Of funerals and letting go

CSLewisQuote_purpleI went to two funerals yesterday, and I’m working on a third (my own).

The first one was through the pages of a book – the true story of a little girl whose family loved her very much. A tragic accident cut short her very full and vibrant 5-year-old existence.

The second one was in the church where I grew up – the true story of a good man who lived long and prospered. He was 86, and I grew up with his sons.

The third one … well, we’ll get to that. First I want to talk about Maria Sue Chapman and Roy Glenn Provence and the marks they made on the world.

ChoosingToSee_coverIn the book I was reading yesterday morning, written by Maria’s mom, Mary Beth Chapman (wife of contemporary Christian singer Steven Curtis Chapman), we get to know Maria as a giggly, silly, princess of a girl who loved to laugh and dance, climb the monkey bars, swing, and play with her big brother Will. Her mom paints a full picture of Maria, from the moment Steven laid eyes on her in China to the day they said goodbye to her five years later.

Excerpts from Maria’s funeral, as well as the hours and days immediately after the accident, show that the Chapman family and friends – while grieving – believed God to be sovereign, loving and full of grace, mercy and hope.

Even in the midst of wondering why the accident had to happen, the family’s aim was to honor their sweet girl and bring glory to God through her death, by witnessing to the fact of His goodness and our need to turn to Jesus as Savior.

In the middle of my grieving with the Chapman family, I had to put the book down to get ready for another funeral. (Click here to read my review of the book on my other blog.)

Fast forward a couple of hours to Pleasant Valley Missionary Baptist Church.

RoyProvence
Roy Glenn Provence, 1929-2016

Roy Provence, by all accounts, lived a full and prosperous life.

Was he rich? Not in worldly possessions. He certainly made a decent living and provided for his family, but his real riches were evidenced by his loving wife, children and extended family, a boatload of friends and the mark he made on the world by serving the Lord through his church and his daily life. All you had to do was look around the sanctuary yesterday to see the impact he had on all of us.

Roy’s son Keith, the youngest, was my high school classmate. The night before Roy died, he asked Keith to sing at the funeral.

And Keith, while grieving, stood at the front of the sanctuary, guitar in hand, and carried out one of his dad’s final requests:

Farther along we’ll know more about it,
Farther along we’ll understand why.
Cheer up, my brother, live in the sunshine,
We’ll understand it all by and by.

Roy knew Jesus, and he led his family to know and serve Jesus, too. God’s presence was evident in that place yesterday, for we know – as Roy’s oldest son, Ron, preached – that Roy was with Jesus and that Jesus was among us.

We grieve for Roy, we hurt for his family, but we are not without hope.

“And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13).

In Jesus, we have hope. We have peace, mercy and joy, even as we grieve the loss of a beloved one.

We know that Roy is in a better place. No more pain, sorrow or suffering. He is rejoicing with Jesus!

We miss Roy, but – if the Provences are anything like my family after we lost my dad, and I know they are – we wouldn’t ask for him back for a second. For we are the ones who see only this side of heaven. Roy has crossed over into the arms of his Savior. There is no better place to be, my friends.

So … I bet you were curious about the third thing.

My own funeral – the true story of a recovering perfectionist.

Perfectionist tendencies don’t die easily. I tend to struggle, strive, question, beat myself up, beat others up (unfortunately) and generally plow through life on my own power.

Trouble is, my own power doesn’t get me very far. It doesn’t help me to be very gracious or loving – to me, to others, to my Savior. It means I design my life according to my own plans and schemes.

Pitiful, eh?

So I need help.

The summer I graduated from college, I spent a bit of time with my Uncle Bill in Yuma, Ariz. He gave me a book that I’ve come to consider the best daily devotional book I’ve ever read: My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers. (I’ve found so much wisdom – and conviction – in the pages of this little book that I’ve given it to several people as gifts over the years.)

The Jan. 15 reading (coincidentally, my friend Keith’s birthday) talks about a “white funeral.”

“There must be a ‘white funeral,’ a death with only one resurrection – a resurrection into the life of Jesus Christ. Nothing can defeat a life like this. It has oneness with God for only one purpose – to be a witness for Him.”

I’ve spent a good amount of time striving. For the past few years, I’ve struggled, questioned, researched, agonized, fretted and strategized over how I could serve the Lord and be a witness to Him through my writing, my career and my everyday life.

My writing serves a twofold purpose: 1) to help bring extra income to my family (and by extra I mean eliminate the paycheck-to-paycheck existence) while allowing us to bless others with our abundance, and 2) to be a witness to my Savior’s goodness, kindness and mercy.

Most of my striving in this area has been figuring out a way to make both of those goals mesh: to tell stories authentically, to be honest and transparent about my life (the good and the bad) and to draw people in without coming across as greedy and selfish (because of the ways I might earn money through blogging: sponsored posts, affiliate links and the like).

Bottom line: If I had to choose one, it would be Jesus.

My relationship with Him makes everything else possible. If I didn’t have Him, I would have no hope, no joy, no peace.

And probably no friends. (Maybe my dogs. Maybe.)

While my outward life may not always look like the picture of Jesus’ love and mercy, He is there with me. He goes ahead of me, behind me and beside me. Sometimes He carries me on His back. (He certainly carried the burden of my sin on the Cross.) Jesus has saved me from myself more times than I can count.

And while you may not be able to tell it, my No. 1 goal is to bring others to know Him, too, despite my foibles and fumbles, my feeble attempts to be like Him.

“There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12, NLT).

There is no other name under heaven that deserves honor and glory except the name of Jesus. I know this to be true.

So I strive, I strain, I struggle, I plot and I plan.

And all of it is in vain.

For, as Oswald Chambers says, “Death means you stop being. You must agree with God and stop being the intensely striving kind of Christian you have been. We avoid the cemetery and continually refuse our own death. It will not happen by striving, but by yielding to death. It is dying – being ‘baptized into His death’ (Romans 6:3).”

As Mary Beth Chapman discovered – after Rambo-ing through most of her life – God is good, He has a plan, and His plans are not always the same as our plans:

“Real success in the kingdom of God is not about being strong and looking good and knowing all the right answers. It’s about continually yielding oneself to Jesus and determining to take purposeful little steps of obedience, and the ragged reality that it’s all about God and His grace at work in us.”

These people – Maria Sue Chapman and her family, Roy Provence and his family – have all witnessed to me of the grace, mercy and love of Jesus.

As King David cried out to God for rescue from physical foes, I cry out to Him for rescue from my own enemies of perfectionism, weak faith, reliance on self … of the times I’ve failed to be a witness to His goodness and faithfulness.

Psalm61.3purpleI’m having a white funeral. My death to self won’t be an easy one, but don’t worry: The God of Israel will be my rear guard.

What about you? Do you need to have a white funeral?

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Blogging from A-Z – Wes and the MorningSide gang

Today’s post is brought to you by the letter “W.” (I’m blogging the alphabet in April. Read the details at Suzy & Spice here or the Blogging from A-Z page here.)

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DaveBarryQuote2I tried every way I could think of to fit MorningSide Coffee House into my A-Z Challenge, and W was the only appropriate letter that was going to work. (This was in early April – I had most of my A-Z calendar planned by then.) I already had my C, J and M posts scheduled (or published), so coffee, java, MorningSide and mocha were out. I took another look at my blog calendar. … W was taken, but it was the only thing I could bump without messing up my plan.

MorningSideCoffeeHouse_logoWes Obrigewitsch to the rescue!

Hey, no one said the letter match-ups had to be scientific.

