Wednesday, November 7, 2018

TCS NYC Marathon

My heart sat heavy in my chest as I crossed the street to board a ferry that would take me to Staten Island, the start of one of the six major world marathons. I was joined by some of the fastest runners in the world and I would be running in the same race. How did I get here? It felt unreal. After a ferry ride and following a short bus ride, we pulled up to the start where tents and people stretched out far and wide. Men were dressed in heavy gear and machine guns decorated their middle. The Verrazzano Bridge sprawled out in front of me. I was finally there and what stood between me and a lofty personal goal was just 26.2 miles.

I arrived in a heated tent where runners were busy consuming food and water, stretching, relaxing, and feeling the same anxiousness that I was. As soon as I walked in, a cannon boomed. An eerie fear went over the entire crowd until we were reassured the sound signified the start of the professional women taking off. After that, the cannons continued. Wave after wave. Before I knew it, it was my turn to race. Alone in a crowd of 60,000 people, I made my way to the bridge. The loudspeakers were broadcasting many languages. The people around me, shoulder to shoulder, were speaking in their native tongues with excited pre-race jitters. There was so much activity to behold. Then, we were off!
The first mile is uphill, but because I've been training in the hills of Tennessee, I barely noticed. It was difficult to run with so many people. Slowing down and speeding up was as common in the first mile as it was in the last. I've never seen anything like it. It wasn't just the runners who were shoulder to shoulder, but the spectators, too! For twenty six long miles, people were cheering for us the entire time. The bridges were the only places that didn't hold fans of the race. It was amazing to see.
The NYC Marathon takes the runner through all five Burroughs: Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx, and Manhattan. All walks of life, cultures, and personalities were displayed that day. There was so much support along the way for all of those crazy people who set out to run for twenty six miles, myself included.

I settled into a 9:30 pace pretty easily. I was right where I wanted to be. I felt good. I felt prepared. I was no longer scared of not being able to finish. My many months of training were paying off. I tried to manage my calorie intake by inhaling Gu packs every five miles or so. I carried my water with me so I wouldn't have to wait at the aid stations for too long. That worked in my favor for the first fifteen miles or so. But then, I decided to stop for gatorade on the following miles which slowed me down a bit. I couldn't believe how thick the crowds were still. In most races, I can outrun some folks and find a pocket where I'm not tripping over people every few minutes. Not so in the big apple.
The nervousness had long worn away and my hopes of catching a glimpse of my family in this enormous city were all but gone, too. It was just me and the pavement and I still had ten miles to go. At mile 16, I thought I heard my name. I was feeling quite like this whole marathon idea was dumb and so when I looked up and saw my sweet family yelling at me, I remember feeling so happy. Elated, seriously. My smile lit up my face. I was almost embarrassed at how pathetic it must have looked, but I didn't stop to talk. I knew if I slowed down to take a picture, I might not have the motivation to start up again. I waved so big and continued with my run and new wind in my wings. Around mile 19, my pace started to get consistently slower. My tired legs were stiff. People were starting to walk around me. They were trying to stretch at every opportunity, but I pressed on.
Again at mile 22, I saw my family again. They asked if I was ok. They said I looked good. I thought to myself, "Fake it till you make it!" I smiled and gave them a thumbs up, but really I was starting to feel lousy. It was at that moment when I knew I was going to run a marathon, though. I knew I could finish. Four miles left. I kept moving.

At mile 23, my chest started burning. I worried a little, but I couldn't stop now. No way. I walked some, trying to catch my breath from the pain that was catching in my chest and trying to stay hydrated. I didn't walk for very long and I began the slow shuffle of building up my pace again despite the discomfort I was feeling. Oh, those miles were hard. I was feeling completely exhausted when I heard my name again and I looked up to see my in-laws at mile 25 beaming with pride and waving to me. It gave me the boost I needed to finish the race.
I looked around me as I ran up to the massive blue finish line barriers to see the people I was finishing with. Tired faces surrounded me. Some were passing out. I walked to a smiling face who handed me a medal and immediately, I received texts from all over the country congratulating me on my finish. I knew the app that tracked me was working and I could feel the support from everyone. Great feeling. I was a marathoner now. And even more than that I was given the chance to compete in a world marathon qualifying race. I did it.

