Farewell, Barney Sellers

My family said goodbye to a dear friend on Friday.

Barney Sellers, faithful husband, father, grandfather – and friend – passed away on Jan. 2, 2012, at age 85. He and his wife, Betty, had just celebrated their 64th wedding anniversary on Jan. 1, and he died about three hours after midnight.

Barney was an award-winning photographer, known for capturing on film everything from civil-rights marches to celebrities to heads of state, including at least two kings: Elvis Presley, the king of rock and roll (happy birthday, Elvis), and “Martin Luther the King Jr.,” as the hospice chaplain who spoke at his memorial service jokingly told the gathering.

But I knew him as a gentle man devoted to family and friends first and to taking pictures second.

When Barney retired to Batesville after 36 years as a staff “photog” (as he called it) at The Commercial Appeal in Memphis, he and Betty Sue moved across the street from my parents in 1988, while I was in college at ASU. Barney and I had that in common: We both earned journalism degrees at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, not too far from Barney and Betty’s old stompin’ grounds in Walnut Ridge.

While he and my dad became fast friends (they both loved to tell stories, and lots of them), I looked to him as a source of teaching. As a student journalist, I, too, was interested in photography. Beyond technical skills, however, the tips I picked up from him had more to do with composition than f-stops and shutter speeds.

Dad and Morgan at Barney’s

Barney wasn’t one to photograph people – although one of my favorites is a black-and-white picture he took of my dad and niece sitting together on a bench in Barney’s front yard when Morgan was about 3. And, as a favor, he took my wedding pictures (and wouldn’t accept payment). In fact, it was on my 14th wedding anniversary last week that my mother told me of his passing. (If you subscribe to The Batesville Daily Guard, take note of Page 1 of the Jan. 3 edition, which features not only a photo of Barney accompanying the article but a shot he took of downtown Batesville under a huge full moon.)

My house and my mother’s house are adorned with pictures Barney took, and I can’t recall being allowed to pay him for a single one of them. I would be at his house, admire a picture among the dozens (or sometimes hundreds) he showed me on a particular visit, and the next thing I knew the photo was double or triple matted (by Barney) and given to me or my family as a gift. Mom was responsible for taking them to the frame shop, although the birthday gift he gave me one year (an aerial shot of the White River dam in Batesville), a wedding gift (of a huge full moon above a barn) and my favorite gift from Barney – a photo of double streaks of lightning in the night sky above the Memphis bridge – came complete with frame. He was very generous with his artwork.

Barney’s newspaper years were successful and spanned decades, but, after his official retirement, he was better able to indulge his passion for rural scenes. His “business” was called Barney’s Barns and Rural Scenes, but he was more teacher than businessman. He held photography workshops, taking eager students around scenic Arkansas and elsewhere, teaching them how to see the beauty in a simple dirt road, falling-down barn or old rusty plow.

His son Stanley – or “Chobee,” as I’ve always known him – told me Friday that probably 80-90 percent of Barney’s work centered on his beloved Ozarks.

Yes, Barney saw things that no one should have to see – he photographed civil unrest in the Memphis of the mid-20th century, he went to war (serving two stints in the Navy) and he was there the day singer Jerry Lee Lewis lost his 3-year-old son to drowning in 1962. But despite that – or perhaps because of it – he was able to see the beauty in God’s creation that many of us are too busy to notice.

I remember the time he was visiting my dad at the shop Dad had built in our back yard, and Barney saw a spider web hanging from a corner of the building. Barney said, “Don’t touch that,” or some such admonition to leave the web alone. He trudged back up the hill to his house, returned with a squirt bottle, misted the spider web and shot a typically stunning picture of it, water droplets sparkling in the moonlight.

If not for Barney, I probably wouldn’t have had the “eye,” or the presence of mind, to snap a picture of the spider-web-covered jade plant in Morro Bay, Calif., when Mom and I visited in 2006. In fact, I’m sure that my affinity for photographing “plant life” over “real life” had something to do with Barney. When I spent a summer in Guatemala after college graduation, I took lots of shots of hillsides, mountains, rivers, lakes and volcanoes, and when I returned home and proudly showed my parents all my wonderful pictures, Mom said, “Where are the people?” (She is more of the “line people up like statues” school of photographic thought, whereas Barney wasn’t so much into that.)

Barney liked to tease my mom; he had a wonderful sense of humor – sometimes mischievous, sometimes dry like mine. He loved to laugh, and he loved people.

Barney’s “uniform,” as I recall it, was a pair of khaki pants, a chambray shirt, a bandanna, sometimes a vest, thick eyeglasses and – more often than not – two cameras hanging from his neck. And when he would amble down the hill to our house – whether on foot or in his Jeep on the way to photograph some dilapidated thing down some dirt road (Chaplain Brent said he was told that Barney “knew where every barn was in the state of Arkansas”) – he frequently carried a can of Coke supplemented with Metamucil. “He’d nurse that thing all day, it seemed like,” my mother recalled Friday as we reminisced on the way home from the service. To me, the Coke and Metamucil were simply part of the Barney package.