In fact, right after I signed up for the challenge, one observer – come to think of it, the guy in front of me at MorningSide – told me that The Joy of X didn’t start with an X. I told him it didn’t matter; the book title contains an X, the pickings for X are slim, and this math book is way more exciting to me than xylophones or xenophobia. (He’s a math teacher, so maybe he’ll read the book and feel the love, too.)

Wes and the gang at MorningSide are sort of like the gang at Cheers (“where everybody knows your name … and they’re always glad you came”), although there’s no Norm sitting at the bar. Come to think of it, there’s no bar. But there are plenty of comfy chairs and sofas, and even outdoor seating where you can enjoy a little piece of sunshine while you sip and eat. (Haven’t we all needed some sunshine lately?)

No sarcastic barmaids, either, and for that I’m grateful. (I don’t think I could handle Carla Tortelli at 7:45 on a Monday morning.)

Oh, wait. There is a Carla!

Except MorningSide Carla is nice, doesn’t yell at the customers and doesn’t insult the boss (at least not that I’m aware of).

And, while there’s no gang calling out “NORM!” when the door opens, sometimes Wes calls out a cheery “Hi, Suzy!” when I barge through the door.

Yep. He knows my name.

I try to drop by MorningSide once a week or so, just to support my local coffeehouse, if not my coffee habit (and maybe my ego). I don’t need to pay someone to make my coffee; I simply like – no, I absolutely love – the idea of small businesses, small-business owners, entrepreneurship and community spirit.

MorningSide represents those things to me.

I don’t know the names of half of the people I see at MorningSide (hence, it’s only sort of like Cheers), but they always seem to be glad I came. 🙂 In fact, one morning Wes seemed to be in such a cheer-y mood that he gave me a hug! (TGIF, maybe?)

All right, not everyone seems to be glad I came. I occasionally get a funny look from someone in line who seems to be wondering, “Do I know her? Why is she looking directly at me as she speaks?” (Obviously, these are not “morning people” and MorningSide is doing them a great service by pouring them very strong coffee upon request. In fact, it helps that Wes and his peeps know some customers’ regular orders without those folks’ even having to make intelligible sounds. Because, frankly, it would just be too difficult to speak these things out loud. Or so it seems. They NEED MorningSide. These are the folks Dave Barry would categorize as medically needy. These are the folks who are ME occasionally – especially if it’s close to Friday.)

The conversations at MSCH range from coffee (duh) to sports to charitable causes to painting.

SONY DSC
If you can afford a cup of coffee and a scone at MorningSide, you can afford to help a poor soul trying to eke out a living somewhere across the world, no? (The person may not even be that far away from you and me.)

At MorningSide, I learn things. I make friends. I get inspired by people. I sign up for classes (Paint Night at the art gallery!). I buy items I don’t need (hello, hand-stitched keychain, little coin purse, little what-nots) because the proceeds help those less fortunate.

I chat up people in line in front of me, not always successfully (see above).

I learn things about coffee. Wes always has some story, and sometimes the people in line tell me how they like their coffee – usually because I ask them. (One lady puts a couple of bay leaves in hers at home … interesting.)

I meet lots of hardworking young people, who work for Wes because they need part-time jobs while they’re in school. The young women are sweet and cheery (a prerequisite, right?), the young men are mostly quiet (haven’t had their own caffeine infusions yet, perhaps?), and everyone is helpful and friendly.

Alton Brown, aka Waffle Man
Everyone’s favorite Waffle Man, Alton Brown of Food Network

Jolts of java aren’t the only menu items at MorningSide Coffee House. Smoothies (hooray!), sandwiches, veggie bar thingies (I can never think of what they call ’em, but they’re delish), banana bread, fig bars (oh. my. goodness!), cranberry scones … you get the idea. A weight-conscious girl could get her butt pulled over by the carb police. But who cares? Who needs caffeine to get her buzz on when there are those fig bar things? (Well. I do.)

And Wes is always trying new ways to draw folks in. He is an awesome cook, and his most recent addition is … WAFFLES!

I will not waste a lot of time here explaining how yummy these homemade waffles with fresh fruit are. (I like the strawberry; Bruce prefers blueberry; it’s all good.)

Because, hello? I would spend the rest of the day talking about waffles. So I will simply tell you this:

GET OVER THERE AND EAT YOU SOME WAFFLES.

They’ll be glad you came.

 

MORNINGSIDE COFFEEHOUSE
616 Harrison St.
Batesville, AR 72501
Phone: (870) 793-3335
Hours: 7:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m. weekdays and 8:00 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturdays.
MorningSide on Facebook

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Tomorrow: Hey, guess what! It’s The Joy of X!

Follow me on Twitter: @OakleySuzyT

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Seen, heard and liked (or loved)

December has been a month of busyness, but not of the Christmas variety, exactly.

Last weekend we shot the commercial for Baptist Health. That took several hours Friday and most of Saturday. We froze our frannies off in the windy 30s on Saturday by the White River. But it was SO MUCH FUN, and I do plan to write more about it. (Didn’t get much in the way of photos, though.) We had several wardrobe changes because they plan to run the campaign throughout the next two years (starting with the Super Bowl), so even though it was shot in December, it is supposed to depict several seasons.

This weekend was our alternate date for the White River Christmas Half Marathon & Relay. Sure, it happens at Christmastime, but it’s more indirectly related to Christmas than the typical holiday festivities – shopping, cookie baking, gift-giving – unless you consider that our half-marathon elves (race co-founder Sara and her helper elf, Becky) shop for the families that benefit from the race proceeds. And then the gifts are given to families chosen by a tenderhearted woman at a local agency.

We postponed the race on its original date (Dec. 7) because of ice storms. Makeup date: Dec. 21. Again, dangerous weather intervened. We got up this morning and decided that the threat of lightning and the flash flood warnings made it too risky – so we called, texted, emailed and Facebooked all those who had preregistered, telling them we would try again next year.

It was a huge disappointment, but we raised a good amount of money for needy families (entry to the race is free, but we encourage donations and most people do give).

Disappointing, but also, for the Oakleys, a day of much-needed rest. After we had contacted everyone and Bruce put a sign on the church door for any potential race-day registrants, it was under the electric blanket for Pepper and me and onto the sofa for Bruce and Salsa. After rest time we went to Mom’s to watch Hallmark Christmas movies (even Bruce likes them), and we veg’d for several hours.

Back home again, and I want to write about deep and thought-provoking topics, but the best I can come up with tonight is a roundup of some of the things I’ve been reading and listening to in the past week or so. I’ve been planning to do this regularly – these favorite-pick posts – but we’ve been half-marathoning and Christmas-partying and otherwise running ourselves ragged for several weeks. (Can I tell you I skipped a free yoga class Thursday night at our church because of race planning? That’s some kind of irony.)

So, without further delay, here are some randomly ordered but thoughtfully collected links for you to ponder:

First up, you’ll be thankful that I condensed what was going to be an entire post about the pitfalls of Christmas spending (I tend to get preachy) to a mere reference to some wise words from my favorite debt-proof-living guru, Mary Hunt. Read about Mr. Diderot and His Red Robe – good advice for any time of year.

And while we’re getting introspective about our habits and thought processes, here’s a little C.S. Lewis to get you thinking. From a letter on “the slow process of being more in Christ; and on doing one’s duty, especially the duty to enjoy.”

I get an email each morning with a C.S. Lewis reading excerpted from his books, letters, essays and other writings. To subscribe, visit Bible Gateway by clicking here.

