Running in Paradise

The view from our bed Saturday morning

The view from our bed Saturday morning

I’ve come to paradise to stay a few weeks, and it is beauty beyond measure. But, it’s cold. Now, I don’t want to hear it from you guys shoveling snow just to be able to take your dog for a walk (like my DM friend Douglas who lives in Ossining, NY); when you’re at the beach, it’s not supposed to be this cold.

This morning brought my last long run before the Seaside Half Marathon, a 14 miler. I wasn’t dreading it, but I wasn’t really looking as forward to it as I usually am, either. Like I said, it’s cold. My eyes opened as God painted the sky at sunrise, then closed again as I snuggled down into my nice, warm bed beside my nice, warm man. My eyes opened again at about 6:30 and I didn’t see the beautiful scene from yesterday that I’ve pictured above outside my window, I saw scores of runners heading east along the beach. We groggily wandered into the living room and while Gary tried to figure out what was going on outside, I made coffee. We finally determined that it was the Destin 50 Beach Ultra. Now, for those of you unfamiliar with this type race, an ultra marathon is any distance over 26.2 miles, this one was 50. On the beach. In the cold. Really put my pitiful 14 miler on the bicycle path later that day (when it had warmed up) into perspective.

So, I got myself in gear, made breakfast, and began making preparations to start my run. I fooled around with gear and clothes, and whined about the cold until Gary finally said Just. Go. Run. So, I did. Other than some issues with my blue tooth headphones which would make you realize just how dumb I can be sometimes, it was an awesome run. I warmed up after the first few miles (although my nose ran faster than I did), and found my rhythm fairly quickly. I ran east along the bike path, following part of the half marathon course. I ran through the picturesque towns of Watercolor and Seaside, around the little “square” at Seaside, then continued east out of town. I ran past million dollar homes and homes that needed a million dollars spent on them to make them habitable. Mile 7 arrived before I knew it, and I turned around to head west, back toward our home away from home. Traffic picked up on the return; foot, cycle, and auto, so it was much more crowded as I made my way back through town. The diner/cafes that line the highway in Seaside had opened and were putting off mouth watering aromas that made my tummy growl.

When I reached the outskirts of town, I got to the part of the course I like best – the woodsy, beachy paths that line the highway and are part of Grayton Beach State Park, an area I can’t wait to explore in the upcoming weeks. Traffic died down, and only the occasional cyclist whizzed past me, usually announcing with a tinkly, little bell, rather than the usual “on your left”. Got to love that. My legs got achy and crampy at mile 10, and I’ll admit that the last 4 miles were tough. For runs longer than six miles, I do a run/walk interval of 6:00/1:00 (this changes when I have a different pace goal). I have a timer that I wear, and the chime it sounds creates a Pavlovian response in me for which I’m grateful  when I come to the end of a run. Ding – I run for 6 minutes, ding – I walk for a minute. I don’t have to think about it, my body just knows. When the walk chimer dinged about 2 1/2 miles from the finish, I looked to the left, and there was Starbucks. It took all the discipline I could call up not to end my run there. I ran on, finished 13.1 at a pretty decent pace, then finished the last mile much more slowly, cooling my body down and stretching my hamstrings.

I’m as ready as I’m going to be for the race in 2 weeks. I’ve already started obsessively checking the weather reports multiple times daily. Last year, it rained really hard on Saturday as we came in for packet pick-up, then the sun came out and it was beautiful for race day. I’m hoping for sunny and warmer this year.

As I watched those ultra runners this morning, I was reminded of one of my favorite verses.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. Hebrews 12:1

I couldn’t put that better myself. Happy running, my friends.

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The magic and the familiar

Running is a whimsical companion. Sometimes she is kind and loving, others she is absolutely without mercy. On a couple of recent runs, though, she’s reminded me that she’s someone I can always count on.

The weekend’s long run was a 12 miler. Having increased by a mile each weekend, my legs were not really looking forward to the haul. Late in the week, however, I found that I would have company on my run, and immediately, the prospect brightened. The doctor released Gary to ride his bike, and I think I was more excited about it than Gary was. I admit that I’ve enjoyed this very small window of time in which I’m faster than Gary, but I’m ready to run with my favorite pacing partner again.

The morning dawned warm and overcast, with a fine mist falling as we loaded up. We wanted to go to a trail, but as it’s still hunting season here in South Mississippi, we decided against the woods and headed for Longleaf Trace. The pace was slow and easy, the company was steady and familiar, and it was one of those magical runs where 12 miles whiz by in no time at all. That doesn’t happen often, so I’m particularly thankful when it does.

