boring, peaceful and painful.  Keep on going; don't stop; push through.  Your Dad and I will hope for you and pray for you and love you, as will your other family members and friends.  And God will be your provider and your help, don't leave Him out of things.  That which is being born is worth any sacrifice and trouble.  It - or he or she - is glorious.

Photo by Matthew Lester

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Super Bowl 10K, Take Two

On Sunday, I ran my first race since the marathon.  Some runners enter races for fun or for friendship.  Some enter races to keep themselves on task or to achieve a goal.  Some runners entered this race to win special Super Bowl 10K wool socks, gifts awarded to the top 100 runners.  My sister, husband, and I joked about using "socks" as our running mantra, repeating it during the race to inspire ourselves to pick up the pace. 

We found parking, jogged over to the short (yay!) port-a-potty lines, and arrived at the starting line with time to spare.  A sunny, relatively warm morning consoled us when they announced that the course route was revised, due to ice, and would consist of 2 out-and-back loops.  After a few additional race instructions, we heard the bullhorn and took off, looking out for each other and trying to avoid that nasty ice!

Energy and excitement quickly turned to fatigue after climbing the first hill, my tingling legs telling me that my early race pace was too swift for me to sustain.   Additional discouragement came at the hands, or rather legs, of my sister.  We ran together for a short while.  Comparing her nearly non-existent breathing with my very loud heaving, I decided that I wouldn't be able to keep up with her for the whole race.  I watched her pull away from me, her athletic frame clothed in bright pink, weaving effortlessly through the crowd of the other front-runners who were undoubtedly dreaming of those socks.

I passed the half-way point in 22 minutes, a pretty solid time for me.  But instead of finding pleasure and strength in this small achievement, I continued to focus on my tired body and my struggle to keep up with my sister.  At one point, realizing that I was feeling miserable, I decided that I should just slow down and enjoy the race - enjoy the beautiful weather and scenery and people.  But my misery was due to the activity in my head, and not so much the activity going on in the rest of my body.  For me, slowing down wasn't the answer.

Can I rewrite this story and create a new memory of this race?  In the rewritten story, much of the actual details of the race stay the same - beautiful race day, hilly and somewhat icy race route, lots of eager runners.  I finish in 45:21, behind my sister and my husband.  I do well enough to earn a coveted pair of socks.  But in my new story, I speak kind words to myself as I run.  I focus on my body's amazing ability to run at a quick pace over several miles.  I am thankful for my health.  I clap, trying to encourage the other tired runners.  I am genuinely happy for my husband and my sister; I am glad for those who race by me.  I marvel at their achievement.

In my new story, I am pleased with my performance; I am pleased with myself.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Portable Potty: A Creative Use

As I type this morning, it's snowing again.  We've had a very snowy week here, which means school delays and cancellations, wild children, and roller-coaster emotions.

Dave and I have often said that the snow seems to bring out the best and the worst in our neighbors, and in us too!  Living on a very busy, 3-lane street in a small city, we are a diverse bunch.  We span generations, cultures, colors, and economics.  When it snows, the neighbors that we haven't seen for weeks emerge from warm homes to shovel porches and sidewalks.  Sometimes, it seems that we all even race to help each other.  Dave loves to get out in the snowy mess, as it gives him a guaranteed bonding experience with others on our block.  Conversely, when it snows, tensions can run high because there is nowhere to put the snow.  Sidewalks need to be cleared, and cars need to be dug out, and this process always requires creativity in discovering new ways to deal with our snow problem.  So the snow goes into large piles on the street or alleyways or onto porches.  Desperation leads us to shovel snow into the street. 

Once I manage to dig myself out and anticipate opportunities to leave the house, there is the lingering question about whether "my" parking space -- the parking space that took me an hour to shape, and required all that arm strength and quick thinking, and the source of my very sore back -- will still be available when I arrive home.  This fear leads to some irrational thoughts about neighbors or strangers who may take my space.  After all, they have no idea how hard it was to dig myself out, or even worse, they do have a clue, but they don't care (see...irrational!).  This thinking leaves me feeling hesitant to go anywhere.

I could put a chair in my parking space to ensure that it will still be there when I get back.  I always thought that was an unfriendly practice until I broke down and did it myself last winter.  The 3 major snows and 2 very young children made me do it.  A side note: it's not only chairs that people use to reserve their spaces.  I've seen orange cones, buckets, and trash cans too.  Today I stepped outside and noticed that my neighbor is currently using a hospital-type portable toilet to reserve his space!

As I'm making plans for the day, I realize that this fear, the fear of losing my space, is rising up.  It is so strong that it is starting to impact decisions concerning how I will spend my time today.  Don't we do this a lot?  We try to hold on to things, even things that aren't really ours.  We're afraid of loss.  But in the holding on, in the grabbing and guarding, we sometimes lose the better thing, the more significant experience.  And our holding on can impact others too.  Maybe someone else needs my parking space -- or my money, my time, my job, my possessions -- more than I do.  And maybe I would experience more joy in sharing, in letting go of the strong grip, in the release of what I think is mine.