Some (belated) goals for the new year

I’m a person who tries to focus on the positive.  My life is good, my glass is half full, every cloud has a silver lining, and the grass is greener on my side of the fence.  I see good in everyone, and I generally give people the benefit of the doubt.

For some reason, though, 2013 found me walking around with that nasty, proverbial cloud following me.  No silver lining, just a dark, ugly cloud.  I often let anxiety take control of my emotions, and forgot to release my worries to God a lot more than I care to admit.  I think I achieved full hermit status – staying at home, working alone, going to bed by 8 and sleeping in, hiding behind my computer and not reaching out to anyone.  I intend to change that this year.

I’ve set some goals for this year – write something every single day, run a spring and a fall half marathon, lose this pesky weight, give my liver some breathing room by cutting my wine intake, reconnect with old friends, and make new friends. I’m excited and terrified all at once.

How do you even go about making friends at 52?  I want some friends who share my interests.  As much as I love my old friends and as much fun as we have together, not many of them are runners, and few seem to be readers, either.  I want to join (or start) a book club, and find some women my age who enjoy running so we can encourage and motivate each other.

It amuses me that so many of the women who share my interests are either the “crunchy granola”, super nerdy, or over the top competitive types.  Hmmm… maybe I’m not as cool as I thought, and maybe I’m more competitive than I realized.  Food for thought…

Another goal I’ve set is to read more and watch TV/mindlessly browse social media less.  Not batting a thousand on this one yet, but I’m better than I was, so I consider that a small victory.  I have so many books on my “to read” list that I’ll never get them all read if that insidious box (my TV) doesn’t stop squawking constantly.  Lately, I’ve enjoyed sitting beside my man late into the night (at least 9 pm), reading while he watches XYZ on the tube.  Yes, I’m trying to push past 9 pm, I realize how completely lame that hour is.

Baby steps, people, baby steps.

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Grace to get over myself

I haven’t made a secret of the fact that I’ve had a tough year running.  Injuries sustained long ago have come back to haunt, motivation has been low, minor illnesses that made me feel yuck stopped me.  Generally one thing after another, and, I confess, I’ve been pretty low.  On the verge of real depression, and often really feeling my age and wondering if I would ever run well again.   Not. Good.

As always happens at low points in my life, I turn inward, seeking God’s voice, willing myself to be still and listen, aching for the peace that surpasses all understanding.  And, as always, He comes through.  He has recently reminded me (gently and not so gently) of the grace He’s allowed in my life.  Of the people He’s put here to help me through, the blessings He’s provided for  me, the abilities He’s given me that He expects me to use.  And, I’ve been humbled.

Humbled by the way He answers our prayers, by the many manifestations of grace He allows us to see, and by the way He walks with us in the storms of our lives.  Just in the last couple of weeks, I’ve seen not one, but two, beautiful babies who medical science had given up on. These babies were prayed over on a global scale  and both had  miraculous healings.  I’ve read or heard of the loss of several beautiful lives, all taken too soon, and the grace their families have shown in the loss, as well as the impact these lives had on those of us left behind.  That only comes from God.  The plight of women around the world has been brought to my attention, and I’ve marveled at the strength and courage many of these women have shown each and every day of their lives.

And, I got over myself.  My problems, which seemed insurmountable and completely encompassed me, have been prioritized.

Here are some definitions of grace:

*elegance or beauty of form, manner, motion, or action (yeah, I don’t think this one applies to me)
*mercy; clemency; pardon (now we’re getting warmer)
*the free and unmerited favour of God shown towards man (Bingo!)

Free and unmerited favor. I look at my life and see so much grace. Of course, the most important grace was granted to me on becoming a Christ follower. Realizing that I am a sinner, and only through God’s perfect plan have I been granted the ability to have a relationship with Him through His son, Jesus Christ. And, because of that relationship, I am granted entry to eternity with Him, as well as many smaller manifestations of grace that permeate my life this side of heaven.

As I look at my life, I see His hand throughout. He has provided me with all the grace I need for this journey.  We’re all on that journey; realizing and appreciating the manifestations of grace throughout our lives is optional.

Of course, it’s easy to write platitudes about grace. To quote definitions and verses about grace that make you nod your head in agreement… “Yes, that’s grace all right.”

