‘I could never do that’

‘I could never do that’
SuzyBeforeAfter_withText
This is the first time I’ve been brave enough to publish my “before” picture. Bruce took it 4 years ago. Photo on right courtesy of Hatch and Maas Photography.

I’ve been given an opportunity that I’ve been praying for a lot lately: the chance to tell my story to a bigger audience. (My blog has, like, three readers: my mom, my husband and our dog Salsa; the other dog can’t read.)

My hope is that my story, told from my unique perspective, will influence change – in my family, my workplace, even my community. I’ve written for about three years in this space about my “journey to fitness,” hoping to encourage those who need hope, those who think changing your life is only for a certain type of person.

The trouble with that line of thinking is that I believe there’s always hope, that determination (and a lot of prayer) can get you to a better place – if you want it badly enough. If you’re willing to put in the hours, the sweat, the mental energy, the sticktoitiveness to see it through, you can do it even if you’re “nobody special.”

You see, I’m nobody special – I’m just a girl who believes in prayer and hard work.

The problem with a lot of us (with me for so many years) is that we give up too easily.

We look at this marathon as a sprint, and if we don’t see results right away – or if we take a couple of steps forward and end up a step or two backward – we think we will never get it right. We’ll never reach our goals. Or maybe we stop setting goals in the first place.

We let the naysayers fill our heads with nonsense, and we start believing it: It’s too hard, I tried that and it didn’t work. It will never happen – I’m giving up. I could never do that.

One thing I’ve learned about myself over the years is that I’m pretty stubborn. (It’s one of those good/bad things I inherited from my dad.) And, despite many attempts to change that ended in failure, I’m still standing. I’m still pushing. Still learning.

And I’m stronger than ever.

And because I’ve learned some lessons the hard way, I want to pass it on, maybe make someone else’s journey a little easier. Help someone know she’s not alone, that there is hope.

By the grace of God, heartfelt prayer, and much two-steps-forward, one-step-back-ing, I’ve lost about 50 pounds in the past three years. (According to my cardiologist, I need to lose a few more, but we’ll get to that.) It took maybe two of those years to lose the bulk of it (plus I’ve gained 7 back since heart surgery), and I’ve said here before that if it takes the rest of my life to get it all off, it’s worth it if I help someone else find hope and encouragement.

And my mantra – as a runner who will never be at the head of the pack no matter how much I want it – is, “Slow and steady wins the race.” (That may apply more to weight loss than it does to running footraces, but you get the point.)

Another thing I believe to my very core is that we learn – God grows our character the most – amid difficulty. We tend to forget about God during the easy times; we don’t rely on His wisdom and guidance when we’re cruising along through life thinking everything’s great because we’re great!

We learn the best lessons through challenges. And we lose weight and keep it off when we do it slowly and thoughtfully, when we learn why we turn to food when we shouldn’t. Sometimes I’ve had to learn the same lesson over and over, until I really got it. I’m still learning.

I’ve had what you might call challenges in the past three years, including heart surgery five months ago. But out of that particular challenge came a great opportunity:

I got to tell my story in a TV commercial that has been airing all across Arkansas since the Super Bowl, has aired during the Olympics, and will air for the next two years.

When I was asked to do it, someone mentioned that it would be scary to be interviewed on camera. My response: all the more reason to do it! It was so far outside my comfort zone, I knew it would be a new opportunity for growth – to depend on the Lord for my strength.

For a couple of years, I’ve been praying for opportunities to improve my very weak public-speaking skills. I didn’t know exactly why I was praying that, except that I wanted to be available – and not embarrass my family or die of fright – when those rare opportunities arose.

So maybe the interview segment of the TV commercial wasn’t my favorite part (the running part was much more fun and comfortable) but maybe my prayers made me just a little less fearful – bold, even – knowing that my desire was to bring glory to God through it all, and perhaps encourage someone along the way. Guys from the TV crew actually told me I inspired them. Go figure.

I started 2013 (a few weeks after I turned 50) with the goal of “getting to know God better,” deciding not to jump ahead of Him in figuring out the details of the next phase of my life.

