White River Christmas Half Marathon & Relay: A not-so-brief history

This began as a Facebook post on my church’s page, but, as I got to writing a “brief overview,” I decided to give a bit more background on the “Christmas Half.” So pretend you’re browsing the Fellowship page on Facebook and you run across this:

WRChristmasHalfShirt2009It’s time to start talking up this year’s White River Christmas Half Marathon and Relay, a fundraiser to help Batesville-area families at Christmastime. Did you know this charitable event was started by two Fellowship members and local veterinarians, Matt and Sara Walker, and that Fellowship is the host site?

The entry fee is donation based, and folks give any amount they’re led to give. It’s a wonderful opportunity for runners and walkers to participate in a race that “gives back.” Some give a little; some give a lot. It’s the spirit of giving that makes it such a wonderful annual event.

We’ve raised several thousand dollars for families in just a few years, in partnership with the Northcentral Arkansas Development Council.

This year’s event – on Saturday, Dec. 6 – will be the 6th annual (sort of). We had to postpone, then flat-out cancel the 2013 race because of weather: the first time because of an ice storm and then, two weeks later, because of flooding. It was a tough call, but it was for the safety of all involved. Nevertheless, we helped families. After we canceled, we reached out to all the runners who had donated, and only one wanted the race “fee” back ($35). So these families we set out to help still received a nice Christmas with the several-hundred dollars we raised. In light of that, I think we can count the 5th annual as an actual thing, don’t you?

Here’s how the “helping families” part plays out:

A couple of months out, we contact Kathy Ruminer, a very nice lady with the NADC, to remind her to be on the lookout for the families that most need our help. She picks a few families (or individuals), and once we know how much money we’ve raised through donations (from race participants and sponsors), we decide how many folks we can help and how much each family will receive. Fellowship members Sara Walker and Becky Ellison usually do the shopping, and it gives them so much joy to shop for the kids and their parents!

Sara and Becky buy Christmas gifts for the kids, but we also give Walmart gift cards to the parents so that they can buy groceries.

WRChristmasHalfShirt2010Did you know that one year we had enough money to provide a refrigerator (with the help of Fellowship member and Home Depot manager Ken Paul)? Kathy loves to tell that story (and I love to hear it!): After the appliance was delivered, the lady of the house called Kathy and told her they had delivered the wrong refrigerator. This one was so fancy, it couldn’t have been the one meant for her! Kathy assured her that it was no mistake – this was, indeed her fridge. This gift was made possible by our little ol’ half-marathon!

The race has grown to about four dozen participants over the years, but “small” doesn’t mean bad. It’s a nice little community event – and if you’ve ever put on an event of any size, you know it takes planning, cooperation and lots of volunteers (and food). When I talk about cooperation, this isn’t just from Fellowship members. Community members, local running club members and other folks have helped out, or we couldn’t have done it.

Bruce and I didn’t live here or attend Fellowship until 2010, the year of the second Christmas Half. Rather than running the race, we volunteered as traffic monitors that year and the next. When I say traffic monitors, I’m talking about those folks who stand at the intersections along the race course and holler, “You’re doing great – turn left here! You’re almost finished. Looking awesome!” (Even if it’s not true.)

In 2011, they gave the option of running the half-marathon or an 8k (4.96 miles).

In 2012, the race almost didn’t happen. The Walkers had added a third child and a second veterinary clinic, so they had growing responsibilities that made race planning extremely difficult. Bruce and I, who hate to see a good thing end, got involved with helping them and took over the administrative parts (procuring sponsor money, ordering trophies, designing the T-shirts, finding a volunteer coordinator – all that behind-the-scenes stuff). By that year it had become a half-marathon plus a relay (two buddies team up, and each runs half of the half).

I think I need to pause here and explain “half-marathon” to non-runners: It’s 13.1 miles. Lucas (who is training for this year’s Half) mentioned in a recent sermon that it’s 13 miles, and I was tempted to shout out, “It’s thirteen-POINT-ONE miles!” You see, I’ve run a half-marathon, and that last 10th of a mile is mighty significant. I wanted credit for every single 10th of a mile I eked out. 🙂

WRChristmasHalfShirt2011Bruce and I have continued as co-directors because of the Walkers’ increasingly busy schedules. This year they’re serving as advisers but are not involved as directors. We thank them for entrusting the responsibility to us, and they will always be the founders of this very special event. If you don’t know Matt and Sara, introduce yourself some Sunday. They are two of the nicest, most generous people you’ll ever meet. And Sara makes me laugh, so she gets bonus points for that.

The volunteers, as I mentioned, make this race – any race, actually – what it is. For three years, Bruce has helped out with the local kids triathlon, which benefits the Ozark Foothills Literacy Project, and the project’s director, Nicole Stroud, has returned the favor by recruiting and directing a bunch of volunteers for the Christmas Half for two years.

I mentioned food earlier (it’s always on my mind).

Fellowship has always been a welcoming church, and the Christmas Half offers a great opportunity to demonstrate that. We try to nourish not only people’s souls but their bodies, and there’s no better time for a warm cup of hospitality than when a body has just run 13.1 miles in the cold, damp (sometimes wet, maybe windy) weather.