Barney was old school and had his own way of doing things (hence the recording of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” at the memorial service). According to his family, he took “thousands and thousands and thousands” of photos in his lifetime, all of them with a film camera. His daughter, Susie, had tried to convert him to digital photography but didn’t succeed. Chobee told me about all the prints and negatives in the house, in the garage, in a 10-by-16-foot storage building. Chobee had tried to get his dad to let him sort and catalog them but, again, didn’t succeed.

“He had his own way of cataloguing them, and none of us knew what that way was.” Chobee tried to reason with his dad: Someday we’ll need to know your system. Barney promised to teach him the system, but that day never came.

Barney’s health hadn’t been good in several years. His children had been trying to persuade their parents to leave the split-level house in Batesville – where Barney didn’t do well on the stairs “and kept scaring the daylights out of all of us,” according to his son Richard. They wanted their parents to move back to Memphis, where Barney’s cardiologist and other doctors were. So, even though “his heart was in Arkansas,” according to Chobee, he and Betty Sue finally left their home state and in 2007 moved back to the Memphis area, where Barney died.

There are a few things I regret in life – not getting my Nanny or my Aunt Jo to teach me how to quilt (I paid for classes at a store after both of them had passed on), not getting my Grandma Tressie to really teach me how to sew garments, not spending more time with Dad underneath all those cars he worked on, so I’d know how to change my own oil … and not spending more time at Barney’s elbow, soaking up his knowledge of photography and his love for all things rural. Now it’s too late for all of that.

But if there is anything Barney taught me, it is to keep doing what you love – and to love your family and friends while you’re doing it. I’m determined to keep working on that lesson.

We will miss you, Barney.

It’s appropriate that Barney’s family had his remains deposited in a vintage camera case. On a date to be announced, his ashes will be scattered at his favorite spot in the Ozarks.

I took a small portion of information for this post from The Batesville Daily Guard and The Commercial Appeal. To view some of his work, please visit both newspapers’ websites (links above). The Commercial Appeal‘s site includes a gallery of Barney’s news and feature photos.

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185 pounds

I forgot to tell you in the last post that my weight was 186 (that’s 8 pounds gained since my knee surgery and subsequent down-hill slide into indulgence).

Since I wrote that post Wednesday night (I had weighed that morning), I’ve lost a pound. Friday is my official weigh-in day, so I’ll try to remember to post each Friday. My blog-every-day plan kind of hit the skids when school started in September. It was a loooong semester.

Now that I have an iPhone (a birthday present in late November), I’m looking for a good calorie-counting app. I’m trying one out but not sure I like it. If any of you can suggest a good one, please leave a comment.

Today will be a bit of a challenge, because we’ll probably be eating at a restaurant in Memphis and I’ll have less control over the food prep. Bruce, Mom and I will be going to Southaven, Miss., for the memorial service of a dear friend, Barney Sellers, who died Monday. He was featured on the front page of Tuesday’s Batesville Guard, but you have to have a paid subscription to view more than a few paragraphs online. Here’s a link to the article in the Memphis paper, The Commercial Appeal, which is free (you have to register only if you want to post a comment).

I will write more about Barney in a future post. He was one of a kind.

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20 pounds and then some

Before I get to today’s news about me (it’s always about me, right?), I want to give a special shout out to Chelsea Willis, a young Batesville woman who has won two gold medals this week in the Special Olympics World Summer Games in Athens, Greece. (She won golds in the 400- and 800-meter relays.) Way to go, Chelsea! You are showing us what can be accomplished with hard work and determination, and you are making Arkansas proud.

Today at our weigh-in at work, the scale showed a 2-pound loss. Finally! The past two Fridays I had lost less than a pound and was a bit frustrated. When we began the first Biggest Loser contest in February, I didn’t care whether I won or lost – I just wanted to have the accountability. By the end, when I had been in the lead for a few weeks, I wanted to win it (and I did). Now, in this second go-round, I definitely have become competitive about it. But I’m really just competing with myself – I have no idea how anyone else is doing, except for one co-worker who recently started sharing her successes with me. She has lost about 22 or 23 pounds to my 20.6, but she had more to start with so my percentages are better. And Biggest Loser is about percentage, not actual pounds.

So, back to the exciting news of the day: I’ve met my 20-pound goal, and then some – a total of 20.6 pounds, to be precise (and we all know I like to be precise).

Of course I have to maintain the 20-pound loss for a week before I can reward myself (in case it was a fluke, or some kind of scale malfunction, or I pig out next week and gain 6 pounds). I’ve changed my reward from a pair of sandals (more expensive than my new idea, plus I’m not sure my injured foot is ready for wedge sandals yet). I can get a six-month subscription to Runner’s World magazine for $9.97, so that will be my reward. I’m told the Sara Low Memorial 5K (Sept. 10 in Batesville) will be featured in the August issue.

(In case you don’t know, Sara was a Batesville High School grad and a flight attendant for American Airlines. She was on the first plane to crash into the World Trade Center on 9/11. One of her high school running buddies, Mindy, co-founded the 5K in her honor five years ago. This year is the 10th anniversary of 9/11, so my guess is that the Runner’s World feature will focus on that. It would be nice to read of other memorial races relating to 9/11.)