I knew what I wanted to do – still want to do – and that may happen some day. My desire is to implement a healthy-workplace initiative at my place of employment. My CEO is open to that (we’ve talked), but I’m not sure he realizes all I have in mind! (I’ve learned to dream big.)

For starters, I recently registered (on my own, not through my job) to become a certified wellness coach. I’m taking online courses and will travel to Colorado in a couple of months for on-site training,

I’m not sure where this journey will take me, but I believe God put the desire in my heart and that He will bless it.

Meanwhile, Channel 7 in Little Rock (ABC affiliate) has invited me to appear on “Good Morning, Arkansas” on Feb. 17 as part of its coverage of Heart Month. My cardiologist, Dr. Conley, will be by my side if his schedule permits. I so hope he can, because he’s a big part of where I am right now.

I can tell you the exact date that I began my “journey to fitness” in earnest: April 5, 2011 – the birthday of our CEO. We had potluck that day, and I ate like a pig. By the end of the day, I was disgusted with myself, I wrote my “Going public” post, and things began to change.

It was embarrassing to admit on the Internet that I weighed 201 pounds (5 pounds less than my highest) and that I had been making a fool of myself with food. But if pigging out was what it took to make me wake up and smell the bacon, it was worth it.

I want to help others by telling my story. Some won’t like it, won’t agree with it, won’t see it. They’ll think I’m being egotistical. I can’t help what people think.

But should I let the Negative Nellies keep me from trying to help someone else?

I could never do that.

________________________________________________________

To find a Women Run Arkansas running and walking clinic near you, click here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Book review: ‘Altar Ego’ by Craig Groeschel

As books tend to do, Altar Ego: Becoming Who God Says You Are by Craig Groeschel came at just the right time for me. When I received an email from the publisher describing the book, I had begun a time of seeking: God, what do you have in store for me? How are you looking to mold and shape me so that I can carry out Your mission? What is my part in Your plan to make Your name great among the nations?

In part, the publisher’s blurb said: “Discover how to trade in your broken ego and unleash your altar ego to become a living sacrifice. Once we know our true identity and are growing in our Christ-like character, then we can behave accordingly, with bold behavior, bold prayers, bold words, and bold obedience.”

My ego (pride, holier-than-thou attitude, judgmental spirit) tends to get in the way of a lot of things, but fortunately God has been working on it through the years. (He has a big job!) So this book was one more step toward my being molded in His image.

The book has three parts:

  • Part 1: Sacrificing Your False Self for Your Sacred Identity in Christ.
  • Part 2: Sacrificing Cultural Relativity for Eternal Values.
  • Part 3: Sacrificing Self-Justification for Passionate Obedience.

Part 1, while completely relevant, seemed like yet one more recitation of things I already knew: “You are God’s masterpiece,” “You are God’s ambassador,” etc. I appreciated the lessons but didn’t get as much out of it as I did the two other parts.

Even Part 2 was more or less a rehash of a lesson on proper living (things my ego tells me I already have a handle on!). So, again, relevant but not as compelling as Part 3.

I highlighted many passages in all three parts of the book, so it would be unfair to say that only the last section spoke to me.

But finally, in Part 3, the author gets to the meat I’m interested in chewing on: “Bold Behavior,” “Bold prayers,” “Bold words,” “Bold obedience.”

And, while I’ve heard over and over that we are to be bold for Christ (if you don’t believe me, read the Book of Acts – 28 chapters of boldness), it’s a lesson I can hear every day and not get enough of.

By nature, I’m an introvert, and I used to be excruciatingly, painfully, embarrassingly shy. I would beg God silently to send people to me – rather than me to them – to be my friends, to pay attention to me (even though I hated being in the spotlight!). I had a screwed-up idea of how human interaction is supposed to work, especially for one who claims Christ as Lord and Savior, someone who’s supposed to share the Good News with everyone.

At some point, I realized that I had to stop feeling sorry for myself and do some work. I started allowing God to put me in situations where I was uncomfortable, where I would be forced to put myself out there, meeting people, talking to them, actually interacting. In other words, being vulnerable. To be honest, I still don’t like it, but I’ve gotten used to it and now seek out situations where my human-interaction muscle can stretch and grow stronger, little by little. It’s a circle: As I step out, my faith grows. As my faith grows, I’m more willing to step out.