Stumpy goes for a bike ride!  My pacer for Saturday's long run!

Stumpy goes for a bike ride! My pacer for Saturday’s long run!

Getting back to our “normal” routine found us on the road this week, meandering through back roads on our way to Natchez. We haven’t made this monthly work trip since August of last year, so we were both looking forward to it. I, especially, was eager, as Natchez has one of my favorite runs. Gary hasn’t been released to run yet, so I tried to curtail my anticipation of the morning. Gary’s a great sport, though, and mostly just wishes me well, although I know he’s ready to hit the pavement soon.

I awoke to a view of the mighty Mississippi at sunrise, gulped my coffee, slapped on my clothes and headed out the door. The warm, wet breeze embraced me like an old friend, making me long for spring and the smell of honeysuckle. I ran alongside the riverbank along the familiar route that Gary and I have run together so many times. Past the magnificent, crumbling old mansions that line the river, through the seedy row houses, then up Cemetery Road to one of my favorite spots in the world, the Natchez City Cemetery. That may seem weird, but there’s something spiritual about that place. The majestic old oaks dripping Spanish moss that line the Avenue of the Generals, Bishop Hill memorializing the remains of many of the state’s Catholic bishops and nuns, Jewish Hill with its amazing view of the river and bridge combine to make the hush of the place seem surreal. Only the sound of my footsteps pounding up those relentlessly wicked hills kept me company. This run soothes my soul. It’s quiet enough that I can hear God whispering in the leaves. No dogs and few cars mean I can zone out and just run.

Bishop memorial at Natchez City Cemetery

Bishop memorial at Natchez City Cemetery


The view from Jewish Hill.  Don't know who thought the power lines were a good idea.

The view from Jewish Hill. Don’t know who thought the power lines were a good idea.


Oaks lining the Avenue of the Generals

Oaks lining the Avenue of the Generals

I stopped on Jewish hill to get a picture of that spectacular view and when I turned around there was a creepy white van stalking me. Sure enough, it was my man. I’ll enjoy this run even more when he can make it with me. I headed back to the river and finished up through the downtown streets at St. Mary’s Basilica, the perfect place to end. Then, back to the room to shower and change, and a delicious Southern breakfast of grits and eggs from the incomparable Natchez Coffee company.

St. Mary's Basilica

St. Mary’s Basilica


St. Mary's Basilica - as breathtaking from the back as the front

St. Mary’s Basilica – as breathtaking from the back as the front

Sometimes, when the stars align, runs are magical. Sometimes they’re familiar, like having coffee with an seldom seen friend. I don’t think I’ve ever regretted a run, but I always regret it if I miss one. As one who loves to travel, there is nothing better than exploring new places on foot. Each new running route invariably becomes an old friend that beckons me back again and again.

The Lesson of the Leg

Once upon a time there was a man and a woman who had been married a really long time.  One day, they realized they were in the most magical time of their lives so far.  Some people called it “middle age”, but they just called it fun.  They worked hard, played hard, and enjoyed life to the fullest.  They loved to travel, and one day they went on a trip to a galaxy far, far away.  They had lots of things planned on this trip, including travels to many places they had never seen before.  To start the trip, the man was participating in a dirt bike race, which was his passion.  Unfortunately, his race was cut short by an evil tree that jumped in front of his bike and broke his leg.  After everyone in the kingdom had a look at it, it was decided he needed to be sent to another galaxy in order to get the best treatment possible.

The man and woman spent a week dazed and confused in a hospital far from home, but after two surgeries by talented magicians and many more people in the kingdom oohing and ahhing over the unusual injury, they boarded a plane meant just for them and flew back to their little nest on the hill.  One more surgery awaited the man, then the healing began.

Being true believers, the man and the woman knew that there were lessons to be learned though any unfortunate experience, so in the stillness that followed, they sought the light.  True to His word, He offered answers, and the first one was immediately apparent.

*Be still.  The man and the woman had worked and played hard for many years, and had often filled their lives with “busyness” instead of business.  The woman struggled with this more than the man, but they both shared the trait.  A broken leg makes you be still in a way you never understood before.  Caring for one who is temporarily disabled makes you prioritize the work in your life.  Being still makes you much more able to hear God speak.