Thursday evening Bruce and I went to a planning meeting for the Sara Low race. If you’re looking for a way to contribute to the local running community, let me tell you we need volunteers for this race. Post a comment letting me know you’d like to help, or e-mail Ken McSpadden at macandmichelle@sbcglobal.net).

I would love to run the Sara Low race, but we’ll have to see. Despite the fact that I still have a bum foot and my right knee is a mess, I’ve still been running (I’m registered for next Saturday’s Army National Guard 5K at Lyon College, the route we’ve been training on for the past three weeks), but I have an appointment Tuesday to get my knee examined. (No news on when I will get my head examined.) If my doc sends me to a specialist, and that specialist recommends knee surgery, I won’t be able to run the Sept. 10 race. Bruce and I will be traveling in early August, so any potential surgery would have to wait until after that. This would put me out of commission in September, I assume.

Despite how crazy the thought might have been eight months ago (just before I started exercising again), I really have come to appreciate running in a way I never did before.

I have to admit it’s a love-hate relationship, but mostly love:

  • I love the health benefits (my foot and knee problems notwithstanding), and I love the feeling I get when I’m finished, or when I’m about to be finished. I love that I’ve learned to push through pain and discomfort – although it could be argued that I haven’t had much to challenge me in that area; I’ve never run more than a 4-mile course, I’ve never had to run on ice, etc., etc. I love the sense of accomplishment, even when what I’ve accomplished is minuscule. I love seeing the progress I’ve made, even when it’s slow and barely noticeable. I love how it has helped me to shed more than 20 pounds in less than five months.
  • I love being outdoors, even when it’s hot, humid, cold, dry, wet or wild. I haven’t told you, but I got caught in the thunderstorm that popped up early Tuesday morning. I was up on Main Street when the wind started blowing hard, headed back home when the rain started coming down hard, and really hustling when the gravel and dust from the overpass started flying into my eyes. It was kinda scary and kind of exhilarating at the same time. (Yes, I know, I’m a lunatic.) The next morning a lady I see each day around 6:15 slowed her car, rolled down the window and said, “I was kinda worried about you yesterday morning in that storm.” I didn’t tell her, but I sure wouldn’t have turned down a ride home if she had offered it. I see and wave at some of the same nice folks driving (or walking or biking) by me every morning on my route, and I would have felt safe hitching a ride with her – at least safer than I felt in the storm!
  • I love, love, love the time I have to myself out on the streets of Batesville as the sun is coming up. Is there a more perfect time to talk to the Creator of the universe than when a new day is dawning?
  • I love that Bruce and I are working out together and growing closer because of it. I love that he has a team to coach and feels a sense of purpose that he lacked before we moved to Batesville. He really loves coaching the ladies, and they (we) really love him. Plus, I get the added benefit of having a live-in running coach! (So far the positives have far outweighed the negatives.) Check out Bruce’s blog for his running tips and encouragement.

I can’t think of much I hate about running right now, except maybe that I still don’t have much lung capacity despite the speed (albeit small) that I’ve gained (an indicator of increased fitness, so you’d think I could breathe better by now, darn it!). Several months ago Coach Bruce told me I might never have the lung capacity I long for. I’ve had respiratory issues, mostly mild but still nagging, for much of my life, so it’s just hard, hard, hard to breathe when I run. I guess time will tell whether I can ever run an entire race without walking. Argh!

But mostly my relationship with running is love.

And today I celebrate it because it has been a large contributor to my weight loss.

Did I mention that I reached my 20-pound goal today? I did? Good. Also remember that I started walking/running in mid-November, added the healthy-eating component in February but didn’t get serious about it until April 5. It has taken me nearly three months to achieve a 20-pound loss, but that’s okay. In fact, it’s appropriate – a healthy way to do it, mentally and physically.

Remember that when you tell yourself you can’t do it. When you don’t see any progress, or you see so little change on the scale – or in your breathing, or the tightness of your pants, or your blood pressure or cholesterol or triglycerides – remember that baby steps will get you where you want to go if you’re patient.

Remember, friends, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

 

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These mountains that they call hills

“Well, we’re stuck here in these hills that they call mountains.”