So the section of Altar Ego on boldness really hit home with me. Like I said, nothing too new – although said in a new way with illustrations unique to the author – but a challenge to continue building on the foundation God has laid for my life.

My life is not my own. I want to lay it on God’s altar, and I must – every day, every hour, every minute. Only He knows the perfect plan for my life, and yours. Let’s allow Him to lay it out for us, and then grab His hand as He leads us on the great adventure.

Let us be bold.

“ ‘And now, O Lord, hear their threats, and give us, your servants, great boldness in preaching your word. Stretch out your hand with healing power; may miraculous signs and wonders be done through the name of your holy servant Jesus.’ After this prayer, the meeting place shook, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. Then they preached the word of God with boldness” (Acts 3:29-31, NLT).

This review is part of my agreement with Thomas Nelson through its BookSneeze project. It allows me to get free books in exchange for my honest review, whether I like the books or not. To learn more, click here.

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Book review: ‘J.R.R. Tolkien’ by Mark Horne

I must have been tired, busy, distracted or just cranky when I started reading the biography J.R.R. Tolkien last year. I just couldn’t get into it. And when I picked it up a few weeks ago to try again, it still seemed dry and uninteresting.

But I had to finish it, because I had agreed to review it (more on that below). And I’m happy to say that, in the end, I liked this book.

Part of my interest in this fantasy writer and poet stems from the fact that my husband reads Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy about once a year; and my brother, who usually is too busy living life to read much, read The Hobbit once upon a time – one of the few books he has ever read – and loved it.

Also, when I heard that Tolkien and C.S. Lewis (my favorite author) were friends (wow!), that sealed it for me. I had planned to read the Hobbit books for years (even before the movies of the early 2000s) but never had gotten around to it. And when I ordered the biography last year, I debated about whether to read it first or read the fantasy novels first. Will the biography help me enjoy the novels more, or will starting with the novels help me appreciate the bio more? The debate lasted so long, it took me months to get around to reading the bio (I finally decided to read it first, and I think I chose correctly).

So here we are at long last: I’m ready to share my thoughts on the biography.

The prosaically titled (and, at times, prosaically written) volume, written by Mark Horne as part of Thomas Nelson’s “Christian Encounters” series, begins with a tale of a 3-year-old John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (or, simply, Ronald), a tarantula bite and a quick-thinking nanny to the rescue. Giant scary spiders would figure into stories he wrote for his children, and longtime Tolkien fans will recall their presence in the Hobbit stories. But not because he remembered the tarantula – this was not a case of art imitating life. He later said he didn’t recall the tarantula bite as part of the incident – he simply remembered the heat of the day and running in fear through the tall, dead grass.

In other ways, though, the difficulties of his life did inform his writing. While he was still a child, he endured the deaths of both parents, and several resulting moves because of financial necessity and educational needs. His mother’s family ostracized her because of her Catholic faith – a factor that contributed to her death, in her older son’s opinion, and which may have strengthened his resolve to remain true to the faith.

Tolkien was born in South Africa, where his parents had relocated from England for financial reasons. When he was 3, his mother took him and his younger brother to England for a visit. The plan was for the boys’ father to join them later, but it was not to be; he developed a brain hemorrhage and was buried before his wife even received word that he had died.

Ronald’s diabetic mother died when he was 12. She made arrangements in her will for her friend and spiritual helper, Father Francis Morgan, to be her two boys’ legal guardian. Tolkien’s faith played an important role in his writing, even though he at one time said he preferred not to write overtly Christian stories but “to let readers make their own choices.” Still, his faith in God was communicated throughout his works of fiction. “Having written an epic of good versus evil, Tolkien left readers free to make up their own minds how to apply his fiction,” Horne writes.

Although his works portray the battle of good vs. evil, they also portray a world in which there is much beauty “and where there was true courage to do what is right even at great cost.” Even though I haven’t delved into his books yet, I’ve seen the first two movies in the LOTR trilogy and can attest to that point. “Tolkien portrayed a fantasy world that could not only entertain us but could also challenge and inspire us.”