Before the race, we have bottled water, juice and a few doughnuts (all donated), and afterward we welcome people inside for treats both sweet and savory. Church members make cookies, Colton’s Steak House donates a 5-gallon bucket of yummy potato soup and – my favorite – Sara Walker makes a bunch of her awesome chili! I’ve watched runners come inside, see the spread and say things like, “Wow, you guys really know how to put on a race!” They remember that and tell their friends. The serving of lunch, not just snacks, makes it really special for them and for us.

WRChristmasHalfShirt2012
We have a few 2012 shirts available for $5.

Also, we have cool T-shirts, and we give nice trophies for all age divisions.

Bruce has designed the shirts the past couple of years, and I’ve talked him into letting me design this year’s (actually, I just took it over). Neither of us is an artsy-creative type, but I think the shirts have been great – not just ours but the Walkers’ shirts, too. I love the snowflake shirt! (As we speak, T-Shirt Express in Batesville is working on my idea for the design – I love the art of collaboration!)

Speaking of race shirts and the race that didn’t happen, we have lots of 2013 Christmas Half T-shirts available, from out-of-town folks who registered but didn’t come pick them up. They’re purple, long-sleeved and cute. We’re selling them for $5 each, and 100 percent of that money will go to this year’s needy families. C’mon, you know you want one! (Contact Suzy – info below.)

And last year, a local jewelry store (the owners are our running friends Jonathan and Ashley Freiert) donated really nice awards for first-, second- and third-place overall that we didn’t get to hand out. We will be able to use them this year, though (with new engraving), so you may want to register for the race right away. 🙂 And there is a rumor – I don’t know where it started – that we might have finishers medals, too. This means everyone would get a memento for finishing – not just the fast folks! (Hey, one of these days we’re going to be just like one of those big ol’ fancy race events.)

The race is less than a month away, and we’re recruiting volunteers, sponsors and runners. If you haven’t been involved in one of these events, come hang out with us. It’s a ton of fun. And just maybe, if you’re not late, you’ll get a big bowl of Sara’s famous, mouth-watering chili with all the fixin’s.

Dec. 6 – mark your calendars.

We have plenty of these shirts available for $5.
We have plenty of these shirts available for $5.

In the meantime, here’s how you can start praying:

  • Event planning and execution.
  • Pray that we’ll have enough volunteers and that we’ll be organized, helpful and welcoming.
  • The families that Kathy will choose for us. We don’t know their names yet, but our heavenly Father does. Pray for their hearts to be open to receiving and for our hearts to be open to giving.
  • Generous donors (pray about what amount you might give – you don’t have to race or volunteer to make a donation; and no amount is too small).
  • Becky and Sara as they choose the gifts for the families.
  • Safety and health for the race participants and volunteers.
  • Good racing weather (of course!).
  • While we’re praying, I can’t forget to ask for your prayers for the loved ones of Jacob Wells’ of Little Rock, who died Nov. 6 after collapsing at the Midsouth Marathon in Wynne on Nov. 1. He was 45 and had run more than 150 marathons. He founded the Three Bridges Marathon in Little Rock last year and was a big advocate of not only running but of non-profits and helping others. View just one of the many features about him here.

I’m so very grateful to Fellowship Bible Church for opening its doors to host this event, and I’m grateful to our friends in the Arkansas running community (and especially Batesville) for supporting this event each year.

To make a donation or volunteer for the White River Christmas Half Marathon & Relay on Dec. 6, call or text me, Suzy Oakley, at (501) 425-5878 or email me at stoakley (at) swbell (dot) net. Or contact Bruce Oakley at (501) 554-5211 or boakley59 (at) hotmail (dot) com.

To register for the race online or download an entry form, click here. Early packet pickup will be from 4:30-6 p.m. Friday, Dec. 5.

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Of loss and hope

Me with Uncle John, circa 1967, Kerman, Calif. The boy on the left is our neighbor; the woman on the right is John's first wife.
Me with Uncle John, circa 1967, Kerman, Calif. The boy is our neighbor; the woman is John’s first wife.

I’ve been losing a lot of sleep lately.

As I write this late at night, having gotten out of bed after just a few minutes to look at old family photographs, I’m thinking of two people in particular:

  1. My Uncle John, who passed away not 20 minutes ago, finally surrendering to the cancer that was diagnosed just four months ago.
  2. My Grandma Tressie, who would have celebrated her 98th birthday today had ALS not taken her life much too soon.

Yesterday, one of my co-workers sent an All Employees email announcing her intent to partake in the “ice bucket challenge” phenomenon that has been sweeping the nation. (It seems to have started as a grass-roots effort to raise money for research and a cure for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. The challenge “went viral” and has raised millions of dollars in an incredibly short time.) Tammy is bravely and generously doing her part to support the cause. Before a day had passed, however, two others in my workplace had answered the challenge – our COO and CFO will feel the love, too. A couple of twisted employees 🙂 will earn the right (through their donations) to douse them with ice water, too!

But, even as these two diseases have leaped onto my radar in recent weeks, I’ve been raising money for my own cause: curing Crohn’s disease.

I don’t want my husband to die of it someday.

Indirectly, peripherally, it’s why I don’t sleep.

I don’t sleep because there are so many diseases to cure, so much suffering to alleviate. Can I do it? Can I fix the world’s problems, cure its diseases, carry clean drinking water to suffering African children, stop wars and riots and child abuse, end the maltreatment of unwanted pets that are dumped along the highway?