I have long loved the books and sermons of Chuck Swindoll. So when my friend and fellow runner Betsy forwarded this link to me with a reference to Olympian Wilma Rudolph, I took notice. (When I was in high school, I wrote a book report on Ms. Rudolph. I wasn’t a runner then, so all I can remember about the book was that her story was inspirational.) As soon as I listened to the sermon, “What’s Necessary for Victory?” I logged onto the Independence County Library’s website and looked up the books on this woman; I plan to check one out soon. The entire sermon on Christian victory is good, but if you want to skip ahead to Wilma’s story, start at 9:30 minutes.

Next up – because it’s the perfect season for recipes and inspiring food stories – a couple of shout-outs to my friends.

I’ve linked to Alison’s blog a few times over the years, but today I was catching up and read a reposted story about her sister’s new-ish restaurant outside Chicago. I’ve long known that Anna was an awesome baker and cook, but now she is celebrating a year as a restaurateur with her husband, Bob. They opened in December 2012, and you’ll have to read Alison’s description of the cafe and her sister. And if I’m ever in Glen Ellyn, Ill., I’m making a point to stop in at Blackberry Market.

One more food-related link: A friend tagged me in a Facebook post this morning, and I clicked through to discover a conversation about a food blog, and then a reference to my childhood friend Liz’s very own food blog – a site I immediately clicked to and which I love! Light and fresh recipes made from the heart – who could resist? (Plus, I’m a little jealous of how great it looks, especially the food photos, which I’m terrible at.) I love food blogs, but the bonus here is that this one is by someone I know; that makes it extra-special. So come delight with me at Elsie’s Kitchen 101 (read the About section to find out where it got its name).

This list barely scratches the surface of the interesting things I’ve been reading, listening to and watching, but I think it’s enough for now. Except this one last link.

In the spirit of Christmas, I’m going to leave you with a schedule of the aforementioned Hallmark Channel Christmas movies (they’re showing all December long!). Go ahead and watch a few. I won’t tell.

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A beautiful read

Gosh, I didn’t stick with my November commitment to blog every day. Not. Even. Close.

And December will be even busier. But it’s starting off well, because I’m writing and this is only the 1st. So think of this as a BEAUTIFUL start to my month.

I’ve been reading a lot of blogs, those of entrepreneurs, businesspeople, thinkers, creators – people who took a risk and did something bold with their lives! You’ll find the word beautiful in a lot of these descriptions, because the artsy, creative sites are the ones I’ve been reading for several days.

These are a few of the sites I’ve found interesting, informative or inspiring, in no particular order:

  • James Altucher (don’t ask me how to pronounce it). Frankly, I don’t know how this guy has succeeded, but he’s got something that works. He’s a combination of bad attitude and hopeless optimist, it would seem. He has succeeded and failed and succeeded again at more ventures than you can count on both hands. For some reason I keep going back to his advice (taking some of it with a grain of salt). He has written several books, including the most recent bestseller, “Choose Yourself.”
  • A Beautiful Mess. These are creative types who found success in doing something they love. It’s “a lifestyle blog focused on creating a beautiful life.” Their website is quirky, funky and … well … beautiful. One of the things I love is that the co-founders, especially Elsie, seem to be so generous of spirit. They post lots of tips, such as ways to take better food pictures (much needed by me), how to start a blog and other helpful things. This site’s a keeper.
  • Arkansas Women Bloggers. I joined this group a few months ago and have barely scratched the surface of its awesomeness. It’s a community of – you know – women bloggers from Arkansas. Lots of tips, creativity and support. I am SO going to their retreat next year.
  • The Pioneer Woman. You’ve seen Ree Drummond cook on Food Network. Her blog is not new to me, but I’ve gained a new appreciation since I’ve been looking at ideas for making my blog more beautiful and improving my photography. Her photos are beautiful, and the tone of her writing is light and fun.
  • Michael McGaha’s Flickr page. I grew up with Michael (we called him Mike back then), and he has a lot of photography know-how (and equipment). He takes beautiful pictures. When I told him I wanted to upgrade my camera, he graciously offered to let me borrow one of his before I decided which model to shell out for. I’ve been drooling over his Flickr shots for a couple of weeks, staying up way too late one night just dreaming of how I could even come close to matching his skill.
  • Alison Chino. Alison’s was the first blog I read on a regular basis, starting in the mid-2000s. She’s the daughter of my former pastor, and she and her husband and four kids moved to Scotland recently so Taido could study for his PhD in theology at the University of Aberdeen. Alison has become quite the successful blogger/photographer, being published on sites that have readers all over the world, including The Huffington Post. Alison has an adventurous spirit. Example: the dreadlocks she has worn for five years. (That’s bold for a white girl.) She takes great photos and writes even better. I’m jealous.
  • Sarabeth Jones. Second blog I started reading regularly a few years ago, and I’ll never forget Sarabeth’s comment when I tentatively commented that I “thought” I was nearly ready to start my own blog. She said, simply, “You are SO ready.” Sarabeth and Alison are friends, and I met them both several years ago at Fellowship North. In fact, Sarabeth is the resident drama queen at FN (just kidding – she’s in charge of the drama and other artsiness that goes on there, and does a – shall I say – beautiful job). SB takes stunning photos and, being a “creative type,” writes beautifully. Again, jealous.

I owe a big thanks to Sarabeth for the encouragement, even after I took the first faltering steps at blogging. I’ve always had to fight against comparing myself to her or Alison because they’re such good writers. I know that I’m unique and have my own message and way of telling my stories. It’s just hard to remember that sometimes.

I’m striving to make my writing and photography better – and having more confidence in my abilities. Reading these blogs definitely has boosted my confidence level and my determination to grow and continue to learn new things.

Thanks, guys!

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A simple Christmas

“I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” – John 10:10, NASB

Christmases in the Oakley house are pretty simple. I would characterize them as more sentimental than material, and for that I’m grateful. Being “poor” in worldly wealth (but not in spirit) has its advantages!

These are some of the things that have allowed me to feel abundantly blessed this Christmas:

SHOPPING

Heavenly Treasures global market at our church. I bought gifts for all the women on the Taylor side of our family (immediately family, that is). All the proceeds go to small-business owners (which may simply mean one artisan struggling to feed her family somewhere in Cambodia, Vietnam or another area where poverty is the norm). Blessings: 1) We bought these gifts for a fraction of what we would have paid in stores; 2) they are handcrafted; 3) most of all, we helped someone who’s hurting in another part of the world.

I also took advantage of a clearance sale online and bought seven copies of a book I read years ago – a book I wish I could give to every woman I know: $5 apiece, one for each woman in the Taylor-Oakley clan.

My stepson, Courtney, who lives in Oklahoma, was blessed recently with a promotion and a good raise, and because one of my main missions in life is to help people be good stewards of their God-given blessings, instead of buying him a gift he doesn’t necessarily need, or writing him a check like we often do at Christmastime, we put money into his savings account at the bank where I work.

When I turned 50 last month, Bruce pooled his money with birthday money from my mom, and he took me to the jewelry store. (This is the type of splurge I rarely indulge in, but I figured a half-century was a special enough occasion.) He helped me pick out a beautiful opal ring. I’ve always loved opal, and this ring is so special to me.