– Lyrics from Meet Me in Montana

Let’s begin with a summary of a few facts, some established in previous posts and some new:

  • Runners are crazy.
  • I have become one of them.
  • Some people talk to God while they run. My friend Stacy uses her time to listen to praise music and pray. I told her the only praying I can manage when I run is, “God, please don’t let me collapse and die.” (He seems to be listening.)
  • Bruce and I participated in the 10-week women’s running clinic – as trainer and participant, respectively – that culminated in a 5k race in Conway on May 7.
  • Some of the ladies from the women’s clinic “caught the running bug” and wanted to continue after the clinic ended; Bruce agreed to be our coach. We’ve been running the routes of some of the upcoming races.
  • The group is composed of a handful of members of the women’s clinic, the Run for God Bible study and the White River Road Runners. Bruce and I are members of all three, and our hybrid group has become a tight-knit little family unit because of our common goals.
  • Wog means walk/jog. That’s a term used by our Run for God teacher, Phyllis. (For me, running and jogging are interchangeable terms, although they might not be to “serious runners.”)
  • We’ve taken on a mantra: “I love hills … I love hills.” This came out of watching a video at our May 5 prerace pasta party. The young woman in the video completed a marathon, all the while smiling and repeating, “I love hills.” For our group, it started as a joke but has become a mental tool to fool ourselves keep one another motivated.
  • Bruce refers to most hills as “bumps.” But it is a proven fact that Bruce is insane, so no further comment is necessary, except this: He changed his tune slightly after we ran the Army National Guard 5k route Tuesday night in 92-degree heat and 1,000 percent humidity. Now he admits some hills are closer to “humps.”
  • Since I injured my foot, I have been doing more walking than jogging. This leaves enough oxygen in my brain to write blog posts while I walk (although I was running while I wrote my New Year’s Day post – much of it while climbing the hill pictured above).

So … on to these mountains they call hills.

Bruce and I moved here from North Little Rock. From the Park Hill neighborhood. From a street called Cherry Hill. There are plenty of hills in North Little Rock. Now we live in Batesville, home of plenty of hills.

The point is, we know hills.

Until this week, our group had been training on the White River 4-Mile Classic route, which starts and ends downtown on Main Street. The race route is now clockwise, and this is a good thing. When Bruce and I ran the Classic in 2001 and 2002, it was counterclockwise, and the start and finish were both uphill (previously established fact: Ending a road race uphill should be a felony).

The race route isn’t merely a reverse of the old course. It’s now strictly downtown and around west Batesville. This keeps runners off the busy U.S. highway. And, in keeping with future federal statutes (I can dream, can’t I?), both the beginning and the end are downhill.

The hilliest parts are in the neighborhood where my brother and mother’s houses are, so I had wogged those streets many times before we started training for the 4-mile.

Here’s the part I find ironic: The hilliest hill (the one we hate [and by that of course I mean “love,” because we love hills!], the one where I wrote a chunk of my New Year’s Day post) isn’t Hill Street, and it isn’t North Heights. It’s the street that’s difficult going up and going down (it’s hard on your lungs and calves going up, hard on your knees and your sore toe going down). This hill is not a hill to take lightly. It’s not the steepest hill in the neighborhood, but it’s longer – a relentless incline. It’s one where you do some serious talking to Jesus before you reach the top, and then you thank Him when you get there.

But, no, the hill is not North Heights or Hill Street – it’s the hill that connects the hills. It’s Craig Street.

I have renamed it Craig Mountain.

Our pastor in North Little Rock is a mountain climber. He takes church groups to climb Colorado’s “fourteeners” (mountains of at least 14,000 feet), and I believe he has now climbed all 53 of them. Bruce and I went with him in 2001 and climbed the sixth-highest, Uncompahgre.

To say Craig Loibner likes to climb mountains is like saying that I “like” chocolate. It is a huge understatement. His entire family is into this mountain-climbing thing – wife, children, grandchildren, in-laws, outlaws. It seems to be in his blood. It’s one of the many gifts God has given him.

Craig not only is an outdoorsman, he is a gifted teacher, and he doesn’t waste a good gift by going to Colorado merely to climb mountains and sit by the campfire telling stories. He uses each trip, each mountaintop experience, as a teaching tool. He has dedicated his life to teaching others about God, and he is building a legacy.

There’s no telling how many people, young and old, have gone on to do the same because of Craig’s commitment to sharing the good news of Jesus. I could never list for you all the things he taught me in the 16 years I attended Fellowship North, but it would include the ability to take on mountains, both physical and spiritual. (After all, without the hills, we wouldn’t appreciate the flats.)

Bruce and I have loved Craig Loibner and his family for many years. I say a prayer for them every time I traverse that hill … or hump … or mountain.

Craig Loibner would look at Craig Mountain and laugh. For me, it’s a mountain. For him, it would be a mere bump in the journey. He wouldn’t break a sweat.

And thus I dedicate my wogs on this little mountain they call a hill … to Craig and his family.

I'll let you know when the city gets the sign changed.
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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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A good week

So many things to tell:

  • Saturday morning, I get to have coffee! It’s the first Saturday morning coffee I’ll have been able to drink since the running clinic began in February. Why can’t I drink coffee before running? It’s the pee factor. I mentioned it in an earlier post, and I’m not gonna tell you again. (You’re welcome.)
  • My employer is open to the idea of a healthy-workplace initiative! We met Monday morning, and he started telling me some of the things we’ll implement (such as putting fresh fruit in the main break room in addition to the Friday morning doughnuts, all courtesy of the bank). I’ve done lots of reading on the initiatives in other workplaces, and it has got me excited all over again! I had no idea there was so much information out there, much of it from folks who are doing it right.
  • The reason I get to drink coffee tomorrow morning is the same reason I can’t run the local 5K that all my women-running (running-women?) friends – and some male friends – will be participating in: It’s these darned crutches and “the boot.” I should be rid of them soon, but I’m trying not to overdo. And running another race this soon would certainly fall into the category of overdoing. And I never overdo – just ask Bruce. (On second thought, don’t.)
  • We have the Crohn’s fundraising walk in Little Rock on Saturday evening (yes, evening. Why evening? I have no idea). Click here to donate to our team (Team Taylor Trotters) if you have a spare dollar or two. Any amount will be appreciated.
  • I plan to watch a lot of Food Network tomorrow morning, too – until I have to go gas up the car and run a few errands before we leave for LR.
  • Today was the second week of our second round of Biggest Loser at work. I lost a pound. I wonder how the other ladies did. Great, I hope. I made myself a spreadsheet and projected out several weeks – even beyond the BL challenges – to see how long it should take me to reach my goal. I’ll share more about that later. BUT I’m only 7.6 pounds from my next reward: summer sandals. And I will have the ER doctor’s endorsement of the kind I want – a cute pair of wedges, perhaps espadrilles, which have come back around in style (I know, it’s shocking that I would mention wanting to buy something that’s in style in the same decade that it’s actually in style). Anyway, Doc told me to wear high heels to help my plantar fasciitis. Go figure.

It’s bedtime, so that’s all the happiness I can talk about for now. More later. Gotta get up early and drink that big cup of coffee!

 

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Welcome, race fans

What an eventful day.

It started with a 3:45 a.m. wakeup before even the sun was up (I was actually awake long before the alarm came on – not because I was excited about the race but because I wake up every morning between 3 and 4 – darn hormones!).

Today was the Women Run Arkansas clinic’s graduation event in Conway – our 5K race. It was the culmination of 10 weeks of training – in the rain, the cold, the heat, the sunshine, all kinds of weather, all kinds of fitness levels, all kinds of women. Women from a wide range of ages, professions, personalities and philosophies. Women who made me smile, laugh, work harder and push myself farther than I thought I could go in 10 weeks.

Out of the 1,925 women registered for today’s race, the Batesville contingent showed up in force – all 65 of us – our bright orange race shirts blazing a trail to the finish line. That 65 didn’t include the half-dozen men who came to support us – our coaches and spouses, all sporting bright orange shirts of their own.

When you get that many women together, the excitement is palpable (if you’ve done Race for the Cure you know what I’m talking about). It starts for the individual before she even arrives at the race site and doesn’t fade until, oh, maybe the next day. I’m exhausted but still pumped up about this day in my personal history.

I had done this clinic 10 years ago in Sherwood, but I don’t remember making friends with the other women as I’ve done this time. Nothing against Sherwood – we had awesome leaders and participants there, too – but there has just been something about this group of Batesville women that will leave a lifelong impression on me.

We have each other’s backs.

I need to check the official results once they’re posted, but Amber from our group was able to holler out my finish time when the results were printed and taped to the white van: 35:32. I think I had told Bruce I wanted to finish in “under 40” (I always have to ask him what I said – I can never remember, plus he’s my stats guy). I finished 402nd overall.

I have to give a shout-out to Maggie, who helped me finish the last 10th of a mile or so, UPHILL (if you don’t think .1 miles is a big deal, even on a flat surface, get out of your car and jog it sometime – when you’re already out of breath). And, by the way, I have a long list of Things that Should be Illegal, and making the last part of a race – of any distance – UPHILL has moved to No. 1 on the list.

Thursday night at our Batesville pasta party we saw a video featuring a young woman who ran a marathon, smiling all the way (she must have been insane). Her mantra was “I love hills …  I love hills.” And that crazy chick was still smiling when she got to the finish line! Do you know how long a marathon is? It’s 26.2 miles, honey. And this woman smiled the whole way!

But back to me.

When Maggie jogged back to take me in to the finish line, I breathlessly told her, “Tell me I love hills.”

“You love hills,” she said.

Now, I don’t remember this next part, but Jessica told me about it later, because she apparently was nearby when it happened, and it amused her.

After Maggie said to me, “You love hills,” I screamed, with my second-to-last ounce of strength: “KEEP SAYING IT!”

Jessica said it cracked her up. I don’t remember it, but it sounds like me.

As I’ve said to many people in the past couple of weeks, most of the trick with running is above the shoulders. Attitude is 99 percent of it (and a good bra helps, too). I have to tell my brain things it doesn’t really believe, such as “I love hills.” And when I don’t have enough oxygen to speak it myself (because it has to be said out loud), I have the Maggies and Janies and Jessicas and Jennifers and Ambers and Suzannes and Phyllises and Lisas and Theresas and Catinas to say it to me. What cheerleaders we have in this group!

I am happy to say that a bunch of us are going to continue our routine – to keep the fitness mojo going. Bruce is going to coach us, and we start Tuesday night at the cemetery (!), just as though the clinic had not ended.