No. Not on my own.

Jesus said the poor will always be with us. (Deuteronomy 15:11, Matthew 26:11, Mark 14:6-9, John 12:7-8, New Living Translation.)

Does that mean I shouldn’t try?

No!

The Lord also said we’re to care for those less fortunate. (Proverbs 22:9 and dozens of other verses.)

And, lest I catch myself thinking that I, myself, am one of those less fortunate, I have to remind myself to count my blessings. I have to GIVE when opportunities arise. Despite a few minor health problems, I am BLESSED. Compared to many people, I have it easy. I have hope.

Will my few dollars make a difference in the world? Maybe not.

But just maybe they will.

How can I not give? How can I not try?

When Jesus admonished His disciples about the poor, He told them to “give generously … not grudgingly.”

He gave His one and only life. How can I not give of my abundance?

Will you consider giving?

This isn’t a pitch for my Crohn’s disease fundraising efforts. It’s a pitch to get you to see why Jesus said it’s more blessed to give than to receive. You don’t believe it until you do it. And when you do it, it feels right.

So come on.

Whether it’s for Crohn’s disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease, heart disease, cancer or some other unpronounceable sickness someone is raising funds for, they all could use our help.

Stick your neck out, stand under a bucket of ice water, hammer some nails, do the chicken dance, donate your coin jar – whatever you need to do – just GIVE.

Give someone hope.

You’ll be glad you did.

  • Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America’s Team Challenge program.
  • Your favorite charity ______________.

And I couldn’t end this without making one final pitch:

My Uncle John and my Grandma Tressie both knew the Lord. We know they’re in the arms of Jesus and no longer suffering. If you don’t have the assurance of eternal salvation – if you’ve never given lordship of your life to Jesus, please come talk to me or find a pastor or a Christian friend who can help you find your way to salvation. It is the most important decision you’ll ever make, and it matters for eternity. Don’t  put it off. He gives HOPE.

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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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Cocoa and Licorice

Cocoa and Licorice need good homes.

 

“Then God said, ‘Let the earth produce every sort of animal, each producing offspring of the same kind – livestock, small animals that scurry along the ground, and wild animals.’ And that is what happened. God made all sorts of wild animals, livestock, and small animals, each able to produce offspring of the same kind. And God saw that it was good” (Genesis 1:24-25, NLT).

What I’m about to say is going to make some people mad – possibly even some people in my family. I’m sorry, but I’ve held my tongue for too long. This morning’s events pushed me over the edge, so I’m just going to tell you how I feel. I want to write it while the knot it still in my stomach, because otherwise I won’t say it. I’ve gone for years without expressing these thoughts in public, but now there’s no holding back. (I’ve stepped on people’s toes before, so what’s one more time?)

Here it is:

I wish every puppy mill in the world would go out of business. I wish everyone who ever paid a dime for a dog bred for profit would spend five minutes at an animal shelter. I wish spaying and neutering were free the world over, because then no one would have an excuse for dumping puppies at the river, or shooting their puppies’ mothers, or abusing their animals because there are too many of them and when it comes down to whom to feed, we humans win by necessity.

The world is overpopulated with unwanted animals. The shelters are full beyond capacity – especially the no-kill shelters like the Humane Society of Independence County, where we had to take Cocoa and Licorice this morning.

Am I hypocritical for leaving two puppies at a shelter whose staff said they were already full? Maybe. Bruce and I were prepared to bring them home with us for a while if we needed to, but the shelter folks found a cage and said they’d take them.

That leaves me with the responsibility to find homes for these two babies. Because in the short ride to the shelter from Kennedy Park, where we found them and their sibling (whom we couldn’t find when it was time to leave), I became their Mama. (They didn’t realize it, I’m not sure whether Bruce knew it, but I knew it.)

Bruce said we couldn’t keep them. My brain knows that’s true, but my heart wanted to make room in our small house alongside our two queens of the roost, Salsa and Pepper. Bruce’s heart is softer than mine in many ways, but his head prevails in these matters. (It wouldn’t have taken much to convince him, though. After all, our carpet is already spotted with Pepper peepee and strewn with Salsa hair.)

You wanna know something about shelter people? They don’t leave their jobs at the office. They take their jobs home with them (sometimes quite literally), and they don’t leave at quitting time, or arrive just before start time. Many of them don’t even get paid for this – in dollars at least. They get paid in puppy love. And they give it right back.

When we arrived this morning at 9:15, people were there, even though the sign on the door said they didn’t open until 11. Two hours before the doors officially open? Now, that’s puppy love. (And kitty love.)

At 9:15, the door was locked, but they let me in with my sob story.

“Someone abandoned three puppies at the river, and the third is lost but we have the other two in the car. Do you have room for them?”

The answer was no – they had just taken in 17 dogs yesterday (16 of them were from underneath one house, and the owners had shot the parent dogs). The shelter was bursting at the seams.

They asked exactly where we had found the puppies, because if it was inside city limits, maybe we could take them to the city pound. But Sue, the leader of the pack (I use that term endearingly), called the city’s phone number and got no answer.

Next thing I knew, as I was discussing with Sue the unfairness of puppy life and the pros and cons of forced neutering, someone was busy finding a cage. While I didn’t even realize what was happening, my new babies were taken from my arms and put inside the cage with some water, blankets and – very important for busy puppies – toys.