Entertaining and inspiring stories aside, the area where I most identified with Tolkien – besides his love of languages and linguistics – was his perfectionism. I call myself a “recovering” perfectionist, but, oh, how I understood his extreme difficulty in letting go of a manuscript. He kept revising, changing, modifying and tweaking his stories. He never thought one was good enough to be published and was surprised at his novels’ success. (Similarly, it takes me forever to write a blog post, and once I’ve published it, I’m still not finished with it!) One theory for his procrastination problem was that Tolkien avoided completing a project “because doing so would mean that he was no longer being creative.” Maybe. But as a fellow sufferer of the disease of perfectionism, I doubt that was the main reason.

And then there was his obsession with The Silmarillion, which gives background and history to some of the people, places and things in his Hobbit books. The Sil seemed to be his pet story – or, as his biographer put it, “his life’s work” – but it’s one I have been advised by fans of his to save until later because of its dense history and similarity to the Old Testament! And, even though I rather like the OT, I’m taking the advice of my husband and my friend’s Facebook friend, with whom I got into a conversation about Tolkien and his works. I’ll start with The Hobbit.

I am leaving out major pieces of Tolkien’s history in this already-long post: his friendship and, later, break with fellow Oxford professor and fantasy/sci-fi writer C.S. Lewis; his service in World War I; his marriage; his children; his death; and so much more.

But any good writer should know when it’s time to shut up, and that time is now. I’ll leave you with this:

     “Not all those who wander are lost.”
            – J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

Excuse me now – I have some Hobbits to get acquainted with.

I’ve been a part of Thomas Nelson’s BookSneeze project for nearly three years. It allows me to get free books in exchange for giving my honest opinion, whether I like the books or not. If you’d like to get in on this sweet deal, click the link above.

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A simple Christmas

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

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

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

SHOPPING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MUSIC

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

MOVIES/TV SPECIALS

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

FAMILY (FURRY AND FOUR-LEGGED)

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

FAMILY (HUMAN)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now back to our fantasy.

FOOD

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

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

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

Post-script: leftovers (lots of them)

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

REMEMBRANCES

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

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

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

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

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

Isaiah 9:6, NKJV

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Can’t do the Gu, and other lessons from running

I learned a few things during my 8-mile run this morning:

Gu is nasty. Gu is not for people, like me, who have a strong gag reflex.

Several running friends had told me about the taste/texture of Gu (an energy gel) when I inquired on Facebook a few weeks ago. Colyn summed it up when he said: “Gu makes me want to hurl.” (Or something like that.)

Now I get it. One swallow, one reaction: Yuck. (No, I didn’t hurl, but I had a psychedelic flashback to a 2008 medical procedure in which I had to swallow a thick, numbing gel so they could stick a scope down my throat. As I said in a previous post, there’s a reason they don’t want you to eat before these procedures.)

For sale: 1½ packets of Gu (one slightly used). Call me if you’re interested.

Watching Olympians isn’t just fun – it inspires you to do more, and better.

I watched the last 8 miles of the Women’s Olympic Marathon yesterday morning. I tell ya, those skinny chicks can run! And, no matter how many hills they encounter, they don’t slow down to a walk. Only in my wildest dreams can I imagine not walking a step during a 26.2-mile race. But today I can imagine jogging 13.1 miles without walking. (Hey, I can dream, can’t I?)

Here’s what watching 8 miles of Olympic women did for me:

Last week had turned out to be kind of an off week in my half-marathon training. Because of some unanticipated circumstances (and a dash of poor planning), I didn’t get in a long run Saturday or Sunday – both days I usually go long – so I was feeling kind of lazy.

I’m taking a vacation day today, so I had talked my night-owl husband and our young friend Sam into doing their early-Monday workout even earlier – with me – and then I kinda flaked out on them. We were going to meet at the high school at 6:30, and Sam wanted to do speed work on the trail instead of the track. Well, I can’t do speed work with Bruce and Sam (they’re much faster than I am), so I decided to do my long run by jogging to BHS instead of driving there with Bruce. It’s about 8 miles round trip, so I left at 6 a.m. (I figured Bruce would be late, anyway.)