I say “we,” but that leads me to the next part of the story. Here’s me tonight, a few hours after hobbling off the racecourse (note the concern in Salsa’s wagging tail):

This evening my mom talked me into going to the ER (after I called to ask if she still had my Papa’s crutches).

Apparently it’s not a stress fracture but merely a severe case of plantar fasciitis. I had been feeling the pain in both feet all week, but especially the left one and especially right before the race. I managed to run the race, but as soon as I crossed the finish line I started limping (kinda makes ya wonder how I could even finish the race, doesn’t it?).

By the time we got out of the car in Searcy to have lunch, I was hobbling to the sandwich shop. Which kinda hints at plantar fasciitis, because that condition is worse after you’ve been off the foot for a while (many people have their worst pain first thing in the morning).

This is a recurrence of a problem I had 10 years ago (last time I did the clinic), but never did it get this severe.

When the ER nurse asked me my pain level on a scale of 1-10 and I had to stop and think, Bruce said, “Remember you crawled down the hallway on your hands and knees this afternoon.” Good point. Pain level: 10.5.

So the ER doc put me in a walking boot and sent me home with crutches and a prescription for ibuprofen. I’ll be in the boot for 7-10 days, and I hope to be back on the running circuit in a couple of weeks. (I’m going to play it by ear.)

So, ladies of the Batesville clinic, if you’re reading this, know that you may see me Tuesday night, but instead of having my running shoes and my sports watch, I’ll be sporting an ugly boot and carrying a book. I may sit by the duck pond and read while you guys sweat along with Coach Bruce. And know this: Because I, too, am insane, I will wish I were taking every step with you.

I love you guys!

HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY, LADIES!

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The slow train to sanity – or is it a runaway train?

Friends, you don’t know how hard it is for me to be sitting here writing this rather than strapping on my seatbelt and pointing the car back toward North Little Rock. It’s 7:45 a.m. as I sit down to write this, and if I left now I could be there by 9:15 (Saturday’s Insane Statement No. 1).

If you’ve read Thursday night’s post (which hit the Internet just before midnight, another sign of my weakened mental condition), you know that I have been battling an “insanity pod” – trying to bring some measure of balance back to my life (if I ever possessed any such thing) – by eliminating things from my schedule, even those things that make me seem even more insane for skipping.

You see, Beth Moore is speaking at Verizon Arena in NLR this weekend, and I had bought my ticket several weeks ago, as soon as I heard about the event.

Beth Moore is, in my opinion, the best women’s Bible study teacher – dare I say women’s teacher, period – of our generation. (Oprah might think she herself is the best teacher of women, but Oprah would be wrong; she may mention “Jesus” every once in a while, but it’s not the same Jesus that Beth Moore talks about.)

I had been looking forward to seeing Beth (yeah, we’re on a first-name basis) live for so long it was killing me. My church here in Batesville had hosted one of her Living Proof Live global simulcasts last summer, and it was amazing (of course). We ladies talked that day of wishing we could attend a live Beth Moore event (several in the gathering that day already had). So when I heard the announcement about this weekend’s event, I wasted no time in registering.

In case you’re unfamiliar with her, in women’s Christian circles the name “Beth Moore” is like the name “Billy Graham” is to the world at large. Most church women you meet, young or old, are gonna know her name and have attended at least one of her Bible studies. Men don’t necessarily “get” her, but women love her.

I became familiar with Beth perhaps 10 years ago when “my other Fellowship” – Fellowship Bible Church of North Little Rock – did one of her studies, Living Free. With the first study, I was hooked. Fellowship North has since hosted many Beth Moore Bible studies, and I could name you my favorites, but I’ll save that for a later conversation.

I believe Beth is so popular for many reasons, but here are the main ones:

  • Her depth of insight into human nature and human character, partly because of where God has brought her from personally.
  • Her depth of study of the Scriptures, including the history of biblical terminology and concepts.
  • Her willingness to share the ugliness of her past with those she teaches. By the same token, she is willing to share the ugliness of her present with us. While there is a temptation to paint her as a saint, she would be the first to tell you she isn’t. She is a sinner saved by grace, just like the rest of us who have called on the name of Jesus for salvation. And we all have ugliness that makes us need Jesus on a minute-by-minute basis. (If you don’t think you do, you’re in denial and we should talk.)
  • She makes the Bible come alive. Her sanguine personality is a big part of that, but I think the more profound reasons are 1) the digging she does into the historical texts, through exhaustive research and study; 2) the fact that she has struggled with so many of the same issues we all struggle with, and then some; and 3) she loves Jesus from the depths of her soul.

It’s that last part that resonates with so many. Beth Moore loves Jesus. If you doubt it, just listen to her for 60 seconds and you’ll likely hear her say it, in so many words. It oozes out her pores.

So I am sitting here on Saturday morning wishing I were back at Verizon Arena, listening to awesome praise music and drinking in Part 2 of her message.

I was there last night for Part 1, knowing I was coming home afterward instead of spending the night with the rest of our group. It killed me to leave, but I was so tired by that point (mentally and physically) it was the only rational thing to do. Or so I thought.