What isn’t so easy is to recognize grace in your life. To see how God uses everyday situations, people who are already in your life – your work environment, your play environment. To allow grace to seep in through the cracks and fill your life with His goodness. I’m learning to recognize those. I’m learning to be still, to be attentive to God moments, to be thankful for people He’s given me in order for me to catch a small glimpse of Him, His love, His promises, His grace, in my life. I don’t know what it looks like for you, but here is a small part of what it looks like for me.

Recently, my man and I had a very quiet beach vacation.  We used that time to gently kick start my training plan for an upcoming race, ride bikes, kayak in the bay, read, spend time with each other, listen for God’s voice.  It reminded me that the second largest manifestation of grace in my life is my man.  Don’t tell him, but I think he’s pretty awesome.  Okay, you can tell him.  I think he may already know.

Knowing that I’ve been struggling with my running program, he designed a plan for me that will hopefully get me across the finish line of my half next month upright and uninjured. Emphasis on uninjured.  A gentle mileage increase, and lots of cross training.  Not only did he design a plan for me, he’s training right along beside me. You remember my man, don’t you? The one who broke his leg last year; had not one, but three surgeries on it, and is running side by side with me as I train for a race that means a lot to me, but probably not so much to him. He may even pace the race for me, depending on how well the training goes.

That window of time that I ran faster than him? Yeah, it closed on me. He’s back and will most likely be back to fighting form by the first of the year. Oddly enough, that doesn’t make me resentful (well, mostly). It humbles me.  Another example of God’s grace for our journey.

Who needs an anchor? A photo session on our recent beach trip.

Who needs an anchor? A photo session on our recent beach trip.

I’m thankful that I’m grace filled rather than graceful.  Good thing, because I think the graceful ship has sailed.

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.  Romans 5: 3-5

Define yourself

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I’m mostly a fan of social media. Like everything, it can be used for good or evil, so monitoring it and setting limits on myself factor highly in my accessibility. I hide those people whose posts are mostly negative, and I seek out those who motivate me.

One of the pages I look at daily offers motivational quotes for athletes, primarily runners. One recent post was by elite marathoner, Deena Kastor. She talked about how we grow as humans and athletes by training when it’s difficult, and she closed with a simple quote by her “seldom without words” coach as she headed out to run the Chicago marathon in 2005 (which she won). He simply told her, “Define yourself.”

Those words resonated with me at a time that I’m struggling. In training and in life, it’s been a dicey time for me. What’s strange about this time is that my struggles are ALL mental. There’s nothing wrong physically and my life is much the same as it always is, but still, I’m struggling. So, I took those words to heart. Who exactly am I? Where do I see the next phase of my life taking me? Deep thoughts for a nice fall afternoon.

I don’t think we ever truly know how others view us, but, unfortunately, I think we all too often decide who we are based on our perceptions of others’ opinions. So, as I define myself, I don’t want to consider who others think I am.  The only opinions that factor are mine and God’s.

Who am I?


I am a woman defined by faith.
My relationship with God trumps all the others, but not in a “so, there” kind of way. My faith defines me, it makes me look at others with compassion, understand the true meaning of love, and reach out to those who aren’t like me. I’ll always be a work in progress, but I’m humbled by the fact that God loves me, warts and all.

I am a wife. I’m so unbelievably thankful that God knew what I didn’t all those years ago when He brought me my man.  I was a really dumb kid, and God came through.  Love. That. Man.

I am a mother. My girls mean the world to me. They are strong, independent women that I take great pride in, even if I had very little to do with who they have become.

I am a runner. Running is so much a part of me that when I’m not able to train, or when my training isn’t going well (like now), my whole world seems slightly skewed, a little off color, not quite balanced.

I am an artist. Whether through the camera lens, or through my writing, art is a huge part of my definition. I’m not proclaiming greatness, photography and writing are simply the ways that I express myself. I make no apologies for my art, it may or may not be your cup of tea. What others think doesn’t matter in my definition of me, my thoughts and creative processes are my own: hop aboard and ride along, or simply turn it off, that choice is yours.