The only time I saw either of them is when Bruce passed me in the car on his way to meet Sam. He slowed down to ask if I needed anything and then drove on.

I was going uphill when he saw me, and I was jogging, not walking. Score!

In fact, I jogged more uphills than I have in a really long time, and it was easier this time. I had gotten quite lazy in my workouts since adding distance. I told myself it was the distance or the time out there that mattered – not the actual miles per hour. So I hadn’t been increasing my speed much.

I had gotten really lazy.

The difference this morning? Determination. Inspiration. Low humidity.

I had been thinking about those Olympic chicks for 24 hours. Their perseverance really stuck with me. And then there was this Nike commercial last night during the Olympics. Did you see it?

There’s a voice-over that’s talking about “finding your greatness.” In the distance you see a jogger. As he gets closer and closer and as the voice-over continues, you realize this jogger is an overweight kid. He’s huffing and puffing, sweaty and red-faced, but he never slows down.

No, he’s not fast. But he’s not walking, either. He’s persevering. (His name is Nathan. Read about him here.)

I didn’t consciously think about that overweight boy while I ran this morning, but he must have been in the back of my mind. And I definitely thought a lot about the Olympic women. I told myself, “If they can run 26.2 miles without walking, surely I can jog up some of these little ol’ hills of Batesville.”

So I did. I jogged up several of the hills, including the Golden Overpass and the Baja. (If you don’t live in or near Batesville, Ark., let me just tell you, there’s a reason the back of our women’s running clinic shirt says “Got Hills?” We have our fair share of hills, thank you very much.)

And here’s the crazy thing: Around Mile 7, I started realizing that it was getting easier, not harder. I felt as though I could go another 3-4 miles. (I didn’t.) And in those last couple of miles before home, I kept jogging up the hills.

I was actually having fun. (Well, sort of. It is running, after all.)

Funny what an attitude adjustment can do for a person.

Having one off-week doesn’t have to derail an entire training program. I already knew that, but because the half-marathon is only seven weeks away, I got a little scared. It made me afraid I wouldn’t be able to build up to my really long run before the event. I want to do a 13.1-mile workout before I get to Nashville, and it needs to be a couple of weeks before the race. (You’re supposed to ease off on the mileage as you get close to race day.) So I’ll be cutting it close, but I’ll get there. And if I don’t get in a 13.1-mile run before race day, it’ll be okay. I know I’ll be able to finish strong, even if I don’t finish fast.

I love that my coach is also my sweetheart. Bruce has been so encouraging as I’ve journeyed through weight loss and learning to love running. Today when he got home from his workout, he said I looked thin as he drove up behind me while I jogged. I’ve learned so much from him about running, but I also revel in the fact that he loved me even before I loved running. He’s a keeper.

Running isn’t everything, but it has taught me many lessons about life. An important lesson I’ve learned, and that I will continue to learn, is that I am capable of things I never thought possible just a couple of years ago. Just look at me – I’m training for a half-marathon! I’ve always known that “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13), but never had I related that to physical activity before now.

I serve a big God, and He is continually teaching me. It’s neat that He chooses to use things like running to teach me life lessons. The trick is to open my ears, eyes and heart and pay attention. There are many lessons to be learned.

My fundraising deadline for the Nashville Women’s Half Marathon, which supports the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America, is only 30 days away. Please consider supporting my efforts to wipe out Crohn’s disease in Bruce’s lifetime. Click here to donate. That page also provides a link to Team Challenge – just in case you’d like to join me in my next half-marathon for CCFA. 🙂

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Truth, ultimately

I have a confession: I’m a fake.

Or maybe I’m just a flake.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I thought it was all me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, I do have a point:

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

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

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

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

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

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Sole mates

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

That’s what running does to my brain.

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

Why? A couple of reasons:

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

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

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

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

Running is good for the sole.

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

So I like running solo.

But I also like running with buddies.

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

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

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

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

Happy feet

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

Nature brings out the praise in me.

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

He is the God of the ages.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Come on out and meet your new sole mates.

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Bless the beasts and the children

If you don’t think God cares about animals, you need to read my dog tale.