So because we splurged at birthday time, we kept it simple for Christmas, although keeping it simple has always been our norm. We have such abundant blessings throughout the year, we don’t buy much for each other at Christmastime. We also have our anniversary coming up next week, so Bruce suggested we combine the occasions and buy a house gift for ourselves. We really don’t know what that might be, but while we were shopping Saturday for my brother and his stepson, we ran across a DVD copy of “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” (Bruce is a mixture of realist and sentimentalist, and often the sentimental side wins – he loves the idealism of this movie, and so do I, although I fall closer to the realist side of the fence. And we both love old movies and the great Jimmy Stewart.) So here’s a recap of our conversation in the store when I picked up the movie:

Me: “Do we have this on DVD?”
Bruce: “I don’t think we have it on DVD or anything else.”
Me: “Household gift. Ten dollars.”
Bruce: “Great.”

End of conversation. End of Christmas shopping for Bruzy. Simple.

This type of Christmas spirit allows me to breathe during the holidays, because I hate shopping. It’s a little easier at Christmas because then I’m shopping for others, but I still would rather sit near a sunny window with a good book than fight the crowds at the shopping center.

MUSIC

I could listen to Amy Grant’s Christmas albums year-round. Oh, what am I saying – I do listen to Amy Grant’s Christmas albums year-round. You might hear “Tennessee Christmas,” “Breath of Heaven” or “Welcome to our World” in my car during the blazing heat of July. To me, these songs and albums are timeless and always a breath of fresh air. Each album is better than the last, and she includes some incredibly beautiful pieces in the mix. The last album, “A Christmas to Remember,” is especially full of pieces that cause me to stop what I’m doing (unless I’m driving), close my eyes and savor every note. I also tend to wear out my Christmas albums by: Collin Raye, Andrea Bocelli, The Carpenters, and John Denver & the Muppets. Heck, even the classically trained Bocelli sings with Miss Piggy on his album. My favorite Christmas song? “Oh Holy Night,” especially Martina McBride’s beautiful rendition. Bruce’s favorite? “Silent Night” – and John and the Muppets do a pretty good job of that, singing it first in German (the language it was written in), then English. Bocelli sings it in three languages.

MOVIES/TV SPECIALS

Since we canceled our satellite service in August, I didn’t get to watch wall-to-wall Food Network like I love to do between October and December, and I didn’t get to OD on the sappy movies on Hallmark Channel, but we still have the good ol’ standbys on VHS (taped from TV in the mid-1980s) and a few on DVD. Another challenge this year: Bruce and I had about four weeks to pull together the White River Christmas Half-Marathon & Relay (long story), and my only Christmas-special “viewing” would fall more into the category of background noise. Nevertheless, I got to listen to these as I did my half-marathon work or cooked for family: Rudolph, Frosty, Charlie Brown (I love Linus’ soliloquy on “what Christmas is all about”), and my favorite, the Grinch (another lesson on the true meaning of Christmas, plus it rhymes!). I also had these movies in the VCR: “Christmas in Connecticut” (my favorite Christmas movie, but only the Barbara Stanwyck version) and “White Christmas” – “snow, snow, snow, snow!” I think I even listened to “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” early in the season. Oh, I almost forgot: I did get to sit and watch an entire movie, start to finish, when Bruce and I spent Dec. 23 with Mom watching the remake of “Miracle on 34th Street.” (The 1994 version isn’t quite as good as the original, but the cute little girl and the beautiful scenery [and wardrobe] make up for it.) Movies I didn’t get to watch: “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “A Christmas Story.” (There’s still time, right?)

FAMILY (FURRY AND FOUR-LEGGED)

Our two fur-babies are … well, my babies. I have a stepson, but I never gave birth to children of my own, and Salsa and Pepper warm my heart every day, even 30 seconds after they’ve infuriated me by wetting the carpet, barking incessantly or begging for snacks. We call our girls The Spice Dogs, and when I created this blog in 2007, they were part of the inspiration for the name (I was also baking spice cookies that evening). They’re good help around the kitchen, too: When I drop a bit of food while chopping, mincing or mixing, they rush to help me clean it up.

FAMILY (HUMAN)

I’m writing this on Christmas morning, 10 a.m. (savoring a steamy and wonderful cup of coffee with my favorite flavored creamer). We’ve spoken to some family members by phone today but haven’t gathered for the big celebration yet. We’ll go to Mom’s later for a feast of food and fellowship (more on the food below). I look forward to seeing those I rarely see throughout the year because of busyness, physical distance or, dare I say, apathy (on my part as much as anyone’s).

Bruce has been sick the past couple of weeks, and I’ve been trying to figure out why this cold/sinus junk has caused me more worry than other recent minor ailments. And why I might have seemed to overreact yesterday when he wanted to run a longer distance than I thought he should. Could it be that we’re “overdue” for a Crohn’s flare-up? The average for Crohn’s patients is 5 years, and his latest flare-up started in 2007 (and I did not marry an “average” guy!). I realize that it’s insane to worry – God has us covered. I suppose it’s just an opportunity to flex my trust muscles; after all, He is the Great Physician.

On Christmas Eve, Bruce got an opportunity to be the social guy that he is. We started with an afternoon run with some dear friends, the Tuckers; a family member, Bill, from out of town whom we had never had the opportunity to run with before; an awesome running buddy, Rita – who is growing to be a great running partner for me because, even though she’s a lot faster, she is sweetly willing to hang back with me, the slow one. She and I have had some great conversations, and she’s really fun (yesterday, we conspired to pretend we ran up a crazy hill when we saw Bruce and Shane – and I swear it was her idea! Unfortunately, we topped the hill and the guys hadn’t paid a bit of attention to us!).

I should have a separate category called Family (Running), because our running family is really precious to us. No space today to count all the ways, but in the spirit of Christmas, I’ll mention the great run last Tuesday night before our Roadrunners club Christmas party. Again, the speedsters took off without Slow Suzy, but Rita stayed behind with me. (She has a good heart.) On another note, I loved being able to attend a Christmas party in my sweaty leggings, running shirt and sports watch. (That’s just the way we roll!) This was only three days after my work Christmas party, which was beautiful and wonderful (except for the slightly inebriated Santa), but for which I made a most unfortunate choice of shoes, one of which had to come off before the party was over because my left foot was killing me!

But back to the main topic: Family (Human). After our run, I rushed to get clean and start the pecan pies, which needed to be out of the oven by 4:45 so we could attend the Christmas Eve service at Mom’s church. This church service has become a bit of a tradition for Bruce and me, starting even before we moved here in 2010. West Baptist always has a beautiful Christmas Eve service (which could also fall under the Music category). As I was whipping up the filling for the pies, I realized that someone had put the vanilla extract bottle into the cupboard with about three drops of extract remaining. (Seriously, who would do that?) Mom – on speed dial – to the rescue. Fortunately she’s less than a mile away. I sent Bruce over there, told him not to stop by our church to make sure the bathrooms were clean (part of his job), not to pass Go, not to collect $200. Just get back here with the vanilla. And he did.

The pies? Well, let’s just say the jury’s still out. I had to leave them in the oven (turned off) and put them back on to bake after all the evening’s festivities. I’m still not sure they’re quite right. But I’m also pretty sure no one will leave the table hungry this afternoon, pecan pies or no.

But wait! There’s more! (Isn’t there always?)

After the service at West, we went to my Aunt Pat’s across the street from our house. Her son-in-law, the aforementioned Bill (running buddy from out of town), had requested a family get-together in the spirit of the old days (the old days of our family, that is). Aunt Pat’s relatives from both sides gathered in her kitchen, which is only cramped when lots of relatives visit. Strange, she noted, we have all this space in the rest of the house, but everyone congregates in the kitchen and dining room. Not strange to me at all – Aunt Pat makes some of the best holiday treats west of the Mississippi. Can you say peanut butter fudge?