*Bad things happen to good people.  Even when they’re doing everything “right”.  Don’t be surprised or spend your time in anger when they happen to you.  Look for the lesson, it’s somewhere close by.

*Life isn’t perfect.  For every hill, there’s a valley.

*Just because you’re down, it doesn’t mean you’re out.  This was a lesson for the woman.  After the first few pain filled weeks, the man began to work out again, figuring out what he was able to do and setting about doing it.  He went to physical therapy, did all the exercises they prescribed when he wasn’t there,  even resumed his strength training to the best of his ability.  The woman was awed and humbled and resolved not to whine so much about her workouts.  That’s a work in in progress.

*Take time to heal.  We all have events (physical, spiritual, and emotional) that are traumatic and life changing.  Give yourself time to heal before you try to resume your “normal”.  And, realize that sometimes, life gives us new normals.

*Take care of yourself.  The man’s healing and recovery were greatly enhanced because he had spent the last years taking care of himself.  Keeping his weight at a reasonable level, working out, and playing hard.

*Pursue your passion.  Many people would be deterred from pursuing their passions when faced with a setback like a broken leg .  But, one thing the man taught the woman through all their years together was that life is about chasing dreams.  Setting the bar so high that you almost have to reinvent yourself to grab it.  Going for the gold requires endurance, stamina, desire, and a little luck, but it also requires a passion.  Don’t let the fear of failure hold you back.  Dream big, and work hard.

*Choose joy.  Life is full of hard things.  Illness, injury, brokenness, even death.  Those things are part of our walk, and if we allow them to, they’ll suck us under.  Joy is a life decision that has to be made every day, sometimes every moment of every day.  That doesn’t mean walking around grinning like an idiot, it just means that you choose to persevere through the trials and emerge victorious on the other side.

The end of the story is still being written.  With God’s blessing, there should be many more years of magic.  As the new year dawns, the man and the woman are still learning the lessons of the leg and are limping into the future hand in hand.

Radio silence

Radio Silence

There are times in our lives that we need to completely unplug. This has been one of those times for me.

It started unintentionally. Gary & I celebrated our 32 anniversary this week, and, as we like to do, we planned a little get away. Since we only have three good legs between us, we decided a cruise would be just the thing. A week of doing absolutely nothing that we didn’t want to do. Reading, eating, sleeping, shopping, sight-seeing, you get the drift – just two old folks cruising the high seas. Gary even brought blue socks to wear with his shorts and tennis shoes. I didn’t let him, of course. There are still some lines I won’t let him cross.

After getting on board, we realized our cell phones had no service and wi-fi wasn’t complimentary. We bought a small package so that we could check our e-mail occasionally, then we turned off all our devices. Complete silence. Absolute bliss. No checking e-mails and messages constantly, no Facebook updates, no pipeline to the outside world. Just us, some great books, tropical weather, and the soothing feel of the ocean as it passed beneath us. Heaven on earth. I forgot how great it feels to just unplug.

How did we get to the point of needing constant communication? Did we forget how to just tune into our own thoughts, how to talk face to face and just enjoy quiet times in each other’s company or with our own thoughts? Is that why there is so much unhappiness in the world, because we’ve forgotten how to communicate or how to be still? We’ve taken something that was meant to be a convenience and turned it into our basic means of communication. Conversation has become a lost art.

We spent the morning on our balcony, overlooking the beautiful island of Grand Cayman. As we watched the flurry of activity in the bay below us, dive boats picking up divers, helicopters taking off with tourists for a bird’s eye view of the island, cattle boats ferrying cruisers back and forth to the dock, we reminisced about some of our favorite trips and dreamed of the places we have yet to see. So many of my favorite memories were made on trips near and far. The first time I went scuba diving in blue water and found my home away from home; the first time I saw a manta ray glide majestically toward me with no fear, only curiosity; the helicopter tour we took in Kona that took us from fiery volcanos to lush forests and valleys dotted with cascading waterfalls. None of those memories were made in front of a computer screen.

I hope when we get back to real life that I can make a better effort at connecting with the people in my life. Coffee with friends, long conversations over a shared meal, face to face meetings that establish bonds and cement relationships. I enjoy the convenience of keeping up with family and friends via social media, but I want the warmth of personal contact, as well. We can’t allow our lives to be taken over by technology. Technology should enhance our lives, not consume us.