I’d been praying for and about a dog along my jog/walk route. In fact, last time I walked with our group in the evenings (after we changed back to the 4-Mile  Classic route that’s close to my neighborhood), I mentioned it to one of the ladies.

“There’s this dog up ahead that I feel so sorry for,” I said.”

“I know exactly which one you’re talking about,” she said.

Every morning when I walked by myself, and two evenings a week when I walked with the group, I’d see this dog – a large black, friendly but somewhat subdued dog – tethered to a cable that ran from a tree to the roof of the house. A very short cable in a tiny, tiny yard. In fact, it’s so small I’m not even sure it qualifies as a yard.

That sweet dog was tethered to that short piece of cable all day every day, it seemed. What a life.

My friend and I talked about this poor dog – how we couldn’t understand why someone would want a dog if they were going to keep it chained up outside all the time and never play with it. (I have no real evidence to back this up – only speculation – but, judging by the condition of the tiny, rundown house and yard, the dog sure wasn’t getting any indoor playtime when we weren’t looking.)

I had mentioned the situation to Bruce, telling him that the dog never made a sound, even when I said hello (I say hello to all the furbabies along my route); she would just run back and forth along that short little cable every time I walked by, seemingly excited to see someone – anyone – any sign of life amid a dreary existence. I told him I wished I could gather her up and bring her home with me. (I’m a bit of a sucker for a needy animal.)

A week ago, I came in from my walk on Saturday morning, and Bruce was awake.

“I know we can barely afford the two dogs we have,” I told him, “but when we finally sell the North Little Rock house and have some extra cash, don’t be surprised to see me walking in the door with that dog I was telling you about.”

He kind of smiled (just like he always does when I say, “Can we take that dog? He needs a home!”).

“I’m serious!” I said. “If I ever see people at that house, I’m going to ask them if they really want that dog, and if they don’t I’m going to ask if I can have her. And when we sell the house, if she’s still there and I don’t see anyone outside I might just walk up to the door and knock on it!” (I get a little riled up sometimes.) “I’ll tell them we have a big yard and plenty of room.” I figured we could be foster parents until we found someone else to take her.

So I started praying for a decent home for my sweet little (big) poochy friend.

Tuesday or Wednesday morning as I approached her house, she was looking toward the back yard and barking a little – not mad barking, but friendly, excited barking, like, “Hey, let me back there to play with you!” Someone may have been back there, but I didn’t see anyone. When she saw me she ran up to the little 2-foot wall at the edge of the yard and put her front paws on it. I went over and rubbed her ears. She laid her head over on me, just eating up the attention. I talked to her for a couple of minutes, scratching and rubbing her head and neck, telling her what a good dog she was – and wishing I could untether her and take her with me. But I went home, leaving her there, alone in her tiny yard. Again. Praying for her all the way, wishing she could have a better life, with a big yard to run around in. Knowing that right now we could not provide that for her but hoping she would be at least a little happy until we could.

Toward the end of the week, I noticed I hadn’t seen her in a few days. I thought, “Well, maybe they finally took pity on her and let her go inside out of the heat.” Friday morning I realized the cable had been gone for a couple of days but the small doghouse was still there. I looked around in the street – no signs of a dog having been hit by a car, unless they cleaned it up really well (not likely).

Saturday as I approached the house, I noticed a man and a woman in the yard. He was just getting settled in a chair, and she was going back into the house. I said, “Hey, what happened to your dog?”

Him: “We gave it away to a good home.”

Her: “Where she could run around – and be free.”

Me: “Aww, that’s nice.” (That’s what I said on the outside. On the inside I was shouting, “Praise God! Yippee! Halleluiah! God, You are awesome! Thank you!”)

I kept walking. And smiling.

Sometimes all you gotta do is ask.

“Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.” – Ephesians 3:20-21 (New Living Translation)

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I’m back

I’m back.

I mean that in an I’m-over-my-pity-party kind of way.

Last week, after my doc told me I should stop running (she didn’t say I had to stop, merely that I should stop), I had a meltdown.

My appointment was Tuesday afternoon – my lunch break. After leaving her office, instead of heading to Subway – my usual lunchtime haunt – I headed to Wendy’s. Not good.