I am a woman who:

loves deeply; is a loyal friend; tells the truth easily; lies badly; likes wine a little more than I ought to; runs very, very slowly; is strong in a crises, but breaks down afterward; loves the outdoors and marvels at the creation of an all knowing God; argues passionately about those things that matter and tries not to argue about those things that don’t; loves her extended family as though she gave birth to them; sometimes worries too much about split times; cries too easily, especially during cheesy movies; sometimes wants to quit, but finds deep reserves to keep on keeping on; loves to laugh; appreciates beauty in multiple forms; often sees beauty where others don’t; sometimes shuts out the world with a good book (or reruns of Big Bang – hey, I never claimed to be perfect); falls a lot, but has learned to pick herself up and keep moving forward; often doubts her own abilities, but is learning to lean on God during those times; stands at attention, hand over heart when the National Anthem is sung, and sheds tears easily when “God Bless America” is performed at a ball game; believes in miracles and the power of prayer; understands the role doubt plays in faith; hates confrontation, but stands up for what she believes; will pray for you when you are hurting, and will listen when you need a friend; hates “selfies” and what they say about the self involvement of the next generation, but enjoys looking at images that spread joy; looks at our next generation with wonder, awe, and concern as I see the world we’re handing down to them; encourages those who need a boost, but seldom willing to let others boost her (a HUGE failing on my part); knows her failings much better than she knows her strengths.

As I seek to define myself, I know that my gaze has to be heavenward. Sometimes that’s hard for me, I have a stubborn propensity to want to do it all on my own. How goofy, yet how human. My prayer for the upcoming year (I had a birthday last week & haven’t set my yearly goals yet) is that I will turn to God more frequently in prayer, I will listen more quietly and with less petition, I will heed His word and His will for my life.

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In running, in life, in all that I do, I pray that I will reflect God’s definition of me.

Hills and valleys

I’ve always been a dreamer, and, most of the time, an optimist.  I come from a long line of dreamers.  Optimists, not so much.  So, I had to learn to be one.  To choose joy and hope, to learn to see the light at the end of the tunnel and realize it is there to guide me.  My mom was convinced the light at the end of the tunnel was that proverbial oncoming train and she always made effort to retreat, rather than to push forward, explore the terrain around her and move toward that ever welcoming light.  That’s not an indictment against her, it was just her nature to believe the worst and try to steel herself against it.  I’m not sure she realized that was her nature by choice, and that she could change it if she wanted. I chose not to be that person and it’s a choice I make daily.  Sometimes, the light seems like it’s a long way off.

I’ve come to a valley in my training in the last few months.  Physically, I feel like I’m light years away from who I want to be.  I’m tired when I get up in the morning, I am sluggish throughout the day, and any efforts to run require a discipline that feels impossible somedays.  Still, I push on.

If I’ve learned nothing else through running, I’ve learned this.  There are seasons of great reward and seasons of great defeat.   There are times when it’s easy and effortless, and times when a walk is a victory.  There are valleys and there are hills.  You have to successfully walk through the valleys in order to appreciate the view from the hills.  Those dark walks through the valleys define us. They teach us who we are and what we’re made of. They teach us how to be the best we can be, how to live our lives with hope, discipline, and integrity. As in running, as in life.

Hopes, dreams, goals, confidence in the future are the stuff that a life is built on.  They are what keep us trudging through the valleys, and looking up the side of the hill.  Sometimes, when I look up the side of the hill, I’m afraid it’s insurmountable.  I doubt my ability to climb, fear my strength won’t get me to the top. Then, I put one foot down, then, another, and on and on until I’m at the peak.  The view is breathtaking from there and I want to sprint to the next one.  

It really is that simple.  Just one foot in front of the other. Keep moving forward. Know that God is with you, every step. Walking with you, encouraging you, guiding you, keeping you from stumbling, helping you get up when you do fall.

Right now, my steps are excruciatingly slow.  But, they’re moving in the right direction.  I’m paying close attention to my nutrition, which has been rather seriously derailed in the last few months.  I’m eating well, resting well, and using that long ingrained discipline to make myself move most days.  I’m ready to get out of this valley, but it seems for now that  I’m stuck here.  I can’t even see the side of the hill from here.  

Good thing I know it’s there.

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…I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. 1 Corinthians 9:26-27

Faith, prayer, and doubt

Doubt isn’t the opposite of faith, it is an element of faith.  Paul Tillich

I actually wrote this weeks ago, when a friend was going through a particularly difficult struggle.  It felt too personal then, but some events this week have made me very introspective about life and it felt right to post it now.

When I pray for those I love, I have a tendency to ask God to ease their path, to make their troubles go away, to give them happiness, to make their lives easy.  As God has increased my faith, though, I have realized that is the wrong way to pray.