As the new year draws near, and I reflect on my goals and plans, I think that stepping away from technology will be among them. Not completely, of course, but I don’t want to be swallowed up by it anymore. As for this week, after I post this, I’m shutting down all my devices again and probably won’t check messages until we arrive home on Sunday. So, if you don’t hear from me until then, you’ll know I’m enjoying blissful, stress-free radio silence.

Life is a gift of adventure, meant to be lived unplugged.

A three pot kind of day

Whew! It’s been a long, but productive day. It started really early, as it has each morning, with the SLU trauma team before 6 am, and didn’t settle down until very late in the day.  I was in what Kaitlyn (our youngest daughter) calls full on “crazy lady” mode until well after lunch.  Gary and I have been at our computers, on the phone, and meeting with hospital personnel to help coordinate our efforts to return home.  In between phone calls, we had an army of doctors come through, as well as physical and occupational therapists, who are working with Gary to ensure a relatively smooth transition as he leaves their care.

We had some visitors who gave us a tremendous boost around lunch.   Kaitlyn, along with my beautiful niece, Lindsey, and my great nephew, Gatlin (the coolest kid ever) were “in the neighborhood” and dropped in to see us.  I was able to have a nice lunch with them, then they headed off on the final leg of their long planned road trip to see my oldest sister, Libby & her youngest son’s family to help celebrate my sweet great nephew, Mycaiah’s, birthday.  Nice to see faces from home & hear that great southern drawl. They talk really fast up here! I was excited to get Gatlin kisses.  They’re the best!  One of the coolest things about Gatlin is his absolute delight in all things new.  He has a zest for life and heads into it full tilt.  He loved everything about the hospital, including Gary’s acrobat bar on his bed.  Uncle Gary demonstrated how much fun he is having by swinging back and forth on it like a monkey.  Gatlin had his own brush with disaster the same day Gary did;  he ran into a moving car.  Yes, I did say that he ran into the car (while it was in motion), not the other way around.  His face bears the wounds, but, at least the car is okay, I think.  We’re a strange bunch.

After a crazy, overly full morning that involved way too much coffee, Gary made me a nest on his bed beside him & I was able to get the first quality rest I’ve had since this happened. Much needed comfort time with my man.

Anyway, I’ll be brief on the update, as nothing is completely firmed up.  At this point we’ll be heading home on Sunday by charter plane, then we’ll meet with Dr. Rouse at Southern Bone & Joint on Monday to figure out when/where/who will be doing Gary’s bone repair surgery.  We’re hoping for a clean wound pronouncement tomorrow, so that we can be discharged early Sunday.  Gary is still in a great deal of pain & will be wearing the external fixator that’s keeping his bones stable until they are able to fix his leg.  However, they are able to manage his pain so far, and we will leave here with the ability to keep it managed until he sees Dr. Rouse.

The external fixator – quite a contraption

Prayer request for the next few days: Manageable pain, travel plans will flow smoothly and that Gary will have a pain free trip home, I’ll stay out of “crazy lady” mode (that crazy lady spins her wheels and doesn’t get enough accomplished)

I do hope that I don’t get a cut of any kind before we get home. It would be kind of embarrassing to bleed coffee.

Hospital updates

Yesterday was a long day. Thank God, His mercies are new every morning.

Gary is doing okay today. His pain is being managed and he is moving around some. We had a really long night last night, they had a time getting his pain under control, and of course, x-rays at 3 am don’t induce a good night’s rest. I’ve had lots of caffeine today and am holding up very well, although I do feel a crash in the not too distant future.

Specifics on Gary so far: He has a schatzker 6 left tibeal plateau fracture, which apparently is not too common. Of course. The fasciotomy done to alleviate the compartment syndrome has been successful so far, he’ll have surgery again on Thursday to repair the wounds, then we’ll be making some decisions about the fracture repair. The doctor showed us the x-rays & CT scans, and the phrase she used to describe the damage was “kibbles and bits”. So. Not much else to add there, we’re playing the waiting game and trying to take each hit as it rolls our way.

On a lighter note, I was happy to discover that driving “Dexter” (the creepy white van) was much easier than I thought it would be. Even in 5 o’clock traffic. I felt a little like an ant with a biscuit, but like that intrepid little critter, I carried the load & got the job done. I couldn’t leave Gary last night, so I took a spit bath after midnight, the kind nurses found me some clean clothes to put on, and we made the best of it. I waited for the doctors to all roll through today before I headed back down to Festus to get our things, but I’m back at the hospital now & settled in for the duration.