Here is where I confess, and what brings me to tears: My decision not to stay to the end of the conference was based on human logic, not prayerful consideration.

What’s ironic is that human logic is what brought me to this place of imbalance in the first place. Not giving God the time of day, most days, is where my train began running off the tracks.

But let me back up a few days:

Wednesday night I was writing a Suzy & Spice blog post and getting ready to edit the church’s Connect+Scripture blog post before finishing our tax return so I could know how much money we needed to borrow to pay the IRS (our bill is big this year, for a variety of reasons, hence the delay in filing). My mother knocked on the door; she had just gotten out of church and thought she’d swing by to see us.

I didn’t even have time to talk to her. I sort of talked to her, but I was doing “computer things” the whole time she was here. She didn’t stay long, and I felt so guilty. I apologized then, and again the next day, and again yesterday. I also told her to read Thursday’s blog post, which I wrote as a result of this encounter. Or I should say the encounter was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

For it was then that I realized, for sure, that something had to give. And the fact that my mother was the one I had “given up” did not make me happy. When something has to give, your family should not even be on the list.

Mom  and the rest of my family have been the ones to suffer from my imbalanced life for a long time.

My rational self is the one that says things like “I have to go to school because of A, B and C” (those reasons are for another post) or “When we sell the North Little Rock house, X, Y and Z will change and I will have more time” or “I committed to this, and I can’t quit.”

My tendency to overcommit is what will end up killing me someday, if my family doesn’t murder me first.

So in Thursday’s post I talked about the insanity of imbalance. I mentioned needing to take things off my calendar, even things that were seemingly important. (I was thinking specifically of the Beth Moore event.)

My human logic said, “Girl, you’re going to die, or alienate your family, or get fired from your job if you don’t start whittling down your to-do list.”

So the calendar items started dropping like flies, even the one event I had waited so long for. I almost skipped it entirely, but I knew I had to go at least for part of the weekend.

There is another (also stress-related) reason I decided to experience only half of the weekend, and telling you would reveal an unflattering part of me that I’m not ready to share this morning – partly because it’s a long story; you need background info before you judge me too harshly 🙂 and this post is too long already!

A huge irony of this story is that Beth Moore talked about excellence last night – how we need to order our schedules and commitments wisely because “we cannot do a thousand things to the glory of God.” That sentence almost made me weep. It also prompted Kristi to reach across another friend, grab my arm and ask, “Did she consult with you before she wrote this?” (or words to that effect).

Beth’s challenge to us last night was to figure out what God has called us to do (“adopt a succinct life goal”), acquire the appropriate tools to fulfill it (Bible commentaries and concordances, for instance), “endure the hard for the sake of the good” (I’ll expand on that later) and embrace community. (Kristi has been instructed to take good notes for me today so I can hear the rest of the message.)

In the next few days, I’ll share more of what I learned last night, but here’s the challenge I want to leave you to ponder with me, for as long as it takes to discover the answer:

“What would it take to be excellent at what God has called you to do?”

Please share your thoughts by posting a comment.

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Stop the insanity (pods)!

A giant insanity pod has descended upon me and has taken up residence on top of my head. For the past few days, it’s been trying to make its way through my dense thicket of hair to creep into my cranium and wreak havoc with my internal circuitry. It threatens to annihilate me if something is not done to stop it.

What is an insanity pod, you say? You won’t find the precise definition in any dictionary, but an insanity pod is much like the humidity pods that descend upon Arkansas about this time of year and don’t leave until October or November. It’s a presence you dislike, but you learn to live with it, much like you learn to live with oily skin, or a husband who steals the covers. Until it’s time to cry out, “Enough is enough!” or “Out, out, darn pod!”

But, unlike with the humidity pods, you have some measure of control – within predetermined parameters – over an insanity pod. For instance, you can control how large it gets and how long it stays attached to your brain – or whether it makes it past your scalp in the first place.

In case you have never heard of insanity pods, we offer this helpful Q&A:

How do insanity pods form? No one knows for certain how the first pod came to be, but it grew and spawned other pods (much like Amish friendship bread). They approach the most vulnerable victim first (they can tell who you are). They begin by spotting someone with an overloaded schedule, too much stress from the challenges of life, a poor diet, the inability to sleep through the night and a merely compulsory reading of the Word. To that they pile on more stress, which leads to impulse eating, more insomnia, uncontrollable drooling, chocolate cravings and a worried mother (well, that last one is just a fact of everyday life, but it becomes more obvious as the insanity pod tightens its invisible tentacles around your nerve endings).

How do insanity pods manifest? The list of symptoms is exhaustive, but, among other things, the pods cause forgetfulness, crankiness, night blindness, a messy house and the Scary Mama Voice when the dogs misbehave (which means when they act like themselves).

Who suffers from insanity pods? As mentioned above, the pods attack the most vulnerable members of society first. The most likely victim is female, age 35-55, premenopausal, works full time, goes to school part time, volunteers at church and takes care of children, an aging parent, a chronically ill spouse or at least two pets – or all of the above. (We should mention that the sufferers include not only the victim, but relatives and members of the victim’s work and social circles.)