It wasn't without the help and support of so many people. From babysitting on training runs, to sending running gear, gifts, congratulatory champagne, to knowledgeable massage therapists, to race coordinators who become good friends, to people running alongside me in preparing, to buying a ticket to NYC to cheer me on, to people watching my kids so I could achieve this goal, to everyone who followed along with me on that big day with facebook posts, messages, and texts, to the Good Lord giving me great weather and a strong body that held up under the pressure. I'm honored. Thank you all for supporting me in this goal!

Thursday, June 21, 2018


Grief hasn’t come to me in the traditional albeit earth shattering ways that it has to others. No one died. But I feel it just the same. Tonight, years and years passed a deafness diagnosis and much understanding and acceptance, I felt it again as I clutched a sobbing five year old. Shaking, in the fetal position on his bed, he cried.
Twenty minutes ago, my son was asking me questions but his reactions to my responses clued me in that he wasn’t hearing me. My eyes and hands reached for the processor on his head that helps him to hear and it wasn’t there. I signed to him that he needed to show me where he last saw it and he took me outside and we found it. The hearing device itself was fine, but the dog had done a number to the headpiece, a magnet that connects to another one implanted in his head three years ago. Without that magnet, that four hundred and fifty dollar piece of equipment, my son is profoundly deaf.
Am I mad or am I sad? Oh, it’s for sure both.
But right now? This moment? It’s grief.
I told him that his dog had chewed it up and that because of this, he wouldn’t be able to hear in the water anymore. His understanding is on point in this area. He knows the cost both literally and figuratively. Monetarily speaking, we are out a lot of money. But the other cost is that it’s the beginning of summer in East Tennessee and if you want to make it, you will need a giant pool of water. The other even greater cost is that Abel won’t be able to hear much of our summer vacation. Pools, lakes, splash pads, a rainy day. What previously was a great sensory experience is now diminished quite a bit for him. Not to mention, it will be a safety issue, too. Costly hearing equipment, sure. The true cost is his ability to hear, though.
That’s what will take my breath away. That’s what turns my anger into gut punching sadness. His eyes filled with tears, he took off to his room, and he laid on his bed and he cried. I went to him trying to console him as he tried to get it together. He’s tough. He willed himself to stop his body from shaking with tears, he slowly dried his eyes, and finally he stood up. He straightened up his clothes and he went outside to enjoy the rest of the evening.
He knows life doesn’t stop for him. He knows how to be persistent. He’s five years old. I was nearly thirty when I learned that lesson. It took him to make me see that. So, again I’ll take a page from Abel’s story. I will stand up from the catharsis of my keyboard, dry my eyes, and straighten out my running shorts. Life doesn’t stop. Goals aren’t reached by sitting in sadness. Get it together, Mama. You’ve got this. You are stronger than you’ve ever imagined. YOU are, too (you who are reading this).

Thanks for the lesson, Abe.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Ocean Treasures