I’m quite sure I’ll have to find someplace nearby to run soon. A really nice surprise for me was to discover that Gary’s lead orthopedic doctor, as well as at least three of her residents are runners, so I’m sure they’ll be able to tell me where some safe running routes are nearby. I think it’s kind of rare for bone doctors to be runners. At least in my experience. So, I was excited by more than the fact that we share a hobby. I know that they will understand the importance of getting Gary back to doing the things he loves as quickly as possible.

I’ll leave you with a couple of images of the old man in his temporary prison.

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And this would have been a good thing for him to be wearing yesterday as a reminder (his words, not mine).

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My last thoughts today are these, shared by one of my fellow bloggers, “Overcome by Joy” (sorry I couldn’t reblog it – I’m too tired to jump through the hoops my Ipad was requiring. I’ll try to link to your blog tomorrow!) She’s going through so much more than we are, and the verse she shared filled my soul with peace today. As I told my sister earlier, I’m not worried. I’m supernaturally calm. Praise Jesus.

26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. Ephesians 8: 26-27

And then God laughed…

You know the old saying about how to make God laugh is to tell Him your plans. Well, I think I may have heard Him snicker a little.

Day 3 of our adventure dawned bright & beautiful. Truly, the weather here is about as close to perfect as weather gets. We headed to the Missouri Mines for Gary’s dirtbike race which started at 9 am. Enduro racing is a little more complicated than I want it to be, but the idiot’s version is this. There are several timed sections through rough terrain, heavy woods, up rocky hillsides, down slippery waterfalls, you get the picture. There is a scoring system that requires the riders to check in at certain spots, and they tally the scores based on the length of time it took them to ride each section. Or, something to that effect. In other words, it’s not like a foot race where the first one to the finish line wins.

Gary had given me approximate times that he would be back at the staging area (the van), for gas, a bite to eat, and a short rest break. He started his race on time, and I went out for a six mile run. A fairly hard one, the hills here are ridiculous. I made it back to the van about an hour before he was scheduled to come in, changed my clothes, ate a quick bite, then fixed him something to eat when he arrived. I settled in with a book and waited. And waited. And waited. I started to get a little worried, but tried to dismiss it with my book. About 20 minutes after he was supposed to arrive, a truck with his bike in the back pulled up beside the van. It took me a second to realize it was Gary in the passenger seat. Our eyes met and I asked him if he was ok. The driver told me he thought he broke his leg.

I won’t bore you with all the details, but I went into “okay, let’s take care of this” mode, Gary was moved to a chair to wait for the paramedics A really nice guy helped me get the bike loaded & strapped down in the van, and I got our things gathered up and put back into the van. The paramedics arrived, strapped Gary into a vehicle to take him to the ambulance, and headed that way with him. At the ambulance, the decision was made to airlift him to St Louis (about an hour away, but with better orthopedic facilities than we had close by). They gave me directions, and I followed in the van.

Three hours later finds me sitting on the floor in a surgery waiting room, still wearing the stink of my run. Gary’s never been one to do things by halves, and he really messed his leg up badly. His left leg has a “tibial plateau”, but the more pressing problem and the reason they took him to surgery immediately was that he has developed “Compartment syndrome”. He will have to have a second surgery in a couple of days to repair the wounds left from this one.

So, we’re a long way from home, in an unfamiliar town, in an unfamiliar hospital . Everyone has been very helpful and kind, especially when they found out we’re from out of town. Of course, the rest of the trip (which was to have included a stay in Niagara Falls, as well as a short stay in DC) has been cancelled, as we’re looking at probably a week’s hospital stay. I have a sister who lives about four hours west of here, so there’s family nearby. We’re nothing if not flexible, although this is requiring a little more bending than either of us really like.

What I would like from you is this: prayers. Gary will have a long recovery ahead and the logistics of getting all this done is more than my tired brain can compute right now. I’m sure tomorrow I’ll be in full on “I’ve got this” mode, but right now I need to know my prayer warriors have engaged. I’m amazingly calm and that only comes from Him, so I’m thankful for that. I had a very sweet reminder from my oldest daughter when I said that we are a long way from home. She said, “MJ, Dad is your home. Y’all are together.” She’s right. Pray for our girls to not worry, they’re a little freaked out right now. Also, pray that God will lay His mighty hand on our plans and we’ll be able to come home for the bone repair surgery.

Thanks, my friends. I’ll keep you updated. I’m sure I’ll have a lot of waiting time on my hands.