(Shelter people’s hearts are softer and warmer than my babies’ fleece blankets.)

Before this, while the puppies were still in the car, one of the staff had seen the brown one and squealed with delight, “A chocolate one!” (Okay, maybe she didn’t squeal outwardly so much, but she was squealing on the inside – I know it.)

She picked up chocolate baby from Bruce’s lap, cuddled her next to her face, and immediately named her Cocoa. (Sorry, I didn’t get the staff member’s name. Is that really important? We know the dog’s name. 🙂 )

We went through the ritual of trying to figure out what to do with these babies, me all the while thinking I was going to get to put them back in the car and bring them home for a while, and next thing I knew that darned cage was there and my new babies were in it.

What? You’re keeping them? Yes, no one answered at the city.

Well, this is happening too fast. I have to say goodbye to my new babies already. Much too fast.

So Mama said goodbye to her babies, but she couldn’t leave without giving the black one a name. We have Cocoa and … how about Licorice? (We’re big on food names in our household.)

They liked my choice, said they hadn’t had a Licorice before, and that was that. Bruce and I drove off and resumed our lives as the parents of two – not four – dogs.

So back to my point. Two points, actually:

One, animal-shelter workers are underappreciated, and unsung. I’m singing it now, though. They’re special and wonderful beyond measure. They have big hearts.

And, two (here’s the part where I might step on your paws), if you never thought about the implications of paying for a pure-breed dog or cat and how that perpetuates the overpopulation of shelters, or the abandonment of helpless animals in ditches or under houses or along a fast-moving river (we don’t know what happened to the third puppy this morning, and I bet there were more than three to start with), think about it now. When you shell out your hard-earned money for a pet, I hope it’s because you really, really love that animal, because it may mean another one – maybe a mixed breed – has to be put inside a cage until the no-kill-shelter folks can find a home for it. Or until the city “euthanizes” it because there’s no room for the rest of the unwanted animals that were brought in, sometimes in batches of 17 – or more.

I don’t want any human to go hungry because his livelihood was taken away. But I wish pet breeders would find another line of work.

There are plenty of incredibly great animals out there who need good homes. I know this for sure – I met several of them this morning.

UPDATE: Since I posted this earlier today, Sue went out and found the third puppy sister. She couldn’t stand the thought of that little furball being left out in the frigid air all alone overnight, with no siblings to cuddle up with. Did I mention it was 36 degrees this morning when we got to the river?

Oh, and they’ve renamed Cocoa; she’s now Mocha. The third sister is Midnight (I had tentatively suggested that name before I thought of Licorice but wasn’t sure whether anyone heard me).

The three sisters are safe, warm and loved now.

We think Cocoa Mocha and Licorice (and Midnight) are Labs. If you’d like to rescue one (or both all) of them, or to donate money or time, or if you just want information on the Humane Society of Independence County, click here for the website, call (870) 793-0090, email hsicshelteroffice@yahoo.com or visit the shelter’s Facebook page.

If you live outside Independence County, Ark., please find a shelter near your home and consider donating your time and/or money.

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Book review: ‘How Shall We Feed Them?’

I have been told by more than one person that I’m “very practical.” I take it as a compliment (although sometimes it’s not intended as such).

Being so practical, I was pleased to spend 90 minutes this evening reading Marty Girardier’s How Shall We Feed Them? A Practical Guide for Organizing a Food Pantry.

Not only did it touch the practical side of my brain, it spoke to my spirit.

Girardier, who reorganized her church’s food pantry before moving to a smaller church and partnering with the larger church’s pantry, has learned by experience and dedication what it takes to make a success out of feeding the hungry, the poor, the disabled, the unemployed and the down-and-out – one bag of groceries at a time.

She knows it takes a hands-on approach to the practical matters of stocking the pantry, distributing bags of food, organizing volunteers and the 101 other things involved in such an undertaking. But there’s another hands-on task we’re called to. It starts by realizing that we, the church body, are the hands and arms of Jesus in the world. We have been called to take a very hands-on approach to ministering to a person’s spirit as well as his stomach.

An effective and spirit-filled food pantry volunteer is not merely someone who fills a bag with canned goods and ramen noodles; it is someone who isn’t afraid to stop what he’s doing and ask the unemployed dad or the woman with crying babies if she can pray with them. It’s someone who not only prays with that desperate person on the spot but remembers to pray for him long after the brief encounter is over. We are Jesus to a hurting world. Jesus didn’t just fill stomachs with food – he served as the Bread of Life so that we would never hunger again, and Living Water so that we would never thirst. In fact, He’s still doing that – to us and through us.

But back to the “practical” stuff (as if Bread and Water aren’t the most practical things in the world!).

Girardier offers all kinds of tips on organizing and maintaining a food pantry. I was minimally involved years ago with the food pantry at my previous church, and I hadn’t heard of some of these great ideas – ones that take the ministry to another level of caring. They even caused me to come up with a few of my own ideas.

  • The ministry included encouraging cards in the bags of food that were prepared ahead of time. Sometimes the bags also included Christian magazines or other materials.
  • At holiday time, the Sunday school children made Christmas, Easter or Valentine’s cards to include in the bags.

Each chapter ends with a “Stop and Pray!” section, followed by a segment called “A Storehouse Blessing” – a story shared by someone who was blessed by receiving from and/or giving to the food pantry.