And then … we left that party to go to our church, Fellowship Bible Church in the old Landers Theater on Main Street. Whereas the West Baptist celebration was bright, colorful and upbeat, the Fellowship service was quiet, candlelit and reverent. Both services were full of beautiful music, and each was unique and meaningful in its own way. Each service fed my spirit and focused light on the One whose birth we celebrate, and whose Light takes away the darkness.

The Oakleys ended the evening together quietly – mama in her kerchief (OK, a red plaid flannel PJ shirt) and papa in his cap (his ubiquitous hooded sweatshirt), with one of the fur-children nestled under her bed down the hall and the other one begging for belly rubs. Both two-legged Oakleys spent the next hour reading, growing sleepy and sipping … okay, people, I’m not gonna lie. I wasn’t sipping a picture-perfect mug of steamy hot chocolate. I was indulging in a 10 p.m. glass of diet Coke, which I rarely drink after 3 p.m. And Bruce was sipping apple juice or water or something.

Now back to our fantasy.

FOOD

Three things I almost insist on having at Thanksgiving and Christmas are pecan pie, Cranberry Salad (made with red gelatin, apples, oranges, pineapple and pecans) and Aunt Pearl’s Potatoes. (As I’ve mentioned before, we don’t have an Aunt Pearl and have no idea who she is, but we loooove her hash-brown casserole!) And because I’m the one who has a strong need for these three dishes, I’ve become the designated maker of them. How else am I going to be sure it happens? The pies … we’ll see. (Dec. 29 update: Let’s just call them “pie soup” and be done with it.) The cranberry stuff is ready, and the potatoes will go into the oven soon.

I also have a year-round craving to bake, but my schedule doesn’t allow it very often anymore, so the holidays are when I get to indulge in that. Even when I’m tired, baking sweet treats, breads, even pizza dough, makes me very, very happy.

And then there are the dirty dishes. But since this is a post about counting blessings, being with family and remembering our Savior’s birth, we’ll skip over that part.

Post-script: leftovers (lots of them)

Have you ever eaten mashed potatoes for breakfast? Yeah, me, too.

REMEMBRANCES

My dad died 15 years ago this week. Every Dec. 23, I think about the day he died. That was a day full of pain and sadness, but knowing that my dad knew Jesus makes it so much easier. Even on that day, we had a measure of indescribable peace knowing he was no longer in pain (the pain my brother and I had known him to have our entire lives) and he is with Jesus now. Dad had told a relative just that morning that he was ready to go and was not afraid to die. None of us knew then that this would be his last day on earth. But we have the hope that surpasses all human ability to understand, and that’s because we know the Savior he rests with now.

Dad died 11 days before my wedding. In the ICU, when we weren’t sure whether he could hear us or not, as I held his hand I told him he needed to stick around and give me away next week, that I wasn’t ready to let go of him. But the Father had other plans, and Dad was gone within a couple of hours. That’s OK. My plans aren’t necessarily God’s plans, and His ways are not always my ways. He is sovereign, He is wise and He is, above all, GOOD. He takes care of us, even when we don’t always like how He goes about it. But even amid the not-liking, we had blessings: My Uncle Charles and Aunt Pat, who had just arrived at their daughter Kathy’s house in South Carolina when they got the news of Dad’s death in the evening, turned right around the next morning and drove back to Arkansas. They were here in time for his funeral. Now, that’s family.

God has blessed me with good family, good friends, a good job, an abundance of physical comforts (too much sometimes) and an ever-increasing awareness of just how good He really is. I thank Him for everyone He has put into my life, whether it’s to teach me, to reach me or just to bless me with caring and warmth.

As we celebrate His incarnate presence on the earth, may each of you feel His love, remember His sacrifice and give your life to Him.

For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 9:6, NKJV

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On running and things

Sometimes I ask myself why I love running.

Actually, it’s a love-hate relationship.

A decade ago, I most definitely did not have a love-hate relationship with running. It was a hate-hate relationship – more like a chore, one that I was eager to escape when I grew up and could do whatever I darn-well pleased.

Trouble is, I was already grown up – and out. I was overweight and needed to run, or at least to do something that would burn lots of calories and whip my sorry behind into shape. I needed to run.

But, like many of the non-running people I talk to nowadays – now that the hate-hate has turned to love-hate – I didn’t think of myself as a runner. To be a runner means you’re fast. It means you endure, you suffer, you look good in athletic shorts and tank tops and you wear an expensive GPS thingie strapped to your arm.

I wasn’t any of those.

Running was a chore. And, after a season or two, I gave up.

My very fast husband thinks he was born to be fast. (Being sidelined by a crummy, gut-wrenching disease for five years never once dampened his longing to be out there, being fast, even when he couldn’t walk from the bed to the toilet without assistance.) I would go running with him, but only when he was going to the high school track down the hill from our house, because that’s the only place he wouldn’t lose me. We’d “jog” down there, where I could keep up with him because we weren’t going off into the wild blue yonder, we were only going around and around a never-ending oval. When he was finished with his workout, I could finally take my sweaty self home – up the hill. Bleh.

The entire thing was a chore – something I “had” to do, some penance for letting myself get overweight, I suppose.

That was then. This is now.

Now we live in a new town. (Well, not so new to me, but sort of new because until 2010 I hadn’t lived here in 25 years.)

And something has changed.

The hate-hate running is now love-hate running.

Or maybe instead of love-hate it’s hate-love, because I always joke that I love it when I’m done (but not until). Bruce always gives me a funny look when I say that.

My crowd understands.

My crowd – the Crazy Ladies of Running [my strictly unofficial nickname for us] – is Bruce’s crowd, too, but most of us are female and haven’t been running for nearly four decades (in fact, one of the Crazy Ladies is just 6 years old). Bruce is male and has been running for three-quarters of his 52 years.

Some of us Crazy Ladies developed our running addiction together. We met at the Women Can Run/Walk clinic last year. As with everything like that, some participants fell away early and some stuck with it. Those who stuck with it have become a small hard-core crowd of Crazy Ladies, who’ve been together through two clinics and feel we’re not complete without a group run at least two or three times a week. (It’s like crack – I told you we’re addicted.) Along the way, we’ve picked up extra Crazy Ladies – those we didn’t know in last year’s clinic but who moved into the crack house this year.

Bruce is our coach/mother-hen/enabler. We’re his baby chicks, his Brupies, his co-dependents – at least some of us. A few of the ladies have been running long enough that they don’t need a mother hen, but we all take advice from Coach Bruce. He’s fun to have around. And frequently useful. He’ll jog back and give me a drink of Gatorade sometimes because he knows I don’t like to be overloaded with stuff when I run (hey, it’s hard enough just doing it).

Bruce is always checking on his chicks. He wants to make sure we’re all OK. I love him for that.

When I think about why I now love running, I realize that there are lots of reasons, and many of them have to do with the other Crazy Ladies, Plus Bruce.

And there are crazy guys, too, but mostly I see them at races or the monthly roadrunners club meetings. They’re my crowd, too, but a different crowd with a different dynamic. We don’t run together much – just on race days, and usually then I’m eating their dust and congratulating them on their trophies.

I love to win, but I certainly don’t run for the trophies. I can count my running awards on one hand. And none of them had anything to do with being fast, but merely showing up. Once, early last year, I took second place in my age group in a 5k. (How many women were in my age group that day? Two. But I got a medal because I showed up.)