No one writes blog posts anymore because no one reads them anymore. By no one, of course, I only mean very few. But most people seem to only want their information in the abbreviated squares of Insta or the shortened text of a tweet. No one reads blogs anymore like no one writes letters to mail off or how no one picks up an old book to read to drink in the smell of the worn paper or feel the rough edges of a well-loved classic.
I can be guilty of it, too. Scrolling through my feed, I think- Get to the point. What's the article about? I prefer the bullet points. Perhaps that's the problem. No one is taking the time to craft their words. No one is taking the time to read. To quote Brooks Hatlen, "The world went and got itself in a big damn hurry."
But reading and writing is a part of so many of us. We need the words like we need other things. Flossing. Water intake. Coffee. If I don't partake in those, I'm going to surely regret it. Reading and writing is the same for me. Many times I fall into a rhythm of snapping eighty five photos of one single moment thus barely stopping to take it in. It's like that photo of the elderly woman with her hands resting folded over some gate with no camera, no phone, and a contented smile while an enormous crowd around her is excitedly taking picture after picture of whatever or whoever they are there to see. I thought of this while we were at the beach last week. I live with one foot in a world where documentation is paramount and the other foot back in a simpler time when the thought to take a picture hardly ever crossed the mind.
Some of my favorite memories do not have a corresponding photo to accompany them.
It was our honeymoon. We took it six months after getting married, but we called it a honeymoon just the same. Any break after a long Alaska winter was to be celebrated. Our celebration of choice? The Big Island of Hawaii. Our adventurous spirits left us with an over-planned vacation and the goal to be certified scuba divers at the conclusion of it. That meant, we spent a ton of time on a boat and under water instead of drinking up the sun on the rocky beaches or laying in a hammock intertwined as would have been appropriate for two people newly in love, yet to be distracted by children or work.
It was a wonderful break. We took a few photos, of course, but for the most part our bodies were exhausted from fighting the ocean. Kicking and fighting, wave after wave. I don't regret anything. It was an amazing experience to be able to breathe underwater and swim alongside exotic fish and even sharks. One day, we had double dives planned. If you want to be certified, you have to have a certain amount of hours and dives logged underwater. We were living in Alaska and were not interested in a cold water dive, thank you very much. We had to get our time in while we were in Hawaii. Anyway, we had finished our first dive and were waiting on the boat with the captain and crew for the next one to start. Muscles sore from the exertion and eyes tired from the lack of sleep, we were fine to lean up against the starboard side and sit there until the time expired. But one of the dive instructors, a native Hawaiian with his long hair in a bun and his love for the water ever apparent, made his way over to tell us of a pod of dolphins that were approaching the boat. "You do this at your own risk, but do it! Quick! Grab your snorkel gear and jump in!"
That's how we managed an experience of a lifetime- swimming with dolphins in the wilds of the Pacific Ocean. It was intimidating and exhilarating. The precision of their movement is incredible. Fast, sure movements. Superior, free swimmers darting all around us. We became their school, their pod. We could reach out and touch if they would let us, but I didn't dare. I just watched, amazed. Now, every time I see a dolphin from far out, I remember our days in Hawaii and how we were the lucky ones. I have only my memory and a few words to recall that day, but man, what a treasure.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Messy Purpose