The back of the book includes checklists, forms, a sample reminder postcard and other aids to getting and staying organized.

Scripture and biblical principals are abundant in this book, thus the part that “spoke to my spirit.” My two main spiritual gifts are giving and serving, and it seems that Girardier may share those God-bestowed gifts. This book blesses the giving and serving parts of my brain, not to mention my heart.

“Organizing the food pantry, distributing food, collecting food, writing encouraging cards, and stocking the shelves are pieces of a bigger plan God will use to show His love to those in need. Meeting a food recipient’s physical need is just the first step to showing God’s love.”

It’s not the government’s job to feed the needy. That job belongs to the body of Christ. He calls us to feed His sheep. Let’s do it.

If your church is thinking about starting or revitalizing a food pantry, please get a copy of How Shall We Feed Them? You might even want to buy a copy for every member of your team. It is available from the publisher, Pleasant Word (a division of WinePress), for $8.75.

Girardier also has a blog called Pantry of Praise. Check it out. You’ll be blessed.

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Things I’m thankful for

These are things I’m thankful for this morning:

  • The glorious weather. I know it’s hot, but that’s why I like to do my workout (walk/jog) at sunrise; the weather is actually cool for about an hour, until the sun rises high over the houses. Today there were just enough wispy clouds to create a soft pastel scene just above the horizon for a few minutes. So peaceful. We’ve had no rain lately, either, meaning I have to remember to water my own tomatoes and herbs (small sacrifice), but that also means I don’t have to wear special gear to exercise outside. Another reason to be thankful.
  • City road crews. The dead ’possum I experienced yesterday morning on Hill Street was gone this morning. It was a fresh kill yesterday, so I’m really glad I won’t have to look at it every day for two weeks like we did the armadillo carcass. Not sure who picked it up, but I’m grateful to that person. For the record, any time the subject of “jobs I would never want to have” comes up, No. 1 on my list has always been “the person who cleans up road kill.”
  • New friends, Part 1. At the moment I’m thinking about my new running/walking friends. Since I joined the women’s running clinic in late February (and recruited Coach Bruce a few weeks into it), I have made some lifelong friends. The group is amazing in its enthusiasm and support of one another. Many of us had been couch potatoes for far too long, and we’re now spurring each other on in many ways. This particular group is a hybrid of the women’s clinic, the Run for God Bible study and the White River Road Runners group.
  • New friends, Part 2. Bruce and I have been Batesville residents for 13 months now, and we have felt so embraced by our community. We have friends at church, at work, through volunteering and because of family connections. There’s not enough space here to explain it all or to express our gratitude and sense of belonging.
  • Old friends. I’m thinking of Lynn in particular right now. It’s been so nice reconnecting with her over the past couple of years, and now we live closer to each other and are able to have face-to-face meetings every now and then. She has been an encouragement to me, as well as an encourager. We’re on similar journeys to physical fitness although our personal circumstances are quite different.
  • Family. We moved here because of family. I haven’t seen as much of my brother and his brood as much as I would like these past few months, but my mother and I talk nearly every day by phone or in person. We share rides to work sometimes (she lets us borrow her car when Bruce and I both need to drive somewhere), she feeds our dogs when we need to go out of town and she lets us come over and watch sports on her big-screen TV – very important things! We live less than a mile from my brother, J.T., and Mom’s house is a stone’s throw from his. We love being so close to them.
  • Good health. I have minor physical ailments, but they aren’t enough to keep me from continuing my fitness journey. I have finally embraced the idea of moving every day in a way that’s making my heart stronger, both physically and spiritually. I can’t say when I will breathe my last breath, and I try to remind myself to savor each day as it comes (some days that’s easier said than done, but I still try).
  • The little deck on the back of our house. Yesterday after my wog (our Run for God leader’s word for walk/jog), I took my Bible outside to the deck to read the first five Psalms (next in our through-the-Bible-in-a-year plan). It was perfect that Psalms fell on the day I was able to spend time outdoors, not worrying about the clock.
  • Trees and birds. You notice them more when you walk the streets early or sit on the deck in the morning. The birds’ songs are melodious and soothing.
  • Good books. I’m reading one right now that I’ll review for BookSneeze when I’m finished, but I would be telling you about it even if I didn’t have to. It’s called “Jesus, My Father, The CIA, and Me” by Ian Morgan Cron. More later.
  • Chocolate. No explanation needed.
  • The dogs. I’ve talked enough about them in the past, so I won’t bore you with that this morning, but I’m grateful for them every day. They make me laugh.
  • Bruce. He’s my sweetie pie. I love him for so many reasons – too many to express here and now. I’ll just tell him to his face.
  • My job.
  • Home. My favorite place.
  • God. He bestows so many blessings on my life. I will never find enough words to express my gratefulness.

Beautiful weather tends to make me sentimental, hence the spontaneous gratefulness post. I think it’s important to stop and count my blessings every now and then, though. It helps me slow down from the busyness of life and remember the Source of all that’s good.

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17).

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Random comings and goings

Previously I have posted “random thoughts” when I just wanted to ramble, but tonight I just want to get some activities off my mind that I have been wanting to post about.