My two other top honors have nothing to do with being fast but with guessing. Our local race-timing masters, Ken and Michelle, came up with a New Year’s Day prediction run, and since I’ve had nothing better to do on the two New Year’s mornings that I’ve lived here, I entered.

(Actually, the first time it was a fluke. I took Bruce to the event, book in hand, prepared to sit in the car and read while he ran, and, 10 minutes before the race, a couple of ladies I knew talked me into entering. I had just taken up running again about six weeks earlier and knew I wasn’t going to be fast, but I entered. And won the women’s title. How? By guessing within 17 seconds how long it would take me to “run” nearly 4 miles. The second time, I was coming off knee surgery and hadn’t run in five months, so I predicted the exact same time I had predicted last year – 50 minutes – and was off by 18 seconds. I am nothing if not consistent.)

I’m still slow, but I’m getting faster, slowly but surely.

In some areas of life, I’m impatient. In running, I have no choice but to be patient. There’s no magic wand, no flux capacitor to propel me forward in time, to a faster me.

I just have to keep showing up.

And, lest you discount just showing up, let me assure you that just showing up is 90 percent of the battle. At least for me.

For people like Bruce, who have a love-love-love relationship with running – for whom dying in a race would not be an unwelcome thing – just showing up isn’t a struggle. Showing up is life.

For people like me, it’s a struggle. I daily have to remind myself that I always – always – feel better once I’m out there. But that “always” doesn’t come until about the second mile. Every morning, when I look into the mirror and say, “I really don’t want to go out there,” I have to reply, “But you always feel this way, and you always feel better once you’ve started.”

And it’s true. Once I’m out there (after the first mile or two), I feel better. I can count on two fingers the times I’ve gone out there and not felt better once I started.

I don’t necessarily need a scientific answer for why running works for me now. Some days I search for a scientific answer, and some days I tell Bruce that I don’t need his scientific brain to help me come up with the answer. I just like running (when I’m finished). And Bruce is enough of a running freak that this is one of the rare instances for which he doesn’t have to have a scientific explanation. He just loves to run.

I don’t necessarily need a philosophical reason for why it works for me now. This hate-love relationship sometimes defies explanation, and sometimes it makes perfect sense. It depends on when you ask.

Sometimes I ask myself why I love running.

And sometimes I just go out and run.

___________________________________

I’m running my first half-marathon on Sept. 22 for the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America. My goal is $4,000, and I have to raise $800 of it by July 23. If you’d like to donate, click here or mail me a check. Write your check to “CCFA” or “Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America.” If you leave a comment, I’ll email you my address, or if you have my email address or phone number, feel free to contact me that way.

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Running for a cure

I’m about to run the race of my life.

In a few months, two of my worlds will collide: running and Crohn’s disease. On Sept. 22 in Nashville, Tenn., I will run my very first half-marathon, about three times as long as I’ve ever run in competition.

13.1 miles – woohoo!

(Pray for my mother.)

If you’ve read my blog much, you know that I’ve been on “my journey to fitness” for more than a year. In November 2010 – about a decade after I first tried to become “a runner” – I caught the running bug for real. I started walking/running with my sister-in-law, and when her life got too busy to continue, I did it without her. It was harder to motivate myself without a buddy, but I knew I needed to do it for my health. Next thing I knew, two opportunities came along that would help me stay committed: a weight-loss competition at work, and the local women’s running clinic. I lost 28 of the 206 pounds that I started with. (In August 2011, a pesky surgeon had to operate on my knee, sidelining me for a few months, but on Dec. 31 I got back on track with the running. It took longer to get back to healthy eating.)

One of the reasons – no, dozens of the reasons – that I now love running has to do with the people.

First, there’s Bruce.

Besides Jesus, Bruce is the love of my life. He loved running way before he met me, and he has taught me so much about it. I used to go to races and watch him be fast. Whether I competed in those races or not, I was always watching Bruce be fast. God just made him that way.

And I was slow.

But not long ago, the tables turned and Bruce had to see running from my perspective. He took a five-year sabbatical from running, but it was not self-imposed. He was sidelined by Crohn’s disease. He had a flare-up that began in early 2007, and this one hung on for a very long time.

My very fast husband had to learn to stand on the sidelines and cheer while I competed in races, dragging my slow butt across the finish line from near the back of the pack. Witnessing this spectacle has been a lot less fun for him than it was for me, I can tell you. But he has kept a smile on his face, cheering and encouraging me at every opportunity.

Meanwhile, he has become quite the ladies’ man. (My husband, the chick magnet.)

At last year’s running clinic, we were short on coaches, and one evening I roped Bruce into volunteering. (It didn’t take much convincing.) When the clinic ended in mid-May, he was still volunteering and his love of running had rubbed off on the rest of us. Some of the ladies didn’t want to lose their momentum and suggested we keep going throughout the summer. Coach Bruce to the rescue!

We ladies – young and old, tall and short, plump and thin, brown and pasty-white – kept running. And running. And running.

We ran when it was 101 degrees and humid, the sun causing sweat to blind us. Sunshine or rain, we ran. We ran when we didn’t feel like running. We ran up hills – we love hills! (inside joke) – across bridges and overpasses, around tracks, through neighborhoods and even in the middle of the woods. Before long, we were running when it was cold again and our legs were so frozen they never warmed up, even after we ran 3 miles. (Anyone remember that 12-degree February morning at the river? Or the day it was a balmy 19 degrees?)

One hot day in early spring, a bunch of us even ran two races in one day. (I call us The Crazy Ladies of Running, Plus Bruce.)

And, all the while we ran, Coach Bruce was trotting along, doubling back, making sure his baby chicks were OK.

We were OK – mostly because we had a coach who cared about the slowest of the slow as much as he cared about the leaders of the pack.

No wonder the ladies love him.

Bruce has started being able to enter races again, although he will never get back the stamina he once had. Crohn’s disease has just taken too much out of him over the years. But he is our Coach Bruce. (He even has Brupies – get it? Bruce-groupies!)

Coach Bruce, pretty in pink.

And what’s great about it is that he makes it fun. His enthusiasm for running is infectious. For him, it is play, not work. (If you still don’t understand this, listen up: This man refers to hills as “speed bumps” or “extended passing zones.” He’s the crazy one!) At our women’s clinic pre-graduation pasta party this year, his Brupies presented him with a pink and black wig to match his clinic shirt. He wore it proudly, saying he hadn’t had that much hair in years!

At our running club’s Christmas party last year, Bruce won the Spirit Award, voted on by club members. He might not have been able to run in races, but he volunteered and he supported the club and the sport and the runners. (And since I was busy with work and school and never got around to writing the post I wanted to write about that, I guess this is that post.)

Bruce’s love of running and his enthusiasm for helping others to love it … this inspires me.

And so I will run the Nashville Women’s Half Marathon – my very first long-distance race – not for my love of running, which is strong, but for my love of Bruce, which is even stronger.

Crohn’s disease and its companion, ulcerative colitis (collectively known as inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD), are hideously devastating diseases. If you would like to help find a cure for this demon that plagues more than 1.4 million adults and children in the United States, please support me with monetary donations, encouragement or simply your prayers. I have to raise at least $3,200 before the race in order for the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America to pay my travel expenses (at least 75 percent of the money I raise will go to research and education).

I said I was going to run the race of my life, but it’s really the race for Bruce’s life. He needs a cure for Crohn’s disease. We all do.

Let’s race together toward that goal.

Here are the ways to make a tax-deductible donation:

  • To donate online, click here.
  • To pay by check: Leave a comment here, email me, find me on Facebook or call me and I’ll give you my address or arrange to pick up the check from you.