I want God not to calm their storms, but to give them the knowledge that they will weather them, and the peace that comes from that understanding.  Not to make their troubles disappear, but through those troubles,  teach them the lessons they need to live their lives with passion and integrity.  Not to give them happiness, but to give them joy.  The joy that comes with the faith of knowing He still walks on water.

As a parent and a loving friend, those prayers don’t come easily to me.  I have an innate desire to keep my kids (and friends) from falling, to prevent their failures, to mend their broken hearts as easily as I tended scraped knees and bruised feelings when they were young.  I’m learning, though.  As we release our children into the harsh, cold, often evil world, we have to let them go.  Let them make their way, walk their own path, learn from their own failures and mistakes, and, yes, allow them to face the evil in the world.

It’s important to face evil and learn to summon our faith when evil presents itself.  The ability to summon that faith is only learned in the school of hard knocks and at the foot of the cross.  We walk (or stumble) through trials for a reason.  Those troubles define us, and it’s up to us to decide if they are going to swallow us or if we are going to rise out of the ashes and put the lessons they teach us to good use. It’s up to us to use those lessons to discover our purpose in this world.

I often wonder if it’s as hard for God to watch us hurt or fail as it is for us to watch our loved ones.  Parenting and loving people are not for the faint of heart, that’s for sure.

When our kids are very young, we can shield them from the world to some degree.  But, when they’re grown, we have to completely relinquish control.  For a control freak like me, that’s no easy task.  I want to reach into the lives of my children and friends and mop up the mess they’ve made, or even better, prevent them from spilling it in the first place. Pretty arrogant of me, I know.  I’m not sure if learning to let our loved ones fail is a lesson for them or for us.  I suspect it’s an even split.  The knowledge that we can’t fix all their problems is humbling.  It’s also an opportunity to overcome doubt and realize Who is in control.

So, I pray for wisdom. I pray for the ability to listen without speaking, the knowledge to know when to speak and what to say. I pray for the peace of knowing my loved ones are truly seeking God.

When I was younger, I had all the answers.  Now, I realize that I mostly have questions. I was afraid to admit to doubt, unaware that not only is God big enough to handle my doubt, no question is off limits with Him.  I know that when I’m still enough, He guides me.  When I’m troubled, He calms me.  By the same token, when I’m prideful, He humbles me.  I’m thankful for that much wisdom, at least.

I still wish that seeking God was easier.  That finding the answers was as easy as “Googling” it.  I wish our paths weren’t strewn and marred with the detritus of our struggles.  In spite of the seeming unfairness of that, though, there it is.  I always learn more when I stumble through the darkness than when I walk easily in the light.  Accepting that is a life long challenge.  So is learning the art of intercessory prayer.

I pray that I learn how to pray for those I love.  That I learn not to try to make their paths easy,  but to give them comfort and unconditional love as they struggle. That I learn to keep my mouth shut when I need to, and learn to wait for God’s wisdom to speak.  That may mean not saying anything at all.  A Herculian task for me, I’ll admit, but one that God can easily accommodate, if I let Him.

Deep thoughts and big prayers this rainy evening.  I’m thankful my God is able.

You don’t have enough faith,” Jesus told them. “I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.”  Matthew 17:20

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Begin. Again.

It seems like a lifetime ago that running felt effortless and easy.  When a hard pace left me feeling tired, but happy.  It was only a few weeks, but it seems like a different time.  That sounds a little overly dramatic, but when you have to slow down, or stop in order to nurse an injury, coming back seems harder than starting fresh did.

My injury (this time) was minor.  Just a lower back thing, cared for diligently by my wonderful chiropractor.  Then, just as I started getting better, Gary & I went on a short dive trip on a live aboard that’s only about a hundred feet long.  So, no running there.  I came back with a minor sinus thing going on, and while we were away, summer arrived here in South Mississippi, so hot and muggy are the words of the day.  Which led me to put off rebooting my running for a few more days.  Now, though,  it’s time to begin.  Again.

I started slowly over the weekend.  Just two short, slow, warm miles.  Then another two the next day.  Biking on Tuesday (also painfully slow), off a day, then four slow, warm miles this morning.  My goal is to slowly build back my miles over the next couple of months, then maybe, just maybe, introduce some speed work in mid August.  We’ll see.  It’s awfully hot here in August, and speed and heat don’t go together well.  It’s back to obscenely early mornings, which lead to very early nights (as though I didn’t already go to bed with the chickens).