In no particular order, but starting with today:

  • This morning, Bruce and I had a good time bowling in the Big Brothers Big Sisters of North Central Arkansas fundraiser Bowl for Kids’ Sake. Our friend Betsy asked us to be on her team, and since we love to bowl and hadn’t done it in a long time, we decided we could spare the time for such a worthy cause. Betsy is on the board of the local chapter of BBBS. She was sick and didn’t get any sleep last night, so we persuaded her to stay home and rest. Her husband, Tommy, their son, Shane, and Tommy’s boss, Dave, formed the rest of our team. When I find my camera bag that contains the disk reader, I’ll post pictures. (This was my second or third event to photograph since I’ve misplaced the camera bag. I think I may have left it at UACCB, where I took pictures a couple of weeks ago. That’s the last place I remember taking the camera out of the bag. It also contains the battery charger and our extra set of rechargeable batteries. Rats!)
  • Bowling, Part 2: I bought a bowling ball 10 years ago, for two reasons: I am a wimp, and I have big hands (thanks, Dad). Previously when I went to a bowling alley I’d go for the lightest ball possible, but those very light ones are drilled for … children. Oh, that I had skinny little fingers that would fit those kid-size holes! Today, Tommy and I shared my 8-pound ball, which hasn’t had much use in the past few years (when Bruce’s most recent Crohn’s flare-up started, and even when he was in remission, he just didn’t have the endurance to bowl. And busy schedules prevailed). I mention the lack of use of the ball because that is the reason I’m sticking to – after reading all the messages boards about it – for why chunks began falling off my ball today as Tommy and I took turns using it. (Here is the message board where I got the most satisfactory answer.) By the end of our two games, there were not only several chunks missing but several cracks in my pretty little bowling ball (took pictures of that, too). Never expected that in my wildest bowling dreams!
  • I have managed to finish reading Chapter 12 for my Intro to Business class at UACCB, but I haven’t even started Chapter 13, which I’m supposed to have read by Monday night. The chapters are long (but interesting), and I’m a slow reader – at least if I actually want to retain the info. I’m enjoying the class, but it involves a lot of work. Our semester project involves building an imaginary business. I never thought I would have so much fun creating a gourmet bakery from scratch! I’m making up stuff right and left, such as my children Cookie and Chip (who will help run the business and someday inherit it, along with their half-brother, Courtney) and the fact that I won’t have to ask the bank for any loans. 🙂 It has been a good experience, although – again – time consuming.
  • I had a nap this afternoon. Naps are gooood.
  • Here’s something I was supposed to do today but didn’t: I skipped the first Saturday session of the Women Can Run clinic. I think I was bitten by the so-what bug, which kind of makes me mad at myself. I applaud the clinic leaders for committing their time to us, but when they said Thursday night that they would not be there Saturday morning if it was “pouring down rain,” I lost a little of my enthusiasm (this was not the first time they had disappointed me). So when I got to thinking about my busy day ahead, even though I was up and at ’em in plenty of time, and even though it was not “pouring down rain” at clinic time, I didn’t go. My plan was to run later in the day, but I got to studying, napping, reading ahead on my Connect+Scripture chapters (because our pastor’s wife lost her grandmother this week and they are supposed to write Monday and Tuesday’s posts – and until a few minutes ago I thought I might have to write them both) and maybe watching a little HGTV (“Designed to Sell,” which is going to help us sell our North Little Rock house by osmosis), so I sorta blew off the afternoon run, too. Do I feel guilty? Yes. But what’s done is done (or not done, in this case). Tomorrow is another day.
  • Tomorrow: We have missionaries to Albania speaking not only in our Sunday morning service but at our community group in the evening. Can’t wait to hear their testimonies. I always love hearing what God’s people are doing around the nation and the world, sacrificing their lives in service to Him. And I don’t know a whole lot about Albania, so it should be enlightening.
  • We are 99 percent finished painting all the dark rooms in our NLR house, as our real estate agent told us to do. We are 100 percent finished replacing the 1970s light fixtures – the other suggestion she made. We drove down there six weekends in a row to get those jobs finished, even though it killed us to do it, not only figuratively (beautiful rooms had to be painted blah-beige) but a tiny bit literally: The last time we were there, we were both sick and just couldn’t finish (although we worked on it 11 hours that day, not to mention the 180-mile round trip). As providence would have it, a couple of days later my cousin Matt got frustrated with his apartment search and asked us about renting the house. Voila! He moved in Sunday, and he said he would finish the last little bit of painting. We’re so grateful for that! I haven’t heard whether he has done the painting, but our agent is holding a Realtor open house Tuesday. So not only is Matt finishing the painting so we don’t have to spend the time and gas money to drive down and do it, he’s helping pay the mortgage with his rent money. Also, he said he’d water our nearly dead landscaping. Click here for the listing, in case you’re in the market for a 4-bedroom, 3-bathroom, 2,600-square-foot house that has had extensive updates in the past two years.
  • There are so many things I want to do right now but don’t have time for (such as housecleaning!). I’ve decided not to take a class this summer, and also by then the running clinic will be over, so those two things will free up three nights a week (and Saturday mornings) for me, not to mention the time I’ve had to spend studying and working on my semester project.
  • The church blog has been a blessing and a bit of a burden, although it’s a nice burden to have. Because the whole thing was my idea (to challenge the church to read the Bible in a year and then to get church members to blog about it five days a week), I was put in charge of it. Don’t get me wrong – every single thing about it is good except for the fact that it takes a lot of my time. There’s really no way around that, short of getting Bruce saved so he can be co-editor and one of the writers of the blog. 🙂 What I love about it: It unites church members in a common endeavor, it gets us to read the Bible daily (something I’m prone to put on the back burner unless I have a formal plan), it challenges those of us who are writing to really, really think and pray about what these Scriptures truly mean, and it gives different perspectives on God’s word. Iron sharpening iron.
  • In November I started exercising again, and in February I joined Weight Watchers Online, and I am struggling with the Weight Watchers part. For one thing (and this is most of it, but it is really just an excuse), they made major changes to the plan but quickly ran out of the electronic calculators to help count the daily points values of foods. The old system, which offered the option of an electronic calculator or a free slide-rule that came with the membership packet, eliminated, by necessity, the slide rule. I have been checking the website every day for weeks (I read that they were supposed to have more in stock by March 5 – today), but still no calculators. So, unless I’m near a computer, I can’t count my points. Again, that is an excuse, because I certainly could figure out the points at home at night or in the morning, then make sure I eat the corresponding foods during the day at work. I used to be able to decide to lose weight (or most anything) and just do it – now, God is telling me that was all an illusion. Without His help, I can do nothing. But I haven’t really been crying out to Him for help. That is my fatal flaw. Busyness is the enemy here; that’s one reason I’m taking the summer off from school – I’m neglecting so many things right now, including my family and my health (physical, mental and spiritual).
  • I have an appointment Wednesday with my cardiologist in NLR. It’s supposed to be my second “annual” checkup since my October 2008 diagnosis of mitral-valve prolapse, but apparently the doc’s staff doesn’t send reminders and it is up to me to schedule the appointment. I’m a big girl, but I didn’t schedule it last fall like I should have. Why? Because I’m a big girl. Last time I saw him, he gently told me I need to lose “a few pounds,” and I haven’t. I’m embarrassed to see him when I’m nearly as heavy as I was last time. It is not for lack of trying, but I just haven’t succeeded. (See previous item for explanation/excuse.)
  • John Mark just e-mailed me his Connect+Scripture post, so it’s time to stop rambling.