"Write. If you want some bigger purpose, just write. You are already good at it." My husband speaks these words with the best of intentions, but when I hear them I'm ready with all sorts of excuses. The biggest one that always seems to trump them all is when or perhaps, how? It's nap time at my house, but Merit didn't get that memo and so as I'm typing now, he is downstairs teaching his monster to read on the ipad. I'm doing what I hate-- pacifying my kids with screens. I've been doing that a lot lately because I just need to get this one thing done, but when I'm getting the one thing done, the dog rips up a diaper, leaving trails of yucky granules all over the house, the one year old is decorating the furniture with dozens of stickers that I'll have to painstakingly remove later, or some other first world problem pops up, taking up more and more time out of my day. What the conversation comes to at the end of the day in my head is this, "What did I even accomplish today?" The answer to that is almost always nothing. In the amount of time it took me to write this paragraph, Merit has already been upstairs three times asking for something.
It's fine and wonderful and good when you've accepted that your mission in life is to be a mother. It's a beautiful thing, really. But what if you don't feel all that great at it? It seems like I'm stuck in that period of time in young adulthood that I'm still trying to find my place except I'm not a young adult. It's not that I've never had it. I felt sure of myself as an Army Wife. I realized Jordan's job had little to do with me, but it also felt like my role was to support him in it. I had to be uber supportive or that lifestyle wouldn't have worked for us. I certainly didn't wear his rank, but I felt like when he was gone, it was for a purpose greater than myself. When that role came to an end, I found myself again by getting in shape and balancing two kids under two. I felt empowered by motherhood and that bled over into everything I did. I started a business. I even started graduate school again and ended up finishing with another baby in my arms and a 4.0 grade point average. Along with that degree, there came a devastating diagnosis (Seriously, please don't lecture me about deafness not being devastating. I see that now, but it sure didn't feel that way then), a newborn to feed, and a solid year of uncertainty about our decision to implant Abel. There were a lot of changes. I went from feeling like supermom with my cloth diapers and two babies on my hips to three kids still in (disposable) diapers and a whole trail of soon to be three year olds, which is for sure the most challenging age thus far for us. I'm just using the diapers as an example of how my motherhood has changed over the years. I'm not saying one is better than the other. The point is that everything I thought I knew, I don't. Do you remember when I had a speech therapy corner set up in Abel's room and I worked with him one on one every single night? I was dedicated to helping him progress. I poured into each of my children. But now? We've added still another child and most days it just feels like I'm treading water. I'm doing the laundry, the dishes, and working to keep these little rascals alive. I'm still working on teaching them to be kind or tie their stinkin' shoes that teaching them math never crossed my mind. My head is above water. I know it is, but it's just barely.
I know my purpose in life is to simply show people Jesus, but good grief it isn't always simple. My human nature makes it incredibly difficult. Just this morning, I was emailing someone about serving in the nursery at our church and in the process, little people were yelling at me from another room. I stormed into the kitchen angry asking a one year old and a three year old why they couldn't just be patient? They can't be patient because I'm not demonstrating patience to them. I mean, there are so many examples throughout the day that I lose count.
And so I write. It's a ministry for me. I'm passionate about showing others that there are real people out there, like me, who aren't perfect. When you start walking with Jesus, it's not easy. We wake up every day wanting to be more like Him, but failing every time in comparison. We want to serve Him, but our human nature also wants us to serve ourselves. It's our instinct to serve ourselves. It's a choice to die daily to our desires and serve Him instead. Being a mother is that way, too. It's really hard to fix people food three times before you actually consume food yourself. It's hard to sacrifice sleep so that one or more of your children can sleep instead. It's difficult to get everyone where they need to be and still have time to yourself to do the things that you enjoy. They're worth it. It's a job I wouldn't trade for the world, but it is hard. Messy. Complicated. But what purpose isn't? I can't think of a person who was used by God that had an easy path. When He calls us to something, it feels impossible without Him. I think it's okay that I often feel overwhelmed by my role at home. It's okay because it also comes with a reminder that I'm not alone. I'm not God. I can't control everything. But with Him, I'm able to press on. He gives me purpose when it feels like there is none to assign.

Monday, February 5, 2018

When The Music Stops

There's a colorful, beachy hammock hanging between the two large trees in my backyard. It's almost offensive as it sways there in the infrequent breeze. It almost looks like I could walk outside and have the sun warm my skin as I stretch out in the hammock with a good book and my bare feet. It's cold, though and my babies are inside, avoiding the plague.

I have had more than a few people encourage me that brighter days are on the horizon and I know that they are, but I've got to be happy in this season. I told Jordan the other day that I was a summer mom and it's true. I enjoy leaving the house with all the kids to go for a swim or a hike. I like to plan outings to the zoo, the aquarium, museums, or other germ-filled hangouts that I'm currently trying to avoid because the flu epidemic is a serious problem in our area. The kids haven't been to school in over a week due to school closures and their own battles with influenza. I'm a summer mom because we are outside people and I send the kids out to play as soon as their eyes open. I can't do that today without pouring a lot of effort into bundling them up and I'm certainly not open to doing that before I've had my coffee.