Not good because I went for the wrong reason: I felt sorry for myself. I took on a so-what attitude after getting the news. I ate a cheeseburger and fries, and I didn’t even enjoy it that much, partly because the burger was dry and partly because I felt guilty. An occasional indulgence is fine, but only if you’ve planned it and decided it’s an okay fraction of an otherwise healthy diet. Not because you’re trying to drown your sorrows.

Thank God the doctor didn’t tell me I had cancer. I mean, let’s put this in perspective for a minute. She didn’t give me a death sentence, but that’s how I acted for three or four days. Like someone had stolen my best friend and demanded a ransom too high to pay.

What she said to me wasn’t unreasonable, but my response was surprisingly unreasonable. It probably didn’t help that I had started off my week tired (after a three-day holiday weekend). I am a completely different person when I’ve had a good night’s sleep. I can be unreasonable when I haven’t.

She told me not to run, and not to walk on hills. Wednesday morning I tried to walk a modified version of my typical route (the racecourse of the White River 4-Mile Classic). It has hills. (We love hills. Normally.)

Do you have any idea how stressful it is to carve a new course that’s flat out of a familiar one that has hills? I can’t even tell you what exact route I created; I just wandered around the flattish parts of the route, avoiding the steepest section of North Heights, the entire “Craig Mountain” (Craig Street) and the hilly part of Hill Street. I didn’t even look at the overpass (well, yes, I did, but I didn’t approach it). I retraveled some areas of the route because I still wanted to get my 4.5 miles in (that includes the trek from my house to the racecourse and back again).

By the time I was finished, I was exhausted – mentally, if not physically.

I had started the day physically tired, probably because of my mental state. I just felt as though I had no energy. I felt like I used to feel when I was depressed 15 years ago. Ick.

Because of my pity party, and the fact that our group was still training on the Lyon College route (the Army National Guard 5K was Saturday, and we won’t even go into how I felt for not participating), I didn’t work out with the group Tuesday or Thursday nights and I didn’t walk Thursday morning by myself. But because I knew my weigh-in was Friday morning and I had indulged in ice cream Wednesday night, I walked Friday morning. Those times I did walk last week, I just didn’t feel like doing it, but I did it anyway. I felt like someone had taken the wind out of my sails. Each workout was an effort, so unlike the other times when I actually enjoyed being out there.

But I knew I had to keep truckin’ because it is so easy to get out of the habit, and I don’t want to end up right back where I was – overweight and feeling heavy in body and spirit.

So Friday’s weigh-in was a bit of a relief because I found out that I hadn’t gained weight. I lost 0.4 pounds for a total of 21. (I deserve to have gained after the self-centered week I had.) The happy part of it is that it means I maintained my 20-pound loss for a week and could have a reward. But instead of the $18 chin-up bar or the Runner’s World subscription that I had planned to get, I went to Hastings and browsed the books. I found one by a favorite author and psychologist who was key to my overcoming that long-ago depression I mentioned. (And it cost less than $10.) It’s called God’s Love Letters To You: A 40-Day Devotional Experience by Larry Crabb.

I needed a good spiritual boost.

Saturday morning I decided to do my typical route, hills and all. It didn’t hurt anything. Much.

When I was finished, I felt better. Then Bruce and I went to the Army National Guard race, and I watched several of my friends take trophies or medals. I was bummed, but I didn’t dwell on it all day (only part of the day).

This morning I did my typical route again, and not only did I start off feeling great (physically and mentally), I was happy again as I walked. The hills didn’t even seem that bad.

When I was finished, I had that same feeling of accomplishment that I’ve experienced over and over for the past few months. I was back.

Feelings are so untrustworthy. I’m glad to know that God doesn’t abandon us when we take our focus off Him. He doesn’t let us hang in the wind; He’s always there. Sometimes we just don’t recognize it because we’re too busy focusing on ourselves.

I think He’s allowing me to experience these feelings, though, so I’ll understand that He is the only One I can truly count on. I can’t count on my feelings. I can’t count on my body. I can’t count on the weather. I can just count on Him.

I’m back, but He never left.

Thank God.

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