Thanks for listening! Post a comment and let me know what’s happening in your life.

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Saving the world is not just for liberals

Here’s a mostly balanced op-ed piece from Nicholas D. Kristof of The New York Times. I say “mostly balanced” because I don’t think we should blame the Vatican’s “hostility to condoms” for the growth of AIDS. That’s just my opinion.

Learning from the sin of Sodom

For most of the last century, save-the-worlders were primarily Democrats and liberals. In contrast, many Republicans and religious conservatives denounced government aid programs, with Senator Jesse Helms calling them “money down a rat hole.”

Over the last decade, however, that divide has dissolved, in ways that many Americans haven’t noticed or appreciated. Evangelicals have become the new internationalists, pushing successfully for new American programs against AIDS and malaria and doing superb work on issues from human trafficking in India to mass rape in Congo.

A pop quiz: What’s the largest U.S.-based international relief and development organization?

It’s not Save the Children, and it’s not CARE — both terrific secular organizations. Rather, it’s World Vision, a Seattle-based Christian organization (with strong evangelical roots) whose budget has roughly tripled over the last decade.

World Vision now has 40,000 staff members in nearly 100 countries. That’s more staff members than CARE, Save the Children and the worldwide operations of the U.S. Agency for International Development — combined.

A growing number of conservative Christians are explicitly and self-critically acknowledging that to be “pro-life” must mean more than opposing abortion. The head of World Vision in the United States, Richard Stearns, begins his fascinating book, “The Hole in Our Gospel,” with an account of a visit a decade ago to Uganda, where he met a 13-year-old AIDS orphan who was raising his younger brothers by himself.

“What sickened me most was this question: where was the Church?” he writes. “Where were the followers of Jesus Christ in the midst of perhaps the greatest humanitarian crisis of our time? Surely the Church should have been caring for these ‘orphans and widows in their distress.’ (James 1:27). [Read the entire verse here.] Shouldn’t the pulpits across America have flamed with exhortations to rush to the front lines of compassion?

“How have we missed it so tragically, when even rock stars and Hollywood actors seem to understand?”

Mr. Stearns argues that evangelicals were often so focused on sexual morality and a personal relationship with God that they ignored the needy. He writes laceratingly about “a Church that had the wealth to build great sanctuaries but lacked the will to build schools, hospitals, and clinics.”

In one striking passage, Mr. Stearns quotes the prophet Ezekiel as saying that the great sin of the people of Sodom wasn’t so much that they were promiscuous or gay as that they were “arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.” (Ezekiel 16:49.) [Read the entire verse here.]

Hmm. Imagine if sodomy laws could be used to punish the stingy, unconcerned rich!

The American view of evangelicals is still shaped by preening television blowhards and hypocrites who seem obsessed with gays and fetuses. One study cited in the book found that even among churchgoers ages 16 to 29, the descriptions most associated with Christianity were “antihomosexual,” “judgmental,” “too involved in politics,” and “hypocritical.”

Some conservative Christians reinforced the worst view of themselves by inspiring Ugandan homophobes who backed a bill that would punish gays with life imprisonment or execution. Ditto for the Vatican, whose hostility to condoms contributes to the AIDS epidemic. But there’s more to the picture: I’ve also seen many Catholic nuns and priests heroically caring for AIDS patients — even quietly handing out condoms.