But, I have to say, even with the challenge of the heat, I’m feeling more than blessed this day to be starting again.  And, I know, that, God willing, there will be many more times in my life that I have to begin.  Again and again.  I have a young running friend whose life was changed a couple of months ago by a cardiac event, followed by severe brain trauma.  I don’t know what God has planned for him, but I hope it includes beginning again.  Right now, that’s looking doubtful, but our God is still in the miracle business, and I know a lot of people are praying for this God-filled young man and his sweet wife, so I’m hopeful.  His name is Terrod, so add him and his wife, Nikki, to your prayers.  You can get updates on his progress here.  

The summer is lending itself to a slower, more thoughtful time for me this year.  Our air conditioning is out (on the hottest days of the year, so far), so I’m moving slowly at home, but I’m finding I kind of like that.  And, I’m even getting somewhat used to the heat.  After lunch yesterday, I decided I had had enough of work in my hot little corner, I put on my bathing suit, and went to swim at my sister’s where my daughter, nieces, and nephew were playing in the pool.  I enjoyed that little respite so much, I may have to repeat it today. How often, as “grown-ups”, do we allow ourselves time to just do nothing?  Just be with our loved ones and enjoy their company?  It’s rare for me, and I would venture to say, for most adults – especially those who are self-employed.  It feels like the wolf is always at the door, and we have to move productively all the time in order to keep him at bay. I think I’m going to just break down and invite the wolf to come on in, put his feet up, and have some dinner.  As hot as it is in my house right now, he won’t stay long anyway.

Me, my little red one, and my daughter just chilling.  Admire my bravery for posting this bathing suit pic.  ;)

Me, my little red one, and my daughter just chilling. Admire my bravery for posting this bathing suit pic. 😉

As I begin my training, again, I want to keep in mind the reasons that I run.  The joy that running brings to my life is the most important one.  All the other reasons fall in line behind that one.  So, I think, beginning again in the heat of the summer is probably the best time for me.  It forces me to not worry about speed, or weight loss, or clicking off a certain number of miles per week, and to just enjoy the journey.

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Emptying my cup

“I’m not responsible for filling your cup. I’m just responsible for emptying mine.” Andy Stanley

My mojo is returning. But, like a starving wild animal easing stealthily toward its food source, it is shy and fragile, easily scared away. So, I’m tiptoeing around it, running easily, planning runs that soothe my soul and tease my mojo into raising its head and joining me in earnest. I have a half marathon on Saturday that I’m running, but I’ve decided to run it naked, in deference to my mojo. Don’t be scared, though, or avoid Hattiesburg in the fear that you’ll see something you shouldn’t, that just means I’m going without electronics. I’m not going to be a slave to my pace, but try to savor each moment and remember why I started running in the first place. Time enough for goal setting and pushing hard after the race.

I woke early this Easter morning. I actually set my alarm for 6:30 (which won’t be early enough when the heat comes), so that I could enjoy the dawn, remember, and give thanks for that Easter morning so many centuries ago. I was awake before it went off and lay in bed listening to the birds singing their morning song and being humbly thankful for my salvation. I got up and read the Resurrection story in each of the gospels and savored each word as though it was the first time I read it. Then, coffee and a quick breakfast saw me out the door for my run.

As I ran, I listened to Northpoint Community Church’s podcast, as I so often do, and in one of them, Andy Stanley made the above captioned quote. As I thought about it, it made me reflect on how well I am emptying my cup. I’ve been so concerned that I was filling other’s cups, that I’ve often neglected to pour mine on the world. I’ve only recently learned some of what is in my cup, now it’s time to concentrate on pouring it out.

It actually comes as something of a relief that I don’t have to worry whether I’ve filled your cup, my responsibility is done after emptying mine. In other words, what you do with what I (or anyone else) give you is entirely up to you. I’ve spent way too much time worrying about other people’s actions or reactions, and not nearly enough time giving of myself. It’s time to change that. It’s time to empty my cup. Give of my gifts and not worry about the return, or the lack thereof.

The return of spring with its warm, soft breezes, smell of honeysuckle and gardenia, blooming and renewal of the earth, promise of rebirth and new hope all work together to coax my mojo out of hiding. With its return, I plan to honor my responsibilities and pour out my cup. To discover my gifts and be generous with them so that, at the end of my days, the measure of my life will be evident by what I’ve left behind.

“The true value of a life is measured by how much of it is given away.” Andy Stanley

Happy Easter, my friends.

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