Yes, I'm a summer mom.

I have this old music box. It's hand-painted, made in Germany. My grandparents probably brought it home to me on their travels or it's left over from when my mom spent some years there thanks to Army life. Abe wound it up and brought it to me with wonder in his eyes. And as the music slows, he becomes a little more intrigued. The miracle is that he can hear it. The anticipation builds, like he wants to experience all of it, hear every last note until the knob stops winding and the music comes to a slow halt. I get it. I've loved music boxes since I was a little girl. When the music is done, there's that satisfaction that comes with something finished- a book, a song, a thought. The same is true for this winter. I'm listening to the music play and I'm enjoying it as much as I possibly can. We're stuck at home, but I have four healthy kids who are running around playing superheroes and building magnet towers. They have snot running down their faces, but they aren't laid up in bed, very ill. I didn't have to search frantically for childcare when school was cancelled, but instead I was relieved to know that I could shield my kids here at home for a few more days. The sweet music is playing through the halls of our house and I'm listening. Soon enough, the song (and season) will be over.

Then something new will begin.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Mom Set Free

I'm clean today. When I move my hair just a little bit until it falls over my face the result is intoxicating. Soap. I actually smell like soap. It's an amazing feeling-- to be doing my mom thing WHILE also being clean. That's rare. And if you don't know why that's so amazing to me then instead of labeling me a gross individual just be happy for me instead, ok? It's a big day.
My last facial came from the draining of boxed macaroni as the steam hit my face on the heavy pour. I'm painting my nails as I karate kick shoes out of the dog's mouth, attempting to ignore multiple requests for yet MORE snacks, and wondering if my children will ever go to school again (only slightly dramatic on this third day off of the week). It's a crazy house here, but it's good, ya know? I DO like this life. It's hard, but it's amazing to be given the blessing of raising these four individuals. I've really been trying to embrace my role at home and not just thinking of it as temporary. Sometimes I look forward to a time when I'm not changing diapers constantly or adjusting an ill fitting sock before the waterworks start. Again. For the love.
Instead, I'm trying to recognize that my role in servanthood doesn't end when my children are grown. It's a role that God has given to me. I serve Him through it, but I also am able to serve others through it. When my children are grown, I'll have grandchildren to help. There will always be plenty of ways to serve, now and then. But the biggest thing that has plagued me with stepping into (Okay, being thrown the deep end) motherhood was the feeling of not being very good at it. It's true, I'm selfish. I like my alone time to think or shower or run. My mom look lacks much to be desired. My kids don't bat an eye if I tell them to do something in public, knowing full well I'll probably avoid a scene instead of sticking to my guns about what I told them because of my drastically introverted approach to life. I don't always feel like I'm doing much right in parenting my little ones. Still, I've known and tried to focus on the fact that God gifted me with these little loves and therefore gifted me with four huge opportunities for growth in His name.
Just yesterday before the snow started, I took everyone for haircuts. There are many events I try to avoid at all costs, but it has dawned on me lately that I'm not really doing them any favors by not participating in these. The regular service at church. The grocery store. Places like that where they just need to learn how to act. This is why I found myself at the dentist during nap time with my crew just last week. Another big mistake, but that's a story for another day. We were talking about the haircut trip, weren't we? It was nowhere near as bad as the time the three year old sent a gal to the hospital when the scissors slipped and she cut herself, but still it wasn't good. The same darling three year old decided he was not, in fact, getting a haircut that day and was quite rude insisting that he wouldn't do it. I'm all about natural consequences and I knew this would be a good time to let that play out because if he didn't get a haircut, he didn't get a sucker. WoooooWeeee! I ended up dragging him out with the baby on my hip and all eyes on me. Not to mention the two big boys practically pro wrestling in the parking lot with giggles, suckers, and fresh new looks on their precious heads. Before, I would have been mortified.
But lately, I've realized that I am free from all of that. Of course, as parents we are to instruct our children in the way they should go, but ultimately Jesus is the one who saves them from the sin that is rampant in their lives. Nothing I do as a mother (or don't do) makes God love me or them any less. I'm His daughter. He chose me. I delight Him*. Just that little reminder completely changed my afternoon. I no longer cared to be judged by the people who witnessed the Day At The Barber Shop. It didn't matter! God has given me these children and He doesn't make mistakes. He knows me. He loves me. Isn't that an amazing feeling to be known? In the time of superficial connections on Facebook and pseudo mom support groups, it feels so comforting to be seen in my service by the King of Kings.
If you struggle with this topic of not feeling enough, I have many reading suggestions for you, but you should start with this one. I really enjoyed it and it is book one out of twenty I plan on reading this year. Also, those cookies? They were just two out of ten I plan on eating tonight. 
I mean, what else do you do on a snow day?