To learn more about the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation’s work, visit the CCFA website.

 

Thank you in advance for any way you are able to help. Together we can do this.

“Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20).

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Truth, ultimately

I have a confession: I’m a fake.

Or maybe I’m just a flake.

I have spent years building the courage to write, to make it public, to be authentic – to put myself out there.

It’s not easy. I want people to like me, to think I’m perfect.

Then again, I don’t. (Want people to think I’m perfect, that is.)

God has spent years teaching me how to be OK with imperfection, in myself and others (He’s still working with me on that, and I have a feeling He’ll have job security for many years to come).

I’ve written a blog for about 4 1/2 years, getting (I hope) more transparent, vulnerable and honest (some might say too honest at times) with the passage of time and the chiseling of my character.

One of the enemy’s best weapons against me has been comparison. I most often compare myself not to the One who created me – the only appropriate standard by which to measure myself – but to other people. I even compare myself to my former, sometimes better, self. I’d like to think everything about me has grown better with age and wisdom, but that’s only if I don’t look in the mirror. (Wrinkles, saggy skin, blemishes … did I mention wrinkles?)

And getting my identity from what I do rather than who I am in Christ is always dangerous.

So the writing thing … it’s a big deal for me. The more I write, the less anxious I am about it, especially when it comes to mundane topics, such as my latest healthy-muffin recipe or what running shoes I just bought. On the other hand, the topic of my “journey to fitness” gives me butterflies sometimes; it means I am accountable to you, the reader. But “going public” with my precise weight last year was one of those scary things I knew I had to do, not only to help myself but to (I hope) encourage and inspire other women who struggle with similar issues.

When I write about spiritual things – and, who am I kidding, everything I write has a spiritual basis – I’m a little more apprehensive. After all, my writing, as I have mentioned recently, has a more “pedestrian” nature than that of others with whom I compare myself. (Just being able to end a sentence with a preposition is a challenge for this former copy editor!)

And I have some blogger girlfriends (and a blogger husband) who write more eloquently and elegantly than I. Most of the blogger girlfriends write about spiritual stuff, and many of them express themselves way better than I do.

For me, that is just one more form of intimidation in The World According to Suzy.

I haven’t written much about my past as a depressed, lonely, angry girl with low self-esteem. Maybe it’s that I don’t want to dwell too much on a life that seems so far distant now – a life that God has rescued me from but which I tend to want to revisit at odd and uncomfortable times, especially when I think He’s not looking.

When I was in college and part of a group then known as the Baptist Student Union (now Baptist Collegiate Ministry), I was around a lot of other young people who had a heart for missions and other types of ministry. As a young woman who wanted to follow Christ wholeheartedly, I found those people – especially the females – intimidating.

Even though I didn’t sense God’s call to formal ministry (seminary, followed by a church staff position, etc.), I thought those young women were more spiritual than I was. I thought they had some inside party line to God and that I had somehow missed the signal.

I thought it was all me.

I was comparing my own spiritual journey with others’. My path seemed to be taking me to the “secular” world rather than the vaunted world of “ministry.”

I now realize that God has always called me to ministry and missions; it’s just that it looks different for me than it does for others. He didn’t make me a carbon copy of Janae or Dianne or Stephanie, or Angela or Annette or Betsy. He made me me. He gave me the unique skills, talents, desires, hopes and dreams of a girl who one day would grow into the knowledge that she doesn’t have to please one person on this planet as long as she pleases Him.

Over the years, the confidence has grown, not because I have anything to boast about but, as one friend quoted in a recent post (citing one of my very favorite scriptures):

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Corinthians 12:9, NIV).

I want my heavenly Father to use my weaknesses. I need to be vulnerable. I need to be OK that she is a better cook or he is a better writer or that I will never run a 7-minute mile, no matter how much I train and how hard I try. But another woman – the one who just passed me in the 5K, the one who weighs 50 pounds less and has mascara that stays put even when she sweats – will win the medal and she is beautiful and worthy of a huge cheer while whizzing past me (if I can catch my breath long enough to do it). I can look at others’ skills and talents and be OK with the ones He gave me, knowing that they are a gift to be used for His kingdom work.

Just as importantly, I need to be OK that He forgives me even when I cannot understand why He would forgive the same sin over and over … and over. Once I have given my sin to Him and know that He has forgiven me – at the highest price He could pay – refusing to forgive myself is a form of selfishness and ungratefulness.

And even when I ramble and put people to sleep and I veer off the subject to such a degree that I annoy even myself, it merely shows that I am human. And I eventually get back to the point.

Yes, I do have a point:

My point is Truth. Truth comes from being vulnerable, honest and open, and ultimately it comes from God.

This evening I received a Facebook message from my college friend Janae. She started a blog recently and wanted me to share it with others in the hope that it might be an encouragement – to minister to you and me and our friends.

Janae was one of those college women who intimated me. Back then, I knew she was going to do “great things for God.” And she has, only she wouldn’t look at it that way. She would say she’s simply letting Him use her in His grand scheme to redeem the world and that she’s just a small part of that plan. (Wouldn’t you, Janae?)

So after spending an hour or so reading through all her blog posts, I can confidently say that I wholeheartedly want you to read her blog. And if you like hers better than mine, well, then it’s the Lord speaking to you through her in a way that I can’t. I speak to those I speak to, and that’s OK. We both want to bring God’s ultimate Truth to those willing to listen.

Read Janae’s blog and be blessed, dear friend.

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Sole mates

My house is cluttered right now, and I don’t even care!

That’s what running does to my brain.

The floor around my chair is littered with running shoes and smelly socks (not to mention smelly dogs). I actually am enjoying this fact right at this very moment.

Why? A couple of reasons:

  1. Insanity runs in our household (it runs outside our house, too, har har).
  2. I still have the “runner’s high” from this morning’s wog in the park.

Every Saturday that we go out there with our “girls” (the remnant from last year’s Women Can Run clinic) is a good day, but today in particular was a very good day.

I started off with a buddy, but, even though my knee started feeling funky very early on, I persisted and ended up doing about half of the course solo because I passed up my buddy and was having too good a time to slow down and let her catch up. It’s not that I’m fast – it’s just that this was her first time out on the Penguin course with us (the Penguin 10k/5k is next weekend, so I guess she figured it was time to hit the trail and get familiar with the course. We won’t mention the fact that she’s 75 years old, because that really doesn’t seem to slow her down. This awesome lady does Zumba, boot camp and any other crazy thing you can imagine!).

So, even though my knee hurt in the beginning and I imagined myself walking most of the route, I kept jogging and eventually forgot about my knee problem. And since the race is jut seven days away, I really didn’t want to walk any. So I kept up a good pace and outran my buddy by about 3 minutes. Today, running solo helped me clear my head a bit.

Running is good for the sole.

When I run/walk/jog/wog, especially solo, I can clear out some of the clutter in my brain, so much so that when I get home to a cluttered dining room it doesn’t bother me so much.

So I like running solo.

But I also like running with buddies.

(Does this make me seem schizophrenic? Haven’t we already determined that I have sanity issues?)

Bruce and I are usually giddy after a jog, but today we seemed sillier than normal (I don’t think too many people noticed). And after we got finished at the athletic store, he was even worse!

You see, he got new shoes. And he was like a little boy. (We didn’t realize just how worn his old shoes had gotten until he got a brand-new pair.) I don’t think I’ve ever seen him as excited about a pair of shoes as he was this morning. I’d like to bottle that smile and take it to work with me every day.