One of the most inspiring figures I’ve met while covering Congo’s brutal civil war is a determined Polish nun in the terrifying hinterland, feeding orphans, standing up to drunken soldiers and comforting survivors — all in a war zone. I came back and decided: I want to grow up and become a Polish nun.

Some Americans assume that religious groups offer aid to entice converts. That’s incorrect. Today, groups like World Vision ban the use of aid to lure anyone into a religious conversation.

Some liberals are pushing to end the longtime practice (it’s a myth that this started with President George W. Bush) of channeling American aid through faith-based organizations. That change would be a catastrophe. In Haiti, more than half of food distributions go through religious groups like World Vision that have indispensible networks on the ground. We mustn’t make Haitians the casualties in our cultural wars.

A root problem is a liberal snobbishness toward faith-based organizations. Those doing the sneering typically give away far less money than evangelicals. They’re also less likely to spend vacations volunteering at, say, a school or a clinic in Rwanda.

If secular liberals can give up some of their snootiness, and if evangelicals can retire some of their sanctimony, then we all might succeed together in making greater progress against common enemies of humanity, like illiteracy, human trafficking and maternal mortality.

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Fighting Crohn's disease

Anyone who has read this blog in the past couple of years knows that Crohn’s disease has been a major part of my 12-year marriage to Bruce (he was diagnosed in December 1998, just before our first anniversary). (Click “Crohn’s disease” in the category cloud at left to read some of the archived posts.)

Bruce has had three flare-ups in the past 11 years, the most recent of which started three years ago and lingers still.

Crohn’s has taken Bruce’s job, a lot of our money and a good deal of our energy (I never thought I would be this tired at 47!).

With a disease like Crohn’s, you feel helpless much of the time. Its cause is a mystery, its cure nonexistent. Today.

Tomorrow, we will find a cure.

Today, we are working toward that cure, not as scientists but as advocates – for education, awareness and research.

Because, in some things, we are not helpless. We have choices. We can decide.

I have decided to fight.

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions, but I made myself a goal for 2010. This year, I’ve committed to helping bring to Arkansas a chapter of the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America.

The nearest CCFA chapters are in Dallas, Tulsa, St. Louis, Nashville and New Orleans. A little too far to drive, if you ask me.

CCFA is dedicated to finding a cure for Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, collectively known as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and “to improve the quality of life of children and adults affected by these diseases.” Read more about CCFA’s mission here.

It is one thing when your 39-year-old husband is diagnosed with such a devastating disease. It is another when your cousin’s 10-year-old son is given the same diagnosis.

Ten percent of the more than 1 million Crohn’s sufferers in the United States are children, including my young cousin, Spencer. He was diagnosed last summer. He’s 11 now, and his little brain has had a lot to absorb in the past several months.

Spencer has probably done more research on Crohn’s than many adults have. He’s super-smart and ultra-aware. He knows stuff that an 11-year-old boy shouldn’t have to know about himself and his body. Not yet.

But maybe Spencer will be the guy to find the cure someday.

Meanwhile, he’s part of the movement to bring a CCFA chapter to Arkansas.

On Saturday, May 15, at 5 p.m., we will walk for Crohn’s and colitis. Read more here about the Little Rock Take Steps Walk. It will be a casual stroll (less than a mile) in a family-friendly, festival-type atmosphere.

To join Team Taylor Trotters (Taylor is the maiden name of Spencer’s mom, her sister and me) or to donate, click here. Our team goal is $5,000. Every donation of $5, $10 or more will help us reach our goal.

To all of my cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces, sibling, future sibling-in-law and friends around Arkansas: April or I will be contacting you to walk with us, but feel free to post a comment below (or click the above link and join) if you’re ready to get on board now! (And if you are a designer, we need help with a T-shirt design. We’ll have Team Taylor T-shirts, but we haven’t gotten that far yet. We’ve been busy working on tomorrow’s Walk kickoff party in Little Rock.)

2010 is the year that Arkansas will establish its very own chapter of CCFA. Be a part of it!

Today.

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The good Earth

The Certified Arkansas Farmers Market (Sixth & Main streets in North Little Rock’s Argenta neighboorhood) opened yesterday for the 2009 season. I really hated to miss it, but Bruce and I went to Batesville for the annual Scottish festival at Lyon College (more on that later). But I’m so excited that it’s finally open! Saturday, April 25, is Basket-A-Month pickup day, so I can’t wait for the fresh eggs, milk, cheese, pasta, STRAWBERRIES and other goodies that will be in the basket. Maybe I’ll make strawberry cake or muffins next weekend!

Come on down Saturday for fresh, Arkansas-grown produce, dairy, beefalo, honey, homemade pasta and much more. Support your local farmer. Maybe you’ll see us there. Bruce and I will be volunteering during the basket pickup.

After that, walk down to Riverfront Park for the Arkansas Earth Day Festival. The festival is on the North Little Rock side of the river between the Main Street and Broadway bridges. Maybe you’ll see me there. I’ll be volunteering at the Basket-A-Month booth.

The festival is on the 25th, although Earth Day is Wednesday, April 22. Poke around the official Earth Day site and find out little ways you can make a difference. Support your local planet.

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