(* see Ephesians 1:4-5, Galatians 4:5, Zephaniah 3:17)

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Perfecting Tools

Gatlinburg Fire 2016

Sometimes...MOST times God doesn't come to us in a way we'd expect. I know that some people appear to have been on the same pew at church since the day they were born. It may seem as if God speaks to them in quiet Bible studies with friends at a local coffee shop or during major milestones in their lives, the happy ones. I know that He can and often does bend down to us in those ways, but I just want to encourage you today if that's not exactly how you've felt His presence lately. It's only just dawned on me recently that this is not how my story is going, either. I think that's okay.
I was not a good mother today. I wasn't even a good person. 
Before you say, "Oh, she's just being hard on herself", please let it sink in that I was demonstrating all of the behaviors I try so hard to prune out of my children. I was easily angered. Shouting over trivial things. Honestly, whole-heartedly annoyed at our home life. Typing all of these, convicts me yet again. To reset, I had to just get outside and see the beauty of His creation and remember what I was trying to accomplish in bringing up my children.
When we think of Jesus, thoughts often drift toward the healer that He was- how He made the lame to walk and the blind see. We know that He could just speak and problems would fade away. What we don't always remember is that Jesus didn't always work in that way. We don't have to look far to know that He doesn't always work in that way now, either.
Do you remember the story of Paul when he was stoned, beaten half to death, but he marched back into town to share God's word (see Acts 14)? What about the story of the three young men thrown into the fiery furnace because of their faith (see Daniel 3)? These people went through the fire. Some literally, some figuratively.
James 1:2-4 says, "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." I don't really think that James is asking us to be joyful all the time about our sufferings, but to instead to be joyful in the hope and promise of what those trials will bring later. Paul talks about it in Romans 5, too. We have hope.
As mothers we have hope. Our kids can have hope.
Today my fire came in the form of wild little boys who are much louder than their mama. It blazed in my heart when x, y, and z didn't go as planned. The fire raged on in the words that were said. And it hurt. It's not always as simple as Him parting the waters. Sometimes, it needs to hurt a little. I don't always feel Him the most when I've sat down in my comfortable chair by the fire with my five trillion pretty colored markers to write down all that I'm learning in my studies. He speaks to me in other ways, too. Often, He speaks to me through the good and perfect gifts He sent me in Kinley, Abel, Merit, and Saylor. Wendy Speake co-authored a great book that I recommend called Triggers and in it, she wrote "That perfect gift, swaddled, is the perfecting tool that will bring us to maturity."
There are no perfect kids, perfect homes, perfect mornings. But our Heavenly Father IS perfecting us.
"Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love him." James 1:12
I'm so grateful for these little perfecting tools that are my children. God has used them in so many ways already and I know that He will continue to help us help each other. 
So here's to you, whoever you are that is reading this now. Your life isn't perfect, but God has a perfect plan for it. Perfecting insinuates action. He's working on you through your trial at work, at home, or wherever. Right now. He hasn't abandoned you. He's in the fire, too.
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