What can a loved one of an insanity-pod sufferer do to help? Just stay out of the way, baby.

How does one “stop the insanity”? As with an addiction to alcohol, food, shopping, gambling or Dancing with the Stars, the insanity-pod sufferer, or IPS, must admit her affliction. That is the first and most crucial step. (If the malady is caught early enough, there is no need for a formal 12-step program.) Then she must recite the insanity – er, serenity – prayer:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and sufficient distance from sharp or heavy objects that can be used as weapons.

The next step is to begin removing obstacles to sanity, starting with items (even seemingly important ones) on her social, business and volunteer calendars, even if others don’t understand why this is happening. Would they rather find out about it in the newspaper or on the 10 o’clock news? (“Disgruntled worker takes out 23 colleagues, then turns the staple gun on herself – coming up after the break!”)

Relief can be immediate, much like when an Alka-Seltzer grants the first gut-relieving belch. In fact, when the first one or two items fall off the calendar, the IPS begins feeling lighter and the furrowed brow begins smoothing out. Then recovery can begin in earnest.

Within weeks (or perhaps days, depending the sufferer’s commitment to the program) a balance has been struck – the schedule is more manageable, school is out for the summer, the sufferer’s mother and the dogs are speaking to her again, the husband has stopped sleeping on the sofa. At this point, it is probably safe to approach, but proceed with caution. There could be a relapse. It is best to monitor the IPS from a distance for a few days to be sure equilibrium has, indeed, been restored.

How can you tell when the insanity pod has left for good? As there is no immunization at this time, there is no way to permanently remove the threat of insanity pods. But you can minimize the risk by remaining vigilant. The sufferer should get adequate sleep and exercise, stay hydrated, restrict caffeine, take long baths, play with the dogs, spend time with her husband, immerse herself in a few pieces of quality literature (no, we’re not talking about People magazine), work/play in the garden, write in her blog, eat 1-2 ounces of dark chocolate daily, watch Saturday morning Food Network and/or HGTV, listen to music, visit her mother more often (this should go without saying), pray and read Scripture regularly, and start reading the Sunday funny pages again.

This way, when the fall semester begins and the cycle threatens to repeat itself, the insanity pod will be less likely to try to park its ugly head on top of this particular victim’s. It will simply move on to the next unsuspecting forty-something woman and try to suck out her brain.

Help researchers find a cure for insanity pods! Contribute your suggestions by leaving a comment below. Or just send me a check.

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Thankfulness, Day 17 (finale)

Near the end of yesterday’s thankfulness post, I alluded to today’s topic, although I’m the only one who knew that (I didn’t want to say it because I was afraid something would keep me from posting today!).

Every post in this 17-day project has had thankfulness as its theme, but I’ve barely mentioned to Whom I’m thankful.

Most of you know that I am a follower of Jesus Christ, the Savior of all mankind. And you can read between the lines: You know that when I’m thankful, it’s to God. (If you didn’t know it before, you know it now.)

December is the month we celebrate the birth of the Savior, and leading to that we celebrate a holiday known as Thanksgiving. As we have done with Christmas, we also have done with Thanksgiving: We’ve made it a secular holiday more about how much we can eat and how much football we can watch than a remembrance and recounting of our blessings. I’ve begun to loathe the term “Turkey Day,” although I have been guilty of saying it.

I never want to trivialize these occasions we have for giving God the glory for how He has blessed us.

For, even though I am no stranger to the habit of complaining, I am keenly aware that God has blessed me abundantly.

If you read my posts of the past few weeks, you’ll see that this has been a happy year for my family: Bruce and I moved to Batesville in May, and we have a house we love that’s close to my mom, brother and aunt; I have a great job; we attend an awesome church; and we’ve been involved in the community, even more so than we were in North Little Rock. I’ve been able to reconnect with old friends and make new ones, and this has brought much joy to our household.

God made me wait quite a while before he moved us back to my hometown.

I was growing quite impatient, even though I knew that He had a plan and our move would be in His time  and not ours. His ways are often mysterious to me, but I have read the Bible enough years to know that His plan is always best, even when His purposes are not clear to us.

I once heard it explained like this: Life is like a parade, and we can see only a little piece of it as we watch from our little spot along the street, whereas God is above it seeing the entire scene. He sees the big picture, and we see things from our limited perspective.

God can see eternity, and we often cannot see beyond our own noses.

I try to see things from an eternal perspective. When I step outside myself and forget about my own wants and “needs,” I sometimes can do that.

When I get to feeling sorry for myself (“This is hard!” “I can’t afford that.” “I’m starving!” “You hurt my feelings!”), I sometimes have the good sense to stop myself and think for a minute. When life is just “too hard,” I remember the Cross.

Jesus, who knew no sin, willingly gave up His life – dying a horrible, painful, publicly humiliating death – for me.

Did I deserve His sacrifice? No. Can I ever be good enough to earn His gift of salvation, freely given? Not a chance.

When I remember the Cross, all the thankfulness I can muster will never be enough.

In my best moments, I remember that.

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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