Running is good for the sole, and it’s good for the soul.

Happy feet

Because I ran the 5k route this morning and the other 5k-ers drove away soon after but I still had to wait for the 10k-ers to finish, I debated about how to pass the time. I decided to put my coat back on (shed during the run), sit on the hood of my car and pray while I watched the mighty White River rush by. (Our Saturday morning parking spot is by the dam.)

Nature brings out the praise in me.

A mighty rushing river reminds me of God’s power, His strength and His ability to control the universe. This morning I thought of how He stopped an ocean so His children could pass – and all the other things He did for those ingrates.

He is the God of the ages.

Just as He saw the Israelites through a myriad of problems (most due to their own stubborn rebellion), He sees me through my problems today (most of which are … drum roll, please … due to my own stubborn rebellion).

I’m taking a class called Perspectives, and the readings immediately began reshaping the way I think of God – and the way I pray. (I’ll save the specifics for a later post, but I’m dying to tell you about this class.) But I’m getting off topic …

Jogging has brought Bruce and me closer together in a way I hadn’t imagined it would. We enjoy being silly together most of the time, and running just jacks that up to a whole ’nother level. I’ll spare you the details. (You’re welcome.)

And wogging has brought us lots of new friends. Since I got involved in the Women Can Run/Walk clinic last year – and dragged Bruce along one day when we needed an extra coach – we have had more lady friends than we can shake a baton at!

Now, Bruce is the mother hen to several ladies who caught the running bug and didn’t want to stop when the clinic ended. He is now Coach Bruce, and it has lit him up in wonderful new ways.

We’re getting ready to launch the 2012 clinic (next week!), and both of us will be volunteers this year (my goal last year during the clinic was to become a volunteer this year, and that time is finally here!).

If you are a woman who wants to add a little workout to her schedule but feels intimidated at the thought of “running” with a bunch of super-running-chicks, please put that thought right out of your head. The women’s running clinic is composed of females of all ages, shapes, sizes, colors, political and religious philosophies, incomes (the clinic is free), shoe types, aches, pains, diseases, life stages, fitness levels and speeds. No matter who or what you are, fast or slow, you will fit right in with the rest of us.

I’m not a super-running-chick. I’m just a gal who can’t say no … to the idea of being healthier (mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually and in all others ways that running, fellowship and camaraderie can affect a person) … and to the idea that maybe, just maybe, I can be an inspiration to someone else.

Running and walking are good, clean fun. (Most of the time.) We would love to see you at the Batesville clinic this year. The sessions are from 5:30-6:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays and from 8-9 a.m. Saturdays. You can register online or show up between 5:30 and 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 23, at White River Medical Center, Women’s Center, Conference Room B. I will be there until about 6:20, when I have to leave for class.

To register online (or to find a Women Run Arkansas clinic near your hometown), click here.

We also have a Facebook page. If you’d like to get in on the fun before the clinic starts, click here.

Come on out and meet your new sole mates.

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Running on full

This morning, seven of us (Bruce, me and five of our merry little band of running women) tackled the racecourse of the upcoming Penguin 10k/5k for Special Olympics in Batesville.

This was our second time out this year, all of us together. We had a bigger group last week, but those of us who weren’t out of town or ill today got our behinds out of our warm beds and braved the 36-degree weather (sunny but cold) to gather our courage, our winter apparel and our timing devices to walk/jog/wog the course at 8 a.m. (The photo below is from last week – it was too cold today to get my camera phone out of my pocket!)

Catina, Lisa and Shannon (tiny dots) on the White River bridge, Saturday, Jan. 7, 2012.

I got an iPhone for my birthday a few weeks ago, and I downloaded an app called RunKeeper. It tracks my mileage, time, pace and other things that help me know how I’m doing.

Last week it tracked our run pretty accurately. We did a tiny bit more than 10 kilometers, which would be 6.2 miles. I recorded 6.5 on my app.

Today, about halfway through our workout, RunKeeper stopped “keeping” so well. We seemed to be on pace at 3.2 miles, just before we got to the golf course. But once on the course, we suddenly jumped up to 6.5 miles. By the time it was over, it had us at 16.02 miles, but in reality we had gone just 4.5, according to my buddy Phyllis’ device. (We all decided not to do the entire course – some of us had to leave to meet friends, and the rest of us decided we’d trained enough today; after all, it was only our second time at this distance for most of us after being in hibernation mode for several weeks.)

Long story short (I know: too late!), none of this really matters to me.

I am not, and never will be, an elite runner, and no matter what RunKeeper or any other wacky device tells me, I will never run a 4-minute mile.

That’s okay. I like where I am. My life is full. I have enough.

Since Bruce and I moved to Batesville in 2010, we have been happier than we have a right to be. We love our little community, we love our friends – old and new – and we love running together, whether just the two of us or with a group.

I have embarked on a journey to fitness, and it has had hills and valleys that have made me stronger, wiser and more compassionate.

I forgot to blog yesterday about my weight, but it was 3 pounds more than last Friday. Ouch.

That’s partly because I knew I was going to start tracking my food intake, and I was strongly leaning toward rejoining Weight Watchers Online because I really like Weight Watchers and I now had the capability of using the mobile app. (I had tried to find a calorie and activity tracker that I liked, but none compared to WW.)

I sort of had Jan. 14 in mind to rejoin because that’s the date I joined last year. 🙂 So I was eating like there was no tomorrow. But when the scale indicated 3 pounds heavier in just one week (188 pounds), I knew I couldn’t wait another day. I joined Friday, Jan. 13.

I’m still 18 pounds slimmer than I was a year ago, but gaining back 10 of the 28 pounds I had lost is disheartening. It makes me kinda mad at myself. I don’t want to make excuses, so I won’t mention the holidays (you can enjoy the holidays without going overboard, and I did go overboard) or my knee surgery as excuses. Those can be deterrents to weight loss, but I could have found other exercises while my knee recovered; I didn’t.

I’ve learned a lot of things in the years that I’ve been overweight, and some of them I’ve had to learn, relearn and learn again.

And that brings me to my point (you knew I had a point, didn’t you?).

I’ve been overweight for about 20 of my 49 years. In those years, I’ve read lots and lots of articles and a few books about how to lose weight. I’m glad to say I’ve never tried any of the crazy, dangerous ways. My method has always been to eat less and move more. But even the eating-less part can be unhealthy sometimes, when it’s the wrong type of food. I’m gradually learning to get rid of the stuff that isn’t so healthy and substitute good, healthy, fresh, whole foods.

But it has taken baby steps.

I have lost weight and gained it back. I have gone through periods of eating good, whole foods and periods of nasty, fattening junk foods (thank you, God, that You’ve allowed me to survive this despite my efforts to kill myself with fat and sugar).

It is a journey.

I have a couple of goals now. Previously a weight-loss/fitness goal for me was just that: all for me (and maybe my husband). Now I not only want to get healthy for me, I want to do it in a way that I learn good lessons to help others.

I’ve already learned lots of lessons – some good, some bad, although I suppose you could say that any lesson that makes you wiser is a good lesson.

If it takes me another two years to get down to a healthy weight, so what? If in that two years my journey can help someone else be wiser, gain courage and motivation and get healthy, it will be well worth it. We will learn from and gain encouragement from each other.

I don’t think I’ll ever have it all figured out. But I do believe this to be true: God intended us for community. If we can fellowship together, learn from one another and build each other up, that will make me really happy. And healthy.

“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, NIV).

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